Certain hotels that we visit over the course of the year deserve special recognition. The properties below all excelled in particular aspects, making them worthy of note, even if they didn’t necessarily have the highest overall scores of the hotels we reviewed. We would be very pleased to return to any of them. In 2021, award-winning hotels ranged from mansions in Texas and the Loire Valley to nature-focused lodges in Costa Rica and Kenya.
New hotels have burgeoned in tandem with Austin’s growth, but I have been waiting for a property of real distinction to arrive on the scene. My wish came true last June. The Perry mansion is a 10,800-square-foot Italianate structure that dates from 1928. It was built for cotton shipping tycoon Edgar Perry, nicknamed “Commodore” by his friends, and sits adjacent to the historic Hyde Park neighborhood across from a nine-hole golf course. The hotel regularly offers wine tastings and live performances by local artists, for those who want to experience the city’s renowned music scene without leaving the comfort of the grounds. The Commodore Perry Estate offers the best of both worlds: an urban resort in a lively capital with the distinct feeling of being a tranquil hideaway.
When Jérôme and Alice Tourbier opened Les Sources de Caudalie in 1999, situated in the middle of the vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafitte near Bordeaux, they launched a new era in French wine-country hospitality. Now they’ve done it again with a charming 49-room country house hotel on a 90-acre estate outside of Cheverny in the Loire Valley. The accommodations at Les Sources de Cheverny are distributed between the 18th-century limestone Château du Breuil and newly built lodges with steep roofs of flat terra-cotta tiles (a reference by Paris architect Yves Collet to the outbuildings found on local farms). Abandoning the “faux château” idiom of decorating, Alice worked with Studio Be-Poles, the Paris- and New York-based design consultancy, to create a cozy neo-Danish look for the rooms. The property offers a beautiful spa with an indoor swimming pool and two excellent restaurants. Most guests go for walks in the woods, bicycle through the surrounding countryside, or just hole up with a good book.
Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Surrounded by forest, Sanctuary Olonana is set on a high bank overlooking the rapids of the Mara River. Each of the 14 glass-sided air-conditioned suites is at least 1,400 square feet. I had been allocated to Suite 1, conveniently close to the lodge’s lavish public areas. It proved to be far more opulent than I had anticipated, with a large bedroom containing a king-size bed swathed in mosquito netting, overhead fans, built-in storage units, bleached wood floors, contemporary African artwork and textiles, two writing desks and a spacious sunken lounge area with a semicircular sofa overlooking the river. An enormous marble- and slate-accented bath came with a walk-in shower area, a freestanding oval tub and twin rectangular sinks set in marble. Glass doors opened directly onto a private terrace with a screened two-person daybed from which to observe the hippos below.
“Romantic” can be a very subjective word. That said, it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t agree that this supremely elegant 14-room hotel epitomizes the term. Why? Simply put, Le Grand Contrôle offers an intimate approximation of what life was like in the Château de Versailles during its heyday. The three 1652 brick-and-stone buildings were designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, King Louis XIV’s favorite architect, and are located on the edge of the château complex overlooking L’Orangerie, where potted citrus trees are arranged in an elegant open-air garden during the warm-weather months. Each room is named for a prominent personality at Versailles, from Jacques Necker, finance minister to King Louis XVI, to Madame de Staël, the famous novelist, essayist and confidant of Marie Antoinette. All are individually decorated with Pierre Frey fabrics, oak parquet floors and antique furniture. Overall, these are some of the most historically resonant and supremely comfortable accommodations to be found anywhere in France.
The glass-fronted locker lined with pink Himalayan salt at the entrance to chef Mauro Colagreco’s spectacular new restaurant at The Maybourne Riviera previews the cooking even before you’ve seen a menu: It’s filled with fish hanging from stainless steel hooks. Colagreco has adopted the Japanese art of aging fish to develop its fullest flavor. “Wild seafood has become the greatest luxury in the world today because of declining catches,” he says. “So the challenge was to invent a seafood cookery that privileges rather than masks its delicious natural flavors.” Most of the fish are cooked on a specially designed grill over briquettes made from crushed olive pits, which ensure an intense even heat, and garnishes offer a contrast in taste and texture. A perfect example from a recent lunch was a grilled fillet of scorpionfish (rascasse) with a side of kale and a creamy sauce made from bread crusts. The chewy kale and the yeasty sauce revealed the saline sweetness of the fish and emphasized its firm but delicate flesh. Other standout dishes included scallops with white beans and white truffles, and aged tuna belly with housemade XO sauce, an umami-rich Cantonese condiment.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Set at 8,200 feet on Cheyenne Mountain, a 30-minute drive from Colorado Springs, The Ranch at Emerald Valley is accessible only by a shuttle service up a steep dirt road from The Broadmoor, its famous parent resort. Being self-contained and miles from any form of habitation, it feels very safe and struck me immediately as a place ideally suited to a family vacation. The property comprises a 100-year-old main lodge and a cluster of 10 log cabins of various sizes, all of which are comfortable, atmospheric and likely to appeal to children of all ages. Copper Cabin and Lakeside Cabin each have two bedrooms, while Hill Cabin has two principal bedrooms, plus a loft that can accommodate four children. The property is arranged along one side of an artificial pond, fed by a stream, which then connects to a small lake. During my stay, the trout fishing was relatively easy and more than once it occurred to me that this would be an ideal place in which to teach someone to fly-fish. Other child-friendly activities include riding, kayaking and archery.
Matapalo, Costa Rica
To reach Kasiiya Pagagayo, you must drive for about 30 minutes along on a bumpy dirt track through the forest that fringes the coast of northwestern Costa Rica. Eventually, you glimpse a few modest buildings and an expanse of the Pacific. It was while I was watching a group of howler monkeys that I first realized Kasiiya’s low-key appearance is entirely deliberate. If the simple structures were removed, within weeks no one would be able to tell that they had ever existed. Our huge beach suite came with canvas walls, a hardwood floor and a “safari” color palette of sage green and khaki. There was no adornment of any kind. Outside, we found a deck occupied by an enormous iguana, about the size of a beagle. Descending some wooden steps, we came to a glorious empty beach, a half-mile stretch of golden sand. Activities at the resort include escorted bird-watching, hiking and free diving under the supervision of a Russian instructor, Ekaterina. I spent much of my stay gazing at the Pacific in hopes of spotting a whale.