Some people are excited by discovery of a latest handbag, the hottest exercise class, or hippest restaurant. For me, it has always been about discovering a new hotel, a hidden gem or unique locale. It is why I created Inviato (what I like to call an “inspirational” travel blog) in the first place – to share with others these discoveries and have others share their own. As such, with this post, I am thrilled to have just hit a personal milestone of 100 write-ups about some pretty incredible places since I composed my first one in late 2009.
For my first post of 2013, nothing gives me more pleasure to share my list of the 10 newest hotels I am excited about for 2013 (my own HOT hotel list, if you will). All have been recently opened (in the last 18 months) or just re-opened after renovations. All of them look damn fantastic. I have yet to visit any of them although I am hoping to change that by the end of the year. Missing from the list but deserving to be there are The Jerome in Aspen, Cafe Royale in London and Sugar BeachViceroy in St. Lucia. Since I wrote about these three incredible hotels last month, I have moved on to others.
Here they are (drumroll please)…10 hotels to get excited about for 2013:
Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland
The très chic alpine ski town of Gstaad in Switzerland hasn’t had new hotel, much less a 5 star hotel, in quite some time. Actually a century. All that has changed. The 56-room Alpina Gstaad just opened in December 2012 with a new interpretation in Alpine Chic.
Yes, here you will find the requisite fireplaces, fondue restaurant (in this case, the swiss restaurant, Stübli), indoor/outdoor pool, and comfy furnishings one would expect out of an ski lodge in the Alps. But AG takes it one step further adding some cool features making it feel exotic. Such as the Japanese restaurant Megu, a Cuban cigar room, Six Senses spa (with Himalayan salt room!), and lest we forget, a private cinema.
The luxurious interiors, featuring lots of stone, wood and leather (all locally sourced and created by local craftsmen including stone from the Alps and repurposed wood from nearby centuries-old farmhouses) are worth their own post alone.
A list wouldn’t be complete without featuring an Aman hotel. Thankfully new ones seem to be popping up all the time making my job easy. This new Aman, the Amanzo’e, is in Greece (while fiscally in distress, Greece is and always will be a hot spot to travel). It is Greece’s first Aman and Aman’s third European property.
This new 38 “guest pavilion” resort rests on a hilltop with 360 degree views of the sea in the quaint town of Porto Heli in Peloponnese. Isolated, yet thankfully the island is only half an hour from Athens by helicopter.
Friends who stayed at Amanzo’e for the soft opening this summer had only positive things to say: “I think that a fair description is what I usually call it: “The Temple Of Amanzoe” since it truly combines the raw experience and beauty of the Greek landscape in a majestic setting that takes your breath away and transports you back to a different era – spiritually and mentally. The beach club is stunning with two 25 meter pools in front of a turquoise sea. The surrounding area gives you the sense of “real Greece” driving by goat farms and dirt roads – which contrast the discreet luxury of the resort”.
Casa Gangotena, Quito, Ecuador
Casa Gangotena, is featured in just about every travel publication 2013 Hot and It list. Based on location alone, it is a winner. Right now, Ecuador is the new “go to” destination – not just a quick stopover on the way to the Galapagos like it has been. Quito, the country’s capital is a UNESCO-protected city with history dating back to the Incas – the city actually sits on top of 16th century ruins.
The cobbled Plaza San Francisco, which Casa Gangotena overlooks, is one of Quito’s most beautiful sights with views of the monastery and towering active volcanoes overlooking the city. Restaurants, shops and cafes – many in former palaces- align the plaza.
As for the hotel itself, Casa Gangotena debuted in October 2012 in a historic 3-story mansion that was originally built as a home in 1534. After a 4 year, $10MM renovation, the result is now a stylish boutique hotel (and the country’s first real luxury hotel) with 31 spacious bedrooms. Make sure to ask for one of the eight guest rooms facing the Plaza.
El Encanto, Santa Barbara, CA
When Orient-Express announces the opening of a hotel, I take notice. Scheduled to open this coming March, after a major SEVEN year restoration, El Encanto’s 92 suites and bungalows are likely to be consistently booked solid
Once the favored getaway of the Hollywood elite (LA is a mere 90 minutes drive), El Encanto is expected to bring back the restored glory of its former self with a few notable touches. Of course, there will be a spa (de rigeur now at any resort) as well as on-site restaurants.
New on property are specially designed electric bikes that you can borrow to wander throughout the seven acre grounds and property overlooking the Pacific or bike the one mile distance to the charming town of Santa Barbara. Another welcome addition is the hotel’s very own cow, Ellie, whose milk will be made to produce exclusive cheese at the hotel (not sure about the labor laws for cows but seems one may not be enough?). The hotel will also have its own herb and vegetable garden and brew its own brand of coffee.
Goldeneye was on everyone’s Hot List last year after its late 2010 opening but it is still new enough for me to warrant being on my own list. The coolness factor of this 52 acre resort in Jamaica is so high based on its heritage alone. Goldeneye is built on the location of the private estate of Ian Fleming who created the James Bond character (in fact, her wrote all his 14 Bond novels here). He lived here for 12 years and upon his death sold it to Bob Marley. Upon Bob Marley’s own passing, Chris Blackwell of Island Records purchased it and enjoyed it as his own private retreat. He expanded it from 19 to 52 acres, built 20 cottages and villas and created the resort it is today (he is still the owner).
It is not difficult to see what so was so appealing to all of these personalities. This magical spot is nestled in between a 4-acre lagoon, beach, jungle and caves. Located on the secluded northern tip of Jamaica (a 90 minute drive from the Montego Bay airport but a short charter will get you there in a flash), the resort has every activity and amenity you could wish for along with the choice of luxurious lagoon suites or beach villas.
The result is a 5-star laid back retreat that is exclusive yet unpretentious. I was so enticed I booked Goldeneye for our family spring vacation. Stay tuned for a full review in March.
Lamai Serengeti, Tanzania
If you have ever gone on safari in Tanzania, you know how difficult it is to pick a camp (unless you are the type to let the travel consultant take care of it). There are so many incredible camps, it is hard to figure out which one to do. It got that much harder with two newly erected ones worth including in the mix. This one is Lamai Serengeti, run by Nomad Tanzania, an excellent conservation-based outfitter in East Africa.
Just newly opened this past June, this 12- tent luxury Camp is situated on prime real estate situated overlooking the Masaii Mara and the Lamai Wedge (an area of land between the Mara River and Kenya border) where you can watch the spectacular wildebeest migration without jostling with the crowds (it’s no fun watching with 20-40 jeeps around you, believe me). The camp is open year round except April and May but I recommend you book way ahead if you want to the see the great annual migration – a once in a lifetime experience – of 1.5MM wildebeest crossing July through October.
The Sebastian Hotel, Vail, Colorado
I have another new ski lodge to share, this time state-side. Well, its actually not that new at two years old. But with the recent accolade of being ranked #2 of the Top Resorts in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure within a year since its opening, The Sebastian Hotel in Vail deservedly gets a space on my list.
This 100-room/suite boutique hotel, located in the heart of the village of Vail, has been getting a lot of buzz after Fist Lady Michelle Obama visited with her girls three months after its opening in 2011. This hotel seems to have it all: a base camp at the foot of Vail mountain with ski in/ski out access and valet, Bloom spa, an array of room options from studio to four bedrooms, a central location, and a stunning contemporary decor in rich, neutral palettes featuring enough wood and stone to give it a “I’m still a ski-lodge” vibe.
Foodies take note: there are a dizzying array of food options at the hotel to appeal to anyone. Beignet Café (at base camp); Frost Bar & Library, a popular venue for après ski cockails; Leonora, an alpine bistro and tapas bar; and Market Cafe for a casual breakfast or or grab n-go-lunch. This place is definitely giving the Sonnenalp and the new Four Seasons a run for the money.
Singita Mara River, Tanzania
Another excellent safari camp that recently opened in Tanzania is in the Lamai Triangle (where Serengeti National Park, the Kenyan border and Mara River connect for some of best viewing in world), not far from the lodge of Lamai Serengeti. Singita Mara River, which opened last month, is the newest addition to the portfolio of exclusive, ultra-luxury lodges from the folks at Singita.
In my eyes, Singita can do no wrong. Even after 10 years, the Singita Ebony Lodge (one of my stops during my honeymoon) still ranks up there as one of my favorite places of all time. This intimate six-tented suite camp can accommodate 16 guests (two large tents are particularly suitable for families). Situated along the Mara River, as its name suggests, Singita’s location enables some excellent game viewing – especially during the Great Annual Migration.
Expect stellar service and simple but luxurious furnishings as you would with any of the Singita camps. This one is run entirely on solar power. Definitely on my “must go” list on the next trip to Africa.
Saint James Hotel, Paris
Paris has been getting its new share of hotels recently, such as the W Opera and Shangri-La, but none can claim the luxury of being a chateau. Or a Relais & Chateaux flagship property …or a private club. The Saint James Paris has the distinction of being all three.
The Saint James may feel a little removed from it all being that it is located in the quiet 16th arrondissement just west of the Arc De Triomphe. But with the convenience of a metro only 2 minutes away and a short walk to the Champs Elysees, Saint James seems more like a private sanctuary to gladly return to after a day of sightseeing. Interestingly, the chateau was built on former air field where hot air balloons once took off (take note of the wallpaper throughout the public space in homage to this little fact).
Even with only 48 rooms (with Lanvin toiletries you say?), the hotel feels spacious with its expansive outdoor gardens, public spaces such as the library bar (holding an impressive collection of 12,000 books), restaurant and Gemology spa. The decor is sumptuous with a rich palette of colors – not sure what other way to describe it.
I hear that the junior suite 204, overlooking the entrance and courtyard is the room to get. Check the website for a variety of early bird offers. It is one of the coolest websites I’ve visited in a while. I just wish I could navigate it in English not French.
Tierra Patagonia, Chile
My last entry is a spectacular 40-room lodge situated on a bluff with wide open views of dramatic landscape of Torres del Paine National Park ,a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Chile. Its not easy to get to – you fly to Santiago Chile and then take another flight to Puerto Natales and then an hour drive. But most UNESCO places aren’t easy to get to, are they? Makes arriving all the more special.
Tierra Patagonia, which also rests next to 47-mile Lake Sarmiento, is equally striking in its setting as its design. The hotel was built almost entirely out of lenga beechwood with one side an entire wall of glass to enjoy the never ending views of Patagonia. Guest rooms and public spaces are outfitted in furnishings and textiles (lots of wood, wool and leather! ) made locally by Chilean craftspeople. I really need to do a post on the interiors alone as they are drop-dead gorgeous.
As you can imagine, its all about being one with nature here. You hike. You spa. You relax.