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H ANDREW HARPER’S JANUARY 2012

online

Grand Awards 2012

{ candid reviews by a writer who tr avels incognito and always pays his own way }


editor’s letter JANUARY 2012 — Each year, I have the pleasure of recalling my travel experiences over the previous 12 months and singling out a number of hotels and resorts for special recognition. To be considered for our annual Grand Awards, a property must be relatively small and possess a distinctive personality. It is also required to demonstrate a consistent devotion to personal service. I do not evaluate hotels by means of a checklist. Rather, I rely on 30 years of experience and my intangible summary impression. Some of our award winners are more lavish than others and provide a wider range of facilities. However, all offer the traveler comfort, warmth and charm, as well as a spirit of sincere hospitality. In 2011, I was thrilled to find sophisticated hideaways in countries as unexpected as China, Panama and Ecuador. But it also was a good year for classic European destinations such as Rome, Corsica and the south of France. Although my primary purpose is to discover hideaways, I have also singled out the most distinguished Grand Hotel and Grand Resort that I encountered in the past 12 months. And in this issue, you will find a wide range of additional award categories, such as Best Cruise, Best Spa and Best Family-Friendly Resort. At the end of each year, I am always amazed by the extent of the ground I have covered. But travel is an addiction, fortunately a benevolent one, and the conclusion of one year’s globe-trotting merely fires me with excitement for the next.


A 2011 TRIP TO HANGZHOU, CHINA, UNCOVERED TWO EXCEPTIONAL HIDEAWAYS, FOUR SEASONS AND AMANFAYUN (pictured) © ANDREW HARPER


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JANUARY 2012

Grand Awards 2012 HIDEAWAY OF THE YEAR

Southern Ocean Lodge, Australia

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NORTH AMERICA

EUROPE

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Ocean House Glenmere Mansion

Casa Manni La Coquillade The Yeatman Domaine de Murtoli

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CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA

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ASIA AND PACIFIC

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Panamonte Inn Hotel Plaza Grande

Amanfayun Four Seasons Hangzhou Wolgan Valley Resort The Louise

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CARIBBEAN

Jumby Bay Hôtel Le Toiny

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AFRICA

Sasaab Elsa’s Kopje

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COVER

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GRAND HOTEL & RESORT

Trump International Hotel Chicago The Resort at Pelican Hill 42

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“OCEAN RETREAT” ROOM AT SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE, KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA 


{ click on title or hotel name to view story } 48

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2012 Restaurants

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of the Year

Special

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Recognition

Last Year’s

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Disappointments

Indelible Memories

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of 2011

ABOVE clockwise from top left LION CUBS NEAR ELSA’S KOPJE IN KENYA; XUNANTUNICH RUINS IN BELIZE; CHEF MICHAEL WHITE OF AI FIORI IN NEW YORK CITY; ISLE OF SKYE IN SCOTLAND; LAVENDER-LINED ENTRANCE TO LA COQUILLADE IN THE LUBERON, FRANCE; ALCOVE BY INDOOR POOL AT FOUR SEASONS HANGZHOU, CHINA


2012 GRAND AWARD WINNERS

Southern Ocean Lodge HIDEAWAY OF THE YEAR


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Southern Ocean Lodge

HIDEAWAY OF THE YEAR

KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

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Kangaroo Island lies a 40-minute flight south of Adelaide. More than 90 miles long, but with just 4,300 inhabitants, it is a wild and magnificent place with an evocative landscape of rolling moors and sheepdotted pastures. Southern Ocean Lodge is perched high above wind- and sea-gouged cliffs that are scoured by breakers and punctuated by glorious white-sand beaches. After check-in, we relaxed in the spectacular Great Room, a huge pavilion with floor-to-ceiling windows, a wall of golden limestone and a suspended woodburning steel fireplace. The space is compartmentalized by the exquisite furniture of Adelaidebased, Malaysian-born designer Khai Liew. The 21 suites all have hyp­notic views of the Southern Ocean, which extends as far as Antarctica. Our room came with a paved limestone entrance and floors made from recycled timber. In front of the window, an inviting sofa was strewn with canvas bolsters, kangaroo-print cushions and a soft wool throw. The bath was faced with toast-colored limestone, equipped with underfloor

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heating and provided with locally made lavender-scented toiletries. The resort’s dining room has tables set in intimate niches in the limestone wall, as well as others by windows overlooking the sea. Given the constraints of a remote location, the food is excellent. Among the dishes we especially enjoyed were smoked abalone with soba noodles and shaved pickled ginger, and grilled local snapper in a lime and ginger sauce. The lodge has only a small plunge pool, as water is drawn f ro m a n u n d e rg ro u n d we ll a n d has to be desalinated. Nonetheless, facilities include a spa with idyllic t re a t m e n t ro o m s b a c kd ro p p e d by the Southern Ocean. On a memorable four-hour excur­ sion to Flinders Chase National Park, we saw dozens of Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals, volcanic blowholes, historic lighthouses and numerous kangaroos, wallabies and koalas. Southern Ocean Lodge was unquestionably the highlight of our three-week trip to Australia. SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE   Flinders Suite, $990

per person, including all meals, drinks, excursions and airport transfers; Remarkable Suite, $1,500. Hanson Bay, Kangaroo Island. Tel. (61) 8-8559-7347. southernoceanlodge.com.au  BOOK ONLINE

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THE 21 SUITES ALL HAVE HYP­NOTIC VIEWS OF THE SOUTHERN OCEAN.

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Ocean House WATCH HILL, RHODE ISLAND

Proximity to both New York and Boston long ago made Rhode Island a favorite summer retreat. Newport, with its enormous mansions — quaintly referred to as “cottages” — became an important part of American social history. On a lesser scale, the town of

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Watch Hill drew wealthy families from the Midwest after the Civil War. Built in 1868, Ocean House was a stately mansion with a curved portico and rocker-lined verandas set on a hill that sloped gently down to an arc of golden sand. Guests sipped tea in the afternoon and, after dinner, men in

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white tie and women in couture gowns danced to bands brought up from New York. Watch Hill became so popular, however, that the town gradually turned into a residential community, and the hotels declined. In 2003, Ocean House’s owner decided to sell. Studies showed that the original building was too far gone to restore. Unfazed, local resident Charles Royce determined to recreate it. So more than 5,000 original elements — such as the 19th-century elevator — were put into storage. The reborn hotel has the same yellow clapboard exterior, black shutters, wide verandas and mansard roof as the original. In the lounge, clusters of overstuffed chairs and potted palms are reminiscent of days gone by, but the massive stone fireplace blazes

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with a gas rather than a log fire. And therein lies the appeal of Ocean House: It evokes the charm of another age, but is also a comfortable modern hotel. All 49 rooms and suites are generously sized and come with views of the sea, the most desirable being those with terraces on the second floor. The décor might be described as country house colonial. Sumptuous baths provide river-stone flooring in the showers, and soaking tubs. The hotel’s primary restaurant, Seasons, affords soothing views of the sea. There, we especially enjoyed a roasted rib eye — from Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Maine — that was perfectly cooked and came with grilled baby leeks, sautéed maitake mushrooms and a rich sauce Périgourdine. The next day, we attempted to mitigate the previous night’s indulgence with a session in the lovely indoor pool, part of an inviting spa. Other diversions include golf, tennis, fishing, boating and culinary classes. The charming village of Watch Hill, with its shops and galleries, is just a short walk away. OCE AN HOUSE   Terrace Room, from $550;

Suite, from $775. 1 Bluff Avenue, Watch Hill, RI 02891. Tel. (888) 552-2588 or (401) 584-7000. oceanhouseri.com

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Glenmere Mansion CHESTER, NEW YORK

Since its debut in 2010, this 18-room Italianate villa has received a chorus of praise from the travel press. For once, I tend to agree. The Gilded Age mansion suffered from decades of decline until Dan DeSimone, an orthopedic surgeon, spotted it during

a Sunday drive and called his broker. Several years and $30 million later, the old pile was reborn as a fetching weekend escape that effortlessly blends the old with the new. Driving up the hill, you are greeted by a wonderfully discordant image: a bright Mediterranean villa with cheery pink stucco walls and pale-blue awnings set amid classic British countryside. Formal gardens are strewn with vinecovered arbors and playful statuary, and a broad lawn spills down to Glenmere Lake. Inside, a handful of sparkling public rooms surrounds a sunny cortile. Guest rooms range widely from cozy ground-floor nooks to a grand suite with a fireplace in its Carrara marble bath. The Supper Room enjoys a deserved reputation for its Hudson Valley cuisine, resulting in a pleasant mix of guests and locals at dinner. There is no lack of diversions throughout Glenmere’s 150 acres: two bocce courts, two tennis courts, croquet, two miles of walking trails, a heated outdoor pool and a 10-person whirlpool spa. A full-service spa will open shortly. GLENMERE MANSION  Superior Room, from $750.

634 Pine Hill Road, Chester, New York. Tel. (845) 469-1900. glenmeremansion.com

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FORMAL GARDENS ARE STREWN WITH VINECOVERED ARBORS AND PLAYFUL STATUARY, AND A BROAD LAWN SPILLS DOWN TO GLENMERE LAKE. TRAVEL ASSISTANCE  / (800) 375-4685

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Panamonte Inn & Spa BOQUETE, PANAMA

Located in the highlands of Chiriqui Province, 300 miles west of Panama City, the Panamonte was founded in 1914 by a retired railroad conductor, Joseph Wright of Texas. The original six-room hotel played host to Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh and the polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, who came here to finish his memoirs. A Swedish couple bought “Pop Wright’s hotel” in 1946, and it has been in the family since. A major program of renovation and expansion took place in 2008. This wisely retained the original building, a charming two-story structure in bluegray clapboard with a white picket fence out front. All of the 25 rooms are set in a lovely garden, whose rolling lawns are punctuated by noble old trees and flowering bushes. The newest accommodations are the most desirable. Our spacious suite came with a cathedral ceiling, a tile floor with an Oriental carpet, and a chaise longue. The pale gray-green walls were hung with the work of local artists. The bath was equipped with a walk-in shower and a granite-topped vanity. Sliding glass doors led out to a flagstone terrace with

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plantings carefully arranged to ensure privacy. The Panamonte is justly celebrated for its restaurant, which is under the direction of chef-owner Charlie Collins. The dining room is an appealing space with chandeliers, spot lighting and a painted raftered ceiling. Collins’ extensive menu contains starters such as a sublime spiced pumpkin soup. Although

THE STAFF IS CONSISTENTLY HELPFUL AND CONGENIAL. I heard others extol the virtues of both the strip steak and the short-rib ragu pasta, I opted for delicious trout sautéed with browned almond slivers. The staff is consistently helpful and congenial. The Panamonte pioneered birding tours in the area and, in addition, coffee plantation visits and hiking are easily arranged. PANAMONTE INN & SPA  Garden Terrace Room,

$340; Garden Junior Suite, $390. Tel. (507) 720-1324 or (800) 525-4800. panamonte.com  BOOK ONLINE

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Hotel Plaza Grande QUITO, ECUADOR

Enjoying a perfect location facing the cathedral and next to the Presidential Palace, the Plaza Grande was originally the home of Juan Díaz de Hidalgo, one of the original Spanish conquistadors. It first became a hotel, the Majestic, in 1943 and

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subsequently served as both a bank and the administrative offices for the municipality of Quito. It was not until 2005 that a group of investors decided to restore the structure and reopen it as a hotel. We arrived late one evening, tired by the final leg of our journey — the

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four-hour flight from Miami. I cannot remember the last time that we were received with such warmth and sincere hospitality. We were shown up to our Plaza View Suite (#25), one of three that commands a compelling view of the animated main square. Its décor was in the style of a grand Spanish mansion.

WITH JUST 15 SUITES, IT IS A PERFECT SIZE, SO THAT YOU SOON GET TO KNOW EVERYONE AND EVERYONE GETS TO KNOW YOU.

Heavy wooden furniture, tapestries and a color scheme of gold and autumnal browns all contributed to a patrician atmosphere. The traditional elegance of the main salon was augmented by complimentary Wi-Fi and Englishlanguage cable television, while the well-appointed marble bath came with both a strong walk-in shower and a small Jacuzzi. The hotel offers La Belle Epoque for French and international cuisine, and the Café Plaza Grande, located on the ground floor with windows overlooking the square. The latter specializes in Ecuadorian dishes such as ceviche, suckling pig and a delicious hanger steak served with avocado and salsa. And its local breakfast and hot chocolate both enjoy justified renown. The hotel’s other amenity is a small spa. Alas, our stay at the Plaza Grande was all too short. With just 15 suites, it is a perfect size, so that you soon get to know everyone and everyone gets to know you. It is a property that manages to be both elegant and warmhearted. HOTEL PL A ZA GRANDE   Royal Suite, $550;

Plaza View Suite, $650. Calle García Moreno N5-16 y Chile, Quito. Tel. (593) 22-566497. plazagrandequito.com  BOOK ONLINE

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Jumby Bay ANTIGUA

We have been visiting Jumby Bay regularly since it opened in 1983. A 320acre private island two miles north of Antigua — 15 minutes by speedboat — it has long enjoyed the affections of many Harper members. In 2008, the hotel was closed for a $28 million renovation. Actually, it was pretty much razed except for some of the original rondavels, and 28 new suites were built — for a total of 40 rooms — as well as two new restaurants and a spa, all of which debuted at the end of 2009. We had opted for one of the new Courtyard Suites, which are housed within stucco cottages with tile roofs. Entering through a courtyard, we found a spacious room with a vaulted ceiling, a sitting area and a large four-poster bed. It was appointed with furniture that seemed vaguely Caribbean British Colonial, thanks to details such as pineapple finials on the bedposts. A dressing area led to an expansive tiled bath with mosaic walls, and a captivating outdoor bathing courtyard came with a shower and a soaking tub. Bliss. Both The Verandah in the main building and The Pool Grille offer fine casual fare, however, we most enjoyed The Estate

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House, a Spanish Colonial structure dating from 1830. Two highlights of the Caribbean-inflected food were lobster ravioli in a spicy broth, and lamb enlivened with “mojito” flavorings of rum and mint. The open-air Sense spa offers a predictable catalog of treatments, plus special therapies such as the “Sun Worshiper,” a hydrating body treatment

AFTER MORE THAN A QUARTER OF A CENTURY, JUMBY BAY HAS FINALLY FULFILLED ITS POTENTIAL. for those who have spent too much time basking on the beach. Jumby Bay is the most accessible of the Caribbean’s leading private island resorts, and after more than a quarter of a century, it has finally fulfilled its potential. JUMBY BAY   Rondavel Room, $975-$1,495;

Courtyard Suite, $1,395-$2,300; Pool Suite, $1,525-$2,650. Rates are all-inclusive and vary according to the season. P.O. Box 243, St. John’s, Antigua. Tel. (268) 462-6000 or (888) 7673-9663. jumbybayresort.com  BOOK ONLINE

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Hôtel Le Toiny ST. BARTHS

Those in search of seclusion need look no farther than the Hôtel Le Toiny, set on a hillside overlooking the sparsely populated Côte Sauvage, four miles east of St. Barths’ capital, Gustavia. (A hired car is required for trips to swimming beaches 15 minutes away.) I have long recommended this delectable enclave, but my previous visit was prior to an ongoing refurbishment program. The 14 suites and one three-bedroom complex were laid out to ensure optimal privacy, as well as panoramic views. We had opted to stay in a 1,075-square-foot One-bedroom Villa Suite. These are selfcontained, pastel-colored, tin-roofed Caribbean cottages. Now decorated in

an elegant French Colonial style, each comes with a spacious living room, separated from the bedroom by a sliding partition. Glass doors lead out onto a terrace, in which is set a 10-by-20-foot private swimming pool. The current program of improvements will reline the pools with black volcanic stone, changing the color of the water from turquoise to a deep marine blue. What has not changed at Le Toiny is its superb restaurant, Le Gaiac, which remains the top dining spot on St. Barths. The enchanting open-air space is fronted by a half-moon infinity pool, beyond which the Caribbean is punctuated by the volcanic profiles of the islands Saba and Sint Eustatius. Chef Stéphane Mazières’ sumptuous cuisine imaginatively blends French and Creole elements, with favorite dishes from our stay including sea urchin roe in a cauliflower cream with dots of caviar, and turbot served with a flavorful eggplant caviar and tomato tartare. Hôtel Le Toiny is a sophisticated hideaway that continues to improve with time. HOTEL LE TOINY  One-bedroom Villa Suite, $2,190

(winter season); Three-bedroom Villa, $4,310. Anse de Toiny, Saint Barthélemy, French West Indies. Tel. (800) 680-0832. letoiny.com  BOOK ONLINE

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THOSE IN SEARCH OF SECLUSION NEED LOOK NO FARTHER THAN HOTEL LE TOINY.

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Sasaab

SAMBURU, KENYA The best-known of Kenya’s northern game areas is Samburu National Reserve. Its southern boundary is formed by the Ewaso Nyiro River, flowing down from the glaciers on Mount Kenya. The water creates a wide strip of vegetation and, as a result, wildlife is varied and extremely plentiful. Around 35 minutes’ drive from the west gate of the reserve, Sasaab is a remarkable new lodge in a sensational clifftop location overlooking the river. It is situated on a private wildlife conservancy belonging to Samburu tribal people. One of the most encouraging recent trends has been the growth of conservation projects that involve and directly benefit local Africans. All over northern Kenya, community conservancies are choosing to join the Northern Rangelands Trust, an umbrella organization that now encompasses more than 3 million acres. The trust helps to promote sustainable tourism, with profits used to provide education and better health care. Sasaab opened in August 2009, and in many ways, sets a new standard for safari properties in Kenya. Owned by the Carr-Hartley family, which has been involved in Kenyan wildlife and tourism

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for more than a century, its dramatic architecture is a triumphant fusion of Moroccan and Swahili styles. The result is both functional and aesthetically appealing. There are just nine tented suites, each with more than 1,000 square feet, offering four-poster beds, lavish baths and private plunge pools on scenic

A SPA IS LOCATED ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER, WHERE YOU CAN BE PAMPERED IN FULL VIEW OF THE LOCAL ELEPHANT. terraces. During our stay, we found the staff unfailingly helpful, the food excellent and the excursions exceptionally wellorganized. Sasaab also offers a spa located on the banks of the river, where you can be pampered in full view of the local elephant! SASAAB   Tented Suite, from $545 per person,

including all meals, house wines, game drives and most activities. Tel. (254) 731-914-732. thesafaricollection.com

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Elsa’s Kopje

MERU NATIONAL PARK, KENYA Famous as the place where Joy and George Adamson released the lioness Elsa, Meru National Park served as a backdrop for the subsequent movie “Born Free.” Set on a craggy outcrop, Elsa’s Kopje comprises eight cottages, a tri-level

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suite and a two-bedroom “house.” The center of the property is an open-sided dining area and bar covered with a thatched makuti roof. This is stylishly appointed with Oriental rugs, leather chairs, hardwood furniture and tribal art. Elsa’s Kopje is owned by a Kenyan of Italian origin, Stefano Cheli, and the

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innate Italian talent for cooking was fully on display at lunch, when the food would have done credit to a good city trattoria. Having eaten, we relaxed beneath a sun umbrella beside the pretty horizon pool. The thatched, stone-walled guest cottages were designed to incorporate

the landscape, and ours was arranged around a series of massive boulders. The bedroom contained a four-poster bed swathed in mosquito netting, and extended onto a wooden deck with an exhilarating 30-mile view. Up a short flight of stairs, the spacious bath provided an extremely effective rainfall shower and an outdoor tub. The cottages are not remotely comparable to the opulent suites at lavish South African lodges such as Singita and Royal Malewane, but they offer refined simplicity and a level of comfort that would be acceptable to all but the most demanding. That said, on a future visit, we would definitely opt to pay the extra money and stay in Elsa’s Private House, which contains a spacious and elegantly appointed living/dining area, two large bedrooms, a huge bath with a soaking tub overlooking the plains, and a private infinity pool with the same unforgettable view. Although suitable for one or two couples, the house would be perfect for parents on safari with their children. ELSA’S KOPJE   Cottage, from $540 per person,

including all meals and game drives; Elsa’s Private House (sleeps four adults; additional beds for children available), from $2,400. Tel. (254) 20604053. elsaskopje.com

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Casa Manni ROME, ITALY

Located in the heart of Rome just five minutes’ walk from the Pantheon, the Casa Manni is housed on the top floor of a 17th-century palazzo. Created in 2009 by filmmaker and olive oil producer Armando Manni, it is an exceptionally stylish, fully staffed

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penthouse apartment comprising a living room, bedroom, a full kitchen and terrace. Even before arriving at its large green doors, we had enjoyed a long relationship with the property. Within days of our making a reservation, a list of favored restaurants and possible tours had

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arrived, along with other suggested “Experiences.” These included an olive oil tasting with Manni himself — his organic Tuscan oil is regularly rated among the best in the world — and an at-home dinner cooked by a top Roman chef. Created by acclaimed New Yorkbased interior architect and designer Adam Tihany, the apartment is an imaginative blend of contemporary and traditional Roman design. The walls were adorned with both period oil paintings and modern art. And an adjacent dining area featured a glasstopped table and Biedermeier-style chairs. A hallway with spacious built-in closets led to the well-lit marble-clad bath, where a mosaic-lined stall shower provided a splendid view of the second-

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century Column of Marcus Aurelius. The bedroom came with a cathedral ceiling, a writing desk and a bed made up with Pratesi sheets. French doors led to an ivy-covered and lavender-planted terrace, which afforded views over the terra-cotta-tiled rooftops. On a warm evening, we sat outside to sample the Italian white wine I had asked Armando Manni to choose for us from his private cellar. He had selected a delicious St. Michael Eppan Sanct Valentin 2003 Sauvignon from the Südtirol district of the Alto Adige, and we sipped it appreciatively as swallows streaked across a rose-pink sky. CASA MANNI   One-bedroom suite, $1,120

(week­days), $1,240 (weekends). Via di Pietra 70. Tel. (39) 06-9727-4787. casamanni.com

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La Coquillade GARGAS, FRANCE

The Luberon — the beautiful region of vineyards and lavender fields that begins just east of Avignon and rolls on to the foothills near Apt — has long needed a true luxury hotel with real Provençal style and hospitality. And that was just what I hoped to find at the new 28-room La Coquillade, five miles east of delightful Roussillon. Crowning a hillside planted with vineyards, this 70-acre proper ty comprises six renovated farmhouses and ancient outlying buildings, all with terra-cotta-tiled roofs, gray wooden shutters and pale ochre stucco walls. We instantly fell in love with our Junior Suite. This came with cool quarry tiles, a beamed ceiling and cotton-upholstered sofas. Up a short flight of stone stairs, we found a white bedroom with modern paintings and a comfortable bed topped by a linen fiber-filled comforter. The spacious and well-lit bath was equipped with separate shower and tub. Since it was a hot day, we set off to the pool. There, we found loungers scattered through gardens dotted with olive trees, as well as canvas awnings for those who prefer shade. La Coquillade offers

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a number of excellent dining venues, including Le Gourmet, a gastronomic restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious saddle of lamb with mushroom polenta. Our favorite, open-air Le Jardin dans les Vignes, offers a simple menu of dishes cooked over a wood-fired grill. Activities include winer y tours and tennis. The nearest golf is at the Provence Country Club, 16 miles away. This is a splendid property from which it is hard to drag yourself away. But it would be a shame not to explore, as the famously picturesque villages of Bonnieux, Gordes, Goult and Ménerbes are all within 30 minutes’ drive. L A COQUILL ADE   Junior Suite, $330-$495;

Superior Suite, $495-$730; Luxury Jacuzzi Suite, $670-$1,005. Domaine de la Coquillade, Gargas. Tel. (33) 4-90-74-71-71. coquillade.fr  BOOK ONLINE

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The Yeatman PORTO, PORTUGAL

Although the lobby of The Yeatman recalls the traditional architecture of the local Port caves and the upriver quintas, the five-story building is otherwise a sleek granite structure with a raked façade. The 82-room hotel is situated on a hillside overlooking the Douro River, the Port warehouses of Vila Nova de Gaia, and the elegant old city of Porto. Our room was as attractive as it was comfortable, with a beautiful pistachio-green bedroom fitted with crown moldings and dark Regencystyle furniture that conveyed the air of an English country house, which was appropriate, given that almost all of the great Port houses were founded by Englishmen. An unusually spacious bath came with a large tub and a separate stall shower. That evening, we enjoyed an excellent dinner of contemporary Portuguese cuisine by Michelin-starred chef Ricardo Costa, including sea bass with crunchy baby artichokes, followed by a selection of Portuguese cheeses. The Yeatman is owned by Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman —  one of the oldest Port houses, founded in 1682 — and it offers a fine selection of

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wines by the glass, including Luis Pato Vinha Formal, an excellent white from the Bairrada region of central Portugal that we enjoyed with our fish. The hotel’s public areas are spacious, well-lit and exceptionally attractive. A grand staircase leads from the lobby down to the breakfast room and a large circular pool on a scenic terrace.

THE 82-ROOM HOTEL IS SITUATED ON A HILLSIDE OVERLOOKING THE DOURO RIVER AND THE ELEGANT OLD CITY OF PORTO. Elsewhere, an impressive range of leisure facilities includes a well-equipped fitness center and an indoor pool with wonderful views of Porto through floorto-ceiling glass walls. The hotel’s spa is run by Caudalie, the French company that specializes in beauty products made from grape pips. THE YEATMAN  Superior Room, $345; Suite, $705.

Rua do Choupelo, 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia. Tel. (351) 22-013-3100. the-yeatman-hotel.com  BOOK ONLINE

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Domaine de Murtoli On cold, wet days, I often dream of the hypnotically beautiful view from our freestone cottage on the 4,900-acre Domaine de Murtoli in southern Corsica. In the foreground, the thick maquis, which is what the Corsicans call the bright green carpet of fragrant bushes and wild herbs that covers much of their island; beyond, the Ortolo River winding its way through a valley of neatly tilled fields; and in the distance, a five-mile-long strand of white sand lapped by the sapphire-blue waters of the Mediterranean. This magnificent property comprises 14 beautifully renovated stone cottages, sleeping from two to 12. Ours came with terra-cotta tile floors partially covered by locally woven rugs, and an imaginative mix of Corsican antiques and traditional furniture. Its sitting room/kitchen and

bedroom were both attractive and comfortable, if a little snug, and we especially liked our open-air summer kitchen. Rooms in the larger villas are much more spacious. Every cottage comes with a fully equipped kitchen and a wine cellar that features a selection of excellent Corsican wines. Alternatively, you may dine at the Domaine’s two delightful restaurants. La Grotte is carved from the inside of a huge boulder — where we enjoyed succulent veal cooked over an open fire — and La Plage is a seaside restaurantbar serving superb seafood, including locally caught lobsters. During a chat with owner Paul Canarelli, he explained that he had decided to create a place that would offer a unique experience of Corsica. Coming from a hotel family — his father owns the Grand Hotel de Cala Rossa in Porto Vecchio — he knows exactly what the most demanding travelers require, and this understanding has informed his inspired concept of “rustic luxury.” DOMAINE DE MURTOLI  Cottages rent by the week

in July and August and are available by the night in spring and fall. “A Persia,” two people, $975 a night or $8,200 a week; “Arba Barona,” four people, $1,250 a night or $9,760 a week. Sartène, Corsica. Tel. (33) 4-95-71-69-24. murtoli.com

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DOMAINE DE MURTOLI PHOTOS: © C. MOIRENC

CORSICA, FRANCE


EVERY COTTAGE COMES WITH A FULLY EQUIPPED KITCHEN AND A WINE CELLAR THAT FEATURES A SELECTION OF EXCELLENT CORSICAN WINES.


Amanfayun HANGZHOU, CHINA

Situated in a wooded valley about 20 minutes from the center of Hangzhou, Amanfayun comprises a small village, with many of the structures dating to the early 1800s. It is linked by the wide Fayun Pathway, which extends for a little over a third of a mile and leads

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to Lingyin Si, one of China’s most active Buddhist temples. On arrival, we were taken to a reception pavilion, a serene space with wooden beams, polished stone floors, lattice screens and a palette of restrained natural colors. The 42 rooms, suites and villas are linked by cobbled pathways

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and are set around private stone-walled courtyards. Their dignified exteriors display an almost monastic simplicity. Inside, we found a four-poster bed screened by white gauze curtains, pale elmwood furniture, wire-framed cloth lanterns and cream walls hung with framed calligraphy. From the bedroom, a narrow corridor led to an extremely spacious stone-floored bath with underfloor heat, equipped with a large, walk-in rainfall shower, but no tub. The aesthetic finesse of Amanresorts is unrivaled, and we walked around for a while in a trance of admiration. Finally, we flung wide the two sets of old wooden

doors that opened into our courtyard. All we could hear was the splash and tumble of a stream and the occasional trill of unfamiliar birdsong. Amanfayun offers four restaurants. One, Hangzhou House, serves regional cuisine, with dishes such as West Lake snow shrimp cooked with tea leaves, and chicken baked in lotus leaves sealed with mud. Our favorite, the Steam House, serves wonderful wonton soups, dumplings and pork buns. Elsewhere, The Restaurant provides Western cuisine and more conventional fine dining. The chief amenity at the resort is the Aman Spa, housed by traditional buildings set around stone courtyards and screened by bamboo and magnolia trees. The complex contains a 60-foot heated outdoor pool, a modern gym and studios for Pilates, tai chi, yoga and meditation. Amanfayun is an almost perfect hideaway, but it would not appeal to everyone: It is a place for those who want to slow down, to de-stress and, for a few days, to rediscover a more contemplative side to existence. AMANFAYUN  Village Room, $700; Village Suite,

$900; Village Villa, $1,600. 22 Fayun Nong, Hangzhou. Tel. (800) 477-9180 or (86) 571-87329999. amanresorts.com  BOOK ONLINE

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Four Seasons Hangzhou HANGZHOU, CHINA

With just 78 rooms, the Four Seasons Hangzhou is an unexpectedly intimate resor t. Its traditional exterior is topped by pagoda roofs and surrounded by extensive water gardens that merge seamlessly with West Lake. It seems quite understated at first glance. But step inside, and you are confronted

by a dazzling interior that combines both Chinese and Western elements in a tour de force of contemporary design. The accommodations are appro­priately restful, with wood-andsilk-paneled walls complemented by subdued shades of dove gray, pale yellow and cream. As you would expect from Four Seasons, all contemporary amenities are provided, and the marble baths are peerlessly well-appointed and equipped with soaking tubs, as well as walk-in showers. The public areas, however, are intended to amaze, and no expense seems to have been spared. Nowhere is this opulence more astonishing than in the spa, with its huge indoor pool surrounded by pillowstrewn alcoves. The nine treatment rooms, each with a marble sunken tub and delicate pink lighting, are among the most lavish and exquisite I have ever seen. Similarly, the resort’s Chinese restaurant, Jin Sha, with its 11 private dining pavilions overlooking an artificial lake, contrives to be extravagant without lapsing into vulgarity. FOUR SEASONS HANGZHOU  Deluxe Room, $515;

Premier Room, $625; Lagoon Suite, $1,300. 5 Lingyin Road, Hangzhou. Tel. (800) 819-5053 or (86) 571-8829-8888. fourseasons.com/hangzhou  BOOK ONLINE

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Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa BLUE MOUNTAINS, AUSTRALIA

Lo c a te d t h re e h o u r s northwest of Sydney in the Blue Mountains of the Great Dividing Range, the Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa is set on a magnificent 4,000-acre former cattle ranch in a U-shaped valley defined by dramatic sandstone escarpments. For ty colonial-style bungalows c o m e w i th s c re e n e d ve ra n d a s , corrugated metal roofs and private decks. Inside, leather wing chairs and sofas are grouped around gas-burning fireplaces, and the extensive use of local materials provides indigenous character. Stylish slate-faced baths are equipped with separate tubs and showers. Every cottage has a private heated plunge pool. Guests cycle, walk or call for buggy service to the main homestead. This contains two excellent restaurants serving contemporary Australian cuisine. Somewhat surprisingly given the complex logistics of the sprawling estate, the resort offers a lengthy room service menu, so if you want to relax in the privacy of your bungalow, fine dining is just a phone call away. Other amenities include a heated swimming pool and a first-rate spa.

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Wolgan is a blissful place to relax, but there is also a full daily schedule of activities, including horseback riding, hikes and four-wheel-drive “safaris.” One wonderful afternoon excursion delivered numerous wildlife sightings — including kangaroos — and ended with sundowners and canapés on a hilltop deck overlooking the property. We also enjoyed a narrated afterdinner stargazing session, learning

to identify Southern Hemisphere constellations while sipping a first-rate local eau-de-vie. Overall, this fine resort provides a memorable taste of the Australian great outdoors within easy reach of Sydney. WOLGAN VALLEY RESORT & SPA  Heritage Suite,

$1,950 (including all meals, local wines and most activities). 2600 Wolgan Road, Wolgan Valley, Lithgow. Tel. (61) 2-6350-1800. wolganvalley.com  BOOK ONLINE

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The Louise

BAROSSA VALLEY, AUSTRALIA The Barossa Valley north of Adelaide, Australia’s most famous wine region, is just 20 miles long. It is an enchanting place with a landscape of rolling hills and neat vineyards. Small but sophisticated towns such as Tanunda and Lyndoch display a Teutonic tidiness, which, along with excellent charcuteries and Lutheran churches, provides evidence of the German immigrants who joined the original British settlers. Ideally situated for touring the Barossa vineyards, The Louise stands amid beautifully landscaped grounds that overlook neat rows of vines. An elegant 15-suite contemporary country house hotel, it is the fulfillment of a dream for Jim Carreker, an American who had previously worked in Silicon Valley. A bank of lavender and a long rectangular pool line a stoned-paved path that leads up to the main building. This houses reception, the hotel’s acclaimed Appellation restaurant, a sauna and a swimming pool. Our suite was exceptionally wellconceived. Opening a wooden gate in a stone wall, we found a pretty interior courtyard that later proved ideal for a sunny breakfast. The peaceful

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sitting room came with a high ceiling, crown moldings, a gas fireplace, a Bose CD player with an iPod dock, and contemporary paintings. French doors led to a spacious private terrace with twin chaises longues. The well-lit limestone bath was equipped with a whirlpool tub and a stall shower. (An additional outdoor shower was enclosed by a high stone wall.) Appellation is one of the most highly rated restaurants in Australia, and despite

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occasionally slow service, we enjoyed a fine meal that included smoked salmon with tiny cubes of cucumber, tomato and crushed hazelnuts with a pool of wasabi cream; barley risotto with spinach and shavings of tangy local cheese; and filet of beef — all accompanied by a superb assortment of Barossa wines by the glass. THE LOUISE   Suite, $445-$1,425, breakfast

included. Corner of Seppeltsfield Road and Stonewall Road, Marananga. Tel. (61) 8-8562-2722. thelouise.com.au  BOOK ONLINE

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Trump International Hotel

GRAND HOTEL

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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I have always associated real estate magnate Donald Trump with glitz, but a recent stay at Chicago’s 339-room Trump International Hotel belied this preconception. Housed within a 92-floor tower, the new property proved to be a gilt-free exercise in contemporary good taste. Our room was on the 28th floor, which is as high as the hotel goes, those from 29 to 88 being reserved for private residences. Nonetheless, an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows afforded spectacular views of the river, Lake Michigan, the clock tower of the Wrigley Building and the ornate spire of the Chicago Tribune building. The interior has been done in a sophisticated palette of grays and creams, and the furniture is modern, comfortable and unadorned. Clad in creamy limestone, the spacious bath had a deep soaking tub and a separate shower. The hotel also offers 53 spa rooms adjacent to the 23,000-square-foot spa. A health club comes with a 75-foot lap pool. The principal restaurant is Sixteen (so named because it is on the 16th floor). Here, 30-foot windows frame the Wrigley and Tribune towers. I especially

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enjoyed a starter of pumpkin with creamy Burrata cheese, Serrano ham and cranberry chutney. A main course of prime filet of beef was flawless, as well as a reminder of the huge difference between the USDA gradings “Choice” and “Prime.” It came with a surprising — but not discordant — side of escargots with celery root purée,

THE HOTEL PROVED TO BE A GILT-FREE EXERCISE IN CONTEMPORARY GOOD TASTE. plus irresistible horseradish potatoes dauphine with a silky Béarnaise sauce. The service was efficient and friendly throughout. The new Trump is a notable addition to the Chicago skyline, and the property itself is now a worthy competitor to The Peninsula and the Four Seasons. TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL  Executive

King Lake View, $565; Grand Deluxe King Suite Lake View, $995. 401 N. Wabash Avenue, Chic ago, IL 6 0 61 1 . Tel. (31 2) 5 8 8-8 0 0 0. trumpchicagohotel.com  BOOK ONLINE

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The Resort at Pelican Hill

GRAND RESORT

NEWPORT, CALIFORNIA

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Sequestered south of Los Angeles in the hills between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, The Resort at Pelican Hill looks, from a distance, like a slice of Tuscany transplanted beside the Pacific. Its 504 acres of grounds have been landscaped with groves of olive, cypress and fig trees. Pelican Hill is actually two hotels in one. There are 204 Bungalow accommodations south of the main building, set at different levels to ensure privacy and memorable views. Then there are 128 Villas to the north, in two-, three- or four-bedroom configurations with full kitchens and butler service, plus a dedicated pool and clubhouse. These are separately gated and have become popular with Hollywood notables in search of discreet getaways. The bungalows come as single rooms, or as one- or two-bedroom suites with combined living and dining areas. Our single room proved airy and bright, with a gas fireplace set in a handsome limestone chimney, and a comfortable sitting area adjacent to an expansive terrace. The spacious bath had granite counters, a walk-in shower with a stone bench, and a soaking tub.

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The centerpiece of the resort is the Coliseum Pool, a perfect circle 136 feet in diameter, made all the more eye-catching by 1 million blue-glass tiles. Pelican Hill’s formal restaurant is Andrea, in the main building, where the focus is on Northern Italian cuisine. Standout dishes from our dinner included a superb pasta of pumpkin ravioli with parsley pesto, and a roasted pork loin with seasoned sliced potatoes. Tom Fazio designed the 36 holes at Pelican Hill’s two championship golf courses. Also notable is the resort’s 20,000-square-foot spa. Overall, this is a well-managed resort in a lovely setting. THE RESORT AT PELICAN HILL  Bungalow

Room, from $ 495; Bungalow Suite, from $745; Two-Bedroom Villa, from $695. 22701 Pelican Hill Road South, Newport Coast, CA 92657. Tel. (800) 315-8214 or (949) 467-6800. pelicanhill.com

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THE COLISEUM POOL IS A PERFECT CIRCLE 136 FEET IN DIAMETER MADE ALL THE MORE EYECATCHING BY 1 MILLION BLUE-GLASS TILES. TRAVEL ASSISTANCE  / (800) 375-4685

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RESTAURANTS OF THE YEAR

LAMB AT AI FIORI IN NEW YORK CITY © TED AXELROD

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RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR U.S. (GASTRONOMIC)

Ai Fiori

NEW YORK CITY

Set in the new Setai hotel on Fifth Avenue, this is the latest offering from chef Michael White. Ai Fiori means “among the flowers,” and lavish floral arrangements here add an air of romance and celebration. Look for dishes such as trofie nero, Ligurian-style squid’s ink pasta, and outstanding main courses including veal chop with a garnish of sweetbreadstuffed cabbage.

© EVAN SUNG

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RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR U.S. (INFORMAL)

Primo

ROCKLAND, MAINE

Chef Melissa Kelly, an alumna of Chez Panisse, oversees a kitchen where almost every ingredient is either grown or raised by the restaurant, or sourced locally. It would be a shame not to start with one of the superb wood-fired pizzas — a recent one was topped with sherried figs, duck confit and Gorgonzola — before proceeding to a main course such as the pork chop marinated in hand-pressed cider. .

© JENNIFER SMITH-MAYO AT JENNIFERSMITHMAYO.COM

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RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR INTERNATIONAL (GASTRONOMIC)

Matsalen

STOCKHOLM

Chef Mathias Dahlgren’s refined two-star cuisine aspires to highlight the natural flavors of his ingredients. A wonderful tasting menu recently included scallops with a purée of their roe on a bed of cauliflower, olive oil and lemon; beef and oyster tartare; and seared reindeer with red and yellow beets.

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RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR INTERNATIONAL (INFORMAL)

Septime

PARIS

Young chef Bertrand Grébaut serves market-driven modern French cooking at this wildly popular contemporary bistro. Among the dishes we have enjoyed are veal tartare with fennel bulb shavings and tapenade, Bigorre pork rib with radishes and carrots, and an open tart made with Petit Suisse cheese and chocolate ganache with hazelnut ice cream, crushed candied hazelnuts and shards of caramel.

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SPECIAL RECOGNITION

WOLGAN VALLEY RESORT & SPA IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, AUSTRALIA

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HOTEL MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Joost Heymeijer

WOLGAN VALLEY RESORT & SPA, AUSTRALIA

Within seconds of our arrival at this resort three hours from Sydney, we were greeted by the delightful Dutch general manager, Joost Heymeijer. Later, enjoying lunch on the terrace, we watched Heymeijer hurry across the lawn to silence a mower until we had finished our meal. This reflexive consideration and attention to detail are the hallmarks of his style. Heymeijer also takes it upon himself to be host-in-chief, and he is present at every meal, eagerly chatting with guests and offering gracious suggestions for activities, or wines, that they might enjoy.

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SOMMELIER OF THE YEAR

Cara Schwindt

GLITRETIND, DEER VALLEY, UTAH

I have long enjoyed the Glitretind restaurant at the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley. On a recent visit, however, the highlight of my evening was a discussion with sommelier Cara Schwindt. I was looking for a lighter red to go with a chicken main course, and a lively conversation ensued that began with New Zealand Pinot Noirs and expanded into a tour d’horizon of lesser-known reds from around the world. Schwindt was both accommodating and gently instructive. She clearly takes great pride in the restaurant’s 10,000-bottle cellar, and her work sets a standard that many aim for but few achieve.

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CHEF OF THE YEAR

Daniel Humm

ELEVEN MADISON PARK, NEW YORK CITY

Daniel Humm began by serving elevated brasserie-style food in an exceptionally splendid setting; his restaurant now provides one of the most refined culinary experiences in New York. The menu is presented as a simple grid of principal ingredients. Intelligent and articulate servers then explain in detail how dishes might be prepared and a balanced meal constructed. Highlights from a recent dinner included a sublime carpaccio of fresh fluke, succulent veal in a superb jus, and a beautiful presentation of blue cheese.

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BEST SPA

Montage Deer Valley

UTAH

The highlight of the lavish spa at Montage Deer Valley is a 1,300square-foot enclave for couples that features two matching copper soaking tubs set in front of a crackling fire. Another standout is a gorgeous mosaic lap pool that offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. A panoply of alluring treatments includes the “Mountain Massage,” which employs custom-blended oils and fragrant warm towels, and a very relaxing “Gentlemen’s Hot-Towel Facial.”

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BEST CRUISE

Hebridean Princess WESTERN SCOTLAND

A 50-passenger luxury cruise ship known for its wonderful itineraries along the west coast of Scotland, the Hebridean Princess is a firstclass country house hotel afloat, with the physical features and daily rhythms that you expect to find in such establishments. The cabins are cozy and comfortable, and the public areas, which include an intimate library and a cheerful conservatory filled with live plants, are warm and welcoming. The food is excellent, and the program of onshore excursions is impressive. Many of the guests are repeat passengers, including Britain’s royal family, who have twice in recent years chartered the Princess for their summer holiday.

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MOST BEAUTIFUL SETTING

Domaine de Murtoli CORSICA, FRANCE

The Domaine de Murtoli recalls what the Mediterranean must have looked like when Homer wrote the “Odyssey.” Occupying 4,900 acres in southern Corsica near Sartène, this spectacular resort is comprised of renovated stone farmhouses scattered across an idyllic landscape carpeted with fragrant maquis, or bushes of wild herbs. Huge boulders stud the property, which is bordered by a private white-sand beach lapped by a sparkling blue sea.

© C. MOIRENC

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BEST BEACH

Jumby Bay ANTIGUA As you approach Jumby Bay on the private launch from Antigua, it is hard to miss the compelling sight of towering palms lining a confectioners’-sugar beach. It is even better once you get there. Several shady palapas are attended by a wonderful staff who supply towels, glasses of ice water and perhaps a signature cocktail from the well-appointed beach bar.

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BEST VIEW

The Savoy

LONDON

The Savoy is unique among London’s established grand hotels in affording a view of the Thames. Indeed, the panorama has long been considered one of the city’s finest, and has been painted by artists of the rank of Whistler and Monet. The hotel recently reopened after a $350 million reconstruction, and its 268 rooms and suites now reflect two contrasting threads of its history. Those facing the Strand have an art deco décor, while those overlooking the river are Edwardian in style. We opted for the latter, and before unpacking our bags, we flung open the drapes and spent several minutes in rapt contemplation. Below, a ceaseless flow of black taxis and red double-deckers surged along The Embankment, while a procession of ferries, pleasure craft and police launches scudded across the river’s choppy surface. To our left, Waterloo Bridge spanned the Thames to the floodlit National Theatre; while in the foreground, Cleopatra’s Needle, an Egyptian obelisk dating from the 15th century B.C., was silhouetted against the London Eye, a 443-foot-tall Ferris wheel erected to mark the beginning of the third millennium. And upriver, to our right, the face of Big Ben glowed above the Houses of Parliament. It was, we quickly decided, one of the great hotel views of the world.

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BEST RESORT POOL

Rosewood San Miguel MEXICO

San Miguel de Allende has long been a favorite destination of Harper members, owing to steep cobblestoned streets and grand 17th-century Spanish architecture, as well as to its numerous galleries and craft shops. January 2011 saw the debut of the 67-room Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, located about six or seven minutes’ walk south of the bustling main plaza in a quiet residential area. One of the preeminent virtues of the Rosewood is its tremendous sense of space. Extensive gardens surround the grand colonial-style structure, and located in a secluded corner of the property is a truly magnificent pool. (There is also a separate one for children nearby.) Sapphire-blue, surrounded by striking orange sun umbrellas and overlooked by spacious cabanas screened by billowing white drapes, it is a truly blissful refuge. On a warm, sunny day, I can think of few more delightful and indulgent places to lounge with a good book and a frosty margarita.

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BEST SUITE

The Peninsula Shanghai SHANGHAI, CHINA

The Peninsula Shanghai opened in September 2009 — the first new building on The Bund in 60 years — and it is now unquestionably the city’s most prestigious address. Our sixth-floor suite provided an arresting view of the Huangpu River and the futuristic skyline of Pudong. Lacquered panels and framed calligraphy provided explicitly Chinese references, while glass-and-chrome tables and a black marble fireplace evoked Shanghai’s art deco heritage. The bedroom came with well-stocked bookshelves and a chaise longue on which to read in maximum comfort, while the state-of-the-art bath was equipped with spa mood lighting and a flat-screen television set into the wall over the tub. Ultimately, however, it was the extraordinary attention to detail that most impressed us — little touches, such as a large valet box with a pressure-activated notification light. This enables guests to have their shoes cleaned or to pick up laundry without having to answer the doorbell (which, as we all know, invariably rings halfway through a shower when you are covered in gel and shampoo from head to foot).

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BEST FAMILY-FRIENDLY RESORT

The Lodge at Chaa Creek BELIZE

Located close to the Guatemala border two hours’ drive from Belize City, The Lodge at Chaa Creek is surrounded by a 300-acre estate that extends along a jungle ridge overlooking the Macal River. The 24-room property offers several types of accommodations, but those most suited to families are the Macal Cottage, the Orchard Villa or a pair of neighboring Garden Jacuzzi Suites. The grounds of the resort are frequented by troops of howler monkeys, and spectacular birds such as the Keel-billed Toucan are a frequent sight. Activities include nature hikes, with night walks especially popular with children (nocturnal sightings can include armadillos, ocelots and jaguarundis). Chaa Creek has more than 30 horses, and trails climb and dip through the forest, where monkeys and birds can be observed from horseback. The water of the Macal River is clean, clear and suitable for swimming. Chaa Creek is an idyllic place for a family vacation, not least because charming staff, excellent food and wine, and a small but sophisticated spa all help to keep the parents happy!

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BEST HOTEL RESTAURANT MEAL

Isle of Eriska SCOTLAND

While the dining room furnishings here may recently have been spruced up, chef Robert MacPherson’s food needs no further improvement. During our latest stay, we enjoyed a tian of local crab with guacamole, mango and sweet chili, lending the dish a distinctly Latin zip; and a main course of tender guinea fowl with Savoy cabbage and thyme fondant with a mustard-seed velouté. This is imaginative, impeccably executed cuisine, and I consider MacPherson to be one of the finest chefs in Scotland.

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BEST HOTEL BAR

The Torridon

SCOTLAND

Every evening without fail, The Torridon’s wood-paneled bar lured me for the difficult decision of which single malt to have before dinner (there are almost 400). Hosted and curated with great care by Colleen Calderwood, this bar is an advanced seminar on the fascinating world of single malts in all their variety. It is also a wonderful spot to meet fellow guests.

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BEST COCKTAIL HOUR

Bonito

ST. BARTHS

Ensconced on a hill at the edge of the port capital of Gustavia, this irresistible place is all white inside, with an expansive lounge under a raftered hip-roof ceiling. Best of all is the large, semicircular open-air pavilion immediately adjacent to the bar. This is one of the best spots on St. Barths for gathering at the end of the day, catching up, sipping a refreshing cocktail — the planter’s punch is terrific — and gazing at the exceptional views over the town, its pretty harbor and the sun sinking into the Caribbean.

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MOST GLAMOROUS BATH

Glenmere Mansion CHESTER, NEW YORK

All of the rooms at Glenmere are wonderful, but the baths in particular are extraordinary. Small symphonies of pale Carrara marble and blue-and-white china, they all have heated floors, painted porcelain sinks, spacious rainfall showers and deep soaking tubs well-provisioned with bath salts and a small rubber duck. Large decorative mirrors add a Moroccan flourish. The penthouse version includes a fireplace and a television.

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MOST STYLISH DESIGN

Four Seasons Hangzhou HANGZHOU, CHINA

Topped by pagoda roofs and surrounded by nine acres of tranquil water gardens, the new Four Seasons Hangzhou seems quite understated at first glance. But step inside, and you are confronted by a dazzling interior that combines both Chinese and Western elements in a tour de force of contemporary design. The accommodations are appropriately restful, with wood- and-silk-paneled walls complemented by subdued shades of dove gray, pale yellow and cream. The public areas, however, are intended to amaze, and no expense seems to have been spared to create an overwhelming impression. The resort’s Chinese restaurant, Jin Sha, with its 11 private dining pavilions overlooking an artificial lake, contrives to be showstoppingly extravagant without ever lapsing into vulgarity. But nowhere is the opulence more astonishing than in the spa, with its huge indoor pool surrounded by pillowstrewn alcoves. The nine treatment rooms, each with a marble sunken tub and delicate pink lighting, are among the most lavish and exquisite I have ever seen.

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Last Year’s Disappointments Inevitably, along with pleasure and excitement came frustration and disenchantment. The following travel experiences stand out as my most forgettable of 2011.

The Setai Fifth Avenue, New York While it certainly looks impressive from across Fifth Avenue, the new Setai underperforms as a hotel, especially considering the local competition. Check-in in the small lobby was cool and anonymous, and upstairs, our room felt somewhat institutional, with scant decorative touches beyond a potted orchid and some ceramics. We waited forever to be served a drink in the bar, which, much like the rest of the hotel, felt distinctly charmless and impersonal.

Hacienda del Mar, Panama Ideally set on one of the lovely Pearl Islands about a half-hour by plane from Panama City, this resort boasts impressive views, a postcard-pretty beach and very good food. The accommodations are in individual bungalows situated to take advantage of the scenery. But they are only adequately comfortable at best; the airstrip greeting from the manager was one step away from indifferent; the staff barely speaks English; and none of the touted activities was offered during our stay. Other publications have extolled the hacienda as a fine resort of high standards. Not in my book.

Banyan Tree Hangzhou, China Banyan Tree is a distinguished company, and in China, it operates two superb resorts, the Banyan Tree Lijiang and the Banyan Tree Ringha. I was therefore looking forward to my stay at the Banyan Tree Hangzhou, a property located seven miles from the center of the city, in the so-called Xixi Wetlands, a place described on the website as one of “lush greenery and calm waters.” Imagine my surprise

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to arrive not at a pristine environmental wonderland but at a construction site. The din and commotion were, it seemed, the result of a new Sheraton being noisily assembled next door. My expectations took a further knock when I discovered that my suite overlooked a stagnant stretch of canal containing a miscellany of building debris, including several planks and a long strip of slimy plastic tubing. Nor was my steadily worsening temper improved by the discovery of broken and stained marble trim in the bath. At breakfast, staff members manifested varying degrees of indifference and torpor, while a tottering pile of dirty plates and cups accumulated in the service area. Outside in the garden, I found an atmosphere of desolation, with weedy paths, overgrown borders and dirty ashtrays. Precisely why the Banyan Tree Hangzhou should have descended into such a shambles remained unclear, though a dispute between the owners and the management company seemed a highly plausible explanation.

Yangzi Explorer Cruise Boat, China Once, the Yangtze was a turbulent and enigmatic river, its banks dotted with ancient Buddhist temples and immemorial villages. But then, in 2008, came the Three Gorges Dam. Nearly one-and-a-half miles wide, its construction required the relocation of 1.24 million people and the inundation of 1,300 archaeological sites. Behind the dam, the water level rose several hundred feet, which means that for 250 miles upstream, the Yangtze is now a lake. It also means that the famed ethereal scenery of the Yangtze Gorges is a good deal less impressive than it used to be. And all those displaced people? Well, many of them were rehoused atop the riverbank in huge, high-rise concrete developments of soul-destroying hideousness. In summer 2011, we embarked on a four-day cruise on the Sanctuary M.S. Yangzi Explorer, which claims to be the most luxurious ship on the river. To be fair, its cabins are reasonably comfortable, and there are many fewer of them than on other ships of comparable size. The showers work and the staff are pleasant. However, the main public areas are unattractive; banal Muzak blares from loudspeakers — Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” proved virtually inescapable — and the food is little better than adequate. On arrival in Yichang, we were delayed for nearly five hours because the boat, we were told, was being cleaned. However, when we finally made it aboard, there were still dirty wine glasses and ashtrays scattered around the observation deck. The next four days were some of the most depressing we have spent in a long while: not actively unpleasant, just profoundly dispiriting.

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Indelible Memories of 2011 Travel is often exhilarating and intoxicating, but it also bequeaths a fund of memories that is a lifelong source of solace and delight.

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Alone at Xunantunich BELIZE

Despite its grandeur, the Mayan city of Xunantunich receives an average of around 40 visitors a day. But one morning in April, we had the place to ourselves. The site comprises six plazas surrounded by 26 temples and palaces. The most remarkable structure, however, is a 130-foot stepped pyramid known as El Castillo. We scrambled up the rough path leading to the top. There, rather out of breath, we gazed around in amazement. A panoramic view encompassed the whole site, as well as thickly forested hills extending far into both Belize and Guatemala. We sat for half an hour with our backs against a stone, buffeted by a warm tropical breeze, reveling in the space and solitude.

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Cruising the Coast of Skye SCOTLAND

This year, I fulfilled a long-held ambition to sail aboard the Hebridean Princess, a 50-passenger ship that plies the waters between the west coast of Scotland and the romantic islands of the Hebrides. Prior to the cruise, we had driven around the Isle of Skye, becoming entranced by the wild beauty of its mistdraped mountains. But from the sea, we gained a whole new perspective. Along a deserted section of coast, we sailed beneath sheer cliffs populated by tens of thousands of seabirds, peered into ravines cloaked in dark green and russet vegetation (the colors that inspired Scotland’s famous tweeds), and gazed at countless waterfalls, white ribbons tangled on the dark mountainsides, which finally cascaded into the swell and spray of the ocean. It was a landscape that inspired a strange but overwhelming combination of awe and tranquility.

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A Visit to Elsa’s Grave KENYA

The movie “Born Free” provided much of the impetus behind my first trip to Kenya, beginning a 40-year obsession with wild Africa. For much of Elsa’s story, Joy and George Adamson camped in Meru National Park, on the banks of the Ura River. And it was there that the lioness died at the surprisingly young age of 5. One day, I set off with a guide along a rutted dirt road that twisted through tangled bush. Eventually, we arrived at the tree-lined banks of a muddy river. Taking care not to bump into any of Elsa’s relatives, we wandered over to a low pile of rocks held together with concrete. On one slab, roughly carved with a chisel, it said simply “ELSA JAN 1956 – JAN 1961.” On that hot, still afternoon, it seemed an ineffably peaceful spot.

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Breakfast in Taormina SICILY

Early on a sunny summer morning, I sat on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Timeo, sipping a cappuccino, reading a newspaper and listening to the birdsong. A friendly whitejacketed waiter arrived at my elbow with a glass of freshly pressed blood orange juice. He gestured at the view. “She’s thinking today,” he remarked. I was puzzled for a second, and then above the purple bougainvillea, I noticed a thick white ribbon of smoke curling from the summit of Mount Etna.

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Snorkeling at Kicker Rock GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Kicker Rock is all that remains of a collapsed volcanic cone. There, two tufa spires are separated by a channel about 75 feet wide. Having flopped off the side of the Zodiac, I peered down. About 15 feet beneath my flippers, 50 or 60 GalĂĄpagos sharks, exquisitely streamlined and incomparably graceful, cruised above the milky-green abyss. I set off down the channel and was soon joined by a green sea turtle that was clearly unfazed by the strange intruder. I was so entranced, it was not until my guide tapped me on the shoulder that I noticed the three giant spotted eagle rays, each 6 or 7 feet across, swimming beside us. We followed them, within touching distance, for nearly half an a hour.

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An Epiphany Beside the Pacific OREGON During a road trip along the Oregon Coast, we dined one evening at Restaurant Beck, a small, chef-owned dining room overlooking a lovely bay rimmed by weathered cliffs and a slim crescent of driftwood-strewn sand. A spring squall swept across the mouth of the cove, where Pacific rollers exploded against the rocks in spectacular slow motion. Briefly, the electric power failed. While we waited for the lights to come back on, the squall passed and the setting sun emerged from a fog bank, bathing the cove in unearthly light.

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I would like to hear your comments. Please send an email to aharper@andrewharper.com RETURN TO

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Rates provided are published nightly room rates and are subject to change. Call the Andrew Harper Travel Office for the best available rates and personalized travel assistance, (800) 375-4685. The Hideaway Report® is a privately published newsletter for the sophisticated traveler, 85% of our executive members holding the title of CEO/President/Owner/Partner. Issued monthly since June 1979. ISSN 0884-7622. For information, visit AndrewHarper.com or contact the Andrew Harper Membership Office, P.O. Box 684368, Austin, TX 78768 USA. Tel. (866) 831-4314 or (512) 904-7342. Fax (512) 904-7350. Copyright 2012 Andrew Harper, LLC. All rights reserved. Quotation, reproduction or transmission by any means is prohibited without written permission from the publisher. EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ANDREW HARPER   ART DIRECTOR KRISTINA MITCHELL


Last Look

In early 2011, we had the indelible experience of encountering this 600-pound silverback Mountain Gorilla, part of the Dian Fossey troop, 11,000 feet up in the spectacular mountains of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. © ANDREW HARPER

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Hideaway Report January 2012  

Grand Awards

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