On The Road
The Most Romantic Hotels In The World
MR PORTER’s guide to the best hideaways for courting and coupling
La Réserve, Paris. Photograph by Mr Grégoire Gardette. Courtesy of La Réserve Paris
For all their history and cultural significance, hotels are a pretty recent addition to our lives. Sure, there were inns through the ages, which mushroomed along roads and around ports as utilitarian shelters for weary travellers. But they were not hotels, which boomed in the 19th century. At their best, hotels offer not only an escape from the journey, but from real life altogether.
They have become destinations in their own right, where time takes a break and dreams can be enjoyed and realised on mattresses as thick as tectonic plates as the earth moves. They are places where relationships can begin, engagements can be made and more new life conceived than it would be decent to dwell on. They are the stage in the theatre of love where the action happens and where, unless you are Ms Coco Chanel or Mr Oscar Wilde, the lights must eventually come up.
Here is a small selection of the world’s chicest romantic retreats, a refined buffet for the hopelessly loved-up.
Photographs courtesy of L'Hotel Marrakech/Mr Jasper Conran
There is something effortlessly seductive about the palaces, gardens, bazaars and riads of this Moroccan city, which is home to some of the most beautifully designed hotels anywhere in the world. Few come with an interiors heritage as rich as the confidently named L’Hôtel Marrakech, the first by Mr Jasper Conran, the scion of the Conran design group. Just five suites surround a courtyard garden and swimming pool in the converted 19th-century riad. The place is filled with antiques and textiles from Mr Conran’s collection, which includes pieces he in turn acquired from Mr Yves Saint Laurent’s own hoard. Whitewashed walls add a fresh backdrop to the impeccable detail and craftsmanship, which include keyhole fireplaces and mosaic floors. The roof terrace, where breakfast is served, overflows with jasmine, bougainvillea and honeysuckle. If you are tempted to leave the hotel, it lies right in the Medina, a short stroll away from Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech’s bustling main square.
Stay in: the Casablanca suite, which has a private terrace overlooking the courtyard garden.
What to pack
Photographs courtesy of Grand Hôtel
Some of the Grand’s loftier suites come with binoculars and a guide to the skyline. The national landmark dominates the waterfront opposite the Royal Palace and Gamla Stan, the old town, and is as striking as any building in the city. For the first 30 years of the 20th century, the world’s greatest minds met here to be awarded and celebrate their Nobel Prizes in the glittering Spegelsalen (Hall of Mirrors) ballroom and Vinterträdgården (Winter Garden). Recipients still stay here, joining a chic yet understated set of international urbanites and glowing-cheeked, monochrome-clad young Scandis. Winter brings snow and ice, and the smell of glögg (mulled wine) and pepparkakor (gingerbread) hangs in the air. Work up an appetite before returning to the Grand Hôtel, where the Nobel banquets are legendary and two Michelin-starred chef Mr Mathias Dahlgren nourishes inquisitive minds in Matbaren (he’s opening another restaurant in the Grand later this year). Or stop in The Veranda for its renowned smörgåsbord and a glass of 1874 Grand Aquavit.
Stay in: the Flag Suite, which has an upstairs turret and stunning views.
What to pack
Photographs courtesy of Gravetye Manor
Emperor Shah Jahan erected the Taj Mahal in Agra for his chief consort Ms Mumtaz Mahal. King Louis XV built the Petit Trianon in the grounds of Versailles for his mistress Madame de Pompadour. But we travel to the unlikely environs of East Grinstead for one of England’s greatest monuments to love. Gravetye Manor still bears the initials R and K, carved in stone above its 16th-century front door, to commemorate the gift of a grand house from Sussex forge owner Mr Richard Infield to his bride Ms Katharine Compton. It was later home to Mr William Robinson, the renowned landscape gardener, who also left his mark on this rural idyll just 20 minutes from Gatwick Airport. Eventually it became a hotel and now, under the ownership of Mr Jeremy Hosking, a fund manager, the manor is once again a place for romance, where smart Londoners come to take the country air a little more than an hour out of town. Get a room with a bay-window seat and gaze at the grounds, or each other, before a promenade through the flower garden and croquet lawn. Return to a crackling fire and the bounty of the kitchen garden in the Michelin-starred restaurant.
Stay in: the Chestnut room, which has sweeping views of the meadow and lake.
What to pack
Photographs courtesy of Galle Fort Hotel
The history of this 17th-century mansion in Galle, the fort town and beach destination a short taxi ride from Colombo, reflects much of Sri Lanka’s evolution. It was built as a villa for a wealthy Dutch trader and his family, before variously housing a British gem merchant, an RAF officers’ mess during WWII, a post office and a bakery. After a period of neglect, it was restored in 2003 and the house’s Regency-era top floor – a British addition – and Palladian colonnades now appeal firmly to the well-heeled Sri Lanka travel set (think reformed backpackers in Hartford shorts and linen shirts). Its 14 seductive suites, set around a courtyard swimming pool, are awash with subtly restored colonial grandeur. The boutique shops, cafés and museums of Galle Fort are a five-minute hand-in-hand stroll away and the region’s renowned beaches just a short tuk-tuk ride away.
Stay in: the Loft Suite on the upper level, which has a four-poster bed.
What to pack
Photographs courtesy of Aman
Combine one of the world’s leading purveyors of understated glamour with the minimalist traditions of a Japanese hot-spring resort and the result is Amanemu. Perched in the forested hills of Ise-Shima National Park, four hours as the bullet train flies from Tokyo, one of the newest additions to the sprawling Aman Resorts map is a triumph in bamboo and stone. The modern interpretation of a Japanese minka farmhouse has an elegant pitched roof above suites with sliding glass doors big enough to receive a 747. Deep baths in dark basalt – more than capacious enough for two – have a third tap to bring onsen, or the hot spring itself, right into the bathroom. An infinity pool outside looks out over the islands of Ago Bay, famed for its pearls. Cocktails have never been served amid such serenity, nor by such calmly attentive staff – Aman Resorts employs as many as six per guest. With just 24 suites, each with its own slice of that view, the hotel offers far more seclusion than a resort ought to. The Japanese food, created by a team of a dozen chefs in the simply named Restaurant, is suitably refined.
Stay in: the Nagi Suite offers the most commanding views of the bay.
What to pack
Photographs by Mr Grégoire Gardette. Courtesy of La Réserve Paris
Visitors to Paris who are considering its palace hotels for a romantic getaway are spoilt for choice. Grand doesn’t cover it. Nowhere are suites swathed in such an abundance of shimmering damasks and brocades, or attended to so professionally. But you would do well to look beyond La Réserve, which draws a cool crowd of Marais Parisians who work in fashion, 8th-arrondissement peacocks and a style-conscious jetset. The mansion on Avenue Gabriel, just a block away from the Elysée Palace, was built for the Duc de Morny, a sugar tycoon, dandy and Napoléon III’s half brother. After a period of ownership under Mr Pierre Cardin, the house was completely remodelled by French businessman Mr Michel Reybier and opened in 2015 as a hotel. Only the original fireplaces remain, but the meeting of lavish old Paris and modern luxe has made destinations of the hotel’s intimate bar and – a rare thing among comparable hotels in the city – its candlelit spa with a 16m swimming pool.
Stay in: the Duc de Morny suite for its marble fireplace and view of the Grand Palais.
What to pack
Photographs courtesy of Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces
It’s hard to imagine a more romantic hideaway than the Lake Palace, the extraordinary pile of white marble and fretwork that appears to float in still water in Rajasthan. Honeymooners and well-heeled adventurers zip by boat across the artificial lake from the bustle of the city to the 18th-century royal retreat, which has been a luxury hotel for more than 50 years. Butlers serve each of the 66 rooms and 17 suites, where guests seeking an escape from the tourist trail have included Hollywood, political and actual royalty, with discretion and a smile. Gaze at the Aravalli Mountains and City Palace as the sun sets over the water before retreating inside with your second gin and tonic. Take a heritage suite if you can. The elaborately appointed Chandra Prakash (Lustre of the Moon) suite could be a tourist destination in its own right.
Stay in: the Historical Suite, which boasts original features and lake views.