Small but Charming Luxury Hotels Around the World
When it comes to accomodations, size matters, but "bigger is not always better when it comes to luxury hotels,” says Kristen Korey Pike, founder and CEO of top travel agency KK Travel Worldwide. Indeed, there’s a certain charm to a mountain lodge kept quiet with only a handful of suites, or a string of cozy cottages each with a prime ocean view. Travel + Leisure consulted with advisors across the world—including many from our own A-List of power agents—to find the best small luxury boutique hotels from the French Riviera to the Chilean desert.
Among these 21 charmers, you’ll find a London hotel so impeccably refined it has earned the approval of the British royal family. Centuries of elegance and grace has defined one Kyoto ryokan as perhaps the best in its class across the country. From its perch overlooking the Amalfi Coast, one five-star family-owned hotel makes guests feel at home—but with limousine and helicopter service. Robert deNiro’s urbane Manhattan hotel is all charm without pretense. And a cliffside South African property boasting 11 stylish suites feels more like your own decadent beach house than a luxury resort.
Beyond that, you’ll find a wealth of fabulous beachside haunts, chic urban hideaways, and countryside chateaux on this list that spans the globe. Many thanks to travel experts who contributed advice, including Kristen Korey Pike; Andrea Malis with Camelback Odyssey Travel; Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry; Valerie Ann Wilson, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel; Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited; Ginny Caragol, executive director of leisure for Valerie Wilson Travel; Kate Corey, founder of The Nomadic Souls; Stacy H. Small, president and founder of Elite Travel International; Anna McGarrity with Currie & Co Travels Unlimited; and Julie Falconer of A Lady in London.
And now, onto our favorite small but stunning oases of luxury.
Hotel Esprit Saint Germain
“If you want storybook Paris on the left bank of the Seine, the Esprit St. Germain captures Paris as it was before Starbucks and H&M showed up on the Champs Elysées,” writes Andrea Malis, a luxury travel advisor with Camelback Odyssey Travel. There are a mere 28 rooms in this five-star hotel, which is designed to feel more like a private residence. Hospitality is a given here, and services include assistance packing and unpacking, laptops, DVDs, and Playstation on request, and a fitness center with a steam room and sauna. And, as Malis notes, you’re just steps away from classic cafés and everything else that makes Paris tick. “You haven’t truly experienced Paris if you have yet to be ensconced in Esprit St. Germain’s version of cozy streets and delightful bistros,” she says.
Think of the Birkenhead House as your beach house on the cliffs of South Africa’s Cape Coast. All of the hotel’s 11 luxury suites are individually designed with touches such as gold-framed headboards, freestanding Victorian baths, 18th-century French gold armchairs, English antique four-poster beds, and more. Hermanus is best known as a whale watching destination, which you can do from the cliff path, the nearby perfect beaches, or out on the water. Travel expert Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry, also recommends Birkenhead House for its prime relaxation location. “No better place in the world to sit with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, curled up on a cushy sofa, reading a book and staring out at the surf,” he writes.
Located high up on the cliffs of Ravello, overlooking the pristine Amalfi Coast, Palazzo Avino is a 12th-century private villa transformed into a five-star hotel. As Travel Artistry’s Bobby Zur writes, “Possibly THE definition of a warm, intimate luxury hotel that is both historic and up to date, Palazzo Avino is family-owned, and somehow manages to make every guest feel like family while still retaining a hint of formality that marks the best luxury hotels on the Amalfi Coast.” Stay in one of its 32 rooms or 11 suites and take advantage of luxury amenities like limousine and helicopter service, an outdoor heated swimming pool overlooking the Mediterranean, a solarium with two whirlpools, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a clubhouse on the beach.
Chateau St. Martin
For a stay on the French Riviera, there is hardly a more luxe or charming property than the Chateau St. Martin. Sunny and airy suites and private villas look out over the olive groves of the outstretched countryside and the blue sea just beyond, while the Chateau’s 30 acres offer the leisure of clay tennis courts, an infinity pool tumbling across the mountainside, and a spa complete with its own couples’ suite. Off the property, Chateau St. Martin invites its guests to spend a day on the hotel’s private beach on Cap d’Antibes or golfing at one of two top-tier 18-hole courses in the South of France. But Valerie Ann Wilson, a top travel advisor and co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, loves the Chateau St. Martin for its entire ambiance. “The feeling just immediately puts me at peace with the world,” she says.
The Greenwich lies amid the bustle of Tribeca, offering a cozy and quiet rest from the action of Manhattan. Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry, recommends the hotel for its traditional luxury that’s free of any pretense and textured decor that includes touches like exposed brick, fireplaces, and libraries of books. “Possibly my favorite small city hotel in the U.S., The Greenwich is everything a charming boutique should be,” he writes. Here, the 88 rooms and suites come individually appointed, with the TriBeCa Penthouse—inspired by the ancient Japanese Wabi aesthetic—as the piece de resistance. The Shibui Spa offers poolside yoga and meditation, while one of New York’s best chefs Andrew Carmellini serves rustic Italian cuisine at the top-notch Locanda Verde. Robert deNiro is an owner, which can only be a plus.
In 1951, four Neapolitan brothers opened La Sirenuse on the grounds of their summer house in Positano. Those brothers have passed on their legacy to their children, who are now running this 58-room luxury seaside hotel—and this is one of the reasons Kristen Korey Pike, founder and CEO of KK Travels Worldwide, recommends a stay here when visiting the Amalfi Coast. “I often find family-owned properties to be genuine, intimate and exceptionally charming,” she writes. “The overall experience is quite different when you feel you are being looked after as you would if you were a guest in someone’s home. There is a more hands-on, personalized approach to service and, to some travelers, this is what defines luxury.” At La Sirenuse, you’ll find hand-tiled floors in the guest rooms overlooking the bay of Positano, as well as a spa, swimming pool surrounded by lemon trees, and a complimentary excursion along the coast on the hotel’s vintage wooden speedboat.
For more than a century, The Goring has been the epitome of luxury and impeccable service in London’s Belgravia neighborhood. Renowned even among royals for its hospitality, The Goring has earned a Royal Warrant from Buckingham Palace for its commitment to caring for guests. Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited recommends The Goring as the definition of “small but charming luxury hotels;” it also ranked highly on Travel + Leisure’s annual list of the world’s best boutique hotels. Whether you stay in a spacious English garden room or any of the hotel’s bespoke suites, you’ll be able to enjoy the cuisine of the hotel’s Michelin-starred dining room, afternoon tea on the Veranda, and cocktails from the St. Moritz Ski Bar. Guests staying in suites may also take advantage of The Goring’s renowned footman service, known to be among the most dedicated in hospitality.
Inn at Little Washington
Nestled in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the Inn at Little Washington offers a positively transporting experience with a stay in one of its 24 rooms and suites. “It’s just a jewel in the United States,” says Valerie Ann Wilson of Valerie Wilson Travel. And this Relais & Chateaux country charmer is best known worldwide for its dining room, where chef Patrick O’Connell has won accolades for his refined regional American cooking. Classic dishes include carpaccio of baby lamb loin with Caesar salad ice cream and sweet and sour pan-seared scallops with shishito peppers. Though gastronomes from across the country—and beyond—compete for tables at the Inn at Little Washington, reservations are guaranteed for hotel guests. Complimentary amenities include kitchen tours, afternoon tea, and bicycles for exploring the verdant Virginia countryside.
Though it may be encircled by an historic wall, the Awasi Atacama feels very much a part of the small desert town in which it resides. Ginny Caragol, executive director of leisure for Valerie Wilson Travel, loves this property for exactly that reason: everything is locally made from the throw blankets hanging over the backs of chairs to the Altiplano cuisine coming out of the kitchen to the very wood, adobe and stone structuring the lodge. The hotel offers eight thatched-roof rooms with bathrooms opening out onto a private patio with outdoor showers. If the Chilean desert locale doesn’t appeal, Awasi also has a property in Patagonia. Bobby Zur of Travel Artistry describes Awasi properties as stylish and with doting staffs. He writes: “More of a perfect marriage between homey and posh, their lodges feel like you have transplanted the best of the South African bush in these remote corners of Chile.”
Gasthof Post Lech
“Lech in itself is as charming as it comes,” writes Kate Corey, founder of The Nomadic Souls. “The quaint village is set in the breathtaking Alps and it’s a perfect destination for both Summer and Winter escapes.” And there’s nowhere better to stay than the Gasthof Post Lech, a family-owned property that’s a member of Relais & Chateaux. These 48 rooms and suites are adorned with details like traditionally painted furniture, wood paneling, and intricate bathroom tiling. Corey also notes that The Post offers “a first class spa and top notch service,” such as 5 o’clock tea in front of the fire, a heated outdoor pool, and a perfumery full of cosmetics from the likes of Chanel and Guerlain.
137 Pillars House
“Located in the center of Chiang Mai, 137 Pillars House elegantly blends old-world charm with the modern amenities sought by today’s discerning traveler,” writes Kristen Korey Pike, founder and CEO of KK Travels Worldwide. Though the beautiful teak lodge dates back to 1889, a stay in one of the hotel’s 30 suites includes access to an outdoor pool, a contemporary fitness facility, and a spa with options for private and group yoga classes. In addition, you’ll have a personal butler, the opportunity to watch Thai cooking demonstrations, and assistance arranging private custom tours of Chiang Mai thanks to the hospitable staff and concierge.
Lime Wood Hotel
“Lime Wood Hotel is one of the loveliest hotels in England,” writes Julie Falconer, the travel planner behind A Lady in London. “Located in the New Forest, it has just the right mix of coziness and style.” That style includes freestanding baths and open fireplaces in the rooms of the main house, as well as a series of suites, lodges, and cottages surrounded entirely by forest. For the ultimate in luxury, stay in one of the split-level forest lodges with their own patio and gardens, or take the cozier route with the forest cottages complete with upscale rustic design, log fires, and monsoon showers. As Falconer points out, there’s been considerable praise for both the spa and the restaurant at the Lime Wood Hotel as well.
Key to the charm of the Huka Lodge is its emphasis on design—both inside the property and out. Renowned interior designer Virginia Fisher made her name on the transformation of this property into the airy and refined retreat it has become. French doors open out from each suite onto a wooden terrace overlooking the Waikato River and Huka Falls. For an even more luxurious stay, there’s also the Owner’s Cottage and the Alan Pye Cottage, both of which offer communal spaces like dens with fireplaces and kitchens equipped for a personal chef. Beyond these interior spaces is a beautifully kept 17-acre garden and grounds equipped with croquet and petanque courts, a pool complex, and a tennis court complete with a tennis instructor. Valerie Ann Wilson of Valerie Wilson Travel says that the Huka Lodge is always her first choice in New Zealand, ideal for dining on your deck overlooking the falls or fly fishing out on the river.
Domaine les Crayères
Domaine les Crayères lies in the heart of the Champagne region of France, a classical chateau that Travel + Leisure named one of its best new hotels of 2015. Valerie Ann Wilson of Valerie Wilson Travel says that this 20-room chateau is one of her all-time favorite properties for as long as she’s been in the business thanks to its French country feel, exceptional Michelin-starred cuisine, and proximity to the world’s most renowned bubbles. Domaine les Crayères offers 20 rooms of understated elegance. Dine out on a candlelit terrace or take in an evening of music. If you book the Grand Siècle by Laurent Perrier stay, you’ll get a champagne welcome, a private tour of the vineyards (escorted by a private driver in a Mercedes S Class car), and dinner created by the hotel’s accoladed chef Philippe Mille.
Many things set the Bulgari Bali apart from its luxury beachside boutique competitors, according to Andrea Malis, a luxury travel advisor with Camelback Odyssey Travel. This clifftop hotel boasts the only private beach on the island, accessible by incline elevator. And while it offers a sense of seclusion, it’s only a short drive from Ubud for those who want to spend time in the city. In short, it’s the best of both worlds. But a driving factor in Bulgari Bali’s charm is the hotel’s charming combination of Italian style with indigenous products. “For example, they might have cobblestone laid, which is very Italian, but they formed the cobblestone using volcanic rock from the surrounds,” Malis writes. The Bulgari Bali’s 59 villas also incorporate Javanese mahogany and locally woven fabrics into their design, each with a garden, pool, and outdoor living room with a view out to the Indian Ocean.
Sol & Luna Lodge & Spa
Surrounded by the Andes in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, each charming cottage at Sol & Luna takes advantage of its beautiful natural environment. These light-filled rooms boast gardens, magnificent mountain views, and artwork inspired by the natural setting—and terraces with jacuzzis. The decor is authentic to the local region, says Ginny Caragol, executive director of leisure for Valerie Wilson Travel, and the Killa Wasi restaurant is known for its fine modern interpretation of local rustic cuisine. Sol & Luna also offers a spa, gym, and sauna, as well as tai chi and yoga classes available upon request. There’s an endless supply of outdoor activities to engage in here—including a visit to the hotel’s own Peruvian-Paso horse ranch—and you’re within easy reach of Machu Picchu.
“Portrait Firenze is modern and elegant with an incredible staff that is truly the heart of the property,” writes Andrea Malis, a luxury travel advisor with Camelback Odyssey Travel. Owned by the Ferragamo family, this boutique hotel and its 37 suites are the epitome of Italian style and grace. Amenities and design details include cashmere throws, complimentary iPods, a fully stocked bar and kitchenette, and bouquets of your favorite flowers. Suites overlook your choice of the river Arno, the famed Ponte Vecchio, or the city of Florence itself. And perhaps the most luxurious aspect of the Portrait Firenze is the service. Lifestyle assistance work with each guest to make your stay exactly as you would like it to be, whether that’s by creating photography, art or gastronomically focused itineraries for you, setting up a private lunch with a noble family, or providing private access to the boutiques of some of the world’s most coveted fashion labels.
In addition to the exquisitely built shrines and golden temples, kaiseki cuisine, and entertaining geisha that have made it the world’s best city, Kyoto is home to some of the world’s most discerning luxury accommodations: traditional Japanese ryokan. With centuries of experience, the Tawaraya is often considered the finest ryokan in Kyoto and perhaps even all of Japan. Valerie Ann Wilson of Valerie Wilson Travel recommends a stay at the Tawaraya or its equally esteemed neighbor the Hiiragiya for a classic Japanese experience where incredible meals are served en suite and you sleep on comfortable tatami mats. The Tawaraya also offers an open-air bath and sauna typical of ryokan, as well as world-class service for its handful of guest rooms.
For more than 50 years, the Jamaica Inn has been a luxury beach resort of choice for the well-heeled from Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller to Sir Winston Churchill, who often stayed in the White Suite. Anna McGarrity, a luxury travel advisor with Currie & Co Travels Unlimited, recommends the Jamaica Inn as one of the world’s best small but charming luxury hotels. Its 48 suites and cottages offer a stately simplicity punctuated by clean white and Wedgewood blue furnishings and views of the Caribbean Sea. On these grounds you can play croquet, dine on the inn’s private beach, indulge in spa services, take afternoon tea, or engage in the water sports of your choosing.
Sophistication looms on the southwest corner of Quito’s historic Plaza San Francisco. Casa Gangotena is a three-story classical mansion with history stretching back to the colonial period, despite having been rebuilt in 1924 after a terrible fire. Recommended by Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co Travels Unlimited, Casa Gangotena offers 31 rooms with high ceilings and striking touches such as neoclassical stucco columns, landscape murals, veined marble, and access to the hotel’s inner gardens. Look out across all of Quito from the third-floor terrace or take a seat on the sunny glass-covered patio for your afternoon tea or coffee (included with your booking) that comes accompanied by light snacks from empanadas and scones to sweets.
Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao
Part of the charm of Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao is the way it combines French colonial style with authentic Laotian culture, writes Kristen Korey Pike, founder and CEO of KK Travels Worldwide. And its ideal location also provides a window into the World Heritage city Luang Prabang—quite literally. “Perched on the Hill of Kites, the charming colonial classic offers sweeping views of the city below,” she adds. Nestled amid the palm and coconut trees, these 34 suites are full of natural light, rosewood furnishings, and views that range from the intoxicating garden to the golden Phousy temple in the distance. On the grounds, an infinity pool drops off the edge of a cliff, treatments from the Mekong Spa are offered al fresco, and activities include cooking classes, archery, tours of local villages, and even a blessing ceremony performed for you by a local shaman.