This was the year of France. It wasn't planned like that. In fact, 12 months ago, travels in peaceful and prosperous Scandinavia seemed a higher priority, given the turbulent state of the world. As it turns out, we made extremely successful trips to both Denmark and Norway, journeys that are reflected here among our Grand Awards. However, the Hideaway of the Year proved to be the magnificent Villa La Coste in the Luberon, and we also discovered four other memorable French properties in the ravishingly scenic Dordogne region, as well as in Provence and on the Riviera.
In the United States, 2017 was distinguished by two splendid new city hotels: The Whitby Hotel in New York and Hotel Emma in San Antonio. We also fell in love with SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, California, a five-room inn with a superlative restaurant. Farther afield, we found a spectacular resort in the Al Hajar Mountains of Oman, as well as an exceptional hiking lodge, the explora Valle Sagrado, near Cusco in the Peruvian Andes. It has been an untypical year in some ways, but our 20 Grand Award winners are sure to delight even the most demanding of travelers.
Le Petit Nice occupies a small white villa on a craggy spit at the southern edge of Marseille. Many of its 16 comfortable guest rooms have views of the Mediterranean. Our room was painted vanilla and furnished with contemporary pieces. What we liked best, though, was the private terrace overlooking the sea. This relaxed hotel has been family-owned and-run for a century. Owner and three-star chef Gérald Passédat is one of the world’s finest fish cooks, so at lunch we opted for his 10-course tasting menu. What we most appreciated was the deceptive simplicity of his cooking. Every dish dazzled with marine freshness, and the garnishes never overwhelmed the natural flavors. Le Petit Nice is a small, quiet place with a distinctive personality, sublime food and a lovely seaside pool.
This cliffside hotel was originally built in the late 1950s but was recently given a comprehensive makeover. On arrival, we enjoyed a meal of barigoule (artichokes braised in white wine), and steamed cod with local organic vegetables and garlic mayonnaise on the shaded terrace of the main restaurant. Since the hotel is just a few yards from the sea, the views were superb, including a great sweep of blue topaz Mediterranean. We instantly loved our seaview suite, with its large private balcony. That night, we ordered room service via an easy-to-use in-room tablet, which allowed us to track our order in real time. The hotel has a tree-shaded garden with hammocks that invite a lazy afternoon with a book. Diving and snorkeling outings with local experts, plus paddle boarding, kayaking and cooking classes, are available.
The romantic Château de la Treyne is perched on the edge of a limestone bluff high above the Dordogne river. Surrounded by almost 300 acres of formal gardens and forest, its central tower dates from the 14th century, but most of the 17-room hotel was built some three centuries later. The most spectacular space is the Louis XIII salon, home to the château’s Michelin-starred restaurant. In summer, it is also possible to dine on the broad terrace overlooking the river. We had an apéritif there each evening as the sun set. Our palatial junior suite, Louis XIII, also overlooked the river and came with parquet floors and Fortuny-like red silk damask fabric covering the walls. Ever-present management and well-trained, friendly staff ensured that our stay was a pleasure from start to finish.
Les Baux-de-Provence, France
The 30-room and nine-villa Domaine de Manville was created from a group of 18th-century farm buildings on a 250-acre estate. The Bergerie (“sheep barn”) houses the reception and two restaurants. Most accommodations are located in two newly constructed wings. Our Junior Suite was spacious and comfortable, with a small private terrace overlooking the hotel’s enormous pool. Its modern décor was a welcome change from traditional Provençal styles, which often combine faux antiques and floral prints in a manner that has become a pastiche of itself. Amenities include an 18-hole golf course and a superb spa. The fact that you can book a villa for the number of nights that suits your itinerary is a blessing for anyone who doesn’t have the time to rent a place for the usual minimum of a week in high season.
The 62-room Weissenhaus Grand Village Resort is located close to the Baltic coast of Schleswig-Holstein. A Hamburg entrepreneur bought the property in 2005 and spent a vast sum to rebuild the historic estate. It reopened as a hotel in 2014. We booked one of the nine Deluxe Rooms with Terrace, which are located in the former gatehouse, dairy and bakery. The château contains more guest rooms, plus a convenient tunnel to the Schlosstherme, the resort’s extraordinary spa complex. Having unpacked, we walked down the allée leading from our room to the beach. Later, we dined at the Michelin-starred Courtier overlooking a broad lawn and a sliver of the Baltic visible between the trees. When it came time to leave, our only thought was how we could find an excuse to return.
The 25-room Valverde Hotel occupies a townhouse in the middle of the grand Avenida da Liberdade, a broad, tree-shaded avenue lined with designer shops. Walking in feels like coming home to your smart Lisbon apartment building. We had reserved one of the Junior Suites, all of which face the Avenida. The bedroom had a herringbone wood floor covered by an area rug, tan walls decorated with etchings and abstract prints, a love seat and a writing desk. Public spaces include a library-like lounge just off the wood-paneled reception area, a sunken garden courtyard with a small swimming pool and hot tub, and a fine restaurant, Sítio. The Valverde has purchased an adjacent building and plans to expand in the coming years. In the meantime, however, it will delight those seeking a tranquil residential atmosphere.
This well-run and welcoming 34-room country house hotel is housed within a 13th-century castle. Today it boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, Slotskøkkenet, run by chef Claus Henriksen. Our room in the main castle building was spacious, with views over a formal garden. Attractively furnished, it provided a four-poster Hästens bed (a Swedish manufacturer that makes some of the world’s best beds). The 800-year-old fortress has an austere but very beautiful chapel, a library and numerous lounges. Dinner was served in a restaurant secluded behind three-foot-thick walls. With a cooking style he describes as “nature conscious,” chef Henriksen builds his menu around seasonal vegetables and herbs. Our roast pork loin with kale and “Danish capers” (pickled elderflower berries) was predictably delicious. Dragsholm Slot is one of those places that gets under your skin very quickly.
The 12-room Henne Kirkeby Kro (“kro” means “inn” in Danish) is located on the western coast of the Jutland peninsula, approximately three hours from Copenhagen. This sturdy redbrick structure with a thatched roof dates to 1790. Its English chef, Paul Cunningham, who has been cooking at the inn since 2012, won a second Michelin star this year. Its rooms are divided between three buildings: the original inn, the Jægerhuset (The Hunting Lodge) and the Staldgården (The Stable). The three accommodations that we preferred were the two Junior Suites in the original inn and the Johannes Larsen Suite in The Hunting Lodge. Highlights of the superlative tasting menu that night were a buttered crumpet with local lobster; turbot with leeks, brown butter and caviar; lamb with garlic and eggplant; and rhubarb from the hotel’s garden with ginger and raw-milk ice cream.
The Solstrand is a collection of wooden buildings with gingerbread-style fretwork on their eaves. On arrival, we spent time inspecting the photographs on the walls, which told the hotel’s story. Opened in 1896 by Christian Michelsen, Norway’s first prime minister, the Solstrand quickly became a place where affluent Bergen and Oslo families spent their vacations. Our suite in the south wing of the hotel came with glorious views over the hotel gardens and the Bjørnafjorden. Many details delighted, such as the porthole window over the dressing table. The hotel’s spa — which includes an indoor swimming pool, sauna and hammam — is state-of-the-art. In the dining room, we enjoyed an exceptional dinner of shellfish soup, grilled salmon, and blueberry tart. The Solstrand is attractive and comfortable and has a gorgeous location, but ultimately the best thing about the place is the superb staff.
At the end of the 19th century, wealthy Europeans were in search of new destinations of great natural beauty, and in 1891 the Hotel Union Øye, set back from the Hjørundfjord, opened to cater to the demand. The hotel has now been completely restored. Most of the accommodations have four-poster beds; none has a television or telephone, since the idea is to re-create the gentle rhythms of a more leisured age. A delicious dinner of scallop chowder and roast lamb was served by waitresses wearing traditional Norwegian dress. Afterward in the lounge, a member of the staff recounted the history of the hotel, while guests examined such curiosities as one of Karen Blixen’s hiking boots. A stay at the Hotel Union Øye is not just an experience of magnificent scenery, but also a sepia-toned journey into the past.
Bolton Abbey, England
Situated beside the scenic River Wharfe, The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa has been owned by the Dukes of Devonshire since 1753. The 40-room hotel comprises a 17th-century inn and a modern extension, which together enclose a formal garden. After relaxing in the tranquil and comfortable Herbert Royle Suite for a while, we headed to the central lounge. There we found a huge silver cooler set atop a central table containing a variety of French Champagnes. The barman was charm personified, as was the waiter who arrived with menus from the adjacent Burlington Restaurant. The hotel’s talented young chef, Paul Leonard, places a premium on regional, seasonal and foraged ingredients. The principal amenity is a spa, housed within a former barn. The picturesque ruins of Bolton Priory, which were painted by J.M.W. Turner, are close by.
On arrival, we caught sight of what appeared to be a traditional village, constructed from rough-hewn gray stone, perched at the edge of a stupendous canyon. The Alila Jabal Akhdar resort is situated in the spectacular Al Hajar mountain range, which runs for 300 miles across northern Oman. Inside, the lobby turned out to be a tour de force of interior design. Our splendid Jabal Terrace suite featured heavy, studded Omani furniture; hand-painted wall motifs; and a private terrace with one of the most spellbinding views we have ever seen from a hotel room. The restaurant offers international-Arabic cuisine, and the property’s spa uses ingredients made from local roses, juniper berries and Omani frankincense. This is an exceptional resort. It alone would have made our trip to the Middle East worthwhile.
New York, New York, United States
The Whitby Hotel is a new boutique property with a choice Midtown location, close to high-end shopping, the Theater District and the Museum of Modern Art. Its 86 rooms, spread across 16 floors, have all been individually designed and are decorated with an astonishing range of furniture, textiles and artwork. Downstairs, The Whitby Bar & Restaurant is a colorful space with high ceilings, a 30-foot pewter bar top and upholstered banquettes. Warehouse-style windows and doors lead to a sunny orangery. Service at the bar is crisp and matched by that in the restaurant. Elsewhere, a comfortable, book-lined drawing room makes a tranquil retreat during the day or an agreeable venue for an evening cocktail. Downstairs we discovered a 130-seat screening room. New York has surprisingly few distinguished smaller hotels. The Whitby is a welcome addition.
San Antonio, Texas, United States
Completed in 1894, San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery building is an imposing brick structure, with a central tower and huge arched windows. Today, as well as housing the 146-room Hotel Emma, the former brewery has given its name to the surrounding gastronomic and retail neighborhood, at the northern end of the River Walk, close to the San Antonio Museum of Art. The building’s recent conversion was undertaken by New York-based Roman and Williams, a design firm that has come to specialize in the repurposing of historic structures. The central public spaces are astonishingly dramatic, and in the lobby the brewery’s cast-iron tanks and machinery remain in place. Hotel Emma is further distinguished by its restaurant, Supper, where chef John Brand offers a seasonal menu of New American cuisine in an attractive bistro setting.
Fort Bragg, California, United States
The Inn at Newport Ranch lies just north of Fort Bragg. Our accommodations were in Redwood House, which contains the property’s three suites. Out on the balcony we discovered a wooden soaking tub from which it became our habit to sit and gaze at the night sky while listening to the sea. Back at the main inn we discovered a dining table made from a single piece of solid redwood, a floor made with 30-inch-wide redwood planks and a huge stone hearth. We returned in the morning for breakfast, tucking into pillowy pancakes and bacon-wrapped eggs cooked in muffin tins. The activity not to miss is the ATV safari. During the course of a three-hour tour, we really came to appreciate the scope of the property, which sits on an uninterrupted mile of oceanfront bluffs.
Healdsburg, California, United States
Located a block away from Healdsburg’s plaza and occupying a former post office, SingleThread Farms is a new five-room inn with an exceptional restaurant supplied by a nearby five-acre farm. We had opted to take the inn’s only suite, a 700-square-foot contemporary space that came with a wall of windows, a high beamed ceiling, white brick walls, wooden floors and a lounge with a gas fireplace. In the evening, we enjoyed a memorable meal in the 52-seat restaurant. With custom-woven screens and strategically placed flower arrangements, the room was a brilliant evocation of Japanese aesthetics. As was the procession of dishes on the superlative 11-course tasting menu. SingleThread is the fulfillment of a dream for owners Kyle and Katina Connaughton. It is extraordinary that this is the Connaughtons’ first solo venture.
Hotel B is located in the fashionable neighborhood of Barranco, which is home to many of Peru’s leading artists, musicians, designers and photographers. Housed within a white Belle Epoque mansion, it has clearly been designed to provide a social center for the neighborhood. The high-ceilinged lobby, with its long sofas and modern-art collection, is flanked by a library adjoining a leafy patio and an intimate dining room with round marble bistro tables. The restaurant is under the supervision of noted chef Oscar Velarde, whose menu combines Peruvian and Mediterranean flavors. The 17 accommodations come in three categories. Four distinctive “Ateliers” surround a private lounge on the second floor and offer 16-foot ceilings. This is a stylish boutique property that will appeal to many people who don’t normally care for such places.
This new Andean lodge is located 25 miles north of the Inca capital, Cusco. It aims to provide sophisticated comfort in a wild area and to encourage guests to immerse themselves in nature. The design is austere but imaginative, with unvarnished wooden walls, stripped beams and pillars, elevated walkways, vaulted ceilings and panoramic windows. Our room was simple, elegant and light-filled. Expansive windows looked out to the snowcapped 19,000-foot summit of Sahuasiray. The open-plan main lodge contains a long and convivial bar, a library and a dramatic dining room with a cathedral ceiling. Despite having a spa, housed within a nearby 17th-century hacienda, this is a resort where people come chiefly to engage in strenuous exercise. Although many of the activities are suitable for any moderately athletic person, some of the glacier hikes are demanding.
Mexico City, Mexico
Polanco is an upscale, walkable neighborhood with gourmet restaurants, name-brand shops and high-end galleries. Set in a 1950s residential building, the 35-room Las Alcobas hotel is located on the main Avenida Presidente Masaryk. The stylish lobby came with a black-marble floor, artwork by local painter Roberto Cortázar and an extraordinary spiral rosewood staircase. Our Corner Suite was spacious, with a full-size living room featuring a double-sided fireplace. A wraparound terrace provided a view of the downtown high-rises. Amenities include a small spa. There is no swimming pool, but private yoga and Pilates classes can be arranged. The property also offers two first-rate restaurants, including Dulce Patria, where well-known chef Martha Ortiz offers a constantly changing menu of refined Mexican cuisine. Las Alcobas is a sophisticated oasis, with staff members who are unfailingly gracious and obliging.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
This new 60-room, 32-villa Auberge property fronts one of the few swimmable beaches in Los Cabos. The heart of the resort is a group of three long infinity pools that cascade into one another. On either side of the pools the accommodations are housed within white two-story buildings divided by desert gardens. Guest rooms all feel like junior suites and come with furnished terraces. Aside from the beautifully appointed spa, Chileno Bay’s other main amenities are its restaurants. At TnT, a lunch-only venue between the pool and beach, our fresh sea bass tacos were superb. The open-air space for breakfast and dinner, COMAL, has a chic design and mesmerizing views of the Sea of Cortez. The food was unfussy but thoughtfully composed. Service never failed to be anything less than helpful and genuinely warm.