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December 23, 2023

Elite Traveler’s Favorite Hotels of 2023

Our writers pick their most memorable trips of the year.

By Elite Traveler

It’s been a busy year for the Elite Traveler team. Travel is back bigger – and bolder – than ever and we’ve had the opportunity to take some truly unforgettable trips.

From flying halfway across the world to a remote lodge in Namibia’s Sossusvlei Desert to experiencing Mandarin Oriental’s ultra-luxury outpost on the banks of the Bosphorus, when it comes to narrowing down Elite Traveler’s top hotels we’ve been spoilt for choice.

Below, our writers have picked their most memorable trips of the year and shared juicy insider tips to give you some inspiration for your next vacation.

[See also: The Most Luxurious Eco-Friendly Hotels Around the World]

Samantha Coles, Editor

Wildhive Callow Hall 

Derbyshire, England 

Wildhive Callow Hall
The tree houses are peppered throughout the ancient forest / ©Wildhive Callow Hall

In deepest darkest Derbyshire, ensconced by 35 acres of divine countryside, lies Wildhive Callow Hall. I visited in the fall when the foliage that covered the hotel (a grand Victorian Grade II-listed building) had turned a brilliant shade of red —an impossibly pretty sight especially when contrasted against the greens of the surrounding meadows.

Inside the hotel, the decor is delightfully whimsical — murals depicting the pastoral setting, libraries stocked with Britannica encyclopedias, and framed pictures of the wildflowers. The guest rooms within the main house are equally lovely, but don’t sleep on the treehouses. Rather, sleep in them. Peppered throughout the ancient forest, the wooden structures are charming, cozy and absolutely nail the home-away-from-home vibe. 

The Den has two cosseting bedrooms, a cute kitchen, an open-plan lounge and dining area, plus a wraparound deck with alfresco dining spaces and a copper bathtub for a more literal take on forest bathing. The self-contained treehouses provide privacy and you can quite easily spend your whole visit here (order a breakfast hamper — delivered straight to your door in a wicker basket). 

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But do pay a visit to the main house and head to The Garden Room for a spot of afternoon tea — indulgent pastries, scones and cakes featuring honeycomb made with the honey from the estate’s own aviary. Or, work your way through the inventive cocktail menu in one of the drawing rooms next to a roaring fire. Order the Bird on a Wire — a take on the Negroni, it uses White Peak Distillery’s Shining Cliff Gin, a small-batch gin distilled and bottled in Derbyshire. 

Insider tip: Bring your dog. My very timid labrador, Rhubarb, was greeted with patience and kindness (and a few treats) by everyone we met. Within The Den, she had a fluffy bed, chew toy, and a personalized note to welcome her (which was promptly chewed up; it’s the thought that counts). There are countless walks, too, from the ancient forest to Bentley Brook and further afield — you’ll find maps in The Den or in the Map Room at the Coach House. 

wildhive.uk

Kim Ayling, Deputy Editor

Velaa Private Island

Maldives

Velaa Private Island
Elite Traveler’s deputy editor Kim chose the picture-perfect Velaa Private Island as her favorite hotel this year / ©Velaa

The Maldives has a lot of resorts – over 150 resorts, in fact. None of them, though, are quite like Velaa Private Island. Occupying its own island on the remote Noonu Attol, Velaa is just about the most luxurious (and, by default, one of the most expensive) resorts in the region.

Developed by Czech businessman Jirí Smejc with the help of his wife Radka, the whole resort truly is a passion project – the Smejcs had vacationed in the Maldives for years and, like most people with the means to do so, wanted to call a slice of the region their own. And so, Velaa was born. The resort has 43 villas all discretely placed about the island (the type of clientele that Velaa attracts value privacy above all else), including plenty of those classic overwater villas the Maldives is so famous for as well some OTT beachfront mansions. 

I spent five days at Velaa in May to try out one of the resort’s Ayurvedic treatment programs at the newly opened Eveylaa Wellbeing Center. Under the guidance of Dr Peeyush Kumar, I spent the best part of a week undergoing daily Ayurvedic massages and emotional wellbeing sessions, as well as lapping up everything else Velaa has to offer – from sipping champagne in my oceanfront hot tub to snorkeling over the reef. Someone has to do it, I suppose.

Insider tip: Ignore the weather forecast. In the days running up to my trip, my weather app was telling me I was in for five days of solid rain; it lied. We did have a few fleeting downpours (and one epic tropical storm) but it was mostly glorious sunshine. Besides, swimming in the warm Indian ocean while it rains is quite a cathartic experience anyway.

velaaprivateisland.com

Alex Martin, Editor-in-Chief

Porto Zante Villas & Spa

Zakynthos, Greece

Porto Zante
Porto Zante Villas & Spa occupies its own stretch of Zakynthos coastline / ©Porto Zante

With young children in tow, travel options are limited to two options: a big resort with all the expected family-friendly amenities, or a private villa where your tiny terrors run amock in a secure space. Porto Zante, a highly private collection of just nine villas, offers the best of both worlds.

Hidden down an unmarked road and behind two enormous gates, this family-owned and family-run hotel is the perfect place to disappear. It counts A-list celebrities and billionaires among its return customers. If only I could afford the $2,900 per night starting price, I’d be one as well.

We stayed in an entry-level villa, but that level includes a heated swimming pool, garden and outdoor terrace – and that’s just the outside. Inside and out, each villa is perfectly livable. It’s for that reason that guests seldom cross paths. You might see another family at the private beach or perhaps a couple in one of the two restaurants, but unlike large resorts, where the overly friendly are always on the lookout for their next victim, everyone here is of a similar leave-me-be mindset.

When it comes to amenities, you’re not sacrificing anything worth having. There is a spa, albeit just the one treatment room, a gym, an all-age kids club, two restaurants (including an outstanding Japanese) and a world-class signature cocktail menu. Staff outnumber guests and they all know your name, your preferences and your child’s favorite conversation topic. 

Insider tip: Make sure to order the off-menu Omakase, a multi-course experience taken at the chef’s table at Maya, the Japanese restaurant.

portozante.com

Bea Isaacson, Digital Writer

Le Bristol Paris

Paris, France

Le Bristol Hotel exterior
The glamorous entrance at Le Bristol Paris / ©Oetker Collection

I’m far from the first to be charmed to the point of hypnosis by Le Bristol. This exceedingly glitzy institution truly symbolizes everything that draws us to Paris in the first place: effortless style, unapologetic glamor, and a saturation of national history and international culture.

Where Mick Jagger came to party and Josephine Baker came to dance; where artists Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali resided, followed by actors Leonardo di Caprio and Gwyneth Paltrow generations later. The continuity of the world’s brightest stars flocking to this Palace Hotel speaks for its enduring luxury and otherworldly sophistication, sure. But it also hints at something bigger than Le Bristol being a mere hotel; from the Art Deco exterior to the glittering halls inside, this is an institution of the world’s best and brightest, a true celebration of art and culture. Joie de Vivre, indeed. 

Insider tip: A suite with a balcony is a must, whether overlooking the gorgeous inner courtyard or the streets of the 8th Arrondissement outside. The former is quieter, but the latter includes that internationally coveted glimmer of the Eiffel Tower. Take your first coffee of the day there with a complimentary copy of the morning’s newspapers for true, euphoric bliss. 

oetkercollection.com

Toby Louch, Lifestyle Features Writer

Thanda Island 

The Indian Ocean (off the coast of Tanzania)

Thanda Island
Elite Traveler’s lifestyle writer, Toby, picked this idyllic private island as his standout hotel of 2023 / ©Thanda

Hotels are great, but what about luxury private islands? Frequented by heads of state, tech billionaires, royals, their heirs and the occasional travel writer, Thanda Island is the best destination I visited this year. Situated over three miles from its nearest neighbor (a much smaller uninhabited island that doesn’t serve daiquiris) and 18 miles from the African mainland, Thanda Island is for those searching for luxury at the highest standard with privacy to match.

On Thanda, you can choose to stay in the impressive five-bedroom villa — which acts as the island’s hub — or one of the two authentic Tanzanian bandas on the other side of the island. The villa, with its pastel colors and wood finishing, exudes classic beach luxury. I chose the bandas, which sit directly on the beach and produce a sense of perfect solitude.

Once you’re on the island, everything’s included; activities, spa treatments, food and drink are all tailored to visitors’ needs (there is a premium wine list, but the standard one is already extensive). Fancy riding around on a jet ski? Just head to the water sports area and one will be brought out for you. The same goes for sailing, fishing, scuba diving, the list goes on. 

Swimming with Whale Sharks is unmissable, and not nearly as scary as it sounds. These impressive giants barely bat an eye, as you ungraciously flop off the side of a boat and land next to them.     

Insider tip: There are two ways to get to the island: a direct helicopter from the airport in Tanzania’s largest city Dar es Salaam, or a second flight from Dar es Salaam to Mafia Island, followed by a short boat ride to Thanda. My advice is to take the helicopter, it gives you a real sense of place and the best view of the island. It costs slightly more, but if you’re staying on Thanda you probably haven’t been looking at the price anyway.  

thandaisland.com

Irenie Forshaw, Senior Writer

Coquillade

Provence, France

Coquillade
Most visitors flock to the resort when the lavender fields start to bloom / ©Coquillade

I hopped on a flight to Marseille this fall and was whisked into the Luberon hills for a wonderful weekend at Coquillade. The historic hamlet has bucketloads of character – Swiss billionaire Andy Rihs bought the entire village back in 2016 and set about transforming it into his dream hotel. And while most visitors flock to the property over the summer in time for lavender season, it felt really special visiting in late October when it was still gloriously sunny but considerably quieter, too (we still braved a dip in the heated outdoor pool!)

With just 65 rooms, Coquillade didn’t feel very resort-y; instead, it felt as if we were staying for a few days in a pretty village. The location is difficult to beat – our suite looked out over the vineyards where the hotel makes its own wine. Coquillade is also home to two excellent restaurants helmed by Alain Ducasse’s protégé Pierre Marty and an expansive spa.

What makes this unassuming French resort stand out, however, is its cycling center. We rented electric bikes and headed out with a friendly and knowledgeable guide to explore Provence’s picturesque hilltop villages on two wheels. There are also plenty of other ways to immerse yourself in the stunning surroundings from truffle hunting expeditions to grape picking during the wine harvest.

Insider Tip: Grab a glass of bubbly and head straight to the outdoor hot tubs. Set among the vineyards this is one of the most peaceful – and relaxing – spots to watch the sunset.

coquillade.fr

[See also: The Best Safari Camps Championing Sustainability]

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