A world away from winter


The Landing, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Small and accessible only by boat, Harbour Island is one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean. It belongs to the Bahamas but it is as different to Nassau as can be, with traditional brightly painted timber-clad houses and pink-sand beaches. The Landing is a wonderfully discreet example of colonial architecture with beautiful rooms, a pool, a restaurant that is a real draw, all topped off by a renowned wine cellar. HY

Doubles from $200; www.harbourislandlanding.com

The Atlantis Hotel, Barbados

For me, Barbados is the most charismatic island in the Caribbean, and it’s blessed with plenty of daily direct flights as well as year-round sunshine. Head to the wild eastern coast to escape the package tourists at this eight-room hideaway, which opened last year. A gracious wood and coral-stone house is perched above the sea on tiny Tent Bay. It’s relaxed, charming and, as you would expect from a property related to the island’s acclaimed Fish Pot restaurant, the food is astonishing with a fantastic range of local produce going into the menu. I’d warmly recommend the pickled sea-cat (octopus), pepperpot stew and breadfruit cheesecake. JL

Doubles from $300; www.atlantishotelbarbados.com

Laluna, Grenada

This is a place where you forget time, routine and protocol, and focus instead on the natural beauty of these volcanic Caribbean Islands. It’s not a surprise to discover that La Luna is the vision of an intrepid Italian; they seem to have a knack for places such as this. Bernardo Bertucci arrived here 10 years ago and fell in love with the island, and the fact that it was not as commercial as others in the Caribbean. The hotel’s 16 cottages have verandas and private plunge-pools. They blend into the verdant green of the surrounding jungle and sit above a beach that is hidden to all but guests. HY

Doubles from $660; www.laluna.com

Fond Doux, St Lucia

This is St Lucia at its best. The Fond Doux is a 250-year-old plantation looking out to the peaks of the Pitons, where 10 simple cottages and a lush tropical garden provide a secluded retreat. Still producing cocoa, it’s one of the oldest working plantations in the Caribbean and its dense tropical gardens of trees, fruits and flowers provide a glorious scent all year round. Owners Eroline and Lyton Lamontagne spent 10 years restoring the derelict site into the haven it is today, complete with a three-tiered cascading pool. It’s ideal for those in search of privacy and an authentic experience of St Lucia and is a different world from the slick hotel resorts that line the coast. MC

Doubles from $220; www.fonddouxestate.com


Hotel Esencia, Yucatan, Mexico

This is a peaceful hotel with white-on-white rooms, delicious seafood and an organic spa. The hotel is the former holiday home of the Italian Duchess of Ferrari who fell in love with the warm turquoise sea of Xpu-Ha some 30 years ago. It is set in a 50-acre estate of perfectly manicured lawns surrounded by jungle, fronted by a dazzling white beach. Hotel Esensia’s 30 rooms are a fusion of Caribbean colours, Mayan heritage and sleek modernity and, more importantly, a world away from the larger resorts of Playa del Carmen. Its Sal y Fuego restaurant is one of Mexico’s best, and the spa offers open-air massage rooms, herb-scented steam rooms and jacuzzis. MC

Three-night packages for two from $1,668; www.hotelesencia.com

Posada del Faro, José Ignacio, Uruguay

When we are in the deep, dark depths of winter in the north, on the coast of Uruguay they are in full summer mode. Buenos Aires doesn’t have a great coastline, so all the local people head across the border and up the coast to Punta del Este, where the beaches are more like Cape Cod than South America, and remain completely unspoilt. About 30km beyond it is Jose Ignacio, a sleepy little town which became famous recently as the home of Martin Amis. The 15-room Posada is 40m from the beach and mixes a beach-shack flavour with comfort and luxury – white walls, white linen sofas, rugged floorboards and bamboo sun shelters. HY

Doubles from $240; www.posadadelfaro.com

Estancia Vik, Punta del Este, Uruguay

During Punta del Este’s lively and extremely short peak season (December to January), this hedonistic hotspot becomes a magnet both for lean, tousle-haired surfers and Cavalli-clad millionaires, who flock to its flawless beaches and glittering late-night scene. It’s all very St Tropez, and ideal if you love to people-watch in the sun. After mingling with the cool crowd, head to Estancia Vik for some splendid isolation. This innovative, all-white, art-adorned dream home is the creation of a half-Norwegian, half-Uruguayan mogul with a fondness for privacy, modern design and chargrilled meat. Opened last year, each of the 12 suites has been designed and decorated by a local artist. If your interests include polo, barbecues, modern art, outdoor pursuits or just soaking in the sunshine, you’ve come to the right-place. JL

Doubles from $500; www.estanciavikjoseignacio.com

Uxua Casa, Bahia, Brazil

Situated in the centre of the picturesque Bahian fishing village-turned-boho-hangout of Trancoso, are the colour-splashed thatched cabins of Uxua Casa, which opened last year. Designed and built in collaboration with local craftsmen working largely with traditional materials and techniques, it offers all the five-star luxe you’d expect from a hotel at this level, but blends it with a refreshingly low-key and laid-back atmosphere. The beachside lounge, between the water and the mangroves at the confluence of the Trancoso River, is the perfect place to attack the cocktail menu while watching sea turtles raise their heads above the waves. JL

Doubles from R1,350 (£495); www.uxua.com

Pacuare Lodge, Siquirres, Costa Rica

This is a truly idyllic jungle lodge in the heart of the rainforest. Access is by raft only so it’s not for the faint-hearted. The lodge sits on a bend in the river, surrounded by gorgeous tropical flowers and exotic birds. Each of its beautifully designed palm-thatched wooden cabins has luxurious bathrooms, beds draped with mosquito nets, a 360-degree rainforest view and is lit only by candles at night. Sip caipirinhas before dinner and enjoy sophisticated cuisine served under the moon. You will wake up to monkeys swinging in the trees and hummingbirds flitting outside your window. MC

Doubles from $417 (based on a three-night stay); www.pacuarelodge.com


La Residence, Franschhoek, South Africa

With hardly any time difference, South Africa makes the perfect winter-sun break for Europeans: a warm climate and no jet lag to prevent you enjoying it. On the beautiful Garden Route, La Residence in Franschhoek is one of my all-time favourite places to stay. It reopened last year and is luxuriously comfortable, with a home-from-home quality that explains its star-studded guest book. Luxury means different things to different people – facilities, space, service – but the treat of having a bathroom as big as the bedroom must be a big plus point in anyone’s books. JL

Doubles from R8,200 (£735); www.laresidence.co.za

Birkenhead House, Hermanus, South Africa

An hour and a half outside Cape Town, Hermanus is famous for its whale watching, and if you are lucky while you are having breakfast on the terrace outside Birkenhead House you might see an enormous adult whale jumping out of the water. The hotel, on a cliff top overlooking two beaches, has 11 luxurious rooms which are light and airy but with grand pieces of antique furniture. HY

Doubles from R5,230 (£466); www.birkenheadhouse.com

The Majlis, Lamu, Kenya

Just a few footsteps from the sea, The Majlis enjoys one of the best positions in the Lamu archipelago. There is plenty to do for those looking for an active holiday including windsurfing, diving and water skiing on Shela Beach, and for those wanting to enjoy a little laziness there are two shaded swimming pools just a hop and skip from the sea. All of the 25 rooms are large with views across the ocean and beautiful interiors. LT

Doubles from €480; www.themajlisresorts.com

Dar Zemora, Marrakech, Morocco

One of my favourite hotels, Dar Zemora sits in a rose-filled garden just 15 minutes from the bustle of the Marrakech medina. Of the five rooms, I love the vast Zahara Suite, which has its own terrace looking across the pool, where you can enjoy breakfast and a mint tea in the afternoon. For additional privacy book the Pavilion Pool Suite, which is a house in the garden sleeping four with its own dining terrace and private heated pool. LT

Doubles from £175; www.darzemora.com

Adrere Amellal, Siwa, Egypt

This hotel is like no other. Built into the side of a sandstone mountain, its windows open on to a shimmering lake, an oasis surrounded by desert. The perfect escape from hectic lives, this is a true eco-haven with no electricity, no TV, nowhere even to charge your mobile phone. It is a place of wild beauty, with the 40 rooms all different and equally remarkable. One is so big you could lose yourself in it, another has doors on to a balcony where a second bed awaits in case you wish to sleep outside. There’s a large pool, too, and the daily excursions into the desert are unmissable. MC

Doubles from $605 full board; www.adrereamellal.net


The Villa Bentota, Sri Lanka

In the 1970s Geoffrey Bawa, one of the island’s most celebrated architects, converted this former plantation villa into the island’s first boutique hotel. Over time and successive redecorations (the latest in 2008), it has become a classic. The present owner is an interiors retailer who has lavished even more attention on the place and transformed it into a chic, 15-room seaside resort with more glamour, space and style. The two acres of lawns are shaded with coconut and frangipani and there’s a slate-lined pool. The beach is a just a few minutes’ walk away. MC

Doubles from $280; www.villabentota.com

Mihirgarh, Rajasthan, India

After 12 years of work, the owners finally put the finishing touches to this fantasy fort in the Thar Desert, close to Jodhpur, at the end of last year. The nine suites are bright and spacious with Rajasthani antiques, vivid decorative art, mirrored open-fire chimneys, ochre-stone bathrooms and plunge or spa pools on each private veranda. The hotel has its own paddocks and stables which gives guests the freedom to ride the beautiful Marwar horses whenever they want. MC

Doubles from £207 full board; www.mihirgarh.com

Neeleswhar Hermitage, Kerala, India

The dozen private cottages on this 12-acre estate sit amid a coconut plantation and hillside spice gardens, and next to miles and miles of unspoilt, deserted beaches. All have their own verandas and bathrooms with private courtyards, but the sea-view cottages are the pick of the crop. LT

Doubles from Rs12,600 (£177); www.neeleshwarhermitage.com

The Amala, Seminyak, Bali

The eco-friendly Amala is a new small, luxurious and exceptionally private hotel in Seminyak which consists of 12 villas – 11 one-bedroom and one three-bedroom. The bedrooms of the “spa villas” lead out on to a large decking area with private plunge pool, making it far too easy to stay put all day long, especially since there is a complimentary minibar (restocked daily) as well as fresh fruit and homemade cookies. Delicious organic dishes and healthy juices are just a phone call away and come freshly prepared from the hotel’s restaurant. If you can bear to tear yourself away from the privacy of your villa you are just a short walk away from beautiful sandy beaches, not to mention shops and nightlife. LT

Doubles from $235; www.theamala.com

Soneva Kiri, Koh Kood, Thailand

Koh Kood is Thailand’s second largest island (Phuket is the first) but unlike Phuket it is practically unknown. Situated in the Gulf of Siam, it is virtually uninhabited and completely unspoilt. Soneva Kiri leaves behind all established notions of a hotel. There is a widescreen outdoor cinema built into an old quarry, a massive spa complex that snakes its way through a mangrove, a fleet of boats available for diving, snorkelling, exploring and excursions, a state of the art gym in a treehouse overlooking the sea. The list goes on. HY

Doubles from $1,200; www.sixsenses.com

Hotel gurus: the panel

Herbert Ypma is the author of the Hip Hotels series of books and founder of www.hiphotels.com

James Lohan is the co-founder of Mr & Mrs Smith, which publishes guides to luxury hotels and www.mrandmrssmith.com

Michael Cullen is the editor of boutique hotel website www.i-escape.com

Lulu Townsend is the founder of Chic Retreats, www.chicretreats.com

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