6 European Hotels Where The Luxury Is Unmistakably Local (2024)

When you’re in Lisbon, be in Lisbon. When in Paris, be in Paris. This might sound obvious but alas, to many hoteliers it is not; I have stayed in countless properties that were marvelous indeed but lacked that vital sense of place—so much so that they left me waking up in the middle of the night, trying to remember where in the world I was.

Not so at these six stellar hotels. All luxuriate in their lovely locales and, via exquisite attention to detail, ensure that their guests do the same.

Cugo Gran Macina, Malta

What could be more Malta than sleeping in an ancient fort? The culturally rich island—a magnificent liminal space between North Africa, the Mediterranean and Europe—is so chock-a-block with castle-like structures, the place might as well be one big fort. Actually, from the sky it looks like a grand sandcastle, all browns and beiges—such is it beauty of Malta, which boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, not to mention prehistoric temples, cerulean sea coves and some of the most gorgeous traditional boats I’ve ever seen.

Bravo, then, to Cugo Gran Macina—a 21-suite hotel carved from a towering structure built almost half a millennium ago by the Knights of St. John the Macina—for letting the Malta magic speak for itself. Minimalist yet high-end design touches mean attention is paid to the majestic vaulted ceilings and stonework, painstakingly restored. Gorgeous views of the Grand Harbour and surrounding marina are at every turn, especially from the perfectly perched rooftop pool. The neighborhood has a funky, more local vibe than Valetta, which—while a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage well worth wandering around—can feel overrun with tourists. Plus, taking a Maltese luzzu boat from right across the street from the hotel to the heart of Valtetta is a joy.

Local is all over the hotel’s divine food. At The Little Bastion there’s breakfast of Stracciatella and avocado toast or shakshouka and laffa bread; Maltese delights for dinner include sous vide cod, rabbit stew, bragioli (thin, stuffed beef fillet) and hobz bizzejt, bread doused in olive oil and tomatoes. Top it all off with indigenous Maltese wine varieties like Gellewza and Ghirghentina, in cheers to this special island.


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LOCAL TIP Two restaurants in Malta beckon with very different yet equally delectable offerings. Taproom Valetta, in the heart of the city, serves up Mediterranean dishes like lobster ravioli and “Passion on a Plate”: breaded monk fish infused with truffle. Mykonos by Yiamas, right across the river from Gran Macina, delivers some of the freshest, finest Greek food I’ve had outside of Greece—and a high-energy party vibe (and host—ask him for a shot of ouzo!) to go with it.

Convent Square Lisbon, Vignette Collection

As the castle is to Malta, the convent is to Lisbon: a city speckled with historic, handsome slices of religious history. Stay in one, with grand style, at Convent Square, a former 13th-century Dominican convent commissioned by King Sancho II, majestically reborn as a luxury hotel in Lisbon’s dynamic Baixa neighborhood. Enter the hotel, ogle its open-air cloister, warmed by vibrant fire pits during cool evenings, and feel instantly transported to another century.

The convent was a place of refuge for the weary traveler, and so is Convent Square: an outrageously comfortable sanctuary of serenity in a bustling city. Plush, modish rooms are adorned with what I swear are the most comfortable beds in Europe. There’s an indoor plunge pool overlooking the rooftop’s views of the famous São Domingos church. A daily ritual—as per the Vignette Collection pillars, which also includes a do-good initiative—soothes with offerings of locally sourced hot and cold teas. DJs and live jazz spice things up on weekends.

Speaking of spice, Capítulo Restaurant and Bar beckons with signature co*cktails made from local ingredients and bearing simple names like “potion,” “remedy,” and “antidote.” My “elixir” was a tangy blend of Portuguese gin and homemade rosemary syrup. I followed that with a very local feast: delicately sauteed squid with white asparagus, rosemary and roasted eggplant cream, followed by (of course!) bacalau (cod fish) and a sampling of Brazilian moqueca with shrimp and almond rice. Finishing touch: a salted caramel chocolate tart that, blissfully, felt way too decadent for a convent.

LOCAL TIP Its website welcomes you to the “Rocco universe,” and that’s no hyperbole: Rocco Restaurante at The Ivens Hotel really is an alternate reality, one in which the style is over-the-top sexy, the space is vast and diverse; the vibe screams “trendiest place in town” and the food—ah, the food: Italian with a Portuguese twist, easily one of the best tables in Lisbon. Highlights: carpaccio of veal tenderloin with white truffle oil, Parmigiano Reggiano and pistachio; grilled squid with artichokes and yuzu mayonnaise; lobster linguine with seafood bisque and coriander; a cheesecake with marinated strawberries so rich and lovely it will transport you to a universe even more heavenly than the Rocco one.

Le Cinq Codet, Paris

Behold the glamorous Paris of the 1930s, distilled into one outstanding property. Le Cinq Codet, a 67-room Left Bank hotel between the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides Museum, is gorgeous homage to art deco, doused in white wood, brass and white leather and adorned by art by the likes of Christian Bassot, Véronique Durruty and Cyril Destrade-Léveillé. A former telephone exchange, the property feels a bit like a designer Rubik’s Cube, with nooks and crannies, high ceilings, portholes and maze-like mezzanines. Some stylish rooms are duplexes and some are graced with terraces, but all are profoundly peaceful and all feature the ultimate French luxury: Codage beauty products.

The lovely Spa Codet is a treat tucked away on the third floor, its hammam and outdoor rest & relaxation terrace, complete with jacuzzi, a welcome respite from the city. And of course, there is haute French cuisine: Chiquette Restaurant & Bar is overseen by Chef David Maroleau, previously of the Plaza Athénée in Paris and the Ritz in London. Indulge in the Sunday brunch, at which every plate is as fashionable as it is delicious.

LOCAL TIP You have to eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. Make it two Michelin-starred David Toutain, where food is performance art. Spring danced on my plate with every dish—a kind of Alice in Wonderland made of vegetables, thrilled to be the main act instead of the supporting one, for once. I adored the seasonal garlic dish and the smoked herring with apple and balsamic. I slathered the best butter ever made (I swear!) on warm brioche; I savored green asparagus with bitter herring and john dory fish with pea and avocado. When it was all over I was handed, as memoir of this once-in-a-lifetime meal, not a menu but an oh-so-French poem made from the absurdly fresh ingredients it was comprised of, from “at fingertips” to “as time passes by.”

Portrait Milano, Milan

If Milan were distilled into a hotel, it would be Portrait Milano. Dripping in panache, uber-sexy and smart, the new 73-room property is a temple to all things Milano, from food to Ferragamo.

Enter via the ornate Baroque gateway on Corso Venezia and behold a full-on destination: Portrait Milano has transformed one of the oldest seminaries in Europe into the Piazza del Quadrilatero, the largest public square in the fashion district. Consider it a designer resort, complete with shopping, multiple bars and restaurants and the hotel itself, sumptuously decked out in majestic red tones and all the chic design touches you came to Milan for. Design books are at every turn; all beauty products are, of course, Ferragamo.

You also came to Milan to eat. At Portrait Milano the options feel limitless, with dazzlingly extensive menus at the various eateries. Breakfast at 10_11 bar—with its gorgeous indoor-outdoor design and otherworldly garden—features everything from olive focaccia and artichoke quiche to Cannoli made right at your table. Beefbar, a feted Monte Carlo-born brand of steakhouses, serves up Nikkei Milanese risotto, Kobe beef carbonara, Croque Sando with beef ham, Miso black beef (Beefbar’s version of the Miso black cod) and a 70% cocoa soufflé. At the oh-so-sensual Rumore I had a late-night snack and an Aperol spritz while being serenaded by a live piano player.

Finally, there’s The Longevity Spa—the first of its kind in any hotel. The name is apt; I felt my life span expand just waking into that haven of wellness, inspired by so-called “Blue Zones,” the 5 locations on earth with the highest life expectancy. The wet area has a steam room, sauna, relaxation area and a pool that—under glorious vaulted ceilings resting on elegant granite columns, resembles an ancient cistern—is the essence of Portrait Milano: art you can live in.

Independente Comporta, Portugal

Never heard of Comporta? Thank me later. I discovered it some years ago, when I sang the praises of its most feted hotel, Sublime Comporta here. This magic forest of a beachside enclave just 90 minutes from Portugal’s capital has been dubbed The Hamptons of Lisbon, but it’s so much more mystical that that; in Comporta, the medusa-like trees talk and the wind feels like a spirited song.

The newest Comporta offering is saturated in all things local—including the crowd (a rare thing in tourist-heavy Portugal these days). Independente Comporta, the fourth in the funky-chic brand’s properties—others are in Lisbon and Porto—is inspired by Portuguese aldeias (small villages), with 34 unassumingly luxurious villas and a 40-bedroom hotel scattered across a beautifully barren, deliciously dramatic landscape of stark white sand and cacti. Almost all of the magificent decor comes from local artisans: ceramic wall sconces handmade in Melides; handwoven lamps from Evora; hanging rugs by weavers from the Alentejo region. Small-batch beauty products by 8950 are a perfect local touch in chic bathrooms.

My stay was during the early summer, which meant I could luxuriate with a pizza at the stylish pool by day and enjoy the firepits in the casão (main-house area) by night. There’s a young, hip vibe here—likely because the property is more affordable than most Comporta options. At Maroto, the hotel restaurant—it’s Portuguese for “the naughty one”—I savored food from Alentejo with a playful twist: seafood soup; roast beef salad with pickled carrot, cucumber, rocket and watercress; mussels with butter sauce; beef tartare with oyster emulsion; Alentejo black pork with cabbage. The wine list is almost entirely Portuguese. And even the Aura Spa keeps it local, with creative face and body treatments designed by guru Filipa Santos—including a sound bath, shiatsu treatments and an incredible Ayurveda massage—tapping into such natural ingredients of the Alentejo coast as rice, salt and sand.

Hard Rock Hotel Madrid

This stay was a bit of a social experiment: Could the ultimate American brand possibly feel truly local?

Actually, yes: Hard Rock Hotel Madrid is surprisingly, well, Spanish. First, location: in the center of the Golden Triangle of Art, encircled by the Museo Reina Sofía, the Museo del Prado and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza; even better, it’s a short stroll from the trendy Lavapiés neighborhood, home to hipster tapas haunts and the multicultural vibe of contemporary Madrid. Second, décor. You’re welcomed by a grand mural inspired by the La Movida movement and a life-size pink “Las Meninas” adorned with Rosalia lettering, in homage to Diego Velázquez's masterpiece in the Prado. Bright red accents in the lovely pool area and on the rooftop (I’ll get to that later) evoke the Reina Sofia while giving off flamenco flavor. Hotel happenings—a rum tasting, salsa classes, a Spanish wine paint-and-sip—attract locals, and all the property’s eateries serve up Spanish delights in addition to the expected burgers: croquettas, pinchos, tortilla, jamon Iberico, and the list goes on.

But the crown jewel of Hard Rock Madrid is RT60, the hotel’s glorious, expansive rooftop bar. It’s impossible to not feel the Madrid energy there, surrounded by sweeping vistas and boasting the best sunset sangria in the city.

And reader, I confess: staying at Hard Rock Hotel Madrid was flat-out fun. Hearing Boy George in the elevator made me smile. I got a kick out of the memorabilia on display: a guitar played by Madrid native Antonio Vega, a custom-made jacket worn by Nicki Minaj, David Bowie’s platform boots. One night I came home to a Crosley vinyl record player in my room with a Rosalia record beside it; the following night there was a Fender guitar waiting for me. Both are part of the property’s The Sound of Your Stay™ in-room music services program—which won this music fanatic over as little else can.

LOCAL TIP Give me any excuse to eat Peruvian food and I will seize the opportunity—especially if it’s at an exquisite rooftop Eden in the heart of Madrid. Oroya, at the dazzling Madrid Edition, served up a flawless dinner experience: spicy sea bass ceviche with caramelized sweet potato, seasonal tomatoes in a delectable chive broth, grilled scallops in yellow chili and potato foam and, of course, Peruvian chicken in anticuchera sauce. Never mind a pisco sour—Oroya boasts a pisco mule, a pisco punch and other creative concoctions that leave you merrily toasting this culinary gem.

6 European Hotels Where The Luxury Is Unmistakably Local (2024)
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