Boutique hotels at their very best: For the epitome of intimate luxury you just can’t beat a family-run bolthole. Here’s our Super Six pick of the finest…
- Hotel Arlberg in Austria was a favourite of Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry
- Enjoy Michelin-starred cuisine at Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, France, while gazing across fabled vineyards
- The Goring is a luxury London hotel near Buckingham Palace – repeat guests are ‘treated like family’
There are holidays when you long to feel looked after, to find a warm connection with your hotel and its owners.
The best places to head to are family-run boutique hotels, most of which go back generations. And they all have one thing in common – the unstinting personal attention lavished on their guests.
Here, our writers visit six of the finest.
Castello di Vicarello, Italy
So inviting: Enjoy a glass of wine by the infinity pool at Castello di Vicarello in Tuscany
At the long dining table, breakfast is in full swing when our host Carlo beckons: ‘Here, try this fresh pecorino – it’s still warm.’
He ushers in a local farmer who is making her daily delivery, unfolds a linen cloth in her basket and tears off a piece of the cheese to be shared. He smiles at our delectation.
We are in the glass-walled dining room feasting with gusto on carrot cake, home-made bread, yogurt and jam – which is hard to believe given the previous night’s delicious dinner.
Carlo Baccheschi Berti and wife Aurora, a well-known Italian cookery writer, host a nightly aperitivo in the library lounge with guests – joining us are an American mother and daughter on a grand tour of Italy, a couple from the New Forest and sisters from Kuwait.
At dinner, we dine in candlelight together and marvel at the dishes – semolina gnocchi, bruschetta with peppers from the kitchen garden, and succulent anchovies. Help yourself… this is your home too, say Carlo and Aurora.
Carlo chanced upon the ruins of the castello, dating from 1112 AD, while out wild-boar hunting in the hills of the Maremma, an unspoilt area of Tuscany. Years of costly renovation followed while the family lived in Bali.
Neri, one of three handsome sons, points out the room where he was born. Our enormous suite is one of nine, each filled with family treasures – a four-poster bed from Bali, rugs, a boat-sized bath and tiny shuttered windows giving glimpses of the shimmering forest.
Guests can retreat to cosy spaces, and the sensory appeal from banks of rosemary and roses outside is divine. There are two cool pools in the grounds, including one for families, and both blend into their surroundings.
This is not a place to see and be seen, says Carlo, whose family’s future is now wedded to the castello and creating ‘an intimate house party spirit’. Guests can swap recipes with Aurora, take Uva the dog for a walk, sip their organic red wines or relax in the spa.
Aurora scoops up our four-year-old daughter, who attempts Italian while Carlo coos. The sons noisily work through the admin in the office. It’s possible, in just two nights, to feel enveloped into this warm family. Intimate, bespoke luxury such as this is not cheap, but neither is it forgettable. B&B rooms cost £430 a night (castellodivicarello.com).
Hotel Arlberg, Austria
Hotel Arlberg in Austria was a favourite of Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry
Follow the twisting mountain roads to the picture-perfect village of Lech and check in to the family-run Hotel Arlberg.
You’ll probably notice a lot of your fellow guests have been before and are welcomed back as old friends by staff and resident dog Lottie. Princess Diana felt so at home at the Arlberg that she brought William and Harry here for five years in a row.
Today, this 75-year-old authentic Austrian hotel is run by Benjamin Schneider, the grandson of its founder (you can often meet all three generations of the family at the weekly welcome drinks).
The 51 rooms and suites are decked out in traditional luxury chalet-chic – plenty of fur throws, candles and warm pine. There is fine dining in one restaurant and mountain fare with a twist (think Asian-inspired fondue) in the other. On winter nights, steam rises from the new outdoor pool as guests star-gaze before heading inside to the even newer subterranean spa. Throw in golf packages, cooking classes, a weekly programme of hotel-led hikes and a huge underground wine cellar and tasting room, and it’s easy to see why the family are busy. £500 half-board per night (arlberghotel.at).
Trapp Family Lodge, Vermont
There is a corner of Vermont that is for ever Austria, thanks to a family who have lived here for 70 years – the all-singing Von Trapps. The Von Trapps, the inspiration behind The Sound Of Music, left Europe in 1938 and headed to New England, where the landscape around Stowe reminded them of home. Maria and her husband, known as ‘the Baron’, opened a simple guesthouse in 1950. Today, the resort has more than 200 rooms and lodges spread across 2,500 acres, while in the grounds are tennis courts and pools.
Take a turn around the Von Trapp farm to see maple syrup being made before visiting the Austrian-style coffee house and restaurant, which is big on schnitzel and strudel.
There is plenty of family history on the side. Johannes, the youngest child of Maria and the Baron, is now the head of the family, but you’re more likely to meet his son Sam, who looks after the cross-country ski trails in winter and biking trails in summer.
The spirit of Maria lives on here and there is still music. There are weekly singalongs and always a Rodgers & Hammerstein hit or two to round off the evening. Room-only doubles cost from £167 a night (trappfamily.com).
Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, France
Within the honey-coloured walls of Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, treat yourself to Michelin-starred cuisine while gazing across manicured rows of some of Bordeaux’s most fabled vineyards
Within the honey-coloured walls of Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, treat yourself to Michelin-starred cuisine while gazing across manicured rows of some of Bordeaux’s most fabled vineyards.
La famille Cazes’s renowned Medoc wine domaine is a heaven for hedonists. Sisters Kinou, Marina and Catherine plus brother Jean-Charles (the chief executive) have built on their family legacy.
At 84, their father, Jean-Michel, remains a guiding influence on a business founded when his grandfather, then a humble baker, arrived in Pauillac in the 1930s.
Between divine bouts of gastronomy – starring local produce such as asparagus, strawberries and oysters – cycle through the vineyards, picnic by the Gironde estuary and tour the family’s Grand Cru winery. Alternatively, venture to other great wine chateaux of the renowned Pauillac terroir – legendary names such as Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Latour are just a stone’s-throw away.
Enthusiasts can learn the secrets of growing, blending, barrelling, ageing and bottling the celebrated vintages, taste the phenomenal results and – if you really want to push the boat out – even become a Bordeaux winemaker yourself, blending your own barrel. B&B stays cost from £206 a night, or £143 for room only (cordeillanbages.com).
Rosa Alpina, Italy
Timeless elegance: Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano, Italy, has a two-Michelin starred restaurant
Photographs on the hall walls at Rosa Alpina beg to be examined: vintage black-and-white ski shots of Engelbert Pizzinini’s family. Engelbert’s charming grandson Hugo, wife Ursula and three children now preside over the five-star hotel in San Cassiano, Bolzano. You can see the family at breakfast (and dinner) hosting with the sort of energy we’d all like to have.
Buggies in reception are for guests to use on mountain walking trails, which, like the ski runs, are immaculate.
Our pine-scented suite, with roaring fire, fur rug and tweed curtains, was a James Bond take on family glamour. And date night doesn’t get better than dinner at the intimate St Hubertus, the hotel’s two-Michelin starred restaurant. B&B costs from £489 a night based on two sharing a deluxe room, but does not include a tourist tax and services (rosalpina.it).
The Goring, London
If the makers of a hit film wanted to depict a traditional, polished hotel, with jovial staff aplenty who look as if they might burst into song at any moment, then The Goring would surely win the role hands down.
Step inside and the attention to detail is exceptional, whether you’re checking in or dining – it’s obviously a happy family ship.
Built by chief executive Jeremy Goring’s great-grandfather Otto in 1910, it remains a luxury London hotel that treats its repeat guests like family.
It’s a stroll away from Buckingham Palace, and the only hotel to be awarded a Royal Warrant for hospitality services – perhaps thanks to the Queen’s fond memories as a girl of enjoying scrambled egg and sausages here with her sister and parents.
The 69 suites and rooms at The Goring are robustly comfortable and elegant without being stuffy – the peachy, hand-woven silk on the walls is stunning.
In 1919, Lady Randolph Churchill lived at the hotel and was often visited by her son Winston.
How fitting now to see Winston’s grandson, the former Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames, is a breakfast regular in the Dining Room. B&B in a superior room costs £485 a night (thegoring.com).
- Sarah Hartley, Sarah Turner, Neil Simpson and Paul Whyles were guests of the hotels featured in this article.
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