By Lavanya Sunkara
A piece of advice, “Once a year, go somewhere you've never been before” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been at the top of my New Year’s resolutions list for years. He could have meant going to the next town or to an island across the world. But to me, it’s always been a location far from home. So, this year, as I sit by my window watching swirling snowflakes, I dream of escaping to far off lands. Sailing the coast of Phuket, enjoying delectable dishes in Stockholm, sipping cocktails in Beirut, strolling through gardens in Marrakech and trekking in Patagonia all seem great substitutes to navigating the snow covered streets of New York. Whether you are seeking an escape to an alluring place, or a lavish vacation with your lover, these unique grand hotels are sure to provide you with unforgettable experiences.
Amanpuri Phuket, Thailand
With a name that means “peace” in Sanskrit, the very first resort of Aman Resorts is situated in a coconut grove on the breathtaking island of Phuket. Reflecting Thailand’s graceful architectural style and surrounding natural settings, the luxury resort with a private beach ensures the visitors an idyllic stay. Go on morning treks through the virgin jungles of Khao Phra Thaeo National Park nearby or cruise around the island on one of the professionally crewed vessels. Complimentary windsurfing, snorkeling, sea kayaking, body boarding and sailing are just a few adventures that await you between the months of December and April. The hotel can arrange visits to the town’s central market, Buddhist temples, museums, and the Aquarium. Wat Phra Thong with its half-buried Buddha statue and Wat Phra Nang Sang with its 3,000 year old Buddha heads are a must see. The resort has Thai styled pavilions and private villa homes interspersed throughout a coconut plantation, each of them furnished with Thai textiles, art and antiques. Facilities include restaurants offering Thai and Italian cuisines, a beach club, midnight blue tiled lap pool, hillside gym and a spa offering individualized treatments. At dusk, brass tables and pairs of teak, rattan backed chairs are set out along the terrace between the pool and the crescent shaped beach where guests can relax watching the sun setting over the
Rates from $525 per night, www.amanresorts.com/amanpuri
Grand Hôtel Stockholm, Sweden
This 130 year old leading luxury hotel occupying prime space on Stockholm’s waterfront is rich in history and tradition. It has been a witness to some of the world’s greatest achievements and continues to attract royalty, heads of states, Nobel Prize laureates and celebrities. Located next to the National Museum and opposite the Royal Palace, the hotel is also within view of The Parliament buildings, Royal Opera House, and within walking distance of the docks for boats to the archipelago. The hotel has a health spa, 326 rooms and 42 suites, and among them the Princess Lilian Suite takes the prize for the most sought after with its 330sqm and a panoramic view over Stockholm. Food and drink have always played an important part of the hotel. The Veranda Restaurant is celebrated for serving traditional Smorgasbord, a type of Scandinavian meal served buffet-style with dishes of various foods on a table. The restaurant guests share the harbor vistas with the passing tourists and Stockholmers who come to eat and socialize. Renowned Swedish Chef, Mathias Dahlgren, has recently opened an à la carte restaurant called Mathias Dahlgren, which offers two different dining experiences - Matsalen (The Dining Room) and Matbaren (The Food Bar), with the former concentrating on creative cuisine presented in a traditional form and the latter serving quicker but high quality eating experiences based on traditional cuisine mixed with global ingredients and influences. The Cadier Bar, named after the hotel owner Régis Cadier, is an international cocktail bar with live piano music performances.
Rates from $428, www.grandhotel.se
Le Gray Beirut, Lebanon
A rooftop infinity pool overlooking the Mediterranean and Mount Lebanon is one of the highlights of Beirut’s newest ultra modern hotel. Situated in the historical area of Beirut’s Central District, Le Gray is close to designer shops, vibrant city centres, beautiful mosques and churches, and the harbor. Along with Le Gray’s spacious interiors and stunning contemporary design, the hotel also houses a private art collection of more than 500 pieces. Exclusive tours to Byblos (UNESCO World Heritage seaside town), Shouf mountain region, and Saida & Tyre towns on the south coast, and to archeological sites are also available through the hotel. Gordon’s, a chic and vibrant café in the hotel, serves fresh and healthy food in a casual setting. Indigo rooftop restaurant serves Mediterranean inspired cuisines using local herbs and flavors. Bar 360°, with its stunning views of Beirut’s historical downtown, comes alive at night with live music and DJs. Cigar aficionados can make new friends or chill in the Cigar Lounge.
Rates from $595, www.campbellgrayhotels.co/le-gray-beirut
La Mamounia Marrakech, Morocco
Escape to a far away time and place in Marrakech’s newly re-opened hotel providing the best of what the modern world has to offer while keeping with traditional values. La Mamounia is known for its 200 year old gardens. Back in the 18th century, it was customary to offer one’s sons a house and a garden as a wedding gift. King Sidi Mohammed Ben passed down the 20 acres of gardens surrounding La Mamounia to his son Mamoun, who later used them for throwing exquisite royal garden parties. Today, the gardens consist of olive, palm and fruit trees along with roses and cacti juxtaposed with winding walkways. Guests can stroll around the gardens and enjoy tea and homemade pastries in the elegant Menzeh pavilion. The hotel, with its marble columns, fine materials, colorful fabrics, warm tapestries, and soft furnishings, recreates the grandeur of ancient Moroccan Palaces. Rooms with Moroccan handcrafts, lavish beddings, and balconies with breathtaking vistas of the gardens and Atlas Mountains recreate the luxurious mood of the oriental palaces and are sure to make guests feel like royalty. The hotel has four restaurants, each specializing in Italian, French, Mediterranean, and Moroccan cuisines and five bars. The 2500sqm Spa, inspired by the blend of Moroccan and Eastern cultures, provides over 80 treatments ranging from traditional Moroccan hammam to holistic body treatments.
Rates from $525, www.mamounia.com/uk
Llao Llao Resort & Golf-Spa Bariloche Río Negro, Argentina
While the name Patagonia is synonymous with wild beauty, Llao Llao in Argentine Patagonia is known as a paradise with a bounty of outdoor activities. Set on top of a small hill within the Nahuel Huapi National Park, the hotel affords views of lakes, Andean peaks, and colorful larch and cypress forests. The new Moreno Lake Wing features deluxe studios and suites all with luxurious amenities and wide windows overlooking lush landscapes. The Moreno Lake Bar, with its huge fireplaces, is ideal for winding down after a day of windsurfing or trekking. The hotel’s 18-hole spectacular golf course is open to experts and amateurs alike. Skiing, fishing, and windsurfing are a few other recreations available. The Llao Llao Spa, a serene space inspired by its natural landscape, offers a menu of wellness and beauty services that incorporate extracts from the natural world. The resort offers ample dining in its five restaurants where guests can enjoy a wide variety of dishes from international cuisine to traditional South American foods, including the popular “Llao Llao Tea”.
Rates from $385, www.llaollao.com.ar