There are luxury hotels and then there are Belmond hotels. We salivate over the absolute crème de la crème. Belmond:

Nothing bad ever came out of the Cipriani in Venice. And for proof of that grandly sweeping statement, we need only look to the creation of Belmond itself, the umbrella brand that is responsible not only for the lagoon-lapping icon, but also for many of the most luxurious and elegant hotels and experiences on the planet.

After taking up the keys to the legendary Cipriani in 1976, an unstoppable force that would come to define luxury was in train. The following year, Belmond’s founder James Sherwood began collecting carriages for the Venice Simplon-Orient -Express, which would launch in 1982, the most magnificent train in existence. And after that, the rest was luxury history.

The prefix of Belmond is, in short, a signifier of opulence, sumptuousness, comfort and ease. These are rarefied miniature worlds in which to be coddled and cocooned; bywords for splendour. While there is no shortage of five-star hotels in the world, Belmond remains the standard; not flashy or trend-led, it is the hospitality equivalent of pure old Hollywood glamour. Its offering now extends to river cruises, safaris and experiences, as well as trains and hotels. And of the many wonders it has created, these are, in our book, the finest of the fine.


Villa San Michele


Tuscany


‘Where modern luxury meets Renaissance splendour’ is the tagline of this extraordinary hotel, nestled in the Fiesole hills with views across Florence and Chianti beyond. It’s no exaggeration, either. The façade is attributed to Michelangelo while, just a few steps away from the hotel is the Montececeri park, where Leonardo tested his flying machine in 1506. Villa San Michele, was first built as a home for Franciscan monks in the early sixteenth-century, in the same achingly beautiful hills in which the grand – and ultra discerning – Medici built their villas. No wonder, then, that its afterlife as a hotel attracted the likes of JFK, Prince Charles and Julia Roberts alike. We can think of few more sublime places for supper at twilight than at its La Loggia restaurant, overlooking the twinkling hills, the resplendent duomo rising up in on the horizon. Explore more here.


Cipriani


Venice


Some names evoke iconic Venetian glamour. Harry’s Bar is one. The Hotel Danieli is another. The undisputed king amongst them, however, is the resplendent jewel that is the Cipriani. The story begins in 1956, when one Giuseppe Cipriani set his heart upon opening an opulent little pocket of heaven on the Grand Canal. He built it; they came – and not just any ‘they’, but royalty (literal and Hollywood), noblemen and women, and tycoons, who descended in their droves. The original Belmond property, guests still arrive via shuttle from outside the Doge’s Palace, from which they are delivered into the safe hands of the Cipriani staff and a world of elegant pleasure. There is an enchantingly quiet garden, an Olympic-sized pool and a 270-degree view over the lagoon. An exceptional retreat from the warren of Venice’s waterways. Explore more here.


Le Manior Aux Quat’Saisons


Oxfordshire


Raymond Blanc has presided over the country house hotel all other country house hotels must measure themselves against since 1984. The legendary two Michelin-starred restaurant serves up the lightest and most exceptional of tasting menus, with many of the ingredients coming direct from the kitchen gardens outside. Like all Belmond properties, service is not just impeccable; it is warm, relaxed and friendly, too. Every suite is different and yet they all share a core of sublime comfort – this is the kind of place you can set up camp by a roaring fire, and just feel yourself unwind. Explore more here.


Venice-Simplon- Orient-Express


London – Venice


The words ‘Orient Express’ must be some of the most evocative in the English language, conjuring to mind femme fatales and dangerous glamour, courtesy in large part to the Christie evocation of the most ravishing train on the planet. Though not the original Orient Express train that Agatha herself knew, the VSOE might as well be. The project of Belmond founder James Sherwood who, in 1977, started collecting carriages after the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits withdrew from the Orient Express service, it is every inch the world that the 1920s great and good would have known. As they say, ‘he searched far and wide to unearth stately rail relics in private gardens, museums and railway sidings. Cars from famous vintage trains, including Le Train Bleu and the Rome Express, deserved a noble return to service, but required a specialised level of craftsmanship to be restored. Luckily a handful of artisans were found for the task, and they began the painstaking process of returning the carriages to their former glory.’ There are various permutations of the journey, but for the classic, London to Venice takes just 24 hours; the memories, though, promise to endure a lifetime. Explore more here.


Hotel Splendido


Portofino


That Richard Burton and Liz Taylor returned here again and again is entirely in keeping with a place as dripping with glamour and insouciant, unhurried Italian cool as the aptly named Hotel Splendido. A former monastery, these days it’s more likely to attract off-duty Hollywood A-listers than pious monks; the latter would doubtless be agape to witness the view from the hotel on the hill, all mega yachts bobbing on glistening water, a 1930s travel poster made flesh. The terrace restaurant at night is a place of pure enchantment, where medleys of seafood are served up, as well as the region’s classic pesto pasta. A Ligurian legend. Explore more here.


La Residencia


Mallorca


You’d be hard pressed to feel stressed on the island of Mallorca, its easy-breezy charm reiterated by every soft crash of waves onto sand. But for complete and utter relinquishing of care, you can rely on La Residencia – ‘a place that knows luxury—and life—is best served chilled’. Set between the Tramuntana Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, there you can idle away the hours betwixt citrus trees and ancient olive groves. For those who like their luxury holidays with an artsy twist, this is the place: the hotel has an impressive private collection as well as an excellent sculpture garden in which to feel inspired and invoke the muse. Explore more here.


Caruso


Amalfi Coast


Few places rival the Amalfi coast for sheer romance. Dotted along the scenic coastal road lie the exquisite, jewel-like towns of Amalfi and Positano like dazzling punctuation. And yet, for all their beauty, neither quite rival the bijou beauty of Ravello, which rises 350 metres above the sea and commands views across the twinkling waters. As they tell us, ‘In 1137 Saint Bernardo da Chiaravalle wrote of Ravello: ‘As well as being opulent, it is so beautiful that it can easily be numbered among the first and most noble cities.’’ Today, almost a millennium later, little has changed.’ Grand Roman villas tumble down this vertiginous hillside; none, though is more sublime than Caruso. An exquisite world exuding la dolce vita, waking up here is akin to waking up in a dream. Explore more here.


Jimbaran Puri


Bali


Belmond may be synonymous with European glamour, but that’s not to say it doesn’t also create slices of paradise across the rest of the world, too. Jimbaran Puri in Bali is a case in point. Situated breathtakingly between the jungle and the Indian Ocean, this is already one of Bali’s very best beaches. With Belmond’s unerring touch, it is little short of extraordinary. They say: ‘Arriving at Jimbaran Puri is like discovering a secret garden. Our cottages and villas incorporate local materials like bamboo, teak and alang-alang thatching. Set right on the beach, our infinity pool is made from Javanese stone that shimmers emerald in the sunlight. Real beauty, genuine kindness and deep peace abound.’ Heaven. Explore more here.


Hiram Bingham


Peru


We’ve established that Belmond runs the most opulent trains in the world. But for those who prefer their rail travel explorations on the further-flung, more exotic side of the tracks, the gold and blue liveried Hiram Bingham, named after the explorer who first discovered the Inca citadel, will take some beating. Within the confines of luxury, 1920s-style carriages, passengers are transported between Cusco and Macchu Picchu through some of the world’s most breath-taking, landscapes, as lush green mountainsides loom into view and then ebb away as you pass by. Explore more here.


Eagle Island Lodge


Botswana


Have you ever considered going on water-based safari? The environmentally friendly Eagle Island Lodge on the private island of Okavango Delta is ideally situated amidst the Botswana wetlands for sightings of hippos, crocodiles and some of the largest lions on the planet. The lodge was established in 1900 for the first crocodile hunters; these days, it is the last word in luxe, each tented room featuring its very own plunge pool. There are true wonders on offer here – inside and out. Explore more here.


By Nancy Alsop
July 2022

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