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The Trailblazers of Boutique: SLH Award Winners 2020

Individual, intimate, and inspirational in every way, this year’s SLH Award Winners embody the very best of our independently minded portfolio of boutique hotels around the world, from a carbon neutral eco-duo in Lake Garda and The Dolomites to a meticulously restored one-thousand-year-old castle with interiors handpicked by an Italian Count. In a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, these hotels are still making the everyday extraordinary, and taking the many challenges they have faced this year in their stride.

“By recognising these exceptional hotels we celebrate not only our heritage as the pioneer of boutique but also embrace the future as custodians of our planet. As the winner of Hotel of the Year and our Stay Small, Stay Considerate Award, Lefay Resorts is a shining example to all of how luxury and sustainability can complement each other. However, sustainability is now also about supporting our hospitality industry, and the communities that they in turn support. All these remarkable hotels are open, or opening imminently, and ready to welcome back guests to demonstrate just why independent hotels are so very special.” Richard Hyde, Chief Operating Officer

In contrast to previous years, this year several of the awards were voted for by a panel of experts from the worlds of luxury, travel, wellbeing and cuisine – Simon Leadsford (Publisher, Condé Nast Traveller), Katy Simpson (CEO, Noble Isle), Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn, Carol Duval-Leroy (Owner, Champagne Duval-Leroy), Gary Allen (Managing Director, Luxury Travel Media) and Gisele Orellano (Co-Founder, Hermana Creatives).

Hotel of the Year – Lefay Resort & SPA Lago di Garda, Italy

Taking inspiration from the tiered lemon houses of Lake Garda, Lefay Resort & SPA Lago di Garda has been awarded our Hotel of the Year award for its strong eco-friendly philosophy and outstanding wellness area combining classical Chinese medicine with Western scientific research. Offering highly customized treatments designed to cure stress and insomnia, Lefay SPA extends over 3,800 square metres boasting six saunas of varying temperatures, an ice pool and a large salt lake. The hotel also produces electricity, heating and cooling through clean, renewable sources such as biomass, cogeneration and solar panels, generating a reduction in CO2 emissions of 1.130t per year. Read more about our Hotel of the Year 2020 here.

INVITED Hotel of the Year – The Tokyo Station Hotel, Japan

Located inside The Tokyo Station Marunouchi Building, INVITED guests praised The Tokyo Station Hotel for preserving its deep-rooted heritage, from QR codes attached to framed old photographs and notepads made of Japanese manuscript paper to staff wearing pillbox hats and train timetables hanging in the corridors. The property’s sumptuous Japanese and European style buffet breakfast should be high on any traveller’s bucket list, displaying around 110 items including rolled omelettes, sashimi, tempura and mini wagyu burgers.

Highly Commended Dormy House Hotel (UK); Velassaru Maldives (Maldives); Hotel Relais Christine (France)

City Centre Hotel of the Year – The Norman Tel Aviv, Israel

Located in a UNESCO-designated site with the world’s highest concentration of Bauhaus-style buildings, it was only a matter of time until The Norman Tel Aviv was named our City Centre Hotel of the Year. From a rooftop infinity pool offering unbeatable views of Tel Aviv, a restaurant serving the best Japanese food in the country to resident DJs and a private art collection including its own in- house curator, it is no surprise that The Norman is regarded as one of Israel’s best boutique hotels. The expert concierge can arrange bespoke experiences for guests including the chance for them to craft their own signature scents with a perfumer or giving them access to usually off-limits artists’ studios.

Highly CommendedHotel Lungarno (Italy); Refinery Hotel New York (USA); DUKES London (UK)

Country House Hotel of the Year – Château La Chenèviere, France

Set along Normandy’s lush, north-west coast, Château la Chenevière ticks all the boxes of a grand yet welcoming country house hotel including marble fireplaces and velvet-backed beds as well as beautiful rose gardens with beehives, an outdoor pool and a tennis court – not to mention the fact that it’s dog-friendly. Both dining rooms serve delicious dishes prepared from fresh ingredients supplied by the on-site vegetable garden, where sustainable and natural permaculture techniques are in practice. The hotel’s speakeasy-style Zanzibar bar is not to be missed featuring a collection of the owner’s travel souvenirs and Calvados-themed cocktails such as the signature ‘Chenevière cocktail’ – a combination of pommeau (apple port), peach cream and champagne.

Highly Commended Schlosshotel Kronberg (Germany); Stein Eriksen Residences (USA); Hotel Rangá (Iceland)

Resort Hotel of the Year – Hotel Villa Franca, Italy

Perched high on the hill overlooking the town of Positano, Hotel Villa Franca has been awarded Resort Hotel of the Year for its top-notch facilities and wide range of experiences including an L-shaped swimming pool with stellar views of the Amalfi Coast,  lemon-infused spa treatments to detoxify the body and a fine dining restaurant rooted in Campanian culinary traditions. The resort can arrange a special Amalfi lemon tour for guests, where they get the chance to taste the citrus fruits hanging from pergolas and sample them in homemade cakes, drinks and of course, limoncello.

Highly Commended Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay (Spain); Canaves Oia Suites (Greece); Keemala (Thailand)

Mystery Inspectors’ Excellence Award – Hemingways Nairobi, Kenya

Set between Nairobi National Park and the foot of the Ngong Hills, Hemingways Nairobi offers personalised service with the kindness inherent to East African culture. A bespoke butler service ensures guests are catered to their every whim, from tailor-made afternoon tea and arranging outings to The Giraffe Centre or the Karen Blixen Museum, to adjusting their customised pillows, setting out their nightcap and packing their suitcase for departure.

Highly Commended Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal (France); Pimalai Resort & Spa (Thailand); Rockliffe Hall (UK)

Sustainable Innovator of the Year – Arima Hotel, Spain

Hidden among the trees in the Miramón Forest of San Sebastián, Arima Hotel’s building structure is named as a prototype of zero-energy buildings, marked by the European Union as a mandatory standard to mitigate the effects of climate change. Its savings in CO2 emissions compared with a standard construction are similar to the carbon that 15,000 trees would absorb annually. From clean energy systems, sulphate-free toiletries to a menu inspired by locally-grown ingredients at veggie-focused fine dining restaurant Misura, the hotel has set a new benchmark in terms of environmental and social responsibility, as evinced by its rigorously audited Passivhaus qualification. Overall, 77 per cent of Arima Hotel’s energy needs are fulfilled from aerothermal and geothermal power.

Highly Commended Susafa (Italy); Petit St Vincent (St Vincent & The Grenadines); Domaine de Manville (France)

Stay Small, Stay Considerate Award – Lefay Resorts, Italy

Created around the philosophy that personal wellness should never overlook environmental wellness, Lefay Resorts is fully committed to operating in the most responsible way possible, whilst creating a haven of luxury and wellbeing. As the first Italian hospitality company to sign an agreement with the Italian Ministry of the Environment aimed at neutralising C02 emissions, both its hotels in Lake Garda and The Dolomites (which opened in August 2019) are 100% carbon neutral. The company offsets its direct CO2 emissions and those of travelling guests through the purchase of CERs credits in accordance with the Kyoto protocol. Established from the outset with landscape protection and energy efficiency at the fore, great efforts are also taken to ensure the guest experience is grounded in sustainably practices. All the products used in its spa are vegan, free from parabens, SLES (a detergent that causes skin irritation), colourings and preservatives. Lefay also handpicks its food suppliers ensuring they adhere to strict environmental standards with 66% of ingredients sourced directly from the local provinces. The company’s results and objectives are summarised in an annual Sustainability Report that is published on its website.

Highly Commended Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa (Costa Rica); AKARYN Hotel Group (Thailand); Gaya Island Resort (Malaysia)

Most Inspirational Interior Design – Castello di Reschio, Italy

Nestled amongst rolling hills on Italy’s Umbria-Tuscany border, Castello di Reschio is a thousand-year old castle which has been meticulously restored and stylishly reimagined by architect Count Benedikt Bolza and his wife, Nencia Corsini. The hotel’s rooms and suites have been imbued with personality and panache, thanks to an organic approach to contemporary design coupled with subtle references to the fascinating characters who once lived here. Count Benedikt designed much of the furniture and lighting himself and sourced rare pieces from Italy’s below-the-radar antiques markets and art fairs.

Highly Commended Le Coucou Méribel (France); Gangtey Lodge (Bhutan); Ksar Char-Bagh (Morocco)

Most Intimate Bedroom – Cap Rocat, Mallorca

Housed within a striking 19th-century military fortress, Cap Rocat’s three Sentinel suites are wonderfully secluded, carved out of the rocks that the fortress was built into, with private infinity pools featuring unobstructed views of Palma Bay. The three intimate rooms, which once served as watchtower spots, are each decorated with sumptuous king-sized beds, refined rugs, soft Mediterranean fabrics and a private terrace. Maps are given to guests upon check in so they can find their way along the hotel’s secret corridors and pathways, some still partly covered with plants.

Highly Commended Thorngrove Manor (Australia); Carmo’s Boutique Hotel (Portugal); Le Grand Bellevue (Switzerland)

Most Mindful Wellness Retreat – Castle Hot Springs, Arizona

Disconnect from the busy world and reconnect with yourself and nature at Castle Hot Springs with the rustic Bradshaw Mountains as the backdrop. The resort’s remote location, tucked in a rugged canyon surrounded by Saguaro Cacti, makes it an oasis in every sense of the word. The star of the show are the three hot springs that well up from deep within the desert surface and offer pristine 115-degree waters filled with revitalising minerals. The waters are also piped through for guests to enjoy in their rooms and to feed the three-acre sustainable farm. Guests can further take in the landscape doing immersive activities like hot springs Paddleboard Yoga and Via Ferrata – a state of the art course and one of only a handful in North America. Castle Hot Springs spa services are provided in custom cabanas set along the spring water creek under towering palm trees, and offer fully customised treatments using hot stones from the springs.

Highly Commended Quinta da Comporta (Portugal); Lefay Resort & SPA Dolomiti (Italy); Spa Village Tembok Bali (Indonesia)

Most Intense Bespoke Experience – The George, New Zealand

Drawing upon the traditional Maori cultural values of care and guardianship, The George offers an exclusive half-day Flight Path Conservation Experience accompanied by an Endangered Species Ranger. Guests are taken on a half day trip to Canterbury’s forest valleys to support the conservation efforts for the critically-endangered orange-fronted Kakariki, a native parrot whose numbers are estimated at fewer than 300. Once a year, by special arrangement, guests can even release one of these treasured birds into the forest. A portion of every flight from the Conservation Experience is donated to the recovery programme.

Highly Commended Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay (Spain); Milaidhoo Maldives (Maldives); Pangkor Laut Resort (Malaysia)

Best Gourmet Experience – The Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa, Bali

Located in the heart of Seminyak in Bali, The Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa has launched Bali’s first ever Dine in the Dark event, inviting guests to discover food in a whole new way – without seeing it – in collaboration with Yayasan Dria Raba, a donation-only orphanage for visually-impaired children. Held in the resort’s darkened Klass & Brass private dining room, the six-course sensory dinner experience has been thoughtfully curated to focus on texture, aroma and flavour, while being served and guided by children from the orphanage. The aim is to help provide the children with employment opportunities and basic hospitality training while raising awareness for the vision-impaired people of Indonesia. The experience is available any day of the week with a minimum one day reservation and at least eight participants.

Highly Commended The Atlantic Hotel (Channel Islands); Castle Hot Springs (USA); Halcyon House (Australia)

Local Food Champion – Chef Marc Collins at Wentworth Mansion, Charleston

Located in central Charleston, Wentworth Mansion’s restaurant Circa 1886, is regarded as one of the best in the region. Beyond working with local farmers and fishermen to curate the best local Southern dishes, their executive chef Marc Collins also holds the title of South Carolina Chef Ambassador. Chef Collins co-founded the Charleston Wine + Food Festival in 2006 with the objective to spotlight Charleston and the Lowcountry’s diverse culinary and hospitality community. In 2019, he launched a unique menu concept that takes guests from South Carolina’s humble beginnings to Charleston’s Southern-modern foodie scene. Culinary highlights include the Broken Arrow Axis Venison with sunchoke hash and sunflower seed butter and Piedmontese Oxtail with conch fritter and mustard greens.

Highly Commended – Chef Salvatore Minneci, Susafa (Italy); Chef Carvison Pratt, Sailrock Resort (Turks & Caicos); Chef Jim Hopkins, Stein Eriksen Residences (USA)

Travel Agents’ Hotel of the Year – Hôtel Relais Christine, France

Built atop a 13th-century Augustinian monastery in Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, Hôtel Relais Christine was commended by travel agents for its refined calm, remarkable home-from-home ease and vintage glamour. From a secret garden with beehives producing honey for the hotel’s breakfast table to the basement Spa Guerlain with its medieval stone vaults and impressive display of Guerlain perfume bottles, everything about this hotel exudes intimacy and charm.

Highly Commended Viceroy Bali (Indonesia); Hotel Vilòn (Italy); Casa Angelina (Italy)

Most ‘Liked’ Hotel of the Year – Halcyon House, Australia

Found on Instagram as @_halcyonhouse, it is without a doubt that Halcyon House‘s colourful and eclectic interiors and idyllic beachside setting make it so Instagrammable. The hotel is often lauded for its ‘Instagram-worthy interiors’ including its unique mix of ocean blue décor juxtaposed with bold clashing prints, vintage cameos and beachside paraphernalia. Everything about the hotel is photogenic from the blue and white wicker chairs in Halcyon’s Paper Daisy restaurant to the blue and white candy-striped loungers next to the pool area. Read more about our most Instagrammable boutique hotels here.

Highly Commended – Canaves Oia (Greece); Castello di Reschio (Italy); Cap Rocat (Spain)

Digital Excellence Award – Triumph Hotels, New York

Triumph Hotels underwent a revamp of all their digital platforms in 2019, including those of SLH member hotels The Frederick Hotel and The Iroquois New York. Reflecting the aesthetic and contemporary edge of the hotels, the newly designed websites employ an experiential approach that brings to life the destination and energy of New York City.