Looking back at the 2020 travel schedule I had planned, I can only shake my head and laugh. Jetting halfway around the world once seemed so easy. We all took it for granted. This year, I have been reminded repeatedly how central travel is to my life, and how vital it is for the millions of people whose livelihoods rely on it. Glancing at grand plans for 2020 inspired some sense of regret, to be sure, but also hope and expectation. Perhaps in 2021, we’ll get to experience much of what we missed out on in the past months. The list below includes some of the properties that we were most excited to review but were unable to visit because of the pandemic. Photos and descriptions of these places serve as a reminder of the wonderful things in store when international travel revives.
Islas Secas, a 14-island archipelago off the coast of Panama, has been in my sights for some time, and 2020 seemed to be the year I would finally get a chance to relax in one of its seven extraordinarily plush casitas (which range from one to four bedrooms in size). Reportedly, the islands are jewels of biodiversity, with whale watching (in season), fine scuba diving and snorkeling, exceptional big-game fishing and superlative birding, with huge colonies of frigate birds and brown-footed boobies. When I finally do visit, I will also be sure to leave ample time to enjoy some of the archipelago’s exquisite beaches.
I have a soft spot for hideaways that seem to be perched at the edge of the world. And Kachi Lodge unquestionably qualifies. Its domes — a public one plus six others for accommodations — look like a Buckminster Fuller concept, situated on a snow-white salt flat, high on the altiplano. (In the wet season, November to March, rainfall turns it into a mirrorlike surface.) It is a setting of otherworldly beauty. The hikes and excursions to archaeological sites and traditional llama farms sound fascinating, and the stargazing promises to be some of the world’s best. Perhaps 2021 will see us recommend our first hotel in Bolivia.
This renovated Georgian manor house stands amid more than 400 acres of gardens and farmland. Since it’s only about 45 minutes southwest of Heathrow Airport, Heckfield Place would be an ideal destination to relax at the end of an itinerary through the Cotswolds or England’s West Country. The 45 guest rooms, divided between the main house and a new building called the Corridors, look at once contemporary and comfortable. Michelin-starred chef Skye Gyngell runs the acclaimed restaurants (as well as Spring in London’s Somerset House, where I had a wonderful lunch a couple of years ago). And the property’s Little Bothy Spa, which doesn’t look diminutive at all, offers a range of fitness classes, personal training options and a variety of treatments.
Near the border between Umbria and Tuscany, Castello di Reschio is set on a 3,700-acre estate encompassing a 36-room hotel housed within a 1,000-year-old castle and 10 historic farmhouses converted into glamorous villas. Accommodations and public areas combine period details — stone walls, wood-beamed ceilings — with stylish modern furnishings. A former watchtower now serves as the pool bar, what was once the wine cellar has been transformed into an atmospheric spa complex, and the castle’s western ramparts support a panoramic restaurant terrace. Evaluating hideaways in the Italian countryside is one of my favorite pastimes, and I plan to return to this important work as soon as possible.
I am eager to see how Schloss Elmau, one of my favorite European hideaways, handles a sister hotel in an urban setting. Orania.Berlin is located in a prewar building on Oranienplatz in vibrant Kreuzberg. Its 41 accommodations look sunny and similar in design to those at Schloss Elmau, and like that property, Orania.Berlin has ample space devoted to live music and cultural programs. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that I couldn’t visit Berlin this year. The extraordinary Pergamon Museum reopened in late 2020 after a years-long renovation, and the Neue Nationalgalerie, with its sensational collection of modern German art, plans to reopen in early 2021 after a five-year refurbishment.
Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Ethiopia has long intrigued me and would be another country new to Andrew Harper. Opened in 2016, Limalimo Lodge looks like an enticing hideaway, with 14 striking rooms constructed of rammed earth and wood. They, like the main dining terrace, afford sweeping views of Simien Mountains National Park, which promises to be a remarkable environment for hiking and trekking. The game viewing and birding also look to be exceptional. I love that there is no internet access for guests at the lodge; some forced disconnection sounds refreshing right about now. Alas, a future trip would of course be contingent on a resolution to the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where violence flared up this past November.
Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
Majete Wildlife Reserve in southern Malawi suffered from rampant poaching for decades. But in recent years, the reserve has been protected by the outstanding nonprofit conservation organization African Parks, and it is once again home to big cats and large game species. Mkulumadzi Lodge is run by the exceptional Zambian company Robin Pope Safaris and has eight “chalets” overlooking the Shire River. Accommodations, with private decks and outdoor showers, look impressive by any standard. But perhaps the main reason I’m eager for a visit is to explore a quiet corner of Africa, where few Western tourists have yet to set foot. As well as the expected game drives, Mkulumadzi offers walking safaris and excursions by boat along the river.
The five Aman lodges, collectively known as Amankora, have long been the class act in Bhutan. Now their monopoly appears to have a worthy challenger. Six Senses, a resort group known for its fabulous spas, has opened its own set of five lodges in similar locations. Their designs appear to be spectacular, incorporating local forms and materials as well as contemporary flourishes such as dramatic infinity pools. Combining stays in Paro, Thimphu, Gangtey, Punakha and Bumthang makes for an unforgettable itinerary in one of the world’s most fascinating and unspoiled countries. It would be a joy to return to Bhutan, and the Six Senses lodges have given me a perfect excuse.
Located atop the dam of a scenic reservoir in an area rich with wildlife, this tented camp was taken over by the estimable RAAS group in 2019. It looks to be an enchanting stop between Jodhpur and Jaipur. The 16 tents of RAAS Chhatrasagar have walls and ceilings of exquisitely embroidered fabric, but in other respects the word “tent” doesn’t seem quite appropriate: The accommodations come with full en suite baths and have furnished lake-view decks. A spa offers ayurvedic-themed treatments as well as yoga sessions; a heated infinity pool faces the forest canopy. In addition to birding excursions on foot or by boat, guests can take game drives to view larger animals such as nilgai (blue bulls), the largest Asian antelope.
Capella has some tough competition in Bangkok. But this new 101-room hotel on the Chao Phraya River is much smaller than my two recommended grand hotels nearby: the Peninsula and the Mandarin Oriental. Rooms start at more than 650 square feet, and many accommodations have river-view balconies or terraces with plunge pools. Infinity pools also take advantage of the view. I never tire of watching pleasure boats, water taxis and rice barges making their way up and down the river. The restaurants and lounges look glamorous, and I have no doubt that the spa is a delight. Who knows? Maybe Capella will offer its famous neighbors some serious competition after all.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
As eco-resorts go, Misool looks to be one of the world’s most alluring. It occupies a private microdot in a remote archipelago between Sulawesi and New Guinea. The eight Water Cottages (stilted houses built over a lagoon) and seven Beach Villas have a forest-friendly construction of reclaimed tropical hardwoods and boast paradisiacal views. The snorkeling and diving on the surrounding reefs are among the best in the world. The resort also offers a spa, as well as Indonesian cooking classes, boat tours of the archipelago, private beach “castaway” afternoons and tours of a nearby Papuan village built substantially on stilts. When Indonesia reopens to tourism, I know where I’m headed.
Orpheus Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
It’s been far too long since my previous visit to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The freshly redone 14-room Orpheus Island Lodge, located on a private 2,500-acre islet, gives me all the reason I need for another trip. Located between the Queensland coast and the reef, it is surrounded by healthy coral gardens ideal for snorkeling and diving. (The property has made impressive contributions to reef conservation.) Guests can take kayaks or small motorboats to secluded beaches for picnics. The resort is all-inclusive, except for certain activities and spa treatments, which use products incorporating foraged local plants.
Aman Kyoto opened in late 2019 on the edge of the city, set in a “secret” garden amid 80 acres of forest. The 26 visually striking accommodations (including two villas) take their design cues from traditional ryokans, and the resort has an onsen bathing complex fed by local springs. Restaurants, open to locals as well as hotel guests, look exquisite (important in this noncentral location). And Aman can arrange an array of fascinating-sounding cultural activities. Kyoto suffers from overtourism — or rather, it did prior to COVID-19 — but this new resort promises to ensure that a visit to the city is tranquil and authentic.