One of the things that sets the Spear’s 500 Travel Guide apart is that we pride ourselves on being among the first to be invited to review the most talked-about new hotels, private islands, resort face-lifts, luxury chalets and villas, as well as the least talked-about quasi-secret locations on the HNW travel planet – places so private and exclusive that you will not read about them in the Sunday papers.
An emerging travel trend is the urge for HNWs to push themselves to extremes of endurance. Probably the master guide for any ‘extreme’ holiday adventure is Sandy Loder, a former British army officer and Fleming family member who was shortlisted for Outstanding Achievement at the 2018 Spear’s Wealth Management Awards. The ‘life-changing’ experiences offered by his company, Peak Dynamics, are about as far removed from your average package holiday as flying Ryanair to Tenerife is from taking your Gulfstream IV to St Barths.
Highlights for 2019 include his April dog-sledding trip (£4,600 per person) across Norway and Sweden. Not only is this a unique chance to witness the beauty of the Arctic, it is also an opportunity to test oneself to the limit – and bond with friends and family – during a gruelling six-day, 250km dog-sled across the bleak but wild tundra of northern Scandinavia. This is not your average Tuscan poolside villa. Sandy personally leads the group across the high plateau of Norway to Kiruna in the heart of Sweden. You drive your own team of dogs and sled across frozen hills, starting out from Tromsø (known by explorers like Roald Amundsen as the ‘Paris of the North’) in the far north of Norway.
After travelling up to 70km every day, the only hint of luxury pampering is your own mountain hut fitted with a sauna to defrost. ‘Learning to adapt is an important life skill and is particularly relevant in the Arctic while dealing with the extreme climate, people and dogs,’ says Loder. ‘The expedition is all about taking people out of their comfort zones into challenging situations where decisions have real and immediate consequences.’
Some people prefer to stay put in Britain and holiday on foot. For 2019, Loder is offering a tempting – especially if you have recently had to visit your tailor to expand your suits – seven-day walking holiday along the West Highland Way. This 109-mile route is, again, not your average Maldives beach holiday. The walk starts in an unlikely Glasgow suburb but you soon find yourself at stunning Loch Lomond, before crossing over the rugged and desolate Rannoch Moor on the ‘old military road’ towards Fort William. If your legs give up, there is a minibus following behind as ‘support’, as well as carrying your luggage. No heavy rucksacks required.
My highlight of 2018 was probably the weekend I spent in the über-luxurious five-bedroom villa on the 148-acre private island of Tagomago, just off Ibiza. It’s not cheap at £150,000 a week, but it’s definitely the chicest place to stay if you want to relax in the region. Previous clients of this VIP secret Ibiza party location (a boat is on standby 24/7 to shuttle you from the main island) have included Cristiano Ronaldo and Keith Richards. I went there as a guest of Spear’s contributor Elizabeth Hurley and the villa truly felt like a private home, along with a chef and butler and staff that would not have disgraced Valentino’s yacht. Tagomago, increasingly known as ‘Europe’s most exclusive private island’, is a unique proposition for any Global Citizen luxury traveller.
For me, Tagomago falls into that UHNW category of a ‘destination villa’ for those searching for one of the world’s most extraordinary places to stay – be it a family, a group of friends or a celebrity wanting privacy to celebrate an event. Above all, UHNWs are drawn by location and ‘unique factors’, and they also want to understand the story behind where they stay and why it is so special. Tagomago delivers this more than any other private island in the world. The villa is being relaunched with some tweaks – including improved signage – in the spring of 2019.
At the opposite end of the price spectrum, another highlight was a walking holiday in the foothills of Snowdonia, staying each night at beautiful Gwydir Castle, whose owners Peter and Judy Welford (artist and novelist respectively) operate perhaps the best bed and breakfast in Britain, with just two bedrooms and a small gatehouse cottage.
I loved the copies of Country Life dating back to the 1970s in the ‘King’s Room’ and the incredible ‘Panelled Parlour’ dining room, where we had a proper Welsh breakfast in the company of one of the world’s leading botanists, also on a walking holiday.
Of the new hotels to open in Europe in 2018, my favourite is the Domaine des Etangs, an exquisite 11th-century château in a remote corner of France, near Cognac. It’s simply a UHNW ‘chillax’ paradise. The owner has installed one of the most extraordinary collections of contemporary art and an exhibition on the property, so it feels like you are camping out at Frieze or the Serpentine Galley, only the château is early medieval and set in 2,500 acres.
The owner has spent ‘hundreds of millions’ on this unique 19-room hotel with private farm cottage. The local Limoges area is unspoilt, and if you like a hotel that feels like a modern art museum – the best example being the wonderful La Colombe d’Or near St-Paul-de-Vence, where Picasso used to enjoy lazy lunches – you can now do so without having to go to the Cote d’Azur.
On the winter skiing holiday front, I am looking forward to seeing the two new Arula Chalets and Chalet Mimi in Lech, which will reaffirm Lech as one of the most popular and discreet of UHNW skiing resorts. Offering ski-in, ski-out position, exceptional modern-meets-traditional alpine interior design, expansive spas and tailored five-star service, the two ArulaChalets are interconnected, giving family groups a chance to holiday together in total privacy and style.
The gourmet highlight of my winter season was a visit to the Suvretta House, where some St Moritz traditions – such as wearing a suit and tie to dinner – just won’t die. I visited the Suvretta in my role as Spear’s roving gastronome-at-large.
To eat at Le Grand is to return to the rarefied social atmosphere of the dolce far niente that passengers on the great ocean liner age of the 1920s and 30s enjoyed. As the Italian maître d’ Marco prepared a flambé crêpe Suzette ‘à la table’, I felt as if I was transformed back into the first-class dining room of great ocean liners like the Queen Mary or the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm.
I noted that Marco had a row of four stars sewn above his dinner jacket breast pocket. They looked like society battle decorations. I later learnt that each star signified ten seasons of ‘service’ at the Suvretta House. The hotel is open for two distinct seasons every year: December to early April and late June to early September – so four stars is 20 years of Suvretta service. I can’t wait to go back and see Marco’s fifth star on his dinner jacket.