So­phis­ti­cated trav­ellers thirsty for en­rich­ing ad­ven­tures and ex­pe­ri­ences that leave a life­long im­pres­sion are mak­ing mem­o­ries at the out-of-the-or­di­nary Au­berge Re­sorts, writes Joanna Tovia.

Signature Travel & Lifestyle - - Contents -

The story be­hind a col­lec­tion of bou­tique re­sorts that are at one with their ex­tra­or­di­nary des­ti­na­tions

Ul­tra-lux­u­ri­ous bou­tique re­sorts that are at one with their des­ti­na­tion is prov­ing a win­ning phi­los­o­phy. Au­berge Re­sorts Col­lec­tion has been qui­etly build­ing a loyal fan base of well-trav­elled guests look­ing for au­then­tic and mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences on an in­ti­mate scale. Based pri­mar­ily in the US and ma­jes­tic lo­ca­tions south of the bor­der – from an adults-only inn nes­tled in Napa Val­ley’s olive groves to a 700-hectare hill­top hideaway on Nicaragua’s Emer­ald Coast – Au­berge’s 12 prop­er­ties have been de­signed to high­light the lo­ca­tion first and re­flect the brand’s sig­na­ture style sec­ond. This means work­ing out how best to im­merse guests into the cul­ture and sur­rounds of a des­ti­na­tion well be­fore build­ing be­gins.

Napa Val­ley’s Au­berge du Soleil was the fam­ily-owned com­pany’s first foray into the ho­tel busi­ness. It be­gan as the area’s first fine-din­ing res­tau­rant

in 1981, the lo­ca­tion cho­sen for its sweep­ing vine­yard views and prox­im­ity to San Fran­cisco, less than two hours’ drive to the south. Guest cot­tages were soon added, and it evolved over time to be­come a re­fined inn. Lawyer-de­vel­oper Bob Har­mon co­founded the orig­i­nal res­tau­rant with French restau­ra­teur Claude Rouas. Lawyer son Mark Har­mon soon joined, then took over the busi­ness.

Au­berge du Soleil has since evolved into a col­lec­tion of 50 Mediter­raneanin­spired pri­vate maisons that at­tract well-heeled trav­ellers from well be­yond North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Mark says guests choose Au­berge be­cause, rather than just un­plug­ging and hav­ing a rest, they want to en­gage in a des­ti­na­tion and have some fun. “They’re look­ing for

more mean­ing in travel,” he ex­plains.

Mark can re­late. “That’s me, too,” says the self-con­fessed adren­a­line-junkie. “I don’t sit still when I go on va­ca­tion; I can’t sit in the chaise in the sun. Let’s go ski­ing, let’s go moun­tain climb­ing, let’s go moun­tain bik­ing, or let’s go learn in the kitchen.”

Ex­pe­ri­ences to re­mem­ber

Ad­ven­ture, learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and pur­pose­ful ac­tiv­i­ties make each Au­berge prop­erty dis­tinct, and the de­sign of each re­flects its lo­ca­tion. The mul­ti­award-win­ning Ha­cienda Al­taGra­cia, for in­stance, gives guests a Costa Ri­can ex­pe­ri­ence un­like any other.

Hid­den away in a 350-hectare oa­sis of rolling hills, this warm and gra­cious re­sort re­flects the spirit of the lo­cal peo­ple and of­fers guests myr­iad op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­plore the pris­tine nat­u­ral sur­rounds – whether that be mak­ing cheese at a neigh­bour­ing farm, white­wa­ter raft­ing on the Save­gre River, or spend­ing the day in a vil­lage feast­ing

and danc­ing to the beat of lo­cal drums.

“Guests want things that will en­rich their lives, ac­tiv­i­ties that are spe­cialised,” Mark ex­plains. If you do it right, he says a ho­tel can “come alive” with per­son­al­ity and soul.

As for the de­sign of Au­berge prop­er­ties, the out­doorsy vi­sion­ary much prefers the in­ti­mate scale of cot­tages over the long hall­ways of im­per­sonal high­rise ho­tels, and strives to make each up­scale ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tion cosy, unique and com­fort­able.

At the exclusive Esper­anza in Mex­ico’s Los Ca­bos, for ex­am­ple, the ca­sitas and vil­las are rus­tic, breezy and re­fined. Esper­anza sits be­tween two bluffs on the Baja Penin­sula and is the only pri­vate beach re­sort in Los Ca­bos.

You’ll forgo all-day loung­ing on the beach, how­ever, when you dis­cover that you can board a he­li­copter bound for Esper­anza’s yacht and sail to Gallo Galina Is­land. Here, you can swim with whale sharks, snorkel the reef and com­mune with the sea lions. If cook­ing’s your thing, you can col­lect clams from the sea with the chef and make a fish and clam ce­viche be­fore de­vour­ing it on the beach with mo­jito in hand.

Be­spoke approach

Esper­anza also has a world-renowned spa. Its sig­na­ture wa­ter pas­sage, in­volv­ing a warm-spring soak­ing pool, steam caves and a cool wa­ter­fall rinse, is de­signed to stim­u­late the lym­phatic sys­tem be­fore a spa treat­ment even be­gins. Mukul in Nicaragua, mean­while, has an approach all its own. Each of its six in­cred­i­ble spa suites is ded­i­cated to a dif­fer­ent an­cient heal­ing tra­di­tion and the in­te­ri­ors are de­signed ac­cord­ingly.

The culi­nary roots of the brand con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor fo­cus, re­flect­ing the em­pha­sis guests place on this im­por­tant el­e­ment of travel. “Din­ing is the most im­por­tant thing to them … it ranks above golf, spas, every­thing,” Mark says. It goes with­out say­ing that the food at each of the Au­berge ho­tels is ex­cep­tional but, in line with the brand’s lo­ca­tion-first phi­los­o­phy, a range of culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences have been de­vel­oped, in­spired by lo­cal cul­tures, flavours and tra­di­tions.

At Cal­i­for­nia’s Cal­is­toga Ranch a fam­ily-style har­vest din­ner is served at a long ta­ble on the lawn and guests can take part in the Har­vest Party, com­plete with grape stomp­ing. In Mukul, a beach bar­be­cue by the bonfire is just the place to un­wind after a day out surf­ing the breaks or ‘ash-board­ing’ down the black sands of the side of a vol­cano.

There are 12 Au­berge re­sorts in the group so far, but stand by. This year, The Lodge at Blue Sky in Utah will open; Bishop’s Lodge in Sante Fe, New Mex­ico, will re­open; and Au­berge Beach Res­i­dences will open in Florida’s Fort Laud­erdale. In 2019, ex­pect open­ings in Idaho, Texas and Punta Mita Mex­ico. We can’t wait. auberg­ere­

01 Cal­is­toga Ranch is set in a Cal­i­for­nian canyon 02 Din­ing above the waves at Esper­anza, Mex­ico 03 Re­fined set­tings at Chileno Bay Re­sort & Res­i­dences, Mex­ico

04 Pool with a view at Au­berge du Soleil, Napa Val­ley 05 Mukul’s vil­las on Nicaragua’s Emer­ald Coast 06 Grab a drink at Chileno Bay Re­sort & Res­i­dences 07 Out­door liv­ing room at Chileno Bay. All im­ages © Au­berge Re­sorts Col­lec­tion

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