Five Design Hotels Worth a Trip
Sometimes, the natural beauty of a destination is matched by the architecture of its best hotels. (Well, almost.) These five design marvels—including a Chilean winery that doubles as a contemporary art gallery, a mid-century modernist dream in Palm Springs, and a serene, ryokan-style compound in Japan—prove that if you know where to look, a special hotel is worthy of a trip in itself.
Jackalope, Mornington Peninsula, Australia
You might expect a hotel on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula, set against rolling farmland, eucalyptus forests, and vineyards, to have rustic, country-house aspirations. Not so at Jackalope, a new property in one of the country’s famed wine regions (about an hour south of Melbourne) that sheds all pretense of quaint rural charm. To be clear, this is a hotel in the country; it is not a country hotel. Perched on its own twenty-eight-acre vineyard, Jackalope is a study in clean lines and lacquered black surfaces, with forty-six minimalist guest rooms that—despite the somewhat spartan design—feel totally appropriate. In other words, there’s nothing to distract from the floor-to-ceiling windows and the pastoral views they frame. And Jackalope has collaborated with a number of artists to produce installations placed throughout the grounds, like the signature twenty-three-foot-tall black aluminum sculpture of the hotel’s namesake—a mythical jackrabbit-antelope hybrid.
Do/See: In addition to wine, the Mornington Peninsula also has world-class beaches. Surf or boogie board at Point Leo Beach; swim at the calmer Portsea Front Beach; or soak in the therapeutic waters of the Peninsula Hot Springs, a series of thermal rock pools overlooking eucalyptus trees and fields of wild grass.
Amanemu, Shima, Japan
Amanemu is as ethereal as a hotel can be, like it could exist on another planet. It’s located in Ise-Shima National Park, about three hours by train from Kyoto and just above Ago Bay, the birthplace of some of the most spectacular pearls in the world. Designed by Kerry Hill Architects, Amanemu is dotted with hot springs, and its minimalist rooms are in the ryokan style, each with a soaking tub (with separate faucets for cold, hot, or mineral hot spring water). The surroundings are just as tranquil: wood, bamboo, and stone structures marked by low-hanging tiled roofs and sliding screens, plus beautiful hand-carved traditional motifs. There’s an infinity pool, which you’ll find is pretty difficult to leave (even at night—the stargazing is mesmerizing), and a 22,000-square-foot spa with outdoor onsen baths, a yoga studio, and four treatment rooms tucked into the forest. The hotel’s restaurant is called, um, Restaurant, and it has vaulted ceilings and a clean design that draws from traditional Japanese dining houses. From here, the views of Ago Bay are the stuff of legend.
Do/See: Collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the hiking trails that make up the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes wind through pristine woods, connecting various sacred Shinto shrines. The hotel can arrange transportation and guided walks.
VIK Chile, Millahue, Chile
Another wine-country hotel (this one in Millahue, Chile), VIK Chile is an easy two-hour drive south from Santiago. The ultramodern design, which offers wholly uninterrupted views of your surroundings—amid some 11,000 acres of unspoiled land—is reminiscent of Frank Gehry but was conceived by contemporary art aficionados—and hotel owners—Carrie and Alexander Vik. Each of the twenty-two guest rooms is completely different from the others, some with themes (like a room dedicated to the Italian artist Fornasetti, another designed by Japanese painter Takeo Hanazawa), and the common spaces feature pieces from Chilean artists, such as Abstract Expressionist Roberto Matta. Bathrooms, meanwhile, come with black carbon-fiber tubs that appear to hover above the ground. And much of the furniture—like the transparent plexiglass tables filled with discarded computer wires—was designed by the owners. The overall experience is like staying in a very comfortable modern art museum—one with easy access to one of South America’s best wineries.
Do/See: To see another side of this Chilean wine region, drive about an hour south of VIK Chile, to the Colchagua Valley, over the mountains. Visit Lapostolle, which produces award-winning Clos Apalta reds.
L’Horizon, Palm Springs
Originally built in 1952 by William F. Cody, L’Horizon began as the home of Hollywood producer Jack Wrather (of Lassie and The Lone Ranger fame), who used to host guests like Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. It’s considered one of Cody’s finest works, and a lasting example of Palm Springs’ 1950s heyday. In 2015, the property opened as the region’s swankiest hotel, reimagined by its new owner, LA-based designer Steve Hermann. He spent two years renovating the interiors, modernizing and beautifying everything along the way—and the result is an open-air spa and restaurant and twenty-five bungalows that don’t feel stuck in a mid-century time warp. Each bungalow is outfitted with exposed post-and-beam wood ceilings, stone walls, custom Italian furnishings, wide plank floors, and a marble bathroom with a rain shower—in other words, the best of the past and present.
Do/See: Palm Springs is California’s design mecca, so it follows the town’s art museum is worth an afternoon outing. Founded in 1938, the current collection includes works from Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, Louise Bourgeois, and Alexander Calder.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Hawaii
When Mauna Kea opened in the mid-1960s as part of Laurance S. Rockefeller’s hotel group, it was said to be the most expensive hotel ever built, at $15 million. Designed by architect Edward Charles Bassett of the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the hotel itself is considered a modernist masterpiece. In the decades since, it’s remained a favorite Big Island hotel—thanks in part to a $150 million renovation in the mid-2000s that helped Mauna Kea keep pace with the newer luxury resorts on Hawaii. But it still maintains the delightfully retro, mid-century vibe that’s so compelling, even decades later. Another thing that Mauna Kea offers that few other hotels do? An incredible art collection. Rockefeller began amassing works from Asia, Oceania, and the Pacific Rim during the hotel’s development, and today, guests can sign up for guided tours to check out the traditional Hawaiian quilts, ancient Maori canoe prows, Buddha sculptures from twelfth-century India, and ancestral figures from New Guinea.
Do/See: Despite the recent volcanic eruptions, the majority of the island is entirely accessible (and safe). A two-hour drive through wildly varied landscape (including eucalyptus forests and rolling green hills) brings you to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The landscape is otherworldly, and the hikes here are a fascinating education in indigenous flora and fauna.