The past year was like no other in the 40-year history of the Hideaway Report. For much of 2020 we were grounded, restricted to occasional forays in the United States. Fortunately, we had taken a number of editorial trips in late 2019, as well as several in the weeks immediately prior to the imposition of the COVID restrictions. So, by drawing on our collective experience, we were able to keep the show on the road. Hideaway Report issues in 2020 included coverage of destinations new to us like the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic and the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily, in addition to sojourns in old favorites such as Paris, Prague, the Bahamas, New England and the Rocky Mountains. In a normal January, we draw attention to particularly memorable hotels and resorts and recall our favorite travel experiences of the previous 12 months. This year, despite everything, we still managed to find a surprising number of properties that met our demanding criteria, places that offered deep comfort, polished service, stylish design and refined cuisine. At the time of writing, the first vaccines have just been approved, and the prospects for worldwide travel look increasingly bright. As you may imagine, we are now straining at the leash, waiting to resume our work, reporting from all four corners of the globe.
Even in a normal year of globetrotting, The Lodge at Blue Sky would have stood out as one of the best new hideaways in the world. Auberge Resorts has reimagined an existing ranch on a 3,500-acre estate outside Park City, Utah, creating a stylish 46-room resort (including 37 suites) set amid a picturesquely rugged landscape. Entry-level accommodations are spacious — Sky Rooms encompass 570 square feet plus a terrace — but I’m glad we reserved a larger open-plan Sky Suite. This felt indulgent, not least because of the striking bath with its abundant natural light, immense pebble-floored shower stall and gray-and-black-striped limestone-clad walls.
Of course, it takes more than lavish accommodations for a property to rank as Hideaway of the Year. In 2020, all hotels faced COVID-related difficulties, but The Lodge at Blue Sky did not let them affect its level of service, and I was consistently impressed by the warm, thoughtful and efficient staff. Given the remote location, a good restaurant is imperative, and everything we tasted on the umbrella-shaded patio was delicious, whether it was local lamb chops crusted in sunchoke, scallops with smoked eggplant and pickled shimeji mushrooms, or sinful carrot cake frosted with white chocolate-yuzu ganache.
The property also has an encyclopedic menu of activities. In the extraordinary stables, pampered horses receive weekly massages and even acupuncture. Hiking, fly-fishing and clay pigeon-shooting are available, while in winter, there is skiing, heli-skiing, sleigh rides, dog-sledding and snowmobiling. The Lodge at Blue Sky combines luxurious accommodations with world-class service, exciting activities, a fine spa and top-notch cuisine, making the resort a superb choice for a Western vacation, whether as a couple or a family.
Aurora, New York
Prosperity came to the Finger Lakes region of New York with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The small town of Aurora, situated on the shore of Cayuga Lake, saw the construction of a number of lavish mansions, as well as the handsome brick Aurora Inn. Eventually the economy faltered, and despite the presence of Wells College, a leading women’s-only institution, the town declined. It was rescued by Pleasant Rowland, the founder of the American Girl brand, who since 2001 has restored nearly a dozen historic buildings. These have been combined to form the Inns of Aurora, with the original property serving as a kind of clubhouse, containing the principal restaurant. Today, atmospheric public areas and spacious rooms with lavish baths are complemented by spreading lawns and glorious lake views. During our all-too-brief stay, we were impressed both by the delicious food and the exceptional friendliness and hospitality of the staff. In spring 2021, the Inns of Aurora will be augmented by a lavish new spa.
Castle Hot Springs, Arizona
Castle Hot Springs opened originally in 1896 as a winter retreat for prominent East Coast families. President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the resort in 1911 during the dedication of Roosevelt Dam. Since then, it has suffered three major fires, and after the last one, it was left vacant. Phoenix business owners Mike and Cindy Watts purchased the property in 2014, and after an extensive renovation, it reopened to guests in February 2019. A drive lined with towering 100-year-old date palms leads to the main lodge, one of two historic buildings that remain. Our Spring Bungalow was spacious, contemporary in style, and came with a sitting area near the fireplace and both indoor and outdoor baths. (The soaking tub outside could be filled with water directly from the hot springs, from which water bubbles out at almost 120 degrees.) The property’s outstanding Harvest restaurant is supplied by an extensive organic garden. Throughout our stay, the hotel staff were warm and personable. And with more than 210 acres of Sonoran landscape to explore, the resort is a great outdoor destination.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
The charming and unusual 10-room L’Ôtel makes for a small and stylish alternative to my larger recommended properties in San Miguel. It stands above the fashionable and centrally located Dôce 18 Concept House, a sort of upscale mall within a historic building. The only drawback to our otherwise lovely Luxury Suite was that it lacked windows and came only with skylights and a large air shaft over a freestanding tub. (The solution is simply to reserve the Master or Owner’s Suite.) Much of the bright and sunny hotel surrounds an atrium above a tapas restaurant. Before dinner each evening, we would indulge in mezcal Negronis in L’Ôtel’s dedicated bar. It opened to a roof terrace with an attractive (unheated) checkerboard-tile pool, flanked by wood-framed loungers. We had a delightful time in this chic little bolt-hole. Thanks to the room count, the guests-only public areas felt quite generous, while the property’s small size made it easy for the friendly and helpful staff to get to know us.
Alaior, Menorca, Spain
The casually elegant 27-room Torralbenc is housed by a renovated 19th-century farmhouse, set on a ridge, about 2 miles from the beach town of Cala’n Porter. It was designed by architect Antoni Esteva, who is well-known as the creator of some of the most spectacular villas in the Balearic Islands. His additions included several new buildings, which house the hotel’s spa and restaurant. Overall, our spacious Superior room reflected the styles of traditional Menorcan rural architecture with low-key contemporary design. Its terrace overlooked the olive groves that produce the oil used in Torralbenc’s exceptional restaurant. There, the menu was conceived by Michelin-starred Basque chef Gorka Txapartegi. Dishes range from starters like sobrassada-filled croquettes to mains such as creamy rice with seafood and local fish, crab stew with cauliflower cream, and roasted Menorcan red shrimp. The wine list includes Torralbenc bottlings produced on the estate. Though you can indulge in treatments at the spa, take yoga classes or ride horses, Torralbenc provides a blissful setting in which to do absolutely nothing whatsoever.
San Sebastián, Spain
A 10-minute drive up winding roads from San Sebastián brought us to Akelarre, a 22-room property that surveys the vast expanse of the Cantabrian Sea. Akelarre was already a celebrated Michelin three-star restaurant when it opened a companion hotel in 2017. Inside, the space was dramatic, with two walls of windows that drew our eyes to the sea and sky beyond. Walking into our 645-square-foot Deluxe Sea View room, we found crisp white sheets covering the bed and a linen-covered sofa that matched the color of the carpet atop the light oak floors. Besides its famous restaurant, Akelarre offers a more casual dining option, Espazio Oteiza. It was here that we took breakfast each morning, starting the day with Basque specialties like chistorra, a fast-cured sausage similar to chorizo. One afternoon, I indulged in an excellent massage at the Akelarre Spa by Sisley, but all I really wanted to do was to gaze at the sea, watch the clouds roll in and feel the breezes brush by on the hotel’s large terrace.
Located on the chic Rue de Lille, the 30-room J.K. Place Paris occupies a mansion that formerly housed the Norwegian Consulate; it opened in November 2019 following a three-year renovation. The interiors are the work of Florentine architect Michele Bönan, who has created an eclectic cosmopolitan décor that combines custom-made Italian furniture with one-of-a-kind pieces that he sourced from the Marché aux Puces (a flea market). Upstairs, our spacious J.K. Master Suite came with parquet floors, a decorative gray-marble fireplace and a roomy walk-in closet; French doors led to a balcony overlooking Rue de Lille. At the Casa Tua restaurant — which has siblings in South Beach and Aspen — we tried the fillet of beef with foie gras, grilled hazelnuts and leeks, and the lobster with green beans, cherry tomatoes and orange sauce. Both were excellent. The J.K. Place Paris is a lovely new hotel, and sophisticated travelers will appreciate its suave service, striking décor, excellent location and instinctive hospitality.
Nîmes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Nîmes is studded with spectacularly well-preserved first-century Roman monuments. The recently renovated Maison Albar Hotels - L’Imperator, a grand 53-room hotel, is located within walking distance of most of the major sights. The establishment dates from 1929, and we were immediately impressed by the way it had been given a contemporary décor without compromising its historic atmosphere. The vintage Otis cage elevator has been maintained, but the look of the lobby is now sleek and colorful. Upstairs, our spacious Junior Suite had high ceilings, oak parquet floors and full-length windows. In addition to the excellent L’Impé brasserie, the property boasts a gastronomic restaurant, Duende, which is overseen by Michelin three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire. The tasting menu was a spectacular gastronomic experience, with memorable dishes such as cod cheeks with violets (not the flower, but an iodine-rich Mediterranean shellfish), and red tuna with foie gras and caramelized onions. L’Imperator boasts the largest private garden in the city, an outdoor pool, an indoor pool and a Codage spa with a steam room.
Malfa, Salina, Aeolian Islands, Italy
An archipelago of seven volcanic peaks, the Aeolian Islands rise from the Mediterranean off the northeastern coast of Sicily. On Salina, we stayed at 27-room Capofaro, a hotel set on a working 15-acre estate owned by the Tasca d’Almerita family, which began making wine in Sicily in 1830. (It is possible to walk around the vineyards accompanied by Capofaro’s sommelier, or even to work on the vineyard.) Our Junior Suite in a whitewashed bungalow came with rustic furnishings and a private terrace that offered unforgettable views to the Capofaro lighthouse and the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea. The hotel’s restaurant is superb: Chef Ludovico De Vivo has won a Michelin star for his contemporary Sicilian cooking, which includes dishes like Nebrodi pork fillet with beet sauce, mulberries and wild sea fennel. A garden spa offers treatments and massages. And there is a padel tennis court for those in need of more-vigorous exercise. However, Capofaro is really a place to spend lazy days by the pool or reading in the shade.
After a tiring journey, we arrived at the 21-room Casa de São Lourenço overlooking the Serra da Estrela mountains to find a fire crackling on the hearth in reception. A charming young woman showed us around to the striking bar-lounge with its vaulted white ceilings and a large granite fireplace, an upstairs restaurant with spectacular scenic views, and the spa with its indoor-outdoor pool filled with mineral water from an on-site spring. This exceptionally comfortable and charming hotel was originally conceived as a pousada in 1948. Two years ago it was completely renovated and augmented by several additions to the original granite building. Our panoramic suite featured supremely comfortable woolen fabrics woven on 19th-century looms in a nearby factory. Dinner that night was outstanding, with dishes by chef Manuel Figueira such as roasted kid and wild mushroom risotto. Breakfast the following morning was excellent, too, with local cheeses, charcuterie and housemade jams. This is a perfect base from which to explore the beautiful and unspoiled Beira region of Portugal.
Naoussa, Paros, Greece
The 33-suite Parīlio Hotel caused a considerable stir when it opened in July 2019. A collection of white sugar-cube buildings, situated close to the stylish village of Naoussa, the resort makes a dramatic first impression, with its huge cross-shaped pool and sensuously cool interior. All guest rooms have private terraces, but our expansive suite also came with a Jacuzzi; some have plunge pools. Aside from a fitness center, there is a small but attractive Asian spa; yoga classes can be arranged. Otherwise, the most notable amenities are its lively pool bar, which serves imaginative Aegean cocktails, and Mr. E, the excellent restaurant helmed by chef Alexandros Tsiotinis, the owner of the well-known CTC restaurant in Athens. Highlights of his market-driven “New Greek” menu included a salad of grilled peaches and creamy goat cheese, octopus with chickpea purée, and freshly made orzo pasta with pork and prunes. Parīlio is a place in which to refine the art of complete idleness.
Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, Denmark
The 14-room Hotel Havgrím is located by the sea at the edge of the Faroese capital, Tórshavn. It was designed in 1948 as a mansion, but the Danish navy acquired the property and it subsequently became home to some 21 commodores and their families. In 2017, it was purchased by local investors and converted into a hotel. We were shown to the Commodore Suite and spent the rest of the afternoon mesmerized by the views from its windows. Painted sea green, the room came with herringbone parquet floors, a high ceiling and a huge bed made up with a thick duvet. The bath provided a rain shower in a stall lined with topaz-glazed tiles. After dinner nearby — the Havgrím lacks a restaurant, but an excellent breakfast is served — we returned to our suite to sip a cognac while a full moon polished the sea beyond our windows. Hotel Havgrím is an intimate little place with a unique character, which perfectly distills the warmhearted and increasingly sophisticated hospitality of the Faroes.