YOU ARE READING THE CULTURED TRAVELLER - DECEMBER 2019-FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE 28

The Cultured Traveller, December 2019-February 2020 Issue 28 – Rest Your Head

SHINTA MANI WILD Ou Bak Roteh, Cambodia

Cambodia is a vibrant land of incredible sights, scents, flavours and experiences. American architect Bill Bensley is renowned for his hospitality creativity, novel ideas and conceptualising unique hotels for a range of clients spanning the globe. Put these two together and you get Shinta Mani Wild – a super exclusive luxury tented camp, built along a river valley in the Cambodian rainforest within a private nature reserve of more than 300 hectares.Not the easiest place to reach, the adventure begins with a road trip from Phnom Penh (3 hours) or Sihanoukville (2½ hours) followed by 20 minutes in a 4×4 traversing rugged terrain. Once at the perimeter of the resort, adventurous guests are encouraged to take to the skies and whizz into Shinta Mani Wild via a 350 metre zipline over the forest canopy and Tmor Rung River, gliding in to touch down at the “Landing Zone Bar” (which juts out over a waterfall) where an expertly-prepared cocktail awaits. Those who prefer a more conventional arrival can of course opt for a jeep. If this all sounds a little Indiana Jones that’s because it is, but Shinta Mani Wild has been executed with a tasteful eccentricity that only Bensley knows how. Imagine Jackie Kennedy on a jungle safari and you’ll be on the same wavelength as Bensley.

Skilfully combining first class eco-friendly design with some serious conservation goals, guests are accommodated in just 15 lavish tents, spaced sporadically along a long stretch of the river. Each feels like it is the only tent for miles around.

The hefty room rates cover pretty much everything and include all food and drink, a bevy of camouflage-clad butlers at your beck and call, organic treatments in a thatched onsite spa, a multitude of experiences and guided tours and transfers over land from Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville airport. If you’ve ever had a jungle fantasy or fancied yourself as Tarzan for a weekend, Shinta Mani Wild is the place to live it out in wacky yet refined and tasteful luxury.

AMAN KYOTO Kyoto, Japan

For more than a millennium until 1868, Kyoto served as the capital of Japan and the seat of its political, military and religious power. Therefore, the Japan of samurais and geishas, of grand temple complexes and sublime gardens, of mountain backdrops and crystal-clear streams and of cherry blossoms and autumn foliage are all evident in Kyoto, which combines big city sophistication with small town charm. The city’s glorious past and gorgeous nature-filled surroundings are literally waiting to be discovered around every corner, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Joining the brand’s two other upscale properties in Japan, Aman Kyoto opened last month, set in an exquisite secret garden within more than 30 hectares of wild forests at the bottom of the Hidari Daimonji mountain in the forested region of Takagamine.

Aman Kyoto’s incredibly quiet location, in the northern district of the city approximately 60 minutes’ drive from Osaka International Airport, couldn’t be further removed from the tourist-filled temples in the city centre. Yet, probably Kyoto’s most famous site, Kinkakuji Temple’s Golden Pavilion, is just 15 minutes’ walk from Aman Kyoto.

While the hotel grounds are liberally scattered with minimalist pavilions housing 26 spacious guest rooms, an Aman signature spa (where guests can soak in warming, mineral-rich hot spring onsen waters) and two top-notch onsite restaurants, the showstopper here is the gloriously calm and natural setting. Think towering cedar, cherry and maple trees punctuated with wild flowers, winding pathways and bright, green moss. The scenery is nothing short of magical.

If younger guests tire of exploring the secluded grounds (which are part of what was once an artistic community that gave rise to the revered Rinpa school of painting four centuries ago), they can develop their creative talents with letter drawing, flower arranging and origami workshops. It seems that Aman, again, has thought of everything.

MANDARIN ORIENTAL JUMEIRA Dubai, UAE

Now being publicised in dozens of countries by Black Eyed Peas singer and American rapper will.i.am, Dubai’s Expo 2020 is driving growth in the gleaming city-in-the-dessert as the emirate is pushing to complete more than 150,000 new hotel rooms in time to welcome an additional five million visitors expected during ‘The World’s Greatest Show’.

Recently adding 256 rooms and suites to Dubai hospitality inventory is Mandarin Oriental’s first property in the U.A.E., located in the heart of Dubai, literally a stone’s throw from the water’s edge in one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.

Overlooking both the pristine Arabian Gulf and Dubai’s glittering skyline, Mandarin Oriental Jumeira is probably the closest luxury beachfront resort to Downtown Dubai and many of the city’s main attractions. 15 minutes in a taxi from the hotel and you’ll find yourself at the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Opera.

Arriving guests are greeted by door staff attired in standout blue fedoras and frock coats as they enter a massive, forest-inspired lobby, where hundreds of leaf-shaped lights, crafted from hand-blown crystal, are attached to two parallel rows of bronze trees. The sight is striking if not slightly OTT, but since Dubai is all about making an entrance, interior designer Jeffrey Wilkes is on the money. Beyond the lobby, the parallel rows continue outdoors toward the beach with lines of real palm trees. This is an arrival experience like few others in Dubai.

Throughout the property, contemporary layering of patterns and textures, warm woods and marble create a minimalist design, which is balanced by a sumptuous colour palette and peppered with contemporary touches to remind guests that they are in multicultural Dubai.

Complete with a serene spa, five swimming pools, a state-of-the-art fitness centre, a “Movement Studio” featuring the first Outrace equipment in a Dubai hotel, multiple bars and six restaurants, Mandarin Oriental Jumeira offers literally everything a well-to-do globetrotter could possibly need during a stay in the U.A.E.’s most vibrant city.

PERRY LANE HOTEL Savannah, USA

Established in 1733 on a major river in the southeastern United States and positively brimming with Southern charm, Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia and its rich history makes it a simply lovely place to visit.

Renowned for its manicured parks, horse-drawn carriages and mid-19th century pre-war architecture, Savannah’s historic district is filled with cobblestoned squares and beautiful green spaces shaded by old oak trees covered with Spanish moss.

Set in two buildings facing each other across Perry Lane, on the southern side of Savannah’s historic district, the architecture blends in so well that at first glance it’s hard to tell whether they are new builds or renovated properties. But new builds they are, constructed so conscientiously (with the input of local artisans) that the hotel sits completely naturally within its famous surrounds. It took NYC real estate development firm Flank five years of carefully studying the local lifestyle, not to mention an awful lot of research, to get the Perry Lane Hotel just right.

Inside, the decor is warm and residential with a whiff of retro, particularly in the public spaces which abound with comfy leather seating, eclectic artwork and vintage maps.

Upstairs, the 167 crisp and uncluttered guest rooms (including 12 luxurious suites) sport gorgeous beds, Turkish rugs, leather chairs and rain showers. Meanwhile, up on the roof, a plush swimming pool open year-round and “Peregrin” bar boast stunning 360-degree views of the city’s skyline.

The perfect base from which to explore one of America’s most picturesque states makes Perry Lane Hotel a must if you’re touring the USA.

LON RETREAT & SPA Point Lonsdale, Australia

Marked by a traditional lighthouse erected more than a hundred years ago, Point Lonsdale is situated on a rocky outcrop at the south-eastern end of the Bellarine Peninsula in the Australian state of Victoria, 100 km south-west of Melbourne or just over an hour’s drive from the big city.

Boasting everything from rugged coastal bike trails to wineries and five-star lodgings, Melbourne’s western peninsula has stood in the shadow of its eastern cousin (the Mornington) for too long. But in recent years savvy travellers have begun to realise that the Bellarine coastal region has just as much to offer.

At the end of a long, winding driveway, hidden away on a hill by the ocean and set on over 200 acres of rural and conservation land, adult-only Lon Resort & Spa was once an old bed and breakfast until the sixth generation of the Gemes family decided to give the property a dramatic overhaul. The original main building may remain, but the interior spaces have been dramatically revamped.

The sympathetic design of this eco-friendly retreat tastefully brings the great outdoors in, courtesy of floor-to-ceiling windows, a wood-burning stove and smooth concrete which gently contrast with timber ceilings, hand-crafted furniture and a colour palette that reflects the beautiful surrounding farmland. Influenced by the Bellarine, the artwork was produced by a variety of local artists. Wallpapers are inspired by the Wathawurung Aborigines who originally inhabited the area. The gin in the honesty bar is locally produced.

Lon’s seven contemporary suites are liberally scattered throughout the sandstone retreat, each with its own unique, earthy style inspired by its surroundings, named after a type of cloud and decorated with colours taken from the fields, sea and sky. Some have private courtyard gardens while others have two bedrooms. All have a lounge, fireplace, heated flooring, kitchenette, king-sized bed, rain shower, mineral water-fed stone bath, a Weber barbecue and incredible vistas of the peninsula’s rolling dunes. The landscape pretty much persuades you to slow right down, take a load off and pause for thought, which is precisely what Lon’s owners encourage and the environment is perfect for this purpose. Once you’ve stocked the fridge, got the fire going and put on some soothing music, you honestly may never want to leave Lon.

ZURI ZANZIBAR HOTEL Kendwa, Tanzania

While Zanzibar is just a 35 km hop from mainland Tanzania, life on this semi-autonomous archipelago is completely different. Its politics, religion, culture and even the local fare varies from its East African motherland. Zanzibar also pretty much has it all within the bounds of its idyllic islands, not least spectacular scenery and stunning, white sand beaches. It’s a place where visitors can escape, explore or do a bit of both in secluded, intimate and fun surroundings.

Set on the main island of Unguja – 50 km from the airport on a 300 metre stretch of private, sunset-facing beach on the northern west coast – Zuri Zanzibar eco-resort is the Tanzanian archipelago’s first Design Hotels’ member and delivers Afro-chic style with panache.

High-end design is evident everywhere, not least in resort’s 56 suites, bungalows and villas fashioned by Jestico + Whiles. Hidden in a large tropical garden, all are set above the ground, to protect the native flora and fauna, and clustered together in the style of a traditional African village. Dressed in warm, Tanzanian teak and topped with thatched or shingled roofs, each boasts luxe furnishings, indoor/outdoor bathrooms and is within a short walk of the Indian Ocean’s azure waters.

Four bars and three restaurants offer a fusion of European, African, Arabic and Indian cuisines. So many onsite gastronomic options, within the bounds of Zuri’s gorgeous 5-hectare hospitality domain, mean that guests need never leave the resort, let alone think about shoes for the duration of their stay.

THE OBEREI, NEW DELHI New Delhi, India

Despite the fact that India’s capital has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century BCE and has served as the first city of various kingdoms and empires throughout its history, what New Delhi is most famous for today is its shockingly bad and much-publicised pollution. But one of the city’s hotels has taken the dramatic and costly step of ensuring that its in-house guests can breathe freely in the knowledge that its air is clean and harmless.

Set in more than five acres of attractively landscaped gardens off a busy road in one of city’s most fashionable areas, overlooking the 16th century tomb of Emperor Humayun, The Oberoi is a much-storied hospitality landmark, having been welcoming guests for more than fifty years.

Built from the ground up by the group’s owning family, when The Oberoi first opened in 1965, it was the first property in India to offer butlers, 24-hour room service and a 24-hour restaurant. For a time, it was renowned as the poshest place to rest one’s head in the whole of India.

Today, the hotel has been reimagined by way of a major two-year top-to-bottom makeover costing a reputed USD 100 million. The result is a chic, contemporary incarnation of the enduring hotel’s former self, married with a more modern sense of style courtesy of New York-based hospitality designer Adam Tihany.

The number of keys has been reduced from 283 to 220 to provide larger guest rooms with more spacious baths. The Wi-Fi is now lightning fast throughout. Indoor and outdoor pools plus a Zen-like spa offer countless possibilities for relaxation and rejuvenation. Holistic treatments combine aromatherapy, Eastern and Western influences and there is free yoga every morning. And, most importantly from a health perspective, a sophisticated indoor air purification system prevents the entry of harmful air particles into the hotel.

It would be a shame to never visit such a historic city at least once in your lifetime. Now you can stay at luxury lodgings in New Delhi safe in the knowledge that you are breathing the cleanest air possible, while you are indoors at least!

ALEX ZÜRICH, SWITZERLAND

Punctuated by the historic tower of St Peter Kirche dominating its picture postcard skyline, Zürich has been gently buzzing with gradual transformation since the makeover of its former industrial district into a vibrant cultural corner in the west of the city.

Today, Switzerland’s largest and wealthiest metropolis is efficiently run, visually pleasing and more culturally alive than ever before, making it one of Central Europe’s coolest city-break destinations.

However, until recently, it has to be said that the majority of Zurich’s top-end hotels veered towards old school and a tad stuffy. Without naming names, you would have been hard pushed to find a stylish place to stay among the city’s 5-star properties. Thankfully this has now changed with the arrival of uber-cool ALEX, a CampbellGray hotel positioned on Lake Zurich’s western shore in Thalwil, 5 km from the city centre.

It is ALEX’s unique location – sitting directly on the water’s edge – which makes it one of the chicest places to stay in Zürich today. Huge expanses of glass fronting the hotel’s destination Boat House restaurant, terrace and bar, open 365 days per year, make the most of its enviable setting. Here you will find some of the best and most reasonably priced classic fare in Zürich, served morning, noon and night.

Upstairs, London-based designers BradyWilliams – the talented duo behind a number of Corbin & King restaurants – have bedecked the hotel’s 44 generously proportioned studios and penthouses with timber flooring, soft linens, kitchenettes and French doors that open directly onto glorious lake views. Shower rooms are spacious, chic and function perfectly. Black-out blinds electrically glide into place to ensure a restful sleep. Every conceivable mod-con has been built-in but doesn’t feel gimmicky in any way. On the contrary, the overall effect is one of class and sophistication married with a connectivity to the water that may be unsurpassed anywhere else around Lake Zürich.

BVLGARI HOTEL SHANGHAI SHANGHAI, CHINA

In recent years, a number of swishy new hotels have opened in the Paris of the East – the most notable among them being Capella, Edition, Middle House and Amanyangyun – meaning that Shanghai now caters much better to the needs of premium travellers.

Positioned on the scenic banks of Suzhou Creek just a few minutes’ walk from the Bund, Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai is the latest high-end property to throw open its glamorous doors in China’s most cosmopolitan city. With room rates more than double that of its nearest super luxury competitor, Bvlgari’s newest hotel is already attracting China’s mega rich to its hallowed granite, leather and bronze-clad portals.

Occupying six floors towards the top of a 48 storey Italian-designed tower (which is also home to Bvlgari residences), the hotel is linked to the now completely restored 1916-built Neoclassical renaissance former chamber of commerce building. This attachment to a historic Shanghai building cleverly bestows a sense of place upon the slick new hotel.

Elegantly combining a sophisticated palette of creams and ambers with dark timber floors and mirror-glossy black lacquered furniture in its 63 indulgent rooms and 19 exquisite suites, all accommodation soars above the city bridging Shanghai’s historic past with 21st century hospitality design and luxurious facilities. And being the only high-rise in the neighbourhood affords guests unsurpassed views of the Pudong skyline, Bund and surrounding area.

UNITED PLACES MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Often referred to as Australia’s cultural capital and the most European metropolis of the antipodes, it is doing Melbourne a disservice to consider it merely as ‘Australia’s second city’. It may be less known and marginally less populous than Sydney, but the capital of the state of Victoria is a unique and delightfully modern world city complete with a genuinely kind, welcoming heart and an elegant, Victorian charm.

Melbourne combines in one city all the elements that appeal to a seasoned traveller: intriguing streetscapes mixing contemporary design with handsome 19th century terrace houses and glorious art deco landmarks; a world-renowned foodie scene that includes some of the best restaurants you could ever wish to raise a fork in; an established bar culture and exciting nightlife; internationally revered art galleries and covetable designer fashion; shopping destinations which tug insistently on the purse strings and lush parks and sprawling gardens.

While Melbourne boasts a vast range of hotels catering to every type of visitor, few, if any, are truly individual or privately-owned and run. So, to stay at bijou boutique hotel United Places is truly a breath of hospitality fresh air.

Located in South Yarra (one of Melbourne’s most picturesque suburbs), to be a guest at United Places is to enjoy Melbourne like a local, which, as every cultured traveller knows, is the best way to see any city and experience its authenticity.

The brainchild of Melbourne local Darren Rubenstein, who fused his travel, hospitality and design experience to create United Places, this unique property offers its guests a truly personal and curated approach to the services it provides.

With only a dozen beautifully executed suites (including three, two-bedroom penthouses), staying at United Places is a calm, intimate and stylish experience. And returning to such sophisticated, fuss-free lodgings – after a day in the city or an evening out on the town in vibrant Melbourne – feels much like arriving back at the chic home of a well-to-do globetrotting friend.

HÔTEL DES GRANDS BOULEVARDS PARIS, FRANCE

Tucked between the historic Bourse and hip Sentier neighbourhoods in the second arrondissement, on first impressions it seems that Hôtel des Grands Boulevards is located on a street which is way too hectic for a sophisticated stay to be even vaguely possible. Thankfully, we soon discover that the hotel is to be found at the end of a short, discreet passage, out of earshot of the riotous happenings on busy Boulevard Poissonnière.

The latest Parisian lifestyle property from the Experimental Group, Hôtel des Grands Boulevards was built shortly after the French Revolution and was once a cinema before becoming a bourgeois residence and now a boutique hotel brimming with history.

Marrying 18th century Parisian elegance with slightly off-the-wall accents and retro touches, design whizz Dorothée Meilichzon found inspiration in a French queen of old for her interior decor scheme, which sees elegant canopy beds and rustic nightstands paired with bevelled mirrors and velvet headboards in the hotel’s 50 guest rooms.

Ranging in size from cosy “Petit Boulevard” to “Grand Boulevard”, every room offers 300 thread count sheets, vintage-styled Revo radios, VoIP phones for free calls, mirror TVs, espresso machines (de rigueur in Paris), organic coffee and large bathrooms.

Downstairs, a retractable glass ceiling tops the Grand Restaurant where chef Giovanni Passerini revisits the great classics of French-Italian country cooking using local fresh and organic produce. After dinner, head up to the hotel’s hidden rooftop bar, The Shed, to relax with an expertly crafted cocktail away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

KINGS ARMS HOTEL EAST MOSELEY, UK

Containing almost a kilometre of paths and planted sometime between 1689 and 1695 by George London and Henry Wise for William III of Orange, Hampton Court Maze is England’s oldest surviving hedge maze and has been baffling visitors for more than three centuries. Located within Hampton Court Palace in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, the maze is just a small part of more than 60 splendid acres of enchanting gardens which surround the palace and typify this beautifully leafy part of the British capital.

Opposite the Royal Deer Park, adjacent to Hampton Court’s 17th century Lion Gates and backing onto the palace’s world-famous maze, Kings Arms Hotel boasts a storied past, dating back hundreds of years, which is almost as fascinating as its royal neighbour.

Having been a pub, hotel or inn since the early 18th century (if not earlier), the landmark, Grade II listed building is almost certainly the oldest surviving business in the area.

Privately acquired a few years ago and having since undergone an extensive, two-year top-to-toe refurb, the reimagined Kings Arms re-opened earlier this year as a 14-room boutique hotel, incorporating a rather splendid restaurant called The Six, whose menu was conceptualised by fast-rising Michelin-starred chef Mark Kempson (of Kitchen W8 fame) and uses fresh veggies and herbs from Hampton Court Palace’s kitchen garden. Also, on the ground floor, are an inviting lounge, multiple bars and a semi-private dining room for special occasions.

Out front, a spacious, enclosed private terrace – fashioned by landscape designer Christine Wilford – provides ample seating for guests to dine and drink al fresco in the summer months.

Upstairs, given the historic nature of the building, guest rooms naturally differ in size and shape. Some boast bay windows overlooking the terrace to the front, while others gaze upon the famous maze behind the property. All are hung with interesting original works or limited edition prints by a variety of up-and-coming Zimbabwean artists, including Kudzanai Chiurai and May Sibande. Curtains are made from stunning printed botanical and nature-themed velvets courtesy of Boho & Co. Super-comfy beds are made-up with top quality linens, and slick en-suites feature mosaiced rain-showers and full-size Jenny Betts toiletries.

It’s easy to forget that the British capital is surrounded by a multitude of parks and magnificent belts of lush green countryside. Spending a weekend at the Kings Arms Hotel will give you a different perspective on London, which you may just enjoy more than Covent Garden!

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