“This is your home,” said Albert Mertz, the gracious general manager at Amanera in the Dominican Republic. I had plenty of time to think about this prevailing wisdom among hoteliers (to make guests feel “at home”) after finishing my second novel in two days, a mess of fish tacos, and a glass of rosé at lunch while nestled in what is possibly the north coast’s most dramatic cove. It’s a balancing act—that notion of creating a “home”—because obviously a hotel’s job is in some ways to make you forget all about it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love everything about my home, but with it, of course, comes a good deal of practical and psychic weight. Each year when my husband and I embark on our annual four-day getaway—just the two of us—I marvel at how quickly and deeply we slip into an alternate, pre-kid reality of sleeping in, taking morning beach swims, reading, and napping. For us, the sole point of this warm-weather vacation is the absence of cultural enrichment or any sense of duty—a time warp that’s as fleeting as it is weightless.
It is in this anti-gravity, anti-guilt, should-free zone that once a year we ask ourselves, “What do we want to do?” No, really, “What do we want to do?”
The best kinds of trips suspend not only physical but existential reality, pressing us—when stripped of our all-defining responsibilities—to pose questions like, “Who do we want to be?” or “What do we want our life to look like?” The best properties, whether with their dreamy natural settings or floating man-made designs, often co-conspire in this self-(re)imagining. In a banner year for new hotels on our Hot List, properties like the Park Hyatt Zanzibar, theFaena Hotel Miami Beach, La Fiermontina in Lecce, and Amanera in the D.R. represent perfect microcosms of place, and also the best versions of a completely alternate lifestyle that lingers after you’ve gone.
One sense of the word home conjures familiarity and comfort, as in a pair of old sweats. And then there is the fantasy of home, in which some hotels, with their cliff-hanging open-air pavilions and lantern-like indoor-outdoor guest rooms, present an idealized version of habitat. As a social animal, I generally gravitate to public areas, even when a suite has its own generous plunge pool. But at Amanera, we scarcely left our casita—a case study in warm modernism that made us, as architectural junkies, want to sell our beloved nineteenth-century Victorian town house and try to replicate the much smaller (yet somehow more expansive) teak, glass, and concrete structure on our home turf. We even played out how we could fit a family of four into its airy—though by no means large enough for real life—footprint. Back at my desk in New York, I still kind of believe we could live happily in 700 square feet with a half-fridge.