When a hotel ticks all the boxes it not only makes for an exceptional stay, it creates everlasting memories. For most hotel enthusiasts, non-negotiables include a killer location, comfy bed and great shower pressure, while for others it comes down to having a bathtub, next-level room service, or an indispensable concierge.
See also: 10 questions to ask at a hotel for free upgrades
See also: 15 dreamy new hotels to add to your wishlist
Once we escape the shackles of of border closures we’re likely to be pickier than ever when it comes to where we lay our head and what we expect of a coveted hotel experience – especially when we’ve spent so much pimping our own pads to taste a little of the luxury we’re missing from travel. That’s why we’ve been busy brainstorming and quizzing fellow travel obsessives for their hotel must-haves.
Your fantasy hotel might very well be like the exclusive Four Seasons Private Island Maldives on our cover today, and here’s what matters for these expert holidaymakers.
As we head towards the summer months, hotels with a chic pool scene tick the fantasy box, like that at The Calile Hotel in Brisbane, especially for Escape editor-in-chief, Kerrie McCallum. “My fantasy hotel usually involves an incredible pool, and a pool bar (with attentive staff and efficient service), ideally all set right on the ocean. I have great memories of The Library in Koh Samui, Thailand, for this very reason. Pool behind me (it’s that famous red pool), ocean in front of me, as I was perched on a deckchair in the middle, loving life! The kids ran back and forth and waiters were there for your every whim. Amazing!”
An undeniable sense of place
“Besides a knockout view – and a balcony or terrace to enjoy it from – the thing I value most in a hotel is a sense of place,” says Escape columnist, Kendall Hill. “I want the décor, setting and staff to remind me precisely where I am, and I want unique experiences to immerse me in the destination. Andaz has built an entire brand around it, perhaps best realised at its Amsterdam property with its whimsical Marcel Wanders interiors and a cracking location on one of the city’s loveliest canals.”
An epic breakfast
As a pilot, Jimmy Nicholson of The Bachelor has been to almost every corner of the globe, but he rates a good breakfast above all else. “I often search ‘breakfast’ in reviews, especially if I’m going to a destination that’s culturally different to Australia. One of the most notable breakfast spreads I’ve had was in Cappadocia, Turkey, in an underground hotel. It was sensational, with everything from homemade granola with local dried figs to goat’s cheese and spinach gozleme.” Closer to home, Epicurean at Crown Sydney offers multiple cuisines at its memorable buffet.
Restaurants that give you instant credit
Quick way to score top points in fantasy hotel land? When you don’t have to leave the hotel for one of the best meals in town. That’s why we love Melbourne’s Ovolo South Yarra for first dibs at vegetarian standout Lona Misa, Stillwater Seven in Launceston and Como the Treasury for one of the finest meals in Perth at rooftop fine-diner Wildflower.
Next-level room service
“As good as the bar or restaurant might be (and I do love me a hotel bar), room service should be off the chain,” according to food critic and Escape columnist Melissa Leong. “Something for a hangover, something healthy, something for celebrating (Dom Pérignon and hot chips is an unbeatable combo), something comforting for when you’re missing home. One of the best room-service experiences (complete with personal butler) is at Rosewood Phnom Penh in Cambodia.”
In an ideal world, we’d be able to balance the impact of our travels with the forward-thinking sustainability cred of the hotels we carefully choose, which is why it’s so refreshing to know properties now exist like The Hotel Britomart in Auckland, New Zealand’s first 5 Green Star hotel. Those who champion plastic free, steer clear of non-compostable coffee pods, and offer refillable in-room amenities as standard all rate highly on the fantasy hotel scale.
If walls could talk
Which would you prefer – a cookie-cutter chain hotel or one cloaked in heritage and story? The likes of Maq 01 in Hobart and The Maker Hotel in New York attract those who crave a deeper connection, with storytelling tours and paying homage to local makers, respectively. The Goring in London is a particularly storied hotel. “You can feel the history and tradition as you walk in,” says Escape creative director, Baz Goodwin. “Winston Churchill held meetings here during World War II.
The Queen Mother enjoyed her eggs Drumkilbo here. And Kate Middleton stayed the night before her wedding. Built in 1910, it’s impeccably English and one of the last remaining family-owned luxury hotels in London. I once had a nightcap at the bar and the barmen explained the history behind their cocktails and had an encyclopedic knowledge of every whisky served.”
A hip bar loved by locals
We’re a nation of food lovers so proximity to a city’s best eateries and bars is high on the list of hotel must-haves for most. If all you have to do is head downstairs or to the rooftop for the coolest bar in town, even better. Think Dean & Nancy at Sydney’s A by Adina or The Douglas Club at Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street. A stay at The Savoy in London gives access to the UK’s oldest-surviving bar, The American Bar. At Hotel 50 Bowery in NYC guests can head to hip watering hole The Crown on the 21st floor.
The ultimate surf
For some, the interior of a hotel plays second fiddle to the power of the ocean beyond. Musician and SAS Australia recruit Pete Murray says his fantasy hotel “would be on a remote island with crystal-clear water on one side – great for swimming, snorkelling and diving – and on the other side the most amazing waves to surf rolling for at least 300m.” Similarly, TripADeal founder and co-CEO Richard Johnston rates a world-class surf break top of the list. “NIHI Resort on the Indonesian island of Sumba comes to mind as a place where this fantasy becomes a reality,” he says.
A kids’ club to blow their minds
If you’ve got little ones in tow, the anecdote to home-schooling and school holidays spent in lockdown has to be one of the lauded kids’ clubs found in Fiji and the South Pacific. But in Mexico, Escape photo editor, Jo Bainbridge, knows some that go even further, like One&Only Mandarina with its 3900-square-metre KidsOnly Club fantasy jungle created by an Oscar-winning set designer. “In a few hotels in Mexico that were labelled family-friendly you could get rooms that were ‘baby proof’ and they even had a room-service menu with puréed food. This was amazing when travelling with a baby!” she says.
We’re all craving some pampering and looking to hotels that offer enticing wellness experiences. Kayon Jungle Resort near Ubud in Bali, set among cascading pools, fits the bill with its traditional Balinese spa overlooking the lush setting. For Emma Hamilton of TV series Royal Flying Doctor Service, a luxe soak is the ideal. “My dream hotel would have its own hot springs and heated outdoor pools and waterfalls like my all-time favourite spa, QC Terme Bagni Vecchi in Italy,” she say. “Add freshly shucked oysters with chilled bubbles in your room on arrival. Bliss.”
“A firm, low-to-medium profile pillow can make my stay,” says Escape managing editor, Kelli Armstrong, “while those feathery, sink-down-around-your-ears pillows will break it. I know some people love the latter, which is why a pillow menu is the ultimate luxury. The Four Seasons in Hong Kong takes it to the next level with its Sleep Well program, which includes a sleep consultation and a choice of mattress toppers as well as pillows.”
No dietary dramas
Dietary requirements can be challenging enough, even more so on holiday. “As a travelling vegan coeliac, the kitchen staff at Tokoriki in Fiji looked after my tricky dietary requirements morning, noon and night with no problems at all,” says The Masked Singer host, Osher Günsberg. “The opulent beachfront bures are the stuff dreams are made of, and you’ve never had a nap like the nap you’ll have on a daybed there.”
Hello, world: 5 international destinations Australians can travel to
5 underrated travel hacks I swear by
5 bad travel habits you need to quit asap