2020’s Small Luxury Hotels award winners innovate boutique stays in unprecedented times from eco-friendly practices to virtual experiences
This year’s Small Luxury Hotels award winners embody and revolutionise the boutique hotel experience. From a restored one-thousand-year-old castle and two carbon neutral resorts to unique experiences that focus on empowering local people and environments, this year’s winners awed SLH panellists with their ability to make the everyday extraordinary.
Richard Hyde, Chief Operating Officer at Small Luxury Hotels, noted that “sustainability is now also about supporting our hospitality industry, and the communities that they in turn support. All these remarkable hotels are open, or opening imminently, and ready to welcome back guests to demonstrate just why independent hotels are so very special.”
A panel of experts in luxury, travel, wellbeing and cuisine voted for SLH’s finalists. They are:
- Simon Leadsford (Publisher, Condé Nast Traveller)
- Katy Simpson (CEO, Noble Isle)
- Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn
- Carol Duval-Leroy (Owner, Champagne Duval-Leroy)
- Gary Allen (Managing Director, Luxury Travel Media)
- Gisele Orellano (Co-Founder, Hermana Creatives)
Without further ado, dive into the list of hotels that are defining independent luxury travel.
Hotel of the Year: Lefay Resort & SPA Lago di Garda
Taking inspiration from the tiered lemon houses of Lake Garda, Lefay Resort & SPA Lago di Garda has been named Hotel of the Year based on its strong eco-friendly philosophy and wellness area that combines classical Chinese medicine with Western scientific research.
Offering highly customised treatments designed to cure stress and insomnia, Lefay SPA extends over 3,800 square metres and boasts six saunas of varying temperatures, an ice pool and a large salt lake.
The hotel also produces its own electricity, heating and cooling through clean, renewable sources such as biomass, cogeneration and solar panels. Lefay’s environmental friendly practices reduce CO2 emissions by 1.130t per year.
INVITED Hotel of the Year: The Tokyo Station Hotel
Located inside The Tokyo Station Marunouchi Building, The Tokyo Station Hotel preserves its deep-rooted heritage while innovating methods of sharing that history with visitors. From QR codes attached to framed old photographs and notepads made of Japanese manuscript paper to staff wearing pillbox hats and train timetables hanging in the corridors, INVITED guests commended the preservation efforts of The Tokyo Station Hotel.
The property’s Japanese and European style buffet breakfast should be high on every traveller’s bucket list, as guests can choose from around 110 items including rolled omelettes, sashimi, tempura and mini wagyu burgers.
- Dormy House Hotel (UK)
- Velassaru Maldives (Maldives)
- Hotel Relais Christine (France)
City Centre Hotel of the Year: The Norman Tel Aviv
Located in a UNESCO-designated site with the world’s highest concentration of Bauhaus-style buildings, it was only a matter of time until The Norman Tel Aviv was named SLH’s City Centre Hotel of the Year. The Norman’s offerings range from a rooftop infinity pool with exquisite views of Tel Aviv, a restaurant serving some of the best Japanese food in the country to resident DJs and a private art collection boasting an in-house curator. Bespoke guests experiences are available through The Norman’s concierge, including crafting your own signature scents with a perfumer or visiting usually off-limits artists’ studios.
- Hotel Lungarno (Italy)
- Refinery Hotel New York (USA)
- DUKES London (UK)
Country House Hotel of the Year: Château La Chenèviere
Nestled among Normandy’s lush, north-west coast, Château la Chenevière ticks all SLH’s boxes of a grand yet welcoming country house hotel. Features include marble fireplaces, velvet-backed beds, rose gardens with beehives, an outdoor pool and a tennis court—not to mention the canine-friendly policy that means guests’ pooches can enjoy the countryside too. Two dining rooms serve fresh dishes supplied by the on-site sustainable vegetable garden. The hotel’s speakeasy-style Zanzibar bar displays a collection of the owner’s travel souvenirs and Calvados-themed cocktails such as the signature ‘Chenevière cocktail’ – a combination of pommeau (apple port), peach cream and champagne.
- Schlosshotel Kronberg (Germany)
- Stein Eriksen Residences (USA)
- Hotel Rangá (Iceland)
Resort Hotel of the Year: Hotel Villa Franca
Overlooking the town of Positano, Hotel Villa Franca offers a wide variety of experiences including an L-shaped swimming pool with views of the Amalfi Coast, lemon-infused detox spa treatments and a fine dining restaurant rooted in Campanian culinary traditions. Guests can enjoy a special Amalfi lemon tour, where they get the chance to taste the citrus fruits hanging from pergolas and sample them in homemade cakes, drinks and of course, limoncello.
- Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay (Spain)
- Canaves Oia Suites (Greece)
- Keemala (Thailand)
Mystery Inspectors’ Excellence Award: Hemingways Nairobi
Set between Nairobi National Park and the foot of the Ngong Hills, Hemingways Nairobi offers personalised service with the kindness inherent to East African culture. A bespoke butler service ensures guests are catered to their every whim, from grander experiences such as tailor-made afternoon tea and outings to The Giraffe Centre or the Karen Blixen Museum, to daily comforts including adjusting customised pillows, setting out guests’s nightcaps and packing their suitcases for departure.
- Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal (France)
- Pimalai Resort & Spa (Thailand)
- Rockliffe Hall (UK)
Sustainable Innovator of the Year: Arima Hotel
Hidden among the trees in the Miramón Forest of San Sebastián, Arima Hotel’s building structure is named as a prototype of zero-energy buildings, marked by the European Union as a mandatory standard to mitigate the effects of climate change. Its savings in CO2 emissions compared with a standard construction are similar to the carbon that 15,000 trees would absorb annually. From clean energy systems and sulphate-free toiletries to a menu inspired by locally-grown ingredients at veggie-focused fine dining restaurant Misura, the hotel has set a new benchmark in terms of environmental and social responsibility, as evinced by its rigorously audited Passivhaus qualification. Overall, 77% of Arima Hotel’s energy needs are fulfilled from aerothermal and geothermal power.
- Susafa (Italy)
- Petit St Vincent (St Vincent & The Grenadines)
- Domaine de Manville (France)
Stay Small, Stay Considerate Award: Lefay Resorts
Created around the philosophy that personal wellness should never overlook environmental wellness, Lefay Resorts is committed to operating in the most responsible way possible without compromising luxury and wellbeing. As the first Italian hospitality company to sign an agreement with the Italian Ministry of the Environment that is aimed at neutralising CO2 emissions, both its hotels in Lake Garda and The Dolomites (which opened in August 2019) are 100% carbon neutral. The company offsets its direct CO2 emissions and those of travelling guests through the purchase of CERs credits in accordance with the Kyoto protocol.
Established from the outset with landscape protection and energy efficiency at the fore, great efforts are also taken to ensure the guest experience is grounded in sustainably practices. All the products used in its spa are vegan, free from parabens, SLES (a detergent that causes skin irritation), colourings and preservatives. Lefay also handpicks its food suppliers ensuring they adhere to strict environmental standards with 66% of ingredients sourced directly from the local provinces.
Most Inspirational Interior Design: Castello di Reschio
Nestled amongst rolling hills on Italy’s Umbria-Tuscany border, Castello di Reschio is a thousand-year old castle which has been meticulously restored and stylishly reimagined by architect Count Benedikt Bolza and his wife, Nencia Corsini. The hotel’s rooms and suites have been imbued with personality and panache, thanks to an organic approach to contemporary design coupled with subtle references to the fascinating characters who once lived here. Count Benedikt designed much of the furniture and lighting himself and sourced rare pieces from Italy’s below-the-radar antiques markets and art fairs.
- Le Coucou Méribel (France)
- Gangtey Lodge (Bhutan)
- Ksar Char-Bagh (Morocco)
Most Intimate Bedroom: Cap Rocat
Housed within a striking 19th-century military fortress, Cap Rocat’s three Sentinel suites are wonderfully secluded, carved out of the rocks that into which the fortress nestles, with private infinity pools featuring views of Palma Bay. The three rooms, which once served as watchtower spots, are decorated with king-sized beds, refined rugs, Mediterranean fabrics and a private terrace. Guests can explore the corridors and pathways of the fortress using the maps provided upon check in.
Most Mindful Wellness Retreat: Castle Hot Springs
Castle Hot Springs’s remote location, tucked in a rugged canyon surrounded by Saguaro Cacti and backdropped by the Bradshaw Mountains, makes it an oasis. Three hot springs well up from deep within the desert surface to offer 115-degree waters filled with revitalising minerals. The waters are also piped through the retreat for guests to enjoy in their rooms and to feed the three-acre sustainable farm.
Guests can further take in the landscape through immersive activities like hot springs Paddleboard Yoga and Via Ferrata – a state of the art climbing course. Castle Hot Springs spa services are provided in custom cabanas set along the spring water creek and offer customised treatments using hot stones from the springs.
- Quinta da Comporta (Portugal)
- Lefay Resort & SPA Dolomiti (Italy)
- Spa Village Tembok Bali (Indonesia)
Most Intense Bespoke Experience: The George
Drawing upon traditional Maori cultural values of care and guardianship, The George offers an exclusive half-day Flight Path Conservation Experience accompanied by an Endangered Species Ranger. Guests are taken on a half day trip to Canterbury’s forest valleys to support the conservation efforts for the critically-endangered orange-fronted Kakariki, a native parrot whose numbers are estimated at fewer than 300. Once a year, by special arrangement, guests can even release one of these treasured birds into the forest. A portion of every flight from the Conservation Experience is donated to the recovery programme.
Best Gourmet Experience: The Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa
The Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa launched Bali’s first ever Dine in the Dark event in collaboration with Yayasan Dria Raba, a donation-only orphanage for visually-impaired children. Held in the resort’s darkened Klass & Brass private dining room, the six-course sensory dinner experience has been curated to focus on texture, aroma and flavour, while being served and guided by children from the orphanage. The aim is to help provide the children with employment opportunities and basic hospitality training while raising awareness for the vision-impaired people of Indonesia. The experience is available any day of the week with a minimum one day reservation and at least eight participants.
- The Atlantic Hotel (Channel Islands)
- Castle Hot Springs (USA)
- Halcyon House (Australia)
Local Food Champion: Chef Marc Collins at Wentworth Mansion
Charleston, South Carolina
Circa 1886 located in the Wentworth Mansion of central Charleston combines the local products of farmers and fishermen to create local dishes under the keen eye of executive chef Marc Collins, who is South Carolina Chef Ambassador. In 2006, Chef Collins co-founded the Charleston Wine + Food Festival to spotlight Charleston and the Lowcountry’s diverse culinary and hospitality community. In 2019, he launched a unique menu concept that takes guests from South Carolina’s humble beginnings to Charleston’s Southern-modern foodie scene. Culinary highlights include the Broken Arrow Axis Venison with sunchoke hash and sunflower seed butter and Piedmontese Oxtail with conch fritter and mustard greens.
- Chef Salvatore Minneci, Susafa (Italy)
- Chef Carvison Pratt, Sailrock Resort (Turks & Caicos)
- Chef Jim Hopkins, Stein Eriksen Residences (USA)
Travel Agents’ Hotel of the Year: Hôtel Relais Christine
Built atop a 13th-century Augustinian monastery in Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, Hôtel Relais Christine was commended by travel agents for its refined calm, remarkable home-away-from-home ease and vintage glamour. From a secret garden with beehives producing honey for the hotel’s breakfast table to the basement Spa Guerlain with its medieval stone vaults and impressive display of Guerlain perfume bottles, everything about this hotel exudes intimacy and charm.
Most ‘Liked’ Hotel of the Year: Halcyon House
Found on Instagram as @_halcyonhouse, it is without a doubt that Halcyon House‘s colourful and eclectic interiors and idyllic beachside setting make it so Instagrammable. The hotel is often lauded for its ‘Instagram-worthy interiors.’ Everything about the hotel is photogenic from the blue and white wicker chairs in Halcyon’s Paper Daisy restaurant to the blue and white candy-striped loungers next to the pool area.
- Canaves Oia (Greece)
- Castello di Reschio (Italy)
- Cap Rocat (Spain)
Digital Excellence Award: Triumph Hotels
In 2019, Triumph Hotels revamped all digital platforms to bring an experiential approach to internet hotel browsing. Explore the heart of New York City and interiors of SLH member hotels like The Frederick Hotel in Tribeca and Iroquois Hotel in Midtown from the comfort of home.