Lit­tle by lit­tle

In praise of small ho­tels

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

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.

SU­SAN KUROSAWA

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.

JANE NI­CHOLLS

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

JU­DITH ELEN

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.

KEN­DALL HILL

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.

CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

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

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