With travel restrictions holding on account of the ongoing battle against the pandemic, we’re left to reminisce about past trips or plan far ahead, choosing some uncertain date for a future one. In lieu of the real thing, though, those can be pleasant exercises, especially when they involve conjuring a room with a view — whether of the Amalfi Sea or Rio’s Corcovado Mountain — or at least with easy access to a glamorous lobby bar. We asked a range of creative types, some of them regular T contributors, to tell us about their favourite hotel.
Hotel Il San Pietro, Positano, Italy
“Il San Pietro in Positano is one of my go-to places for a weekend getaway. I like to visit either in the late spring or early autumn, though I obviously won’t be going this year. What I love about it is the southern hospitality, which I think is intrinsic to Mediterranean culture — it isn’t stiff or formal, but rather honest and from the heart, and it puts you in relax mode right away. It goes without saying that the hotel itself is also amazing, with views overlooking the bay, the town of Positano and the property’s tiny terrace perched on the rocks that hang over the sea. Still, more than any of that, I like the feel of the place, which is charming and slightly out of step with the times. It has that cinematic Amalfi Coast flair about it, with all these bold colors and contrasts. — FRANCESCO RISSO, creative director, Marni
The Brewery Gulch Inn, Mendocino, California
“The Brewery Gulch Inn is a reclaimed redwood A-frame, spacious but not sprawling, set on a promontory above the wild Pacific in Mendocino, California. It isn’t a slick design palace. It doesn’t have troves of scurrying staff members and a smug, officious concierge. But it is luxurious, in the truest sense — that is to say, going there is like stepping out of the workaday world and into bewitching beauty. I went on my honeymoon in December of 2018 (ah, the Old World!). It was the off-season and there weren’t many other guests. My wife and I arrived after 10 p.m. on a Monday night; our key was waiting for us at the front desk.
In our room, the fireplace was lit and, in a miracle of timing, in front of it sat a tray with bowls of still-hot soup — I believe there were artichokes involved — and warm bread, as well as cheeses, very fresh salads and a bottle of zinfandel from a winery a few miles down the road. It was glorious — perfect, actually. We ate in leather armchairs with woolly throws over our knees, the fire crackling and the windows ajar to the crashing surf and salt air. In the morning, we woke to sun pearling through sea mist, and the air was iridescent and golden all at once. Every day for breakfast the small and kind staff served housemade bread and pastries and various fluffy egg concoctions with perfectly ripe avocados, and then off we went to explore the coastline, or, more inland, the wonders of the redwood forest.
In the evenings, we’d return a bit windblown to find some delicious dinner waiting in the dining room. We’d choose a table near the wide wooden and glass double doors and watch the reflection of the moon on the water. The days went on this way, enchanted and outside of time. The trip home was like waking from a dream I didn’t want to end. Now we are, all of us, trapped in another kind of dream. But someday this shall pass, and when it does we’ll go back to the Brewery Gulch and it will be sublime.” — AYANA MATHIS, author and professor
The Carlyle Hotel, New York, New York
“To get my mother to move to the suburbs from a duplex overlooking Central Park when I was in middle school, my father, who could no longer bear the grueling early morning ritual necessitated by alternate side of the street parking, made a deal: They would spend a weekend each month in a suite at the Carlyle. From the doorway of their bedroom, I’d watch as she readied herself to leave: beige cashmere, pearls, scarlet lipstick, a spritz of Arpège. I had only visited the hotel once, as a child, for lunch with an aunt at Bemelmans Bar, where I fixated on a particularly jaunty male rabbit in the famed murals based on Ludwig Bemelmans’s “Madeleine” book series.
Like my father, this character wore a blazer and smoked. In the late 1970s, once I had moved back to the city for college, the Carlyle became my inside joke: I took my punky entourage for drinks, all of us in black leather. There were frosty glances as our Doc Martins clomped through the polished black marble lobby, with its marigold mohair sofas, but I’d flash an unthreatening smile and, as my father had taught me, press a folded $20 into the palm of the door guy.
In a photo from those days, I’m sitting in a tufted banquette below a Bemelmans giraffe with my Billy Idol-ish boyfriend — Ben? Ted? — my dyed and permed mohawk the color of my white Russian. I remember telling him that JFK and Jackie kept a suite there during Camelot; in response, he belched so loudly that the helmet-haired lady next to us said, “Please!”
As an adult, I can blend into the Carlyle crowd, though I’ll always feel like a bit of an impostor, never native to its effortless chic. Still, it’s where, for decades, I’ve told out-of-towners to meet me for a drink, knowing that cocktails there will stay with them. Since Covid, I sometimes walk there, for exercise, from my apartment downtown. Standing under the awning, I imagine my parents, now long gone, at the Café Carlyle listening to Bobby Short play Cole Porter, then grabbing a nightcap at the bar. One day soon, I remind myself, I’ll be back.” — NANCY HASS, writer at large
The Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan, Egypt
“I grew up going to Aswan, in the south of Egypt, with my sister and my father. The city sits on the Nile River and, during and after pharaonic times, was a frontier town for the Greeks, Romans, Turks and British. It is less known than nearby Luxor but, in my opinion, even more fascinating. We’d stay at the Old Cataract Hotel, right on the eastern bank of the river. It was built at the turn of the last century and has counted Czar Nicolas II, Princess Diana and Agatha Christie as guests. Christie’s 1937 novel “Death on the Nile” is partially set there, and the 1978 film adaptation was shot there, too. I know the building like the back of my hand, as my sister and I would roam around and peek into different rooms while the housekeepers were distracted. My favourite spot is the breakfast room in the restaurant, where the food is laid out beneath a grand domed ceiling and striped archways.” — LAILA GOHAR, chef and artist
Hotel Fasano, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
“My favorite hotel is the Fasano in Rio. I like the Fasano in São Paulo, too — both are incredible and amazingly run — but the Rio one is especially unbelievable for its views and how it’s situated in relation to the geography of the city. It has this rooftop swimming pool, which isn’t the biggest in the world, but that overlooks the beach, and behind you is Corcovado Mountain. I was involved in a project about the Italian-born Brazilian artist Lina Bo Bardi for much of the past six to seven years, and whenever I was in Rio for research, I would stay at the Fasano. It was beyond my budget, but I just didn’t care. “That’s it, I am going to stay there, that’s it,” I would think.
There’s something so particular and understated about it. It’s a five-star hotel, and of course those kinds of places are always incredibly luxurious, but I don’t think most of them have the kind of aura that the Fasano has. When you walk into the cocktail bar, where the staff is dressed in white suits with bow ties, they fix you the most perfect drink. I think it epitomises a sort of ideal of what you hope is on offer in many major cities, but only in Rio do you have the weather, the beach and the unique culture of Brazil.” — ISAAC JULIEN, filmmaker and installation artist
Beit al-Mamlouka, Damascus, Syria
“War and pestilence have kept me from my favourite hotel in the world: the Beit al-Mamlouka in the old city of Damascus. I am a man of simple requirements: I love small hotels, so small, in fact, that there is never a bill, and one signs for drinks in a register by the bar. I love glamorous hotels, where at any moment the dozen or so guests might include an English art dealer, an Italian automobile heiress, a minor royal and a Kuwaiti prince, “the sheikh of chic.” Most of all, I love an air of intrigue.
The Beit al-Mamlouka is all this and more. Its owner, May Mamarbachi, was jailed under Bashar al-Assad for forwarding a cartoon of the dictator in flagrante delicto with the prime minister of Lebanon. She is a wonderful, gossipy woman who converted the building, an old Arab house with classical features, into the most romantic if-you-know-you-know place in town. When I was last there, there were slim-limbed citrus trees in the courtyard, as well as inward-facing balconies that rose three or four stories high.
There was a beautiful iwan, that vaulted space, with a high-pointed arch and three alcove-forming walls, dressed in the black-and-white ablaq masonry that is the glory of Islamic architecture… Would that it were always 6:30 p.m. and I were there: The sun is setting. The call to prayer has sounded. In the centre of the courtyard, the tinkle of glasses can be heard over the asthmatic gurgle of the fountain. The guests are gathering in the orange-scented air for their first arak of the evening.” — AATISH TASEER, author
The Ritz Paris, France
“There are few things more decadent than checking yourself in to a hotel in the city where you live, and there are few hotels that can envelop you in their world so completely that you forget your own, just a short walk away. The Ritz Paris is such a place, as I learned when I lived in the French capital. Legendary ever since César Ritz opened it in 1898, it has (discreetly) born witness to everything from Marchesa Casati arriving with her pet cheetah, who’d take daily prowls around the Place Vendôme, to Kate Moss and Johnny Depp’s champagne-filled bubble baths.
My last visit happened to coincide with Paris Fashion Week, and so my initial plan to stay in and enjoy a more traditional bubble bath, albeit one with the most heavenly scented Ritz products, followed by a nightcap among friends in the Hemingway Bar, where we were served dirty martinis and a view of Justin Theroux. Mornings at the hotel are quiet and often spent with the house blend of green tea; later, “haute Paris” arrives all over again. Throughout it all, Parisian glamour oozes out of the place’s every pore, and you have every amenity you could possibly think of — in the swimming pool, classical music is piped in underwater.” — PHILOMENA SCHURER MERCKOLL, hotelier and creative consultant
Seku Bi, Dakar, Senegal
“I’m not traveling for leisure at the moment, but for the past two years my husband and I have taken a trip together right after Christmas. I’m a bit of a planner, and this year’s was meant to be to Dakar. My husband is a diplomat and used to be stationed there, so I thought we should go. December is the perfect time to visit and, when we decided on it, my friend Yodit Eklund had just opened her hotel, Seku Bi, in the heart of the city.
I’ve never been to Senegal, and to experience this incredible hotel — apparently, it has a really excellent Italian restaurant — as if with a local … well, I was really looking forward to that. I was also dying to go someplace hot, and not just in summertime. I’ve been to Egypt and I’ve been to Morocco, but I’ve never been to Africa Africa. I want to buy furniture and art there. And I want to just discover and immerse myself in this predominantly Black country with an amazing history and culture. I can’t wait.” — VICTOR GLEMAUD, fashion designer
La Posta Vecchia, Ladispoli, Italy
“One of my favorite places on earth is La Posta Vecchia, a blissful villa situated about an hour from the center of Rome, on the Lazio coast and overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. La Posta Vecchia means ‘the old post house’ in Italian, and it’s a humble name for such a glamorous and historic place. Once a seaside resort popular with Roman emperors, in the 1960s it belonged to J. Paul Getty, who retreated there after his grandson was kidnapped. Getty rebuilt the crumbling villa as a sublime backdrop to his extensive art collection. Today, it’s a 19-room hotel owned by my best friend, Marie-Louise Sciò, who has preserved its vintage glamour while borrowing some of the sprezzatura from her family’s other property, the iconic Hotel Il Pellicano. I always spend New Year’s Eve at La Posta Vecchia, and there is no better way to start the year, having breakfast in the sun on that incredible terrace with Marie-Louise and both our families. This year is a reminder that true luxury is being able to come together and eat, laugh and dance in an extraordinary place.” — ALEX EAGLE, creative director, Alex Eagle Studio
La Casa Que Canta, Zihuatanejo, Mexico
“In Mexico, we have such incredible hotels and beach destinations that have suffered so much because of the pandemic. Right now, we really have only local tourism — though that’s great because rich Mexicans used to travel to Europe every summer, and now they’re traveling within the country. There’s this hotel called La Casa Que Canta that’s on the Pacific Coast in Zihuatanejo, and it’s just so beautiful. So I am thinking of that. There is also a place I have always wanted to visit — and I’m hoping that this winter I can — called La Huella in Uruguay. It’s on José Ignacio beach and has a restaurant known for its gorgeous, simple, delicious food. So many beach hotels don’t have good food, but La Huella is an exception. The pandemic has been so intense that I’d only want to go on a relaxing vacation right now, and I associate that sort of trip with the beach and being able to hang in a boat on the water.” — GABRIELA CÁMARA, chef and restaurateur
Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia
“At some point in my adult life I developed the habit of going to hotels by myself, and not for work — I’d check in with a book and read, uninterrupted, like Laura Brown in Michael Cunningham’s novel “The Hours” (1998). I was not a housewife escaping a child and an unhappy marriage — rather, I was single and worked all the time, so I felt like I was the husband, the wife and the child all at once, and I was desperate to go somewhere and have other people do everything so I could vanish to myself.
I’m no longer single, but if I were, suddenly, able to get on a plane and go somewhere to read alone, I would absolutely get a suite at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia, one with a view of the pool. I’d read my book over Negronis in the Elephant Bar in the lobby, over dinner at the nearby Cuisine Wat Damnak restaurant and on a chaise by the aforementioned pool, which looks like the emerald-cut sapphire cocktail ring of a goddess. I would pause, of course, to enjoy the view from the birdcage elevator as I went up to my suite, and then pick the book up again on the balcony, order dessert from room service, and maybe fall asleep there for a while. Or I would draw a bath and read there, with a martini, as if I were Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald at the same time.
In the morning, I would bring the book with me and wander the aisles of food of every kind that comprise the breakfast buffet, coming to rest by the silver ice bucket — really almost a tub — of champagnes, and the massive dumpling steamer, which has stayed in my mind all these years since my first visit there in 2015, like a siren calling me back. And I would not intrude on the other guests but I would, after all this time in quarantine, exult in the pleasure of their company, which I have not had in so long — the pleasure that comes from reading alone in public surrounded by others.” — ALEXANDER CHEE, author and editor