Best Spa, Best Pool, Best Bar, Best Beach, Most Charming Country Hotel, Most Family Friendly Hotel, Most Glamorous Bath, Hotel I Most Hated to Leave
After a day exploring Tokyo, I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief after stepping into the serene 27,000-square-foot spa at the new Aman Tokyo. The footbath at the beginning of the “Signature Journey” treatment was followed by an intense 30-minute body scrub and a one-hour massage employing warm custom-blended body oils made from magnolia and cherry blossom. In addition to a well-equipped fitness center with a yoga and Pilates studio, changing areas contain large onsens (traditional Japanese hot baths). The 98-foot basalt-lined indoor infinity pool has been designed so that the nearby skyscrapers are invisible from the water, and on clear days, Mount Fuji can be seen in the distance.
Sometimes it is not the pool itself, but the view from it, which is unforgettable. The pool at RAAS is average in size and a fairly standard mid blue in color. Along one of the longer sides there is a row of unremarkable white loungers, which can be screened by white muslin curtains. The water is heated, which is frequently not the case in Rajasthan. And because many Indians do not evince much enthusiasm for either lying in the sun, or being semi-naked in front of complete strangers, it is often unoccupied — which can be nice for the rest of us. Set within an idyllic garden, the pool is sheltered by the red sandstone walls of an 18th-century haveli (mansion), so the atmosphere is always tranquil. And the proximity of the Baradari restaurant, its terrace shaded by a dozen or so white umbrellas, means that a delicious lunch is just steps away. But, ultimately, the pool at RAAS is one of the most spectacular in the world because of the immense 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort, which looms over it from atop a massive, sheer-sided 400-foot slab of rock. If there is a more dramatic castle anywhere in the world, I am unaware of it. Lying in the water, staring up at the ramparts, you feel that you have been transported to a land of myth and fairy tale.
Just off the resplendent Grand Salon of the new Baccarat Hotel, The Bar is a wonderful spot for a civilized cocktail (and delicious small dishes). Its long inviting counter, black-and-white checkerboard floor and blazing chandeliers all help to set this lovely space apart. A small outdoor terrace with neatly manicured plantings overlooks the Museum of Modern Art and provides one of the most intimate outdoor spaces in New York. More than once in recent months, I have secured a bar stool, ordered a glass of Champagne — served, of course, in Baccarat's iconic Dom Perignon flute — and toasted my own good fortune at being in such a stylish and convivial spot.
The islands of the Bahamas are justly renowned for their beaches. Although the quality of their sand is consistently superb, the beaches vary greatly, depending on whether they front the open Atlantic or face the relatively sheltered stretch of ocean that extends to the east coast of Florida. The best place to observe this contrast is from the so-called Glass Window Bridge on Eleuthera, where the island narrows to the width of the road. On the Atlantic side, the water is a deep and restless sapphire blue, while to the west, it is an expanse of aquamarine, scarcely disturbed by a ripple. Fifteen minutes to the north, on Harbour Island, there is a classic Atlantic beach, a flawless three-mile stretch of wave-washed pink sand. Almost the same distance to the south, at The Cove resort, we found the contrasting type: two blissful horseshoe bays, like giant saltwater swimming pools, with soft white sand shelving into calm, warm sea.
This delightful property, set on a wooded and sheltered hillside that slopes down to Lake Daylesford, has the feeling of a large tree house for grown-ups. The gracious main structure is covered with pale yellow clapboard, and as soon as I entered, I was taken with the homey atmosphere, especially in the library lounge, with its packed bookshelves, fireplace and spectacular flower arrangements. Chef Alla Wolf Tasker and Head Chef David Green have acquired a national reputation for seasonal contemporary Australian cuisine. The wine list offers more than 800 labels, including those from nearby wine regions as well as notable vineyards from around the world. The hotel’s principal amenity is the lovely Salus Spa, surrounded by streams and a screen of trees, with treatment areas overlooking Lake Daylesford. Throughout our stay, the attentive staff members embodied friendly professionalism.
Sun Valley has long been a favorite family escape because of its abundance of outdoor activities, but the recent renovation of the historic Sun Valley Lodge has greatly increased its appeal. The recent upgrades have been engineered to please all generations, from pull-out couches and large baths in each of the expanded rooms, to the new Duchin Lounge with terraces facing the ice skating rink, and the addition of a café by the pool and food service in the bowling alley. The new spa provides a refuge for the weary adult, while the traditional children's camps still entertain the young. Other family-friendly amenities nearby include the new terrain parks on Dollar Mountain and a miniature golf course just outside the Sun Valley Club.
After Indian independence, the 300-year-old Rajmahal Palace in Jaipur became the personal residence of the flamboyant, polo-playing Maharaja Man Singh II. A boutique hotel since 2014, the Rajmahal now offers 14 rooms and suites, including the magnificent two-bedroom, 3,126-square-foot Ram Niwas — The Maharaja’s Apartment. This comes with a drawing room, a separate bar, a dining room with seating for eight, a private terrace for al fresco dining and a stupendous marble bath. The latter has flamboyant polychrome tiled walls, separate "his" and "hers" vanity areas, two separate walk-in showers, a marble-surrounded soaking tub, mirrored cabinets, a Persian rug and a dazzling chandelier. I have seen few baths that made me gasp with astonishment, but this was one.
Surrounded by placid opalescent seas, Ratua Private Island in Vanuatu isn’t conventionally luxurious: It lacks in-room Wi-Fi, air conditioning and even proper door locks. Nevertheless, I was loath to leave the resort, with its beguiling combination of rusticity and designer chic. What a joy to wake each morning in our restored 200-year-old Indonesian farmhouse accommodations, open the door to our private beach, and leave it ajar the entire day. Neither security nor insects was an issue. We spent active but relaxing days snorkeling the Technicolor reef immediately offshore, paddle-boarding in search of sea turtles, riding horses around the island and enjoying the sensational overwater spa. I felt entirely removed from the cares of the world — and that was a luxury indeed.