There are the large international well-known hotel brands we all have heard about and most of us will likely have stayed at one of their hotels at some point and other.
On the other hand, there are many smaller and lesser known hotel brands and associations you might never have heard about. In part because they are often more regional, operating only a small number of hotels.
It is this regional aspect along with the fact smaller brands are in many cases family-owned and managed which typically allows a higher level of authenticity why I personally favour those smaller brands. This is also true for several smaller hotel associations which operate on a shared value and concept whilst the are composed of individual hotel owners.
Below is a list of lesser known small luxury hotel brands and associations which in my view offer fantastic destinations and experiences along with outstanding service well worth knowing about.
Anantara Hotels and Resorts
The first Anantara Resort opened less than twenty years ago (in 2001) in Hua Hin in Thailand. Since, Anantara Hotels and Resorts has opened more hotels across Asia and the Middle East, and more recently also ventured into Europe.
The name, Anantara, was chosen for a reason. Meaning ‘without end’ in Sanskrit, it reflects the intention behind the brand very nicely.
Anantara indeed puts high focus on authenticity and works hard to embrace and transmit the cultural traditions, historic heritage and nature of each of its destinations.
As a result, even though you will recognise a common line in visiting Anantara hotels with regards to design, style and service, each of the properties provides a unique local experience.
Across nearly 50 Anantara Hotels and Resorts, from the beautiful Anantara Angkor Resort in Siem Reap, only 15 minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat and thus the closest hotel to this stunning destination to the recently opened Niyama Private Islands Maldives Resort and the brands first two European properties in Spain and Portugal, this small brand definitely knows how to connect to local cultures, adventures and food.
Red Carnation Hotel Collection
The story starts with the opening of the small The Paternoster Hotel in the small fishing village with the same name on the west coast of South Africa in 1920.
One hundred years later, Red Carnation Hotel Collection is family-run in the fourth generation and still going strong in its commitment to deliver experiences of a lifetime.
These experiences are distributed over 20 different properties across the world, and the exceptional portfolio includes such iconic places like Ashford Castle in Ireland, The Milestone Hotel in London, Hotel d’Angelterre in Geneva (Switzerland) as well as the stunning South African properties The 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa in Cape Town, the famous Oyster Box in Durban and Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve in Cederberg.
Many of these are also part of the prestigious The Leading Hotels of the World, indicating the high level of service and standards offered at each of the properties.
What makes the brand standing out is not only the level of luxury and exceptional service level, however. There is also a high focus on sustainability and giving back to local communities.
Both the brand itself as well as individual properties are supporting local community projects along with nature conservation and sustainability programmes.
Montage Hotels and Resorts
One of Montage Hotels and Resorts core commitments is to provide ‘refined living’ which means a high attention to service levels, exceptional culinary experiences and wellbeing in an elegant yet relaxed ambience.
This goal is achieved among other measures through a high authenticity to each individual destination, making sure each property blends into the natural surroundings in terms of architecture, design and unique local experiences.
US-based, the brand currently operates five locations across the US and Mexico, including the award-winning Cabo San Lucas Resort, with two more planned to open in 2020 and 2021.
Founded initially as an operator of standalone Spas, Six Senses today operates 18 hotels and resorts across Asia, the Middle East and Europe, with two more expected to open soon.
All Six Senses hotels and resorts so far are located in rural areas, putting a high focus on providing outstanding nature experiences.
That said, the group is now planning to open a city-hotel in New York too.
Off course, coming from a Spa business, each of the Six Senses properties also feature a large range of Spa and wellbeing treatments.
Highly committed to sustainability, Six Senses supports a large number of local initiatives such as employing and sourcing locally, supporting local healthcare, social or environmental initiatives and as a brand going plastic free by 2022.
Six Senses since 2019 forms part of Intercontinental Hotels Group but is still managed as an individual brand.
Rosewood Hotels and Resorts
The small luxury hotel group Rosewood Hotels and Resorts currently operates just 50 hotels in 21 countries across the world, including such iconic properties like the Rosewood Mayakoba or Hotel de Crillon in Paris, France.
The brand as recently as 2016 also launched their own integrated wellness concept for travellers seeking a more wellness-conscious stay which is called Asaya.
The scheme offers a mixture of alternative therapies, lifestyle and nutritional coaching, fitness as well as educational programming including activities like yoga, tai chi, spinning and boxing.
Another great opportunity at Rosewood is the so called Rosewood Conversations that allow you to experience individual destinations through culture, cuisine and style.
Small Luxury Hotels of the World
The Small Luxury Hotels of the World association is likely one of the better-known ones among the smaller, more exclusive associations. SLH was founded in 1990 and over the past 30 years has indeed always stand for high standards and exceptional individual experience.
There are more than 500 hotels in 90 countries around the world part of the group. Whilst this certainly does not sound like a small brand, participating properties are often individually owned and managed hotels. As a result, visiting any of these properties you will not see two hotels alike. No common branding, no like-for-like styling. Instead, everything is unique. Except for a common commitment on exceptional standard and service.
Participating hotels are also noticed for their significant involvement in local communities and sustainability initiatives.
Around the world, the association counts some of the most outstanding hotels as members and you will find every type of hotel from city hotels to beachfront and mountain hotels, culinary retreats, wellness hotels along with adult only and family hotels.
Aman Hotels and Resorts
Perhaps the best-known Aman hotel – since it has become hugely popular for celebrity weddings – is the Aman Venice Papadopoli Palace. There are more than 30 others however, distributed across Asia, Europe ad North America.
Founded in 1988, the brand was ranked Number 1 in the Top Luxury Hotel Brands 2018 – Luxury Travel Experience. There are now 32 hotels and resorts across 20 countries, with a couple more planned.
Aman Hotels and Resorts are mainly located in rural locations, far away from large cities, which puts the experience at the resort at the centre of the guest attraction.
The Aman group along offering outstanding luxury guest experiences puts a high focus on local communities and staff usually comes from the nearby towns.
A very special feature of Aman Hotels and Resorts however are some of their ‘adventure’ offerings, including nature expeditions like touring the Raja Ampat area, one of the world’s most exceptional marine areas or exploring the remote islands of Indonesia’s Flores Sea by the brands private two-masted sailing boat which offers five luxury cabins and a crew of 14.
QL Hotels and Restaurants
I just recently discovered this small hotel association when staying in one of the associated hotels.
There are currently close to 130 member hotels across nine European countries part of QL Hotels and Restaurants, spanning various types of hotels, from traditional country retreats to luxury. Most are located in rural areas or small towns away from the larger cities. Most are small, offering just a few rooms or suites and are usually family-led. Many are located in historic buildings, again comprising a large range of different styles from old rural houses to old mills, farm houses, classy manor houses and castles.
What is common among QL Hotels is their outstanding culinary offer. In fact, many of the participating hotels include award-winning restaurants feature for example in the Gault& Millau or have been awarded a Michelin-star.
The main perk choosing a QL Hotel therefore is to enjoy their culinary packages which typically include accommodation and various dining experiences based on local food.
Read my blog about Rüssels Landhaus in Germany to get some idea about the locations and culinary experiences you can expect.
JRE Jeunes Restaurateurs
Just like QL Hotels, the JRE Jeunes Restaurateurs association of small independent chefs puts its focus on culinary experiences.
As the name suggests, membership depends on an outstanding food offer and initially also on the age of the chef joining the association, which can’t be older than 42 years.
There are currently more than 350 participating restaurants spread across 15 European countries as well as Australia. More than half of these are located in small hotels and many of them are indeed owned by the chef or are family-led.
As a result, here too you can expect excellent experiences based on culinary packages including various dining options and accommodation.
Thought there is a wide variety of locations, again most of the participating members are located in smaller towns, villages or rural locations, offering only a small amount of rooms.
Do you have a favourite small hotel brand or hotel association you keep returning to? Let me know which one.