April 30, 2023The Latin verb indagare means to discover or seek out. It’s a fitting name for the boutique travel company that Melissa Biggs Bradley, formerly the longtime travel editor at Town & Country, launched in 2007.
The membership-based site is not only an online source for inside intelligence on luxury travel around the world but also serves as a bespoke travel agency. In addition, it organizes dozens of hosted trips each year with a focus on design and art to such destinations as Milan during its famous Salone di Mobile design fair and Maastricht for the TEFAF fine art fair, along with many other aesthetically compelling locales, including Stockholm, the south of France, Marrakesh and Mexico City.
Indagare’s clients visit private homes and meet with dealers, collectors, designers and curators, gaining access to a design world that travelers wouldn’t normally discover on their own. (Incidentally, Indagare is currently offering 1stDibs users a complimentary 60-day trial of its SELF PLANNER MEMBERSHIP.) “My belief is that the more you understand a place and what makes it unique, the more immersive and special your experience is going to be on the ground,” Biggs Bradley says.
Being in the know about the most stylish places to stay is integral to Biggs Bradley’s job. Here, she shares her choices for new (or newly revamped) hotels with intriguing designs — and the talents behind these resplendent creations.
Saint James Paris
Occupying a 19th-century château surrounded by manicured gardens in Paris’s luxe 16th arrondissement, the Saint James just got a tip-to-tail interior renovation, including the addition of a seven-suite villa by French designer Laura Gonzalez.
Gonzalez retained the Relais & Châteaux property’s neoclassical spirit while injecting her signature freshness, mixing antiques, vintage artworks, floral fabrics, Japanese-inspired wallpapers by Iksel and Le Manach and her own contemporary pieces.
“I love the wood-paneled library with its coffered ceiling and leather club chairs, as well as the restaurant, which seems to merge with the garden outside,” Biggs Bradley says. “The whole place feels like a secluded oasis of calm in the midst of Paris.”
Villa Igiea, Palermo
Designer Paolo Moschino, in collaboration with his partner, Philip Vergeylen, has spent the past two years meticulously renovating this seaside Sicilian resort, a 19th-century palazzo converted into a hotel in 1900.
Moschino preserved the Belle Époque public spaces, including their summery rattan furnishings and antique floor tiling. The 100 guest rooms, meanwhile, received a sleek makeover, with sculptural contemporary pieces, sumptuous fabrics and eye-catching geometric flooring.
“It’s a masterful blend of historic preservation and state-of-the-art comforts,” Biggs Bradley says. “My favorite area is the vaulted bar with frescoes from the nineteen fifties by Sicilian painter Gino Morici.”
Passalacqua, Lake Como
“Visiting this incredibly grand eighteenth-century villa on Lake Como feels like stepping into a period film where you get to be the guest of gracious Italian nobles,” Biggs Bradley raves. Owner Valentina De Santis worked with San Francisco–based designer Pamela Babey to source antiques and art for the 24 suites and the dramatic public spaces.
Designer J.J. Martin, whose fashion label, La DoubleJ, is known for its whimsical fabrics, injected modern flair in the pool area. Amid vintage Bonacina seating and rattan lamps by Paavo Tynell, she peppered the space with cushions, umbrellas and table linens in her ebullient prints. “It’s classic Como meets a modern holiday spirit,” says Biggs Bradley.
Nine Orchard, New York
A 1912 bank built in the Beaux Arts style on New York’s Lower East Side has been transformed a little more than a century later into a swank hotel with interior design by Fernando Santangelo. Beneath the ornately carved vaulted ceilings, the lobby is outfitted with antique cane-and-wood furniture and other old-world touches, while the 116 guest rooms have a spare contemporary vibe, with simple wood furniture and a muted palette.
“Nine Orchard manages to merge the neighborhood’s gritty downtown authenticity with modern glamour,” says Biggs Bradley. “My favorite guest rooms are the corner suites with views of the city skyline to the west and north.”
The Dorchester, London
This London landmark, which opened as a hotel in 1931 and has long attracted actors, writers and rock stars, just unveiled a glamorous new bar courtesy of interior designer Martin Brudnizki. The London-based, Swedish-born talent took inspiration for Vesper Bar from the Roaring Thirties, lining the marquetry walls with Cecil Beaton photographs and sheathing the low-slung ceilings in softly glowing palladium leaf.
The seductive setting includes green-leather bar stools and blue-velvet armchairs and ottomans. Muses Biggs Bradley, “The Cecil Beaton photos around the bar get me thinking of how Beaton’s crowd would embrace the bar’s DJ booth, which brings a new kind of party spirit to the hotel each night.”
Six Senses Rome
Six Senses, known for its serene, eco-conscious spa resorts in far-flung locales like Oman, Vietnam and India, just opened its first urban retreat, in the heart of Rome.
Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola handled the über-stylish transformation of the 18th-century palazzo, imbuing the interiors with her trademark contemporary flair: fluted wood walls and transparent screens, curvaceous furniture of her own design, striking artworks by T-Yong Chung and Paolo Giordano and tons of local travertine carved in a minimalistic manner.
“With her use of clean lines and gorgeous materials,” says Biggs Bradley, “Urquiola’s sleek aesthetic carries the piazza’s classical architecture into the rooms.”
Maybourne Riviera, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
A dazzling addition to the Côte d’Azur, the Maybourne Riviera, which debuted in 2021, takes its cues from French modernism. Architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte conjured the sinuous lines of Le Corbusier for the dramatic glass-wrapped concrete building, carved into the cliffs of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
Several notable architects, artists and designers collaborated on the interiors. They include BRYAN O’SULLIVAN, André Fu, Marcelo Joulia, Rigby & Rigby and the Maybourne in-house design team, led by Michelle Wu, each of them adding their own distinctive interpretation of Mediterranean style.
For his part, O’Sullivan pays homage to Irish design legend Eileen Gray, who lived in a nearby villa, by outfitting the main restaurant with polished-chrome and blue-leather dining chairs that reflect the color of the sea.
The 69 guest rooms are decorated with curvy 1970s-style furniture and custom-made rugs that recall water-splashed sand. Here, O’Sullivan and others draw on a “love for the region’s light and the artists inspired by the Riviera, like Picasso and Dalí,” Biggs Bradley says. “The guest rooms seem to merge with the dreamy landscape.”
Xigera Safari Lodge, Okavango Delta
This new lodge in Botswana, designed by South African architect Anton de Kock, emphasizes sustainability as well as pan-African craftsmanship. The Cape Town gallery Southern Guild curated the works found throughout Xigera’s interiors, incorporating pieces by more than 80 designers, artists and craftspeople from all over the continent, including jaunty fabrics, carved-wood and wicker furniture and abstract art made from upcylced materials.
“The owners refer to it as both a safari lodge and ‘a living gallery of African art’ in the middle of the wilderness,” Biggs Bradley says. “In fact, the amazing setting of the Okavango Delta, the largest inland waterway in the world, inspires much of the art. From bronze animal sculptures and handmade tree-trunk furniture to a hammered-copper fireplace, the objects and interiors celebrate the continent’s creativity.”