Travel tips with hotelier Ori Kafri – including the three things all good hotel rooms should have
Co-founder of J.K Place, a collection of stylish luxury hotels in Europe, Ori Kafri gives his primer on how to spot some of the best hotels and his favourite off-radar destination
Ori Kafri is the co-founder of J.K. Place, a collection of small, stylish luxury hotels in Capri, Rome and Paris that draw an artsy, fashion-forward circle of travellers.
He wasn’t born into hospitality – his parents were in the garment business and moved from Israel to Italy in the 1970s. That didn’t stop Kafri from pursuing his passion for hotels by opening J.K. Place in Florence at the age of 24, straight out of university and after internships at boutique hotels in the historic city.
When differentiating his brand within the luxury segment, Kafri says J.K. Place has used a “common sense” approach from the start to eliminate petty annoyances for guests. Expect a free mini-bar, breakfast on your schedule and no extra charges for speciality coffees or fresh-squeezed juices, for example – as well as adding “colour” to hospitality through a touch directed at the individual.
“The bigger hotel brands are like the big fashion brands – Gucci, Prada, Armani are like Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Mandarin,” says Kafri, speaking with Bloomberg while on a family vacation in Harbour Island in the Bahamas.
“But then at some point you go to a tailor for a bespoke, made-to-measure suit for you, and that is different, not because it's more expensive or less expensive – but it’s the relationship, the way you can really connect with the person who is coming in.”
When he’s not flying to Israel, Uruguay (his wife’s homeland), the US, and Europe multiple times a year, Kafri loves to experience hotels and swank destinations with family in tow. He admits that being married with three children has significantly changed the way he travels; much more planning is required. “To make my wife happy, I learned that when we travel she loves to find a washing machine,” he says, laughing.
The hotelier spoke with Bloomberg as his brand celebrates its 20th anniversary and on the heels of several key expansion projects. J.K. Place in Milan will open by early 2025; housed in the former offices of Versace in the heart of the fashion district, it will be the collection’s largest yet, with 40 rooms. A new J.K. Residence Club will open in Rome around the same time, with 15 spacious apartments for longer stays; guests will have access to the hotel a block away.
Kafri lives in Florence, Italy, with his wife and three children. Below, he gives the top travel tips he’s picked up along the way.
This is what characterises a clever hotel
I love hotels, so I'm always desperate to find the things that would make me dream and say, “Oh, I wish this was my idea,” or “Oh, they're so smart.”
Last night, here in Harbour Island, we had dinner in this small boutique hotel called The Landing, and they had the most beautiful music. They gave me their Spotify – it’s 85 hours. We've been there twice in a row for dinner, and every night the music was so beautiful.
There is another one in Italy on Lake Garda called Villa Feltrinelli. It's one of the first hotels that I visit where, when you arrive, they unpack your things. Everything is included. The hospitality was really like walking into someone’s home. In fact, even if it's only an 18-room hotel, they still call themselves Grand Hotel at Villa Feltrinelli.
Then I think about a hotel in Brazil – Ponta dos Ganchos. This hotel was very special, because even if I'm not a big fan of the Michelin star restaurant, it was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had.
In the morning, you'll have two choices: to order the thing that you like, or to be surprised. Every morning they will give us six or seven different tastes of little things that I would have never ordered in my life, with local ingredients. It was really inspiring.
Good hotel rooms should have these three fundamentals
The first thing that people probably don't think about is the bed. You need a good night's sleep because at the end of the day, that's what a hotel is really selling you. Right after: a proper shower, because if you don't have a nice shower with strong water pressure, it's a problem. And third, it's the heating and air conditioning, which should work in the right way.
“I’m in town” is often enough of an excuse to meet someone you admire
Here in Harbour Island, I always wished I could meet this family that moved here 27 years ago, India Hicks and her husband David. India’s father David Hicks was this very famous, talented designer in the ‘60s in the UK.
His daughter was a friend of a friend, and she moved to Harbour Island many years ago and she became somehow an ambassador of this island. She has exceptionally good taste for beautiful homes, and a few years ago she was also doing bags and cosmetics, several different things.Now, finally, I'm in Harbour Island. So finally, I was able to meet her and her husband. We had drinks together the other night
They moved from the UK to this island 27 years ago, so they're brave. They followed their heart and love and instinct, without following all the normal procedures. Many people on vacation might say, “I would love to live here,” and then nobody would actually do it.
An off-radar place you should visit is José Ignacio in Punta del Este, Uruguay
It’s one of those former fisherman places that somehow developed to be a very fashionable place to visit. It has this sort of Italian-style dolce vita that goes all the way to South America, where everything is easy, relaxed.
There is one restaurant which is really special called La Huella, which means barefoot. This restaurant is similar to Le Club 55 in St-Tropez; it has the same energy, the same audience, the same people who enjoy their lives, enjoy their time. It's a very special destination.
There is a famous Argentinian chef called Francis Mallmann. He moved near José Ignacio and to a little neighbourhood called Garzón, and opened a five- or six-room hotel and restaurant. This guy cooks these amazing barbecues.
The only unfortunate thing about José Ignacio is the seasonality is very, very short. Things are happening there in the winter around the New Year's Eve for two or three weeks. Generally January, February, March is the high season, and that's when everyone is going. It would be fantastic if the seasonality of this place could be much longer.
Learning a foreign phrase can make your life easier
Twelve or 13 years ago, my in-laws in Uruguay – I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, even though it's very similar to Italian – said you have to learn one thing: Sí, querida – yes, darling. If you want your life to be easy and make it simpler: Sí, querida!
Here’s why you don’t have to tick every box when visiting a city
Sometimes, I don't take pictures or I don't do things because I want to keep certain things to do for next time, not to close the entire circle. Like I’ve never been to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We have a hotel in Paris, and the kids every time say, “Oh, can we go on top of the Eiffel Tower?” And I say “No, next time, next time.” For the first time last year, I went to the Statue of Liberty with the kids.