The Four Score Nations
Robin Sheppard, Co Founder of Bespoke Hotels, calls it, “A star studded, must attend, essential date in the world’s perpetual calendar.” The ninth World Boutique Hotel Awards takes place, as ever, in Merchant Taylors’ Hall in the City of London. The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors gained its first Royal Charter in 1503 and is one of the 12 Great Livery Companies. It started life as an association of tailors (the Threadneedle Street address is an historic clue). Quite apt too, considering the guests’ fashion on show tonight from black tie to national costume. The world and their partner really are here. The livery hall reads like an architectural encyclopaedia covering the 14th to 20th centuries.
A lavish setting for a lavish gala. It’s a high octane international evening of accolades and industry recognition, of competition and celebration, of flowing wine and fine cuisine. A reception of award winning Tenuta Montemagno Relais and Wines precedes a cocktail party courtesy of “intricately realised” Silent Pool Gin (which turns out to be blackberry and damson gin liquors). Laura Scampini, proprietor of Tenuta Montemagno Resort, comments, “It’s a very nice occasion to be here this evening. Our resort is quiet, calm, very comfortable. We produce our own wine there.” The suspense gains momentum during the three course dinner (globe artichoke of course) before the ceremony truly gets underway.
It’s a serious global operation. Director Schlomo Gabbai explains more: “There are many awards in the world of hospitality. But remarkably the World Boutique Hotel Awards is the only one of its kind that takes the time, care, and in all honesty, pure joy, to visit each and every prospective winner. We don’t judge from afar. We feel the full experience – the rooms, the grounds, the lobbies, the private islands, wilderness tents and castles. We see the attention to detail in every stitch of fabric and every crumb of food. Most importantly, our judges are always moved by the extraordinary people behind each establishment, by the people who pour their hearts and souls into creating timeless memories.” This year there are 300 nominees from 80 countries.
The roll call of honours begins… Fond Doux Plantation and Resort in Soufrière, St Lucia, wins America’s Most Ecofriendly Hotel. It’s owned by Lyton and Eroline Lamontagne. “What I really like is that boutique hotels are niche – they’re all completely different and very personal,” believes Eroline. “They’re about hospitality. We own a plantation hotel in St Lucia. It is the heartbeat of the island. We do our bit for the island. There is nobody like us. It’s a working plantation. You can see how cocoa grows on trees and is then fermented before becoming chocolate.”
Villa Sostaga in Gargano, Italy, is awarded Europe’s Most Stunning View Hotel – it revels in a breathtaking panorama of Lake Garda. Owner Francisco Seresina reports, “It’s a 19th century building my family and I renovated in 2004 and opened the following year. Villa Sostaga is cosy and romantic and most of all has the real taste of a home. My wife and I personally look after it seven days a week. We are surrounded by a 40,000 square metre park. It’s kind of unique!”
Bradley Goian and Antonelli Puglisi are joint General Managers of Wild Retreat which won Most Sustainable Restaurant in the World 2018. “We’re on the far west coast of Vancouver Island,” describes Bradley. “We’re 45 minutes by sea plane. We’re in the middle of the wilderness!” Antonelli adds, “It’s very much like an African safari in the northwest Pacific. There are killer whales, otters and eagles. We run an indigenous detox destination.” One of the 2019 winners is Mestyle Garage Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. It wins Southeast Asia’s Most Inspired Design Hotel. “We have a garage theme of course,” says owner Phatthamon Sangratkanjanasin. She jokes, “My surname is quite long!”
Elisabeth Visoanska, Founder of eco luxury skincare line Visoanska, is a sponsor and judge at the 2019 World Boutique Hotel Awards. She says, “Every winner stands for making their dream come true and each founding story could make the synopsis of a film. It is all about sharing your passions and executing them in the best way forward.” Wanderlust fills the air. Writer Cheryl King hails from Tennessee but now lives in Costa Rica: “South America is all about the food and the people. I want to see it all!” This year’s keynote speaker is CNN travel journalist Maureen O’Hare. Originally from Northern Ireland, Maureen is based at CNN’s London bureau. “Travel is exciting!” she proclaims. “It’s real life but better.” And now, for the overall winner… silence… drum roll… applause on standby… envelope opening… Awarta Nusa Dua Resort and Villas in Bali, Indonesia, is crowned the World’s Best Boutique Hotel 2019. Adieus! Goody bags! Carriages!