Alongside the yearning for authentic travel experiences comes the rise of boutique hotels, independently owned properties focusing on individuality, personal service and a strong sense of place. They are the antithesis of the cookie cutter aesthetic of many large hotel chains and offer guests an unrivalled experience, one that allows them to connect with their surroundings in a way that isn’t possible on the 14th floor of a 500 room hotel. It’s a global trend: last year Small Luxury Hotels of the World reported a noticeable decrease in the average amount of rooms in their new signings – from 48 down to 28 – stating decidedly that in 2017, smaller is bigger.
Browse by region:
VILLA | Pretty Beach House
Bouddi National Park | Rooms: 4 | Rates: from A$1,000 per person per night twin share
The feel: Bushland hideaway reborn.
Tucked away amidst ancient angophoras and towering eucalypts, this Central Coast classic has a uniquely Australian blend of sophisticated elegance and casual cool. You’ll love the sandstone-edged infinity pool overlooking a sparkling bay and the wood-fired pizza oven in the garden.
The highlight: Guests are welcomed with an indigenous ‘Welcome to Country’ smoking ceremony, part of the property’s philosophy of creating authentic experiences.
The room: The one-bedroom Retreat is split over two levels and has its own heated plunge pool, double day bed and private terrace.
LODGE | Capella Lodge
Lord Howe Island | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from A$750 per person per night twin share
The feel: Beach house chic.
Hidden among the pristine environment of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this secret beach hideaway gives guests prime access to the island’s beaches and adventure trails.
The highlight: Chef Cooper Dickson sources most of his ingredients from the island and, if they can’t be found, uses only produce from New South Wales.
The room: The two-storey Lidgbird Pavilion has a private plunge pool, freestanding outdoor bathtub set beneath a frangipani tree and the exclusive use of an electric buggy.
COUNTRY | Spicers Sangoma Retreat
Blue Mountains | Rooms: 8 | Rates: from A$1,099 per night twin share
The feel: Escape to the mountains.
Picture exposed wood and stone surfaces, plush fur throws and crystal chandeliers surrounded by native bushland – plus complimentary Veuve Cliquot in the minibar.
The highlight: The seasonal four-course dinner is served under the stars in summer or you can rug up and toast marshmallows by the open fire during the colder months.
The room: From the upstairs bedroom in the Chief’s Suite you can see all the way to the Sydney skyline on a clear day.
COUNTRY | Drift House
Port Fairy | Rooms: 4 | Rates: from A$395 per night twin share
The feel: History meets high design.
This 1850s bluestone house along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road has been reimagined with a sleek steel extension and contemporary, minimalist interiors.
The highlight: You’ll find remarkable design touches in unexpected places, from rich blue mosaic tiles in the bathroom to a brilliant green ceiling and sliding walls that move via string pulls.
The room: Suite One takes up the entire ground floor of the original building and has a freestanding stone bathtub sitting in front of an open fireplace.
DESIGN | Brae
Birregurra | Rooms: 6 | Rates: from A$425 per night twin share
The feel: Rural gourmet getaway.
Named as one of the World’s Best 50 Restaurants in 2017, this contemporary restaurant now offers six luxe suites in its tranquil slice of the Otway Ranges (just note that you’ll need to book a meal as well as a stay).
The highlight: The complimentary in-room breakfast of house-made organic wood-fired sourdough, pastries, preserves and seasonal produce harvested from the property.
The room: Each suite features underfloor heating, a temperature-controlled wine fridge and a skylight above the bed for stargazing.
COUNTRY | Arkaba homestead
Flinders Ranges | Rooms: 5 | Rates: from A$930 per person per night twin share
The feel: High-end homestead.
A 19th century sheep-station-turned-wildlife-conservancy on 60,000 acres of remote South Australian bush.
The highlight: There’s no WiFi, telephones or TV, meaning you can shut out the modern world and embrace the historic charm.
The room: The Coachman’s Cottage is set in the corner of the garden, away from the main homestead, so provides a more private alternative.
VILLA | Villa Howden
Howden | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from A$302 per night twin share
The feel: Faux French feels.
Just outside of Hobart, on the edge of the picturesque Huon Valley, Villa Howden is a replica of a palatial French villa with exceptional attention to detail – right down to the authentic 18th century window shutters.
The highlight: Instead of a ‘do not disturb’ sign, each suite has a resident teddy bear that guests leave outside their room when they want privacy.
The room: The Water View Suite has its own private balcony overlooking the gardens and North West Bay.
DESIGN | Mona Pavilions
Hobart | Rooms: 8 | Rates: from A$550 per night twin share
The feel: Lofty and light.
Bold, angular pavilions are decorated in the style of famous Australian artists.
The highlight: Guests receive exclusive Museum of Old and New Art tours on a Tuesdays, when the museum is closed to the public.
The room: The two-bedroom penthouse Roy, named after architect Sir Roy Grounds, spans three floors and features a built-in spa bath on the deck.
CAMP | Bamurru Plains
Mary River | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from A$620 per person per night twin share
The feel: Top End time out.
Sitting on the edge of the Kakadu National Park, this pared-back bush camp is in the centre of one of the country’s most fascinating ecosystems.
The highlight: Be completely immersed in the bush with a night in The Hide, a screened viewing platform six metres above the ground that can be set up with comfy swags.
The room: The huge Kingfisher Suite can easily sleep a family of five with roll-out camp beds, a quirky corrugated iron bathroom and floor-to-ceiling views through mesh walls.
CAMP | Nightfall Camp
Scenic Rim | Rooms: 3 | Rates: from A$795 per night twin share (minimum two-night stay)
The feel: Less is more.
Chic, spacious safari tents are hidden away in the ancient undergrowth of Lamington National Park.
The highlight: Seasonal organic meals with ingredients from the camp’s garden are cooked over the fire or in the custom-built wood-fired oven and served under the stars.
The room: The tents were hand-built by the owners and feature a rotating internal fireplace, brushed-timber floors, freestanding bathtubs and organic bedding.
RESORT | Bedarra
Great Barrier Reef | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from A$1,075 per night twin share
The feel: Barefoot island beauty.
Once one of Queensland’s most over-the-top resorts, the new Bedarra relaunched in 2014 with half the villas and a focus on sustainability.
The highlight: This is low-key luxury at its best, so you’ll dine with other guests around a communal table and make good use of the legendary open bar.
The room: Perched high on granite boulders among a canopy of coconut palms, The Treehouse offers guests a split-level sun terrace and bird’s-eye ocean views.
COUNTRY | El Questro Homestead
East Kimberley | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from A$1,969 per night twin share
The feel: Way out wilderness.
The homestead is in the middle of almost one million acres of wilderness, dotted with dramatic red gorges, thermal springs and salt plains.
The highlight: The best way to get around a property this size is by helicopter, so hop aboard for private fishing excursions and waterfall swims.
The room: The Chamberlain Gorge Suite is dramatically cantilevered over the edge of the gorge and is ideal for honeymooners – its wide verandah features an al fresco bathtub for two.
RETREAT | Injidup Spa Retreat
Margaret River | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from A$650 per night twin share
The feel: Recharge and renew.
This secluded spa retreat is surrounded by national parklands and all of the sleek, contemporary villas have jaw-dropping, 180-degree views out over the Indian Ocean.
The highlight: There’s no restaurant on-site, but you can have a gourmet chef-cooked meal from nearby Lamont’s winery delivered to your villa door.
The room: Couples will want to choose the one-bedroom Honeymoon Villa, which has a private plunge pool, eco-fire and freestanding stone bathtub.
LODGE | Helena Bay
Northland | Rooms: 5 | Rates: from NZ$1,550 (about A$1,444) per night twin share
The feel: oligarch’s private estate.
This $50 million waterfront property was originally going to be a holiday house for Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov, but instead it opened late last year as an ultra-luxe retreat with five staff members for every guest.
The highlight: It’s the only oceanfront property in Helena Bay, on the northeast coast of the North Island, with three kilometres of coastline and four private beaches.
The room: Kotare is one of the two 134-square metre Villa Suites, and has a log-burning fireplace and outdoor terrace just steps from the water’s edge.
LODGE | The Boatshed
Waiheke Island | Rooms: 7 | Rates: from NZ$685 (about A$640) per night twin share
The feel: Nautical seaside holiday.
The beach house dreams are made of with antique model yachts, beach bags and seashells accompanied by cream window shutters, white weatherboard exteriors and casual furnishings in shades of white and blue.
The highlight: The Boatshed Picnic Trucks let guests explore the Waiheke coastline, wineries and local galleries with a pre-packed gourmet picnic lunch.
The room: The aptly named Lighthouse suite spans three floors joined by narrow spiral staircases – climb to the day room at the top and fold back the glass doors to reveal expansive views of the bay.
LODGE | Otahuna Lodge
Christchurch | Rooms: 7 | Rates: from NZ$1,300 (about A$1,215) per night twin share
The feel: Downton Abbey dreaming.
Originally built for politician Sir Heaton Rhodes and now a Relais & Châteaux property, this Victorian gem is an asymmetric jumble of 19th century gilded wallpaper, ornate wooden carvings, stained-glass windows and 15 wood-burning fireplaces.
The highlight: The lodge’s 30 acres of landscaped botanical gardens were designed by the famed AE Lowe, who trained at Kew Gardens, and are full of lakes, woodlands, hedged pathways and immaculate lawns.
The room: The stately Rhodes Suite has a large inglenook fireplace and four rooms, including an octagonal room situated in a turret.
RESORT | Vatuvara
Fiji | Rooms: 3 | Rates: from US$4,300 (about A$5,419) per night twin share
The feel: Unspoiled island paradise.
This private all-inclusive island resort opened in 2015 and is owned by Oakley founder James Jannard, who designed everything to his own billionaire’s taste.
The highlight: The island remains fairly wild and the only way to get around is in a four-wheel drive along a series of steep, winding roads – brave guests can even drive themselves.
The room: Villa Delana was built for Jannard’s personal use and is the largest and most luxurious of the three with contemporary interiors beneath a traditional Fijian thatched roof as well as a hot tub, spa room with massage table and a plunge pool.
RESORT | The Lombok Lodge
Lombok, Indonesia | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from A$526 per night twin share
The feel: Minimalism in the tropics.
Italian designer Vittorio Simoni’s low-rise, all-white suites deliver a sense of understated luxe that’s as cool and refreshing as coconut milk.
The highlight: One-on-one yoga classes are held in an open-air pavilion by the ocean.
The room: The two Poolside Lodge Suites have ocean views and direct pool deck access, plus their own cosy outdoor terraces with an L-shaped sofa in signature white.
CAMP | Aman-i-Khas
Ranthambore, India | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from A$1,499 per night twin share
The feel: Camp fit for a king.
A contemporary safari outpost inspired by the lavish Maharaja hunting parties of old, complete with a personal butler for each tent.
The highlight: The camp is perched on the edge of Ranthambore National Park, one of the best places to spot a Bengal tiger.
The room: Each contemporary, light-filled Mughal-style tent features soaring six-metre ceilings, freestanding baths and spacious rooms, separated by floor-to-ceiling cream-coloured curtains.
HISTORIC | Lux* Tea Horse Road Lijiang
Lijiang, China | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from CNY545 (about A$102) per person per night twin share
The feel: Chinese caravanserai.
A traditional Naxi-style courtyard home in the UNESCO town of Lijiang, a key stop along the 13th century Old Tea Horse Road trade route.
The highlight: Visit the oldest teahouse in Lijiang and meet Diana He, whose family has traded traditional pu’er tea for generations.
The room: The Deluxe Room overlooks the idyllic rooftops of the Old Town and features a dedicated relaxation area.
DESIGN | Setouchi Aonagi
Matsuyama, Japan | Rooms: 7 | Rates: from JPY32,500 (about A$369) per person per night twin share
The feel: Conceptual cool.
A contemporary art museum transformed into a minimalist luxury hotel, designed by famed Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
The highlight: From the landscaped garden by Yutaka Ono to the American post-war abstract paintings of Frank Stella, the stark hotel is embellished with an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art.
The room: The Aonagi Suite has an enormous eight-metre floor-to-ceiling window that overlooks the Seto Inland Sea.
RETREAT | Panacea Retreat
The feel: Mountain top mansions.
The colossal pavilions, designed by Hong Kong architect David Clarke, start at 1,300 square metres, and each has its own 20-metre infinity pool and dramatic rainforest and ocean views.
The highlight: Learn the traditional sport of muay Thai kickboxing with internationally recognised fighters and private lessons held in the villas’ boxing rings.
The room: It’s impossible to look past the 4,700-square metre Praana Residence with six ensuite bedrooms (each with an outdoor bath), a private cinema, nightclub, wine cellar, two infinity pools and 20 dedicated staff.
RESORT | Dedon Island Resort
Siargao, Philippines | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from US$630 (about A$792) per person per night twin share
The feel: High design hideaway.
The resort is the first from Bobby Dekeyser of German furniture company Dedon and serves as the brand’s ‘outdoor living lab’.
The highlight: Cloud 9, the Philippines’ most famous surf break, is close by. A perfect, yet powerful, right-hand barrel averaging around two metres, it’s one for experts only.
The room: The two-storey Deluxe Villas face the ocean and there’s a stylish hanging day bed on the large private terrace.
RESORT | Avaton Resort & Spa
Santorini, Greece | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from €600 (about A$890) per night twin share in high season
The feel: Bond villain’s secret lair.
Think sleek, high-tech minimalism in neutral tones, all covered in classic Greek Islands white.
The highlight: The spa is cut directly into the rock, creating a tranquil grotto complete with twinkling lights on the ceiling.
The room: This is a resort for lovers so choose the Honeymoon Suite, complete with a private balcony hot tub perfect for sunsets over Santorini’s famed caldera.
CITY | Artist Residence
The feel: Bohemian London loft.
Mismatched vintage furniture, exposed brick walls and quirky works by urban artists abound in this eclectic design hotel set in a building originally designed by London’s legendary master builder Thomas Cubitt.
The highlight: Head downstairs for a drink in the Clarendon, a hidden cocktail bar in the old cellar, or a game of ping pong in the games room.
The room: The first-floor Grand Suite is a shabby-chic masterpiece with a four-poster bed, freestanding cast-iron bath and bespoke furniture in vibrant bottle green.
HISTORIC | Palazzo Margherita
Bernalda, Italy | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from €700 (about A$1,040) for a two-night stay
The feel: Mafioso bolthole.
The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola transformed this 19th century palazzo into an Oscar-worthy hotel, resplendent with hand-painted frescos and surrounded by an expansive estate with gardens and a swimming pool.
The highlight: Film buffs can watch old Italian films hand-selected by Coppola himself in the hotel’s salon.
The room: The Sofia, named after Coppola’s daughter who helped design the suite, has French doors leading from the bathroom and bedroom to a private terrace overlooking the garden and fountain.
VILLA | La Granja
Ibiza, Spain | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from €350 (about A$520) per night
The feel: Communal farmhouse chic.
Set on 25 acres of organic farmland, this centuries-old stone farmhouse still retains its original scarred surfaces, beamed wooden ceilings and hammered-iron fixtures.
The highlight: The property hosts ‘Farm Rituals’ where local creatives share their expertise in sustainable living, farming or art, and healers lead meditation sessions, sound baths and other healing sessions.
The room: The minimalist rooms contain modest furniture made of burnt wood, brushed and oiled ash, stone and slate, covered in natural fabrics.
CITY | Santa Clara 1728
The feel: Sophisticated simplicity.
An 18th century home in Lisbon’s old quarter has been thoughtfully redeveloped into a stunning yet serene hotel, where modern design touches refresh the original features.
The highlight: It operates more like a private home than a hotel and staff will go out of their way to meet the demands of each guest, meaning nothing is too much trouble.
The room: The 70-square metre Suite Santa Clara overlooks both the river and the gardens, and has a separate sitting room that can double as a bedroom for children.
RETREAT | KiChic
Mancora, Peru | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from US$280 (about A$352) per night twin share
The feel: Soul surfer chic.
A laidback retreat with a gorgeous outdoor yoga studio, local healers and organic vegetarian menu, set just outside Peru’s favourite beach town.
The highlight: A private cinema for two can be set up on the beach with sun loungers, cushions and a huge projector screen.
The room: Close the door to the world in Suite Chic, with its huge garden, oceanfront deck and private access to the beach.
LODGE | Estancia Arroyo Verde
Río Negro, Argentina | Rooms: 7 | Rates: from US$690 (about A$870) per person per night
The feel: Patagonian fishing fantasy.
Hidden within the Nahuel Huapi National Park, this rustic ranch overlooks the Traful River and the Andes.
The highlight: This family-run property is famous for its fly-fishing retreats, with the Traful offering anglers landlocked salmon, and brown and rainbow trout.
The room: For seclusion choose The Cabin, a one-bedroom retreat perched on a rocky outcrop around two kilometres from the main house.
RESORT | Fazenda Sao Francisco
Bahia, Brazil | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from BRL2,240 (about A$904) per night twin share (minimum two-night stay)
The feel: Off the grid beach shack.
It’s a return to simple pleasures in these beach chic bungalows, with fresh seafood delivered daily by local fisherman and rare birds and vegetation right on your doorstep.
The highlight: The resort is fronted by 15 kilometres of deserted, white sand beach and temperatures are warm all year round.
The room: The open-plan bathroom in the Super Deluxe Bungalow has a sunken shower cut into the floor and a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto coconut trees.
LODGE | Tutka Bay Lodge
Alaska, USA | Rooms: 6 | Rates: from US$4,875 (about A$6,128) per person for a three-night stay
The feel: Ultimate Alaskan adventure.
A series of wooden walkways connect traditional cabins perched on the edge of an 11-kilometre fjord, backed by old growth Sitka spruce forest.
The highlight: The lodge is owned by Kirsten Dixon, arguably Alaska’s best known chef and cookbook author, so expect world-class culinary vision. Cooking classes are even are held aboard a repurposed WWII-era crabbing boat.
The room: The cosy and traditional Eagle’s Nest Cabin sits on a knoll with panoramic ocean and mountain views.
LODGE | Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
British Columbia, Canada | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from C$1,895 (about A$1,895) per person per night
The feel: Into the wild.
Set in the middle of the Great Bear Rainforest, grizzlies, black bears and whales will be your neighbours with daily trips to view them on foot or from the water.
The highlight: The lodge is accessible only by helicopter, floatplane or boat, so expect absolute privacy and no pesky day-trippers.
The room: In a four-room Streamside Cabin, guests can fall asleep to the sound of a nearby cascading waterfall.
RETREAT | Aja Malibu
California, USA | Rooms: 7 | Rates: from US$15,000 (about A$18,858) per person for a seven-day program
The feel: Mind, body, spirit.
Rustic rooms, a toxin-free environment and seven chakra-themed medicinal gardens form the core of this wellness retreat high in the Malibu mountains.
The highlight: The signature weeklong program created by owner and self-described ‘modern mystic’ Inannya Magick incorporates a biodynamic plant-based menu, vitamin injections and treatments in the crystal-infused spa.
The room: In Dreamweaver South, a fresh tray of salt with a crystal is left under the bed during each guest’s stay – an ancient technique believed to remove negative energies.
CITY | Hotel Covell
Los Angeles, USA | Rooms: 5 | Rates: from US$295 (about A$371) per night twin share
The feel: Retro bachelor pad.
Each of the five suites represents a chapter in the life of imaginary bon vivant writer George Covell, following him from Oklahoma to New York to Paris.
The highlight: The hotel sits above Bar Covell, one of the swankiest small bars in LA with a menu of 150 wines by the glass.
The room: Chapter 4 is inspired by George’s ‘travels’ in India and Morocco, with onion-domed accents, splashes of emerald green and a sun-drenched breakfast room.
HISTORIC | Casa Kimberly
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico | Rooms: 9 | Rates: from US$290 (about A$365) per night twin share
The feel: Hacienda Hollywood glamour.
This majestic home in the coastal town of Puerto Vallarta was gifted by Richard Burton to love interest Elizabeth Taylor while he was filming The Night of the Iguana in 1964.
The highlight: All nine individually styled suites are named after Taylor’s films and some span entire floors.
The room: Elizabeth Taylor’s namesake suite was her former bedroom. It’s accessible via a private elevator and features an original pink marble heart-shaped tub that Taylor had commissioned.
RETREAT | El Alma Soul Retreat
Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica | Rooms: 3 | Rates: from US$650 (about A$817) per night twin share in high season
The feel: Glamorous share-house living.
The three bedrooms share a common living area, kitchen and pool, but there are still plenty of secluded spots to escape.
The highlight: If yoga and meditation aren’t your thing, specialised tango dancing retreats encourage guests to get in touch with their body through movement.
The room: The master Mandala Suite is the size of an apartment and has uninterrupted jungle and ocean views from a large private terrace.
COUNTRY | The Peninsula House
Samana, Dominican Republic | Rooms: 6 Rates: from US$550 (about A$691) per night twin share
The feel: G&Ts at sunset.
This plantation-style mansion sits on a sloping green hillside dotted with coconut palms, overlooking the ocean and a deserted Caribbean coastline.
The highlight: The swimming pool is like a sunken water tank, and the well-stocked pool house on the edge is overflowing with fluffy white towels and chilled white wine.
The room: Each Junior Suite features high ceilings, antique furnishings, mahogany soaking tubs and private terraces accessed through French doors.
CITY | Paseo 206
Havana, Cuba | Rooms: 8 | Rates: from US$399 (about A$502) per night twin share
The feel: Hemingway high life.
Rumoured to have been lost in a gruelling poker game, this restored manor house occupies a spot on the most famous street in Havana.
The highlight: Lobby restaurant Eclectico has quickly become known as one of the best restaurants in Cuba, serving Cuban-Italian fare created from local ingredients.
The room: The light-filled Tropical Garden Suite offers a mix of the old and new, with contemporary furnishings, traditional tiled floors and splashes of green.
COUNTRY | Delaire Graff Estate
Stellenbosch, South Africa | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from ZAR18,570 (about A$1,766) per night twin share
The feel: Lord of the manor.
Ten freestanding lodges are set around the property with uninterrupted views of the rolling hills and vineyards of the Stellenbosch Valley.
The highlight: Guests have exclusive access to owner Laurence Graff’s renowned private art collection, including works like Vladimir Tretchikoff’s iconic Chinese Girl.
The room: The 130-square metre Owner’s Lodge has two bedrooms, a fireplace and a huge open-plan living space that opens onto a full-size infinity pool.
RESORT | Enchanted Island Resort
Round Island, Seychelles | Rooms: 10 | Rates: from €950 (about A$1,416) per night twin share
The feel: Idyllic island escape.
In a nation of gorgeous islands, Enchanted Island is a tiny dot of perfection surrounded by turquoise water, white sand and a consistent temperature of 27-30°C.
The highlight: The island is in the middle of the Sainte Anne Marine National Park, which contains one of the largest beds of seagrass in the area, making it a popular spot for feeding green and hawksbill turtles.
The room: The 240-square metre Enchanted Signature Villa has its own infinity pool and direct access to a white sand beach.