Most December I take a (maybe indulgent) peek at my favorite hotels of the year, new and new to me. The timing is still odd this year, but now I have an even greater appreciation for places that have managed to open up – or just hold on – during another year-long rollercoaster.
The world is still teeming with fantastic places – hotels that are not only indulgences for their guests, but also the finally realized dreams of passionate entrepreneurs and places to work for hundreds of dedicated employees. These are places where history has been lived, where conservation is essential and where the imagination takes flight.
There are still challenges, of course, but much of the weirdness has faded. (In 2021, I never found a large bottle of hand sanitizer on the bedside table like I did the year before.) The precautions remain in place, but the hospitality is showing through or clearly.
Here are (in alphabetical order) my favorite finds from another weird year.
Adega do Fogo, Pico Island, Portugal
An abandoned farmhouse distillery in the most picturesque corner of the Azores’ wildest and volcanic island was given new life last summer as a six-bedroom vacation home. The distillery section is still intact, and as soon as the permits are issued, the owner – a hospitality center on the island – plans to start producing firewater again. For now, it is a dream location to settle into the slow rhythms and austere beauty of the youngest island of the archipelago. Much of the landscape is dominated by black lava rocks, and the rest is incredibly vivid green. Above it all sits Pico Mountain (“peak”), Portugal’s highest point, perfectly symmetrical like a child’s drawing of a volcano. The view from the pool is splendid.
Atzaró Agroturismo, Ibiza
Everything is bathed in sunshine and dreamy, trees dotted with lanterns and light garlands at night, or laden with oranges or illuminated with flowers (depending on the season). The 300-year-old farmhouse – with several original buildings – is set on an estate of 13 hectares of orange groves, flower gardens, water lily ponds and vegetable gardens in the rural heart of Ibiza, it was l one of the first agritourism sites on the island. when it opened in 2004, and proof enough that there is so much more here than the party scene.
Donna Caroly, Sicily
The fifth generation of the family that owns this masseria (fortified Italian farmhouse) on the San Michele estate – which dates back over 600 years – has transformed it into a country boutique hotel that combines history and authenticity with romance and play. Its renovation, which was completed ago is six years old, is absolutely beautiful, with six individually and carefully furnished suites, all feminine in nature and each with a private garden or patio. The name is a tribute to his grandmother, a French baroness named Coralie. This is not the only part of the story: the estate became the seat of the United States during World War II and the Cassible armistice, marking Italy’s surrender, was signed on the spot.
The High Line Hotel, New York City
A garden in New York has always been a special place, and this year more than ever. The hotel, in a former seminary that now looks like something between a private residence and a clubhouse, has very few indoor common areas. Instead, in the summer, guests use the public gardens at the front (with Intelligentsia Café during the day and its signature frozen negronis at night) and the private gardens at the rear as a place to relax, work and meeting. It is a small oasis of calm reserved for hotel guests, which has very fast wifi. Upstairs there are 60 comfortable and stylish bedrooms, which are from another era, with small desks and adorable rotary telephones.
Les Ivens, Lisbon
Lisbon’s chicest new hotel took the stage this fall, with a restaurant reminiscent of the city’s most elegant dining rooms – those of JNcQOUI restaurants – and maximalist design throughout. The concept is to celebrate 19th century explorers, and the place is full of period furniture, tropical plants, preserved beetles, and archival photos. It’s not just a design vanity – the hotel sits on the corner of two streets named for true 19th-century explorers Roberto Ivens and Hermeneglido Capelo (which also gives it pride of place in one of the the most upscale neighborhoods of the city). With 87 rooms, the hotel combines fantasy, design and international style – it is a member of the Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
Maslina Resort, Hvar, Croatia
The first thing you notice when you arrive at this new hotel is the check-in desk. It is a huge piece of roughly hewn white stone, weighing 12 tons. It sets the tone for the place, which presents itself as a haven of “conscious luxury”. Nothing is opulent. Rather, it’s organic and elementary, all natural materials – terracotta, glass, wood and that local stone – and perfectly framed Adriatic views. All 50 rooms feature extremely comfortable organic linens, cleverly designed bespoke furniture, and private terraces. Many also offer sea views and a few have private plunge pools.
Seneca Palace, Norcia, Italy
Five years after a devastating earthquake, Norcia is writing her comeback story. One of the stars is the magnificent Palazzo Seneca, a Relais & Châteaux hotel just one block from the main square. It occupies the 16th-century palace built by a family from Piedivalle, where the locals were known as skilled woodcarvers. It’s been in a different family since 1850, and they’ve done renovations with respect for history (and seismic stability, luckily). All over the world, they are committed to promoting tradition, simplicity and quality. The hotel was among the first in Umbria when it opened in the early 1900s and on the ground floor it retains the 16th century vaulted rooms, but the 40 rooms are just as beautiful, with their antique furniture and their luxury of space.
Pension Schuster, Brasov, Romania
Unlike the historic vibe of Brasov – a medieval town in Transylvania which is one of Romania’s most visited places – all around, the new Schuster Boarding House is a small, modern hotel nestled in an Art Nouveau building with secessionist influences Viennese. Some rooms are nestled under sloping ceilings, with slanted windows and comfortable reading nooks, and the rooftop bar offers some of the city’s best 360-degree views.
Senhora da Rosa, São Miguel Island, Portugal
After an international hospitality career spanning nearly two decades, the new arrival owner returned her family home – a seven-acre farm with over 200 years of history – to São Miguel, the main island of the Portuguese archipelago. moved back. Her parents had opened part of their farm as a guesthouse in the 1990s, but lost it during the previous Portuguese crisis. With partners, she bought it and set out to turn it into a hotel worth a (half) transatlantic flight. The main building retains its previous imprint, with 33 good-sized rooms and suites, all with balconies overlooking the flowers and greenery. The best additions are the two new gazebos, modeled after the old cafes (granaries) of 19th century farms. They are mounted on stilts, scented with cedar and as romantic as you want. Their terraces, in front of lush banana trees, are so well protected that it is possible to sit and read, have breakfast or relax during a downpour.
Vermejo, a Ted Turner Reservation, New Mexico
The media mogul-turned-ecotourism project for conservationists spans 585,000 beautiful acres in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. When he launched it five years ago, with his own opulent villa renovated and open to guests, it still looked a bit like a messy dude ranch. Not anymore. For about a year, after renovations and now under the direction of a former manager of Relais & Châteaux and Aman resorts, it can compete with any luxury ranch in the American West.