There’s no grander place to see Edinburgh than from the old railway hotel that is the Waldorf Astoria Caledonian. Dating back to 1903, it is found at the heart of the city in Princes Street and its design captures the property’s standout period details – such as the central marble staircase and the buzzy Peacock Alley, a huge lobby-lounge carved out of what was once the old station ticket office (Caledonian Railway was formerly ran underneath the hotel) complete with the original Victorian station clock.
Tartan-trousered doormen add a nod to the destination, while slick service, with a 24-hour concierge, echoes the Waldorf Astoria’s commitment to personalised attention for all its guests. In recent years, it has become renowned for its collaboration with some of the most glamourous names in the business. First is the Guerlain Spa – the only one in the UK – offering a touch of Parisian pizzazz to the city. The hotel is also home to two restaurants overseen by Michelin-starred brothers, Chris and Jeff Galvin. Galvin Brasserie de Luxe is based on a traditional French bistro, with ceramic tiles, industrial lighting, Art Deco-style mirrors and Gainsborough wooden dining chairs. Order from the Crustacea Menu, from which you can sample langoustines, oysters or lobster, and finish up with the Apple Tarte Tartin.
With summer underway, the seaside called and there’s no dreamier spot in the UK than Devon‘s coastline. Early summer I was lucky to stay at Chalet Saunton, a collection of luxury apartments, overlooking Saunton Sands, one of North Devon’s most-loved beaches. The collection of six luxury three-bedroom holiday apartments, and a two-bedroom top floor penthouse, is helping to ramp up the image of this little slice of beachy paradise.
Scandi-influenced interiors – think: blond floorboards, black and white photography and industrial pendant lightings – is bought to life with the far-reaching ocean views that are simply dreamy. When the sun comes out, there’s no better place to be.
The highlight of the summer was undoubtedly a trip to Thailand. First off, was a stop-over in Bangkok and to the glam Akyra Thonglor, which has recently reopened its doors after a major revamp by Bangkok-based Begray interior design studios. Across the property, the design factor is decidedly ‘grown-up sophistication’ and has been inspired by the opulent look of the 1920s. Apartment-style suites, give tons of space, and come with a slick kitchen-dining room, a chic living area and a wide terrace for panoramic views across the city. On the 10th and 11th floors, you’ll discover the hotel’s dining options and an impressive rooftop pool. The latter has cinematic appeal – with the city’s skyscrapers surrounding you as you float on by.
Those with an eco conscious, should head to nearby Sukhumvit – which oozes a downtown vibe and is another one of Bangkok’s most upcoming areas. Akyra TAS Sukhumvit is the newest hotel from Akyra, the innovative hospitality brand. Some of its green initiatives include offering guests stainless-steel water bottles, which they can refill on all floors, cloth shopping bags and bathroom toiletries infused with natural essential oils and packaged in celadon containers.
The 50-room boutique property has a retro vibe with industrial-style interiors – think cage-shaded exposed lightbulbs, black-framed windows and natural-wood-clad walls. Crisp white-linen-laid beds have oversized duck-feather pillows and bathrooms are on the right side of luxurious with tubs offering cityscape views. Best of all is the dining, which ‘tops and tails’ the guestrooms – on the roof is the Rise Rooftop Terrace Bar, while on the ground floor is the Siam Soul Café, an all-day diner.
Once you’ve had your city fix, it’s time to chill out for a while and so it was onwards to Phuket and, found on the Andaman Coast, is Akyra Beach Club – a beach-front property offering immersive experiences and a bare-foot-luxury approach.
In cobalt blue-and-white rooms, you’ll drift off to sleep with the ocean waves as your soundtrack. Whether you want to learn new skills or try your hand at something different, the hotel’s ethos is to offer you as much – or as little – as you wish. You can tap into Thai Wellness Workouts, which includes Tai Chi classes, Thai boxing, surfing and paddle boarding. Or perhaps you’ll want to get to grips with making the ultimate Pad Thai dish? Hands-on cookery lessons include trips to Khok Kloi’s local market, sunset fishing trips culminating with lessons with Thai chefs. It’s an inspiring place to be.
Onwards… and come September, my ultimate luxurious trip of the year was to the upscale resort community Albany in the Bahamas, owned by British billionaire Joe Lewis and his private investment organisation Tavistock Group, along with golfing greats Tiger Woods and Ernie Els and actor and musician Justin Timberlake. Its aim? To be one of the most exclusive resort communities in the world, offering a range of luxury living – with properties available to rent or to buy – for a line-up of glamourous guests.
Found on New Providence island, it is built around a historic residence – Albany House – a candy-pink manor house famous for having featured in the Bond movie Casino Royal (it’s the backdrop for Daniel Craig’s memorable scene where he emerged from the ocean). Residences, however, are built across a collection of avant-garde architectural buildings. The Honeycomb, for instance, is the most visually impressive building and the first thing you’ll see on arrival. It was designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) — the award-winning Danish design firm responsible for noted projects, including the London’s 2016 Serpentine Pavilion and the Two World Trade Centre in New York. Its hexagon design shimmers with a series of transparent infinity pools set into terraces, while, inside, there is a choice of luxury apartments.
Once Autumn arrives and it’s an escape to Corfu to investigate the new Ikos Dassia. The smart resort is redefining all-inclusive holidays with its stylish décor, Michelin-style dining and a ‘local discovery’ ethos. Borrow a Mini Cooper for the day, and discover one of the local beauty spots, or book the dine-out option, where you can choose to have your supper at a local taverna. Spread across two buildings – Sea and Sky – each with their own lobby, shops, bars, restaurants and pools – the resort feels super-spacious. As well as 23 acres of tropical gardens, and a private beach club on the unspoilt Dassia Beach, there’s tons to do, including water-sports, football, pedalo boats and kayaking.
Come November and a remote spot in Brazil turned out to be my most intrepid trip of the year. Bahia has always been on my wish list and the charming town of Trancoso did not disappoint. Here, the UXUA Casa Hotel is found – founded by Dutch designer Wilbert Das, it is carved out of a collection of candy-coloured fisherman’s houses. Immersed in the local community, the rustic-luxe property has at its heart a sparkling swimming pool, lined with thousands of aventurine quartz stones in a myriad azure tones. The casas – some found around the pool and others dotted across the square known as the quadrado – have an inside-outside design, with al fresco showers made out of hollowed-out tree trunks, reclaimed wood furniture and vibrant folk art.
Inspired by the rich artisanship of Trancoso (kickstarted by the self-reliant hippies of the 70s who were affectionately called biribandos by locals), Das has been instrumental in encouraging a resurgence of artisan work. There’s the Artists in Residence programme, which sees a visiting line-up of international names come to work in one of the casas (the deal is they have to leave their art behind to be showcased in the house) and a continuing collaboration with many local craftspeople – some of whom work directly from the hotel.
Das has also collaborated with many locals to create one-off pieces found throughout the hotel, including hand-woven rugs, basket-woven lampshades and beautifully designed textiles. The result is a richly textured finish, the opposite of a cookie-cutter approach, with unique items everywhere you look. And if you have fallen in love with the indigo throw found on your bed, then you’re in luck: the new UXUA Casacollection means that many of these homewares are available to recreate the look at home.
Finally, just before the year ended, it was a final flourish with a jaunt to the Maldives. Mirihi Island, in the South Ari Atoll, is a literal bare-foot retreat: as soon as you arrive, shoes are discarded, and not seen again until you leave. From the stunning overwater villas to the rustic-luxe beach villas – the resort gives a castaway feel with doors opening out right onto the sandy shores or straight onto decks and into the impossibly azure waters. Décor is simple and pared-back – whitewashed walls, open-air bathrooms and colourful naïve artworks depicting the tropical colours of the region (it turns out that many of the canvases have been created by the staff).
It may be tiny at just 350m long and 50m wide, but the island boasts one of the best house reefs in the Maldives so much time is spent snorkelling and swimming, taking in the incredible underwater life just feet from your villa. From reef sharks to manta rays, turtles to parrot fish – there’s an abundance of vivid-hued creatures to witness – each visit bringing a different encounter.
From stargazing with the resort’s powerful telescope to the Whale Shark Safari, where you can go out on the resorts pine-wood yacht in search of pods of whale sharks and manta-rays, activities are thought-provoking and inspiring. Restaurants are also heart-lifting: the laid-back Dhonveli Restaurant offers an array of Maldivian specialities, under the watchful eye of jolly head-chef Felix Bamert.
Marrying Indian flavours and Sri Lankan traditions, Maldivian cuisine is light and moderately spicy with an emphasis on vegetarian dishes – think: Tempered Jackfruit with Mustard, Banana Curry, Wax Curd Walomas Curry, Basmati Rice with Curry Leaf and Pumpkin Salad with Tamarind Dressing. Meanwhile, Muraka – the over-sea restaurant – offers a fine-dining experience and a joyful way to reflect on your day and to finish a mammoth year of travel.