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.
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.
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. aubergeresorts.com
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