The Dominion Post
Top 10 romantic luxury retreats
Set on the prettiest beach on the island, Rarotonga’s upscale boutique hotel has been there for some time although its simple elegance hasn’t dated. Ten thatched beachfront bungalows (and four garden bungalows) are pure beachcomber bliss, just a stretch of white sand between you and the lagoon. It’s very unpretentious, which is why this group of islands only a few hours’ flight away is my new favourite place.
Glittering Budapest is one of the most romantic cities in the world and yet people tend to think of Paris first. I adore this intriguing city, with its influences from the Ottomans and Habsburgs. The spot to stay is The Four Seasons, a magnificent restoration of an old art nouveau building on the Danube, which has all the atmosphere of a more opulent era, even though it once was used as a car park.
I hate the word ‘‘stunning’’ but I’ll use it here. This exquisite cliff-top resort featuring a wood-slatted Sunset Cabana Bar that floats mid-air 100 metres above the ocean has won several design awards but I like it for its soft touches – delicious cooking, lovely staff and nurturing spa treatments. The villas all have private pools and cabanas – and room service, so you can hunker down in complete seclusion.
This sweet little Relais & Chateaux hotel is just off the Champs Elysees in a quiet side street. The charming small rooms, decorated in eclectic style, all feel like they’re locations in a novel by Colette. There’s even a cosy artists’ garret if you want to stay tucked in, watching the rain on the window.
This pristine boutique hotel hangs over the Mediterranean in the small village of Praiano, next door to Positano, with views across to Capri. All-white rooms make you feel as if you’re suspended between earth and sky. Most romantic are the Eaudesea suites down a path to the beach, incorporating the texture of rock face into the room design. Dazzling. Laamu is the most southerly atoll in the Maldives, so you can’t get very much more remote than this. The beautiful eco resort is full of honeymooners, like everywhere in this island nation, but can feel like it’s your own island, especially if you have a private beach villa with its own sandy path to the sea.
This newish hotel occupies a 1903 beaux arts building with beautiful curved corner windows and many original features intact, including the opulent ceiling mouldings and tiled floors. Designer Jacques Garcia turned the rooms into lush little Parisian-style bolt holes with a discrete, almost erotic ambience. The corner bedrooms are just gorgeous.
Four heritage bungalows are set on 500 hectares of tea plantation in the cool hills overlooking the Bogawantalawa Valley. It’s the full colonial experience – croquet lawns, swimming pools, catered meals, afternoon teas on the terrace and my favourite, ‘‘bed tea’’, a delightful ritual of breakfast tea served in bed. You can walk between the bungalows and visit the villages of the tea pickers – who have quite a different experience of life. This hilltop palace was once the home of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, the world’s richest man in the 1930s. Now a fastidiously restored hotel, it’s opulent and exotic, with glorious gardens and vistas, and the sound and scents of dozens of mosques rising up from the city below. Many rooms are in the old harem.
This tiny private island, set on 6ha is 40 minutes by helicopter from Nadi. My husband and I recently had it to ourselves for three nights, with a housekeeper and staff catering to our every whim. The resort, part of Huka Retreats, has been renovated recently and it’s somewhat more expensive but worth considering if you want to bring some friends along for a blowout celebration.