Design hotels: Best luxury resorts in India, Singapore, Japan and Sweden
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Best Luxury Hotels For Design Buffs

There are myriad places to leave your heart in, but we’ve cherry-picked ten hotels that will take your breath away
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BHUTAN

Stay at: Amankora

Overview: Circumambulation is the act of moving around an object of veneration (such as a temple or a deity) and it is a fundamental component of devotional practice in Buddhism. In Dzongkha, the official language of Bhutan, the word for this is “kora”. It is befitting, therefore, that Amankora – a 72-suite resort comprising five rustic-yet-contemporary lodges scattered across the five valleys after which they are named (Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Phobjikha and Bumthang) – reflects the pietistic and peaceful nature of the Bhutanese culture in its very name. A place like no other, this remote and vertiginous Himalayan kingdom possesses truly magnificent topography (think ancient forests and 7,000m peaks) and the blessed tranquillity desired by so many in their search for spiritual and mental healing.

Fun fact: From 1 Mar to 25 May, Amankora will run a special programme entitled In Pursuit of Happiness, a holistic experience of meditation, yoga and oracle readings that is said to facilitate inner healing. Plus, the Amankora Punakha Lodge (a refurbished traditional Bhutanese farmhouse) is set to unveil an infinity pool that is heated for year-round use and will give the impression that one is gliding right into the rice terraces and the snow-capped mountains beyond.

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ICELAND

Stay at: Ion Adventure Hotel

Overview: The landscape of Iceland can only be described as other-worldly, and nowhere is it more apparent than in Thingvellir National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The area is part of a fissure zone and lies on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, resulting in incredible geological features like waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes and lava lakes. Nearby – and just under an hour by car from Reykjavik – is Ion Adventure Hotel, an avant-garde oblong-shaped structure jutting out from the foot of a dormant volcano that looks perfectly at home amid this ethereal terrain. According to the hotel’s general manager Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir, a profound sense of connection to and responsibility toward the natural environment is a big part of what it means to be Icelandic. “We know that we cannot control the weather, cannot control volcanoes, earthquakes,” she says. “We’ve learned how to live with and respect nature.” The hotel is located in the town of Selfoss, making it easily accessible to various parts of Iceland. The best part: All the rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can fully appreciate the unique setting.

Fun fact: Before it was transformed into the remarkable edifice it is today, Ion Adventure Hotel used to be an inn for workers at the Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station.

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SWITZERLAND

Stay at: Huus Gstaad

Overview: The poet Edith Sitwell wrote: “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” And truly, home is where the hearth is, especially if you seek wintry solace in the chalet village of Gstaad. Considered one of the top five Swiss Alps destinations, it is a region known for its secluded locations and calming retreats. The 136-room Huus Gstaad is a standout vision of awe here. The renovated seven-storey Alpine chalet is situated 1,111m above sea level in the Bernese Oberland, providing picturesque panoramic views of the Saanen and Gstaad villages below as well as the spectacular surrounding mountains. Winter sports enthusiasts will be glad to know that there are over 220km of pistes here at altitudes of over 3,000m above sea level, while hikers will appreciate the over-200km of winter walking trails. Of course, you wouldn’t be blamed for staying indoors. The warm, welcoming interior of Huus Gstaad has all the hallmarks of a comfy dwelling place: fantastic food and drink offerings, a tranquil spa, a huge library that commands a view of the snowscape and, of course, a soothing fireplace. 

Fun fact: Gstaad used to be a sleepy resort town before it became a celebrity’s Christmas playground. Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Roger Moore led the way for the arrival of other starry guests including Valentino Garavani, Anne Hathaway, and Madonna.

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THE NETHERLANDS

Stay at: Sir Adam

Overview: The great appeal of Amsterdam lies in the fact that it is a buzzing modern metropolis without the drawbacks of the big city. Top-ranking art museums, world-renowned orchestras and an edgy vibe intermingle with gabled buildings, pretty canals and bicycle-friendly streets. Along the scenic bank of the River IJ (pronounced “eye”) stand two iconic buildings adjacent to each other. One is the spaceship-like EYE Film Institute that changed the Amsterdam-Noord waterfront when it opened in 2012, and the other is the A’dam Toren, a 22-storey home to offices, restaurants, an observation deck and the Sir Adam. The 108-room hotel is really an artful home base from which guests can explore the city’s creative core. In fact, the hotel’s music library is a tribute to the owners of and main tenants in A’dam Toren: ID&T, AIR Events and MassiveMusic.

Fun fact: The A’dam Toren (“A’dam” is an abbreviation of “Amsterdam”) was designed by Arthur Staal as a commission by Royal Dutch Shell. Officially opened in 1971 as Toren Overhoeks, it housed the multinational oil company until 2009 and, because of that, was affectionately called “Shelltoren”.

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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Stay at: Amangani

Overview: There’s a line in the song Home on the Range (considered the unofficial anthem of the American West) that goes “Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the sky is not cloudy all day.” It’s an idyll that is perfectly encapsulated by Amangani, the sprawling 40-suite resort perched on top of the East Gros Ventre Butte that overlooks the grandeur of the Jackson Hole valley below and the craggy peaks of the Teton mountain range in the distance. Whatever the season, the locale offers a wide range of breathtaking outdoor activities, whether it’s an adventurous hike through the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in the summer or an exhilarating ski down the Rockies in the winter. Incidentally, there are more than 1,000ha of slopes that get carpeted in 10m of annual snowfall from mid-November until Spring, making this destination a heaven for those who enjoy skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

Fun fact: The word Amangani (which means “peaceful home”) is a portmanteau of two words – “Aman” which means “peace” in Sanskrit and “gani” which means “home” in Shoshoni, a Native American language.

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GEORGIA

Stay at: Rooms Hotel Kazbegi

Overview: A quick image search of the mighty Caucasus mountain range in Georgia serves up numerous images of a solitary church sitting on a hill, a looming mountain in the background. It is the Gergeti Trinity Church that hovers above the village of Kazbegi and sits at the foot of Mount Kazbek, Georgia’s highest mountain. A popular spot for visitors, it makes for a perfect daytrip out of the capital Tbilisi. But why not stay in beautiful Kazbegi itself? The geometric Rooms Hotel Kazbegi (designhotels.com), designed by Tbilisi-based duo Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia who represent a new generation of young Georgian designers, is our top pick. A modern rustic-chic vibe pervades the 156-room mountain retreat that has an extensive sun deck for guests to relax and soak in the alpine vistas, a casino and an indoor swimming pool, and offers more venturesome guests a range of outdoor activities including heli-skiing and quad biking. 

Fun fact: According to Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus greatly angered Zeus for imparting the skill of making fire to mankind. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to a mountainside on the Caucasus for eternity. Georgian legend has it that it was the icy slopes of Kazbegi to which Prometheus was chained.

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SINGAPORE

Stay at: The Warehouse Hotel 

Overview: If not done skilfully, mixing the past and the present can result in something predictable or, worse, kitschy. Thankfully, that didn’t happen with Chris Lee, head designer and founder of Asylum, who was tasked to resurrect The Warehouse Hotel from its previous incarnation as a godown during the height of Singapore’s spice trade. The result of his endeavour to combine a bygone era with modern-Singapore: An utterly elegant pièce de résistance that is now a landmark on the bank of the Singapore River. “Our focus has been to protect the property’s legacy, while creating a fresh perspective on the term ‘industrial’,” says Lee. Inside, the signature lobby bar, 37 rooms in muted tones and a rooftop infinity pool are just some of the comforts that await guests who are longing for a staycation like no other.

Fun fact: The well-rested holidaymaker is also one who is well fed. Here, one can relish a sumptuous culinary repertoire of reinterpreted local favourites conceived by celebrated Singapore chef Willin Low, chef-partner of Po, the hotel’s flagship restaurant.

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SWEDEN

Stay at: Fabriken Furillen

Overview: Talk about going off the grid. On the northeastern coast of Gotland, the Swedish island province in the Baltic Sea, protrudes a remote peninsula called Furillen. Once a quarry, the four kilometer square island captivated Swedish photographer Johan Hellström who used the desolate industrial landscape as a backdrop for numerous commercials and music videos. In 1999, he purchased the grounds, its gravel mounds and the factory building that was converted into Fabriken Furillen (designhotels.com). Today, the landscape is still as surreal and, therefore, completely Instagram-worthy. Just like its grey exterior, the 18-room hotel’s interiors are designed in a similarly muted palette of greys and white, but because of the luxury furnishings (Hästens beds, Band & Olufsens TV sets and stereos, and Byredo bathroom amenities), and the crispness and minimalistic beauty of Scandinavian design, the living space is never austere but instead, rather cosy.

Fun fact: Until the ’70s, Furillen was the site of a limestone quarry before it was closed off to civilians, surrounded by barbed-wire fences and used for military exercises. Also, the hotel’s restaurant used to be the factory worker’s canteen.

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INDIA

Stay at: Alilah Fort Bishangarh

Overview: In many parts of India, it is common to traverse between two ages in everyday life. In Jaipur, for instance, modern high-rise steel and glass structures peek out from behind ancient palaces, forts and temples. The restoration and transformation of a 230-year-old heritage fort in the pink city into a luxury resort is perhaps a move to decelerate the progress wheel and counter the more contemporary architectural experimentations. The majestic marble-floored Alilah Fort Bishangarh that sits atop a granite hill retains its original structure that comprises towering turrets, arched windows and fortified seven foot thick walls. The newly-opened hotel boasts 59 stately suites (each is custom-designed), proximity to the charming attractions of Bishangarh and Jaipur, and 360-degree views of the Rajasthani landscape. 

Fun fact: A dark, dank dungeon is probably the last thing that comes to mind when one is searching for a sanctuary of calm and healing, but Alila has converted the fort’s underground cell into the antithesis of its original form and turned it into Spa Alila, a wellness centre carved entirely out of granite rocks.

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JAPAN

Stay at: Satoyama Jujo

Overview: There is a good reason why Japan is so readily associated with snow and onsens – some of the best winterscapes and hot springs in the world are found there. The city of Minami-Uonuma, located in the south of the Niigata prefecture north of Yuzawa town, is one such spot. Touted as an excellent base for experiencing a variety of winter sports, the city is also well known for Uonuma Koshihikari rice, a spectacularly fluffy and chewy variety said to the best in all of Japan. Here, you can also a renovated country house by the name of Satoyama Jujo (a combination of two Japanese words meaning “mountain village” and “ten stories”, respectively; designhotels.com). The 12-room hotel is a good example of the traditional East-meets-modern West aesthetic when it’s done well, with the abundance of wood and neutral colour palette augmenting the reposeful aura about the place. Plus, the farm-to-table offerings at the hotel’s Sanaburi restaurant emphasise the decidedly organic experience you’ll have here.

Fun fact: Hard Zelkova wood and pine native to Japan constitute the hotel’s 150-year-old main building. This architectural decision was made to combat the intensely snowy winters of the region. An application of Japanese lacquer further safeguards the establishment.

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This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of L'Officiel Singapore (out now on Magzter and newsstands). Click here to subscribe.

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