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12/20/23: Everyone’s Heading for the Highlands

The big skies and rugged landscapes of Scotland are more popular than ever; a creative powerhouse shares his insights on the wilds of California; and we get advanced word on all the biggest hotel openings in 2024.

December 20, 2023 By MAURA EGAN
One of the suites at Wormistoune.

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The lands of Wormistoune were first settled in 1309.

Why Everyone is Heading for the Highlands
It seems when people fall in love with the Scottish countryside, they fall hard. Take Iwan and Manuela Wirth, the Swiss powerhouse gallerists who opened The Fife Arms, a letter-perfect homage to all things Caledonian—and a perfect hotel IMHO—just a stone’s throw from Balmoral. Then there’s the Danish billionaire Anders Povlsen and his wife, Anne, who own more than 222,000 acres here—the country’s largest shareholders. Their Wildland conservation project is made up of a portfolio of hotels and rentable lodges including Aldourie, a 300-year-old castle near Loch Ness, which was recently revamped, to much fanfare, by Jamb, the cult antiques shop on Pimlico Row in London. The Boath House, a Georgian mansion located a half an hour east from Inverness in the Highlands, is the newest addition to the fashionable countryside scene. Established in 2022 by the artist Jonny Gent and chef Florence Knight (the pair behind the much-lauded Sessions Art Club in London), the hotel has a club-like feel for creatives.

Then there’s James and Gemma McCallum, who have spent the last two decades meticulously restoring Wormistoune, a 16th-century tower estate in East Neuk, one of the country’s more undiscovered regions. (Although it’s only about 15 minutes from St. Andrews). The McCallums live in the main house but they rent their coach house for up to 10 guests through the luxury bespoke travel group, Bravo Whisky Golf, run by Neil Scott Johnson. Although the name suggests it’s all about whisky and golf, Johnson can cater to any interest in Scottish culture, whether it’s food, craft, or tweed. Both Johnson and McCallum believe in creating a real sense of place. So that might mean bringing in Stewart Christie & Co., Edinburgh’s oldest tailor (owned by McCallum) for a suit fitting at the house; touring the historic walled garden that features a kitchen (herbs), wilderness (meadows), and pleasantry garden (topiaries, architectural follies) that was restored by Gemma; or lingering over long dinners with  whisky at the 16th century laird dining table, which James bought from the estate of William Randolph Hearst. “It’s about capturing the magic and the history of this place which is vast,” says James.

From left: Jay Carrol, The Sea Ranch Lodge.

The Road Less Taken With Jay Carroll
I’ve known the creative director, photographer, entrepreneur, stone carver, and all-around aesthete Jay Carrol for the last 15 years or so. I always want to know what he’s up to next. In 2009 he started his pop retail project One Trip Pass to celebrate and showcase the bounty he found scouring shops and flea markets on his road trips across the country. I’ve always been impressed by the people and places he discovers on his journeys. He’s the guy who knows about that master woodcarver in the northern reaches of Maine, or a woman in Cave Junction, Oregon, who makes gorgeous handmade moccasins. In 2014 he started the beauty and food brand Wonder Valley with his wife, Alison, “to celebrate the holistic power of California olive oil.” I’m a sucker for their packaging, but their skincare products are great. They just launched hair care, too. Carroll has contributed to magazines including GQ, Departures, and Bon Appetit and is also part owner of El Rey Court, a historic adobo motel in Santa Fe which he renovated and rebranded a few years back.

Today, he splits his time between an island in Maine and California’s Mojave Desert with his wife and baby daughter, Bo. Since he’s mastered the art of the road trip, I asked him about his favorite spots on the California coast.

Favorite hotels in California?
Mankas in Inverness. Deetjen’s in Big Sur. Casa Cody in Palm Springs. I realize they all have a bit of a common thread in that they all have this inherent old soul to them that comes with their history. History can be a rare thing to come by in California and all of these properties come with various degrees of it. Mankas is an old hunting lodge. It’s a Ralph Lauren meets Twin Peaks cerebral experience. (It’s under renovation right now.) Deetjen’s, the most storied bohemian haunt in Big Sur, has a Norwegian look made out of local redwoods and now exists on the historic registry. Casa Cody, the oldest inn in Palm Springs, used to host Charlie Chaplin and is dripping with that classic Old Hollywood hacienda style charm.

Off the beaten path destination in California?
Not sure if these are still considered off the beaten path, but I’ve always loved time in Bolinas, Ojai, and Sea Ranch. Lots of simple glory in those places. And Wonder Valley, of course. It inspired a couple of projects now, including our namesake brand. It’s silent, wild, expansive…feels like being in a blank canvas for your mind.

Secret vintage shops in LA?
NFS (stands for not for sale) is a furniture showroom run by Jonathan Pessin in Frogtown in Los Angeles. It’s by appointment only. Mothfood is owned by Tommy Dorr, a Detroit native who had been buying and selling vintage for years. It’s great online or by appointment at his private showroom in LA’s Mount Washington neighborhood.

The best wellness spots with hippy vibes?
I like The Integratron in Landers, and Orr Hot Springs in Northern California in Ukiah. The baths at Esalen are great to sneak into via the service road under the cover of night.

Perfect hike?
Rattlesnake Canyon in Joshua Tree right after a big rain. Dipsea to Steep Ravine on Mount Tam in Northern California.

Local artists that make you love California?
Ido Yoshimoto, a former arborist turned artist in Inverness. Alma Allen, who is known for his sculptures in wood, stone, and bronze. Lily Stockman, who is based in the Yucca Valley and makes colorful, abstract landscape paintings.

A rendering of the future rooftop of The Emory hotel in London.

What’s New in 2024: Major Openings Around the Globe
Back in the eighties, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell brought their Studio 54 club philosophy to Manhattan hotels like Morgans, the Paramount, and the Royalton. Schrager famously fired all of the employees at the Paramount and put out ads in Playboy and Variety to recruit a cooler, more stylish staff. Hotels in big cities from Miami to London became the new clubs where everyone wanted to be seen. For the next four decades there have been all sorts of copycat versions of what Schrager did first—even Schrager himself getting back in the game with Edition, which seems to be opening properties at a fast clip. Today we seem to be hitting peak hotel-as-club again. But instead of the hotel as a nightclub, these new glamorous properties feel like the most exclusive members-only clubs you’d actually want to be a member of.

Soho House, São Paulo
The brand continues its push in the Americas (Nashville, Mexico City) with its first foray into South America in São Paulo, Brazil. Located in part of the historic Matarazzo Hospital on Avenida Paulista, in the same complex as the Rosewood hotel, the property will feature 36 bedrooms (open to non-members), a gym, spa, rooftop pool and bar as well as restaurants and club spaces. The design is a mix of Brazilian modernism and Italianate architecture with plenty of lush tropical gardens.

The Emory, London
This all-suite hotel in Belgravia is the newest addition to the Maybourne Group (Claridge’s, The Connaught, and The Berkeley). The modern glass-and-steel building was designed by the late, great architect Richard Rogers while guest suites were created by designers including André Fu, Alexandra Champalimaud, and Patricia Urquiola. There’s an outpost of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, and guests will also have access to Surrenne, a private members’ wellness club.

The Surrey, New York
Just ahead of its 100th anniversary, The Surrey on New York’s Upper East Side is reopening as part of the Corinthia Hotel collection. Headed up by Simon and David Reuben, a pair of London-based billionaire real estate developers, who seem to have their hands in all sorts of interesting real estate  projects (see Palm Beach below). Martin Brudnizki, the Swedish-born interior designer who seems to be involved in all sorts of interesting hotel projects, is doing the interiors. Casa Tua, everybody’s favorite Miami dinner club, will bring their heat to the hotel’s F&B operations.

The Vineta Hotel, Palm Beach
The Reuben brothers are also working with the esteemed Oetker Collection to reopen yet another storied property: The Vineta Hotel in Palm Beach. Located just blocks from Worth Avenue, this Mediterranean Revival–style palace was in need of some TLC. The historic property has been a hotel on and off for the last century. I stayed there back in the early 2000s when it was the charmingly chintz-filled Chesterfield (it closed early this year for renovations) and I was the youngest guest by about 40 years. It’s got great bones and good vibes—the hotel’s Leopard Lounge has always drawn a very old-school Palm Beach crowd for dinner and dancing.

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