I have returned from the wonderful Do Not Disturb, held in Borgo Egnazia, Italy, the pinnacle of the luxury travel market. The best hotels, resorts, villas, private islands, yachts and private jets companies came together to show their latest offerings, all claiming they’re the best thing that anyone has ever seen, ever – and some of them are even right.
The event is held over three days, with ten meetings per day, and four hour lunches built on the promise of excessive drinking and sprinkles of work. Overall, the show was wonderful, with an education on a lot of properties I was previously unaware of.
I had planned to write a review of Borgo Egnaznia, but because this was a buyout and Do Not Disturb organised events for lunches and dinners, almost everything was shut. Even the gift shop – that’s when you know things are serious. None of the restaurants were open because the organiser of DND planned these elaborate excursions. I’m a miserable son of a bitch though, so avoided them all and suffered the indignity of devouring their god-awful room service. I thought the chefs would be so bored they would delight in doing some work, but instead looks like I disturbed their Netflix viewing and they threw it together in a mad rush in between episodes of trashy reality TV. My reality was a lot harsher for it. The hotel looked beautiful, but my experience with service and food was underwhelming.
Anyway, the event. Partners and new suppliers represent some of the biggest luxury hotel brands in the world – Aman, Cheval Blanc, Airelles and Four Seasons, just to name a few. Yet where it gets interesting are the smaller, more elusive properties. I’m not going to write about all thirty meetings, especially as it’s quite hard to write any dick jokes about a company that sells villas in Croatia, but, due to huge demand (hi, mum!) here’s a summary.
A few years back, I planned to celebrate my birthday at Eleven Experiences’ Deplar Farm, but after landing in Iceland and facing just four hours of daylight each day, I realised it would have been no different to spending time in solitary confinement in a Siberian prison. I went home and fully embraced the exquisite British weather, we’re so well known for. My absence clearly impacted them, as they’ve been buying up properties ever since to fill that void in their hearts.
Their specialty lies in crafting thrilling adventures: think skiing down a volcano in Chile or jumping out of a helicopter. The lodges are all in places off the beaten path. They did mention something about communal dining in Deplar Farm, which sent chills down my spine, but they will change it if you want. The best part about Eleven is their comprehensive ownership model – they control everything from the properties to the vehicles, guides, and concierge services, ensuring a cohesive experience managed by one dedicated team.
Aspen Street Lodge
This place just looks awesome. Nestled in the vibrant heart of Aspen, this private lodge offers a luxurious 10-bedroom retreat, spanning over 26,000 sqf. The penthouse alone spans over 3,200 sq ft, complete with two sprawling terraces, including a rooftop outdoor kitchen. The lodge is equipped with a hot tub, heated pool, game room and media room.
Whether it’s exploring the mountains or dining at the best spots in town, Aspen Street Lodge can organise the experience for you with their onsite concierge and activity specialists. Offering a year-round experience, the lodge offers electric mountain and cruiser bikes, paddle boards in summer, and spacious, heated storage for ski and snow gear in winter. Pick from skiing, snowmobiling, paragliding, or the more relaxing art tours – assuming you want to leave the magnificent house, that is.
I’m glad I was given a presentation, as no matter how many brochures they sent me, I was convinced there was a timeshare deal in there somewhere. Luckily that’s not the case. So here’s the lowdown: firstly, yes, it’s that Ted Turner, the one and only person still fond of AOL. The second largest landowner in the US has made these private properties available to rent. Spanning over a million acres in New Mexico, you and your friends and family can hundreds of thousands of acres to yourselves to just scream “freeeddom” or whatever it is that Americans love to do. Well, kinda. Cos with Vermejo, you can opt for a complete buyout, but that’s only if you happen to know 37 other couples since it has 38 rooms. Or, you could just book a single room. Then there’s Ladder, a cozy four-bedroom house set on a private expanse of 156,000 acres; and Armendaris, another four-bedroom getaway, this time with exclusive access to a staggering 360,000 acres. Bizarrely, sat in the middle of these, is Sierra Grande, a spa that Ted decided to just buy one day.
Smith Fork Ranch
Another American Western ranch. Smith Fork Ranch was purchased in 2021, redesigned in 2022 and is now officially it, because of this very feature. Another exclusive use property, with six residences, a total of 18 bedrooms, accommodating up to 30 guests on an all-inclusive basis. They won me over with the mention of a huge wellness centre and a kids club, with a pool and new spa coming soon. I like that our American friends are actually starting to get some luxury offerings that don’t require you to travel 25 hours to experience, although Smith Fork Ranch is only open from May to October and for Festive, so back you go to the Maldives the rest of the time.
These outdoorsy properties offer a lot of the same experiences, such as archery, clay shooting, horseback riding, fly fishing, and hiding, but the location greatly differs. Smith Fork benefits from being thirty minutes from Black Canyon National Park.
White Desert, the world’s first and only luxury camp in Antartica. Captain Scott must be livid this wasn’t there at the time. They only entertain small groups at their camps, which allow you to witness the emperor penguins or explore ice tunnels in an often uninhabited environment.
The main announcement was the previously announced Echo camp, which they describe as offering the benefit of flying “first class” vs “business class” on the jet and that’s about it. It’s newer and shinier though. I’m still on the fence about going here, my wife doesn’t want to go so I would have to share a room with someone or pay a single supplement. Definitely the single supplement.
Whilst their CEO might be the most blunt person I’ve ever met in this industry, the property has a far more chill factor to it, if you’ll excuse the pun. Octola looks stunning and one of the best ways to explore Lapland. The main lodge can either be taken as 4, 6 or 10 bedrooms, whilst they also have options for couples or smaller famliies in their 1 or 2 bedroom Super Suite and Glass Suite. Basically, it’s an incredibly, all inclusive, highly luxurious lodge, with a world-class spa and endless activities, all the way from meeting Santa in the forest, to snowboarding, shaman healing, hot air ballooning, quad biking or even a wedding in an ice chapel.
Mandarin Oriental Exclusive Homes
Another instance of a hotel brand diversifying its portfolio. Aman has evolved from being just a hotel chain to launching its own skincare and now interiors line. Hoorah? Mandarin Oriental was having none of that, so ventured into the villa market. These properties are stand-alone homes, distinct from the hotels, yet come fully equipped with butlers, spa therapists, Mandarin approved chefs, unique Mandarin amenities and whatever else you might need. These villas are exclusive to Mandarin Oriental, so don’t expect to stumble upon them on Craigslist. My personal favorite is a magnificent seven-bedroom mansion in London, complete with its own spa and barbershop, sprawling over 25,000 square feet.
Just a 15-minute drive from Punta Mita, Los Milagros is from the same people that brought you Smith Fork Ranch. Why settle for one ultra-luxury, exclusive use property, when you can have two? This property boasts a secluded, private white sand beach, strategically elevated for enhanced privacy. With full access to the 1500-acre broader Punta Mita resort, including two Jack Nicklaus golf courses, tennis courts and beach clubs. Hacienda Los Milagros is a villa that comprises three private guest quarters, which together house 9 luxurious guest suites. With a full service spa, sauna, basketball half court, foosball and a movie theatre, there’s plenty to keep all ages happy.
I have not felt the need to head out to Asia for a while now. The openings that interest are mostly in cities, not resorts. Banwa in Philippines looks interesting, although their story from “world’s most expensive island” to “take a villa for $3k/n” seems a bit off. I don’t know why the best properties don’t seem to appear in Asia, when the best service often exists there.
Elang, on the other hand, is a private island offering six breathtaking cliffside lodges, exclusively yours. It’s a part of the Bawah Reserve in Indonesia, just a short boat ride from the main jetty and available only for whole-island bookings. Banwa is accessible solely via seaplane or yacht, making it as secluded as one could wish for – until you remember there’s 35 other rooms on the island. Elegant offers eight hectares exclusively to you and your guests, divided among six lodges. Plus, it’s all-inclusive, which is a relief because when you’re spending $25,000/n you should at least be able to raid the minibar without the Minibar Police breaking your door down with a card machine.
Zannier Private Estates
Certainly an interesting branding case study: a hotel chain with relatively modest offerings around the world, most famous of which is Namibia, are now managing private estates which they own, some upwards of €200,000 per week. They call them estates as they come with such huge amounts of land. France and Mauritius look particularly interesting, especially as Mauritius has yet to offer a world class offering.
Six of my meetings were for villa rental companies, four of which own all the properties they manage. I always have to be mindful when I describe something that costs €100,000 as a bargain, as I don’t want the Daily Mail camped outside of my daughter’s nursery, desperately trying to take an even worse picture of me than the thousands that already exist. However, you can’t argue with the truth. Villas have increasingly become a bargain when groups and families travel, seeing that luxury hotel rates have gone through hyper inflation. I present to you exhibit A, your honour: we recently had a family looking to stay in Italy and it was cheaper to stay in a magnificent five bedroom villa with an indoor pool, sauna, hamann, private beach, private chef and team of staff, than it was to stay in a luxury hotel in junior suites.
So, yeah, lots of new villa offerings out there. We’re talking about unique, off-the-radar, European properties adorned with precious art; exclusive villas in St Barths; cozy chalets nestled in the Alps; and the famed Iron Man villa in Cape Town. Someone made a 40 minute video of that Iron Man villa, but luckily didn’t make me watch it – that’s 39 minutes past my attention span.
News in brief
Just to conclude, some other bits of news.
- Cheval Blanc Seychelles will open next year, with reservations opening imminently.
- Airelles, one of my favourite hotel chains, is opening their first property outside France, in Venice, due to open in 2025. Paris and St Barths are being looked at.
- Hotel Escencia is now renting out the owner’s mansion, which comes with two swimming pools, but regrettably no beach access.
- I caught up with North Island, where the news is no news – tragic, for such a beautiful island. Fregate is going to cause them serious issues when it reopens in 2025.
- Villa Treville, a beloved boutique on the Amalfi Coast with its cozy collection of 16 rooms, is gearing up for an exciting expansion. By Summer 2024, they’ll unveil a brand-new, custom-built super villa, available as either a 5 or 8 bedroom option.
That’s a lot of places that make me wish I had enough friends to justify visiting. Or any friends at all, for that matter.
Contrary to popular belief, the best properties in the world are not found looking up the list on TripAdvisor or looking at the graffiti in your nearby service stop toilets, although both are just as likely to give you the answer. Sometimes it’s not “seek and ye shall find”, more “if you don’t know, wait until someone tells you”. This is where trade shows are extremely useful, and Do Not Disturb is so precise in what it’s selling that it’s the best for us. At the end of it, we walk away with more insight to the benefit of our customers. Or, if you hate Dorsia, then you just get this for free, meanwhile, I endured four nights of gastronomic nightmares for absolutely no reason.
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