World's Coolest Hotel Transfers
Forget the airport taxi: from the Persian Gulf to Punta Cana and Hong Kong to Bora-Bora, upscale hotels, resorts, lodges, and safari camps are perfecting the art of the unique arrival. These days, a “shuttle” to the hotel is more likely to be a helicopter or a speedboat than a lowly minivan. Or it may be something even more dramatic…anyone for some paragliding?
Whoever said “Getting there is half the fun” was clearly on to something, especially where today’s high-end lodgers are concerned. Whether by sea, air, or ingenious—and often indigenous—overland passage, many travelers these days are being treated to holiday thrills well before they actually arrive at their holiday destination.
Of course, the idea of packing luxury and leisure into every travel moment—while providing hotels a unique opportunity to set themselves apart—isn’t exactly new. Upscale hotel groups such as the Peninsula have long offered their guests airport transfers via Rolls-Royce, while helicopter service to rooftop hotel landing pads is a staple of the jet set in Asia, South America, and the Persian Gulf.
What is new, however, is an increasing focus on authenticity and sense of place—which allows guests to arrive at their accommodations already feeling acquainted with the culture they’re visiting.
After all, what’s more European than a cable car? And when you book a room at the Vigilius Mountain Resort in Lana, Italy—some 5,000 feet above the valley vineyards—you’ll find that the only way to get there is a high-wire act. The vintage cable car takes just seven minutes to climb through the South Tyrolean Dolomites; you’ll end up at a remote Alpine lodge surrounded by jagged peaks.
If you’d like to savor your transfer, consider heading to the Maldives resort of Dhoni Island. Here, guests arrive at their private island sanctuary after a five-hour sail aboard a handcrafted Maldivian dhoni, where a personal butler will pop open a bottle of bubbly to ease any lingering jet lag. Too slow? Take a speedboat from St. Kitts and in 30 minutes you’ll be awash in the refined, genteel atmosphere of Montpelier Plantation in Nevis.
And if all this still seems too pedestrian, try something truly unique: flying to Oman’s Six Senses Zighy Bay on a paraglider (with a guide)—a James Bond–like entrance that will make you forget there was ever such a thing as a hotel minivan. —David Kaufman
Six SensesZighy Bay, Oman
There are three choices for arrival at this resort in the Sultanate of Oman set between the jagged Hajar Mountains and a secluded mile-long slice of the Persian Gulf. If the 15-minute speedboat ride or the overland jeep adventure through mountainous desert terrain doesn’t jazz you, though, you can make a more dramatic entrance—by literally falling from the sky. Strapped tight into a tandem harness with a Six Senses pro, you’ll descend some 2,000 feet on a paraglider—a visually dazzling 10-minute journey that does no harm to the environment. Once you land and check into one of 82 spacious pool villas, suites, and duplexes, hit the on-site spa to calm any post-glide nerves. —David Kaufman
No Maldivian resort has captured the majesty of water travel quite like Dhoni Island (previously Dhoni Mighili). Set on its own private island, the six-suite resort is just a 25-minute seaplane flight from the capital, Malé—but the lazy, five-hour sail via dhoni, or traditional handcrafted wooden Maldivian sailboat, is much more indulgent. The resort’s elegant, 65-foot cruisers are fabulously fitted with everything from goose-down duvets, Frette linens, and surround-sound theaters to Philippe Starck–designed baths, SMEG retro-designed fridges, and thakarus (personal butlers). Even after you’ve checked into one of the resort’s six villas (four of which have plunge pools and private courtyards), the dhoni and thakaru remain on call until checkout. —David Kaufman
Even though the hotel boasts a fleet of custom-designed Rolls-Royce Phantoms, the most jaw-dropping way to approach this venerable Peninsula is by air. The hotel is the only one in the city with a private helicopter pad, and guests with a bird’s-eye bent can make the 22-mile jaunt from Hong Kong International Airport in a sleek Aerospatiale AS355N Twin Squirrel craft (roomy enough to seat five). In less than 20 minutes, you’ll arrive on the rooftop—right next to Felix, the hotel’s posh penthouse restaurant designed by Philippe Starck. If you like the ride, copter tours throughout the city can be arranged via the concierge. —David Kaufman
Burgh Island Hotel, Bigbury-on-Sea, England
Forget the helipad: the way to arrive at this pricey hotel, located on a private island off the coast of South Devon, is via the world’s only hydraulic Sea Tractor—an unusual contraption that rises above the lapping waters of the tidal causeway. Designed in 1969, the unique conveyance makes the 700-foot-long crossing in just minutes at high tide (the hotel has a fleet of Land Rovers for low tide), ending at a 25-room Art Deco property that dates to 1929 and has hosted the likes of Agatha Christie and Noël Coward. —Farhad Heydari
Jumeirah BurjAl Arab, Dubai,UAE
Visitors to the world’s first self-described “seven-star” hotel, which sits on a private island in the Persian Gulf, can choose to be transported by any of several different luxury sedans (some like the sporty BMW 7 Series; others prefer a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce Phantom or Mercedes-Benz GL450), which shimmy across the hotel’s slim causeway linking it to the sandy mainland. Those who want to arrive in even higher style can opt for pickup by the Burj’s private luxury Augusta 109 Executive helicopter—although a cool drive along the city’s shimmering Persian Gulf–front is the best way to beat Dubai’s notorious desert heat. Once there, check into $1,000-a-night starter suites to enjoy the sky-high spa (with infinity pool seemingly floating into the sea) and a team of butlers on each floor of this 1,000-foot-high ultra-haute hotel. —David Kaufman
MontpelierPlantation, Nevis, West Indies
With its jagged peaks, lush forests, volcanic hot springs, and abundant wildlife, the tiny island of Nevis is one of the Caribbean’s most exotic places. And the staff of the Montpelier Plantation—an 18-room former sugar plantation perched on a hillside overlooking the coral-reef-studded sea—make sure your passage here is super-smooth. Once you’ve flown into the sister island of St. Kitts, you’re transferred to a private water taxi, which crosses the cerulean Narrows separating the two islands and gets you to Nevis in less than half an hour. As soon as you land, a taxi arrives to drive you up the hill to the resort, where you’ll be treated to views of the entire island and much of the Leeward chain. —David Kaufman
Sivory PuntaCana Boutique Hotel, Punta Cana,DominicanRepublic
When it opened in late 2005, this east coast resort jump-started a new era of boutique glamour for the Dominican Republic. With its 55 beachfront suites, lush gardens, spa, a trio of haute eateries, a cigar lounge, and the island’s largest wine cellar (with more than 8,000 bottles), Sivory Punta Cana set the standard for other small luxury hotels on the island. And since it’s only fitting that guests should arrive in style, many trade the hour-long drive from Punta Cana Airport for a stealth-copter ride straight to Sivory’s silky beach. Guests are greeted with cold towels, chilled bubbly, and fast-track check-in right on the sand. En route, they can scope out their favorite hole at Punta Cana’s P. B. Dye–designed waterfront golf course. —David Kaufman
Khwai RiverLodge, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
The Khwai River floodplain, set in the heart of Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, teems with creatures ranging from lions and leopards to elephants and hyenas. You can spot them all en route to the lodge—which you’ll reach via private, single-engine Cessna after pickup in the nearby town of Maun. Flying low to the ground, the plane skims over arid bushveld and grazing herds of impala and springbok before arriving at the lodge, where staff welcome guests with traditional Setswana songs and trays of fruity cocktails. Sip one in style at the lodge’s ultra-private suite, with its own splash pool, observation deck, and alfresco shower. —David Kaufman
InterContinentalBora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa, Bora-Bora, FrenchPolynesia
French Polynesia has been a luxurious hideaway for decades (everyone from Gauguin to Brando has called the islands home), but a new clutch of ultra-deluxe resorts has raised the decadence bar even higher. Here, the sybaritic service begins as soon as guests arrive at Bora Bora Airport—they’re immediately whisked onto a private shuttle motorboat, which takes them on a 15-minute ride across the actual Blue Lagoon (made famous in Couples Retreat!). On arrival, they’re greeted by a staff member blowing on the pu (conch shell) and wearing traditional feathered headdress and sarong. Then they can settle into one of the resort’s 80 sumptuous over-water bungalows—each at least 1,000 square feet and set on stilts right over the turquoise ocean. —David Kaufman
Phantom Ranch,Grand Canyon, AZ
The only hotel located below the rim of the Grand Canyon isn’t exactly easy to get to. Some folks take the 10-mile hike; others white-water raft along the churning Colorado River from the historic Grand Canyon Village. But for the truly intrepid, the only way to arrive at this 11-cabin retreat is by mule. The roughly five-hour trip, organized by the ranch, leads along jagged cliffs and plummeting gorges, and finally across the mighty Colorado via suspension bridge before arriving at the lodge—which is crafted from native wood and stone and uses eco-friendly evaporation cooling during the summer months. A hot shower and a steak dinner will never seem more delicious. —David Kaufman
VigiliusMountain Resort, Lana, Italy
Set alongside a dramatic tree-covered couloir at a rarefied altitude of 4,921 feet in the heart of the South Tyrolean Dolomites, this minimalist, eco-friendly hideaway is accessible only by cable car—in this case, Europe’s second oldest, the Vigiljoch. Guests board the vintage 1912 cable car on the outskirts of Merano for a nearly vertical seven-minute ascent away from the vineyard-covered valley floor to Vigiljoch. There, they discover an outdoor paradise and a low-slung, carbon-neutral enclave with 41 TV-free rooms, two restaurants, and a spa, all designed from larch and slate sourced from the nearby hillsides. —Farhad Heydari