While the pandemic and related travel restrictions have wreaked havoc on the hotel industry, this downtime has allowed for renovations, a re-creation of outdoor space and the opening of new luxury properties.
By Justine Amodeo
Whether it’s the worldwide distribution of vaccines, a slowing down of COVID-19 cases or the desire for safe getaways, hotels are embracing the desire of travelers to explore wide open spaces where social distancing can be maintained easily on property or in nature. Roof decks have been transformed to outdoor restaurants, study halls have been set into motion and curated wellness and culinary experiences have enticed travelers looking for much-needed vacations.
Among the many new and reimagined programs, Montage Hotels & Resorts, which opened Montage Healdsburg in the wine country earlier this year, launched Montage Academy to enhance distanced learning for families, San Ysidro Ranch is taking the stress out of pandemic life with exclusive guest experiences in luxury cottage accommodations in the Santa Barbara area and Catalina Island has seen the relaunch and renovations of multiple hotels.
An Island Retreat
Though it’s only an hour’s boat ride away on the Catalina Express, with expanded cleaning and safety measures in place, the shimmering aqua waters of Catalina Island allow visitors an escape that feels far away. The island is rich with outdoor activities ranging from miniature golf gardens to zip line adventures to parasailing. Restaurants have adapted to dining alfresco on the charming cobblestone streets as well as something even more fun: dining on the beach. Visitors can order a mai tai or pina colada at Luau Larry’s beachside tables or a delicious breakfast of pancakes and huevos rancheros at Original Jack’s Country Kitchen overlooking the water. Fresh seafood is available at The Lobster Trap, as well as high-end dining on the water at Bluewater Avalon, juicy steaks beachside at Steve’s Steakhouse & Seafood and, after a long hike or dip in the sea, check out Coyote Joe’s Restaurant & Bar, where you can nosh on chips and guacamole coupled with a fresh, thirst-quenching margarita until it closes at midnight.
To best explore the island, ascend in an open-air, biofueled Hummer H1 to the 1,500-foot summit above Avalon. The tour travels 5 miles up rugged terrain, with sweeping views of both the coastline and canyons. The tour then comes back along Summit Road into Avalon and, if you’re lucky, you will come across a bounty of bison (100 currently live on the island) that will most likely be sunbathing in the high valleys.
Another great way to challenge yourself after months of staying at home is to take to the trees on the Catalina Aerial Adventure, a challenging outdoor experience only a short stroll from Descanso Beach Club. Five self-guided courses are arranged in different routes for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, incorporating zip lines, balance beams, log bridges, rope ladders and other elements. Or if that’s too taxing, try a round of miniature golf at the 18-hole Golf Gardens, a unique design considered one of the most beautiful and challenging courses in the world by mini-golf enthusiasts.
Catalina Island has seen a number of hotels renovated during or just before the pandemic. Hotel Atwater dates back to 1920, constructed at the direction of William Wrigley Jr. after he purchased the Catalina Island Co. The hotel was completely renovated before the pandemic hit, but the chic, spacious property maintains its historic charm and the staff is very warm, helpful and excited to welcome visitors back on the island. You can grab coffee and breakfast from the adjacent bistro before starting your day.
Formerly known as the Portofino Hotel, the 40-room Bellanca Hotel has also recently completed a $4 million, top-to-bottom renovation. Brett Miller, CEO of Eat.Drink.Sleep, which owns and manages the hotel, says that even though the property was acquired before the pandemic, this reimagined design was created with a “modern and open layout, expanded views from our guest rooms and public spaces, a new rooftop deck and ground floor restaurant.”
Resort-Based Distance Learning
With many kids still in school remotely—or in hybrid programs with online classes part of the time—traveling has become in some ways easier for families, especially when it includes a break for parents. Debuting last fall and continuing through June of this year, Montage properties in Deer Valley, Laguna Beach, Los Cabos and Palmetto Bluff offer Montage Academy, an all-day monitored study hall and educational program for guests ages 6 to 17. The program includes a variety of afternoon activities specific to each property—from hiking to yoga, cooking, art, woodshop and conservation.
“With children continuing virtual school sessions, we saw the need to create an environment that is conducive to remote learning and working,” says Alan J. Fuerstman, founder, chairman and CEO of Montage International. “Montage Academy is designed to move students forward in their education, while giving parents—who by now are likely well aware of the challenges of remote learning—a much-needed break to enjoy the many pleasures that our properties provide.”
A Wine Country Respite
In late January, Montage Hotels & Resorts opened Montage Healdsburg, the company’s first Northern California property, situated among 22,000 oak trees and vine-covered hills in the wine country.
“We are grateful to open our doors during this time,” says Allen Highfield, general manager of Montage Healdsburg, “offering a place of comfort and respite to our community and beyond with warm hospitality, memorable dining and amenities and programming for the whole family.”
Ideally situated for outdoor, socially distanced activities in Sonoma’s wine country, the resort has partnered with local vineyards to offer guests an opportunity to learn about winemaking through personalized tours and private tastings. The property has 15.5 acres of its own vineyards, which are overseen by Jesse Katz, an internationally renowned winemaker whose nearby winery, Aperture Cellars, offers exclusive tastings to guests.
One-third of each room at Montage Healdsburg is dedicated to outdoor living with a balcony or deck, including the property’s crown jewel, the Guest House, a 4,600-square-foot, three-bedroom, modern retreat with indoor-outdoor living space.
A variety of dining experiences celebrating the region’s bounty offer outdoor seating including the property’s signature restaurant, Hazel Hill, which features a patio overlooking the resort’s vineyards and a terroir-to-table approach to its seasonally-driven, locally sourced cuisine as well as an extensive selection of fine wines. The lobby’s Scout Field Bar serves up creative cocktails along with some of the world’s best wines, local craft beers and a menu of French-influenced bites. And during warmer months, the poolside Hudson Springs Bar and Grill’s coastal-inspired menu will offer fresh seafood and more.
A Cottage Escape
San Ysidro Ranch, tucked in the foothills of Montecito, provides a place to retreat from the stress of pandemic life with 41 vine-covered luxury cottages where guests can either hide away or stay connected if they must work. The property features complimentary high-speed internet as well as in-room dining options from award-winning Stonehouse Restaurant for those who don’t want to leave the tranquility of their cottage; Stonehouse also has a dining room and ocean view deck to eat on-site. Notably, the resort—which boasts a Forbes Five-Star rating—recently added three new cottages along San Ysidro Creek, each with a private backyard, oversized sunken spa and rain shower.
“San Ysidro Ranch is a special place where one can indulge the senses and invigorate the soul; it is a slice of heaven unlike anywhere else in the world,” says Ty Warner, owner of San Ysidro Ranch. “We all have worked diligently during the pandemic to ensure public safety and make it a relaxing experience for our guests.”
Stroll through the meticulously landscaped grounds in privacy with 550 acres perfectly conducive to social distancing. Take a yoga class outdoors with an ocean view. Picnic under the gnarled oak trees. Sit outside at Stonehouse Restaurant and Plow & Angel or opt to dine on farm-to-table dishes highlighted by seasonal herbs and vegetables from the on-site organic garden in the comfort of your cottage by a cozy fire, or outside in your private garden.
Couples and small family groups can reserve a private tour of the underground wine cellar to sip and savor Champagne with hand-crafted canapes while the ranch’s sommelier introduces some of the most coveted wine selections from the cellar’s more than 12,000 premium and diverse wines and Champagnes from around the world. Also, with advance reservations, guests can enjoy a day of golf at the exclusive members-only Montecito Club’s Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, an 18-hole, par-71, 6,540-yard course.
While Hawaii was closed to travelers last summer, Kaimana Beach Hotel was reimagined by a group of local Hawaiians—from the hotel management company founder and owner, to the general manager and executive chef—whose families have been on the island for generations. Situated on the sands of Kaimana Beach, the 122-room hotel has been an integral part of the fabric of Waikiki for more than five decades and a beloved spot, especially for surfing, for locals and travelers alike.
General Manager Haaheo Zablan’s great-grandmother was one of the original lei makers in Waikiki in the 1920s. Harkening back to the island’s history, he wanted to provide a gathering place to connect once again.
“There was a need to create a place where the community could come together, where locals can convene with family and friends,” Zablan explains. “We got the keys Dec. 1 and the hotel was up and running on Feb. 1. We had an opportunity to enhance the midcentury modern interiors with vaulted ceilings and an open-air concept. The lobby and public spaces lend themselves to the ocean and the environment.”
Zablan says he believes that when travel picks up again, visitors will be looking for a place “to immerse themselves in [the] local community, as opposed to what Waikiki had to offer.” Whether it’s an outrigger canoe ride, a snorkeling experience, a guided hike in a small group or a surfing lesson with championship longboard surfer Kai Sallas—the property has an exclusive partnership with his surfing school —Zablan says that “it’s important to curate those guest experiences.”
The property, located near a beautiful historic park on a favorite local beach with panoramic views of the ocean and Diamond Head, will also offer yoga in the park, stand-up paddleboarding and full-body workouts on the sand. “After quarantining or getting negative COVID tests—[current requirements for flying to Hawaii]—nobody,” Zablan says, “is flying to Hawaii to do a group class in a small room inside.”
Hotels and resorts have gotten creative with pandemic innovations.
Alpenglobes at Montage Deer Valley
At Vista Terrace, Montage Deer Valley has introduced Alpenglobes, a cozy private dining experience in an enclosed, climate-controlled enclave for groups of up to eight people overlooking sweeping views of the valley. The menu includes classic cheese and Valrhona chocolate fondue, sushi nachos, local cheese and charcuterie, paired with a selection of bubbly including Dom Perignon Epernay, and Champagne and rose varieties from Veuve Clicquot.
High Bar at Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs
The rooftop poolside oasis called High Bar at Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs has been reconceptualized for outdoor dining with a new menu from Executive Chef Dan Grunbeck. High Bar is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and tables are spaced for social distancing. (rowanpalmsprings.com)
Balcony Concerts at Pasea Hotel & Spa
This past summer, Pasea Hotel & Spa in Huntington Beach launched the Safe & Sounds series: live concerts, which guests can enjoy from their balconies on Friday and Saturday evenings while bands perform on the property’s roof, situated below the guest rooms. The concert fee is included in the room fee. Concerts are scheduled into April and the series may be extended. (meritagecollection.com/pasea-hotel)
Picnics at Malibu Beach Inn
Elevate your experience with an intimate picnic for two at the beach, designed by the Picnic Collective and catered by Ryan Caldwell, executive chef of the Malibu Beach Inn’s Carbon Beach Club. Ideal for celebrating a special occasion while maintaining social distance from others, the customized spread includes meats, cheeses, local produce, Vosges truffles, fresh baked goods and more.
Virtual Health Care at Montage Hotels & Resorts
Furthering the company’s dedication to ensuring the well-being of its guests, Montage International has partnered with One Medical, a leading national digital health and primary care organization, through which guests of all Montage Hotels & Resorts are offered a complimentary 30-day membership to receive to 24/7 virtual care services—and where possible, in-person care. (onemedical.com/montage)
Private Flights to Four Seasons Lanai
Round-trip luxury flights on Lanai Air are included in all bookings at Four Seasons Lanai made by June 30 for arrival by Dec. 31 this year. Lanai Air, operated by Western Aircraft Inc., offers private flights between Lanai City and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on Oahu. The offer is available for up to two adults and two children per room; or charter the entire aircraft for up to eight passengers. (fourseasons.com/lanai/offers)