We went beyond places to stay this year, including various truly outstanding experiences—cruises, flights, restaurants, bars, and destinations—along with the intensely personal reasons we love them. This was the stuff we daydreamed about during the lockdown, as well as a few places we were able to visit—it was something that kept us going during a year of limited travel. Here are some of our favorite hotels and resorts from around the world.
El Fenn, Marrakech Morocco
Anyone who has a spot for the city can remember the riad gold rush of 20 years ago. Dot-com boomers and designer downshifters started buying up Marrakech’s decaying townhouses to transform into boho hotels, emulating Talitha Getty and Jimi Hendrix’s freewheeling 1960s Morocco, with mixed results. The notables can now be counted on one hand—or one digit. El Fenn, co-owned by Vanessa Branson, Richard’s sister, is a series of acid-bright spaces that first opened in 2004 with six bedrooms. It now stretches through 12 riads and boasts a modern rooftop pool. A whiff of insouciance fills the pulse-slowing spa, courtyards of bougainvillea and orange trees, and the 31 head-turning rooms—midcentury modern goes to Morocco—finessed by local craftspeople, mingling with scents of jasmine in summer and olive-wood smoke in winter. It has the feel of a philanthropic collector’s house, which Branson is, but with rock stars in retreat. As the sky darkens over a cityscape dotted with minarets, the bartender on the massive roof stirs preserved-lemon gin martinis.
Singita Pamushana Lodge, Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, Zimbabwe
Pamushana, like the rest of Singita’s safari properties, has gained a reputation for being one of the most upscale in Africa. Insiders return time and time again to the unspoiled, biologically rich reaches of Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve’s 321,000 acres for long, immersive stays and exclusive animal sightings. Deep-red soil, massive boulders, 87 known rock-art sites, and forests of ancient baobab trees distinguish this destination from others in the area. Also after several days of driving and walking with the excellent guides, spotting huge herds of buffalo and elephants, wild dogs, and big cats, you never feel like you’ve seen anything. Although community tours in other parts of the country can feel a little forced, a visit to Kambako Cultural Village is a must. It’s a living museum of Shangaan culture that’s hands-on and interactive. The hilltop suites at the lodge overlook Malilangwe Dam, where boat-based birding and game fishing are among the many activities available. Food is contemporary and sourced sustainably.
Londolozi, Sabi Sands, South Africa
This family property is one of the oldest private hotels in the Sabi Sands, which is still regarded as South Africa’s gold standard for safaris. Honestly, there is no better place in Africa to cross off the continent’s most recognizable species in a hurry. The high density of leopards that can be seen up close is not a myth. When you choose Londolozi, you get a choice of five independently operated camps, all of which are strategically located above a stretch of the Sand River, which is a magnet for all animals, particularly during the dry winter months when the reserve’s other water sources dry up. The Varty family, with their enlightened approach to the healing force of nature and an unwavering legacy of doing good, is the magic element, not just the consistency and quantity of game watching or the luxury of the accommodations. Bron and Boyd, fourth-generation siblings, are now leading the charge. Allow any preconceptions about a traditional safari to fade away as you discover the power of quiet, meditative game drives or waking up early to squeeze in a yoga class as elephants splash in the river below. Don’t be fooled by the appearance of impromptu, even laid-back service. Behind the scenes, it’s planned with military precision to ensure that every minute counts without making everyone feel hurried.
Angama Mara, Great Rift Valley, Kenya
It’s difficult to appreciate how breathtaking the views are before you sink into one of the Fermob metal armchairs and order a medicinal Dawa (a Kenyan Caipirinha). This remarkable site, 985 feet above the plains of the Maasai Mara, inspired owner Nicky Fitzgerald and her late husband Steve to come out of retirement after decades of operating some of Africa’s most well-known camps. Angama Mara, which means “suspended in mid-air” in Swahili, is a clever distillation of the couple’s lifetime experience, knowing what their guests really want: a picnic in the spot where scenes from Out of Africa were filmed, lunch in the kitchen garden, printing the day’s shot in the photography studio, sewing in the beading gallery—or just sitting in awe. The property is divided into two camps, each with 15 glass-fronted tents perched on the valley’s bottom. Hot-air balloons float by at dawn, and eagles circle on the thermals as the temperature rises. The game-viewing experience is unquestionably superior. You will be by the river in 10 minutes if you have private access to the Greater Mara Conservancies. During migration, a wildebeest crossing is less than an hour’s drive away, which is near by East African standards.
andBeyond Benguerra Island, Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
The Bazaruto Islands are a representation of the African coast as it used to be: real, low-key, and deserted. Until five years ago, relative inaccessibility prevented the emergence of a luxury-hotel scene. You can fly of Johannesburg in the morning and arrive in time for lunch these days. There are only few lodges in the archipelago, all of which are modestly below the tree line, like this long-time favorite on a sheltered stretch of the north shore of Benguerra, the archipelago’s second largest isle. Even though the stiff competition from Azura half a mile to the sand, this has remained the hippest and most laidback hideaway in the region since Africa expert &Beyond took over in 2015, with its inimitable safari-camp theme. The interiors of the 12 thatched-roof bungalows are cool and dark, with gleaming mahogany four-posters, carved wooden doors, block-printed bed linen, and antique chests blending the region’s Arabic-African origins with Portuguese influences. Private pools and a gazebo are available in the huts, where guests can dine on prawn curry before retiring to a shaded daybed.