My 2019 highs and lows of luxury travel

After 2018, where we played a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-map and ended up wherever it landed, 2019 was meant to focus on the best of the rest.  What I didn’t realise was that the rest weren’t always running in the same lane.  In fact, sometimes they were running in the opposite direction, down the motorway, heading into a school bus.  Still, it wasn’t all so bad.

Favourite non-London city hotel

My hatred of cities continues, but my love of city hotels is starting to blossom.  Aman Tokyo has gone from rubbish, to brilliant and now near perfect.  I love it.  Much to my chagrin, Four Seasons George V really is as good as everyone said, so the wisdom of crowds lives on – as long as we’re ignoring Trip Advisor.

Winner: Aman Tokyo

Runner-up: Four Seasons George V

Four Seasons George V

Best bargain

I scoured over the list and thought about deleting this entry, but figured I owe it to the entire world to stay true to myself.  There was nothing that was cheap, but in terms of offering a bargain there is really only one contender.  Excellent facilities, a beautiful setting, spacious and luxurious rooms are all great, but this hotel threw in a whole bunch of free: breakfast, morning drinks to your room, laundry and ironing, wellness activities, minibar, midday snacks and afternoon tea.  They needed a print out to show everything.  Normally I see resorts listing benefits such as wifi, staff and a flushing toilet, so these are legitimate benefits.

Winner: Chable

Chable

Best beach resort

Fresh in my memory, but deserved winners.

Winner: The Nautilus

Runner-up: Joali

Best experience

If I didn’t say my wedding, I’d really get in a lot of trouble.

Winner: Park Hotel Vitznau

Best Surprise

I had little expectation.  Bulgari is a solid, yet not spectacular choice in both Milan and London.  So I thought I knew what was to come.  They have upped their game here significantly; so much so, that I would actually hire one of their villas and make that a holiday, rather than using Dubai as the normal stopover.

Winner: Bulgari Dubai

Runner-up: Bastide de Gordes

Bulgari Dubai

Best meal

Their Michelin star chef presented us a menu and a notepad to write down our thoughts.  We handed back empty plates with an empty notepad.  The wedding meal was perfect, and apparently the 10pm feast was too – I was just too late to enjoy any of it.  I certainly heard more compliments about the food than I did about the wedding.

Winner: Park Hotel Vitznau

Runner-up: Royal Champagne

Biggest culinary disappointment

A birthday ruined at the incompetence of everyone in the hotel was icing on the decrepit cake.  Having said that, La Reserve Ramatuelle does deserve an honorary mention for their concierge’s ill-found attempt at recommendations.  Somehow, being in a hotel with exceptionally good food, they convinced both ourselves and another guest to take their shuttle into town and eat in truly one of the worst restaurants I’ve ever been to – and this is in France!  French school cafeterias serve better food than most Heads of State get to enjoy.  The other couple walked slower than us, so we were already sat down by the time they arrived.  They took one look at the place, pretended they never had a booking and just kept walking.  We had to experience what Moulin Rouge would be like if it fell on hard times and hired the contestants from Love Island and the cast of Last of the Summer Wine.

Winner: Soneva Jani

Runner up: La Reserve Ramatuelle

Best service recovery

Confusion struck and in between 2 companies deciding who was taking us to the airport, in the end neither of them showed up.  So after sitting around and waiting for 20 minutes the GM decided he’d act: he would drive us.  I suspect this will be the first and last time a GM becomes our chauffeur.

Winner: Chabel

Biggest improvement

I tried to avoid repeat visits this year, but could not help but return to a few old pals.  We had a poor experience at Park Hotel Vitznau last year, which worried us for our wedding, but it all came together perfectly.

Winner: Park Hotel Vitznau

Best country

Winner: Maldives

Best newly opened hotel

It had barely been open 6 months by the time I visited.  That’s not enough time for me to change my bed sheets, but was clearly enough time for them to perfect a hotel.

Winner:  The Farmstead

The Farmstead

Best overall hotel

Winner: The Nautilus

Biggest disappointment

This goes to show how much can change in a year.  2016 was mixed, 2018 was great, 2019 disappointed.

Laucala.  Oh, Laucala.  Our honeymoon.  Of course the expectations were high, but 6 months on and it still bothers me that something that should have been so magical left a bitter taste.  The island has had better days and I would not be surprised if there are few ahead for it.  Everything looked tired or was broken.  We go out on some jet skis: they break.  We went out on a sunset cruise: it broke down.  Bikes: the breaks were broken.  Want to use their submarine?  Broken and a complete write-off.  The service rapidly deteriorated as fast as the engineers reputation.  Even the horses broke, as I fell off and clearly I’m perfect, so definitely not my fault.

They did do a wonderful job the first 4 or 5 days, but once we extended to stay 10 nights in total, it’s like they gave up.  Everything that I complained about in 2016 came back with a vengeance and the issues mounted.

Winner: Laucala

Laucala

Worst hotel

Sadly, a few to pick from.  I could pick a large number, but I think at the absolute basic a hotel should keep you warm.  I’m not even talking a luxury hotel; I’m sure even those caves where Al-Qaeda hang out have heating installed.

Hoshinoya is basically Gora Kadan, but in Tokyo.

Winner:  Jawai

Runner-up: Hoshinoya

Worst country

Winner: Ireland.  It never stops raining.

Worst return visit

Winner: Laucala.  

Worst service recovery

A free stay is worthless when the place you’re going to is worthless.

Winner: Soneva Jani.

Biggest disappointing stay at a newly opened hotel

I had such high hopes here.  After all, this is the owner of The Connaught – my most frequented hotel.  Yet I came away not only preferring every other hotel we stayed in during our France trip, but disappointed.  There was something sterile about the place; something that didn’t seem to add up; something missing.  My wife will say that she enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel the same and every time I think of it I remember that fish that tasted like it overdosed on salt.  It does not take much for me to dislike somewhere, but a huge amount for me to love it.  Here, I feel so apathetic to it, that I don’t have any hate.  

Winner: Villa La Coste

Conclusion

It’s hard to compare to 2018, as the variety was not present this year.  What is clear is that finding where to go next will remain the challenge.  What’s interesting is how the most expensive properties genuinely lead to the highest level of disappointment.  I’ve tried to be cost neutral and ignore it as a parameter, so perhaps it’s coincidence, or perhaps I’m Scoorge and will never let it go.

What were your favourites?  

8 Comments

  1. I was very much looking forward to this blog post! Well done. Looks like i am saving money and not going to Laucala after all! My husband and our bank account thanks you!

  2. Agree on Park Hotel Vitznau. Had the privilege of stays in 2018 and 2019 during the month of September and positively loved it. Already planning our return in 2020.

    The surprise of the year was Villa Lario on Lake Como. Small luxury hotel with only 6 suites. Right on the shores of the lake and one of the most peaceful stays of our trip.

  3. Kristof Eyckmans

    Nice to get a quick recap of the highs and lows. It saves a good chunk of time for the lazy readers though they would miss out on your great writing skills and ever present sarcasm which is a shame.
    My highlights were the Royal Malewane (visited the Farmstead when they had 2 more months of building to go so only got a sense of what it would become), Tswalu Kalahari and Delaire Graff. Visiting &Beyond Sandibe in the Okavango next week and hope it will live up to its reputation.

    • I’ve tried several times to stay in Delaire Graff, but every time I’m enquiring with such short notice that it’s always full. It will remain on the list

      • If available go for the Superior rooms (or higher), it will give you uninterrupted views and they are away from the visitors that come over for wine tastings and that perfect Instagram shot…

  4. For 2-3 days it was very relaxing. We went up to Bellagio for one day and rented a boat on another day. Any more time than that I would have been itching to leave

  5. Al Maha resort in the Dubai desert.
    They had me at unlimited room service cookies & cream ice cream in your own pool in the desert surrounded by gazelles.
    I ordered an extra serving ice cream every-time I asked them to pickup the room service tray.
    It was magical.

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