Little by little
In praise of small hotels
PRETTY BEACH HOUSE, PRETTY BEACH, NSW
On the Central Coast’s Wagstaffe peninsula, this John Singleton-owned redoubt has just four double guestrooms, two as standalone pavilions and a pair in the main lodge. Accommodation can be taken as a one-party booking or per couple but there are no extras to pay, save for spa treatments and bespoke excursions in the lovely wildness of the adjoining Bouddi National Park. The allinclusive tariff features splendid menus overseen by Dean Jones, executive chef at sister property Bells at Killcare, and as much fancy plonk and spirits as you could hope for. A full refurbishment following a fire five years ago has given the property a fresh look with a beach-baronial decor that deftly mixes coastal motifs with leather and lush textiles. Its elevated position takes in bay and bushland views across a sandstone escarpment dotted with angophora, and activities virtually on the doorstep include sailing, surfing at Killcare Beach and fossicking around neighbour settlement Hardys Bay (homewares, cafes and gallery). Guests are treated to a welcome-tocountry ceremony that celebrates the Bouddi’s indigenous heritage and reminds of the deep connection with nature in this, yes, pretty patch of Australia. More: prettybeachhouse.com.
CAGO GUEST HOUSE, TAKETOMI ISLAND, JAPAN
Tiny Taketomi Island, population 350, lies a zippy 20minute ferry ride from Ishigaki in Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, and smart tourists know a day trip isn’t enough time to explore the island’s natural splendour and cherished cultural history. Cago Guest House has three guestrooms and a Balinese vibe, with a plunge pool in a pocket of the courtyard. The rooms are simple but comfortable and lovely. There are no TVs or clocks, inviting you to slow down and match the pace of the water buffalo pulling tourists in wooden carriages along the town’s crushed-coral lanes. Irrepressible owner Mariko Matsuda is your chef, florist, housekeeper and the artist who made the tiny origami swan from Australian-flag paper that I find in my room after dinner in the courtyard. Mariko’s kitchen rules and it’s hard to believe she’s bringing such varied and delicious dishes from her tiny kitchen; the meal includes tempura with local salt, parrot fish with a sauce of local mushrooms and tomatoes and sizzling Okinawan Wagyu beef. A former hotel wedding planner, Mariko and husband Kiyoshi took over Cago four years ago, after falling in love with Taketomi on holiday. Today they have lots of repeat guests, and I plan on being one. More: taketomi-cago.com.
TIENTSIN BUNGALOW, TEA TRAILS, SRI LANKA
Time travel really is possible. In 1888 the first tea estate manager’s bungalow was built on a steep rise overlooking the original plantations of Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Wind forward more than 125 years and the bungalow’s ambience, thankfully, has changed little since the colonial days. Part of Relais & Chateaux, the all-inclusive Tea Trails experience consists of five bungalows scattered across the verdant hills of what is now the Dilmah estate. Tientsin, the oldest and most remote, is named for the Chinese village where the original tea seedlings were sourced. The six guestrooms, some with four-poster beds, are set in the large country house, surrounded by established gardens, tennis courts, a hedged croquet lawn and a horizon pool that feels like you’re swimming off into the fragrant tea bushes. The clubby sitting rooms have dark wood panelling, creaking floorboards, fireplaces and comfy sofas. There’s a cool terrace where meals and various fine estate teas are served. Attentive butlers bring one of life’s delights, “bed tea”, in the mornings. It’s bespoke in the most charming way — chefs consult with guests each day to formulate menus; signature massages and scented baths are luxuriously delivered in-room. For a dazzling arrival, fly by seaplane from Colombo airport. More: resplendentceylon.com.
RELAIS BOURGONDISCH CRUYCE, BRUGES, BELGIUM
LEE TULLOCH This narrow merchant’s house, with a timber facade and twin gables, teeters over the most picturesque of Bruges’s several canal. It’s is as snug as Badger’s House in The Wind in the Willows, with the bonus of velvet armchairs, antique furnishings, original artworks, tapestried window seats, Persian rugs and Louis Vuitton trunks in the (24-hour) reception. There’s a bar, tea salon, room service, concierge and fabulous dining-room breakfasts. The smallest guestrooms (Standard, Deluxe) have courtyard views; Classic or Superior category chambers overlook the canal. All accommodation is individually styled with marble bathrooms, Ralph Lauren linen and snowy appliqued bedcovers, toile drapery, timber beams and candelabra. Minutes away is the vertiginous medieval belfry tower, site of the death of Ken (Brendan Gleeson) in the 2008 film In Bruges. Gleeson and co-star Colin Farrell (Ray) stayed at Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, where that memorable waiting-for-the-phone-call scene was filmed in their characters’ guestroom. And that name? Bourgondisch Cruyce is the heraldic cross of the Knights of Burgundy, 15th-century rulers of this still-flourishing market town, though now the lace, linen and chocolates are in tourist shops. More: relaisbourgondischcruyce.be.
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA 9, ROME
This 15th-century palazzo nestled beside the Frette, Pucci and Loewe boutiques on Rome’s most exclusive square has, in recent memory, been a wartime bordello, a senator’s home and, since 2014, a six-room hotel set in a work- ing art gallery. Piazza di Spagna 9 was created by investment banker turned designer and hotelier Stefania Grippo to “create a place where I can have my live showroom for art and design”. Her art collection spills from public areas into private rooms, each equipped with its own exhibition catalogue documenting wall works, furnishings — some sourced from the Maison & Objet design fair in Paris — and their pricetags. If you like what you see, it’s usually for sale. The focus is on emerging Italian artists but there are also more recognisable names such as photographer Dirk Vogel, whose vibrant fashion portraits adorn most guestrooms. For €1500 ($2200), hotel guests can buy their own private shoot with the German lensman. Accommodation ranges from petite rooms to the plum suite, Sunrise, with windows directly on to the palms of Piazza di Spagna. Hotel staff can book high-end tours of major monuments, artisan shops and food. It’s an unusual concept for Rome, but it has struck a chord with questing travellers. “I don’t have to do any advertising,” says Grippo. More: piazzadispagna9.it.
THANDA SAFARI LODGE, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA
Don’t expect to find this tiny camp on Google Maps as it is secreted in the crumpled folds of northern KwaZuluNatal and cushioned by a fragrant abundance of acacias, marula trees and knob thorn bushes. The lodge offers just nine twin-share suites but there’s no stinting on space. Indeed, my suite is more like a traditional compound, spacious and stamped with the familiar curves of Zulu architecture. There is a circular infinity plunge pool and a sala pavilion on stilts just made for afternoon naps. The rondavel-shaped main structure is bookended by a private boma and an outdoor shower. Beyond it all lies a swath of crackling bush and any number of camouflaged wild animals. It’s only when I amble up to the lushly furnished, Zulu-inspired central lounge that I encounter other guests. We all gather here for early morning coffee or afternoon tea before setting off on game drives and, inbetween, to watch zebra and antelope, and maybe even an elephant, drinking at the waterhole beside the library. More: thanda.com.
Tientsin Bungalow, Tea Trails, Sri Lanka, top left; Pretty Beach House, NSW, main; The Oyster Inn, Oneroa, Waiheke Island, New Zealand, above; Tipiliuke Lodge, Patagonia, above centre; Paradise Road, Tintagel, Colombo, below