On The Road
The Most Mind-Blowing Beach Resorts On The Planet
Seven luxurious places to get away from it all this summer
Kokomo Private Island, Fiji. Photograph courtesy of Kokomo Island Fiji
If we trace the beach resort far enough back, past the grand seaside towns and the bathing machines that flourished under royal patronage in 18th-century Britain, we find ourselves in ancient Rome. Or more specifically, Baiae, the Neapolitan resort that drew the Roman one per cent to its luxurious villas and Bacchanalian diversions more than 2,000 years ago. Emperor Nero himself liked to pop down for a jar at the resort’s regular hedonistic beach parties.
Coastal erosion later did for Baiae, but its spirit lives on in an expanding atlas of contemporary beach resorts. Sure, excess today tends to involve a greater civility and subtlety than the emperors tended to expect (not that it has to, of course). Perhaps the best resorts now are those where you can almost disappear and relax, rather than shout about your presence. What unites them is a sense of style that does justice to their beachfront locations. As summer hits its stride and the cities swelter, here are some of the world’s finest to escape to.
The Bodrum Edition, Turkey
Photograph courtesy of Edition Hotels
This addition to Mr Ian Schrager’s growing portfolio of hotels landed on the Turkish Riviera last year, like a pearl dropped by a careless magpie. The Bodrum Peninsula already sparkled after a flurry of elegant hotels began to dot its beaches and serene coves. But The Edition raises the bar for style and energy with its tumbling terraces of suites and villas that end at a destination nightclub and the gentle lapping waters of the Aegean. This cascade of luxury also takes in olive groves, bougainvillea, lawns and pools that lead to the private beach. Spacious cabanas sit on a jetty that stretches into the sheltered cove.
The rooms are tastefully muted in beiges and greys so the Aegean does all the talking, thrusting a canvas of turquoise into every view and space. Three of the suites have private pools and terraces, while The Villa, with three floors and four bedrooms, sits in its own private grounds. This being a Mr Schrager joint, the hotel bursts into colour at night, confirming Bodrum’s status as a rival to Mykonos or Ibiza. Discetto, the beachside nightclub, has a roster of leading DJs, including Benji B, and a dancefloor under a glitterball that brings a flash of Studio 54 to Turkey. Cocktails are served to be shared in crystal pitchers. Celebrities seem to be ever present.
The restaurants are no less sophisticated, overseen as they are by Mr Diego Muñoz, the Peruvian chef formerly of Astrid y Gastón in Lima, which has long occupied top spot in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. And there is plenty to see beyond the confines of the resort, not least the famous bazaar in the ancient city of Bodrum itself, while the Greek Islands lie tantalisingly to the west.
Hotel Il Pellicano, Italy
Photograph by Ms Kate Martin, courtesy of Pellicano Hotels
It is perhaps not surprising that the photography of Mr George “Slim” Aarons has earned a keen following in the Instagram age. The late American chronicler of the mid-century jet set (“attractive people who were doing attractive things in attractive places”, as he defined his subjects) had a sharper eye for colour and seductive composition than any modern-day influencer. He also had favourite locations, including Il Pellicano, a family-run bastion of old-school style on the Tuscan coast.
Opened in the 1960s by a lovestruck British aviator and an American socialite, Mr Michael Graham and Ms Patsy Daszel, the hotel then passed into Italian ownership and attracted Hollywood royalty. Ms Marie Louise Scio, a designer and part of the second generation of the family, has preserved its original charm while adding the trappings expected of a contemporary resort. There is a spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant. With the right swim shorts, the judicious application of Piz Buin and a facility for #filters, the modern sunbather can best channel Mr Aarons-era glamour down on the water’s edge.
Six Senses Yao Noi, Thailand
Photograph courtesy of Six Senses
They play slow jazz to the hens at this lush idyll on Koh Yaoi Noi, an island between Phuket and Krabi. The chicken coop, where guests can collect eggs for breakfast, is an avian resort within a resort that would be plush enough for many holidaying humans. It sets the tone for a tranquil hideaway of gardens teeming with butterflies and thatched villas overlooking the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay. And, in a world of refrigerated chocolate rooms on islands sinking due to climate change, this Six Senses outpost wears its environmental credentials on its organic silk sleeve.
There are goats (which provide milk, which goes on to provide cheese and ice cream) as well as expansive kitchen gardens. The resort, built on the site of an old rubber plantation, has also added thousands of new seedlings to its mangrove forests, which guests can explore on guided nature walks or canoe tours. The star attractions are the teak and palm-thatch villas, which emerge from the hillside forest on stilts as if they have always belonged. The largest has four bedrooms, two infinity pools and a private bar. Revamped this year is The View, a sprawling rustic-chic romantic retreat with glass walls, while the beachfront villas have walkways to the honey-coloured sand through private gardens.
There is an entire spa village and yacht charters for those who are moved to roam the Andaman Sea and even a Muay Thai boxing ring down at the beach. All of that organic produce, including the fresh eggs from the pampered hens, are served in multiple restaurants and bars, including the swish Hilltop Reserve.
Kokomo Private Island Resort, Fiji
Photograph courtesy of Kokomo Island Fiji
Villas don’t get more beachfront than those on a desert island in the South Pacific, where guests are delivered by a barefoot pilot in the resort’s own seaplane. On the calmest days, it is possible to sit on your terrace and marvel at turtles and rays in the waters beyond your infinity pool. Dive in with a snorkel or scuba gear and the species multiply on the Great Astrolabe Reef, one of the world’s liveliest.
Sydney property billionaire Mr Lang Walker bought the island in 2012 and invested eye-watering sums to create the world’s finest resort. It was going to be an Aman property before Mr Walker struck out alone, opening in 2017 and scooping up awards like a hungry humpback. There are large residences inland (and a price upon application for the whole island), but the romantic villas on the sand are the obvious choice for couples. Room service, like everything, is included and the coral trout sashimi is, well, fresh.
Photograph by Hamilton Island Weddings, courtesy of Qualia
The problem with islands is that sooner, or later, a storm may destroy your luxury resort. It is presumably one of the reasons beds on tropical beaches tend not to be cheap – the insurance premiums. But storms also give resort owners an opportunity to come back stronger and shinier.
Qualia’s turn came in 2017, when the innocuously named Cyclone Debbie tore a path through Queensland. It trashed Hamilton Island, the largest of the Whitsundays. But Qualia, which has its own peninsula on the island’s northern tip, reopened months later, its luxury pavilions refurbished and reconnected to their ocean views after a natural thinning of the forest. There was work, too, to freshen up Pebble Beach, the pool and restaurant complex famed for its nightly six-course tasting menus.
The secluded pavilions, some of which have private plunge pools, are hard to leave, but boat excursions to the Great Barrier Reef are a must, while your own golf buggy opens up the rest of Hamilton Island with its charming restaurants, cafés and lookouts with jaw-dropping sea views.
Hermitage Bay, Antigua
Photograph courtesy of Hermitage Bay
Enlightenment is guaranteed for anyone who navigates the dirt track that tumbles down to Hermitage Bay. Antiguans have long claimed theirs are the finest beaches in the West Indies, and they have attracted generations of loved-up couples (the island’s best known beach bar, Jacqui O’s, honours one such pairing). Hermitage Bay has a claim to the best on Antigua – a forest-fringed arc of golden sand on the island’s west coast.
Climbing from the sea in steps, the resort comprises 30 dark-wood cottage suites with plunge pools and spacious decks and outdoor showers. Kitchen gardens supply the restaurant with its large verandah where, by day, Antiguan cashew butter and guava sandwiches with honey have become a speciality. The candles and white linen come out at night for dinner, but not before a cocktail at the beachside lounge bar, where dancing is encouraged.
Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa, Philippines
Photograph courtesy of Shangri-La
Some of the world’s most spectacular beaches quickly turned Boracay, a small island 200 miles south of Manila, into a Filipino tourism hotspot. So much so that last year the country’s President Rodrigo Duterte sent in the army to shut down the entire place for six months while it improved its infrastructure. It’s open again now and, through it all, Shangri-La has remained a private retreat that makes the best of Boracay’s natural blessings while floating serenely above the fray.
The resort’s rooms, suites and villas sit among lush forest on the island’s pristine and calmer northern tip, where two coves offer a choice of private beaches. The sprawling lagoon of a pool is one of the largest on the luxury-resort map and there are four restaurants, including the clifftop Sirena, which serves seafood with live music and views down over the resort. For those who want to dip a toe in the bustle of Boracay, its brightest lights and restaurants are only a 15-minute ride away.