Figuring out where to stay is hard. By some estimates, there are over 700,000 hotels, motels, hostels, and resorts around the world. Even in the age of TripAdvisor, that’s a hard number to narrow down. Where you stay on a trip can be as important as where you go, especially when you consider that certain properties have become destinations unto themselves. The Matador Network team of writers, editors, videographers, and intrepid storytellers have seen this firsthand at hotels around the world. After traveling far and wide in 2019, the team narrowed their list the best of the best, from remote eco-lodges in South America to opulent castles in Europe. Twenty countries are represented among our favorites, and each accommodation has its own style, perks, and curiosities that make it special. Some are luxurious, others are bare-bones. The one thing they all have in common is that the accommodation is an experience in and of itself.
These are the 25 most spectacular hotels in the world, personally vetted by the Matador team, ranked from envy-inducing to life-changing.
Editor’s Note: These entries were written by Matthew Meltzer, Nickolaus Hines, Alex Bresler, Eben Diskin, Dayana Aleksandrova, Noelle Salmi, and Laura Reilly, with nominations from the entire Matador Network staff.
Just outside of the sprawling city of Phoenix is the smaller city of Mesa, the agricultural heart of Arizona. There you can visit farms growing everything from oranges to olives to dairy products to peaches — the best of which can be found at Schnepf Farms. Technically in the smaller town of Queen’s Creek, this family-owned, 300-acre farm is famous for its peaches, whether they’re in the butteriest, juiciest peach pie you’ve ever had at the farm bakery or in the fields awash with blush pink flowers during the Peach Blossom festival in late winter. The fruit also inspired the name of their new glamping ground, The Cozy Peach, a collection of renovated Airstream trailers. Far from roughing it, the trailers are equipped with plush beds, a stylish lounge area, a coffee maker, TV and WiFi, and, yes, a bathroom. You can even order trailer service in the morning, so you can start the day with farm-fresh eggs or French toast and bacon without leaving your bed.
You will want to leave the trailer eventually, though. This is still the desert, so the weather is pretty close to perfect year-round. Trailer guests are able to use bikes to get around the massive farm and visit the petting zoo, collect fresh produce in the U-Pick garden, or chill out in the secret reading nook in the middle of the woods. Schnepf Farms also hosts many seasonal events that see hundreds of attendees, including a blowout Fourth of July party, the Pumpkin and Chili Party in October, and Christmas celebrations in December — during which they’ll probably have their vintage carousel running. It may be the most perfect place to take young kids or go on a romantic couples getaway, but you’ll find us checking in solo for a farm retreat, so we can eat our peach pie undisturbed.
Cognac is often left out of travel conversations about France, but it’s a worthy stop for anyone who cares about history, good food, and good drink. After long days of indulging in the region’s famous eponymous brandy, you need a fitting and comfortable place to stay. Few places are better than a chateâu (this is the country of chateâux, after all).
Chateâu Pellisson will give you Beauty and the Beast castle vibes (in a good way and without the talking furniture) while modern touches like in-room jacuzzi tubs and WiFi keep you in the 21st century. Each room has a theme, from Baroque to Renaissance suites, and most have a living room in addition to a bedroom. Wander down the stone spiral staircase and into the garden. When the weather is right, a pool raised above the garden is there to keep you cool. In the morning, a small breakfast spread of a variety of cheeses, yogurts, and fruit gets you ready for the day. Even if you’re not into the namesake spirit, good French wine is always flowing. You’ll feel far from it all, but Château Pellisson is a short walk or even shorter taxi to downtown Cognac and the nearby Cognac houses, from Hennessy to Martell.
Finding a balance between sustainability and high luxury is tricky since many of the defining factors of a five-star hotel can be inherently wasteful. But Tropical North Queensland’s first new five-star in two decades is pioneering the fusion of luxe lodging and going green, and it may serve as a model for sustainable resorts in the future. Riley’s luxury is easy to spot — there’s the massive lagoon pool with a front-row seat to the ocean, a high-ceilinged lobby adorned in earthy custom furniture, a rooftop craft cocktail lounge, and oversized bathrooms with full rain showers.
The sustainable part is sneakier but equally impressive. The hotel is almost completely paperless, using tablets for all its guides and check-in forms. It has solar panels on the roof and rooms keys made of recycled wood instead of plastic. Closet hangers are also made of recycled material, your in-room water comes in paper cartons, and bathroom amenities are in bulk dispensers.
The beef at Paper Crane — an Asian-inspired restaurant on the ground floor — comes from Crystalbrook Station, a farm owned by Crystalbrook Collection, which also owns the hotel. That makes it one of the only hotels in the world that grows its own ethically raised beef. As the gleaming new property in the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, hopefully it can serve as inspiration for better care of the ocean, as well.
About halfway through the no man’s land along Highway 290 between Houston and Austin, you’ll find little Round Top, Texas. Population 90 as of the last census. In this calming, pastoral landscape, you can spend the night at America’s best example of a completely repurposed hotel. Each of the Flophouze’s six “houzes” is made of old shipping containers, which sit on a sprawling stretch of Texas countryside with unfettered views of the sunset.
You’ll enjoy those sunsets through windows salvaged from an old school in Philadelphia. The rest of the interiors are long on repurposed goods as well, whether it’s wood from an old distillery in Kentucky, cabinets from a Brooklyn laboratory, or countertops made from a bowling alley in Texas. Cool off from the summer heat in a swimming pool made from an old container, with a clear wall that looks out on the landscape. Though the area can feel remote and removed at times, that’s kind of the point of going on vacation.
A trip to Svalbard, a remote Norwegian archipelago within spitting distance of the North Pole, isn’t exactly going to be a luxurious vacation with all the traditional comforts. But when you forge into the Arctic wilderness on a dog sledding or snowmobile expedition, it’s important to have a cozy base where you can thaw out, refuel, and plan the next day’s adventure. Situated in a valley just a 15-minute walk from Longyearbyen — Svalbard’s only real town — the Coal Miner’s Cabins are the perfect home base for both aspiring adventurers and seasoned Arctic expeditioners.
Two-story former mining barracks have been converted into guest rooms, now furnished with all the essentials you need for a comfortable stay in the Arctic — even WiFi. No, you won’t find any swim-up margarita bars or room service, but you didn’t come to Svalbard for that stuff anyway (though you do get a cushy bathrobe). The cabins have fantastic views over the Longyear valley, and if you happen to be visiting during the summer months, you can enjoy that view all night long as the sun never sets. In the winter, spotting the elusive northern lights are certainly a high possibility.
In this remote part of the world with such an unforgiving climate, you might be wary of the food scene — but don’t be. Coal Miner’s Cabins serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the main lodge, and the fare is as hearty as it gets. Steaks, reindeer burgers, and potatoes will comprise most of your meals, so you definitely won’t be entering the wilderness on an empty stomach. If you prefer to take it easy, you can play board games with fellow travelers or sip on wine and beer curled up with a good book.
In most hotels, listing “oxygen” as an amenity would be about as impressive as touting the hotel’s snappy new invention, “the bed.” But when you’re sitting at 11,150 feet above sea level, getting fresh oxygen pumped into your room is a luxury better than in-room massages and part of what makes the JW Marriott Convento Cusco the coolest luxury hotel in Peru.
In addition to thick air, this hotel packs some serious history. It’s housed in a 16th-century convent that’s been meticulously restored in the heart of the city. A sunny interior courtyard with pre-Inca walls is an ideal space to enjoy what we determined to be the best pisco sour in Cusco. It’s also a prime spot to take selfies with Panchito the alpaca, who makes daily appearances with his Quechua owner for photo-ops and cuddles. Plus the hotel offers a 24-hour coca tea service, which combined with the fresh air in your room, makes for the ultimate refresher after visiting Machu Picchu.
A safari at this eco-lodge on the Borana Conservancy rhino sanctuary is a lot more than just riding around in a jeep looking at wild animals. Yes, you can absolutely do that if that’s your vacation MO. But you can also go out into the bush with conservation workers, doing stuff like spotting rhinos and reporting on their locations, monitoring lion behavior, and participating in darting and tagging initiatives. Or take a more active approach to touring the bush aboard a mountain bike or one of the lodge’s 26 horses.
The eight-cottage resort also lets you delve deep into the local community, where you can pay a visit to a local Maasai village and learn its history along with a traditional dance. You can also visit a local school and medical clinic to see some of the advances the area has been able to make in education and healthcare, as well as donate supplies. Want to feel even better about the money you’ve dropped on your trip? The family that runs Borana Lodge also uses much of the operating profits to support greater wilderness conservation through its non-profit Borana Conservancy organization.
It’s not often you get to spend the night in one of the holiest sites of a major religion. But this is what you’ll find atop the sacred mountain of Koyasan, about 100 minutes south of Osaka, where over 100 temples fill a plateau near the mountaintop known as Danjo Garan. About 50 of those beautiful, intricate temples are known as shukubo, essentially temples that rent out rooms to travelers.
Though you’ll literally be living with monks, the digs aren’t exactly monastic, with big, modern rooms, many of which offer terraces looking out on meticulously maintained gardens. You can start the morning by joining the monks in their morning chants (there’s a printout if you’re not up on your Buddhist chants), spend the afternoon forest bathing, and end the day with plant-based dinners made from stuff grown on or near the mountain. But it’s not all meditation and vegan dinners atop Koyasan: If you feel like cracking a beer and scrolling your Instagram feed after your long, difficult journey to a Japanese holy site, you can do that too. This particular sect of Buddhism has adapted with the times, so finding WiFi and beer for sale at a shukubo isn’t at all unusual.
Saying you’re “living in a fishbowl” isn’t usually a good thing, per se. But if you happen to be a guest in one of Finn Lough’s dome accommodations, it’s pure natural paradise. This resort set on Lower Lough Erne in Northern Ireland offers two domes that look a little like bedrooms in a snowglobe, where you’ll literally sleep surrounded by the forest with uninterrupted sightlines to the night sky. The Premium Dome even comes with a fully domed bathroom, so you can get the feeling of being in an outdoor shower, without having to actually be outdoors.
The rest of the resort isn’t much of a dropoff — the other accommodations include two-story lakeside lodges, a charming lakeside cottage with wood-burning stoves, and fully catered suites. You’ll spend your days mountain biking through the woods, surfing along the Donegal coastline, or playing the links courses at Donegal and Lough Erne. Finish the day sipping on sundowner drinks with the rest of the guests, then retreat back to your private oasis under the stars.
South America’s most famous waterfalls, like most famous waterfalls, are a wonder of nature that’s considerably less wonderous when surrounded by thousands of phone-wielding tourists. The best way around said selfie-crazed masses is to book a night at the Hotel das Cataratas, where guests get access to the falls both before and after the general public. Think of it kinda like the Disneyland hotel — but actually worth the money.
In addition to early access, this grand 1950s property offers a massive resort pool where you can relax with a caipiriñha with the thundering falls in the background. The grounds feel almost like an extension of the park, with tropical flowers and howler monkeys sharing the environment with you. Though if you do feel like getting out into the rainforest, Belmond Hotel das Cataratas offers private guided tours there as well. Did we mention there’s a free airport transfer from Iguassu Falls Airport? Staying at this Belmond property is simply the ultimate way to take in one of the most popular attractions in the world.
Everyone knows that Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico hard in 2017, but much of the global attention was paid to the capital city of San Juan and the surrounding area — less so on the opposite end of the island, near Ponce, where much of Puerto Rico’s agriculture is cultivated. That left Puerto Rican farmers to do much of the rebuilding themselves and rethink their production to become more self-sustainable and durable for future hurricanes. Hacienda La Mocha, a family coffee farm and guesthouse, is one such place that’s made major strides in the last three years. Named not for your favorite chocolatey coffee beverage but the old tool used to harvest the coffee beans, Hacienda La Mocha lost much of its coffee crops in the hurricane. In 2020, though, they are poised for a healthy harvest and are ready to welcome visitors to their beautifully restored guesthouse.
Thanks to its location near the highest elevation in Puerto Rico, staying at the guesthouse feels like sleeping in a treehouse overlooking the verdant coffee plantation and surrounding green mountains. Choose between nine luxurious rooms, all of which converge in a stunning, open-air lounge where you can feel the breeze, hear the chirping birds, sway in a hammock, and smell the beans getting ground below. Breakfast is included, naturally, with a piping cup of the freshest coffee you’ll ever taste. The Hacienda also has a resident birdwatching expert who can take you on a hike to spot the native San Pedrito bird. The whole farm is also a butterfly sanctuary, and it’s not uncommon for one to land in front of you while you sip your morning coffee on the balcony. In 2020, Hacienda La Mocha also hopes to start offering more coffee-centric experiences, which may include helping harvest the beans or hand-grinding your own blend.
The Hacienda is fully committed to sustainability, both in its farming practices and in the guesthouse, from using solar energy to not using environmentally hazardous chemicals on the farm. Return the favor by conserving water wherever possible, sticking with the glorious natural light, and opting not to have the linens changed on a daily basis.
Finding somewhere that’s quiet where you can stop and think is all too important when the rest of life is go, go, go. Then again, so is traveling somewhere with enough activities to distract yourself from daily stressors. The Horse Shoe Farm near Asheville, North Carolina, has both. There’s a meditation silo but also bikes, games, and boats by the pond. There are fishing poles and lounge chairs to sink into but also 85 acres to wander with goats, chickens, and ducks. Not to mention the morning juice bar, yoga sessions, and professional masseuses.
Horse Shoe Farm is a wellness-focused working farm where you can make your own definition of wellness — whether that’s reciting mantras and holding crystals, sweating it out at yoga, or simply reading a book and petting a goat. It’d be too easy to get lost in the comfort of the accommodations and never leave the farm, but you should spend enough time here to explore the area. It’s a short drive away from the restaurants and 25-plus breweries in Asheville while outdoorsy types will fall for the dozens of nearby hikes that end in waterfalls.
There are people who may be a little hesitant to visit China, with visions of jam-packed cities and chaotic traffic overshadowing any kind of cultural knowledge they might gain. But traveling into the mountainous regions of Southeast China proves that this country is vast and diverse, and serenity can easily be found if you’re willing to travel outside of the main cities. The Yangshuo Mountain Retreat sits right next to the Yulong River, a tributary to the Li, which winds past sharp cones of mountains and a lush green landscape. And the views from its balconies feel like living in a landscape painting.
The waterfront hotel offers some of the best affordable luxury in the world, where wood-adorned rooms with pitched ceilings and river views run about $90 a night. Even the smallest room, which costs about $40, has a balcony to take in the stunning scenery. Though it might be tempting to just stay here and soak up the natural beauty, take a bike into town and catch the Liu Sanjie Light Show, a nightly performance on the river that showcases the boats, attire, and culture of the Yangshuo region.
Escaping into the Alaskan wilderness doesn’t mean going all Into the Wild and seeing how long you can survive with a pack of Clif bars and a hatchet. It can also mean escaping deep into the wilds of Kachemak Bay State Park and staying at this luxe lodge only reachable by water taxi or floatplane. Each of the six cabins has stunning views, perfect for relaxing after a long day of hiking through old-growth spruce trees, kayaking, fishing, or doing whatever else you ask your exclusive team of guides to set up.
What sets Tutka Bay apart, though, is the food experience. French-trained chef Kristen Dixon is the visionary behind the lodge, where you can participate in fishing, foraging, and preparing literal sea-to-table feasts. From casting lines in the nearby waters to digging for clams, you’ll collect your food then learn to cook it in an exclusive cooking class. Tutka Bay isn’t just an escape into Alaska — it’s a chance to venture out and live off the land as well.
There’s spending the night in a treehouse, and then there’s sleeping in a tree canopy and waking up surrounded by wild gibbons. While the Gibbon Experience’s treehouses aren’t necessarily the pinnacle of luxury, they are as close to being a gibbon as you’re likely to get without some kind of freak comic book accident, and an exceptional way to immerse yourself in the nature of Nam Kan National Park in Laos.
The treehouses are allegedly the tallest in the world, standing 100-130 feet above the ground, connected by zip lines that allow you to move like gibbons, as well as live like them. The experiences run two or three days and have you trekking through the park — sometimes to waterfalls, sometimes over lush valleys — staying in a different house each night. Because of the elevated vantage point, the views are never short of spectacular, and the Gibbon encounters are frequent and plentiful. Do they wake you up in the morning before you want to be awake? Absolutely. But if you’re the kind of person who books a hotel in a treetop, you probably weren’t traveling to sleep in, anyway.
When you look back at Playa Guiones from the water’s edge, all you see are trees. That’s one of the things that make the surf-and-yoga magnet of Nosara, Costa Rica, so magical. Development on its two-mile-long beach is prohibited, and no building can rise above the treeline in order to protect the nesting turtles that use the moon as their guide. Behind that greenery are houses, restaurants, and the Harmony Hotel.
The Harmony Hotel has open-air hallways and several cabanas that surround a pool with verdant tropical foliage. The alfresco restaurant serves up healthy options like vegetarian curry or fish of the day poke. Behind it, the thatched-roof juice bar mixes up a tasty almond butter smoothie, and a huge palapa serves as the yoga studio.
As the name suggests, the Harmony Hotel seeks to live in harmony with its lush surroundings and its neighbors, which include the canopy’s resident howler monkeys and the red and purple crabs that scurry out of the way as you traverse the sandy path through the forest to the flat, expansive beach. On that short walk, you’ll pass a surf shack where you can store your board after a morning surf and an outdoor shower where you can rinse off after your wave session. The shower feels like an unpretentious, laid-back indulgence. Just like the Harmony Hotel itself.
Big-name, high-luxury hotels are always nice places to stay, but sometimes they can leave you feeling a little… isolated. Like you’re having the same beautiful experience in Laguna Beach that you would in Cabo that you would in St. Lucia. But when Marriott completely redid the storied Marco Island Marriott last year and reopened it as JW, it also made sure the property had plenty of sense of place.
First, you’ll have a front-row seat to Florida’s Everglades, the only luxury beach hotel to sit literally walking distance from the River of Grass. You’ll be able to immerse yourself deep in the swamp with customizable jetski tours leaving from the beach, where you’ll learn the history of the Ten Thousand Islands and see the famously eerie Cape Romano Dome Houses. Next, spend the afternoon collecting shells off the beach and learning about the sea life in the Gulf of Mexico that’s literally helped for the state of Florida.
You’ll also be able to experience local flavors, whether that’s at Kane, which has an extremely rare collection of Caribbean rums and makes a case as the best outdoor rum bar in the United States; at the new sprawling brewpub with over 60 local beers on the menu; or at Ario, which plates up only-in-Florida seafood alongside a top-notch wine list. It’s the ultimate way to experience Florida in all its turquoise-watered glory, without any interruptions from the notoriously reckless Florida Man.
Trekking through the deserts of Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve near the Dead Sea, you might think this stone fort in a deep valley was some sort of mirage. But the Feynan Ecolodge — modeled after the caravanserai of centuries past – is a testament to eco-friendly travel and perhaps the most sustainable hotel in the consumption-crazed Middle East. It sits on an old copper exploration camp, its existence alone keeping the nature reserve from being reopened to copper mining. The entire lodge is solar-powered, too, and most of the stone-walled bedrooms are lit by candlelight at night.
It’s the perfect jumping-off point for exploring Jordan’s desert wilderness, where you can spend the sunny days hiking, biking, or canyoneering through the mountains and immersing yourself in the local culture. At night, enjoy dinner under the stars in the lodge’s central dining area, or take a cooking class to learn how to do it yourself. It’s also only about two hours from Petra, so you can make a quick day trip to the ancient world wonder, then escape back to the reserve once you’ve had enough of the tourists.
The Dominican Treehouse Village is a perfect hybrid of a relaxing Carribean resort and an adrenaline-pumping adventure. In the heart of El Valle, Samana’s most luscious valley, Indiana Jones rope bridges and jungle views meet Tarzan-esque waterfalls and an in-house zip line. Cruise on the back of an ATV through remote jungle terrain. Snap some photos of the bluest water you’ve ever seen on a snorkeling excursion to Playa Fronton. Ride a horse to El Limon Waterfall, and taste local chocolate.
When you get tired of having badass adventures, head back to the resort to chill by the pool, laze at El Valle beach, or feast on freshly caught fish at Mami’s Restaurant. The main lodge is located in the center of the resort where you’ll find cozy hammocks, a large lounge and restaurant area, and a bar. On either side of the lodge is a bonfire spot where people gather to play Cards Against Humanity or dance bachata at night. When it’s time to retire, each of the resort’s 22 cabins has a queen-size bed, powerful fan, leather swings, and a personal bathroom. The entire area is fumigated, so you won’t have to worry about falling prey to the mosquitos. There’s no WiFi, but take that as an opportunity to unplug and listen to the buzzing of the jungle instead of the vibrations of your phone.
Indonesia, and especially Bali and the islands around it, are not lacking for tranquil, beachfront luxury escapes with stunning views of the mountains and the lapping surf. But Nihi Sumba, about 45 minutes by plane from Bali, is the king of them all, a thatched-roof paradise where every guest has a different itinerary custom-designed to their particular interests. So you can spend the morning scuba diving the crystal-clear waters and the afternoon horseback riding in that same ocean. The resort even has an on-premise chocolate factory, which, while not exactly the Wonka factory, does make turndown service that much more exciting.
Many rooms have private plunge pools and paths down to the beach, and with the right amount of fans and mosquito netting, you’ll almost feel like you’re sleeping right on the sand — except way more comfortable. Meals are served beachside, too, if you opt for the right restaurant.
But perhaps the most impressive thing about Nihi isn’t tangible at all. The largest employer on this island of about 685,000 people also runs the Sumba Foundation, a charitable organization devoted to providing access to clean water and education to the Sumbanese people, as well as lessening the effects of malaria. So while you’re not exactly building houses in the jungle, know that some part of what you spend here is going back to the people of Sumba.
Though some safaris through Kruger can get a little congested during high season, that’s not the case at Lebombo where the lodge’s own private concession within the park means it’s only you, the other hotel guests, and the hippos out there in the bush. That alone would be reason to visit this lodge right near the Mozambique border, but what’s inside makes it equally as enticing as the animals. If you can score a room downstairs overlooking the N’wanetsi River, you’ll lie outside in a private bed and sleep to the sounds of wildlife coming over the water at night.
Each of the 13 suites feels like part of the landscape, and you’ll spot wild animals from your bedroom just as easily as you would on a game drive. If you leave the room, you can cool off in swimming pools with views out over the hills, or sip on South African specialties in the wine studio before taking drinks up to the rooftop viewing area. Your meals are prepared by a gourmet chef and are included in your stay, naturally. While many luxury safari camps in Africa can lean too hard on the nostalgic (or borderline cringey in their myopic celebration of colonial Africa), Lebombo is refreshingly modern with contemporary, natural-light-filled rooms and airy sculptural touches that celebrate the surrounding wildlife.
Yurts, in their original state, aren’t exactly luxurious. Tough and efficient? Absolutely. But it takes some real vision to equip them with heated towel racks and high-thread-count sheets. Such is the genius of Patagonia Camp, a lakeside glamping retreat in the stunning mountains of Patagonia. The camp features 20 yurts with private terraces and views over the turquoise lake, some with private hot tubs and all with central heat and running water. The main lodge is a wood-lined palace, with floor-to-ceiling windows and nightly meals full of steaks, fresh vegetables, and wines from the owners’ private winery.
You’ll devour that food with an appetite forged from long days hiking through Patagonia. Each evening your guides will brief you on the next day’s adventures, whether that’s spotting wild animals on the east side of the park or hiking the famous W trail and the 15-mile pilgrimage to Mirador de las Torres. Patagonia Camp allows you to enjoy the rugged backcountry of this region without having to spend the nights in drafty tents, making you far more relaxed and refreshed for your journey through the wilds of Chilean Patagonia.
Want to immerse yourself in the spectacular west coast of British Columbia? Nowhere does it quite like Nimmo Bay, a family-run resort set in the wilds of the Great Bear Rainforest just south of the Alaskan border. Here you’ll spend days with your helicopter guide reaching places seldom seen by humans, like remote waterfalls cascading down from glaciers and pristine streams set in the shadow of bright green mountains. You can have a picnic in a remote icefield, fish with no boats for miles, or go bear spotting in their natural habitat.
Back at the resort, enjoy fresh cookies and BC wine in your own private cabin, which either sits surrounded by forest or on top of rising tides. The food is made from stuff found nearby, where the chefs literally go out clam digging and berry picking each day. With only nine two-bedroom cabins, the place feels more like a family getaway than a wilderness resort. A sort of home away from home hundreds of miles from anything.
There’s remote. There’s exclusive. And then there’s Minaret Station, a four-chalet, helicopter-in lodge and farm hidden away in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. You’ll get used to choppering around on epic excursions here, getting an unparalleled perspective of Mount Cook, the nation’s tallest peak, and Fiordland National Park. Think hiking through ancient ice caves at Tasman Glacier, trout fishing in the crystal-clear waters of Dusky Sound, mountain biking beneath the snowy peaks ringing Lake Wanaka, and heli-skiing on untouched powder. Those interested, whether green or old hat, can also go game hunting on 50,000 acres of privately owned land. Intrepid, yes, Minaret Station’s adventures are also as comfy as wilderness experiences get, with top-of-the-line gear and gourmet picnics set amidst New Zealand’s most coveted scenery.
Spent from days touring the glacial valley and rugged west-coast beaches, guests can retreat to spacious yet cozy chalets tucked away in vast alpine pastures, each with a private deck and hot tub. The lodge’s common area comes equipped with cushy, fireplace-facing lounges and a communal library, though it may be hard to tear yourself away from the view long enough to escape into a good book. At the Mountain Kitchen, expect a first-rate wine cellar, plates loaded with locavore-approved goodies, and hefty helpings of the farm’s own venison, lamb, and beef to keep your energy high for the next day’s outings. Guests can also take their meals in their chalets, opting for a moment alone with the mountains. Talk about room service.
In a world as wide as this, with hotels as superlative as the ones above, it’s almost impossible to pick just one place to call our favorite. Except it isn’t — because choosing Castello di Vicarello as the best hotel for 2020 is as easy as sipping wine from its oak barrel hot tub as the sun sets over the Maremma hills. Staying here feels like coming home, despite the fact that we’re pretty sure your home is not a 900-year-old Tuscan castle. It is the home of the Baccheschi-Berti family, though, and has been for 25 years. The property was salvaged as ruins in the 1980s by Carlo and Aurora Baccheschi-Berti, who brought their three young boys to grow up here while the castle was slowly restored. Today, their sons Neri and Brando run the hotel and the winery, respectively, aided by the trusty family dog, Uva, who is always around to escort you to and from your room if you fear getting lost in the expansive estate.
Experiences are at the heart of every stay at Castello di Vicarello, and they can be as active as you want them to be. Wine tasting is a must for all, whether out in the organic vineyards or by the fireplace before a mind-blowing dinner. Take an intimate, one-on-one cooking class with the chefs in the jaw-dropping stone kitchen, focusing on Tuscan dishes that may be pulled from Aurora’s own cookbook, like papa al pomodoro, meaty entrées made from local game hunted by the family, and fresh pasta (of course). Try your hand at harvesting — grapes, olives, truffles, depending on the season. Hike, bike, or ride horses around the estate. Or just take a dip in the pool, read a book, and have a relaxing nap. There’s no wrong way to stay here.
Admittedly, there are dozens of hotels throughout Tuscany with similar offerings, some even in castles. What makes Castello di Vicarello so special is that it doesn’t force a facade of authenticity, a bottled experience to allow people to live out their Under the Tuscan Sun fantasies. There’s Indonesian furniture in the living room because the parents spent their early years living in Bali working in furniture and textiles. There’s a big skeleton key for only one of the suites, not because they’re trying to be cute but because it’s literally the only key that will open the room where the general of the castle once resided. Some rooms embrace the fascinating history; others are newly built and don’t try to hide their modernity behind creeping ivy. The Spa Suite is made of wood and glass, with clean contemporary lines, a steam room and sauna, and a sprawling deck overlooking the vineyards and olive groves, the hillside, and the Tyrrhenian Sea far in the distance.
More integral to your experience than anything is the family, and the extended family they’ve created with their attentive staff. You’ll chat with everyone about their lives, what brought them to the castle, what they hope to achieve in the future. You’ll share wine and the same breakfast table, sneaking pets of Uva underneath. You’ll feel compelled to hug everyone you’ve met and feel emotional leaving. If that doesn’t make it deserving of the title for our number one hotel to stay in 2020, we don’t know what could.