LONDON — If anyone knows how to make a hotel stay exquisitely perfect, it’s the people who make it their life’s work.
And at last week’s World Boutique Hotel Awards in London, there was a room full of them.
We caught up with some of the top hoteliers on the planet and asked them: “What was your best hotel stay ever and why?”
Their answers ranged from eating fresh-baked bread at a communal breakfast table in Chile, to a magical New Year’s Eve beside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia.
What they all had in common was hotel staff going the extra mile to make their guests’ stay memorable.
Says Gregor Nassief, owner of Secret Bay, named World’s Best Boutique Hotel 2016: “The best boutique hotels transport you to a place totally unexpected and new, yet comfortable and familiar. A home you never knew you had.
“More often than not, someone else’s love story becomes entwined in your own.”
Here are the rest of the winners’ responses:
A belated honeymoon in Valparaiso
Gregor Nassief is the owner of Secret Bay, a multi-award-winning eco-luxury resort Dominica. In 2003, he and his wife spent their long-postponed honeymoon in Valparaiso, Chile.
“We chose a small hotel called Luna Sonrisa, a renovated 100+ year old house in Cerro Alegre.
“We stayed in the only room with its own bathroom, a tiny room painted in raspberry red with a vanilla painted ceiling.
“We loved to have breakfast at the communal table where the owner’s wife would bring her just-baked bread from her own bakery Pan de Magia.
“Everything was served in beautiful locally made clay plates and had the magic touch that only love can put on things.”
“Janak, the owner, and author of the ‘Footprint’ guide to Chile, brought the outside world in by telling us of all the wonderful and authentic things to do in Valparaiso and his beautiful, extravagant wife brought constant laughs to all of us, besides her magic bread.”
Secret Bay; Ross Blvd, Dominica, West Indies; +1 767 445 4444
Luna Sonrisa; Templeman 833, Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile; +56 32 273 4117
A ‘dessert room’ in an Italian palace
Alain Bachmann is general manager of the Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, a design hotel set among paddy fields in the Bali highlands (World’s Best Relaxation Retreat 2016).
In 2014 he went on a “romantic getaway” to Italy’s Capri Palace.
“What made it so special? Flawless, very personable service, a great, spacious room and exceptional food served in their restaurants with one of them featuring a ‘dessert room’! — It’s your quintessential ‘kid in a (gourmet) candy store’ experience!
“And all of this on a beautiful island with understated elegance.”
Chedi Club Tanah Gajah; Tengkulak Kaja, Jl. Raya Goa Gajah, Ubud, Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia; +62 361 975685
Capri Palace; Via Capodimonte, 14, 80071 Anacapri, Isola di Capri, Italy; +39 081 9780111; reopens April 13, 2017
Wildlife encounters on a South African game reserve
Gertrud Grassl is head of marketing at Vigilius Mountain Resort, a five-star hotel in South Tyrol specializing in wellness vacations (World’s Best Sustainable Hotel 2016).
In 2015 she visited Woodbury Tented Camp in South Africa’s malaria-free Amakhala Game Reserve.
“South Africa is a timeless and ageless place where everything is governed by wild, hard and ruthless nature.
“I wanted to take a trip based on simplicity and essential things that could really make me feel part of a world so far away from western life. And of course my greatest desire was to visit a private reserve to closely observe wild animals.
“An amazing breathtaking experience: The lounge has a view all over the endless savannah, while in the tend during the night it was possible to hear animal and nature noises.”
Vigilius Mountain Resort; Pawigl 43, Vigiljoch, 39011 Lana BZ, Italy; +39 0473 556600
Woodbury Tented Camp; Amakhala Game Reserve; +27 (0) 42 235 1109
A family homecoming in Mumbai
Janus Kamradt is villa manager at Over Yonder Cay, a private island in the Bahamas (World’s Best Private Villa 2016).
In 2007, he and his family accompanied his adopted younger sister Emily on her first visit to her birth country of India.
“We visited Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Nagpur (where she was born) but it was the stay in Mumbai which stood out.
“We were originally booked in to the Taj President but on arrival we were met by the GM of the Taj Mahal Palace and escorted to the Heritage Wing VIP check-in.
“From then on everything was nothing short of exceptional. Clearly the hotel had been briefed by a concierge or someone from the hotel in Delhi that my sister was en route to Mumbai and that she was visiting her native country with her adopted family.
“The rooms were stunning, colonial luxury at its best and the service was memorable in so many ways. I still remember the name of the butler and many of the serving staff which is more than I can say for any other hotel I have stayed in over the years.”
Over Yonder Cay; The Bahamas
Taj Mahal Palace; Apollo Bunder, Mumbai, Maharashtra – 400 011, India; +91 22 6665 3366
Culinary lessons in the English countryside
Vincent Labrosse is general manager of Hotel Heritage, a four-star hotel in a 19th-century building in medieval Bruges (World’s Best Classic Hotel 2016).
He first visited the Stone House boutique hotel in Sussex, England in 2012 and has returned every year since “to enjoy a real authentic English experience.”
“The owners Peter and Jane Dunn personally attended to the needs of their guests and are dedicated to giving the highest quality accommodation along with great food and country recreation.
“My first stay made it so special as I had the chance to join the cooking course of Mrs Jane Dunn, elected as a Master Chef by The Masters Chefs of Great Britain.
“This was the most memorable cooking class in my life.
“As I love good food and wines, and sharing this with friends and family I felt honored to visit the kitchen of Mrs Dunn with many locals of Rushlake Green.”
Hotel Heritage; Niklaas Desparsstraat 11, 8000 Brugge, Belgium; +32 (0)50 444 444
Stone House; Rushlake Green, Heathfield, East Sussex, TN21 9QJ; +01435 830 553
A ‘uniquely curated’ New Year’s Eve in Indonesia
Mary Jordan is the owner of Kau Manor, a recently renovated 13th-century manor house and the former home of Baltic German explorer Otto von Kotzebue (World’s Most Inspired Design Hotel 2016).
She first visited Amanjiwo Luxury Resort in Java, Indonesia around 15 years ago.
“The architecture of the hotel was round, unique and surrounded by jungles and lush hills. We had New Years Eve there and it was a uniquely curated evening. Artistic and musical.
“It was so memorable that I went back there to have my wedding in 2011. Food and service was with kindness and elegance.”
Kau Manor; Triigi küla, Kõue vald, Harjumaa, Estonia; +372 644 1411
Amanjiwo Luxury Resort; Ds. Majaksingi, Borobudur, Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia; +(62) 293 788 333
A birthday celebration in Guatemala
Yens Steller is owner of the Drake Bay Getaway Resort, a Costa Rican hotel and eco lodge (The Americas’ Best Romantic Retreat 2016).
He recalled a trip to Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel in Guatemala to celebrate the birthday of his Drake Bay co-owner Patrick.
“From the airport pickup, to arranging all our tours and giving us their best cabin, we loved every moment there. The cabin bed was located next to a lake and it had a wonderful view of the water right from the bed.
“Their staff, from the gardener to the front desk, was friendly and attentive. Their local gourmet food was delicious and unique.
“To our surprise, on Patrick’s birthday, they arranged a special table for us with beautiful flower decorations and a nice bottle of wine.”
Drake Bay Getaway Resort; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; +506 6003 7253
Las Lagunas; Flores Petén 17001, Guatemala; +502 7790 0300
A New York epiphany at the first boutique hotel
Riccardo Barsottelli is the owner and general manager of Locando al Colle, an 18th-century farmhouse turned boutique hotel in Versilia, Tuscany (Europe’s Best Relaxation Retreat 2016).
He visited Morgans, regarded as the world’s first boutique hotel, shortly after it was made over by legendary French designer Andrèe Puttman in 1984.
“It looked like entering an apartment block: no big flashy signs outside, no big hall or bar or restaurant aggressing you with noise and people.
“It was cool, sexy and discreet. This hotel made the difference in my way of traveling.
“Since then I’ve always searched for designed, interesting places to stay. Although I’ve been in many beautiful ones even more beautiful than Morgans, this hotel really changed something within me.”
Locando al Colle; Via la Stretta, 231, loc. Capezzano Pianore, 55041 Camaiore, Italy; +(39) 0584 915 195
Morgans Hotel; 237 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016, USA; +1 212-686-0300
2016 Boutique Hotel Awards:
World’s Best Boutique Hotel: Secret Bay, Dominica, West Indies
World’s Best Beach or Coastal hotel: El Nido, Pangulasian Island, Philippines
World’s Best City Hotel: 11 Mirrors, Kiev, Ukraine
World’s Best Classic Hotel: Hotel Heritage, Bruges, Belgium
World’s Best Culinary Hotel: Vila Joya, Algarve, Portugal
World’s Most Inspired Design Hotel 2016: Kau Manor, Estonia
World’s Best Honeymoon Hideaway 2016: Punta Tragara, Capri, Italy
World’s Best New Hotel 2016: Hotel Gotham, Manchester, UK
World’s Best Relaxation Retreat 2016: Chedi Club Tanah Gajah Ubud, Bali
World’s Most Romantic Hotel 2016: Aenaon Villas, Santorini, Greece
World’s Best Sustainable Hotel 2016: Vigilius Mountain Resort, South Tyrol, Italy
World’s Best Wellness Spa 2016: Borgo Egnazia, Puglia, Italy
World’s Best Private Villa 2016: Over Yonder Cay, Bahamas