WE’RE ALL DIGITAL NOMADS NOW
Anyone untethered from their office in 2020 is fast realising that the ‘home’ in WFH could be anywhere. And, with hotels fast cottoning on and refining business trips with a little boutique glamour, we’re opting for IRL beachy Zoom backgrounds and have swapped pants for bikini bottoms below our monitor’s eyeline. From Mexico to Iceland to Mauritius and Georgia, remote-working visas are being extended, so those with a laptop and a negative Covid test (country-dependent) are good to go, and for those who don’t want just any old digs, hotels’ special work-and-play rates let you check in for longer.
‘Bleisure’ that’s less ‘bleh’ is expertly done by the Lindley in Frankfurt where you can stay longer for less, make use of community kitchens and clock out on a buzzy roof terrace, and Les Deux Tours in the tropical Palmeraie ‘hood of Marrakech, which has up-to-28-day retreats for free-flying workers, with money off dining and spa treatments, IT assistance, zippy WiFi and more. Or plug in at Costa Rica’s Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas where a personal assistant will take a load off, your new desk is a day-bed and you’ll get extra-curricular spa treatments and adventures. You can also unloosen family ties and swap homeschooling for the jungle classrooms and the sort of mind-expanding activities you’d rarely do at home at Costa Rica’s impressively sustainable Kasiiya Papagayo or Francis Ford Coppola-owned Belizian retreat Blancaneaux Lodge.
WE WANT TO BE ALONE (SORT OF)
Our bubble’s been popped several times this year: one day it’s just you and your roommate, the next two households, the next a half-dozen entourage… Amid all the confusion, hotels have seen an opportunity, subsuming single-use rooms into one glamazon of a flexi-use hideaway. An exclusive-use property lets the occupancy wax and wane as the government randomises numbers, all while allowing for social distance and offering the utmost privacy.
New to the game is Brownber Hall, an blue-blooded 18th-century manor with Cumbria’s beautiful Howgill Fells all around. It may look frightfully fancy, but it’s cosy-as-can-be too, and owners Peter and Amanda will look after you from afar, sending filled-to-the-brim breakfast hampers, packed lunches, heat-at-home meals and crates of ale. Another is Kingshill Farmhouse, a rustic residence on Elmley Nature Reserve that’s privy to spectacular wildlife and pristine natural splendour. When booked in its entirety it’s set for family or group getaways, where you can ramble by day and take informal drinks at night. But, there’s a bolthole to suit every fantasy: say, newly exclusive South African homestay Atholplace House, blessed with a large private pool, or magical Mexican eyrie Casa Angelina Zihuatanejo, where you’ll bond over a free group surfing session. Perhaps Portuguese outpost Fazenda Nova Country House? The music-savvy owners will leave their record collection for you to rifle through and there’s petanque and volleyball pitches in the garden. Then pair your Algarvian elopement with a long-term stay at one of Areias do Seixo’s dramatically dressed townhouses in Portugal’s wilder north.
FASHION FELL FOR NATURE, TOO
When all and sundry began heading for the hills, forests and fields, fashion was taking notes. Ever on the pulse, Mr Porter decamped to the Cotswolds to shoot its outdoor-appropriate wares in stitch-perfect style at Thyme, proving that green really is the new black. Gucci, too, found a new appreciation for nature. In April, creative director Alessandro Michele announced that the brand was going seasonless, a landmark moment for the industry. Then, in September, he set Instagram ablaze with a teaser for an upcoming collaboration with the North Face – and what a teaser it was. A handycam pans across rocky slopes before finding a lone tent. We zoom in for a closeup, and – what’s this? A fluttering flag emblazoned with both brands’ logos. Cue the comments section erupting. Will anyone actually wear the collection to tackle an outcrop in the French Alps? Probably not, but you’d turn a few marmots’ heads if you did. Minimalist powerhouse Jil Sander is also getting in on the action, teaming up with Canadian brand Arc’teryx, founded by climbers from British Columbia. The collection should be as technical as it is stylish, capable of inducing envy and tackling waist-deep powder in Wyoming (or at least lounging at Caldera House). The capsule is set to drop in October 2021 – just in time for ski resorts’ hotly anticipated comeback.
IT WAS A DOG’S LIFE
Though our confusing new reality was, at times, a recipe for familial disharmony, marital discord or pass-agg mutterings at our flatmates, there was one thing that united us: our love for the dog. We wandered lonely as clouds on our long walks, watching him enviously as he dashed around, mud-streaked, without a care in the world about coronavirus. He was our constant companion, lovable lifeline, and the only sentient being in our bubble that didn’t drive us completely bonkers (except that day he ate the Christmas decorations). It was natural, then, that when hotels reopened, we felt a little clingier than usual – we couldn’t bear to abandon him, even for that oh-so-tempting boutique break. Here at Smith, searches for pet-friendly stays soared. Luckily, our hotels were hot on the heels of this shift, rolling out the red carpet so high-class hounds could bed-hop in style. At the Line LA, they let sleeping dogs lie with no weight limits, no extra fees and no hassle – their concierges will coo over your canine and then point you towards all the animal-loving bars and restaurants in the ‘hood. Sometimes it’s the simple things you want, like a wall-mounted rack of wellies (Cornwall’s Fowey Harbour is happy to oblige). The Fish will have your pup practically ready for Crufts by the time you check out – as well as providing bowls, treats and dog towels, there’s a dog agility course within the grounds. And for all-out extravagance, Cliveden provides a plush dog bed, 250 acres of National Trust pathways, and dog-friendly dining at the Astor Grill that’ll set both your tails wagging.
THE ARTS MOVED ONLINE IN UNEXPECTED WAYS
Theatres, museums and galleries faced complex challenges during the pandemic. Not short of creative types, the industry found some ingenious solutions. In London, theatre professionals used their enforced downtime to create artwork, books and fashion items that have been collected at Not On the West End, a directory of gift ideas for theatre lovers and a more thoughtful starting point for Christmas shopping. On the opposite side of the world at Mona (Museum of New and Old Art) in Hobart, Tasmania, Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s long-running installation was already fairly radical: his human exhibit, tattoo artist Tim Steiner, would sit silent and topless on a plinth four days a week, allowing visitors to view the inked artwork on his back. His isn’t any old tattoo, mind: a German collector paid €150,000 for it in 2008. When Tim dies, his skin will be preserved as a canvas. During lockdown, the artist made headlines by continuing to sit inside the empty gallery, where members could view him from across the globe via live stream. If you’re visiting in person, it makes sense to stay at the architecturally eccentric Mona Pavilions, one of our favourite Tassie boltholes. Elsewhere in Australia, Queensland Ballet was forced to celebrate its 60th anniversary in lockdown, and did so by producing 60 solo performances in isolation, performing them digitally. Now, with restrictions lifted, the live shows have helped raise over $1 million to support the company.
CIDER WENT UPMARKET
Given that this was the biggest year for alfresco drinking since That Big Summer You Finished School, you’d be forgiven for thinking that cider’s starring role was in cheap cans quaffed on park benches. But, lo, our beloved apply tipple has had a makeover worthy of a nerd-to-heartthrob montage in an Eighties high-school movie. A craft cider spritzed into, well, a spritz at the Standard London’s Double Standard bar became the cheersed-at-a-distance drink of the summer. In the Cotswolds, owner of Cheltenham favourites No 131 and No 38 the Park, Julian Dunkerton, has proved his eye for taste goes beyond fine furnishings and eye-catching art – he’s been heading up the family cider business too. Guests taken by the organic blends on offer during their stay can take a trip to the nearby HQ for more extensive ‘research’. It gets even fresher at the Newt in Somerset where an on-site cyder press (they even stick to the original spelling to reflect its local history) provides for a free supply in every room and tastings (even cheese pairings) can be arranged in the wowing Winter Garden. Hopefully we’ll be enjoying the fruits of this sparkling revolution in a more communal fashion come summer…
THERE WAS ADVENTURE IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
The magical Arctic Bath opened its doors in the early days of 2020. Built on a frozen lake in the wilderness of Swedish Lapland (in summer, when the lake thaws, the cabins float), the hotel has a mission of immersing its guests in the surrounding elements. Quite literally – included in every stay is the signature spa ritual where you warm up in an aromatic sauna before submerging yourself in the sub-freezing lake, guided all the while in breathwork and meditation by one of their serene spa managers. Back in the sauna, the blood rushes back to your body, along with a jolt of life-affirming adrenaline that’s a tiny bit addictive. As well as invigorating wellness treatments, the experiences on offer include snowmobile safaris, ice fishing, reindeer feeding and husky sled rides. After the Christmas-that-wasn’t, this is just the place to make next year’s one to remember…