Tatler - Travel Guide 2012
January 2012

The St Regis, Bangkok
Enter at ground level and whiz up to the 12th-floor lobby -- the transition might dilute some urban bustle but it builds on the super-exclusivity. From here on up it’s all about the view -- the unbeatable location overlooks the elite Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the classical Thai architecture of Chulalongkorn University. There is a 15th-floor infinity pool and hi-tech gym, but the gasp of hand-wringing delight is reserved for the simply beautiful Elemis spa with its white bas-reliefs, wedge-shaped corridors and luminous skin treatments. Dining on the ground floor is fun too: Jojo serves grown-up, authentic Italian, London original Zuma wows with sushi-sake combos and Viu is where to settle for a long Sunday lunch while stealing glances at the racetrack (staff will run across to the sports club to place a bet). When you’re ready to take on the city, the hotel is smack-bang beside a Skytrain station, making it easy to zoom around town, high above the traffic (the best way to get to the fabulous JJ market, where you can buy stuff that actually travels well and still looks cool at home). The St Regis has just joined the select club as one of the best places to stay in Bangkok.

MJC travelled with Audley Travel (www.audleytravel.com).

Old Cataract, Aswan
La Mamounia in Marrakech started it. Now another legendary North African hotel has polished its boots, this time on the banks of the Nile. Some may miss the sepia-tinted nostalgia of this once creaking Victorian lady but there are still the old hands -- like Mohammed at the Terrace and Mostafa in the restaurant Oriental Kebabgy -- who’ve worked here for decades and have tales to tell of Omar Sharif and the extravagant Aga Khan. Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile at the Cataract, and Howard Carter stayed while digging for Tutankhamun. Go for the Nile Wing -- it may look dubious from the outside but it’s all superslick inside, and you can gaze across to Elephantine Island and the flotillas of felucca boats, their sails like dove feathers. Ask for corner room 2907, unless you can afford the Sir Winston Churchill Suite with a terrace the size of Karnak temple. The Old Cataract, brandishing a new charisma, sits halfway between Luxor and Abu Simbel, a perfect pause amid palm groves.

MJC travelled with Tselana Travel (www.tselana.com).

Banyan Tree Samui, Koh Samui
Koh Samui has come of age. There’s a flurry of new openings, plus swish new restaurants (such as the fabulous 9 Gems) bringing about a switcheroo and shedding the island’s scruffy, seedy budget past. Compared to Phuket, Samui is younger, hipper, a bit less Home Counties. This is Banyan Tree’s third property in Thailand and the country is where the brand originally kicked off, so it really has expertise here. Built on a dramatic rocky hillside, the stilted villas cling to the slopes above heavenly Lamai Bay. The rooms are soothing and contemporary with serious infinity pools and polished butler service. An army of buggies buzzes guests down to a pretty palm-fringed beach marred, it has to be said, by its rocky shores; dipping into the water is usually accompanied by squeals, although the hotel supplies protective, but unsexy, water shoes. Eat lunch at Sands for yummy wood-fired pizzas; at night try the spicy lemongrass soup with tiger prawns at lantern-lit Saffron -- and don’t miss the sweet mango dessert with coconut-creamed sticky rice. Perhaps the trump card is the grand hydrothermal wellness spa. It’s more like a rainforest theme park, but a great one, with a mass of thumping jets, pummeling falls and scented steam chambers; splash around under a bucket-drench shower or chill out at the crushed-ice fountain.

MJC travelled with Kuoni (www.kuoni.co.uk).

Hogmead, Nairobi
A family of warthogs trot through the pretty gardens. Beyond the fence are rare Rothschild giraffes. The sun dips over the Ngong Hills. All this and you’re still in the city, sort of. Set in leafy upscale suburb Langata, Hogmead is Nairobi’s newest property, with six large lovely rooms, flawless roses on every surface and a kitchen serving up sizzling sausages for breakfast and fresh fish for supper. It’s part of the Safari and Conservation Company portfolio, which has some serious East African pedigree, and most guests night-stop here between adventures in sister properties from the Mara to Mount Kenya. Others pop in only to scrub up (Hogmead is cleverly converting eight former stables into dayrooms). But it deserves more than the hours to kill between airport transfers. Nairobi suddenly has hotels opening on every street corner, but this is the best of the new breed; it avoids try-hard trendy and sidesteps fusty musty, but nails colonial comfort head-on.

MJC travelled with Africa Travel www.africatravel.co.uk).