The Big Idea: The Great Escape
RIP, VIP bucket lists. Since luxury travel began to resurge as the pandemic subsided, it’s been carpe passport, leaving the industry to balance a burst dam’s worth of pent-up demand with a host of ongoing obstacles.
One upshot has been travelers’ willingness to spend more for the right experience. “When the world was put on time-out, the wealthiest had time to dream big,” says travel specialist Keith Waldon of Departure Lounge, noting that most of his clients’ budgets have doubled year over year. “Whatever they were doing before, people want to do at a higher level.” Cari Gray of Gray & Co. has observed a similar tendency. “Now it’s not just about a driver but a driver on standby,” she says, “and not just a yacht for the day but for the week.”
No wonder hotels can no longer rely on oversized penthouses or impeccable service as a clincher, notes Scott Dunn Private head Jules Maury. “It’s about what you can get out of a destination,” she says. See the new yacht operated by Borgo Santo Pietro that Maury has booked for clients; it takes them on coastal Tuscan jaunts with a chef trained at the hotel’s Michelin-star restaurant. The recently opened Villa Petriolo nearby is a 395-acre farm with miles of hiking trails and a falconer in residence, while Sweden’s Treehotel just added a 365-square-foot, Bjarke Ingels–designed Biosphere guest room covered in 340 birdhouses; input from local ornithologists should maximize nesting. Safari camps are heavy into the tree-house (or other private, nature-embedded accommodation) trend, too. And a company called 700,000 Heures is a sort of movable feast of hotels: Every six months it uproots for another exotic locale—rural Cambodia, perhaps, or Brazil—and sets up shop in an idiosyncratic structure, be it a palace or a houseboat.
Legacy travel brands are also opting to expand beyond brick-and-mortar. Waldon reports huge demand from clients for this year’s launch of the endlessly delayed Ritz-Carlton Yacht, currently penciled in for August; Aman, too, will debut a 50-suite, 600-foot vessel in 2025, codenamed Project Sama. Orient Express, sidelined as a brand for several years, will soon return to prominence under a new owner, Accor. It will add more trains—with private bathrooms, a first—as well as namesake hotels, connecting as a luxury network.
Travel is now even crossing the final frontier. Blue Origin and co. will soon be joined by Spaceship Neptune, an eight-seat capsule complete with a bar that glides 100,000 feet into the sky to the edge of space, a six-hour journey that costs $125,000 per person. Waldon has already put in offers for two $1 million buyouts, and the operator, Space Perspective, reports that all voyages in 2024, the launch year, are sold out.
Space is in demand in all senses of the word. Waldon reports that clients are bulk-booking trips to everywhere from Italy to Montana—sometimes four or five separate trips and destinations via a single inquiry—through 2025, to ensure there’s room for them. “It’s so far ahead it’s often hard to get rates, but we’re just putting holds on,” he says, noting that there’s a new mantra among his wealthiest clients: “Life is precious, nothing is guaranteed, and everything is elevated.”
European Resort: Maybourne Riviera, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France
The owner of London’s beloved Claridge’s and Connaught hotels, among others, has brought its inimitable brand of oh-so-British personalized luxe hospitality (not to mention one of its top managers, Boris Messmer) to the limestone cliffs of the Côte d’Azur.
An international coterie of aesthetic arbiters came together to design the 69 rooms and suites, light and bright and each with a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean; that superstar team included Hong Kong’s André Fu, Irishman Bryan O’Sullivan and Paris-based Pierre Yovanovitch.
Indeed, this property is a refreshingly contemporary retreat on a relatively quiet stretch of coast not far from Italy and Monaco, known for its heritage hotels. The town, once frequented by Coco Chanel and Eileen Gray, is still as fashionable as ever, so pack for a day at the private waterfront club, which is just a short ride down the cliffs in a bespoke beach buggy. Rooms from $1,030
Landmark Conversion: Six Senses Fort Barwara, Rajasthan, India
Rajasthan is replete with royal residences turned ravishing resorts, but the latest luxe lair here is the most over-the-top yet. On a relatively remote hilltop between pink-hued Jaipur and tiger-filled Ranthambore National Park, wellness specialist Six Senses has opened a 48-suite retreat in a sprawling 700-year-old walled fortress, which features not one but two palaces, plus a pair of temples and even its own stepwell.
Thanks to an impeccable, decade-long restoration, the high-ceilinged halls of one palace have become the lobby, while a soaring lookout tower now holds private dining areas for one of the three restaurants, all of which rely on locally sourced ingredients. Six Senses combined the temples and the second palace to create a 30,000-square-foot spa and fitness zone, offering modalities from Ayurveda and meditation to more Western traditions (CrossFit included). Tear yourself away from the spa to savor the palm-planted courtyard gardens and the 82-foot pool, lined with handcrafted mosaic tiles, newly nestled amidst the greenery. Rooms from $920
African Retreat: Sterrekopje, Wine Country, South Africa
This 124-acre farm in South Africa’s winelands is a passion project for Dutch entrepreneur Nicole Boekhoorn and her wife, Fleur Huijskens. The couple consider it more a sanctuary than a hotel, with regeneration the goal—not only in the practices employed at the on-site farm but also for guests, who’ll depart their stay restored and rebooted via a series of treatments, dubbed journeys, ranging from Reiki to intuitive massage. There’s nothing so prosaic as a focus on paperwork at check-in, either. Rather, arrivals involve a cleansing foot bath (there’s wine on ice, too).
Some of the 11 rooms are housed in several low-slung cottages decorated in warm earth tones. Four-poster beds made on Kenya’s Lamu Island dominate most of them, and bathrooms feature an assortment of plunging tubs—particularly charming is one made from an old wine barrel. The owners suggest three- or seven-night stays, better to follow the rituals, though Huijskens isn’t proscriptive. “It’s all a gentle invitation, and no one’s obliged to do anything,” she says. “This is a heart project.” Rooms from $426 per night, plus $1,047 per person for a three-night ritual
Design Hotel: Hôtel des Horlogers, Vallée de Joux, Switzerland
“In the winter, you could ski from the roof on the top floor straight into the valley,” jokes André Cheminade, the GM of the newest addition to the Audemars Piguet campus in Switzerland: its own 50-room hotel. His claim nods to the soaring facade of the property, with zigzagging levels evoking mountain switchback roads, a typical flourish from Danish wunderkind Bjarke Ingels, the architect who designed both this property and the watch brand’s spiral-shaped museum nearby.
The interiors are minimalist but quirky, executed in conjunction with French architect Pierre Minassian—expect oyster-shell-like sculptures, ceiling decorations fashioned from blanched driftwood and corridors that slope gently, an echo of the exterior’s dramatic inclines. The notoriously controlling watchmaker has allowed outsiders, albeit ones with blue-chip names, to helm the restaurants and spa: Emmanuel Renaut is the Michelin three-star chef behind the hotel’s two dining spots, while the spa is operated by high-end local brand Alpeor (look for the edelweiss-scented products that are a particular signature). Rooms from $450
European City Hotel: Matild Palace, Budapest, Hungary
Twin palaces have sat as belle epoque sentries across the road from each other in Budapest for more than 120 years; they were built close to the Danube’s main bridge by an extravagant, architecturally minded archduchess.
Her namesake, the Klotild Palace, is under renovation now, earmarked to reopen as a St. Regis hotel in a few years’ time. The other structure, the Matild Palace, has just emerged from a five-year gut renovation as a 130-room Marriott-operated hotel, the first challenge to the Four Seasons’ longtime stranglehold over luxury hospitality in the city.
The Matild’s interiors are sumptuously maximalist—think blue-and-gold-tiled bathrooms—but the best rooms aren’t the largest suites. Instead, opt for a top-floor river-view loft, with huge sloping windows to enhance the perks of that perch. And yes, that’s a signature Spago smoked-salmon pizza on the menu at the in-house restaurant: Austrian-born Wolfgang Puck’s been lured back from catering the Oscars to helm the culinary offerings here, his first project in his homeland’s onetime empire. Rooms from $480
Outdoor Experience: Finniss River Lodge, Northern Territory, Australia
This six-suite safari-style camp is set to become a pilgrimage-worthy addition to the assortment of luxury lodges around Australia. It’s the culmination of a three-year-long project by the Venturin family, who have converted a piece of their almost 80-square-mile cattle station in the country’s rugged, hard-to-reach Top End into a luxe hideaway: a low-slung, purpose-built structure capped off with an infinity-edge pool.
The Venturins haven’t ditched their herds, though, and instead are juggling both businesses, embedding the resort deep within their working ranch. The approach allows outdoorsy visitors to do everything from on-property wild fishing to helping push a mob of cattle up through the flood plain. Staff can also arrange airboat tours helmed by crocodile conservationist Matt Wright.
The avian life here is exceptional, with high densities of waterbirds, such as magpie geese and pied herons, while the location close to Litchfield National Park affords easy access to rock-art sites accompanied by an indigenous guide—this area has some of the richest collections of such millennia-old work. All-inclusive rates from $890 per person per night for a double room, minimum two-night stay
Island Getaway: Lux* Grand Baie, Mauritius
It was the sailboats of his childhood that inspired Mauritian architect Jean-Francois Adam when he planned this 116-room resort, its swooping curves intended to echo a seaward vessel—in this case, one beached on superb white sands overlooking the namesake bay and its picture-perfect turquoise water, where he spent his teens fishing and sailing.
It’s a welcome addition to Grand Baie, the village on the island’s northern tip that pioneered luxury tourism here in the 1990s. But its lack of infrastructure—the freeway connected the main airport to the area only a decade ago—dulled the Saint-Tropez-inspired luster. This new hotel has helped restore its cachet, with beach clubs such as N’Joy opening nearby.
Don’t let the awkward name be off-putting. This is a refreshingly buzzy spot on an island where most high-end properties rely heavily on their appeal to golfers. Instead, it’s an adult party place, with a nightclub, rooftop bar and a poolside DJ, plus a top-flight gym with a spin room and rooftop running track. If you do come with kids, don’t worry: There are inventive distractions for young ones and teens, from ice-cream making to DJ lessons. Rooms from $521
Art Hotel: Naoshima Ryokan Roka, Naoshima, Japan
It was a complaint from a local carpenter on Japan’s art-powered island Naoshima that gave ryokan operator Shintaro Sasaki the idea. Ever since collector Soichiro Fukutake installed his haul of high-grade art in the Chichu Art Museum there in 2004, visitors had flocked to see it; the only luxury overnight perch, though, was the billionaire’s own hotel, the sleekly modern Benesse House. That woodworker carped that no establishment offered foreigners the chance to immerse themselves in traditional Japanese hospitality, known as wa.
Sasaki determined to remedy that—and the result is his just-opened 11-room luxury ryokan. Guest quarters have tatami mats and open-air soaking baths, while the entire property nods to its Naoshima location with an assortment of contemporary art arranged throughout. Though the works at Benesse are merely on exhibit, some pieces here will be offered for sale, with an emphasis on local, lesser-known Japanese artists whom Sasaki is keen to showcase to a broader audience.
The full-board rates include kaiseki-style suppers, mostly relying on fish from the nearby Seto Inland Sea, and Sasaki hopes that guests will gather at the outdoor hearth after the evening meal to share stories. Rooms from $340
US Hotel: Bishop’s Lodge, Auberge Resorts Collection, Santa Fe, New Mexico
This 100-room retreat is set on 317 forest-side acres, land that once belonged to the bishop of Santa Fe (hence the name) and later the Pulitzer family; it’s well located close to downtown but with canyon tours and fly-fishing easily accessible, too. The lure of Bishop’s Lodge, though, isn’t its location per se but rather the property itself. It’s a thoughtfully operated, self-contained destination that most guests won’t ever feel compelled to leave.
The rooms and suites are decorated in a modern desert decor—call it pueblo minimalism—and most have their own kiva fireplace. Creative programming here engages deeply with all things Santa Fe: Options include private, hands-on sessions with local experts in art, Native American healing, botany and more, with an on-site gallery showcasing a roster of artists-in-residence and an equestrian center that offers trail rides and lessons in “cowboy skills.” The “Chile Host” who’ll greet diners with a basket of peppers and spicy oils is a witty, locally minded touch, too. Rooms from $799
South American Retreat: Luz, José Ignacio, Uruguay
The tiny fishing village of José Ignacio in Uruguay has earned a reputation as South America’s answer to the Hamptons, a glitzy getaway that’s heavily populated by moneyed vacationers from Buenos Aires. It’s both startling and refreshing to see the contrast just 10 minutes’ drive inland at Luz. With its discreet, laidback-luxury vibe and vineyard setting, the property feels more like the North Fork, the quieter corner of Long Island that stands in contrast to the Hamptons.
The six-suite terra-cotta hotel is tucked away on 35 acres of olive groves and Merlot, Tannat and Tempranillo vines and has the ambience of a private winery estate leased to a few folks at a time. Days are spent lounging by the heated infinity pool, sipping G&Ts at the gin bar on the deck or exploring the property’s trails on horseback or mountain bike.
Meals are meant for sharing—don’t miss one of the 24-seat communal pop-up dinners regularly hosted by chef Martín Milesi of London’s hit restaurant Una. Rooms from $300
Wellness Resort: Joali Being, Maldives
The Blue Mind thesis posits that water is good for us, body and soul—and so it’s a wonder that the Maldives, a nation of roughly 1,200 islands, hasn’t had a resort that can truly claim to put wellness at its heart. At least, until now.
Joali Being’s 68 beach and ocean villas—each assigned a jadugar, or butler—were built using biophilic design principles that bring the tranquility-inducing textures and colors of nature indoors. This is a resort that’s equal parts medi-spa and five-star hideaway: Expect mindful movement classes, sweat sessions in the Russian-style banya, energy-rebalancing treatments and plant- and sea-based meals. Novel experiences, such as a palm-shaded trail that leads to an outdoor sound-bathing space lined with gongs, chimes and bells, capitalize on the resort’s spectacular setting on the 28-acre island of Bodufushi. Even better, Joali Being breaks the destination’s honeymooners-only stereotype and caters to solo travelers in search of transformation with 5- to 21-day retreats. Rooms from $2,035, five-night minimum
US City Hotel: Four Seasons New Orleans, Hotel & Private Residences, New Orleans
This 341-room property has brought a new level of luxury to a city whose reputation for hospitality strangely wasn’t synonymous with five-star service. It cost over $500 million to renovate the 1967 World Trade Center building, and there was a deliberate attempt to make sure this renewal project benefited—and connected with—the surrounding community.
Locally made and sourced art abounds; one of the treatments in the spa was inspired by the New Orleans–born Sazerac cocktail; and the hotel pool—the largest in town—is shaped like a crescent to mirror the Mississippi River, which you can spot from its deck. The in-house restaurants are helmed by two celebrated NOLA chefs: Donald Link, leaning into the Gulf Coast state’s seafood bounty, and Alon Shaya, offering regional classics.
When you want to explore, the hotel can arrange elevated experiences, such as private streetcar rides and jazz concerts. Or just stroll the surrounding riverside neighborhood, which has been rebounding from a shabbier era thanks in part to the city’s efforts and to the hotel’s splashy arrival last August. Rooms from $395
Ones to Watch: Luca Franco, Behzad Larry and Byron Thomas
As travel looks to the future—keener than most industries to forget the recent past—it will rely on fresh thinking and convention-busting talents to propel it forward. Luca Franco (left), Behzad Larry (middle) and Byron Thomas (right)
are all helping shape that path with the goal of minimizing environmental imprint and maximizing community impact. Franco, founder and CEO of Luxury Frontiers, cringes at the term “glamping,” preferring to describe his firm’s camps, intended to re-create the African safari experience around the globe, as “experiential lodging.” With projects such as Nayara Tented Camp in Costa Rica, Camp Sarika by Amangiri in Utah and the upcoming Naviva, an outpost at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita in Mexico, the company builds with locally sourced materials, employs local partners and designs around the existing landscape. Naviva’s tents, for instance, are designed to look like butterflies flying in the jungle canopy. “Creating a connection to nature, community and culture is the driving motivation behind my business,” he says.
Snow leopards are among the most difficult animals to spot in the wild, but travel with Voygr and you’re all but guaranteed to see one: Larry’s Central Asia–focused tour firm has a 100 percent success rate. Its commitment to the cats isn’t just for fleeting photos; Voygr’s goal is to demonstrate to locals, who often kill snow leopards because they prey on livestock, that the animals can create “value” through tourism jobs and dollars. The company runs mobile camps that are light on the land but positively impact nearby human populations. “When you build a remote tourism model employing locals and making sure there’s a clear conservation benefit, you hit that magic stride,” says Larry.
When Niarra launched in the chaotic year of 2020, the London-based travel company’s aim was always to put purpose first. Unlike traditional tour operators, which take at least a 20 percent commission on bookings, it committed to just a 10 percent cut, expressly to help finance the protection of wilderness areas and their communities. “It enables us to get more money to the destinations that sorely need it and to look after the ever-dwindling places we love visiting,” says Thomas, who grew up in South Africa and has made the continent a particular focus for his firm’s first phase.
His approach has earned him backing from the sustainability-focused Oppenheimer Generations, an umbrella of investment firms run by the namesake diamond-magnate family, and he hopes to inspire other companies to follow his lead—even a 5 percent cut in commission, Thomas says, can free up major funding to plow back into everyday life in the far-flung places his high-end journeys spotlight.