What a conundrum. Here at Audley we’re fortunate to work with many standout hotels, safari camps, ecolodges and B&Bs all over the world, so whittling them down to just nine was a tall order for our specialists. In the end, we’ve noticed a couple of recurring themes.
Firstly, the properties for which we get consistently good feedback are often those that offer activities allowing you to explore the culture, history and traditions of the local area, often with expert guides. At the same time, these places have also created an environment conducive to slowing down and relaxing. Then there’s the fact that many of these properties seem rooted to their area, whether they’re built from sustainable, native materials or support local people in some way.
From sumptuous island retreats to B&Bs oozing with eccentricity, and from lodges secreted in remote jungle to sleek city-centre establishments, here (in no particular order) is what we came up with.
Shergarh, Kanha, India
Every year, Katie and Jehan, the owners of Shergarh, come over from India and go for lunch with our India specialists to share their latest developments. We’ve been working with them since they first built their camp in a scruffy eucalyptus plantation back in 2004, and have watched it develop into one of our favourite safari experiences.
There are just six canvas-walled tents peeking out from the trees, each with a bathroom that wouldn’t look out of place in a top-class hotel. There’s a private, cushioned veranda behind each tent, which opens out onto dappled sal forest. You’ll wake up to the hum of crickets, and take a nightcap surrounded by glimmering fireflies.
Kanha National Park is prime tiger territory. You can spend your days venturing into the jungle with one of Shergarh’s experienced naturalists, peering through the trees from the back of a 4×4. While the tigers tend to attract the attention, there’s a supporting cast of wild boar, dhole (wild dog), sloth bears and more than 300 bird species.
Hotel Sol y Luna, Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru
Time spent in the Sacred Valley is rarely sedate: you’re most likely zooming around gazing at Inca sites, hiking their steeply sculpted terraces in search of a view. Or mountain biking. Or maybe pootling around local markets, testing your haggling mettle.
Part of the beauty of Sol y Luna, close to the village of Urquillos and a short drive from Ollantaytambo, is that it lends itself to activity. You can use it as a base for exploring the Sacred Valley, or take part in the flurry of experiences offered on site. Think horse riding with native Paso Fino breeds, live horse shows (while you lunch), and cooking classes teaching Andean classics such as lomo saltado (marinated sirloin) and quinoa soup.
But there’s also something inherently restful about this place. Around its tiled adobe casitas, which house the guestrooms, are well-tended grounds brimming with magenta bougainvillea, hummingbirds and fruit trees. There’s a pool with a terrace looking onto the dun-coloured mountains opposite, as well as a spa that makes use of local Andean herbs in its treatments. So, it’s also an ideal place for kicking back and doing nothing at all.
An added reason we like to go back again and again: the hotel channels some of its profits into the Asociación Sol y Luna, which works to improve the quality of and access to education for Sacred Valley children.
Oberoi Mauritius, Mauritius
Mauritius has luxury hotels aplenty, but there’s one particular resort that our beach specialists clamour to stay at: Oberoi Mauritius. Manager Dhiren Pereira has been working at the hotel for more than ten years, and has an infectious enthusiasm for his job that shines throughout the hotel.
From the beach, you can just make out the resort’s thatched villas, which are tucked among well-tended tropical gardens. The private pool villas are particularly lavish, with a marble bathroom, private open-air dining pavilion and your own pool. From the flower petals floating in your bath to the bowl of fruit arranged on your dresser, every little detail has been attended to.
Every day there’s a complimentary experience to try, intended to showcase the island’s charms. You can in a Hindu blessing ceremony in a local village or rum tasting — the hotel are continuously experimenting with new flavours. There’s a wide range of water sports available, and sybarites can spend languid days being pampered in the spa.
Cape Grace, Cape Town, South Africa
One of the most prestigious addresses in Cape Town, the Cape Grace appears time and time again as one of our specialists’ all-time favourite hotels. The 120-room property, with its large windows and stone archways, exudes a feeling of grandeur as soon as you set eyes on it. Located on its own private quay between the V&A Waterfront and a peaceful marina lined with yachts, it offers easy access to the city’s main attractions.
Once inside, you’ll want for nothing. The service here is exceptional and highly personal while still feeling low-key. Port and sherry is served in the library each evening, complimentary shuttles can take you anywhere within a 10 km (6 mile) radius, and daily activities are offered to children, from gingerbread making to African storytelling.
Spend languid afternoons in the spa, where you can indulge in a signature Kalahari massage, or rejuvenate in the sauna. In the evening, head to the hotel’s Signal Restaurant overlooking the waterfront. Here, as the sun sets, you can sample morsels from the seasonal tasting menu paired with wine or whisky, or select a dish from the à la carte menu, washed down with a cocktail.
Nihi Sumba Island, Indonesia
It seems that Nihi Sumba Island isn’t just one of our favourites: it’s just been voted the best hotel in the world (for the second year running) by Travel + Leisure readers.
Eleven individual abodes (they’re much more than hotel rooms) have been built into the coastline of a remote Indonesian island, backed by an untouched jungle wilderness. Each one is a complex of open-air lounges, bedrooms and bathrooms built around a private pool. Mamole Tree House, built around a tree trunk, has the most arresting design, with bamboo-canopy walkways connecting each living area.
You’ll dine on freshly-caught seafood and locally grown produce, served in one of the open-air restaurants, on the beach, in your room — wherever you like. This tailored service is what really clinches it for us. Your day will be filled with bespoke experiences that suit your interests, including a visit to the on-site chocolate factory, horse riding along the beach or a lesson in local ikat weaving. If that’s all too much, spa staff are on hand to create a made-to-measure spa schedule.
The hotel doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s located in one of the poorest areas of Indonesia. Owners Claude and Sean established the Sumba Foundation to support the community, as well as employing and training local staff. By staying at Nihi Sumba you’ll be supporting the foundation, and have the chance to learn about the traditions of the Sumbanese people.
El Remanso, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Don’t be surprised if the pool area at El Remanso is frequently deserted. Set high on a platform blending in with the surrounding rainforest, the hazy blue of the Pacific visible in a gap in the canopy, it occupies an attractive spot. It’s just that most guests are out enjoying the self-guided nature walks that loop around the lodge’s private reserve, or joining expert guides on birdwatching tours to spot toucan, scarlet macaws and white-crested coquettes (for starters).
Others might be hiking to reach the wild, surf-scourged beach that lies about 30 minutes away, rewarding themselves with a bathe in its tidal pools. Or they might simply be out exploring the lodge’s suspension bridges, waterfalls and wildlife viewing platforms.
The Osa Peninsula has long been a favourite destination of Audley travellers to Costa Rica: remote and undeveloped yet relatively accessible via flights and 4×4 transfers, it’s where the country’s biodiversity is at its most potent.
We like that El Remanso helps guests access the fauna and avifauna of the peninsula as extensively as possible, even offering guided night hikes to spot daylight-shy animals such as the kinkajou (honey bear). But this ecolodge also encourages you to simply pause and take it all in, swinging in the hammock on your balcony or (in some rooms) soaking in your own splash pool as the bird calls ring out all around you.
Cheshire Cat Inn, Santa Barbara, USA
Situated in downtown Santa Monica, the Cheshire Cat Inn is a friendly B&B filled with character: a welcome contrast to LA’s large chain hotels. Owners Christine and Jack purchased the Victorian-era property in 1984, opening it to the public a year later. For us, their hospitality and attention to detail is what sets this B&B apart.
Being native to Cheshire, England — also the former home of Lewis Carroll — Christine decided to give the inn an Alice in Wonderland theme. Many of the 18 rooms, suites and cottages are named after characters from the story, while others bear the names of Cheshire villages. Spread across several buildings, they’re individually decorated, with some containing original fireplaces, Jacuzzi baths or private decks.
The gardens surrounding the property burst with flowers, shrubs and old oak trees. In the morning, Christine and Jack will prepare a breakfast buffet comprising a range of cereals, meats, cheeses and daily specials such as sweet potato and spinach frittata. They also hold a Social Hour each evening featuring wine tastings paired with hors d’oeuvres.
Disclosure: Most of our property, service & product reviews are sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own & are in no way influenced by any sponsor.