Get a Glimpse of Small Luxury Hotels’ Newest Asian Properties

From a Bhutanese retreat to a converted 20th century ryotei, SLH’s newest properties fuse ancient traditions and landscapes with modern luxuries

Travel is once again on the horizon as the possibility of national and regional getaways within travel bubbles become increasingly possible. Small Luxury Hotels of the World’s newest properties offer tempting Asian destinations.

Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary in Shaba, Bhutan

24 rooms from USD677

Guests arriving to Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary will be transported through the ‘Transformation Room’, giving guests the chance to settle into a restful frame of mind. Located in a remote location, this sanctuary provides holidayers with the possibility of gazing out on deep valleys, snow-capped mountains and an ancient way of life. Each room features four poster beds while private balconies or terraces that overlook the valley below. Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary boasts a Bhutanese Executive Chef and farm-to-table meals sourced from the property’s own greenhouse and garden. With no fixed menus, meal times or locations, guests can enjoy a different Chef’s Special every day, at any time and place. When it comes to venturing off the property, guests are well situated for day trip excursions to places such as Paro, Thimphu and the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.

SLH Insider Tip: “Based on Bhutanese traditional medicine practices, Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary offers an all-inclusive well-being concept designed to create direct, tangible effects on a guest’s feeling of well-being. Since all wellness facilities and services are complimentary, guests can easily unwind with well-deserved daily traditional treatments, yoga and meditation classes.”

slh.com/hotels/bhutan-spirit-sanctuary

Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary

Sowaka in Kyoto, Japan

23 rooms from JPY21,780

Restored from a 20th century ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurant) in one of Japan’s most alluring destinations, Sowaka Kyoto fuses the elegance of Japanese tradition with modernity. Guests are greeted with serenity as they set foot inside the ryokan, paying testament to Sowaka’s namesake, which means “happiness and well-being” in sanskrit. Bedrooms and suites line green courtyards, with long corridors designed to evoke Kyoto’s alleyways. Traditional ryokan elements such as paper sliding doors and tea ceremony rooms are enhanced with modern comforts such as handmade cedar wood speakers and cushioned, cashmere mattresses.

Sowaka’s details showcase Kyoto customs hewn by local craftspeople and artisans. Skin and haircare products are infused with organic Japanese camellia oil and crafted by Kazurasei Shinise while the hotel’s water is drawn from its own underground spring. Meals are overseen by the Michelin-starred La BOMBANCE Gion, the latest outpost of the award-winning Tokyo restaurant. While Sokwaka may pride itself on its serene atmosphere, Kyoto’s most famed sites are within walking distance. Such destinations include the Yasaka Shrine, Kodaiji Temple, Ryozen Kannon and geisha-spotting. Two train stations, Keihan Railway Gion Shijo and Hankyu Railway Kawaramachi Station, can transport guests throughout Kyoto and beyond.

Insider Tip: “At Sowaka Kyoto, the ancient capital of Gion is at your doorstep, with hotel-exclusive private tours available to escape the crowds and experience the culture, craftsmanship, and community of Kyoto first-hand. Immerse yourself in the wonders of Kiyomizu-dera Temple where priests will give you the inside track and off-limits access to its 1,200 years of history. Time your visit for sunrise and see the first rays hit Kyoto’s jumbled rooftops.”

slh.com/hotels/sowaka-kyoto

Sowaka Room in Kyoto

Shima Kanko Hotel The Bay Suites in Ise-Shima, Japan

50 rooms from JPY64,000

Shima Kanko Hotel The Bay Suites has many strings to its bow: a Michelin-starred French restaurant, La Mer, which prides itself for the locally caught Ise Shima seafood cuisine; Japan’s first Clarins spa; and a place in world history as the 2016 G7 Summit venue. The Ise-Shima region is a bit off the beaten path for international travellers and features sacred site such as Shinto’s holiest shrine, Ise Jingu, making Ise-Shima a popular domestic travel destination.

The hotel’s spacious suites come with separate living rooms and balconies that offer sunset views of the coastline of Ago-wan Bay, which is peppered with rafts culturing pearls for Mikimoto pearl necklaces and the hilly islands of Ise-Shima National Park. At night, “star sommeliers” are on hand to guide guests through the Kashikojima night sky. Adventuring beyond the hotel’s bounds is achievable by bicycle, through diving adventures with authentic ama divers or on a day tour arranged by the concierge that visits the region’s cultural sites. Shima Kanko Hotel The Bay Suites offers guest a luxury getaway while experiencing the famed Japanese country lifestyle’s slow tempo and unspoiled landscapes.

Insider Tip: “Each of the suites at Shima Kanko Hotel is truly special. But one stands out. The Royal Suite gives you space to eat, sleep and entertain in contemporary Japanese style. For a taste of tradition, there is also an elegantly designed tatami room – a private space for studying, taking tea or meditating for added Zen.”

Distance from Tokyo Station via Shinkansen: 1hr 40mins; Distance from Kyoto Station via Shinkansen: 2hrs 40min

Nearest airport: NGO Nagoya Chubu Centrair International Airport

slh.com/hotels/shima-kanko-hotel-the-bay-suites

Royal Suite at Shima Kanko Hotel The Bay Suites in Ise-Shima, Japan

Hinode Hills Niseko Village in Hokkaido, Japan

77 rooms from JPY46,000

Named to pay homage to the rising sun, the luxury apartments of Hinode Hills embrace wabi-sabi aesthetics. The latest luxury addition to join YTL Hotels’ Niseko Village alongside Kasara Niseko Village Townhouse, Hinode Hills is the perfect getaway for ski lovers. The hotel occupies a prime position at the base of Mount Niseko Annupuri with stunning Mount Yotei views, ski-in, ski-out access, an in-house onsen and a host of on-property ski services. Guests can choose between multiple room and suite configurations that offer up to three-bedrooms. Personal touches at Hinode Hills include snowboards waxed while guests sleep and suite kitchens stocked before arrival. Guest can explore the mountain’s dining and shopping areas with ease as the Upper Village Gondola is located adjacent to Hinode Hills’ front door.

SLH Insider Tip: “Even if you are visiting in summer, the greenery of Niseko Village offers plenty to do, including the outdoor nature park Pure, horseback riding, mountain biking, rafting, golfing, and hot air ballooning in the fresh mountain air.”

slh.com/hotels/hinode-hills-niseko-village

One bedroom suite at Hinode Hills Niseko Village in Hokkaido, Japan

The MIST Hot Spring Hotel in Xuchang City, Henan, China

51 rooms from CNY2,988

Taking its name from the natural steam that rises around it, The MIST Hot Spring Hotel aims to greet visitors with an initial view of the property that makes it seem as if it is floating above the landscape. Located in the small ancient city of Xuchang in Central China, the property offers guests access to China’s most famous hot spring destination since the Tang dynasty era. Designed by renowned Thai architect Amata Luphaiboon, the hotel design is inspired by the hot spring steam. Guest rooms are joined by a series of bridges floating in an atrium, with each room featuring cotton linen beddings, customised wood furniture and modern interior designs. When it comets relaxation, guests can enjoy 14 outdoor and five indoor hot spring pools that offer some of the country’s finest geothermal water.

SLH Insider Tip: “Kungfu enthusiasts can make a day trip to see one of Henan Province’s most famous Buddhist temples, the Shaolin Monastery.”

slh.com/hotels/the-mist-hot-spring-hotel

The MIST Hot Spring Hotel in Xuchang City, Henan, China

YiuTeung Mansion in Chengdu, China

131 rooms from CNY1,018

YiuTeung Mansion is a tribute to one of the city’s most famous authors Ba Jin, with its name coming from the author’s birth name. The hotel is designed as if it were a scene from the 1930s era mansion depicted in Mr Ba Jin’s novel 《家》“The Family”. The hotel provides a peaceful respite in the city centre of thriving Chengdu. YiuTeung Mansion bedrooms provide guests with bright and spacious areas for relaxation no matter whether they are staying in the Deluxe rooms or the Executive Suite. The subtle interior design of YiuTeung allows the displayed local Chengdu artwork to shine. Such aesthetics have boosted the hotel to Chinese social media prominence. Guests looking to explore the thriving city centre of Chengdu need look no further that the hotel’s front door, where the city’s must-see destinations are on the property’s doorstep.

SLH Insider Tip: “As a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, Chengdu is bursting with fiery and hugely varied flavours of its own. Sample everything from the original mapo tofu and spicy Bang Bang Chicken to street food classic guo kuei pancake. When you’ve had your fill, learn about Chengdu’s history at Chengdu Museum, Zhaojue Temple renowned as ‘The First Buddhist Monastery in West Sichuan’ or gush at one of China’s most famous national treasures at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.”

slh.com/hotels/yiu-teung-mansion

YiuTeung Mansion in Chengdu, China

This Castle Retreat Offers Silence and Luxury in Italy’s Piedmont Region

Gary's Room, Castello di Casalborgone, Italy

In the sleepy Italian commune of Casalborgone, a recent castle restoration has injected a quiet splendour into the rolling countryside

There are millions upon millions of dollars’ worth of antiques inside Castello di Casalborgone, a lavishly restored 18th-century castle in the rolling countryside of Italy’s Piedmont region. Yet its owners believe the item of most value is the quiet.

It is hard to argue against this notion as I open an oversized casement window, inviting the crisp morning air into my opulent Broglia Suite. I take a moment to admire the charming Italian landscape, one of my favourite things to do, which here comes complete with the snow-capped Swiss Alps in the background.

“The thing that this place has that doesn’t exist any place else is this incredible peace and silence,” says Gary Douglas, American businessman, antiques aficionado and, as of 2018, Italian castle owner. “You sit at the castle and you hear the birds, the wind and the leaves. You don’t hear cars, planes, trains and buses. That’s very unusual.”

There is quite a lot about this experience that is unusual. First of all, I am in a castle. Luxury I may be acquainted with, but this is next-level extravagance. My suite, the most decadent of the castle’s 12 boutique rooms, is a veritable museum, meticulously restored and adorned with antiques and artworks that ooze intrigue. The bedspread alone cost US$12,000. It was hand-crafted in Jaipur using gold thread and, for that reason, I am politely asked to refrain from having sex on it during my stay, although under is okay. I am a married woman travelling alone so I am not sure what to make of the request, but I kindly (and easily) oblige.

Also unusual, during lunch one afternoon – a formal affair held in the dining room – we take an unscheduled break to accept a fresco delivery. I watch as four brawny Italian delivery men manoeuvre the precious cargo up the castle’s front stairs and into the grand ballroom. Away comes the wooden housing, unveiling the beautifully muted tones of an 18th-century Tiepolo. Pinch me.

Chiara Dolza, Castello di Casalborgone’s gracious host, is the most starstruck among us. A graduate of art history, she tries to articulate the significance: “That you can touch it…” she trails off in awe as she rests a hand on the frame. “I will never wash my hands again.”

There is something else unusual about my stay. Not long after meeting Douglas, I am introduced to a number of his colleagues. Warm and hospitable, they are fellow Castello di Casalborgone investors and happen to be in town – an apparent rarity – during my stay. They are also Access Consciousness ‘facilitators’. Douglas founded Access Consciousness, a movement based on the idea that consciousness can shift anything, in 1995.

I am unsure what to make of Access Consciousness. Thankfully though, analysing Douglas’s career is not my assignment. Instead, I am charged with depicting Castello di Casalborgone and, on that, my mind is considerably clearer. This is a special place.

Douglas came across Castello di Casalborgone quite by accident. In fact, the septuagenarian believes the castle found him, rather than the other way around. He feels similarly about the interiors. Douglas handpicked every item in the restored property, aided by his knack for spotting treasures at flea markets, estate sales, garage sales and antique shops. Noteworthy pieces include a 300-year-old Aubusson tapestry, candlestick covers from the last Kings of Iran and Baccarat chandeliers from Persia. Another tapestry, now hanging Tiepolo-adjacent, is believed to have once belonged to Hitler. The rumour alone demands attention.

Douglas developed his taste for the finer things in life at a young age, inspired by his aunt. “She ate off of fine china, she drank out of crystal glasses and she had sterling flatware to eat on every day. I thought, ‘I want to live like this’,” he explains.

He has attempted to recreate this hedonism at Castello di Casalborgone, and has succeeded. When he purchased the property, it had been empty for 40 years. It took just one to reinstate the Renaissance-esque magnificence that now fills the centuries-old castle walls (although, when shopping, Douglas isn’t loyal to any one era).

“Luxury I may be acquainted with, but this is next-level extravagance. My suite, the most decadent of the castle’s 12 boutique rooms, is a veritable museum, meticulously restored and adorned with antiques and artworks that ooze intrigue.”

There was local resistance to the sale, which continued throughout the restoration, but Douglas says Casalborgone residents have come to embrace the changes. After all, the castle is once again part of community events and the grounds are open to the public.

“I really wanted us to be a contribution to the community,” Douglas explains. “I didn’t want this to be somewhere we were taking away. That’s not really my perspective in life,” he says.

There are no TVs at Castello di Casalborgone. No sound system either. You are welcome to enjoy your own digital entertainment, but only with headphones. The library boasts more than 7,000 books and is enveloped in the musty vanilla scent of their collective age. The gardens are expansive, tranquil and perfect for aimless wanders. Wander a little further and the commune of Casalborgone offers all the charming sights you’d expect from a small Italian village: a quaint and well-attended church; a fruit shop dominated, fittingly, by greens, reds and whites; a schoolyard bursting with young exuberance; an espresso bar… and another, and another; all peppered with the colour and delight of brimming window box planters.

One macchiato down, it takes double-shot-sized strength to decline a second cup of rich Italian coffee, but I am not chasing a caffeine high. Quite the opposite. I am headed back up the hill to my castle. A place of calm. And of restoration in more ways than one.

The Details

Castello di Casalborgone is located in Piedmont, about 40 minutes’ drive from Turin and 90 minutes from Milan.

Rates start at €450 (about A$725) per night. Rates for the Broglia Suite start at €650 (about A$1,050) per night.

castellodicasalborgone.com

By Design: Behind the Innovations Revolutionising Hotels

The Warehouse Hotel, Singapore

Modern design-led hotels deliver more than immaculate facades. Creative concepts and innovative programming make for more transformative guest experiences

A dated, printed bedspread; the token, geographically vague landscape painting on the wall; high-gloss wooden furniture; a bulky TV cabinet with a puzzling amount of storage; beige walls, beige carpet, a beige bathroom and a beige ambience. It wasn’t so long ago that hotel rooms looked like this. As recently as the 1990s, boutique hotels with design-led interiors were thin on the ground. The hospitality landscape was dominated by global hotel chains that had a uniform look, so that whether you were in Bangkok or Berlin, your experience would be largely the same.

Today, the very opposite is true: a boutique hotel revolution defined by intelligent design, luxurious comforts and local flavour is sweeping the globe. High-thread-count linens and expensive goose-down duvets top sumptuous beds; unique artworks by local artists that have been handpicked for just that room adorn the walls along with a mounted TV offering complimentary Netflix; beautiful wooden floors are underfoot; designer fittings pepper the room; and the ambience is one of warmth and familiarity, the likes of which used to be found only in high-end residential apartments. Guests can even stay at the same hotel repeatedly and have a completely unique experience each time, thanks to the rise of individualised rooms.

The humble hotel has become an experience in and of itself, rather than playing a supporting role in a riveting holiday tale, and Design Hotels founder, Claus Sendlinger, saw it coming a mile away. He knew there was a need for a portfolio of curated boutique hotels, because that was the kind of hotel he and his friends wanted to stay in, and yet they were rarer than hens’ teeth. In 1993, Sendlinger launched Design Hotels, the first hotel marketing consortium dedicated to design-led accommodation, with just 10 unique member properties that defied the copy-and-paste ethos typical of previous decades. The company now has a portfolio of 350 hotels in more than 200 destinations around the globe, and of the 400 member applications Design Hotels receives each year, an average of just five per cent are accepted, based on a rigorous selection criteria. Aesthetic is important, but even more so is whether the project has an original, distinct and timeless concept underpinning it.

These hotel concepts, conceived by visionary hoteliers Design Hotels call ‘Originals’, “can aim to uncover a destination or showcase an aspect of a place,” says Jinou Park, Vice President, Asia Pacific at Design Hotels. “The concept can be applied in the architecture and interior design, programming at the hotel, food and beverage concepts – it is how everything is executed and falls into place that tells a distinctly unique story.”

Rosie Morley, Associate Director at award-winning Melbourne design firm Carr, agrees that good looks alone aren’t enough in the now-competitive landscape of boutique and niche lifestyle hotels. She sees this shift to concept, and the idea that good hospitality design is founded on an authentic narrative, as one of the biggest changes that has occurred in the industry over the past decade. “One of the big changes is that sensory engagement, of making sure we’re orchestrating an immersive experience that touches all of those senses, because we remember environments through that,” says Morley. That means considering how guests access the space, how they arrive, how they move through the space, what they see, and what they feel. “It’s not [just] the room, it’s not [just] the meal, it’s the entire experience,” she says.

Carr Design Group is behind such hotel game-changers as Mornington Peninsula’s Jackalope and United Places in South Yarra. Both properties are heavily concept-led, with ultra-contemporary Jackalope setting a new standard of hotel design when it opened in 2017 looking nothing like any regional winery property anyone had ever seen. An alchemic narrative of wine creation weaves its way through every part of the vineyard property, with details such as apothecary-style tubes in the bar, 10,000 light globes covering the ceiling of the hatted restaurant, and a moody, dark hallway lit by multicoloured neon ceiling lights. Getting from the front door to your room is an all-encompassing journey that plays on each of the senses and immerses guests in the world of wine-making.

At Design Hotels member property Tsingpu Tulou Retreat in rural China, the narrative is one where guests feel as if they have landed in 17th-century China. Drawing inspiration from ancient Chinese customs, Tsingpu Tulou Retreat aims to bridge the gap between local tradition and contemporary design, with “a humanistic architectural approach so as to present the hotel as being inseparable from its environment,” according to the Design Hotels website. An original and weather-worn exterior, centuries-old rammed earth and wooden buildings and a traditional Chinese courtyard complement a minimalist interior that quietly echoes the simple ways of traditional Chinese life. On-site activities inspired by artisanal customs like citrus-tea making, bamboo-shoot scavenging, paper cutting, Tulou wood painting, and local tea and porcelain production further immerse guests in a bygone era, creating an experience that is heavily steeped in its location.

Think Globally, Act Locally

This idea of rooting a hotel’s concept and design in its location is one of the most exciting characteristics of the current hospitality renaissance, and one not only seen in heavily concept-driven hotels like Tsingpu Tulou Retreat and Jackalope. The move towards small-footprint, boutique properties has diversified the hotel landscape, allowing unique accommodations to open in unexpected places. “We look for innovation in all aspects of hospitality that have the power to deliver a transformative, purposeful experience,” says Park. “This is why our member properties are not destination-led and can equally be found in global cities as well as remote off-grid hideaways.”

In Sydney, small, stylised hotels the likes of The Old Clare in Chippendale and Hotel Palisade in The Rocks have put heritage suburbs and local neighbourhoods on travellers’ radars. It is now not unusual for travellers to decide on the area they will stay in based on a particular hotel that piques their interest. “These hotels help discerning travellers feel special and add relevance to their trip,” states a 2018 Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) report on the nation’s hotel revolution. In this way, hotel design is playing a role in transforming the way we travel, affecting how we experience new destinations and even reshaping entire locales.

Morley believes these design-led, experiential lifestyle hotels in unlikely places offer “the promise of another world.” She adds: “It’s suggesting a transformational experience of some description, it’s suggesting an elevation of lifestyle and it links right back to the values that Millennial travellers have.”

The literal translation of this “think globally, act locally” attitude, as the TAA report puts it, is the incorporation of specific design features into hotels that are unique to that destination. “From prime city locations to pristine resort locations, hotel design today is aimed at complementing the landscape, becoming an integral component of the local area,” it says.

The design uniformity of chain hotels is becoming a distant memory, with large-scale new builds like the recently opened The Ritz-Carlton Perth having grounded its entire design, experience, and food and beverage concepts in the unique qualities of Western Australia. The hotel’s palette of natural earth tones nods to the hues found in the state’s rugged landscapes, and luxurious natural materials, such as an extraordinary 10,000 pieces of handpicked Kimberley sandstone, feature on the building’s exterior and in the lobby. The hotel’s signature restaurant, Hearth, offers new interpretations of the classic Australian barbecue and showcases the region’s beautiful produce; the menu at its cocktail bar, Songbird, focuses on native Australian botanicals; and the spa treatments are inspired by Australia’s natural healing products.

Restoration projects have become another way for hotel brands to debut hotels with a story or narrative already in-built. For example, in 2019 InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu opened in one of the city’s most iconic and historic buildings, the hospital Hotel Dieu, after a painstaking four-year restoration by renowned interior designer Jean-Philippe Nuel. Also last year, Six Senses announced it will open in London’s former Whiteleys department store, a grand Art Deco site, in 2023 in what will be its first home in the UK. Similar restorations are being seen across Australia, from the industrial conversions of Sydney (Paramount House Hotel) to the public-building restorations of Perth (COMO The Treasury) and heritage-house conversions of Tasmania (Ship Inn Stanley).

There’s No Place Like Home Hotel

Answering the call of the sophisticated new traveller pursuing aesthetic beauty and destination immersion is the new wave of out-of-the-box, wilderness hideaways that seem to defy the very idea of a hotel. Igloos in the Arctic, bubble rooms in the jungle, tents in the desert, treehouses, tiny homes, converted ships and underwater rooms such as Queensland’s Reefsuites attempt to find balance between the authenticity and simplicity of nature and the aspirations of modern life. “It’s no longer enough to accept a hotel for being simply ‘a bed for the night’ – it’s a key part of the holiday, and people are looking to get a ‘sense of place’ rather than a ‘home away from home’,” says Jenny Southan, editor and founder of Globetrender, an online magazine and travel trend forecasting agency in the UK.

And yet, rising in tandem with quirky nature hideaways is a new wave of hotels that feel more residential than commercial in form and function. “There’s a lot of influencing back-and-forth between the common spaces in hotels, restaurants and residential spaces… now every workplace looks like a restaurant and every home office looks like a public space in a hotel,” says Design Hotels’ Park. This ‘home as hotel’ revolution sees architects and interior designers transforming traditional hotel lobbies into living room-style social hubs, and hotel rooms into cosy boudoirs so that from check in to check out the guest experience is one that reflects the comforts of home.

For Morley, that home-share rental sites like Airbnb have shifted the market and played a part in the home-hotel revolution is undeniable. “I think that the rise of Airbnb is one of the game-changers… Airbnbs link directly into something that feels very, very personal – that’s what people want,” she says. You only have to walk into a new-build hotel in any Australian capital and find an interior that feels personalised, localised and humanised in a way that hotels never used to be. Morley explains it as removing the “corporate” factor and “prescriptive spaces” from hotels, so that guests have greater autonomy and a choice in how and where they spend their time in the hotel. “They feel like they’ve discovered something or that they’re able to choose how they occupy or use the space,” she explains. “At home, you just choose everything as you want it to be. So we look at the conventions of hotel design and bring that back down to be closer to the experience you have arriving at your own home.” This includes the use of ambient lighting and a greater emphasis on natural light; the incorporation of sustainable, natural materials like plants, wood and reclaimed stone; and the introduction of smart technologies such as keyless entry and in-room iPads.

Today’s hospitality designers are coming up with innovative ways to catch and hold visitors’ attention by offering myriad touch-points on site. Lobbies are now playing host to interactive cafes and delicatessens, co-working spaces, art displays, boutiques, oversized lounges that invite… well, lounging, and complimentary experiences like daily cheese and wine hours, rooftop yoga and mixology classes. Hoteliers are entering into partnerships with renowned chefs to create design-focused on-site restaurants that come with instant credibility, along with bars that beckon a breed of stylish, trend-sensitive guests and locals to linger longer and socialise. Even partnerships with car brands, fashion brands and champagne houses have become the norm among Millennial-focused lifestyle hotels.

Morley says creating an experience that is unique and which guests can’t find elsewhere is an absolute top priority among hotel clients, and this includes creating spaces that are instantly interesting and highly ‘Instagrammable’. “In our design, we have to be aware of providing ample opportunity to encourage that self- perpetuating marketing campaign that social media brings you. In the last five years, I feel like that is something that is always on the brief – it has to be Instagram-worthy,” Morley says.

“Smart hotel design is transcending the ranking system, stretching and redefining the luxury hotel sector and closing the space between the stars.”

Artists in Residence

And what could be more Insta-worthy than the tallest mural in the Southern Hemisphere? Perth’s Art Series hotel, The Adnate, features just that, taking up an entire side of the exterior of the 25-storey building, acting as a permanent reminder of the hotel’s design-led, experiential offering. Blink and you won’t miss it. Hotels are now embracing art as an integral part of their design DNA, with some even boasting purpose-built galleries in addition to a curated selection of wall art and sculptures throughout the property.

Each of the 199 guest rooms at Midnight Hotel in Canberra, for example, features a custom artwork designed and created by acclaimed artist Thomas Bucich. Part of Bucich’s ‘Relic’ series, each piece features reclaimed Australian wood and bark plated in copper or nickel, is one-of-a-kind and was created solely for Midnight Hotel. Further advocating original art, each level of the hotel features a bespoke artwork by Australian artist Tom Adair, part of the ‘Uncovering Braddon’ series that shines a light on hotel’s neighbourhood. One of Crystalbrook Collection’s three Cairns hotels, Bailey, has dedicated spaces for art in public areas, and each of the 12 guest floors features a separate artist, with this art changing regularly. The hotel also hosts quarterly art initiatives such as exhibitions, evening classes, poetry recitals, dance performances and even live graffiti sessions. The Peninsula Hotels’ Art in Resonance program uses a ‘Travelling Gallery’ of contemporary art by emerging artists that moves between the brand’s 10 global locations. Each hotel also hosts artist talks, studio visits and panel discussions with leading artists, creatives and thinkers.

Meanwhile, in the village of Braemer in Scotland, not far from the royal Balmoral Estate, private country house-style boutique hotel, The Fife Arms, owned by the founders of modern art gallery Hauser & Wirth, boasts an extensive, eclectic art collection of more than 14,000 pieces from the 19th century to today that have been thoughtfully integrated into every nook and cranny. Treasured antiques, including a watercolour of a stag’s head painted by Queen Victoria, sit alongside contemporary commissions by leading international artists such as Subodh Gupta and Richard Jackson. The former 19th-century hunting lodge pushes the home-as-hotel concept to home-as-gallery, with the property even hosting artists throughout the year, who immerse themselves into the local community, fostering the creation of further culturally inspired artworks.

Design for One, Design for All

But perhaps the most momentous thing of all about the hotel design revolution is the way it is democratising good design. A decade ago, coming across a mini-bar in your hotel room would warrant a ‘hallelujah’ and a fist-pump with your significant other. It was one of the things that clearly signified you were staying in a luxury hotel, while finding just a small kettle and a few sachets of instant coffee and powdered milk would tell you loud and clear that you were definitely not. By contrast, today’s beautiful commercial spaces with their considered room details no longer reside in the realm of five stars alone. Rather, smart hotel design is transcending the ranking system, stretching and redefining the luxury hotel sector and closing the space between the stars. “Probably five years ago we were saying the star system is dead in terms of how we design spaces because it was a convention that people relied on decades ago for safety and security… [when they were] travelling a long distance and wanting to know that it had everything they needed – it was very [much about] box ticking,” Morley says.

Even budget accommodations are “utilising smart space planning, upgrading the quality of bedding, updating bathroom design, focusing on lighting and ambience, incorporating technology, incorporating a local flavour through design details and art, upgrading mini-bars and incorporating natural materials and green elements,” the TAA report states. “Rooms may be getting smaller, but they are packing a greater punch as a result of advanced design… Economy hotels used to be very standardised, but no longer.”

Morley adds that the rise of boutique hotels democratises design in that way that it “becomes a great leveller… and so therefore, by virtue, the star system becomes redundant. Those requirements that we used to have to tick are just becoming less relevant and also brand standards used to be a big fat book and now… they’re becoming flatter and skinnier and the rules are changing.” Even traditional luxury travellers are caring less about whether a hotel is four or five star, as long as the experience on offer within its four walls feels unique, personalised and experiential.

For Design Hotels’ Park, the power of good design goes even further – to transform travellers as well as the communities in which the hotels operate. “We absolutely think it’s about meaning and purpose,” he says. “If the last decade was about just bettering yourself, then this decade is about bettering the community, and everything around it.” And you thought design was just about looks.

A Study In Modern Hotel Design

Designed in partnership with legendary architect Kengo Kuma — the principal architect for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium — and award-winning and longtime Ace partner, Commune Design, Ace Hotel Kyoto opened in April 2020 as a 213-room hotel. Constructed within a part new-build and part-historic structure that was once home to Kyoto Central Telephone Company, Ace Hotel Kyoto will feature an animated lobby, a verdant garden courtyard, a gallery, event spaces, collaborations with local artists, a cafe and three standalone restaurants.

“Kyoto has been a longstanding global hub that has provided inspiration for countless artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers and poets,” says Kelly Sawdon, Partner and Chief Brand Officer, Ace Hotel Group. “Kyoto is a city that generates creativity and inspires travel, and we hope Ace will serve as a central gathering place for locals and travellers.”

A thoughtfully designed and vibrant space, Ace Hotel Kyoto will stand as a monument to the creative epicentre of Japan that exalts simple pleasures and respect for traditions.

Says Kuma, Principal at Kengo Kuma and Associates: “I intended to design a ‘Cultural Catalyst’ for various people to visit and create a seamless relationship with Kyoto’s community.”

Local Immersion

Case In Point: Moxy NYC East Village

With interior design by Rockwell Group and architecture by Stonehill Taylor, Moxy East Village is conceived as a vertical timeline, drawing inspiration from various eras in East Village history, from rock ‘n’ roll and renegade art to LGBTQ+ activism and the punk era. Interior design is inspired by urban archaeology, with the hotel’s 13 floors loosely conceived as homages to the East Village’s American counterculture scene through the decades.

Located directly across from the legendary concert venue Webster Hall, the hotel features 286 design-driven bedrooms, co-working spaces and tech-savvy amenities, as well as lively restaurants and bars – all at an affordable price.

Part of Marriott International’s experiential Moxy Hotels brand, Moxy East Village has a focus on playful cultural programming, allowing the hotel to integrate into the broader community, introducing guests and locals to the neighbourhood’s creators, tastemakers, and businesses. “We conceived of the hotel as a sort of crossroads: Guests can use it as a starting point for their explorations beyond the four walls, and local creators and businesses can use it as an extension of their community,” said Mitchell Hochberg, President of Lightstone, who developed the property. Among the innovative features, Talk@Moxy is an ongoing series of discussions showcasing local voices and the #SweatatMoxy series introduces guests and locals to area wellness experts who will offer morning rooftop meditation sessions as well as meditation videos on the in-room TVs.

Concept Comes First

At the recently opened hotel Treehouse London, every detail has been imagined through the lens of childhood, with guest rooms featuring cuckoo clocks and sleeping bag throws, and programming such as resident horticulturalists giving tours of local gardens, book clubs and poetry slams on offer.

Green is Golden

“Hotel designers are increasingly blurring the lines between interior and exterior spaces, with vertical hydroponic gardens, indoor waterfalls, multilevel terraces and rustic wooden furnishings enabling guests to connect with nature… Living green walls are now a feature of exterior and lobby design and there is greater emphasis on using natural lighting, along with direct and indirect exposure to nature.”

Source: Tourism Accommodation Australia 2018 Hotel Innovation Report

Work It Out

Singapore-based Next Story Group launched its first combined co-working space and hotel brand in Sydney’s Alexandria last year.

The Tech Specs

88% of guests expect traditional room keys to be ditched in favour of facial recognition for room access within the next 30 years

81% foresee in-room augmented reality functions that would enable them to speak face-to-face with friends and family

79% hope room service will become more intuitive, with artificial intelligence knowing the kind of food and drink individuals might want to order

69% said they do not want to see single-use plastic in the hotels of the future

72% want interactive mirrors that enable them to try different looks virtually

74% want a personalised virtual concierge assigned to them

Source: Globetrender and research by Yotel

Boutique Is Beautiful

It’s hard to keep up with the number of boutique hotel brands that have opened in recent years. Even hotel juggernauts IHG, Accor, Hilton and Marriott have all launched a number of boutique hotel collections. Big names include…

  • Ovolo Hotels
  • QT Hotels & Resorts
  • Voco (IHG)
  • Indigo (IHG)
  • MGallery by Sofitel (Accor)
  • SO/ (Accor)
  • Art Series (Accor)
  • Moxy (Marriott)
  • Edition Hotels (Marriott)
  • Aloft (Marriott)
  • Curio (Hilton)
  • Autograph Collection (Marriott)

The Future of Hotels

Jenny Southan from Globetrender discusses what the hotels of the future could look like:

Capsule Hotels

“I am particularly interested in micro or capsule hotels, which have been big in Japan for decades but are only just catching on in the West. Yotel has been a forerunner but there are lots of other interesting brands such as Citizen M, Moxy, Motto, Sleepbox, Hoxton, Mama Shelter and Sister City. To make up for having tiny rooms, some of these properties have vibrant and expansive public spaces that include co-working areas, libraries and coffee lounges.”

Luxury Bunks

“Another cool trend is ‘luxury bunks’ whereby hip hotel brands are deliberately catering to family and group stays – LifeHouse, Jo&Joe and Generator are great examples of companies that have reimagined a concept that was once exclusively associated with hostels and budget travellers.”

AI

“Over the next 10 years I predict an increase in the use of artificial intelligence in hotels, which will enable innovations such as facial recognition and robotics. Over in Hangzhou, China, the Flyzoo hotel already lets people use their face to unlock doors and pay for food in the restaurant, while new Nhow hotel in London has a robotic butler that will deliver towels and water to your room. We can also expect built-in voice control technology that will allow guests to chat to an in-room assistant like Siri or Alexa, instead of having to fiddle with switches to turn off the lights.”

The Details

Design Hotels offers over 450 unique destinations. Explore what’s on offer at designhotels.com.

The Right Direction: Vietnam’s Amanoi Offers Secluded Getaway

Forest Wellness Pool Villa at Amanoi, Vietnam

Kaitlin Jane checks into the Amanoi on Vietnam’s south-east coast and discovers the many benefits of its pristine location between jungle and sea

After landing at Cam Ranh International Airport on Vietnam’s south-central coast, most travellers head north, towards the bustling beach town of Nha Trang. But Aman resorts have never been for ‘most’ travellers, and the exclusive Amanoi, located in the pristine Nui Chua National Park, about 60 kilometres south of Cam Ranh, is no exception.

This off-the-grid location is typical of many Aman properties, but a resort that encompasses 42 hectares of a 29,000-hectare park is exceptional even by the lofty standards of this renowned brand.

After a 75-minute drive, I arrive in the pristine coastal marine reserve. A sweeping granite staircase leads to the central pavilion and I am met with a cool towel and refreshing drink before being taken to my Mountain Pool Villa.

The resort’s 36 villas, residences, pavilions and spa houses – all designed by architect Jean-Michel Gathy – are scattered along the hilltop and gaze out over mountains, ancient boulders and the turquoise waters of Vinh Hy Bay and out to the East Sea.

My 125-square-metre villa opens up to the lush green forest on both sides with enormous sliding glass doors and also has a large infinity pool surrounded by a sun deck, which quickly becomes my favourite spot for morning and afternoon tea.

The clean design of the room embraces traditional Vietnamese style while incorporating the latest conveniences such as docking sound system, espresso machine, generous mini-bar and WiFi. There is also Netflix available on a TV that raises into view from a wooden table at the foot of the indulgent king bed.

The first thing on my agenda is a consultation with Josh, the resort’s wellness manager and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. There are several personally tailored wellness immersion programs available, lasting from three to 21 days. All combine movement, body work, nutrition, mindfulness and spa treatments. After an in-depth conversation with Josh (including reviewing a questionnaire I had sent in before my arrival), we decide to focus on mindfulness, detox and cleansing, as well as hydration.

It’s an active schedule, starting at 6am with a guided sunrise hike to Goga Peak. My guide, Tuyen, and I trek to the top – about 20 minutes – where a stunning lookout awaits. The views of the fishing village below and the boats heading out for the day, all against the backdrop of the sun rising over the bay, are spectacular.

At 8am I head down to the lake for a group Qigong lesson on the floating pavilion surrounded by lotus flowers with the morning sunlight streaming in. We go over several different movements, reconfirming – yet again – that I need to incorporate this type of mindfulness into my routine.

By 9am I have done more exercise than I usually do in an entire day, and I’m ready for breakfast. But first it’s time for my Chinese tea remedy, one of two that I will experience each day, each brew specially prepared to help balance my yin and yang, which in Chinese Medicine is the key to good health. While it might not become a favourite beverage, it’s definitely tolerable, especially if balance is a consequence.

Breakfast in the shaded al fresco pavilion, which sits on top of the hill overlooking the property, is both delicious and delightful. I am presented with a custom menu that complements my wellness program and offers a varied selection of Vietnamese and Western dishes. According to traditional Asian medicine, food is divided into five groups: sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty, with each connected to an organ system. I always go local with the food when travelling and choose the vegetarian pho – a savoury rice noodle soup with shallots, basil, coriander and spring onions – accompanied by a seasonal fresh fruit platter and jasmine green tea.

“If time is in your favour, settle in for a week and village-hop and long-lunch to your heart’s content. This is how holidays are done in the Luberon – just ask the savvy and sophisticated Parisian style set who have made this dreamy, unspoilt countryside their summer playground for more than half a century.”

By 11am, I am back at the lakeside spa to meet with Josh for some laser acupuncture, which is followed by a private yoga session with Shyam, the spa manager.

After lunch at the beach club and some chill out time at the adjacent pool, I once again find myself at the spa for another indulgence – a 90-minute hot stone massage that begins in the hydrotherapy room with a steam, spa and cold plunge. Despite the small stature of my Vietnamese massage therapist, she has incredibly strong hands and knows exactly how to manipulate my muscles to mush.

The Amanoi spa takes centre stage at the resort with its luxurious oversized treatment rooms, talented therapists and unique menu that includes both body and energy work. For a one-of-a-kind experience while enjoying utmost privacy, stay in one of the resort’s two Spa Houses. The Thuy Lien Spa House features a contemporary Moroccan hammam while the An Son Spa House boasts a Russian banya. Both include two dedicated therapists, a 15-metre pool, spa, steam room, cold plunge, three hours of treatments per day along with all of the standard villa inclusions. All this without ever having to leave the residence.

Before falling into bed, I enjoy a perfect meal of Vietnamese-style whole fish smothered in herbs and cooked in a clay pot with dipping sauce, smoky eggplant and rice paper rolls.

From their expert attention to detail to the philosophy that no request is ever too great, a stay at Amanoi is guaranteed to leave you relaxed, rejuvenated and on the right path to a healthier you.

The Details

Rates for the Detox and Cleansing Immersion start from A$2719 per night (three-night minimum), including taxes and full board, return airport transfers, an arrival and departure wellness consultation and a comprehensive itinerary.

aman.com/resorts/amanoi 

A Lost World: Step Inside Bawah Reserve, Indonesia

Master Bedroom in two-bed villa, Bawah Reserve, Indonesia
Master Bedroom in two-bed villa, Bawah Reserve, Indonesia

Set in one of the most breathtaking yet little-known locations in Indonesia, Bawah Reserve is the pinnacle of hidden treasure

“More coffee?” “No thanks, I’ll take some juice, though, and another warm muffin… and maybe some more fruit salad, and…”

They say you should eat breakfast like a king, and we’re certainly doing that today, but not in the way you might think. Our location is a secret squirrel of a beach in the Anambas Islands in Indonesia, and to say the spread and scenery are a step-up from our usual breakfast setting would be an understatement. This is not your regular beach picnic, either, because it has been organised by Bawah Reserve, and nothing Bawah puts on is ever regular.

We were brought here by speedboat at 8:30am expecting a few beach towels and a picnic basket with a handful of snacks. An umbrella, perhaps. Instead, we arrived to a large Balinese-style balé, set back from the beach in the shade of the trees, with wood-panelled floors and inviting furnishings including floor lounges, cushions, a table and leather chairs for two. We then watched in amazement, feeling slightly foolish, as the Bawah staff unpacked endless edible morsels for us to break our fast in the most memorable of ways. That’ll show us for underestimating one of the most coveted island resorts in Indonesia.

The small, very pretty Turtle Bay we’ve landed on is just one of 13 sandy havens across six islands – all private – that guests have access to at Bawah Reserve. Romantically remote at 300 kilometres northeast of Singapore, it’s not an easy place to get to – the journey involves an international ferry followed by a 90-minute seaplane – but when you arrive, boy do you arrive. The bird’s-eye view of the main island on the descent is of lush tropical jungle and an azure-blue ocean that gently changes hue as it heads towards reef-speckled lagoons and onto powdery white beaches. From the dizzying heights of the sea plane, the resort’s beach villas look like little matchboxes lined up on the sand, while the main buildings are hardly noticeable at all, their curved, thatched roofs hesitantly pushing through the trees like the caps of ginormous exotic mushrooms.

Lord knows how this place was even discovered – not even the Singapore Air staff on our flight from Sydney had heard of it. Not that we’re complaining. Having your very own Robinson Crusoe experience has become something of a dream among tightly wound city dwellers – myself no exception – and Bawah’s isolation guarantees its exclusivity. Only about 10 per cent of the Anambas’ 250 islands are inhabited, making it perfect for adventure and adventurers. Now a designated marine conservation area, making fishing illegal, Bawah Reserve opened in 2017 as a beacon of sustainable, luxurious hospitality. The owners’ goal was to preserve and protect an ecological paradise, and this meant designing and building an exemplary eco-resort that would not impact the natural environment either while it was being built, or when it was up and running. Using bamboo as the main structural material and putting the buildings on supports to minimise damage to the landscape, the build took five years – a process Singaporean architect Sim Boon Yang has described as “both painstaking and rewarding.”

Yang worked on a concept of a ‘lost world’ for Bawah, where the guest is an explorer botanist, and their inner child is reawakened by the resort. Bawah’s two restaurants, in particular, demonstrate the faultless execution of this childlike, light-hearted and yet luxurious design. Sitting 84 steps upslope at the physical peak of the property, Tree Tops restaurant requires stamina, but at the summit is the ultimate reward. The hero view of Bawah’s unique fishtail jetty, along with Elang Private Island, where Bawah Reserve is opening an ultra-exclusive cluster of private villas later this year, is indescribable. I am on my eighth visit to this country, yet am again presented with an example of its spectacular beauty. Most will find it hard to peel their eyes away from that view, but if you can, look up. There is a magnificent oversized light feature that resembles a jellyfish and, in the evening, it changes colours creating a sort of marine-themed discotheque dinner experience. You can’t help but talk about this focal point when you dine at Tree Tops, but by the second night I’m more interested in discussing why my partner is not wearing any shoes. He has taken the whole ‘barefoot luxury’ thing as literally as possible, and despite the fact that everyone else in the restaurant is, on a quick glance around, indeed wearing shoes, he’s unfazed. For a man that finds it hard to switch off, this says a lot about the effect of Bawah Reserve.

Somewhere bare feet do make sense is at our favourite lunch spot, The Boat House. Yang’s idea of childlike fun and freedom continues at this relaxed restaurant, where natural-edged wooden chairs, swinging seats suspended on rope and curved beach loungers invite guests to loosen up and just chill out, man. With the sand between your toes, literally, it’s the kind of effortless beach shack vibe all the cool kids would love, although with a glass of wine or a cocktail costing around $40 after taxes, any grand ideas of uninhibited sundowner sessions may be quickly abandoned.

Luckily, Bawah Reserve is a true utopia for swimming, snorkelling, diving, hiking, sailing and simply being, and the latter is how I spend a lot of my time during the three nights we are there. This is only partly because it is monsoon season and it rains a lot during our stay, and more because any excuse to relax will do, especially when there is beauty at every angle.

“Now a designated marine conservation area, making fishing illegal, Bawah Reserve opened in 2017 as a beacon of sustainable, luxurious hospitality. The owners’ goal was to preserve and protect an ecological paradise, and this meant designing and building an exemplary eco-resort that would not impact the natural environment either while it was being built, or when it was up and running.”

For those who like to stay active, a full island itinerary is provided on arrival. This can be amended at guests’ discretion, or ignored altogether, although I highly doubt many would turn down the daily spa treatment, which is a standard inclusion of the full-board experience. Also offered on fair-weather days is a sunset boat trip around all six of Bawah’s islands, an open-air movie night, a private destination dinner, croquet and a tour of the resort’s organic gardens. Wet weather activities include twice-daily yoga/Pilates, a mixology class, a whisky and chocolate tasting session, an Indonesian batik painting class and a traditional Indonesian cooking class. There is also a library to leaf through for the book worms and an ice-cream cart, which, let’s be honest, is fair game come rain or shine.

The 35 eco-focused suites and villas are sustainable through and through, with the 19 Beach Suites and three Garden Suites using safari-style canvas for their ceiling and walls, creating an out-of-Africa-meets-rustic-beach-bunker vibe. More luxurious are the Overwater Bungalows, where we happily chill during the daily deluge, book in hand. The bathroom is my favourite part of the villa, with a striking copper tub and wall mural, and the space looks particularly beautiful lit up in ambient lighting each evening. Turn-down each night comes with petit-fours, a handmade ornament of one of the creatures found in the surrounding waters, such as the sea urchin or starfish, and an educational note about the animal. At Bawah Reserve, the lessons on sustainability never stop.

A standout for many will be the couples-focused Spa Explorer experience. A more modest, but still memorable, iteration of Nihi Sumba’s Spa Safari concept, the experience involves a speedboat ride to another secluded beach and a 60-minute massage. Another opportunity to disconnect from the world and reconnect with nature (and your partner), it is accompanied by a soundtrack of the ocean lapping gently nearby and the cicadas in their element. The aperitif of a hydrating raw coconut completes the experience, before a swift skim across the cerulean water, back to the main island.

For us, the therapists are not quite up to the standards that the exclusivity of the resort suggests (one couple staying at Bawah while we were there flew home by private jet), and we feel the inexperience of many staff during our stay. Put it down to the resort’s relative youth, or the fact that one-third of Bawah’s staff hail from the region, where there are few similarly luxurious properties. Regardless, we are always treated with utmost courtesy, and get the feeling the intuitive customer service that traditionally comes with such resorts is simply a matter of time. There’s no such thing as perfect, after all, but as one of the most dazzling destinations I have ever visited, Bawah Reserve comes pretty close.

Earth-Focused Philosophy

Around 30 per cent of the fresh produce served at Bawah comes from the resort’s organic garden and there is an on-site waste management centre that even crushes glass and uses it in the water filtering process. All water on the island is drinkable, unlike most other Indonesian locations, and there are no plastic bottles allowed. Bawah’s partner foundation, Bawah Anambas Foundation, works to protect and conserve the natural environment, while educating the communities on surrounding islands about recycling and conservation, and offering skills training and English lessons.

The Details

Rates for a one-bedroom Garden Suite start at US$1780 (about A$2665) per night, including all meals, all non-alcoholic drinks, one spa treatment per full day, use of the Wellbeing Centre and daily movement classes, non-motorised watersports, land sports, daily laundry and WiFi.

Bawah Reserve arranges round-trip transfers from Singapore for US$700 (about A$1048) per person.

bawahreserve.com 

12 Reasons to Buy the Autumn 2020 Issue of Luxury Travel Magazine

The autumn issue of Luxury Travel Magazine is on shelves now, packed with tales of awe-inspiring adventures, informative discussion pieces and the latest news. Here are 12 reasons to get your hands on a copy.

1. We delve into the new wave of design-led hotels sweeping the globe and unveil the creative concepts transforming travellers’ experiences

Image from 'By Design' | p52

2. Jump aboard a 63-metre luxury yacht and explore one of travel’s most prized journeys, the Galapagos Islands

Image from 'Adventure Islands' p122

3. Win a luxurious holiday by voting in our annual Gold List Awards

4. Find out everything you need to know for the perfect stay in Lisbon, with our ultimate City Guide

Image from Lisbon City Guide | p88

5. Mexico City: A land of contrasts, this colourful city continues to be a coveted destination for the culturally curious

Mexico City
Mexico City

6. Why are more and more women choosing female-only adventures?  

Bench Africa women-only tours
Image from 'I am Woman' | pg 69

7. The Australian Bushfire Crisis: we talk to the owners of two luxury properties that were impacted by the blazes

Image from 'In the Line of Fire' | p47

8. Check in to one of South East Asia’s most exclusive private island resorts

Image from 'A Lost World' | p104

9. Does the iconic, newly refurbished Raffles Singapore live up to the hype? Find out with our first-person account.

Raffles Singapore
Raffles Singapore

10. The pinnacle of luxury wellness retreats at Amanoi, Vietnam

Image from 'The Right Direction' | p78

11. Uncover more than flamenco in Spain‘s spellbinding Andalucía region

Image from 'Spanish Steps' | p129

12. Book one of Luxury Travel’s exclusive experiences for your next holiday

Review: HOSHINOYA Tokyo Kiku Suite

HOSHINOYA Tokyo Guest Room KIKU

Size: 83 square metres / Price: From US$1080 excl. tax (about A$1582) per night / Reviewed by Kate Symons / Details: hoshinoya.com/tokyo/en

Hotel

At first glance, HOSHINOYA Tokyo blends into its smart surrounds – a high-rise flanked by high-rises in the city’s financial district. Yet it soon becomes clear, this is anything but a standard city building. On closer inspection, the hotel’s seemingly ordinary façade reveals itself – an intricate metal lattice, designed to mimic the kimono in both look and narrative. (Traditionally, kimono patterns were designed to be difficult to discern from a distance.) It is a striking first impression and the first hint that HOSHINOYA Tokyo is a very special place. The next hint comes moments later when an enormous door, made from a single cut of cypress, opens to the hotel’s simple, yet somehow grand, lobby. Here, calm exudes thanks to the soaring ceiling and prominent use of natural materials, as well as a most delicate welcome. The scene is set.

Suite

Each of the hotel’s 17 floors comprises six guest rooms and a lounge, or ochanoma, designed to encourage communal living. The complimentary sake, tea, coffee and snacks help, but it’s hard to leave the suite. I am staying in a Kiku suite, or executive triple, the most premium of the three room styles. Classic shoji screens adorn the huge corner allotment, allowing the external lattice to work its magic inside the room by way of its delicate shadow. The open-plan space includes a dining table, small desk and large sofa, and a futon-style bed with plush linens.

The walk-in robe comes complete with pyjamas and a traditional kimono. The former you are invited to wear on your floor and the latter you’re welcome to wear anywhere in the hotel. Shoes, though, are not be worn. In fact, the pair you arrive in are taken from you on entry and stored in a bamboo box. The tatami-matted floors throughout the hotel make this unique arrangement a pleasure.

Would it be a Japanese hotel review without mention of the toilet? A sleek black bathroom features an oversized tub, but it’s the bells and whistles – most of which I dare not try – of the high-tech toilet that makes the strongest impression. Lifting the toilet seat with my bare hands now seems a chore.

Locale

HOSHINOYA Tokyo is located in the city’s financial district, Otemachi. It is walking distance to the Imperial Palace East Gardens and well-connected to major sights and attractions via the city’s excellent rail network.

Eat in

Nippon cuisine meets French culinary techniques at HOSHINOYA Tokyo’s in-house restaurant and the result is absolutely exquisite. Created by Executive Chef Noriyuki Hamada, a bronze medallist at the 2013 Bocuse d’Or World Finale (think of it as the culinary Olympics), HOSHINOYA’s 10-course tasting menu boasts wow factor to boot. Tough choice, but perhaps the most spectacular of the courses, at least visually, is the Five Flavours of Delight, a masterpiece of five delicate morsels, each representing one of the standard flavour profiles – sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and umami. Nothing standard about this, though. The precision is extraordinary. The experience, unmatched. In-room dining is also available with Japanese and Western options.

Special Touches

Where do I start? HOSHINOYA Tokyo is awash with special touches, but perhaps the most memorable of all is the in-house onsen. The two baths halls, separated by gender, are fed by hot spring waters drawn from 1500 meters below the ground. And above, as you soak, is a framed view of the sky, thanks to the dramatic open-roof chamber.

Hotel Review: InterContinental Sydney

InterContinental Sydney Club InterContinental
InterContinental Sydney Club InterContinental

Suite: Presidential Opera Suite | Size: 245 sqm | Price: from A$4,500 | icsydney.com.au

Situated between Circular Quay, the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens, the Intercontinental Sydney couldn’t be in a better location. This historic 1800’s landmark, originally the city’s treasury building,  exudes sophisticated luxury while still retaining its rich history. Adding to its 1999 listing as a world heritage site, are the oldest heritage lift in the Southern Hemisphere and the first vault in Australia. Intercontinental Sydney’s intricate architectural facade continues inside at The Cortile, the glass domed atrium lobby that is the heart of the hotel. This five-star marquee hotel beautifully combines old world charm with hip modern decor.

Suite

The Presidential Opera Suite, with its spacious interior, panoramic views spanning across the Harbour, private outdoor terrace and grand piano, is one of the most iconic suites in Australia and the most decadent suite I have ever stayed in. Perched 29 stories above Sydney’s Harbour, I lost track of time watching the ferries come and go, as twilight descended on the city and Sydney came alive with the sparkle of lights.

The spa bath is positioned two steps up and against an oversized window that looks out over the Royal Botanical Gardens, Wooloomooloo and beyond to Bondi. Bathing here, guests can enjoy complete privacy from the perch above the skyline while watching the life of Sydney play out below. The spacious ensuite is decorated with wall to wall marble, blonde timber and panoramic windows. The large lounge and dining room are also surrounded by windows and if guests feel like entertaining, there is an appointed kitchen and a large timber dining table that can seat at least ten.

Special Touches

Club Intercontinental on level 32 has one of the best views in the city and serves breakfast, afternoon tea and twilight drinks with canapés. The outdoor balcony with big cushioned lounge chairs is the ideal spot to enjoy a cocktail – try the limited edition “Treasury Martinez”, which comes with an ice cube dressed in 24k gold flakes and was created to celebrate the 170th anniversary of the hotel’s building.

High tea in The Cortile is not to be missed, especially with the addition of the new Vegan High Tea menu. For guests seeking to experience an indulgent plant based treat, French-trained pastry chef Eric Menard has crafted an assortment of sweet and savoury delights without using traditional ingredients such as eggs, milk and butter.

Locale

The hotel location couldn’t be any more convenient to everything Sydney offers. The Royal Botanic Gardens are across the street with Circular Quay, the main waterfront transportation hub for trains, ferries, buses and the new light rail, just a very short stroll away. Both leisure and business travellers can get anywhere in Sydney, without a hitch. Restaurants and shopping options are minutes away by foot as well as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, two of the city’s main tourist destinations. The Rocks, Sydney’s historic early settlers waterfront enclave is right next to Circular Quay along with the main overseas terminal for the larger cruise ships that dock in Sydney.

Eat In

The hotel may not be known for having gourmet food options, however the Intercontinental Sydney’s Cafe Opera is known for its seafood buffet. Local seafood is the main draw with plenty of other dishes to choose from including a dessert bar to top it off.

Guests staying in a club suite or room have access to Club Intercontinental on the 32nd floor for breakfast with views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and the busy harbour as well as the Botanical Gardens and views all the way to Manly. Drinks and canapés are also served in the late afternoon. Looking for the perfect way to end the day while unwinding before dinner? Enjoy the outdoor terrace with a drink and the warm canapés brought out by the staff.

If so inclined, there is an extensive room service menu with comfort foods for everyone. Start with Australian cheeses and charcuterie and move on to some Sydney Rock oysters. Grilled meats and fish sourced from Australia, as well as plenty of other choices including burgers, sandwiches and pizzas. Room service at Intercontinental Sydney offers something for everyone.

10 Gorgeous Australian Towns to Explore This Year

Tourism Australia 'Live Our Philausophy' Campaign Images

For those who’ve made the pledge to #HolidayHereThisYear, these ten much-loved Aussie towns will shift you firmly into holiday mode, and remind you we really are the Lucky Country

If there was ever a time to holiday at home, here in Australia, it would be now. Following a summer of ferocious fires, flash-flooding and ongoing drought, more Australians are pledging to stay home and support local towns and businesses.

Research conducted by leading online travel site Wotif.com has found that 12.6 million Australians (91% of those who travel on holidays) are keen to either amend or continue their holiday plans to ensure they support local tourism in areas either directly or indirectly affected by the bushfires.

Now in its third year, the 2020 Wotif Aussie Town of the Year awards has pinpointed the top Aussie Towns of the Year,  where you can holiday in your own backyard and celebrate the best of Down Under.

“Tourism is vital to many regional communities, meaning Aussies have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact by choosing to holiday here this year,” says Wotif Managing Director Daniel Finch. “Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a week-long escape, 2020 is the year to discover your own backyard and book a getaway that gives back.”

Without further ado, Wotif’s Aussie Towns of the Year are:

Coffs Harbour, NSW

Bananas aside, there’s something for everyone in Coffs. From intimate beaches, lush hinterland mountains, untamed rainforests and even an internationally renowned golf course resort a short drive away, Coffs Harbour is New South Wales’ paradise of attractions. Perched halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, there is no shortage of adrenalin-pumping activities, festivals and wildlife encounters along the stretching pristine coastline.

Coffs Harbour
Coffs Harbour

Mackay, QLD

The inaugural winner of Wotif’s Aussie Town of the Year awards in 2018, the historic town of Mackay is firmly on the radar for travelling Aussies. Located at the centre of the Queensland coast, Mackay boasts lush subtropical rainforests, national parks and a thriving public arts scene.

Mackay
Mackay

Airlie Beach, QLD

Known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Airlie Beach is an aquatic playground offering stunning views by day and a bustling, vibrant nightlife. To make the most of your stay, Australia’s favourite adults-only resorts, qualia is just around the corner on Hamilton Island, just a short ferry trip from Airlie Beach.

qualia Windward Pavilion Lounge
qualia Windward Pavilion Lounge

Batemans Bay, NSW

Named in 1770 by Australian explorer Captain James Cook, Batemans Bay is in the heart of the Oyster Coast. It offers fresh local seafood and a great base for exploring the wonders and natural beauty of the NSW South Coast.

Batemans Bay
Batemans Bay

Cairns, QLD

Famed for its access to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, these world-heritage sites stamp Cairns on the map as Australia’s nature capital with some serious adventure game. Plus, with Crystalbrook Collection recently opening Cairns’ newest five-star hotel, Bailey, there has never been a better time to go.

Bailey, Cairns | Lobby
Bailey, Cairns | Lobby

Port Fairy, VIC

Delivering old-world charm with a modern twist, Port Fairy sits on the doorstep of the famed Great Ocean Road, boasting a rich history, excellent restaurants and a charming seaside community.

Port Fairy, VIC
Port Fairy, VIC

Albany, WA

As close as you’ll get to a historic European city in WA, Albany is the western state’s oldest European settlement, with a rich history and fantastic family appeal. We’d recommend getting there with Walk Into Luxury’s private Bibbulmun Track tour, that covers more than 1000 kilometres from the Perth hills to Albany.

Albany, WA
Albany, WA

Katoomba, NSW

Oh hey (three) sisters! A vibrant and historic town at the heart of the Blue Mountains, Katoomba spoils its guests with spectacular walks and lookouts, rich cultural heritage and great restaurants and bars. Beautiful views deserve beautiful places to view them from, and with choices like Lilianfels Blue Mountain Resort & Spa, or the nearby Hydro Majestic Hotel, you shouldn’t have trouble finding one.

Katoomba, NSW
Katoomba, NSW

Margaret River, WA

You had us at Cab Sav. The Margaret River region is known for its wine, beaches and sense of adventure, all tucked away in Australia’s south-west corner. With extraordinary coastal scenery, it’s best explored by foot, and done in style with a Walk into Luxury four-day tour.

Walk into Luxury Cape to Cape Walk
Walk Into Luxury Margaret River

Maroochydore, QLD

With its funky cafes, multicultural cuisine and thriving live music scene, Maroochydore is the cultural capital of the Sunshine Coast, where you can easily transition from an ocean dip to an evening cocktail.

Maroochydore, QLD
Maroochydore, QLD

The NSW Countryside’s Most Stylish Tiny Houses

Tilba Lake Camp

Proof that big things come in small packages…

It seems every other day a new tiny holiday house appears – and we’re still not any less fascinated than we were the first time we saw one. Seclusion and nature immersion is the modern-day luxury, and as the tiny house movement gains momentum more people are embracing sustainable, tiny getaways.

Since launching in 2018, Singapore-based company Tiny Away, considered one of the first companies to integrate the concept of “tiny houses” with eco-tourism, has built 12 six-metre houses across Victoria, with a further eight now throughout NSW in the Hawkesbury, Braidwood and Picton.

Australian-based Unyoked, too, has been luring burnt-out city dwellers with their self-contained private cabins in the Eastern States’ countryside with the promise of “minimum footprint, maximum chill” and “Attenborough-level nature”. All cabins are conveniently located within two-hours of the city, but there’s a catch – guests only find out the location of their hideout two days before the expedition. It might be quirky, it might even be novel.  But it sure is a good way to get lost, without getting lost. You might even find yourself in the process. Read on for ten stylish ways to embrace the New South Wales countryside.

 

Heike by Unyoked

Environmental warriors and twin brothers, Cam and Chris Grant, have set up six eco-friendly cabins in NSW and Victoria where nature-loving visitors can experience minimalist stays in the wilderness. NSW has three Unyoked cabins, named Miguel, Coralie and Heike, hidden in secluded locations from lush valleys to wine country.

unyoked.co

Heike by Unyoked
Heike by Unyoked

Edmond by In2theWild

Into The Wild curate pop-up stays in tiny homes in out-of-the-way locations about two hours from Sydney. The petite, portable houses are named after the owners’ favourite book characters, and kitted out with hot shower and toilet, bedding for four people and a fire pit with outdoor seating. On booking you’ll receive the exact location, which could take you anywhere from the Shoalhaven to the Hunter. Who doesn’t love a surprise holiday!?

in2thewild.co

In2TheWild

Kindled

This thoughtfully designed tiny house sleeps up to four and sits in the Oberon Shire around three hours out of Sydney. Set on 250 acres beside pristine gum tree conservation and the river, it’s likely you’ll spot kangaroos, wombats and plenty of birdlife. The well-equipped dwelling has modern comforts such as a Koala mattress, air conditioning, soft linens and rain shower.

kindled.com.au

Photo: Kindled
Photo: Kindled

Tallarook Tiny Home

Live big in this architecturally designed tiny home for three guests, nestled in native bushland on the Clyde River on the South Coast of NSW. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the 50 acre property with bushwalking, kayaking and wildlife spotting, or just take it easy in your cabin with stylish fit out, breakfast bar and comfy loft bed for afternoon siestas.

tallarooktinyhome.com

Photo: Tallarook
Photo: Tallarook

Tilba Lake Camp

One of the original tiny holiday homes in NSW, Tilba Lake Camp has a variety of accommodation including bell tents and two eco pods, Bonnie and Clyde, nestled in coastal paddocks with views of the lake, ocean and mountains. The cute pods are ideal for couples and have queen beds layered with soft linens, kitchen with fridge, microwave oven and stove top, outdoor private fire pit and access to a saltwater pool.

tilbalakecamp.com.au

Photo: Tilba Lake Camp
Photo: Tilba Lake Camp

The Loft

Perched on the edge of the Cudgegong Valley fringed by native bushland, The Loft is a rustic eco home for two with a chic Nordic-style interior. On a rural property just 12 minutes from Mudgee, guests can enjoy a delicious local wine on the deck while watching the sun set, whip up breakfast in the well-equipped kitchen or have a nap on the mezzanine bed. The property owners supply Italian-brewed coffee, a range of teas and a small library of books too.

wildescapes.com.au

Photo: The Loft
Photo: The Loft

The Whispers

A perfect base to explore The Blue Mountains region, city dwellers will love the contemporary styling, rural setting as well as the laptop-friendly working nook in this tiny house near Lithgow. Guests can get active on the 1km loop trail at the back of the property, ideal for mountain biking or running, and the friendly hosts are happy help set up the fire pit at night or introduce you to the resident sheep, chickens, ducks and peacock during the day.

tinyaway.com

Photo: The Whispers
Photo: The Whispers

6Sixteen The Banks

A tiny home with a big personality – the styling is spot on and there’s lots of windows to let the rural views in. Located on a farm in Agnes Banks in Greater Western Sydney, 6sixteen is not far from the beautiful cafes of Windsor, Kurrajong village and Glenbrook. With a plush loft bedroom and comfy pull-out sofa bed there’s enough room for a family of four and lovely open spaces to soak up the views of horse studs, lagoon and turf farms, with a backdrop of the Blue Mountains.

airbnb.com.au

6Sixteen The Banks
6Sixteen The Banks

Big Tiny Jindera Park

On a sprawling 500-acre property 10 minutes from Albury in the Riverina Murray region, this tiny home has a fresh, modern interior and an efficient set up with microwave, bar fridge, loft bed and sleek bathroom. For animal lovers there’s a menagerie of animals to observe outside on the property with horses, cows and kangaroos, as well as goannas and parrots too. Escape and recharge.

stayz.com.au

Photo: Jindera Park
Photo: Jindera Park