REINVENTED CLASSIC: THE IVY HOTEL
Baltimore recently spent some unwanted time in the national spotlight, as an epicenter of violence and racial tension following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray and the protests and riots that followed.
Shortly afterward, the Ivy Hotel opened its doors. In the year since, this unique hotel already has become a key part not only of Baltimore’s recovery, but also of its charm offensive. The 18-room hotel in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood was originally constructed as a private mansion in 1889. The hotel maintains a warm home-like feel for guests with special spaces you wouldn’t find in a purpose-built hotel, such as a library well-stocked with handcrafted puzzles, and thoughtful touches, including a champagne welcome on arrival and complimentary luxury cars to shuttle you around the city during your stay.
As one would expect from a Relais & Châteaux property, Magdalena, the hotel’s restaurant, serves an adventurous, sophisticated menu to locals and guests, and it is particularly well-known for its cocktails. The Ivy may be the only hotel offering this high level of service in the historic part of the city, but its aim is to be more than a place to stay when visiting Baltimore—it wants to be the reason you plan a trip to a city that’s not known as a luxury destination.
FANTASY ISLAND: NIHIWATU
Nihiwatu, a 28-villa property that accommodates a maximum of 80 guests and employs a staff of 280, is located on Sumba Island in Indonesia. It’s a commitment to travel there: You must first get to Bali, then board another plane for a 50-minute flight to Tambolaka airport—and then travel over land 90 minutes to reach the resort.
The draw—besides all the requisite aspects of a tropical island paradise—is a stay free from a preconceived agenda, but full of fantasy-fulfilling options. These include a private swim in a hidden waterfall in the middle of the island; unlimited massages at an outdoor “spa safari” following a morning hike with a guide who climbs trees to fetch coconuts; and riding a water buffalo into the ocean. There are opportunities to tour with the philanthropic organization Sumba Foundation and serve lunch to local schoolchildren. Want to see a movie? The staff will tie a sheet between two trees on the beach, project a fillm onto it, prop you up with pillows and blankets and serve you dinner. For chocolate lovers, there’s an on-site chocolate factory turning local cacao into chocolate bars.
Besides personalized activities, the idea at Nihiwatu is to totally immerse yourself in the local culture while retaining maximum creature comforts. Villas offer the full range of deluxe options—private pools, indoor-outdoor living rooms, tree houses and commanding views of ocean and sea. Billionaire owner Chris Burch’s villa, available to guests when he’s not there, includes a private waterfall with a hidden massage “cave” tucked into its base.
AT THE END OF THE WORLD: &BEYOND BENGUERRA ISLAND
Among Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize-winning oeuvre is 1976’s “Mozambique,” a wistful tune that celebrates the southeast African country’s charms with lyrics about aqua blue skies and sun-drenched romance. Though much has changed socially and politically for the country since Dylan vacationed there, you’ll still find the magical land he sang about—particularly in the six-island Bazaruto Archipelago, which remains a relatively untouched paradise of white-sand beaches, crystalline Indian Ocean waters and pristine coral reefs. Benguerra, the second-largest of the islands and a designated national park, is home to just two hotels, and &Beyond Benguerra Island is the only luxury option.
The resort relaunched in 2015 following a total renovation, and thanks to regular service from South African Airways, it’s not a challenge to get there. U.S. travelers can fly to Johannesburg, then hop on a one-hour, 40-minute connection to Vilanculos, Mozambique. From there, the resort arranges quick helicopter transfers. Once in Benguerra, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in another dimension—which makes the posh touches and on-point services all the more impressive. The 13 casita-style accommodations feature plunge pools and extensive outdoor lounging spaces (including private beach huts with swinging beds), as well as colonial design elements such as hand-painted Portuguese tiles in the outdoor showers. Dedicated “house mothers” cater to all the details, from setting up a private meal in the lantern-lit gardens to greeting guests with towels, hot cocoa and cocktails as they return from a dive or snorkel.
Rates include all meals; activities such as sunset sails, horseback rides and village visits; and nightly drinks and tapas in the chic, alfresco Dhow Bar, which is set in a retrofitted wooden boat. Because the island is so undeveloped, &Beyond Benguerra can also arrange uninterrupted experiences, from scenic nature walks to “castaway picnics” on powdery, isolated beaches. During the latter, staffers set up tents, daybeds and gourmet spreads, then retire to a discreet distance, leaving guests with just a walkie-talkie as a link to the real world.
MOUNTAIN ESCAPE: NEKUPE
Nekupe, a new resort in Nandaime, Nicaragua, offers that rarest of amenities: genuine novelty. The property is the first luxury accommodation in Nicaragua’s countryside. Set near Granada, its four stand-alone villas are located on a 1,300-acre nature reserve.
Nekupe—the name means “heaven” in the local indigenous language—makes the most of its location, offering sweeping views of the mountains, including that of the dormant Mombacho volcano. Each guest room has an ATV with which to explore the rugged outdoors. Other activities include horseback riding, hiking and bird and wildlife watching. The resort’s contemporary aesthetic creates a restful place for contemplating the wildness of the landscape, which is packed with native howler and spider monkeys, deer, foxes, sloths, 78 species of birds and 61 species of butterflies.
The property was conceived as the private sporting resort of the billionaire Pellas family—clay and target shooting are available—before they chose to open it to guests as a fully operational hotel. The on-site spa offers various treatments including masks of local volcanic mud and indoor and outdoor yoga classes.
Included in each stay is private transportation via luxury SUV to and from Managua’s international airport, which is about a two-hour trip. To cut the land journey in half, fly into Costa Esmeralda Airport, a private airport that opened in December 2015 and accommodates ATR-42/72, Gulfstream V jets and most turboprop planes.
NEW URBANISM: SHANGRI-LA ULAANBAATAR
The Shangri-La, a 290-room hotel that opened its doors in 2015, is a marked upgrade for a city where high aesthetic praise includes laudatory comments about “old Soviet charm.” Mongolia, and its population center of Ulaanbaatar, have been slow to slough off the cultural and economic devastation wrought by Soviet domination, which ended in 1990. But as capitalism transforms this country where many people still live in gers (yurts) and a significant number still practice a nomadic lifestyle, the Shangri-La’s presence is a firm foothold in the 21st century. The hotel is at the center of the city’s cultural offerings—within an easy walk to the Great Chinggis Khaan Square. It is a great home base for those interested in seeing a people undergoing breathtaking change.
The hotel nods at the country’s unique past, with lobby staff dressed in Mongolian garb and lighting fixtures shaped like horns honoring the country’s hunting traditions. It also offers dramatic views of Mongolia’s rugged terrain. For those who want more, the Shangri-La can coordinate with several luxury lodges to give guests excursions into Mongolia’s countryside. In the Gobi Desert, for example, a unique and authentic experience can be found at the top-of-the-line Three Camel Lodge, where your accommodation will be a traditional ger, upgraded to regional luxury standards with a private bathroom including running water and solar-powered electric lights. Gers are waterproof, almost airtight, with no internet or telephone. All of which makes returning to the Shangri-La’s spacious guest rooms with WiFi and thoughtfully appointed bathrooms a particular comfort. The hotel’s main restaurant, Café Park, provides high-quality Western and Asian options that can be diffcult to come by in the city.
Starting rate: $280 per night for a deluxe room
Contact: Gary Biondo, general manager, email@example.com, 976.7702.9999, shangri-la.com/ulaanbaatar/shangrila; Three Camel Lodge: firstname.lastname@example.org, 976.11.313.396, threecamellodge.com
AMAZON BEAUTY: UXUA CASA HOTEL & SPA
Trancoso, a small beach village in Bahia, Brazil, is the totally-off-the-radar getaway that everyone knows about —a place for the affuent but not glitzy, the good-looking but also really smart, as best personified by its newest part-time resident, newscaster Anderson Cooper. When he’s not occupying it personally, his three-bedroom Casa Anderson is the latest available for guests at Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa. It has a view of the quadrado (the town square), and its third bedroom is actually a tree house suspended above its outdoor living space.
Uxua, which means “wonderful” in the native Pataxó language, was conceived and designed by Wilbert Das, the former creative director of Italian denim brand Diesel. It’s also a very long way from anywhere else. Although Trancoso has a private airstrip, travelers on commercial airlines can fly into São Paulo, take a connecting hour-and-a-half flight to Porto Seguro, and then drive another 55 minutes.
But Trancoso makes its distance from everywhere else a virtue by intensely focusing on the local. While this is certainly not a new idea in terms of cuisine—every high-end kitchen worth its artisanal salt loudly proclaims its use of local ingredients—Trancoso goes hyperlocal in every aspect of its design, aesthetics and activities. Guests stay in private casas of one, two or three bedrooms created by locals using reclaimed materials from the area, especially wood. And while the hotel has a spa and fitness room with all the expected amenities, its most popular offerings are classes in capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art. Guests can watch artisans work an antique weaving loom in the gardens, and purchase their blankets and beach bags made from cotton, linen, straw, sisal, rami and beads, or watch an artist apply paint to pillows and bags in traditional Pataxó patterns. Although Uxua can supply its guests with any amenity from anywhere in the world, its goal is to meet guests’ needs with the simple luxuries found in the Amazon.