A few weeks ago, we covered the hot travel trends for 2017. A few days later, we featured the Top Ten Hostels of the Year. Now we’re looking at hotels, eco-resorts, and co-living spaces — with a focus on properties so special that they become a cornerstone of your adventure.
Some of these properties are pricey. Some are very pricey. That’s not really the issue here. What we’re concerned with is value-per-dollar and that’s where these 10 spaces shine. You might sleep in the jungle for two weeks then break the bank Kardashian-style at Villa Manzu. Or maybe you sail the world on the cheap, before holing up at the Brando with Leo. It’s your dream, we’re just here to facilitate.
So check out our 2017 top 10, follow up with some research, and pin a few new spots on your travel vision board. This is your year.
— Steve Bramucci, Travel Editor
THE ULTIMATE SPLURGE — VILLA MANZU — Costa Rica
It’s tempting to try to figure out which celebrities have stayed at Villa Manzu on Costa Rica’s isolated Peninsula Papagayo. The only ones really mentioned are Beyonce, Katy Perry, and the expansive Kardashian-West clan — because they all posted Instagrams from their suites — but there are scores of others.
“Last week we had a famous American football player,” Jenifer Cowles, who manages the property, said on my first night there.
“Which one?” I pressed, probably three-degrees too eager.
Jennifer waved off my question, offering only a sly smile. “I can’t say.”
“The most famous one,” her husband Chris said, grinning.
I might be telescoping a few conversations, but I feel like I had six versions of that interaction during my time at Villa Manzu. The staff isn’t being coy just for kicks — privacy is part of their business model. When you’re as famous as Manzu’s guests, you don’t need any more attention and you respect people who know how to keep their mouths shut.
But seclusion isn’t the only reason the property is so popular with stars and the über wealthy. It also feels like a splurge in the very best sense. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to cover high-priced properties all over the world and can safely say that this is how luxury should be done.
Want a coconut at 3pm? It’ll be delivered to your deck chair. Want that coconut half-full of rum? No problem. Want it at 3am instead? Ring the bell. And you’ll never see a bill for these nice touches.
For some travelers, luxury is the absence of control: package tours, planned meals, group activities — but that’s never been how I think about it. At Manzu, luxury means that control is handed back to the client, without the client seeming controlling.
That means that changing the scheduled snorkel for a surf is never a crisis. Neither is cancelling both the snorkel and the surf to day drink in the infinity pool. Or say you and your friends crave a snack after a night of karaoke. Not only will the chef cook up some comfort food for you, but he’ll be happy to. And it will be superb.
Look, I get it, $20-something thousand dollars is a lot for a night at a hotel. But that price — the closest quote I could get to a “rack rate” — doesn’t tell the whole story. First of all, it’s a buyout property so you’re talking about 15 people. Plus you have food, drinks, transport… when you pay piecemeal this stuff adds up.
Fine, it’s a splurge. Or one step above a splurge, whatever that is. But if you’re going to splurge, as we’re all tempted to do at some point in our lives, it should feel special. For me, plodding past other couples on the beach in our matching resort robes and slippers doesn’t have that effect. Reading Raymond Chandler novels by a private plunge pool while drinking rum punch and eating fresh caught yellow tail sashimi does. Leaving the aforementioned novel someplace because I’m buzzed, only to find it on my bedside table with a leather bookmark holding my page later that day? That is my version of luxury. So is having a world class breakfast prepared for me the second I start to stir the next morning, even though everyone else ate hours ago.
Point being, at Villa Manzu the value-per-dollar is much better than at properties that are similarly pricey but still manage to seem generic. It’s thoroughly imagined — with every room feeling like an intricately designed show piece. The baths are massive, the thread count is stratospheric, and views are stunning. The massage table is shielded from view by two massive waterfalls.
More than all of that, the service is literally second to none. Perhaps on the planet. Then there’s the surfing, with one of the most famous breaks in Costa Rica just a few clicks away; and the nearby marine reserve, and the zip lines, and the private yoga instruction, and… did I emphasize the food? Because you won’t find many innovate haute cuisine chefs working in small Costa Rican resorts. But Villa Manzu has one.
The point is, this place is special. Beyond special. Yes, it’s a splurge, a mega-splurge, a one-day-when-my-geolocation-taco-app-takes-off-type of dream. But it’s just the sort of dream worth hanging onto.
THE “UP HERE” RESORT — AMAN RESORTS — Properties Worldwide
Eminem was right. There comes a time in everyone’s life when you gotta stop livin’ down here (raises hand up) and start livin’ up here. Hardcore travelers will fondly reminisce about the times they slept rough on a train platform in India or a leaky tent under the towering Redwoods. But then you age. Joints start to ache and your back can’t take lumpy mattresses anymore.
That’s when you have to start livin’ next level. Aman hotels are that step up, taking destination travel and adding a once-in-a-lifetime property to the mix. They have hotels in some of the most remote and stunning locations across the world — from Morocco to Indonesia to Jackson Hole. Choosing just one to highlight would be impossible.
And while they don’t come cheap, they are one of a kind.
THE HOTEL THAT BUILDS COMMUNITY — CASA MÃE — Portugal
I’m an Airbnb gal when it comes to where I rest my head when I’m away from home. Occasionally I’ll seek out the quaint guesthouse or B&B for a treat. The sterility of hotels is the opposite of what I seek when I travel — a sense of community. However, when I stumbled across a short novel of a magazine that looked like Portugal’s version of Kinfolk and discovered it was actually the story of a new hotel in the Algarve, I was intrigued.
If the small organic farm they keep to supply their restaurant with the best produce hadn’t already hooked me, the words about their chef set the line. He and I speak the same language, ‘food is intended to create memories.’ Ten minutes later I had booked my stay in Lagos, and one night would lead to three.
The irony that I chose a travel destination based on a ‘hotel’ is not lost on me. What I found at Casa Mãe was everything the pages of that magazine promised and more. I found a home, one as welcoming as my own.
Every detail has been accounted for, details you may not have even considered needing or wanting in your past travels. There is a key difference though, this does not feel like service, instead it carries the feeling of those montages in Hollywood movies where everyone is sitting down at a long table laughing, smiling, freely passing heavy dishes of food, endless bottles of wine — it’s a community.
During my stay, I was able to take part in their weekly 7 course farm to table themed tasting menu. My week, the special ingredient was carob. If you’re an American member of generation x then carob’s associations might conjure visions of vegan hippies making ‘healthy’ carob chip cookies. But with a few sips of sparkling wine and a heavy swirl of carob butter, my preconceived ideas melted away. Course four, a local mushroom and carob risotto, left such a strong impression I bought some of the rigid, black carob pods at the farmer’s market in the marina the next morning.
The decor is beautiful, bright, and very Portuguese. Nearly everything you’ll touch, taste, and see at Casa Mãe, from the plates to the forks to the hanging wall carpets are handcrafted by Portuguese artisans carefully sourced, with their stories told in that Casa Mãe magazine. It’s those stories that led me to Lagos.
I urge you to go to Casa Mãe soon and experience them for yourself. There is no way a place like this will remain secret. It’s what we all hope to find and experience when we travel. My hope is that others will take inspiration from what Casa Mãe has created and that more community centered experiences like this will abound through out the world.
THE CO-LIVING PARADISE — ROAM — Bali, Miami, London, Tokyo
Talking about places that feel like NOW, Roam is the ultimate 21st century accommodation experience. Referred to as an experimental community testing the boundaries between work, travel, and adventure, Roam is a forward thinking alternative to hotels and hostels. By attracting like minded travelers with a purpose, Roam is able to create communities and foster connections that encourage travelers to become more immersed in different cultures and projects.
Guests can actually sign a lease and stay for a week, a month, or a year. Besides offering beautifully designed accommodations with private bathrooms and private bedrooms, all Roam locations also come equipped with state of the art kitchens and multiple communal working spaces (with high speed internet) so that you can get work done while on the road. Local community managers live on site to assist in meeting the needs of guests, organizing events, workshops, and offering a curated entry into the host city (think secret city guides).
Currently, Roam has locations in Bali, Miami, London, and Tokyo and has been on top of travel trends lists for 2017, redefining what it means to co-live and co-work. What I love about Roam is that it goes beyond what other co-living programs offer, it gives members full flexibility on when to come or go and also enables people to switch between properties. Their network of people from all over the world is amazing and they’re expanding to even more cities next year.
THE CASE FOR LUXURY CAMPING — PAWS UP — Montana, USA
Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with valuing a nice, comfortable bed and a couple chef-made meals over sleeping bags and burnt hot dogs. While many tried to dismiss glamping as a trend for sorority girls who couldn’t bear to part with their blowdryers and beauty routines, the truth about luxury camping is that it allows you to be well-rested, well-fed and spend your energy enjoying the beauty of nature instead of battling with its harsher elements. That’s exactly what Paws Up resort in Montana focuses on, and why the working cattle ranch is destined to become an even more coveted place to visit in 2017.
Nestled in the heart of Blackfoot Valley, Montana, the property runs right along the Blackfoot River, with the original settlement dating back to homesteaders in the late 1800s — who were interested in the area for timber and mining. 200 years later, priorities have changed, and though you can still participate in trail riding, chuck wagons, cattle drives, whitewater rafting and fly-fishing, there’s absolutely no need to abandon wi-fi and running water in the process. The Paws Up Resort is a luxurious high-end destination that splits the difference between organic spas, heated bathroom floors, and plenty of time out in Big Sky Country.
From luxury homes, to massive safari-like glamping tents, there’s a wide array of accomodation options and camping locations — all with ensuite bathrooms — that will easily please anyone and everyone you’re traveling with. Plus, if you’re looking for an extremely secluded romantic getaway, there’s Honeymoon Homes available too. Special events like the Wildflavor top chef cook off in April, or the Montana Master Grillers event for Memorial Day Weekend in May make this an easy sell for any foodies, too.
In 2017, visiting a cattle ranch doesn’t have to mean feeling like a dusty member of the herd.
THE HOME ON THE RANGE — TANQUE VERDE RANCH — Arizona, USA
I was sprawled out on an enormous king bed at Tanque Verde Ranch when I was first offered the job as Life editor for Uproxx. In the years since, I’ve found myself fascinated by that juxtaposition. The property is the antithesis of life on the internet — there’s no outrage, no public scolding, and no Tweets. Instead, it’s all about going offline to experience the world. In this case, the world of horses.
Tanque draws easy comparisons to the 1991 classic-in-my-dad’s-eyes City Slickers — without the potentially murderous lead drover. It’s a place where you ride horses all day, then saunter up to the bar, slurp down a few stiff cocktails, and head over to the canteen for some vittles. I can’t do justice to how very happy those sense memories leave me.
In my time at the ranch, I didn’t just become a better rider, I learned how to understand horses. I built relationships with the animals — while being trained by expert guides. One thing I realized, watching people race to their favorite mounts each morning, is that the resort thrives on return business. It’s the company’s lifeblood.
In 2017, when every travel trend is based around experiences and we all need a break from the internet, I’ve been daydreaming quite a bit about returning to those dusty, cactus-lined trails myself.
THE LUXURY HOME AWAY FROM HOME — NATURAL RETREATS — Palm Desert, USA
Palm Desert and Palm Springs offer the allure of white hot heat and secluded luxury. Plus the quickly growing music festival culture in the area doesn’t hurt. These twin desert getaways have been a balm for burnt out Angelinos — and their much more famous neighbors — for years now, and their popularity as weekend or week-long vacation destination spots is only continuing to grow. Which, of course, means that finding a place to stay has become trickier and trickier. However, you have help: Look no further than the selection of Old Hollywood luxurious homes that Natural Retreats has in the area.
Think of Natural Retreats as Airbnb for the luxury lifestyle. The collection rents out homes in respective areas around the country that appeal to a more, glamorous clientele. Even if that only applies to you once a year, sometimes it’s worth shilling out the extra couple hundred bucks to live in the lap of luxury for a few days.
In Palm Desert, the Contemporary Dreams home is the splurge worth splurging for — a three bedroom property that includes two master bedroom suites and sleeps eight. The secluded private estate, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s last living protege, is full of clever homages to mid-century charm without sacrificing any sleek, modern elements. The hedged and gated 4,000 square feet estate is located on half an acre of land that comes complete with pool and spa, in-room jacuzzi, and vaulted 18-foot ceilings. Plus, it’s conveniently located in the heart of Palm Springs for easy access to restaurants, shopping, hiking, and, of course, Coachella.
It’s easy to pretend you’re part of the old world Hollywood set when you’re living in a pristine relic inspired by that era and steeped in the same magic that has always made the California desert feel wild, glamorous, and freeing.
THE NEW BOUTIQUE EXPERIENCE — THE SANYA EDITION — China
The man who invented the very first boutique hotel is continuing to move the industry forward in 2017. What’s next for Ian Schrager? The Sanya EDITION — a 50-acre oasis with a private ocean on China’s Hainan Island.
VP of experience for EDITION hotels, Ben Pundole, says one of the highlights of the property will be Just Space, a collaboration with Beijing’s UCCA (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art), which will immerse The Sanya EDITION guests into the world of contemporary Chinese art.
And because the technicolor bowling alley at The Miami Beach EDITION has become Instagram gold, The Sanya EDITION will have bumper cars too.
THE LEED-CERTIFIED ECO-RESORT — THE BRANDO — French Polynesia
With its LEED Platinum certification, The Brando is one of the foremost eco resorts in the world and a global leader in environmentally responsible hospitality. In fact, environmentalist and actor Leonardo DiCaprio is rumored to visit on occasion to learn best practices for the eco resort he’s building in the Caribbean.
Of note: the resort is carbon neutral and relies entirely on renewable energy sources like solar power, locally produced coconut oil and an innovative, $12 million system that powers the air conditioning throughout the island’s 36 luxury villas using cold sea water pulled from the ocean’s depths.
There’s also an environmental research station on the island where, as The Brando describes, “scientists from around the world can lead research into sustainable interdependence, implement these lessons, and teach them globally to improve our relationship with nature.”
All this just scratches the surface of The Brando’s environmental initiatives, so to learn even more, guests can take excursions with a resident naturalist guide (one of whom is Marlon Brando’s granddaughter) or one of the researchers from the station.
Now more than ever, it’s important we encourage more hotels and resorts to follow The Brando’s lead.
THE CANYON ESCAPE — THE RANCH AT LAGUNA BEACH — Laguna Beach, USA
The Ranch at Laguna Beach is located a few miles from my apartment, but it seems lightyears away. It’s quiet and secluded and, at the end of the rainy season, it feels like Hawaii. The property is nestled into Aliso Canyon, also home to Ben Brown’s Golf Course — the sort of par 3 paradise where no one looks at you funny if you play barefoot.
With the beach and a stop on the free trolley line just a few steps away, this is is the best value in the O.C. (don’t call it that). You can access secluded stretches of sand, superb restaurants, and a thriving art scene — then duck back into the canyon when you’re ready for some peace and quiet. The Ranch at Laguna Beach also plays host to Harvest, a destination restaurant that nails the California-craft-cuisine movement.
Few properties are lucky enough to combine tranquility with access to a bustling city, The Ranch at Laguna Beach pulls it off in style.