At their best, hotel swimming pools are theatres of relaxation, the aquatic stage for cooling bodies and warming romances, where time floats on impossibly clear water. Nothing signals the start of a holiday like the first dive, when we shrug off the strain of the journey and quotidian concerns to reemerge somewhere else, preferably completing the transformative plunge with the first of several poolside cocktails. Since they became suburban status symbols and the inspiration for countless artists, from Mr David Hockney’s splashes to Mr Terry O’Neill’s shot of Ms Faye Dunaway at the Beverly Hills, hotel pools have also become heavy weapons in the hospitality arms race. The world is dotted with heavenly bodies of water that are at once feats of engineering, triumphs of design and tranquil oases at one with their surroundings. From the bustle of one of the world’s densest cities to the wide-open savannah and an island paradise, MR PORTER presents nine of the best. All you need to do is pack your trunks and a few good books.
Author: Simon Usborne and Samuel Mustonwww.mrporter.com
Setouchi Aonagi, Japan
In a hotel of just seven suites, there’s a good chance you’ll have the pool to yourself. At Setouchi Aonagi, a modern art museum last year transformed into a luxury hotel outside Matsuyama on Shikoku, Japan’s smallest main island, that’s a good thing. Because what its pool lacks in width it makes up for in its 30m length and immeasurable architectural drama. A single lane of blue, simply tiled and cut into stark concrete, it is as minimalist as it could be while still containing water. And it very much fits the vision of the architect, Mr Tadao Ando, the renowned Osakan master of minimalism best known for his homes, museums and churches. His quest for spiritual uplift by way of exposed concrete and clean lines continues throughout the hotel, which, like its aquatic centrepiece, jettisons clutter to highlight the views westwards across to the islands of the Setouchi inland sea.
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, France
The pool at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc is the most famous on the Riviera, if not in the world. An infinity pool cut into the rocks and looking out to the sea beyond is not just beautiful, it is a magnet for beautiful people, from tech billionaires to the Monégasque monarchy, oligarchs to film stars such as Messrs Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise. It is a socialite’s dream – as indeed is the hotel itself. One the most splendid in the world, the 22-acre estate, with the former-mansion-turned-hotel at its centre, is packed with Louis XV furnishing and seems, in all likelihood, to have escaped from a Mr F Scott Fitzgerald novel – a suspicion that’s confirmed if you spend time at one of its four bars – including the Eden-Roc Champagne Lounge by the pool – or indeed the stylish confines of executive chef Mr Arnaud Poëtte’s Eden-Roc Restaurant or Grill, both of which have a higher movie star/billionaire count than anywhere we have ever encountered before. Little wonder getting a room here for a long weekend is harder than getting into Eton College.
The Library, Thailand
How do you make a hotel stand out on one of the world’s most popular beaches, a sandy strip of resorts and guesthouses less than a mile from the airport on the Thai island of Koh Samui? You line its pool with vivid Italian mosaic tiles, coloured orange, yellow and red. The effect is of a perversely seductive pool of blood, tastefully matched to the parasols and loungers on the wooden decking that surround it. The water, which itself looks as if it is red, is the centrepiece of a minimalist resort of 26 sprawling studios and suites that still stand out from the white sands 10 years after it opened. And while the pool challenges the eye, the name is no illusion; the Library encourages reading and reflection, and includes a collection of more than 1,400 books. Take a couple – and a seat by the pool – and forget everything else.
Hotel Indigo, Hong Kong
Swimming is a privilege when land prices are as eye-watering as those in Hong Kong, which is why the city of skyscrapers is home to dozens of rooftop pools. The one on the 29th floor of the Indigo is not the highest in the city, but it is among the most spectacular, jutting out from the side of the building like an open glass drawer. The cantilevered construction has a floor of windows, allowing swimmers with a head for heights – and a pair of goggles – to look down on the bustle of Wan Chai, Hong Kong’s historic district, where markets, the once-notorious red light district and colonial architecture fade in the shadows of modern monuments to commerce. The shallow, less vertiginous end of the pool is closer to the Indigo’s intimate Skybar, the place to calm your nerves with a dark and stormy.
Four Seasons Serengeti, Tanzania
There are two pools of note at the Four Seasons outpost deep inside Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. One is for humans, a sweeping azure infinity pool in front of the terrace of the main lodge. The other, barely 10m beyond, before the view rolls out across acres of unspoilt savannah, is a watering hole. Order a drink from the bar as you watch elephants take theirs, sometimes by the dozen, right in front of you. As the sun sets beyond the pool, it’s hard to picture a more idyllic aquatic setting. Get closer still to the wildlife during a walk with Masai guides, or on a game drive. All rooms share the big view, while private villas have their own decks with smaller pools facing the Serengeti. Leave them early if you can to rise above it all under a hot-air balloon before a champagne bush breakfast.
The Silo, Cape Town
A giant abandoned grain silo on Cape Town’s waterfront seems like an unlikely setting for one of this year’s most exciting hotel openings. But Mr Thomas Heatherwick has worked wonders with the concrete structure, the tallest in sub-Saharan Africa when it was built in the 1920s. The cylindrical silos themselves have been cut and shaped into the Zeitz Museum Of Contemporary Art Africa, to open later this year, while the old elevator tower has been fitted with vast domed windows to house The Silo, the latest hotel from South African luxury group The Royal Portfolio. Its crowning glory is the pool on the roof, where concrete columns frame arguably the best views in the city, across to Table Mountain and, in the other direction, out to sea over Robben Island. There’s a bar up there, too, of course, where oysters and South African sparkling wine are served at sunset.
Laucala Island, Fiji
You could install a modest pool of your own for the price of a week on Laucala, a rarely advertised private island off Fiji. But it wouldn’t cover 2,000sq m, or include multiple levels and its own islands. The extraordinary blue lagoon leads from the beach into the heart of the remote resort on Laucala’s north shore, where its former owner Mr Malcolm Forbes is buried. The Red Bull billionaire Mr Dietrich Mateschitz bought the island in 2003 and has opened it to guests and celebrity takeovers (Ms Elle Macpherson got married here. For a certain kind of traveller, it’s a choice between Laucala and Necker.) There are dozens more pools on the island to serve its thatched villas, which line their own beaches in front of the island’s 18-hole golf course. Some are cut directly into volcanic rock and contain sea water, but the main pool draws guests like flamingos to a salt lake.
Lakshman Sagar, India
The pool at this former imperial hunting lodge built along the edge of a man-made lake in Rajasthan looks as if it has been created by a giant ice-cream scoop. Dug into a single rock and whitewashed, it does away with decks and loungers to create a wild place in which to cool off, unfussed by the accoutrements of the traditional resort. Wilder still is the lake, along which 12 understated cottages offer an even deeper escape from Rajasthan’s thronging tourist centres; Lakshman Sagar, built by the then Thakur of Raipur, Lakshman Singh Ji, to host nobles and British emissaries, sits amid quiet farmland in the middle of a triangle made by Jodhpur, Jaipur and Udaipur, all miles out of earshot but within easy reach. Return for yoga, a guided nature walk, sunset by the dam or a drink by the pool in the rock.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como
There are three swimming pools at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, a 1910 magnolia palazzo set in gardens on the edge of Lake Como. The one you’ll be posting on Instagram until the sun goes down, Aperol spritz in hand, floats in the lake itself. Set within teak decking, it draws guests over the water from the hotel’s artificial sandy beach and champagne bar. Perfect for people watching – or for boarding the hotel’s 1961 Venetian motor launch for a ride to Como itself, or directly across the lake to Bellagio and its historic stone alleyways and churches. Alternatively, retreat to the other side of the hotel to its Flowers Pool, the star of its gardens, recently redesigned by Mr Emilio Trabella, Mr George Clooney’s preferred landscaper at his Villa Oleandra, 30 minutes along the shore. The spa houses the third pool, an adults-only infinity number looking out over the lake.