Each year, we have the pleasure of recalling our travel experiences and singling out a number of particularly memorable hotels and resorts. From Switzerland to St. Kitts and Hawaii to Hong Kong, here are our favorites from 2016.
The spa at the Villa Honegg, an art nouveau hotel situated high on a mountainside above Lake Lucerne, is a stylish but relatively small facility that offers a wide range of treatments and massages, plus a Finnish sauna, a steam room and a spectacular indoor pool, with underwater music, a countercurrent swimming system and panoramic windows. What makes the spa unique, however, is the outdoor horizon pool. Heated to 94 degrees year-round, it offers a staggering view of the lake 3,000 feet below, as well as ridge after ridge of jagged mountains that extend all the way to the high snow peaks of the Saint-Gotthard massif. Basking in the warm water and gazing at the scene of astounding natural splendor was almost a transcendental experience. I can only imagine what it must be like in winter when the entire landscape is thickly covered with snow.
The main building at Amanera has an array of water features that includes striking reflecting pools cantilevered off the sides of the structure seemingly in defiance of gravity. Most impressive is the large infinity pool at the edge of the lower level. From the water, you would be forgiven for thinking that the far end of the pool melts into space. But from the terrace, you see that it also overlooks the beautiful sweep of the Playa Grande beach below.
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
When I returned to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel this year, I was gratified to discover that, in the face of numerous complaints from regular guests, the hotel had come to its senses and reopened the Copper Bar. There, marble-topped tables and cushioned chairs stood under a soaring ceiling, and only the handful of graceful columns interrupted the wonderful view of the gardens and beach. At a shady table cooled by gentle sea breezes, we relaxed with Mauna Kea Mule cocktails, mixed with house-made ginger beer and local vodka distilled from sugar cane. It was one of those truly blissful moments that alone make the flight to Hawaii worthwhile.
The west coast of Myanmar, facing the Andaman Sea, has enormous potential as a beach destination. In the south, the Myeik (or Mergui) Archipelago consists of more than 800 islands, virtually all of which are currently undeveloped. For now, however, the best place to relax on the beach is Ngapali, farther north. It is an hour’s flight from Yangon to the airport at Thandwe, from where it is a 20-minute drive along a quiet road to my recommended Ngapali Bay Villas & Spa. The beach itself is a long, wide stretch of pale golden sand backed by palms, fronted by calm translucent sea and dotted with a fleet of small, wooden, brightly painted fishing boats. A forested offshore island lends a focal point to the view. Aside from being a blissful place to swim or to lounge beneath a parasol, Ngapali beach serves as an informal thoroughfare, and at least once a day we would join a group of local people in a stroll along the sand to a small informal market. There, we would invariably find a table at a café, order a cold drink and contemplate returning to spend an entire winter in blissful tropical languor.
The Upper House occupies the top floors of a tower whose zigzag outer wall imparts to its rooms dramatic triangular spaces. This manifested itself most spectacularly in our bathroom where floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the triangle offered, from both the deep soaking tub and the big walk-in shower, panoramic views of Hong Kong’s harbor. A pedestal-mounted sculpture and a versatile, well-executed lighting plan added to the visual appeal.
Mashpi Lodge, a 22-room luxury eco-lodge in the foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes, is a property that both children and parents will thoroughly enjoy. I had an opportunity to hike with a family while Mrs. Harper relaxed in the spa, and the guide had no trouble keeping the kids entertained. We hiked to the Life Centre, where the lodge maintains a butterfly house. The children loved spotting the various colorful butterflies (as did I) amid the gardens. En route, we stopped at a vine that the three children in our group used to swing out over a shallow depression in the jungle, à la Tarzan. At another point, where the trail was rough, the guide carried the youngest on his shoulders for a time. Various other activities, notably the “Sky Bike” and the new aerial tram, are ideal for young ones as well. Also good to know: Three pairs of rooms at the lodge interconnect.
San Antonio de Areco, Argentina
In a particularly lovely patch of the Pampas, where it’s still common to see gauchos in traditional attire herding cattle, I discovered a strikingly designed and wonderfully relaxing hideaway. The 11 rooms of La Bamba de Areco occupy the original pomegranate-hued 1830s estate house and several similarly designed outbuildings. The rooms aren’t large, but the public spaces are so inviting that guests tend to spend relatively little time in their rooms. Excellent communal meals make a stay here feel like an exclusive house party. Other activities include gaucho-led horseback rides, carriage rides, excursions to the gaucho town of San Antonio de Areco or simply lounging by the outdoor pool or in the atmospheric Pulpería tavern beside the fire. The friendly and helpful staff ensure that everyone here feels like an honored guest.
As I approached our cottage at Belle Mont Farm on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, its charming exterior with blue-gray clapboard siding and shingle roof instantly appealed to me. Although the single room was not particularly large, the high, peaked ceiling, the strategic placement of a window seat and the glass doors leading to a deck and private pool overlooking the Caribbean, pulled off the neat trick of seeming simultaneously intimate and grand. Add the innovative meals at the farm-to-table restaurant, The Kitchen, and the wonderfully congenial staff, and Belle Mont Farm was a place we were extremely sorry to leave.