2016 has been an incredible year! We left England in April, travelled through 12 countries and eventually settled back in Australia after two and a half years away! During our travels we’ve stayed in some incredible luxury hotels, so much so that it made it quite difficult to pick a top ten! Our top ten is quite a mixture of hotels and ranges from luxurious log cabins to the ultimate in five star luxury to glamping tents and boutique hotels. These ten hotels aren’t just your typical luxury hotel, each offered us a unique experience like no other and we can’t wait to share them with you!
1. EAGLE BRAE, SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
At the very top of our favourite hotels of 2016 is Eagle Brae in the Scottish Highlands. We visited Scotland in March and stayed at Eagle Brae, which is the ultimate in luxurious self-catering holiday accommodation located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, just north of Loch Ness. We felt at home immediately at Eagle Brae in their beautiful, unique and luxurious log cabins which are the perfect place to experience the best that Scotland has to offer and are an ideal base to explore the Scottish Highlands from. We fell in love with Eagle Brae instantly and truly believe the concept and design of these wonderful log cabins is like no other, anywhere in the world.
Eagle Brae’s 7 log cabins were made by Pioneer Log Homes of British Columbia in Canada using authentic Norwegian techniques. The Western Red Cedar is specially sourced from sustainably managed forests and has a beautiful grain, provides oustanding thermal performance and has natural insect deterrent qualities. The cabins are all well spaced out ensuring that each has their own privacy and uninterrupted views and each cabin is hand made using beautiful, unique logs of different shapes and sizes.
Eagle Brae is the ultimate fusion of rustic charm and modern luxury. We were just as speechless when we stepped inside our cabin as we were when we first drove into Eagle Brae and saw the cabins for the first time. The interior of our cabin was a work of art itself. Spacious, luxurious, warm and cosy with a log burning stove, beautiful bespoke wooden furnishings, leather lounges, Himalayan carvings and Scottish charm. We absolutely loved our open plan living, dining and kitchen area which had a superb cathedral ceiling and upper floor mezzanine. Our cabin was wonderfully warm thanks to the under-floor heating system which is controlled by thermostat controls in each room of the cabin.
A photo book on our coffee table displayed the story of Eagle Brae’ construction from start to end. It was an incredible way to showcase eight years of hard work and see the processes they went through to create the log cabins. Dan is a big fan of shows such as Grand Designs and he said that flicking through the photo book was like watching the best episode of Grand Designs ever, and I can attest to the fact that he was not exaggerating one bit!
Our stay at Eagle Brae was absolutely perfect. Mike and Pawana have created the ultimate destination for luxury and relaxation in the Scottish Highlands. Your stay at Eagle Brae is also environmentally friendly thanks to their dedication and commitment to sustainability. We’ve been lucky enough to stay in some incredible places around the world and we’ll both happily attest to the fact that our stay at Eagle Brae tops that list. It is truly a unique and personal experience and I can see why people fall in love with Eagle Brae. It’s a place we will never forget and are already aching to return, so much so that we are planning a return trip from Australia with my parents in 2018!
Oh and it snowed on our last day which made a perfect stay even more perfect!
2. THE WESTIN EUROPA & REGINA, VENICE
Located a few steps from the iconic Piazza San Marco and just in front of the church of Santa Maria della Salute, the most beautiful church of the Italian Baroque, The Westin Europa & Regina has an incredible, unrivalled position in Venice. It is located on the final and most magnificent stretch of the Grand Canal where it widens to become the Bacino di San Marco. The Westin Europa & Regina is a stunning hotel that oozes history, elegance and luxury and our stay there allowed us to feel like royalty, it was truly an unforgettable experience.
We were speechless the moment we stepped into our gorgeous double room which had a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal. We’re lucky enough to travel extensively and spend more nights in hotels than at home and we’re happy to say that our room at The Westin Europa & Regina was the most beautiful and elegant rooms we’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Our favourite features of the rooms at The Westin Europa & Regina were the high ceilings, elegant furnishings, lavish decor, stunning Murano glass chandeliers, the signature Westin Heavenly Bed and of course the incredible views.
One of the most magnificent features of our room would have certainly been our incredible balcony which offered panoramic water views of Venice which swept across the Grand Canal to the romantic island of San Giorgio, across to Pinault’s Punta della Dogana and the beautiful Santa Maria della Salute Church. Standing on our balcony sipping on the finest Prosecco and watching gondolas paddle by, vaporettos and water taxi’s motor past was a people watching experience like no other, and it was a view, memory and experience that we’ll certainly never forget.
Our stay at The Westin Europa & Regina was incredible and an experience we will never forget. Our room was absolutely divine, the hotel had the best location in Venice, the views were unbeatable and the staff were attentive, professional and went above and beyond to ensure every aspect of our stay was perfect.
3. MEZZATORRE RESORT & SPA, ISCHIA
Mezzatorre Resort & Spa is a five star hotel located in Forio d’ Ischia, surrounded by seven hectares of pinewood and perched on the cliffs overlooking it’s own private bay and is truly a piece of paradise. It’s origins are as a defence against the raids of the Saracen army and the antique 16th century lookout tower has been tastefully and skilfully renovated without altering it’s original design to retain its incredible history. We fell in love with Mezzatorre when we visited in 2014 at the end of the summer season and jumped at the opportunity to return to this hotel which well and truly deserves its membership of The Leading Hotels of the World collection.
The hotel features three indoor pools and one heated, saltwater outdoor pool. We spent most of our time relaxing and swimming in the outdoor pool which has majestic views of the Gulf of Naples and its faraway islands. Mezzatorre also has a private beach which is a peaceful and relaxing oasis and it is a wonderful experience to swim in the beautiful, crystal clear waters of the bay.
We were staying on one of the brand new Deluxe Tower Suites located in the tower which had the most incredible terrace with sea views. We particularly love the calming, natural interiors and decor at Mezzatorre which are warm, soothing & relaxing. Every detail of the rooms has been designed to keep away stress and let you rewind and relax in comfort to ensure that you leave feeling better than when you arrived.
Our room was stunning, elegant and luxurious and one of the highlights was without a doubt our enormous private terrace which boasted views of both the sea and the resort. We were also lucky enough to catch two stunning sunsets from our terrace which was a magical experience we’ll never forget!
The Resort’s two beautiful restaurants, Chandelier and Sciué Sciué draw inspiration from the rich gastronomical culture of Ischia, creating unique dishes using the highest quality, locally sourced, seasonal produce. We dined in the beautiful, elegant Chandelier restaurant one evening during our stay and it was an evening of fine wine, excellent service and incredible food that we certainly won’t forget any time soon.
Mezzatorre is good for both the body and soul and is without a doubt still one our favourite hotels in the world. Many of our readers will know we’re getting married in November 2017 and we haven’t yet planned our honeymoon and after our two incredible visits to Mezzatorre we truly don’t know how anywhere in the world could beat the magical island of Ischia and the five star paradise that is Mezzatorre Resort & Spa.
4. NOSTOS APARTMENTS, SANTORINI
Santorini has always been at the top of my bucket list. Ever since I first saw a picture of those picture perfect white towns dotted on the cliffs, the beautiful blue domes, the awe-inspiring caldera and the romantic cave hotels with infinity pools. It is not often that you visit a place you’ve always wanted to and it is even better than you could have possibly imagined and I’m happy to say that Santorini exceeded all my (very high) expectations, I truly fell in love with this picture perfect, romantic, beautiful island. Our stay on Santorini was made perfect by our incredible stay at Nostos Apartments in Oia and it was one of the most beautiful, magical places we’ve stayed in all our travels and truly made our time on Santorini unforgettable.
Santorini is one of the most picturesque places on Earth and I truly don’t think it would be possible to have a better view than the view from Nostos Apartments. No matter where you are in Nostos whether your room, terrace, in the pool, lounging by the pool or in the breakfast room you will literally have to pinch yourself at times to believe you are lucky enough to be staying in this paradise!
Nostos Apartments have a beautiful pool which overlooks the caldera, the volcano and the beautiful white cliffside buildings of Oia. The pool was also a saviour during the hot summer days when Santorini is absolutely roasting!
We were staying in a beautiful studio which absolutely blew us away the moment we stepped inside. It was my dream to stay in a cave room in Oia and our room at Nostos was exactly that! It had been built into the cliffside and was a real life, luxurious cave! We loved the white and blue decor with polished concrete floors that created a wonderful, beachy Greek Island ambiance.
We were in love with our room and if it is even possible, we were more in love with our terrace. Our gorgeous white terrace had the most vibrant and beautiful tree with pink and white leaves that contrasted the spectacular blues and whites that surrounded us. Our terrace had deck chairs as well as a table and chairs which were the perfect setting for a romantic bottle of wine at dusk. Before we came to the Greek Islands I told Dan that I hoped we’d see a “charming white Greek building with one of those bright pink trees as it was very romantic and instagrammable”. I never would have imagined we’d be lucky enough to actually stay in a place that epitomised my dream and when I think back to our time in Santorini my first image is our beautiful white terrace with that gorgeous pink and white tree and the endless blue of the sky and the sea that met us at the end of our terrace.
Our stay at Nostos Apartments was one of the reasons why we loved Santorini so much and it truly made our time on the island so incredibly perfect. Nostos Apartments are charming, stylish, luxurious, beautiful, relaxing and unique and one of our favourite places we’ve ever stayed.
5. MAISON LA MINERVETTA, SORRENTO
During our visit to the Amalfi Coast in 2014 we fell in love with Maison La Minervetta in Sorrento. Maison La Minervetta is not just a stunning boutique hotel, it is a luxury experience that you will never forget. We were lucky enough to return recently and again, this gorgeous hotel left us lost for words as we rediscovered the reasons why we fell in love with it in the first place.
The moment we stepped through the front doors of Maison La Minervetta we were greeted warmly, like family and truly felt like we were home! We’d been travelling for over a month and the feeling of returning to a place we knew well was like no other. The beautiful lobby and lounge at Minervetta are a relaxing, comfortable, nautical themed oasis which houses collections and family furnishings and memories of the owner’s trips including design objects, art, vietri pottery and many, many books. The lounge feels like a home and I guarantee that guests to the hotel will feel welcome and at home immediately. We noticed a few little charming changes to the decor and collections from our last visit which we loved! The staff at Maison La Minervetta are warm, welcoming, friendly and genuine and are there no matter what time of the day to help with any queries you may have or to provide recommendations on places to see, restaurants to dine at or any other questions you may have.
La Maison Minervetta is perched on a clifftop over looking the Bay of Naples, Sorrento and the majestic Mt Vesuvius. It has a wonderful, peaceful location being only a short, scenic 15 minute stroll into the historical centre and there is a private staircase which allows you to reach the authentic, charming fishing village of Marina Grande below! From the lounge you step out onto the terrace which is one of the most beautiful places in the whole hotel and is a great place to relax, enjoy a drink, catch an amazing sunset or sunrise and simply marvel at the breathtaking views. We’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively all over the world and we’re happy to say that Maison La Minervetta’s view is simply one of the best we’ve ever had from a hotel!
Maison La Minervetta is the perfect sized boutique hotel with only 13 rooms and an exceptionally spacious sized hotel and grounds ensuring the ultimate in privacy and relaxation. Every room in the hotel is different and features unique decor and furniture and we were excited to be staying in a different room to our stay in 2014. Every room at Maison La Minervetta has a sea view which is without a doubt one of the highlights of a stay there. Our room was beautifully styled, spacious and I was in love of the nautical, maritime theme throughout!
The nautical theme continued through to our stunning bathroom which featured a gorgeous rainfall shower, plush towels and indulgent toiletries.
Maison La Minervetta also boasts a beautiful swimming pool built into the cliffs which is an incredible place to swim, relax and admire the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean from above. For a small boutique hotel with only 13 rooms there seems to be endless hidden, romantic places to relax and enjoy the view with deck chairs, lounges, tables and chairs dotted throughout the hotel, its grounds and along the private staircase.
There is truly magic everywhere you look at Maison La Minervetta.
It’s always a risk to return to a place you fell in love with in case your experience second time around isn’t as good. We’re happy to say that our experience at Maison La Minervetta was even better the second time around, which we truly didn’t even think was possible! Maison La Minervetta is still one of the most beautiful hotels we’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing and it is truly a gem in Sorrento and the whole Amalfi Coast region.
6. GARDEN VILLAGE, LAKE BLED
During our recent visit to Lake Bled in Slovenia we were lucky enough to stay at Garden Village in one of their incredible Glamping Tents. Garden Village is incredible, it is an entirely ecological and innovatively designed complex, built over an abandoned gardening space that is the perfect destination for eco-conscious travellers! The resort is relaxing and blends in perfectly with its natural surroundings with fruit trees planted throughout the resort, herb and vegetable gardens and a peaceful stream running through the resort along with each glamping tent having it’s own garden!
We were so excited the moment we saw our glamping tent which was the perfect combination of nature, relaxation, gardens, camping and glamour! Our fantastic glamping tent had plenty of privacy with its own private, beautifully kept garden, a wood-fired hot tub, outdoor table and chairs at the end of the garden which overlooked the treehouses, pier tents and stream below and also a deck and awning at the front of the tent with outdoor lounge furniture so we could enjoy being outdoors. Stepping inside our tent we couldn’t believe how stylish and spacious it was!
Whilst we’d chosen to stay in one of the glamping tents during our stay we made sure we explored the resort and had a walk around the grounds to check out the other accommodation. Garden Village also offers luxury apartments, tree houses which looked incredible and are something both kids and adults alike would love and relaxing pier tents built over the stream which flowed through the resort. We were so happy with our choice to stay in one of the glamping tents but we would have also been more than happy to stay in any of the other accommodation options within the resort as they all looked incredible!
The restaurant at Garden Village is called Greenhouse and when you see it for the first time you’ll understand why! The restaurant is spacious with wooden floors, walls and ceilings, big glass windows which allow plenty of natural light in, a small stream runs through the restaurant and the tables are alive and edible with grass and herbs growing on them! Greenhouse serves traditional Slovenian Cuisine, called ‘Vrtnarija’ which is created using fresh produce straight from the garden to your plate!
Our stay at Garden Village was incredible, we fell in love with the resort, with our perfect glamping tent complete with private hot tub and with Lake Bled itself. Garden Village is ideally located to explore Lake Bled and the surrounding region from. If you’re planning a visit to beautiful Lake Bled with its natural beauty and fresh alpine air then we highly recommend glamping at Garden Village, our stay was perfect in every way and we’d love to return one day!
7. ANTICA TORRE, FLORENCE
Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni is a thirteenth century historical residence in Florence ideally located at the beginning of the street of the same name and only a few steps from the Santa Trinita Bridge. It is one of the city’s best preserved Medieval tower residences which has been skillfully and respectfully restored and transformed into a stunning, elegant and welcoming residence where guests are warmly welcomed and invited to be a part of the history of this incredible place. Antica Torre is not just a hotel, it is a destination in itself and by staying there you will be contributing to their long and incredible history which truly is an enchanting experience. It’s such a unique, beautiful boutique hotel and we felt truly honoured to be guests of this magnificent historic residence. If you’re visiting Florence we can’t recommend Antica Torre more highly, it is one of our favourite places we’ve ever stayed and somewhere we’d love to return to in the future.
We were staying in one of Junior Library Suites which was a stunning room furnished with wall-to-wall libraries featuring period volumes and literature about Florence. The Library Suites offer stunning views of Via di Tornabuoni or the Arno River which ours had. The views from our room were breathtaking and were some of the best views in all of Florence! We loved sitting by the window watching people on the streets and bridges below, watching boats float past and marvelling at the Ponte Vecchio located only a block away. After two nights in the hotel it truly felt like our home away from home in Florence and we were very sad to be leaving!
One of the our favourite features of the hotel were the two incredible terraces at the hotel which we believe offer the best views in all of Florence! Only guests at the hotel can access the terraces and we loved the 360° views of Florence from them. The views stretch across the city to the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, the hills of Fiesole and Settignano, the Arno River, the Santa Trinita Bridge and Via Maggio, the church of San Miniato a Monte, Forte Belvedere designed by Buontalenti, the hill of Bellosguardo, Palazzo Vecchio and the bell tower of Santa Trinita. No matter which direction you look from the terraces you will be met with incredible views of the magnificent city of Florence!
8. COTTON HOUSE HOTEL, BARCELONA
We visited Barcelona in April and it was both Dan and my first trip to this incredible city! We stayed at the Cotton House Hotel, which was one of the most recent additions to Marriott’s Autograph Collection, also making it one of the newest hotels in the city and we certainly think one of the best!
The hotel has an incredible history as it stands on the site of the former headquarters of the Cotton Textile Foundation, an iconic 19th century building built in the neoclassical style which is a landmark in Barcelona. One of the most beautiful elements of the building is the imposing, stunning original marble staircase and the famous spiral staircase which was built in 1957. Incredibly, the spiral staircase is not supported on the floor below but is suspended from a metal frame on the upper floor which gives it a light and airy aspect! If you are staying in the hotel make sure you visit the top floor terrace level just to see the gorgeous view of the staircase below with your own eyes, it is truly breathtaking!
Our room at the hotel was the perfect oasis of relaxation to retreat to after a big day of sightseeing on the busy Barcelona streets! It was bright and airy, quiet, relaxing and luxurious and had one of the most comfortable beds we’ve slept in ever which was fitted with incredibly soft 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets that smelt subtly of beautiful spring flowers!
One of our favourite places in Cotton House Hotel was the beautiful rooftop with an outdoor lap pool that boasts the most magnificent city views. The views from the roof stretch across the city to the mountains and we could even see the incredible Sagrada Familia in the background!
We also spent many hours relaxing at Bataur, the hotel’s cosmopolitan cocktail bar and restaurant which is sophisticated, elegant, relaxing and wonderfully bright and fresh. Accessible from the restaurant is also a spacious, sunny terrace is a beautiful oasis in the city with lush vegetation, outdoor furniture and is the perfect place to enjoy drinks and meals in the sunshine.
For such a new hotel we were so impressed that every single aspect of our stay was so perfect. The hotel is quite large with 83 rooms and so there are a huge number of employees and every single employee we crossed paths with during our stay could not have done more to ensure our stay was perfect. We could not fault a single thing about our stay at Cotton House Hotel and would return in a heartbeat.
9. THE MARMARA, BODRUM
Bodrum was the final stop on our land tour of Turkey before we boarded our luxury Turkish gulet to explore the Turkish coastline! Bodrum is known for its year round hot temperatures, flashy international marinas, pumping nightlife, elegant shopping boutiques, top dining establishments and many other experiences which attract people to this vibrant harbour city!
We were staying at the gorgeous Marmara Bodrum hotel in a beautiful open plan suite that had stylish, natural decor and delightful, quirky little touches and artwork which gave our room an elegant and relaxed feel. Our marble bathroom had a shower over bath with luxurious, indulgent Molton Brown toiletries, robes and towels provided.
The whole hotel overlooked Bodrum and offers majestic views of the majestic city below! Our gorgeous Corner Sea Suite had a balcony where we were blessed with scenic views of Bodrum, Bodrum Castle and the beautiful blue Aegean Sea in the backdrop.
The Marmara is set among beautifully landscaped grounds and the relaxed, peaceful atmosphere helped ensure it was one of our favourite hotels in Turkey and also one of our favourite hotels of 2016! The hotel provides fantastic leisure facilities for its guests which include a spa, gym, pool, sports such as tennis and basketball and a shuttle bus to nearby Flamm Beach! The hotel gym is excellent, modern and well equipped and in addition to the Spa there is also a sauna, Turkish bath and jacuzzi with a fantastic view of Bodrum!
10. VILA MONTE FARM HOUSE, ALGARVE
Located in Moncarapacho, between Olhao and Tavira is beautiful Vila Monte Farm House which was our first stop in Portugal and also the first stop of our 100 days travelling around Europe! Vila Monte Farm House is one of the most unique and beautiful places we’ve had the pleasure in visiting during our travels. Its beautiful location in the countryside between the Algarve mountain range and the ocean which is only 10 minutes away, allowed us to experience all the region truly has to offer. Vila Monte Farm House is a enchanting combination of timeless simplicity, stylish boho-chic lifestyle, a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere and as they describe “the perfect re-interpretation of the Algarve Spirit”. We were won over immediately by Vila Monte’s stylish charm and relaxed atmosphere.
We were staying in one of the garden suites which was absolutely gorgeous, fresh and relaxed. The room was both simple and stylish. We loved the whitewashed walls, day bed, splashes of colour and natural tones from the materials used in the rugs and lampshades. Our suite contained a separate lounge and bedroom and we felt at home immediately in our comfortable, spacious and incredibly beautiful suite.
The facilities at Vila Monte Farm House are exceptional and include two swimming pools with sun loungers and towels (one which is reserved for adults only), a tennis court, a beautiful lobby where they also show movies at night, a very well equipped gym which is open 24 hours a day and beautiful, perfectly landscaped gardens with tables, chairs, deckchairs and lounges scattered throughout the grounds.
Vila Monte’s restaurant, À Terra is described as being “more than a restaurant, a new concept” and our dining experience during both breakfast and dinner was one of the highlights of our stay. The food served in the restaurant is based on homemade, delicious, healthy and rustic food using the freshest of local produce and ingredients, many of which are grown in Vila Monte’s own extensive vegetable and herb gardens.
We’ve had some truly amazing experiences this year and can’t wait to see where our travels take us in 2017! We will be honeymooning in November and are yet to decide where we are going but I am sure it will be incredible!