Tired chain hotels these ain’t. While the destination is the draw for most travellers, these spectacular stays are reason enough to pack your bags and board a plane.
Some bucket list hotels offer unprecedented access to exotic locales. Others are exceptionally private. Some are steeped in history, or provide an unusually up-close experience with Mother Nature. What they have in common is unparalleled service, uncompromising luxury, and unforgettable memories.
Start saving your spare change. These 10 hotels don’t come cheap, but they’re worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime stay.
Minaret Station | Wanaka, New Zealand
Minaret Station treats guests to an authentic alpine experience so exclusive it’s only accessible by helicopter. There are only four rooms, each an individual “alpine chalet” with tasteful high country design and private hot tubs. Guests explore New Zealand’s famous wilderness through a variety of Heli-Adventure options, including skiing, hiking, guided hunting and fishing, biking, boating, and farm tours.
Hanging Gardens Of Bali | Payangan, Bali, Indonesia
Fans of travel photography may recognise this iconic swimming pool from Instagram. The piano-shaped infinity pool of Ubud’s Hanging Gardens of Bali is instafamous and award-winning, hailed as one of the world’s best by TripAdvisor and Condé Nast Traveller. The rest of the resort is no slouch either. Forty-four private villas are nestled on a mountain face in the heart of the jungle, offering an immersive experience in Bali’s beautiful tropical environment.
Emirates Palace | Abu Dhabi, UAE
Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace is a lavishly imagined dream built as a monument to Arabian culture. The grand hotel (the second most expensive ever constructed, after the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore) encompasses 394 luxurious rooms and suites, a 1.3 km pristine beach, landscaped pools, and a private marina overlooking a natural bay. Although the hotel rating system officially only goes up to 5 stars, a dazzled journalist called Emirates Palace a 7-star facility.
Gamirasu Cave Hotel | Cappadocia, Turkey
Formerly used as a monastic retreat in the Byzantine Era, Gamirasu is now home to 35 meticulously restored and designed cave rooms. The hotel is carved directly into the rocks of Cappadocia, combining harmony with nature with the comforts of modern accommodations. Be sure to go hot air ballooning, Cappadocia’s most famous pastime, during your stay.
Ashford Castle | County Mayo, Ireland
Your Irish dream home is here. Ashford Castle, once owned by the Guinness family, was built in 1228 and became a hotel in the 1930s. Today the time capsule property comes with a mix of original medieval details and modern updates – think towers, turrets, wood paneling, chandeliers, antique furniture, Connemara marble, and claw foot tubs. Guests can enjoy activities like falconry lessons, golf, boat tours on the lake, clay shooting, and archery.
Le Sirenuse | Positano, Italy
The Amalfi Coast is a naturally extraordinary destination, but against all odds Le Sirenuse makes it even more so. Four siblings converted their summer home in Positano into a charming seaside hotel in 1951. Since then, Le Sirenuse has become one of Italy’s leading luxury hotels – not just because of its breathtaking view, but also its thoughtfully decorated rooms, illustrious guests, and Michelin-starred restaurant.
Jade Mountain Resort | Soufrière, St. Lucia
Jade Mountain Resort on St. Lucia is a cornucopia of organic architecture celebrating the Caribbean’s scenic beauty. From the extravagant private infinity pools to the rugged stoned-faced columns, every detail was designed to exist in harmony with nature. The most remarkable feature is the absent fourth wall, which turns each accommodation into a stage for viewing the full glory of St. Lucia’s Pitons World Heritage Site and the eternal Caribbean Sea.
Oberoi Udaivilas | Udaipur, India
Staying at the Oberoi Udaivilas feels like stepping into a fairytale. Guests are ferried across Lake Pichola in a private boat and greeted by domed architecture out of an Arabian Nights fantasy. The sprawling grounds include manicured gardens and a twenty-acre wildlife sanctuary with deer and wild boar. Sensory overload is almost a guarantee, but thankfully you can unwind with the hotel’s spa, yoga sessions, and cooking classes.
Explora Patagonia | Patagonia, Chile
Explora is a travel company that operates hotels and adventures in seven remote destinations of South America. The all-inclusive Explora Patagonia gives guests the rare opportunity to sleep in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. From there, they can embark on a number of hotel-led excursions on foot or on horseback around Torres del Paine National Park.
Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp | Chiang Rai, Thailand
Learn to “drive” an elephant at sunrise. Watch the playful antics of elephant bathing time in the river. Go elephant trekking through native forests and past picturesque rice paddies. At Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort, the family of resident pachyderms are integrated into every part of your stay – even the yoga classes. The only place you won’t see them is the traditional Thai spa, because having an enormous mammal grind your muscles is not as relaxing as it sounds.