There are certain global ports of call that are the go-to retreats for the alphas, the tastemakers and the chic-erati. Once, there were only a handful of such getaways (think Newport, Rhode Island; Deauville, France; and Palm Beach, Florida). Now the beautiful people decamp to places flung far and wide. Four new books take us on a Grand Tour of the best and the brightest os these destinations, from sizzlin St. Barths in the French Antilles to Marrakesh, Morocco, where a grand-dame hotel has recently undergone a transformative face-lift.
IN THE SPIRIT OF ST. BARTHS – Assouline
The enchanted island of St. Barths is the subject of a new book by Pamela Fiori. No one knows travel – and especially luxury travel – better than Fiori. She’s the former editor in chief of both Town & Country and Travel + Leisure and the author of Assouline´s In the Spirit of Capri. Now she trains her Chanel-shaded eyes upon the Caribbean for In the Spirit of St. Barths (also from Assouline). “St. Barths defies economic cycles,” Fiori is told by Grace Leo-Andrieu, the Paris-based hotelier and founder of the island’s Hotel Guanahani & Spa. “It’s always in style, always in fashion.”
Fiori certainly captures the island’s eternal appeal by offering just enough substance counterbalanced with spun sugar to tell the story of this fabled escape in the French Antilles. There are her own personal recollections, a succinct retelling of the island’s history, meet-and-greets with local A-listers and endless gorgeous images.
Fiori invites readers into elegant villas and to the best fetes (including the wedding of cosmetics guru Olivia Chantecaille). And then she shares a handful of her favorite hotel and dining suggestions. Although two of my top picks – the incomparably chic and relaxed Hotel La Banane and the must-dine Bonito Restaurant – did not make Fiori’s cut, this is but a small complaint. In the Spirit of St. Barths is spirited and special – it’s definitely one for the coffee table and a “must” hostess gift this summer.
I am also smitten with Taschen’s 25th Anniversary Great Escapes collection, their compendium of the world’s top hotels and resorts tha’s been broken down by continent into five beautifully designed books and packaged in one box. Each volume features fabulous, lush photos of a curated selection of retreats – whether it’s the “cowtown cool” Hotel Paisano in Marfa, Texas, with its James Dean memorabilia; the Giraffe Manor near Nairobi, Kenya, where giraffes literally pop in for a visit; or the Amankila on Bali, where spirituality and hedonism are indulged in equal measure.
I found myself armchair traveling and affixing Post-its aplenty: “MUST go here!” and “Europe! Asia! North America! Oh my!” I also appreciated the terrific service information given for each retreat: price, vibe, food and the “wow” factor. The books delivers enough insightful text (in English, German and French, to boot) and seductive photos to leave a reader to pack his or her bags and head off in five different directions at once.
HOTEL II PELLICANO – Rizzoli
“A private house on the beach” is how Gucci creative director Frida Giannini describes the Hotel II Pellicano situated on the Tuscan coast in Porto Ercole. Browsing the oversized pages of Hotel II Pellicano, from Rizzoli, you meet many of the hotel’s regulars as captured though the years by the lenses of great photographers (and fans of the resort): Slim Aarons, John Swope and, most recently, Juergen Teller. Don’t expect Miller sisters or Hollywood heavyweights lounging about the pages. The Hotel II Pellicano attracts a lower-key set of regulars: Europe’s minor royals and italian titans of industry with names like Rattazzi, Borghese, Agnelli and Abreu.
The book offers dribs and drabs of text – a brief history of the hotel and background on the trio of photographers and captions that read like bad translations: “Bikinis are all the rage for female guests wanting to soak up the rays…” Happy hours are spent messing about in boats.” Hotel II Pellicano is really all about big photos (Teller’s are the standouts), and it’s a window into a very rarefied world whose chief appeal, sadly lost in translation here, may only be discerned by an actual visit to Porto Ercole.
LA MAMOUNIA MARRAKECH – Assouline
I first became aware of La Mamounia years ago while watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much. The film, with Jimmy Stewart and a non-blonde Doris Day, is no To Catch a Thief, but the hotel, the setting for several pivotal scenes, left an indelible impression. Fast-forward half a century, and the fabled Marrakech retreat is hotter than ever. Long the favorite of celebrities and far-flung heads of state, the nearly 100-year-old hostelry reopened in 2009, after emerging from a massive, three-year renovation courtesy of French design whiz Jacques Garcia. And the bold-faced names were back in full force: There was Gwyneth Paltrow and Juliette Binoche. Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek.
Assouline’s gorgeous La Mamounia Marrakech captures the timeless spirit of this stunning escape in its big, bold pages, all packaged within a mosaic-patterned box. There’s a concise introduction with the history of the hotel and the renovation followed by pages and pages of arresting images peppered with quotes from the designer and visitors to Marrakech. You will quickly lose yourself in the bohemian-luxe glamour oh the hotel’s painted living rooms, cooling courtyards and moody galleries. The take-away: I have been inpired to book my first trip to Marrakech next winter, and, yes, I’ll be staying at La Mamounia.