“What’s your favourite hotel in the world?” is a question I’m often asked (and which also happens to be a favoured dinner table topic of Mr Sunshine’s and mine), but my answer is always the same. There are too many incredible luxury hotels in the world for me to choose just one! Thus the idea for a list of my favourite ‘once in a lifetime’ hotels was borne.
I’ve already created a list of my top hotel rooms and my top places to stay in London, but with four year’s worth of luxury travel under our belts since Follow Your Sunshine first came into being; travel which has taken my family and I across four continents and 13 countries, with countless hotel stays along the way, I thought it was high time that I came up with an all-inclusive list of my favourite luxury hotels. The list is currently weighted towards certain locations that we’ve explored more thoroughly, but it’s my hope that this will become an organic, ever-evolving post which I will add to over the years as we continue our travels around the world, with the result being an extensive list of hotels from every corner of the globe, all with one thing in common: they are all ‘once in a lifetime’ hotels which offer something extra luxurious, entirely unique and utterly exquisite to the seasoned traveller.
Click on the links in each hotel description to go to a more detailed Follow Your Sunshine review of the hotel (or if there isn’t one there yet then sit tight, there will be one on its way soon!), and please drop your recommendations in a comment below – you never know, we could well make it our next destination!
The NoMad, New York City
A ‘once in a lifetime’ hotel in a ‘once in a lifetime’ city, just a few steps away from the iconic Flat Iron building, the NoMad hotel is housed in a turn-of-the-century Beaux-Arts building which has been sympathetically restored to its former grandeur, with exposed wooden floors, antique furniture and a bourgeois residential feel throughout. Don’t miss out on a meal in the sunlit Atrium with its pyramidal glass roof or a cocktail in the mahogany, split-level, fully-curated library.
The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa, California
With a full-service day spa, outdoor pool and excellent restaurant, this former hunting lodge boasts roaring open fires, floor-to-ceiling windows with original wooden shutters and one of the most impressive reception areas I have seen. The Lodge at Sonoma is located in the perfect position for exploring California’s ‘wine country’, and taking in the quaint village vibe of Sonoma.
Grays Court Hotel, York
A historic, boutique, luxury hotel located in the centre of York, just steps away from York Minster, this hotel provides a place to dine and relax in a building that once played host to kings, has seen knights bestowed and and has the privilege of being the only private building with direct access out onto the city’s walls. The Bow Room Restaurant is still the location of the best breakfast that Mr Sunshine has ever had. Blog post coming soon.
The Ampersand, London
I haven’t encountered many hotels quite like The Ampersand, which has a ‘theme’ running throughout its interior. Astronomical, botanical, architectural, geometric and ornithological motifs adorn the walls of each room, which are matched in artistic quality by the brightly-coloured soft furnishings and pretty monochrome bathrooms. There’s not much I didn’t love about this quirky boutique hotel, which is located in one of my favourite parts of London, just next to South Kensington station.
The Lalit, London
One of London’s most eagerly anticipated new 5* hotels, The Lalit opened its doors in 2017 to widespread acclaim. Housed in the former St Olave’s Grammar School, this 120 year old red brick building is now home to a stunning hotel which is owned by Suri Hospitality Group, one of India’s most prestigious hotel companies. The building’s upgrade is in keeping with the building’s heritage, with meals served in ‘The Great Hall’, also known as ‘Baluchi’, and drinks served in ‘The Teacher’s Room’ and ‘The Headmaster’s Room’. Blog post coming soon!
Monastero Santa Rosa, Conca dei Marini, Amalfi Coast
Perched high on the cliffs above the Mediterranean, this former 17th Century monastery retains much of its former character, with original features and lots of special spaces to explore. Pretty terraced gardens lead down to one of the most impressive infinity pools in the world, and the food served at the restaurant is exquisite.
Le Sirenuse, Positano, Amalfi Coast
I often cite Le Sirenuse as my favourite hotel of all time. If you are looking for ultimate luxury, then this small, boutique, family-run hotel will not disappoint. From the breathtaking views over the iconic pastel houses of Positano, to the exquisite service and attention to detail, the stunning food served up at Michelin-starred La Sponda and the luxurious pool, spa and rooms, this hotel has set the benchmark for every luxury hotel we will ever visit. Blog post coming soon!
Casa Angelina, Praiano, Amalfi Coast
Casa Angelina is a modern hotel composed of clean, straight lines, with minimalistic rooms featuring all the mod cons and contemporary design features. The hotel’s situation, built into the southern-facing hillside in the small hamlet of Praiano, makes it an ideal spot for catching the best of the day’s sun, whether it’s from your private balcony, out on the pool terrace, or at the open-air rooftop restaurant, Un Piano el Cielo (“a floor in the sky”).
Belmond Hotel Caruso, Ravello, Amalfi Coast
A hotel which got me a bit giddy on arrival, the Belmond Hotel Caruso is a former 11th Century Palace set on a cliff edge, 1,000 feet above sea level. Inside, marbled hallways, quirky rooms brimming with antiques, original frescoes and paintings by some of Italy’s finest masters give much to admire, but it’s the hotel’s grounds which are the real highlight. The pretty outdoor terrace of the Belvedere Restaurant, the lemon groves, and that pool. Blog post coming soon.
The Gran Melia, Rome
We usually prefer to stay in boutique hotels on our travels, opting for originality and intimacy over predictable luxury. However, there are some hotel chains that we’ll make an exception for and the Gran Melia brand is one of them. The Gran Melia Rome has a special feel about it, due to its location a few steps away from the entrance to Vatican city, its extensive grounds with luxurious outdoor pool and its rich interiors with little nods to the fact that the ancient villa was once owned by the mother of the Emporer Nero.
Villa Cordevigo Wine Relais, Cavaion Verenese, Lake Garda
If there is one place I wish to be transported to after a few nights of no sleep with my toddler, it is Villa Cordevigo Wine Relais. It is not the obivous choice of accommodation when visiting Lake Garda as it’s set in the countryside approximately ten minutes away from the shores of the lake, however this hidden gem has so much to offer visitors in terms of world class luxury and sheer tranquility. Breakfast is served on the terrace overlooking the outdoor pool and villa’s own rolling vineyards, dinner at Michelin-starred Oseleta, and there are walled gardens to explore by bike or on foot. Oh, and the vina della casa is just stunning. Blog post coming soon.
Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice
Another sensation from the Belmond group, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is a true Venetian classic, where timeless elegance and awe-inspiring views await you on the private island, a five minute private boat ride from St Mark’s Square. This is the only hotel on this list which we have only eaten at, not stayed at, but Mr Sunshine and I have vowed to return for the culinary mastery we experienced at Michelin-starred Oro restaurant alone. Blog post coming soon.
Hotel Londra Palace, Venice
A famous hotel on the banks of the Grand Canal in Venice, Hotel Londra has hosted many a celebrity in the 140 years since its opening. It’s ideally-located on St Mark’s Square, with easy access to the water taxis and buses. Each of its 53 rooms has its own distinctive decor and character, and there is a corker of a view from the roof terrace.
When we were searching for hotels in Norway, we wanted something in keeping with local culture and traditions, with majestic views over a fjord and easy access to hikes amongst the stunning natural landscapes that this country affords. Tick, tick and tick! The Storfjord hotel is a wooden cabin perched on a hill above the Storfjord, and everything from the locally-sourced, seasonal food served at the restaurant, to the Hygge vibe of the candlelight and roaring open fires made our stay there just about perfect.
Four Seasons Doha
When I’m thinking of ‘once in a lifetime’ hotels, the Four Seasons Doha immediately springs to mind. No other hotel in Doha does hospitality quite like it. A hotel which ‘has it all’ in terms of extensive pools, pristine white beach, well-appointed rooms and five star dining, the real gems of the property include the largest and most iconic Nobu in the world and a sensational spa, housed in a three story building of its own on site.
The Ritz-Carlton Doha
This fabulous hotel has made it onto the list following a transformational renovation last year, which has revolutionised the Ritz-Carlton’s rooms and spa, bringing the interiors in line with some of the best I’ve seen. Their club lounge has also been completely remodelled and the result is nothing short of spectacular. Look out for some exciting culinary openings coming later in 2018!
Watch this space for more local hotels to be added to this list this year…
Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi
A hotel which was originally built to showcase Arabian culture, this extensive palace set in even more extensive grounds is a place of opulence and grandeur. With no less than 394 residences, 114 domes that reach to 80 metres, 9 restaurants, and set in 85 hectares of private gardens along 1.3 km of private beach, nothing about the luxury that exudes from the Emirates Palace is understated.
Anantara Resort and Spa, Dubai The Palm
Offering a Thai-style experience, with South East Asian-inspired spa, architecture and over-water villas, this Anantara hotel provides a fun and relaxed base from which to spend a few days in Dubai. It’s welcoming to honeymooning couples and families alike, and from the lagoon-view villas you can swim straight out from your private terrace into the pretty pools which cover the grounds.
The Palace, Downtown Dubai
When I think about our stay at The Palace, I think about the juxtaposition between the traditional Emirati Palace, which features exposed wood carvings, inlaid Pearl tables and traditional Arabic-style arched doors and windows, with the exterior with its contemporary outdoor pool area, with views over the Dubai Fountains and the towering Burj Khalifa. If you’re not a fan of the dizzying heights of the upbeat Dubai social scene, preferring a more traditional and relaxed vibe, then this is the hotel for you.
The Chedi, Muscat
An Oasis of calm in the Omani desert, The Chedi encompasses everything I look for in a hotel, with three outdoor heated swimming pools, each with its own character and style, a stunning stretch of beach, clean and minimalistic architecture and complete and utter serenity. This hotel is a honeymooner’s dream.
The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, Muscat
This hotel is actually three hotels within a hotel, to suit the needs and tastes of different visitors. From relaxed and family-friendly to exclusive luxury, there is something at the Shangri-La Muscat for everyone. The hotels converge on grounds which feature interesting pools, a lazy river and no less than 12 different restaurants. Mr Sunshine still talks about the spa here as being one of his favourite in the world.
Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea
An ideal venue from which to explore Jordan’s rich culture and interesting history, this hotel is located on the shores of the famous salt lake, The Dead Sea. It might be the lowest point on earth, but you’ll feel on top of the world when you look out over the fabulous infinity pools to the sparkling water beyond.
Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana
The individual villas connected by winding pathways which house the rooms and suites of Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana, Sri Lanka are not only ISO certified but also award winning for their green credentials. These energy-efficient and naturally-constructed spaces feel completely at one with the 37 acres, 2000 trees and small farm which make up the grounds of this stunning Lodge. Add a troop of resident monkeys, easy access to local elephant safaris and an impressive breakfast spread, and you’re winning.
Four Seasons at Sayan
If you want to do Bali in luxury, then a stay at one of the Four Seasons properties on the island is the only way to do it in my opinion. The Four Seasons at Sayan is a completely unique hotel, built within the jungle near to Ubud, with architecture and grounds that are in keeping with the hotel’s natural surroundings next to the Ayung River. Luxury, private villas, each with their own infinity pool, make up most of the accommodation here and the whole experience is nothing short of breathtaking.
Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay
A contrast to the lush green nature of Sayan, the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay is a luxury beach-side resort which has been designed to feel like a traditional Balinese village, with 35 acres of terraced grounds covered in winding pathways and 147 private luxury villas, surrounded by rustic stone walls. Two incredible infinity pools, some fantastic restaurants and one of the best vantage points to watch the sun set in Bali make your stay here extra special.
To be continued…
What are your favourite ‘once in a lifetime’ hotels, and why?