Country Life writers visit some of the best hotels in the world to kick back and relax, from St Lucia to Spain, and from the Maldives to the Mediterranean.
El Lodge, Sierra Nevada, Spain
The snow in Spain falls mainly in the Sierra Nevada. This wonderful mountain range in southern Spain is only a couple of hours’ drive from the incomparable Marbella Club on the shore of the Mediterranean. Now, the famous hostelry has brought its sense of style and panache to the slopes of Europe’s most southerly ski resort. Fifty years ago, the Marbella Club’s founder Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe liked to get his waterskiing guests up the mountain-the Spring Games he inspired in the 1960s have even been revived by his descendants. The reason that the area has not been on British skiers’ radars until now, however, is the lack of quality places to stay. El Lodge is the first luxury ski-in/ski-out property in Monachil with five-star services. When we visited in February the snow was as good as any I’ve experienced.
King Juan Carlos wanted to build his winter retreat on this spot and it’s easy to see why. Right on the slopes, it’s in a majestically commanding position. The terrace is like a large, funky outdoor drawing room with a lively and informal atmosphere where tapas and food prepared alfresco make for a perfect lunch stop. The warm outdoor swimming pool and hot tub were welcome after a day on the slopes and, inside, like giant humidors, the wood-clad bedrooms (there are only 20) are really cosy and, in our case, with views on three sides. Lots of exercise meant hearty appetites and the dinners were completely delicious; the perfectly prepared steak entrecôte with Argentinian sauce will linger long in the memory. And just to remind us we really were in Granada, we stopped off for a night at the beach-fronted Marbella Club on the way home.
El Lodge Ski and Spa Resort offers double rooms from €305 (£255) per night based on two people sharing (00 34 958 480 600; www.ellodge.com; www.marbellaclub.com). easyJet flies to Malaga from London Gatwick, London Luton and London Stansted (www.easyjet.com)
Jade Mountain, St Lucia
Whether they’re a luxury veteran or a first-timer, I defy any visitor to stop their mouth from gaping on entering any of the Sanctuary rooms at Jade Mountain. The boutique hotel is raised high in the hills of Soufrière, with each sanctuary overlooking the distinctive Gros and Petit Pitons. The rooms are all original, their three walls a signature of talented architect owner Nick Troubetzkoy. Infinity pools give onto the staggering views, creating an intoxicating ‘at one with the elements’ vibe that includes a few bugs (kindly removed by my personal butler). Falling asleep to the gentle chirping of the insects is surprisingly meditative and being woken by birds and natural sunrise is the perfect balm for any city-dweller. Meal times deliver another realm of pleasure. Breakfast is as original as it’s delicious: the banana pancake with cocoa nibs and strawberry cream is not to be missed. Whether you’re after the ‘best burger in St Lucia’ (ask for the plantain chips) at the beach restaurant, or four courses of delicately assembled cuisine at the Jade Mountain Club, there’s something for everyone.
Five nights at Jade Mountain (00 1 758 459 4000; www.jademountain.com) start at £1,999 per person, including breakfast, private transfers and British Airways flights (020-8421 7020; www.luxuryworldwidecollection.com)
One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives
Approaching Reethi Rah for the first time by sea in a speedboat, we passed a rolling supply vessel named Fat, Fabulous and Fun. It was a portent of the time ahead. From the minute we stepped ashore on the Bond-esque atoll-island we were exposed to ruinous pleasures.
My villa, as long as a chieftain’s longhouse and as luxurious as a bath of ass’s milk (something the concierge probably can provide) was screened by a carefully pruned jungle (sprayed against mosquitoes twice a week and tended by eighty gardeners) and looked out over a deserted, palm-encrusted beach and an aquamarine sea. During the day, I raced across the atoll on a catamaran, canoed around the island’s shores, and was massaged in the unearthly paradise of its spa.
Even a session of Clean and Lean ‘bodyism’, a lifestyle thing, was unable to shake my equanimity and worked off some of the delicious food and wine I had sunk in some of the island’s sublimely chic eateries. It appeared that word ‘no’ was unthinkable, so I tested the theory by asking the sommeliere for a glass of sweet Hungarian dessert wine, and lo and behold a bottle of Tokaj was conjured from the amply stocked cellar (more of a cold room whose temperature ia controlled to NASA laboratory standards).
One was constantly surrounded by a happy sprinkling of wildlife: at lunch one day I watched two Jack Fish darting about in the water nearby as I munched on one of their less fortunate cousins; sitting out watching the light fade one evening a sort of Moor Hen loped out of the jungle and made for the infinity pool while a bull-frog gurgled and a fruit bat lollopped overhead; and on the beach one was never far from the bat’s marine relation, the manta, or a herd of crabs with their eyes born aloft on stalks as if in a perpetual state of amazement. But perhaps the highlight was snorkelling on turtle-rich coral reefs. It was not only turtles (waving as if in parody of the Royal Family) who I met at close quarters, but also remarkably coloured fish named to remind one of life above the waves: parrot fish, frog fish and goat fish.
At night, I returned to the villa (a delightful Indonesian-Malay architectural fusion), happily drunk on soupy Indian Ocean air, to discover my bed strewn with petals. The discreetly managed repose of the island made me believe I had unwittingly joined a cult dedicated to the good life.
One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives
Stay for 7 nights
from £3,675. Price is based on two people sharing a Beach Villa on a
bed and breakfast basis, return flights in economy and shared yacht
Price is valid 10 May to 09 July 2014.
For further information please contact Elegant Resorts Reservations on 01244 897525 or visit the website www.elegantresorts.co.uk
Villas at One&Only Reethi Rah start from £570 + 10% service charge +
8% taxes per villa per night on a bed and breakfast basis, for more
information please call +960 664 8800 or visit
reethirah.oneandonlyresorts.com Stay for seven nights from £3,615. Price is based on two people sharing a Beach Villa on a B&B basis, return flights in economy and shared yacht transfers. For further information, contact Elegant Resorts Reservations on 01244 897881 or visit www.elegantresorts.co.uk
Domaine de la Baume, Tourtour, France
There are some majestic rooms at this newest addition to the Sibuet family’s group of charming hotels, but the most glorious is outdoors.
The mellow old chestnut trees, soft toile de jouy cushions and endless sunset view across wooded valleys-there’s not another building in sight-are hard to leave. At dusk, wild boar gambol in the field below, enchanting guests and enraging waiters.
This secluded Provençal bastide is the former home of the Expressionist artist Bernard Buffet and the master suite is named after his widow, Annabel. Lavish wallpapers, rich colours and trompe d’oeils give an aura of drowsy comfort. Excellent house wine (included in the price) from the vineyard of sister hotel La Bastide de Marie and the garden produce -figs, apricots, honey, olive oil-adds to the wholesome feel. If you’re moved to explore, you’ll need a car; try the road over the hills past the Lac de Sainte-Croix to Moustiers.
Get flights and a car for seven nights from Marseille (2hr away) with British Airways/ Avis from about £255 (0844 493 0787; www.britishairways.com). Double rooms from €440 (£368) half board per night (00 33 4 83 13 27 27; http://en.domaine-delabaume.com)
The Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, Sweden
Opened in 1874, the beautiful Grand Hôtel in Stockholm sits majestically on the waterfront, overlooking the Royal Palace and Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stan. A favourite of the Swedish royal family, it boasts a renowned spa and Mathias Dahlgren’s two restaurants which both have Michelin stars. Matbaren is his modern bistro and a highlight of lunch in the hotel’s Veranda restaurant is the exquisite Swedish smörgåsbord, served with the hotel’s own Grand Aquavit 1874.
Nearby is the preserved and magnificently adorned 17th century ship Vasa, which tragically sank on its maiden voyage, and City Hall is worth a visit for its 18 million golden mosaic tiles alone. Rosendal Gardens produces the fare for its own vegetable and flower market. Don’t leave without trying a traditional fika, a Swedish coffee break complete with warm cinnamon buns. Fabrique does this simple luxury superbly at its seven bakeries.
Double rooms at the Grand Hotel, Stockholm (00 46 8 679 35 00; www.grandhotel.se/en) start from SEK3,800 (£256) a night, based on two people sharing, including breakfast, WiFi and access to the spa. British Airways (www.britishairways.com) flies up to three times a day from London City Airport to Stockholm, starting from £73 one way. Passengers travelling from London City Airport can check in up to 15 minutes before departure.
Villa La Massa, Tuscany, Italy
Our trifolau (truffle hunter), Giulio, urged silencio as we picked our way along the forest paths in the hills above Florence. His dog, Edda, needed all her concentration. It paid off and our prizes soon found their way back to the kitchens of Villa La Massa, where executive chef Andrea Quagliarella prepared triumphant dishes using this sought-after delicacy. Poached eggs, duck livers and truffle sauce were followed by homemade tagliolini and truffles. Tuscan beef fillet and goose liver featured grated truffle, and then came a light apple tart with truffleinfused vanilla ice cream. We serve truffle risotto at Le Caprice and Andrea’s menus gave me some great new ideas.
Villa La Massa is a little gem of a hotel, owned and managed by the renowned Villa d’Este. With just 37 rooms, it has the charm and ambience of a private house, and its restaurant, Il Verrocchio, is the only one in Florence with a terrace on the banks of the Arno. Its enchanting vaulted cellar houses some 400 different labels.
Stay seven nights from £1,395 per person-telephone Elegant Resorts on 01244 897771 or visit www.elegantresorts.co.uk
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, Sorrento, Italy
Entering the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, perched on the cliffs along the Amalfi coast with the brooding shape of Vesuvius in the distance, feels like walking into a Visconti film. It is timelessly grand. A pianist tinkles in the corner and staff in grey morning suits take your bags. A Campari and soda soothes the journey from Naples, followed by a lunch of grilled fish. The wonderful Terrazza Bosquet restaurant within the hotel has recently been awarded a Michelin Star.
The hotel has its own private lift to the beach below or, after a walk through its beautiful gardens, you can join the tourist bustle of Sorrento. This is the land of the lemon and its various products dominate the shops in the narrow streets and groves of citrus fruits hang on the steep slopes in the countryside.
We visited Capri by ferry and had a fine lunch at Punta Tragara, a favoured spot of Winston Churchill’s, and visited Positano by bus, but the highlight of the excursions was, of course, Pompeii, which, despite the appalling state in which it’s kept, is still one of the world’s wonders. But it was the hotel itself that we most enjoyed, an oasis of tranquility with sensational food. A perfect long weekend.
Rooms start from €236 (£197) including breakfast (00 39 081 877 7111; www.exvitt.it)
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