View of lake from Blue Zebra Lodge
Hotels

Secret Hotels We Just Can’t Keep to Ourselves

One of the best things about travel is discovering hidden gems—places you stumble across that simply floor you, whether it’s that side-alley restaurant that served you some of the best food of your life or a forgotten bookshop you can’t believe has remained off tourists' radars this long. Such is the case for these secret hotels and guesthouses: you won’t find them in many “Best Of” lists or guidebooks, but they've managed to steal a little piece of our hearts. Let’s keep them between us, okay?

Hotel Villa Emden Isole di Brissago, Lake Maggiore, Switzerland

I arrived by Riva boat to Isole di Brissago, a pair of islands on the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore. Most visitors come to see the beautiful botanical gardens, but fewer know about Villa Emden, a historic mansion with just 10 charming guest rooms looking out towards the lake. There’s also a restaurant where you can watch the sun dip behind the Alps. The island is open to garden-goers during the day, but after hours, the privacy you’ll enjoy here, long after everyone else has left, is something else.

– Lindsey Olander, Editor

Relais Sant’Elena, Tuscany, Italy

This hotel in the lower Maremma was such a find—it’s classy and sophisticated, with arcades, antique furnishings, and the most beautiful garden I’ve seen in a long time. The food is also incredible and serves produce and meats sourced from the area. Florence, Lucca, Pisa and Siena are all within a two-hour drive!

– Clara Sedlak, Executive Editor

Blue Zebra Island Lodge, Lake Malawai National Park, Malawi

When I dream about going completely off the grid, I picture the Blue Zebra Island Lodge, a private-island escape in Lake Malawi with just 15 tent villas hidden among overgrown groves and tamarind trees. The property is so remote, it only has six hours of power every day….but after all those trail hikes, snorkel sessions, lunches with bush babies in the branches overhead, and kayaking tours along the rocky peninsula, you’ll hardly miss it.

– Chelsea Bengier, contributor

Santa Clara 1728, Lisbon, Portugal

While not exactly a complete secret, you could easily miss this Lisbon gem. The 18th-century exterior is lovely but unassuming, and once inside, the six rooms feel intimate and luxurious. Design lovers will be in awe of the limestone staircase and open-plan bathrooms. The guest house is also located by lovely parks, monuments, and the Feira da Ladra flea market, so there is plenty to do nearby—if you can manage to leave.

– Gretchen Moosbrugger, Senior Photo Editor

Jindanggong Xianglv Hotel, Guizhou, China

Jindanggong, on the outskirts of the Zhaoxing Village in rural Guizhou, is only accessible by local shuttle—which tells you just how much of a hideaway it is. The hotel, on a hilltop, affords sweeping views of the sunrise and rice terraces of the local village, where you can stroll past temples and watch nightly musical performances by the Dong people. It’s a gateway into an undiscovered corner of China.

– Jillian Dara, contributor

Jagdschloss Resort Kühtai, Austria

Owned by an Austrian count, this 800-year-old hunting castle is tucked away in Kühtai, Austria’s highest skiing village. I especially love the antique hunting trophies that decorate the cozy wood interiors and the über-cozy stube (living room bar) on-site. Don’t miss the outdoor terrace, which begs for après on a sunny Alpine day.

 — Terry Ward, contributor

B&B Cassiopea, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Smack dab between Sorrento and Positano, B&B Cassiopea is quiet, enchanting alternative to Amalfi’s tourist-packed cities. On the back patio, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the sea with a glass of host Ignacio’s handmade wine at sunset. Ignacio and his wife Catarina also prepare breakfasts every morning and provide car rides for day trips along the peninsula. By the end of my stay, I truly felt like family.

— Tyler Schoeber, Photo Intern

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