travel tips

Why you don’t need your own jet to feel like you’re flying private and other travel hacks from luxury designer Tara Bernerd

Clocking up over 70,000 miles per year, Bernerd knows just how to travel in style for less and arrive camera-ready

Tara Bernerd in London. Photographer: David M. Benett/Getty Images Europe

Gstaad, Switzerland-based interior designer Tara Bernerd is having a big year with not one, but two major hotel projects about to debut: The first is the just-opened reinvention of the Belmond-operated Maroma on the Riviera Maya in Mexico, and Rosewood’s new property in Munich is primed to open in late September.

The daughter of property magnate Elliott Bernerd, the 50-year-old English-born designer left school at 16 and took a series of jobs, including working as a nursery school teacher, before turning to decorating and founding her eponymous firm in 2002. Renowned for her boldly coloured interiors, she has designed both homes and super yachts for private clients in addition to her work for corporate ones.

Bernerd logs around 70,000 miles aloft each year. She used to be a British Airways loyalist, but service headaches prompted a switch to Swiss. “It’s exceptional, and Zurich airport is so efficient and clean,” says Bernerd, who frequents Milan, London and the US. “How they configure space, it’s so seamless. I would drive the extra distance from where I’m based in Switzerland to fly from there rather than Geneva.

‌For a high-class weekend getaway, this slice of the Tuscan coast is a glamorous European counterpart to the Hamptons in New York.

‌Forte dei Marmi has a little feeling of the Hamptons near Milan. To me, it’s seductively close to Milan, which is where I spend as much time as I possibly can. It has these incredible mountainscapes, and then a beach where the sea is stunning. I stay at the California Park Hotel, which is family-run by these three incredible sisters who inherited it from their father. It’s so effortlessly chic. It’s the perfect place to switch off, find a little spot on the property and be anonymous.

California Park Hotel

There’s also a ridiculous amount of beach clubs along the whole waterfront. I like one called Santa Maria, which is absolutely charming and not just crazies pumping music. And recently, I’ve gone up to Pietrasanta, which is sort of nestled in the hills, not too far away. I’m obsessed with antiques, and when I was last there I bought myself a stunning desk at Alessandro Fabbiani. And nestled into a courtyard was Da Giacomo, originally from Milan; they have a restaurant set in a garden there that’s all iron furniture and exceptional food. It’s a hidden gem right in the middle of town.

How to feel like you’re flying private without buying your own jet.

‌I think when one is travelling, if you ask anyone, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” quite a few people say, “Oh, I’d have my own private plane.” I’m not one of them because I have now discovered Signature Elite, which offers VIP airport services at London Gatwick and Luton, and PS (formerly the Private Suite) which is currently at [Los Angeles] LAX but soon expanding to Atlanta and hopefully, very soon, to Miami. I travel to LA so frequently that I’ve become a member of PS. [Annual dues start at €1,150 per person and €782 per visit.]

These concierge services mean you bypass the main airport terminal [and get access to a private terminal instead]—that in itself is a game changer, so you have every sense of travelling privately. Your luggage is taken off you. Just shortly before they’re about to board everyone else, you are taken through your own security check, put in whatever smart car and driven to the plane. You walk up the steps to the air bridge and go plonk yourself in your seats.

I was on a flight with Swiss, in business class, and I had a friend on the plane in first class. When we landed in LA, I went to the PS and he didn’t. I was at my hotel having dinner while he was WhatsApping me from the line for passport control.

Here’s a two-stage ritual for arriving camera ready from a long-haul flight.

‌My go-to face mask is 111Skin’s Rose Gold Brightening Facial treatment mask; that comes out only one hour before landing — although, for more timid travellers, putting on a full-face mask can feel weird. The Sensai Cellular Performance Extra Intensive eye pads are a life changer for me, much less obvious and only take 10 minutes. My husband often steals them. And I always put on glasses when I land: big and glamorous, with a subtle tint of pink or blue in the lens. I like the tinted colour because I find them softer on your eyes after a long flight.

111SKIN Rose Gold Brightening Facial Treatment Mask Box, €110, Space NK and

How to shuttle across the Atlantic at half the price of any rival carrier.

‌My new thing is Emirates from Milan to New York, first class. The service and the experience are hard to beat, and you can’t compare the price. If you’re flying out of Milan on Emirates first class, it is half the price of BA or any other carrier — even my old favourite, Swiss. It’s the best way to get to New York from Europe comfortably. [On our Travel Genius podcast, How to Hack Your Way Into Business Class, Pursuits discusses these so-called Fifth Freedom flights.]‌

These two details will instantly tell you if a hotel room has been designed well.

‌Where you put the bed is really important. I don’t think it should ever be facing a door. There’s always going to be a room where you have limited space. But on the whole, you want to try and create some sort of distraction or a layout that allows you some kind of privacy between yourself and the bedroom door opening. That’s really important to me.

And in a hotel, you’re sometimes staying for a night, or three. For lighting, it should be one switch, give or take. You don’t want 15 switches and a dimmer, ringing downstairs to figure out how the lights work before you go to bed—just something efficient and obvious. And when I design a room, we also limit the amount of blue or red lights that stay on all night. I can’t bear that.

You don’t have to sacrifice style when travelling just with hand luggage.

If you’re off for two weeks, you can double up on your bags. I buy great zip bags from Valextra, Bottega Veneta, a lovely woven Balenciaga and a Gucci one (right next to me now, hand-painted with cockatoos and roses). One of them is filled with makeup, another with my cables and techie bits and bobs. Then they can double as clutches when you’re at your destination, delightful for day or evening.‌

Only take advice only from the smartest travellers.

Tyler Brûlé, who’s a very good friend of mine, told me something once when I was on one of those days where I had been travelling too much for weeks on end. He said, “When you tire of curiosity, what else do you have left?” It really touched me, and I thought it was so true — a nice little slap, reminding us that we’re so lucky with all we can do. The other tip he gave me was: “Cut out the luggage, darling, that’s why they have laundry service in the hotel.”

When it comes to souvenirs, nothing beats a textile.

‌In Panarea, which is an island off Sicily and so incredibly bohemian — think The Doors in Italy — I always buy pareos, or whatever you call those wraps. They’re thin, but you can use them as a tablecloth or a sheet or just a wrap round your waist, all with delicious patterns and colours. I’ve collected them over the years. When I was first in Mexico for the Maroma project, I bought linen coasters, 12 settings, which were from Chiapas, with lots of embroidery. I remember having a dinner in London and they all came out, and it just fills you with so much joy.

Summer view of the island of Panarea, Aeolian Islands, Italy Photo by Diego Fiore

‌Sure, jet-set snow bunnies love Gstaad at Christmas, but real insiders have other plans.

‌I am obsessed with the summer in Gstaad. People perceive it for the winter and skiing, but there are epic walks where I feel like I’ve gone to New Zealand.

Go down into the village right behind where the butcher is, and you cross over what looks like the beginning of a forest. Walk all the way along a winding river, through the most beautiful trees you’ll ever see, to Lauenen. I get huge peace from that walk and do it three or four times a week; it takes two, 2 1/2 hours; it’s not steep but stunning. I like Burgfälle, too, and the waterfall at Geltenhütte. I love the guide Alex Jenzer.

And people don’t necessarily have swimming pools in their homes, but there’s a huge outdoor one at the Palace Hotel that is not only Olympic size but looks like the last photo shoot there was by Slim Aarons. It’s so fabulous. I go swim laps there in the morning. And you have the rather smart member clubs like the Eagle, where I go for a fantastic lunch, or the marvellous Sonnenhof restaurant. Sit outside, and the vistas are epic.