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T+L's Critics' Choice Awards

It's time to celebrate the new. Not just the new new but also the reinvented, re-created, and incomparably well preserved. T+L's Critics' Choice Awards, new themselves this year, honor the innovations that keep us traveling. Our distinguished panel of 12 frequent fliers -- leaders in their fields -- have scoped out the most exciting developments in Hotels, the Environment, Culture, and Transportation. Now, go and see it all for yourself.

PRESENTING OUR PANEL:
Richard Meier Architect, Richard Meier & Partners.
Frances Beinecke Executive Director, Natural Resources Defense Council.
Tyler Brûlé Editorial Director, Wallpaper.
Richard Martin Curator of the Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
John Loring Design Director, Tiffany & Co.
Françoise Labro Vice President of Image, Advertising, and PR, Polo Ralph Lauren, Europe.
Bill Fischer President, Fischer Travel.
Michael R. Bloomberg CEO and founder, Bloomberg LP
Clodagh Interior designer, Clodagh Design International.
Glenn Lowry Director, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Paul Theroux Novelist, travel writer, and author, most recently of Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents (Houghton Mifflin).
Jeffrey Steingarten Food critic at Vogue and author of The Man Who Ate Everything (Knopf).

hotels

'Ian Schrager has made traveling more entertaining. We used to choose hotels for location and service; Schrager's places also offer an element of discovery.' -- Françoise Labro

'I don't expect a hotel to feel like home. In Ian Schrager's hotels, I know I'm somewhere else.' -- John Loring

Name your look. Sensual, modern, or classic -- at the end of the 20th century, there's a hotel for every taste. Our judges scanned the globe for the newest and best designs. Here are their picks of the places that make leaving home so great

MODERN Predicted to be all flash and sizzle, the Mercer (New York) is after all a calm downtown spot crammed with welcoming details: a soothing palette of cream, white, lilac, and pistachio tones; conveniences like cordless phones and condoms in every room; luxurious, soft fabrics; even star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in the kitchen.
EXOTIC Arranged in two semicircles at the foot of the towering jagged Menoreh hills, the 36 secluded villas of Amanjiwo (Java) echo the architecture of the Borobudur temple -- one of the world's largest Buddhist monuments, visible across the plain. This is one exquisitely art-directed vision of Shangri-La.
CLASSIC* Under the guidance of ever-so-chic owner Grace Leo Andrieu, the Lancaster (Paris) was transformed from a dowager into a sophisticate. Sofas and chairs by Christian Liaigre mingle with antique clocks, chinoiserie tables, and European and Asian art. A few doors off the Champs-Élysées (once again a place to be seen), the hotel is a plush and private urban retreat. CLASSIC* The Royal Crescent, in two Georgian houses in the center of Bath's renowned 18th-century row of landmark buildings, invokes the city's glory days as a smart retreat. Six coach houses, a private garden, a Japanese spa, river launch, and hot-air balloon complete the picture. Jane Austen never had it so good.
CREATIVE CONCEPT With such innovations as communal tables (Delano, Miami), big mattresses poolside (Mondrian, Los Angeles), and lobbies more akin to hot clubs than to reception areas (Royalton, New York), Ian Schrager has turned hospitality on its ear.

*The judges were split evenly in this category.

environment

'The lodges of Costa Rica Expeditions are built right next door to national parks, with the least possible impact on the environment. I think their methods can work elsewhere -- and should inspire ecotourism efforts in other parts of the world.' -- Bill Fischer

'In training a new generation of artisans and welcoming the participation of homeowners, Fez is successfully creating a sense of community that will have far-reaching effects. -- Clodagh

Where do we find the most effective efforts to conserve the world we live in?Happily, there were many contenders -- from the Galápagos Islands to Dubrovnik. These three took the prize.

NATURE At Indonesia's Komodo Island National Park, a marine World Heritage Site visited by 30,000 tourists annually, the destructive practice of fishing by dynamite has been reduced by 90 percent, and new mooring buoys are protecting the coral reefs.
URBAN RENEWAL The walled city of Fez -- with sections dating to the 14th century -- has taken on the challenging task of restoring buildings and fostering ancient crafts while respecting the needs of its working population. The idea is rather novel: to preserve the centuries-old routines of the city's daily life while improving the infrastructure and continuing to welcome tourism.
ECOTRAVEL Costa Rica Expeditions' three lodges -- Monteverde, Corcovado, and Tortuga -- provide incomparable access to pristine forest and protected wildlife. And the company hires and trains local guides, thus dramatically raising the standard of education and creating jobs in this remote wilderness.

culture

'Biodiversity is a highly complex subject; the museum has succeeded beyond the imaginable in creating a visual representation of the breadth and richness of the natural world. It's an outstanding exhibit.' -- Frances Beinecke

'I always judge a museum by its food. Unfortunately, both the restaurant and snack bar at Bilbao were closed when I visited. But the design was worth a look. It's a handmade building; you can sense the craftsmanship. After you've been exposed to those spaces and shapes for about an hour, you just want to lie down and absorb it. Not many buildings have that effect.' -- Jeffrey Steingarten

Museums and exhibitions never used to be such fun. These places dazzle, seduce, and invite. Once inside, you'll never forget what you've seen.

NEW BUILDING The Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is as radical as Frank Lloyd Wright's original 1959 Guggenheim building in New York City. This titanium-and-limestone, angular-and-curved titan gives art a vision of its future.
RENOVATION The schoolhouse turned art center P.S.1 reopened last year after an extensive three-year makeover. The building now easily accommodates its various exhibitions; offers space for emerging artists to work; and, in its new courtyard and coffee shop, provides a place for visitors to discuss their reactions.
EXHIBITION You'll be looking over your shoulder as you walk through the Hall of Biodiversity. New York's American Museum of Natural History has used high-resolution photography and video to re-create an African rain forest -- bringing to life more than 160 species of plants and animals. The Spectrum of Life displays some 1,500 plant and animal species, illustrating the results of 31/2 billion years of evolution. By alerting the public to the biodiversity crisis and its vast implications, the museum ushers in a new kind of scientific exhibition.

transportation

'Chek Lap Kok's Passenger Terminal Building is filled with light. The business- and first-class lounges are excellent. Now that the airport is past some initial hitches, our clients love it.' -- Bill Fischer

The traveling part of going away shouldn't give you a headache. These winners make the journey as much fun as the destination.

AIRPORT It was a $20 billion gamble: an island was leveled to create landfill for a completely new airport -- with no guarantee that anyone would even use it. (Indeed, tourism to post-handover Hong Kong has dropped dramatically.) When the facility opened, luggage was lost, cargo was left rotting, planes were stranded on the tarmac. Then things began to gel. Hong Kong now has one of the world's premier airports. Luggage moves from plane to carousel in 12 minutes; in 20 minutes you're whisked downtown on a high-speed train. Chek Lap Kok Airport is a streamlined space so attractive, so easy, so filled with natural light, that it might just lead travelers back to the city.
STATION Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, Lisbon's new Oriente Station (stylistically linked to the breathtaking Vasco da Gama Bridge, also designed by Calatrava) is a grand gateway to the city. Soaring slender white metal pillars support a webbed roof of glass and beams. The expansive atriums feel like an enormous, bright greenhouse. But it's also a practical, unctioning building. In this centrally located multimodal station, all forms of transportation -- train, plane, and automobile -- converge. Besides bus and train platforms, there are check-in facilities for air travel and shuttle service to the airport. Rarely have design and function met so beautifully.
AMENITIES Virgin Atlantic Airways, for raising the service standard in all classes by giving passengers what they really want. Among many firsts, Virgin initiated "upper-class" service and introduced a host of smart amenities: multi-channel video monitors at each seat; in-flight massages and manicures; airport business-class lounges equipped with health and beauty salons, bars and bistros, business centers and game rooms; complimentary door-to-door "limousine" service via Range Rover or motorcycle.
While Virgin Atlantic received the most votes, the judges singled out some other noteworthy candidates. Special citations to: Heathrow Airport, for constructing a high-speed rail link to London; Amtrak, for its new Viewliner sleeping car -- making journeys on Eastern routes as scenic as those in the West; Crystal Cruises, for providing E-mail as an alternative to expensive ship-to-shore calls; Seattle-based Laptop Lane, for establishing rentable, fully staffed and equipped office spaces in several U.S. airports; Northwest Airlines, for providing a Web site (www.nwa.com) that lets members of its frequent-flier program make their own plane reservations; San Francisco International Airport Museums, for producing almost 50 installations annually throughout the airport's three terminals.

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