I travel a lot, which means that I spend plenty of time in a variety of hotels all around the world. While I personally usually stay at luxury hotels, that’s not always possible and even higher-end hotels aren’t all made the same. I’ve said many times though that a luxury hotel isn’t just defined by nice linens or fancy toiletries. It’s about much more, especially service and especially unique traits and qualities that separate them from everyone else. So with all of that in mind, I decided to share a few of my favorite luxury hotel experiences from 2015, keeping in mind that while not all the great ones are listed here, many are. More importantly, the ones in this post aren’t just nice places to sleep, in one way or another they elevated my stay from a simple night’s sleep to a truly remarkable travel experience.
I wasn’t surprised recently when I read that The Upper House in Hong Kong had been named the best hotel in Asia. From my own personal experience there, it certainly was an experience that few others will ever be able to match. Perched high in the clouds on Hong Kong Island, the 123 rooms of the Upper House start on the 38th floor, guaranteeing guests amazing views of this always-interesting city. Wanting guests to truly feel at home, the rooms are a mix of studios and suites and even the most basic will seem oversized in a city where smaller rooms can at times be the norm. I didn’t know a lot about The Upper House Hong Kong before my first stay there; a little research returned only the cold and sterile facts. But almost immediately I understood why everyone raves about the House Collective properties. They’re different from most other luxury accommodations in a way that is almost hard to put into words. It’s the feeling you get as you stretch out on the large and luxuriously comfortable beds or standing under the soothing waters of the rain showers or even sitting down for a cocktail in the Café Gray Lounge. It all just works and comes together in a special kind of harmony that is akin to feng shui for hospitality
I couldn’t believe it when I first heard about this luxury resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. How had one of America’s best hotels popped up near my old home town, and I hadn’t heard of it? There’s a reason for that of course, its somewhat smaller size and seclusion mean that Primland is a place that someone introduces you to, a secret that a few are let in on. Occupying more than 12,000 acres in Southwest Virginia, Primland is a getaway for nature lovers who want to disconnect and spend some time relaxing in what I think is the best part of Virginia. Primland enjoys all of the attributes that all great luxury properties enjoy; high levels of service, spacious and comfortable rooms and food and wines that are amongst the best found anywhere in the world. What separates Primland from other resorts isn’t actually found inside, it’s found high up in the heavens. Primland is home to what I believe is the only Observatory Dome at a resort in the world. The modern glass enclosed “silo” attached to the main building has a secret on the top floor. The dome opens and swivels 360 degrees to give Primland’s massive Celestron telescope a chance to observe stars and planets millions of miles away. The staff astronomer leads guests through a nightly Tour of the Universe, in which she focuses the telescope on celestial phenomena that most people have never seen before. The tour concludes with a walk outside where, again under the guidance of the astronomer, guests see the night sky in a way that’s hard to find – without any light pollution. It’s rare in this modern age to see such a full array of stars with the naked eye and is just one more reason why Primland is so very special.
There are actually a number of excellent luxury hotels in the state of Queensland in Australia, which made choosing just one somewhat difficult. When pressed to pick just one though, I have to say that my time in the unique rainforest getaway Silky Oaks Lodge was an experience like none other. Occupying an enviable space adjacent to the UNESCO World Heritage protected Daintree Rainforest and Wet Tropics region, Silky Oaks has incorporated all the best elements of the jungle into its refined and private luxury experience. Not unlike Qualia on Hamilton Island, Silky Oaks is made up of a series of small cottages that they call tree houses. Perched high on hills overlooking the jungle or nearby river, the tree houses offer a secluded and luxurious experience for every guest. Silky Oaks has also done a great job of embracing its natural surroundings by offering walks through the forest, a private swimming hole, kayaking on the hotel’s river and a spa that is one of the best I’ve ever been to. There is no choice in my opinion; Silky Oaks must be on your Queensland to-do list if you’re an admirer of luxury hotels and resorts as I am.
If you’re not familiar with them, Relais & Châteaux is a global fellowship of individually owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants around the world. I’ve had opportunities to both stay and dine with Relais & Châteaux properties before and the experiences have been not only great, but amongst the best hotel and food experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. So it was with high expectations that I drove down the quiet country road to one of the jewels in the Relais & Châlais crown – The Fearrington House Inn. Located close to the town of Pittsboro and an easy drive from both Chapel Hill and Durham, Fearrington is a country manor in the finest tradition. Slowly driving down the lane into the community, Belted Galloway cows and fainting goats dotted the grounds instantly creating the relaxed pastoral escape I expected. The rooms and suites at Fearrington were as amazing as I had hoped and the large farm on which the hotel sits is the perfect pastoral getaway most of the guests are searching for. What separates Relais & Châteaux from other properties though is the quality of the food offered, and at Fearrington it’s perhaps the best part of the experience. Housed inside the old farmhouse, it feels like you’re entering a friend’s home because you are, except that the friend this time is Executive Chef Colin Bedford. Under his direction, the restaurant creates exceptional farm to fork cuisine that is honestly amongst the best I’ve ever had, presented in a way that can only be called refined and elegant. Interestingly enough, it’s also the only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star restaurant in the country to be Green Certified – a clear indication of their commitment to maintaining the purity of their country setting. Fearrington hits all of the marks from comfort and luxury to fine dining and I know it’s a hotel I will return to time and time again.
There’s a lot to love about Jasper National Park in Alberta, but one of the highlights was staying at a hotel I’ve had my eye on for a long time – the historic Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Staying in one of the Lodge’s iconic cabins alongside Lake Beauvert, I experienced the best of the Fairmont just as generations have before me. Staying at the Jasper Park Lodge though is about much more than your room of course; it’s about being in one of the most beautiful national parks in the world and enjoying this experience with other like-minded travelers. That’s why I loved the main lodge itself, the center of activity at the resort. Inside is a large and spacious main room with plenty of space to relax, read a book, check email and of course there’s a bar and casual restaurant to enjoy the Jasper Park Lodge’s famous food offerings. It has perfectly adapted to the natural environment and even the spirit of the region itself. You’ll find stellar service, but no pretention or unwelcoming stuffy rooms. If homey luxury is a term, then it’s one I would apply to the Jasper Park Lodge in the very best meaning of the phrase. It’s a destination where every need will be seen to, but in a comfortable and infinitely approachable way. There’s nothing better in my book.
I’m not really a Las Vegas kind of guy, which is why I think I enjoyed my time at the Four Seasons in Vegas so very much. I love Four Seasons properties for many reasons, but perhaps most important is their consistency around the world. As soon as I walked in to their Vegas hotel, the din of the casinos disappeared and in its place was peace and quiet. The Four Seasons Las Vegas really is an oasis in the city, and with their spacious gardens and relaxing pool area it’s hard to imagine that you’re in the middle of Sin City. The spa and fitness center was also one of the best I’ve visited, with friendly staff that seemed to anticipate every need before I knew I had it.
My time at this luxury property in the beautiful Rocky Mountains was brief, but I only needed a few moments to know that I had found something special. While winter is by far the most popular time of year to visit this ski in-out property, I was there in summer which gave me the opportunity to see Colorado when it’s at I think its most beautiful. The drive to Bachelor Gulch is part of the experience, and it’s easy to get distracted by the mountains popping up all around you as you navigate the winding roads. The Ritz-Carlton lives up to the great dream of a wonderful mountain getaway, echoing the look and feel of a classic lodge or chalet. It was chilly in the evenings even when I visited, and the roaring fireplaces helped stave off some of that chill. The rooms and public spaces exuded the same elegance that make Ritz-Carlton hotels so very special, and of course the food was exactly what I’d expect from this iconic line of luxury hotels. Finish off your evening back at the fire pit toasting marshmallows; a simple but satisfying way to feel at home at this magnificent hotel resort.
An old railroad hotel, the elegance here may be old school, but it is also refined and infinitely relaxing. For me, location is everything in a hotel and I was thrilled with the central location of the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – especially since I was so limited on time. Getting to the Royal Mile and all of the central tourist sites really couldn’t have been easier, and made my brief stay in town as productive as it could have been. Around the hotel itself are plenty of shops, pubs and restaurants, offering options to guests who want to get out and explore. Any great hotel stay though is about the comfort and service, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with both. The hotel offers more rooms with views of Edinburgh Castle than any other in town and that was the first thing I noticed out of my own window at the hotel – a perfect introduction to the city and a sign that I had indeed truly arrived into Scotland. The room itself had all of the amenities one would expect, from Ferragamo toiletries to incredibly comfy beds and linens. Luxury hotels excel, or not, based on the details. Anyone can have the appearance of luxury, but what really makes a hotel stand out are the attention to minor details and the service. While my time at the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh was brief, I saw ample evidence that they excel in both areas and everything comes together for an experience that is relaxing but productive – a perfect combination.
As I wrote at the outset, these are just some of the many great hotels I’ve been fortunate enough to visit this year. There are of course others that I called home for a brief time and while I did enjoy my time with them, these few here went beyond the norm and offered up experiences that were both extraordinary and special in every way possible. Ultimately, it’s when a great hotel becomes a big part of the trip that you know you’ve discovered something special and for me that part of the travel experience is one of my favorites.
What are some of your favorite hotel experience from 2015?