Out With The Old, In With The New & Unique This New Year

With the New Year only a mere 8 weeks away, my mind has begun buzzing of ways to celebrate or more specifically, where to go. Of course, I’ve done the New York, Paris, Madrid “Big City, Ball Drop” theme many times before and staying local would man 1 of 2 options…a cliche prepaid night club deal that never really stacks up to be greater than your average night out, or a house party surrounded by coupled off friends.

In the quest to find something opposite of all New Years Eves of the past, I’m seeking unique, out of the box and new, as this is the celebration that welcomes in the New Year, so repeating just feels wrong.

Without further ado, I present my weekly countdown of 8 New and Incredibly Unique Hotels where I’d be more than happy to ring in my New Years Eve!

I’m releasing one per week, so check back weekly as the countdown continues and see where I’ll be toasting to 2014 and kissing that special someone as the clock strikes midnight somewhere in the world.

#8 Andaz Peninsula Papagayo – Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica

What’s more unique and hip than having a creatively refurbished VW Bus as your local transport for guests? The Andaz Peninsula Papagayo’s meeting studios were designed in the forms of shells and cocoons, creating an imaginary gathering of animals, inspired by the lush flora and fauna found in the area by architect Ronal Zucher. Of course the interiors boast all of the luxuries desired by mankind, while incorporating beautiful touches of Costa Rican nature and culture into each space and highlighting the amazing ocean views.

This is the perfect location to escape from it all, surrounded by the riches of the jungle and the sea. Spend your New Years holiday zip-lining through the canopy and mingling with local emerging artists.

You may even be lucky enough to be the first guest to sleep in your bed, as Andaz Peninsula Papagayo opens December 2013!

#7 Hotel MasTinell – Vilafranca del Penedes, Spain

Set amidst the vineyards and cava (Spanish sparkling wine of Denominacion de Origen status) caves of the MasTinell Winery is their Modernist architectural marvel of a boutique hotel, created to resemble the cava bottles resting horizontally in their second stage of the fermentation process.

Here at MasTinell, the New Years celebration would be all about the bubbly! Their location in Penedes, the largest cava producing region in Spain, is perfect for wine and cava tasting during the day, either right there on the property or by venturing out for the day to some of my nearby favorites, Gramona, Llopart, Juve y Camps, Josep Maria Ferret Guasch, Mas Comtal and Pares Balta.

The beauty of the Penedes wine region is that it’s easily navigable by bicycle or hired transport and the variety of wineries run from family owned and managed operations like Ferret Guasch, where the tour would be guided by Josep Maria or his wife Maria, followed by a tasting that feels more like you’re guests in their own home, to the worlds largest cava production company, Freixenet, offering a tour of their factory that includes a small trolley-like underground train ride, and a museum that provides you with a great beginners education on the history of cava.

Returning back to MasTinell at the end of each day, be sure to save some room to try a new seasonal Catalan / Mediterranean delicacy in their open kitchen restaurant, En Rima, paired with their amazing wine selection from their tasting room. Later, retire back to your suite, where you can enjoy your last cava of 2013 while soaking in the oversized tub for two and stargazing out the floor to ceiling round window.

At Cava & Hotel MasTinell, you’ll have no excuse not to ring in your New Years Day 2014 with Mimosas or Bellinis in bed!

#6 The Majlis Resort – Lamu, Kenya

For those of you who consider New Years Eve celebration a family affair, The Majlis Resort is absolutely the place for you and your family. Originally the family vacation home of Italian owners Nanni and Elena who expanded the property little by little as their own family expanded, later realizing they had enough space to convert their home into a boutique hotel.

The Majlis’ seaside villa feel with plenty open air gathering spaces lends itself to be the perfect setting for a New Years Eve group dinner followed by lingering conversation and drinks, and a stroke of midnight, a plunge into the pool.

Not to be overshadowed by the serene waterfront surroundings of the resort, Lamu is home to Lamu Town, one of East Africa’s most well preserved Swahili villages and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, well worth the visit. It’s the Swahili locals and their artisanal handcrafts that influenced the simple but rustic interior décor of The Majli.

Close proximity to Lake Kenyatta and the Tana River Delta, offer great day trip options for land and water safaris, adding enough cultural and ecological educational value to easily justify staying a few days beyond the children’s holiday break from school.

#5. Zero George Street – Charleston, SC

Zero George Street, being the newcomer to Charleston’s primarily residential Ansonborough District, has already begun to live up to this city’s high standards of hospitality. Created by combining five early 1800s historical homes, the owners, Lynn and Dean Andrews assembled their own boutique colonial enclave. Each building was restored to showcase its original unique beauty, while the whole property is brought together with a connecting cobblestone courtyard and verandas overlooking the courtyard, promoting the leisurely, relaxing pace of the South. The mix of contemporary furnishings with British Trade, French Romantic and Yachting Style décor, keeps the interior comfortable, while flowing cohesively with the period architecture.

Stately Charleston, always being the pillar of elegance, can now be the ideal location to enjoy a New Years bash of historical proportions. To get your bearings around town, be certain to take a carriage tour, organized by the concierge at Zero George, where you’ll learn not only the local heritage, but also a few of the tales and legends that followed it’s eccentric, earlier residents. While making your rounds, mark your map to return to Husk, one of the top new restaurants in the Charleston as well as the whole of the US in 2011, 82 Queen, a longtime charmer in town, both housed in historical row houses, and a major favorite amongst locals, FIG.

Zero George Street Continued….

Return to Zero George in the late afternoon, in time to enjoy the last hours of daylight in 2013, while relaxing and sipping mint juleps on your private piazza off of the Anson Suite, then leisurely preparing for a magnificent night ahead, at USS Yorktown New Years Eve celebration, Yorktown Countdown.

Yes, that’s right, keeping with the historical theme of this New Years holiday in Charleston, the party will be open air on the rooftop flight deck of the decorated, World War II aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown, docked in nearby Mt. Pleasant. Featuring 3 stages of entertainment to keep you partying all night. With the backdrop of Charleston across the harbor and the stars sparkling in the sky, this is a night of absolute glitz and glamour.

Not wanting to wander far on New Years Day, reserve the afternoon with Chef Randy Williams at Zero George’s private cooking class in their Carriage House turned professional display kitchen. After a hearty low country gourmet meal, you should easily bounce back from the last night’s festivities and be ready to face 2014 with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.

#4. Cheval Blanc – Randheli, Maldives

Ahhh…As the rush of the holiday season comes to an end sometimes the idea of rallying for a crazy New Years celebration sounds more like torture than temptation. When it’s just been one of those year-ends, sun, sand and serenity is all that it is desired to rejuvenate the soul.

From the minute you step off Cheval Blanc’s private seaplane, you’ll take a deep breath, exhale and forget about everything in the world you’ve just left behind. Surrounded by the waters of atoll Noonu, in your Water Villa, you’ll feel at ease in this open and airy paradise.

Between mornings of yoga and a massage or two at the Guerlain Spa (yes, Cheval Blanc is a LVMH resort) to lazy afternoons of sunbathing on the private deck of your villa, taking breaks for a swim in the waters below, a bite to eat or a bit of shade, you may even have to be reminded by the concierge that it’s actually December 31st and the last day of the year.

Cheval Blanc Randheli Continued…

Cheval Blanc boasts many dining options to from Deelani, local seafood on an outdoor terrace to Japanese / Iberian fusion, Diptyque as well as French fine-dining, Le 1947, to name a few options, providing variety for the duration of your stay. If you’re feeling so inspired to stay up until midnight to ring in the New Year after dinner, I’d suggest enjoying a fantastic wine from the cellar, paired with a cigar in the cigar lounge, then calling it a night.

A New Years day excursion of snorkeling via your own private Dhoni boat, part of the resort’s fleet at the marina, would be reason enough to not stay up until the wee hours partying. Take along all the gear that you need, available at the resort, as well as a chef prepared picnic breakfast and lunch and stay out exploring the sea from sunrise to nearly sunset.

The killer golden glow of tan that you’ve earned on throughout your stay will only be overshadowed by the new and rejuvenated inner glow that you’ll have, embracing 2014 with inspiration and optimism towards your resolution as you depart Cheval Blanc and return back to the real world.

#3. H2 Hotel – Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California

In case you’re waiting until the rush of the holiday season passes to renew your passport, a stay at the H2 Hotel Healdsburg can be exactly that dose of new and unique that you need for your New Years celebration.

Following suit of its longer established neighbors in Sonoma County, H2 keeps things local from the variety of local artist’s works on display throughout the property to the local food and beverages served at Spoonbar. In a nod to the natural beauty of Sonoma Valley, the architecture of the H2 includes a live green grass and succulent rooftop and Mother Nature friendly LEED Gold green building certification.

Living up to Sonoma’s reputation as a legendary culinary and wine destination worldwide, your final days of 2013 can be spent leisurely pedaling public bikes from winery to winery, testing out the H2’s prepared cycling wine tour itineraries and stopping for a countryside picnic lunch prepared by The Epicurean Connection along the way. No matter what the distance, pedaling or via hired driver if needed, be sure to make your way to Iron Horse, Hanna, Benziger Family and Merry Edwards wineries.

H2 Hotel Continued….

As each evening arrives, be prepared to be marveled by some of Sonoma’s local grown, culinary greats, The Girl & The Fig, Zazu Kitchen & Farm and Peter Lowells.

Of course, for the big night of the 31st, the focus is all on Alchemy, Spoonbar’s New Year’s Eve Party combining the hip beats of San Francisco DJ, J Boogie, a 5 course menu with wine pairings created by Chef Louis Maldonado and great cocktails shaken by Daniel “Cappy” Sorentino, Chief Mixologist in house. Certainly with these 3 basal ingredients, the night will prove to be a New Years celebration worth it’s weight in gold.

Hung over or not, I’m guessing the former, plan to sleep-in then enjoy a leisurely New Years Day brunch at Sunflower Caffe, including a bit of the necessary “hair of the dog” their signature Lavender Mist “Bubbletail”, followed by a late afternoon hike along the Russian River. By the time the hike is over, if you’re anything like myself, that deliciously comfy Eco-King sized bed back at the H2 Hotel will be calling your name. Go ahead, nap away your evening, maybe even a little dinner in bed, be lazy, after all you’ve earned it from such a smashing good New Years Eve!

#2. Macalister Mansion – George Town, Penang, Malaysia

If I were to win the lottery one day, I can imagine the home that I’d buy would strongly resemble the Macalister Mansion, both internally and externally. Inside, the colonial grandeur meets minimalistic yet comfortable oversized furnishings and not forgetting the funky, eclectic statement décor pieces that scream: “I don’t take myself too seriously”, make the place perfect for entertaining any crowd. Outside, the pristine white colonial Victorian home is a place that I can only recall from childhood dreams of becoming a princess, but now, surrounded by the lush lawns and large swimming pool featuring a swim up bar, it’s the perfect modern day fairy tale setting for grown ups.

So, perhaps as part of this New Years celebration, I can pretend that I’ve won the lottery, or married into royalty by calling Macalister Mansion home for one week surrounding the New Years Holiday.

Arriving with a large group of friends, aka my entourage would be a must, and honestly quite attainable, as this is only an 8 guest-room boutique hotel, so we could easily fill the whole Mansion. The added bonus being if our New Years Eve After Party happened to cross over into “Rock Star Status”, and some members of the entourage accidentally got a little rowdy by the pool, we wouldn’t have to worry about disturbing any of the other guests.

MacAlister Mansion Continued…

In Penang, we could live like High Rollers for the final week of 2013, shopping for local fashion and jewelry finds at China House, touring their connected Galleries I and II for unique artwork before more extensive gallery hopping along Armenian Street. Ideally picking up one or two incredible local artist finds to display in our “chalets” back home. Dining only at the top restaurants in the city and exploring the chicest of open-air nightlife that George Town has to offer, aka, Bottle Service at Sixty9ine Mansion for the price of a couple rounds of drinks in New York.

Our final morning massages on the lawn at Macalister Mansion would be bittersweet as we shower off afterwards in the massive, tile mosaic covered bathrooms of our suites, that in reality are nearly the size of our entire apartments where we’ll be returning to in less than 30 hours.

First order of business; find a reasonably priced upgrade to business or first class, in order to make the trip home bearable, having just faced the harsh reality that I am no longer a High Roller, Rock Star nor Royalty as I felt while living at The Macalister Mansion. What’s worse, I’ve now got an unsavory New Years Resolution to answer to.

#1. Endemico – Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada, Mexico

Yes! Endemico, yet another unique, quirky and easily accessible approach to luxury, created by Grupo Habita! I feel like these days this Mexico City based boutique hotel group can do no wrong!

* Perhaps it’s the soft spot that I hold in my heart for this hotelier, having stayed my first time in Mexico City in the end of 2008 at their modern, cube shaped original, Hotel Habita in Polanco, then escaping the hustle and bustle of Cancun after one busy week of meetings and heading south for a weekend of fun and relaxation at Deseo in Playa del Carmen. The love affair continued, toasting with my friends at Grupo Habita during their Grand Opening Party of Boca Chica in Acapulco as part of Tianguis Turistico 2010 and later that year, inaugurating “The Gypsy” cocktail, rooftop at the hip Condesa DF one Sunday afternoon with my dear friend Betty in Mexico City. Poolside drinks at the Hotel Americano, check and now, last but definitely not least, Endemico…coming soon!

Endemico’s 20 luxury cabins blend seamlessly with the rugged, arid landscape of the hills surrounding the Valle de Guadalupe, in Baja California, Mexico’s largest wine region. The resort is all about the 360 degree views, whether from the individual guest cabins or the rustic, minimalistic glass and open air lobby (complete with an in house winery and bar) your eyes have no choice but to wander the great outdoors.

Endemico Continued…

A New Years celebration at Endemico would be about embracing the Wild West in the same way that the hotel’s architecture and décor embrace it’s surroundings. By day, enjoy horse back riding and wine tasting in the Valley below, visiting Casa Madero, Casa de Piedra, L.A. Cetto and Monte Xanic, just a few of my Valle de Guadalupe picks that I’ve been enjoying with Mexican friends for years. Then at night barbeque style dinners, simple, casual, open-air and under the sea of stars, followed by a bonfire, with s’mores, a little music and plenty of great red wine for the chilly desert nights.

On the 31st add a traditional “lechon” roasted pig to the menu for a little local flare and at midnight, after toasting with some great Valle de Guadalupe wine or bubbly, pass around a bag of grapes for everyone to consume 12, the Spanish colonial tradition representing prosperity in the New Year.

Start your New Years Day right with a poolside brunch of huevos rancheros while sunning yourself and taking in the view as far as the eye could see. Enjoying these simple pleasures of Mother Nature are the easiest way to simplify your goals and bring the year ahead of you into perspective.

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