Romantic retreats: 20 of the world's most seductive places to stay
I have long believed the best and most cost effective form of relationship maintenance has nothing to do with the therapist’s waiting room. No, it involves a very different form of close scrutiny in an enclosed space. I am talking, of course, about the exquisitely remedial benefits of a couple of nights away in a delightful hotel that – by virtue of its location, furnishings, fresh sheets and solicitous staff – sprinkles stardust on your spirits and libido. The sort of establishment that appears to have been created by Venus and the design team at Coco de Mer (London’s finest erotic emporium) expressly as a sanctuary for the careworn lover. The place need not be luxurious or expensive to perform its voodoo, but it must have charm: that elusive quality that seduces the would-be guest without any crazed effort to do so. It should lull you into the sexiest version of yourself with the promise of one treat after another and the best post-coital breakfast in the entire known universe.
We will all have our own cherished examples of the ideal amorous retreat and they’ll differ wildly. I am not, for example, a huge fan of spa hotels, which tend to talk of “pampering” as if it were a form of foreplay and insist on whisking your partner away for a mud wrap at inconvenient moments. But I suspect everyone will agree on certain factors that enhance the chance of romance. The first is simple: a room that’s truly your own. If you have children or pets no domestic space is truly private. But the main problem with your own hearth is that you become a slave to its upkeep; you retreat to the bedroom only to tumble across laundry, bills or a broken tap. No one has plumped the pillows or scrubbed the surfaces in the en suite, or left rose-scented bath oil. By contrast, hotel rooms are smooch-ready within seconds of entering them and have minibars to put you in the mood. If you’ve chosen well, there’s a bath big enough for two and views that makes you swoon. Perhaps even a Romeo and Juliet balcony. Such spaces slice away distractions and leave you with one clear option: mutual indulgence. And, just as importantly, the space to talk and rediscover the other. A good conversation is a better sex aid than the Rampant Rabbit.
The interiors that lurk outside the bedroom door are also an essential part of seduction. There’s no finer place than a hotel bar to dig out your inner coquette or rake. The best ones are little theatres, with the barman as suave prompt and fellow drinkers as audience. The easiest erotic role-play known to lover-kind is to pretend you and your partner are strangers meeting for the first time as you happen to perch on adjacent barstools. Your thespian self feels compelled to order exotic cocktails, invent a lurid back-story and make meaningful eye contact. The dining room (if you venture there) is the National Theatre’s Oliver auditorium to the bar’s intimate Dorfman: a place for re-connecting couples to try their weekend personas out on the big stage and each other. When cares are stripped away and the chore of cooking removed, you can slip back to the banter of early courting days. If your hotel’s top notch then there will be a third act: the maître d’ will take you to a low-lit sitting room for some jewel-bright digestiv that whispers “kiss me”.But maybe you’ll bypass downstairs altogether; because what sums up casual decadence better than room service? If there’s one thing as delightful as the act of love itself, it’s lifting a phone and ordering up… well, whatever the hotel’s happy to furnish you with: champagne, oysters, fresh towels, or a mechanical nightingale with ruby eyes once owned by an Ottoman sultan (I once asked for the last, just to test them). This is so much the opposite of life as it’s usually experienced –subjugated by bosses, PTA or offspring – that it makes you feel sexy by dint of unaccustomed power: I want a steak sandwich, I get a steak sandwich! Everyone can be a dom in an excellent hotel.
If you want to submit, however, then you need a fabulous divan to be supine upon. The bed is at the very heart of a hotel’s claim to aid and abet romance. It should be generous in size for proper romping, with the kind of five-star mattress that cradles lovers without squeaking. And, ideally, this couch should be clad in the sort of fine, white Egyptian cotton that’s begging for a spot of vigorous dishevelment. Throw in a mound of soft pillows and a Cheval mirror for saucy angles and only the flint-hearted would remain unbuttoned.
1. Royal Mansour, Marrakech, Morocco
One of the most discreet hotels in the world, with a tangled warren of underground tunnels so that staff can criss-cross the grounds, tending to guests’ whims without being heard or seen. Few guests feel compelled to leave their rooms, which are in fact mini riads, with their own inner courtyards and rooftops boasting a plunge pool, fireplace and Bedouin tent. Though those that do venture out can reserve one of the hotel’s Bentleys - custom-built in champagne gold. In triple-Michelin-starred Yannick Alléno’s silk-draped restaurant, white-gloved waiters serve Moroccan-spiced lobster and truffled lamb at silver tables made of silver filigree.
2. Erosantorini, Santorini, Greece
The blazing white suites are the epitomy of cool indulgence: ‘floating’ fireplaces are suspended from the ceilings, angular retro lamps jut out of the walls, and rooms are peppered with oxidised steel furniture. Bed heads are teasingly tiled with mirrors, and outdoors hot tubs look out to the parakeet-green sea. Thankfully, with only five villas, competition isn’t overly fierce for the pool cave, where couples can canoodle over a cocktail away from prying eyes. A V-shaped infinity pool (with underwater music) cascades over three levels. Completing the package are an intimate outdoor cinema lit at night by a bonfire, and seafood lunches aboard a private yacht. Read the full review:
3. Morgan’s Rock, Nicaragua
Best suited to romp-in-the-hay types, with hammock-style bungalow daybeds and waterfall plunge pools. Treetop villas are the most isolated, accessible by jungle suspension bridge; the only sounds are the cawk of parrots and heaving of the waves. The most romantic time is sunset, when the sky goldens and a gentle breeze whispers through the delicate net walls. This is a hands-on kind of place: guests can milk the farm cows before breakfast, horse-ride on the beach, or fish for shrimp. A candlelit aromatherapy massage for two adds to the amorous tone.
4. Nihi Sumba Island, Bali
But a few years old, and already a Balian classic: think lantern-flecked infinity pools and linen-draped four-poster beds. Among the most secluded villas is Puncak, which grips a mountain slope; at sunset, couples can clink champagne flutes in their outdoor hot tub, and evenings are spent snuggling around the firepit and scoping the canopy below. Romantic experiences deliver the kind of photo opportunities likely to induce serious Instagram envy: Spa Safaris feature a sunrise trek across ricefields, breakfast on a cantilevered terrace, and a massage for two on a cliff edge.
5. One&Only Le Saint Géran, Mauritius
A recent multi-million refurbishment aims to seduce a younger market as well as trend-loving baby boomers – cue a new pan-Asian tapas bar and DJs spinning tropical-infused beats. Guests can also now enjoy private spa treatments aboard the Lady Lisbeth yacht and tasting menu at upmarket steak joint, Prime. Suites feature textured wall panels, sofas upholstered in slippery grey leathers, and smooth stone furnishings. Local references are gracefully done, with hand-crafted lithographs, and textiles dyed to the exact colour of Mauritian sand. A new cascading infinity zigzags the top of the peninsular, punctuated by muslin-draped day beds. Those seeking ultimate privacy can book Villa One, which comes with a private chef and ocean-facing infinity pool.
6. Il Sereno, Lake Como, Italy
A great glass block that seems to surge from the surrounding waters, Il Sereno rebels against Lake Como’s established hotel-design etiquette of marble sculptures and faux stucco. It’s whimsical, not industrial, though – with a grand staircase of ‘floating’ walnut steps, vertical garden buttressed with art installations made from twisted plants and an infinity pool that gives the appearance of cascading into the lake. In the glass-walled suites, beds swaddled in the finest French linen and tubs carved from nut brown Travertine are positioned for maximum views of the mirror-blue lake. Romantic sunset aperitivos can be taken curled up in the padded cuddle chairs that dot the expansive balconies. The Michelin-starred al-fresco restaurant offers ‘chef’s free flow’ tasting menus on the waterfront.
7. Longitude 131°, Australia
The world’s most exclusive glamping retreat; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent a night in one of the canvas pavilions peppered among the sand dunes while on a royal tour of Australia. Though interiors look like something that’s leapt from the pages of a design book, with bathtubs made from beaten metal and aboriginal artwork, couples spend most of the time on their huge private decks. Think cooling dips in the plunge pool, and mesmerising views of Uluru. At sunset, couples luxuriate on the alfresco bed with a cocktail, warmed by a fire, before retiring for the night (and no, nobody can see what their neighbours get up to, on account of the artfully erected terrace walls, and stars being the only source of night light).
8. Aman Canal Grande, Venice, Italy
George and Amal Clooney held their wedding reception at this ‘seven-star’ Renaissance palazzo, where walls are clad in silk damasks by Rubelli and ceilings are inlaid with gold and bulbous Murano chandeliers. There are so many restored frescoes that those who don’t bother to get out for some sightseeing probably have a point. Alcova Tiepolo Suite is the sexiest sleeping quarter, named after the 17th-century artist who painted the ceiling, a whirling dreamscape of cupids and doves. Cicchetti and spritzes in the canal-side garden, as sunset turns the sky and water flaming orange, is a memorable experience.
9. White Pearl Resort, Mozambique
Guests can take breakfast in a tent overlooking the Indian Ocean, luxuriate on an outdoor four-poster bed and dine à deux in a wine cellar. Interiors are minimalist and playful, from the test tubes displaying bushland plants to ocean-view egg-shaped chairs. There’s also a serious commitment to the colour white. Stilted timber beachside lofts are redolent of a James Bond seduction scene, all white leather, shark-teeth lighting and glass tables with va-va-voom curves. There are also private plunge pools and the bathrooms have outdoor showers. All guests are assigned their own butler.
10. La Residence, Franschhoek, South Africa
In a secluded location deep in the belly of the Franschhoek Valley, hemmed in by smoky mountains, pop-green vineyards and plum orchards. The Frangipani suite has a four-poster bed carved from marble and mirrored Versailles bathroom. A footstool is required to mount the antique bed in the Chambre Bleue suite, stuffed with Provençal antiques and billowing with silks. Couples can partake in romantic strolls around the vineyards, though those seeking fun in the garden bushes run the risk of attracting attention from the resident springboks. Dinners are blowout, wine-soused affairs, preceded by cocktails by the bonfire and canapés by candlelight.
11. The Brando, French Polynesia
It doesn’t get more private: Pippa Middleton spent her honeymoon on this far-flung private atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a bid to avoid the paparazzi. The resort was ‘designed to reflect Polynesian lifestyles and culture’, but Pinterest-worthy padded circle chairs, and plunge pools with blade-sharp granite edges keep things swish. This is a trend-conscious place – inevitably there’s a dedicated vegan menu alongside the Polynesian fare, and stand-up paddle boarding supplements the snorkelling. An outdoor bar has private booths in the treetops. The spa’s ‘bird house’ steal the show though – a giant nest 20ft up in the canopy, where couples can enjoy a traditional taurumi massage followed by a ‘sacred queen’s bath’.
12. Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, India
Otherwise known as the shimmering white lair of Octopussy – the 1983 James Bond film was partially filmed among the lily-speckled ponds and Rajasthani arches of this erstwhile royal summer palace that floats on Lake Pichola. This is the kind of place where you arrive under a shower of rose petals before being escorted to the inner cloisters of the fortress under a sequined umbrella. Suites live up to the establishment’s tantalising history, with white-marble walls, hot tubs and heavily brocaded beds. Couples can enjoy dinner in a private pogola, water gently lapping at its edges – or on a 150-year-old boat once used by the maharanas of Udaipur.
13. Finca Cortesin, Andalucia, Spain
It’s not short of secret nooks for furtive trysts, from the fructiferous gardens, tangled with purple heather bushes, to a Moroccan-styke lounge boasting a wooden ceiling carved with stars. Interiors are sexy-kooky: think Cath Kidston meets Game of Thrones, with doors salvaged from medieval castles and tasselled sofas in zany prints. Bedrooms have four-posters, white linen twisting down to the floor in Rapunzelian knots. You could park a fleet of buses in the bathroom, and rain showers are so spacious that it’s doubtful they were designed just with solitary ablutions in mind. The Michelin-starred Japanese outfit serves seafood masterpieces out of the world’s most orderly open kitchen, like something out of a silent film.
14. Song Saa, Cambodia
This private island retreat is barefoot luxury for burnt-out couples who want to reconnect while also playing at Robinson Crusoe. Floating villas have four-poster beds, and portholes that gaze out to the coral reef. The hotel seems to have been designed for al fresco nakedness: private beach sundecks facilitate sunbathing in the buff, and showers are of the outdoor, ocean-fronting variety. Couples can enjoy massages in secluded alcoves across the island. ‘Night spa’ treatments under a star-speckled sky are a popular prelude to midnight hand-in-hand strolls – and the frantic, semi-robed scramble for the ‘do not disturb’ sign back in the suite.
15. Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru
The Maldives isn’t short of romantic retreats. Few, however, have such raw sex appeal. Pool villas are erected on jetties and named ‘Sunset’ or ‘Sunrise’ depending on their positioning. On the patio, giant nets suspended over the water are officially for sunbathing – though their bouncy elasticity is likely to invite al fresco antics of a different kind. Steps on the terrace lead directly into the ocean; bathrooms, made from polished concrete, have ‘overflowing’ tubs designed for filling to the brim. Other swoonsome experiences include a private candlelit dinner on a sandbank or a picnic on a deserted island (conveniently with phone signal, so staff can leave guests to it until they’re ready to be picked up).
16. Denis Private Island, Seychelles
The sauciest rooms on this private coral islet have their own spa pavilions, so guests can enjoy signature coconut scrubs – or massage each other – in privacy. The Beach villa has twin outdoor showers, and the al-fresco plunge pool is conspiratorially walled off. It will help if both of you are water babies; top activities include sea kayaking and fishing for red snappers; there’s no pool, but rather a sheltered shallow lagoon at Belle Etoile frequented by sea turtles. Elaborate five-course dinners using produce from the island’s garden, unfold at tables on the beach, under an inky sky freckled with stars.
17. Gramercy Park Hotel, New York, USA
New York is edgy. It rarely does sexy. Gramercy Park Hotel is the big exception. This Renaissance-revival pile is a riot of Venetian mirrors, Baroque tapestries and red velvet chairs. Rooms have hand-painted sleigh beds, marble vanities and mahogany drinks cabinets. The pomp follows through to the Rose bar, with its tufted silk velvet banquette and columns made of Douglas fir. More low-key is the cosy oak-panelled trattoria, where couples share antipasti and wine in darkened corners. Guests are also treated to the most coveted of local status symbols: keys to Gramercy, one of the city’s only private park, and New York’s most exclusive location for a romantic walk.
18. Keemala, Phuket, Thailand
It’s all about the Bird’s Nest Pool Villas – these tangled-twig high rises resemble jungle spaceports, though they are apparently based on dwellings of the Rung-Nok clan, who had a strict penchant for privacy. Lap pools jut out audaciously over the jungle canopy and trees pierce through the balcony floor. Romantic Canvas Tented Villas clasp at limestone outcrops and have attention-seeking canopy beds. Outdoor bathrooms eyeball the rainforest and tubs are made for two. The star attraction in the spa is a sinkhole-sized tub, which couples can reserve for lingering herbal soaks.
19. COMO Shambhala Estate, Bali
Daily yoga classes help guests get limber, while pranayama breathing sessions aim at reaching an ecstatic state of serenity. Couples can book a sensuous sunset Javanese massage in the water garden, while listening to the hum of cicadas and trickle of ‘sacred’ springs across the teak trees trunks. In the suites, white muslin clings to the four-poster beds; some are endowed with private pools that posture over bamboo-webbed forests. Bag Bayugita villa for a Venetian bed and infinity edge pool that looks out across lush rice fields.
20. Tri, Sri Lanka
This voguish wellness retreat peaks out provocatively from a thick clot of jungle, on electric-blue Koggala lake. Hewn from salvaged woods and featuring a 21-metre cantilevered infinity pool that pierces into the water, it has thrown down the gauntlet to Sri Lanka’s standard staple of colonial resorts. Suites embody seductive sustainability, with stripped-cinnamon window screens, and graphic-print throws in vibrant shades from a local boutique. Some have infinity plunge pools, positioned for optimum views of that moody, mesmerising lake. Private Ayurvedic dinners on an elliptical tower in the middle of the water should not be missed. Yoga sessions take place on a pavilion high in the treetops, to the steam-puff sighs of the great hornbills that circle above.