Making (very luxe) tracks in Malaysia

The refurbished interior of the Eastern & Oriental Express
The refurbished interior of the Eastern & Oriental Express © Courtesy of Belmond

From 1993 until the Covid-19 pandemic, the Eastern & Oriental Express ran from Singapore to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Like its sister the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, it’s owned by Belmond. The VSOE has recently expanded its routes and connections in Europe; now the E&O is following suit, relaunching with a three-night Essence of Malaysia journey, with the original carriages – Japanese-built, specced-up even higher in Singapore – newly refurbished and ready to, ahem, roll.

The dining car
The dining car © Courtesy of Belmond
The E&O Express is returning after a four-year gap
The E&O Express is returning after a four-year gap © Courtesy of Belmond

Guests board and disembark at Singapore’s Woodlands station for a round-trip journey with stops in Penang and Langkawi. On Penang, there are private guided tours of the historic shophouses of George Town, today full of art galleries, artisan boutiques and design studios, and excellent restaurants; you can also grab a map and a trishaw (like a rickshaw but with the driver at the back) and explore the Old Town yourself. On Langkawi, where the beaches are heaven and the rainforest more than 10mn years old, the activities skew to snorkelling, paddle-boarding and massages. Belmond trains are known for their cuisine, so no surprise they’ve enlisted André Chiang – his Restaurant André in Singapore was the city’s top-rated venue for years – to oversee the galleys here., from $2,400  

Finland’s finest new stay

The saltwater pool at Billnäs Gård
The saltwater pool at Billnäs Gård © Riitta Sourander

Intriguing news from the Finnish countryside, an hour outside Helsinki: Billnäs Gård, an early-20th-century villa-turned-hospitality project in the tiny, pretty riverside village of Billnäs. Its owners recently completed a several-year restoration that honours the genteel spirit of the original interiors with mod-con add-ons, both necessary and indulgent, including a saltwater swimming pool and a medicinal and herb garden adjacent to the traditional potager.

The house is furnished with contemporary Scandinavian and 20th-century designs
The house is furnished with contemporary Scandinavian and 20th-century designs © Riitta Sourander
The hotel restaurant
The hotel restaurant © Riitta Sourander

They plan to run Billnäs Gård part of the time as a small, intimate hotel, and part as a private villa for holidays and celebrations, with retreats of all sorts throughout the year. Six ensuite bedrooms are furnished with antiques, iconic contemporary Scandinavian designs and collectable 20th-century pieces, skilfully combined into vignettes. Two suites have small kitchens; one has a bathroom with a stunning tiled fireplace; in summer, a small cabin at the river’s edge joins the inventory. Already on the 2024 schedule are yoga and somatic healing retreats, as well as ones themed around healthy eating., from about €430 

Summer colours in St Tropez

A villa at Arez Saint-Tropez
A villa at Arez Saint-Tropez

Is it ever too early to think summer? Arev Saint-Tropez opens next month on a quiet street tucked just outside the village itself, with 43 rooms designed by madrileño Luis Bustamante, who never met a primary colour he didn’t like. Be prepared for lots of cobalt, canary and cardinal, with elegant light-toned boiserie and well-judged interludes of white.

The hotel interiors are designed by Luis Bustamante
The hotel interiors are designed by Luis Bustamante
A junior suite at Arez Saint-Tropez
A junior suite at Arez Saint-Tropez

They’ve created a small square on the property that hosts rotating pop-up boutiques and a coffee-patisserie truck; if you prefer your croissant down in the village, there are bikes on hand for borrowing and a chauffeured Citroën Méhari EV. What they hope will be their masterstroke of genius: a revival of the Strand Restaurant and Champagne Lounge, which, some years back, turned over its Rue du Petit Bal premises – one of the oldest continuously operating restaurant spaces in the Côte d’Azur – to Villa Azur, and is reinvented here., from €590

Hotel, motel, holiday win in California

The restaurant at Cuyama Buckhorn
The restaurant at Cuyama Buckhorn © Cuyama Buckhorn

The Cuyama Buckhorn, in California’s eastern Santa Barbara county, first opened in 1952 in New Cuyama — an oil-boom town conceived in an era of roadside fenced pools, common barbecue areas and ranch-influenced architecture with prefab leanings. Its LA-based owners (the city is a two-hour drive away) have retained quite a few of those midcentury traces, but mostly it feels like a very 2024 balance of high and low, with printed cement-tile floors, slick little minibars and floating platform beds with timber headboards in the 21 rooms.

The hotel is set in the Cuyama Valley
The hotel is set in the Cuyama Valley © Cuyama Buckhorn
The roadside pool
The roadside pool © Cuyama Buckhorn

There’s the Buck Stop Coffee Shop and Buckhorn Restaurant, where the drinks menu has garnered attention across central California (the expected regional wines, craft beers and mezcal cocktails are joined by sake and bourbon flights). The roadside pool has been joined by a bocce ball court and a dry sauna. Best of all might be the proximity to the Cuyama Valley, which is west-coast wildflower nirvana, home to its own mini version of California’s famous springtime “superbloom”., from $250 


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