The It List
Published: April 2009
T+L Editors’ guide to the best new hotels.
Edited by Niloufar Motamed; Reported by Colin Barraclough, Aric Chen, Florence Fabricant, Amy Farley, Mark Graham, Jaime Gross Darrell Hartman, Sarah Kantrowitz, Xander Kaplan, David A. Keeps, Peter Jon Lindberg, Ralph Martin, Connie McCabe, Shane Mitchell, Melinda Page Christopher Petkanas, Maria Shollenbarger, Bonnie Tsui, Leisa Tyler, Valerie Waterhouse, Jennifer Welbel, Sarah Wildman, and Nina Willdorf
Hundreds of hotels open their doors each year, but how many open your eyes?After anonymously road-testing countless contenders, we narrowed the field to an elite group of promising newcomers: 25 hotels that are redefining service, design—even where you’ll be going next. And so that you know what (and what not) to expect, T+L has sussed out the finer points of each. Scoring the coveted reservation?We’ll leave that to you.
- Wild Ones
- The Healers
- Modern Classics
- New Urbanists
- Comeback Kids
- Artful Lodgers
Marqués de Riscal, Rioja, Spain
Frank Gehry creates a modern destination in one of Spain’s oldest wine regions.
Location The 149-year-old Herederos del Marqués de Riscal winery, in Elciego, a drowsy Rioja village of medieval vintage, 90 minutes southeast of Bilbao.
Pedigree The 43-room Marqués de Riscal is Pritzker Prize-winner Gehry’s first foray into hotels; Starwood’s Luxury Collection group manages the property.
Style + Design Gehry revisits his fascination with titanium (his first big success with it was the Guggenheim Bilbao). Fat, twisting ribbons of pink and gold metal are meant to suggest wine rushing from a bottle.
Service + Amenities A knockout Caudalie Vinothérapie spa with wine- and grape-themed products and treatments. Surprisingly, there are Caudalie products in only some of the guest rooms.
Value for Money The hotel could probably charge twice as much and architecture buffs would still feel they were getting a bargain. The rest of us will probably feel we’re being overcharged by about 25 percent.
Needs Work Booking agents should make it clear that only 14 guest rooms are located in Gehry’s titanium fantasy. The balance are in an annex designed by his firm, and not all have views of the main structure.
800/325-3589 or 34/94-518-0880; www.luxurycollection.com; doubles from $1,140.
Bowery Hotel, New York City
Two stylish hoteliers breathe new life into Manhattan’s once desolate Bowery.
Location Gotham’s former Skid Row is now home to luxury apartments and, since February, the 135-room Bowery Hotel. A dazzling new building for the New Museum of Contemporary Art is opening a few blocks away later this year.
Pedigree Brought to you by Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode, known for Manhattan restaurants and a hotel (the Maritime) with serious staying power.
Style + Design Entering the lobby is like stepping into a pre-Raphaelite painting: a Gothic fireplace, Oriental rugs over a Moroccan-tile floor. Rooms are pure vintage-repro, down to the patinated fittings on the marble washstands.
Service + Amenities Guest quarters have complimentary Wi-Fi, and toiletries from the storied Bigelow & Co. Apothecary. Those expecting a dose of New York attitude will be disappointed by the solicitous, uniformly friendly staff. At press time, an Italian restaurant is in the works. No fitness center, though.
Value for Money Standards with queens, though relatively spacious at 240 square feet, are not exactly bargains. But this is Manhattan, where city views and atmosphere are at a premium—and the Bowery has those in spades.
335 Bowery; 212/505-9100; www.theboweryhotel.com; doubles from $375.
Baghvan, Pench National Park, India
The luxury African safari experience comes to the subcontinent.
Location A nature preserve in India’s northwestern hinterlands, a one-hour flight from Bombay to Nagpur followed by a two-hour drive.
Pedigree A-listers CC Africa and Taj Hotels & Resorts have teamed up here, with Taj supplying the service and CC Africa bringing in the naturalists.
Style + Design After following Bengal tigers and leopards in a Tata truck outfitted with an overstuffed picnic basket, guests retire to one of 12 suites, where irreverent touches (a rotary-dial phone) combine with traditional ones (ebony carvings). All have outdoor machans (jungle lookout towers), which can be transformed into romantic mosquito-netted hideaways for sleepouts.
Service + Amenities Bags magically appear in rooms, and the staff gathers to welcome guests. Thanks to lots of personal attention from everyone—including the pool attendant, waiters, and naturalists—no requests go unfulfilled.
Value for Money The free in-room massage and laundry service are nice, but at this price, the airport transfer ($390 round-trip) should be complimentary, too.
Needs Work Glass-walled bathrooms are in full view of the main path, forcing guests to duck for cover. The booking process has a few kinks—getting logistical information from Taj took days.
91-11/2650-7750; www.tajsafaris.com; doubles from $1200, all-inclusive.
Nam Hai, Hoi An, Vietnam
A high-design property on the South China Sea, one of several exciting newcomers in the region.
Location The property sits on a remote beach in Central Vietnam outside the quaint town of Hoi An, once a 16th-century trading port and now a unesco World Heritage site.
Pedigree Nam Hai’s sleek style is a testament to the impressive talent behind it: Regent and Aman resorts founder Adrian Zecha, French architect Reda Amalou, and Indonesian interior designer Jaya Ibrahim (whose most recent project is the Chedi Milan, which opened in March).
Style + Design One hundred freestanding villas done in rich local woods, with elaborate hand-carved screens, pressed-eggshell surfaces, and stone floors, are set around sandy coves. Some features are impractical, such as the vertigo-inducing beds, raised too high off the ground.
Service + Amenities Three swimming pools, spacious grounds, and a stunning spa with sublime overwater relaxation rooms—plus great extras, such as the luscious wool-and-cotton-blend bathrobes and outdoor showers.
Value for Money The coolest hotel for miles—but food, drink, and spa treatments are expensive for this region.
Needs Work Communication problems with staff, some of whom have limited language skills, should be addressed, and so should the difficult-to-use room facilities. During our stay, the bathtub, DVD player, and coffeemaker all needed repair.
Quang Nam; 84-510/940-000; www.ghmhotels.com; doubles from $550.
Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya’s first environmentally conscious golf-and-spa complex is an eco-friendly alternative to the Cancún strip on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
Location The debut hotel in the four-resort Mayakoba development is laid across 50 acres of carefully preserved mangrove swamps, a network of freshwater lagoons and canals, and a 700-foot-long sugary white-sand beach—all just a 50-minute drive from Cancún.
Pedigree Greg Norman designed the Audubon-certified golf course, his first in Mexico; Maxime Cormier, a thalassotherapy expert from nearby Paraíso de la Bonita, is at the helm of the Willow Stream Spa.
Style + Design Rooms have a Maya-goes-Zen aesthetic that pairs thatched roofs and splashy green-and-red fabrics with serene touches such as slatted wooden doors and cool marble floors. But the real masterpiece is the mangrove-and-flower landscaping.
Service + Amenities All the usual perks of a self-enclosed resort (five swimming pools, four restaurants), with a plethora of ways to get around: lanchas (boats), golf carts, and bikes.
Value for Money A tranquil playground in the midst of one of Mexico’s busiest coasts?It’s a steal.
Needs Work When we were there in November 2006, the staff seemed poorly trained at handling special requests (helping to locate a suitcase lost in transit) and even routine ones, such as delivering coffee for the in-room French press.
800/441-1414 or 52-984/206-3000; www.fairmont.com; doubles from $239.
Fazenda da Lagoa, Una, Brazil
One of three Brazilian properties on our It List, this 14-room eco-retreat sets a new standard for stylish, intimate lodging on Bahia’s Câcao Coast.
Location Just 25 miles south of Ilhéus (reached by a daily nonstop flight from São Paulo), the resort lies on 1,500 verdant acres backed by tropical Atlantic rain forest and fronted by 2½ miles of deserted, ivory-white beach.
Pedigree The noted Carioca artist Mucki Skowronski owns the resort with her husband, Arthur Bahia, and designed the interiors herself.
Style + Design The public areas—in a series of open-sided pavilions—hew to cool, Aman-style minimalism, while the individually decorated guest cottages incorporate Skowronski’s trademark tropical whimsies: bold stripes, vivid floral patterns, and splashes of fuchsia, orange, and lime green. All have gauze-netted platform beds, private decks with hammocks, and, best of all, open-air showers.
Service + Amenities The friendly staff encourages guests to treat the resort like their own private beach house. Raise a flag outside your bungalow and afternoon snacks will be delivered in a handsome wicker basket.
Value for Money Anywhere else in Brazil, these casual-chic rooms might cost half the price; you’re paying for the magnificent, isolated setting, which is well worth it.
Una, Bahia; 55-21/2259-8511; www.fazendadalagoa.com.br; doubles from $370.
Koh Samui Four Seasons, Thailand
The Four Seasons’ first Thai beach resort marks a turning point for an emerging hot spot.
Location A secluded bluff on the island’s far northwest corner, sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the rapidly developing beaches nearby.
Pedigree Thailand-based landscape designer turned architect Bill Bensley (also behind the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang Rai, one of the properties featured in our 2006 It List) is responsible for both the resort’s elegant look and the sublime water views from every villa and all public spaces.
Style + Design The 60 stilted villas, which seem to tumble down the lush hillside to the white-sand beach, all have infinity pools, teak floors, and sea-colored fabrics.
Service + Amenities The possibilities are endless, with complimentary activities (Chi Gong, kickboxing, fruit carving, kayaking), tennis courts, and a knockout spa. Don’t miss a soak in one of the outdoor spa tubs, which spill out into the jungle. In-room details like iPod docks, big daybeds, and well-stocked coolers of wine will keep you entertained even if you never leave your villa.
Value for Money The most expensive resort on the island, but worth it for the views alone. This would be a terrific honeymoon destination.
219 Moo 5, Tumbon Anthong; 800/332-3442 or 66-77/243-000; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $600.
Awasi, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
The stark Atacama Desert is home to a new intimate hideaway perfect for the adventure-minded.
Location The endlessly varied Atacama desert, with its steaming geysers, salt lagoons, wind-sculpted valleys, volcanoes, and oases, rivals Patagonia as a wilderness destination.
Pedigree First-time hoteliers, Chilean architect Francisco Rencoret and his wife, interior decorator Paula Domínguez, have built their dream getaway in one of their favorite places. More Awasis are in the works.
Style + Design The eight roomy bungalows are made of adobe and stone, topped with thatch, and tucked among winding paths. Inside, hardwood and marble floors and custom-made lamps and chaise longues are set off by Bolivian wool wall hangings and rugs.
Service + Amenities An open-air restaurant serving sophisticated Andean fare (quinoa tabbouleh, empanadas, and chupe de mariscos, or seafood stew) is a highlight, as are thoughtful extras like lip balm, complimentary cleaning of hiking boots and sandals, and a welcome pot of chachacoma tea—a local remedy to ease altitude adjustment. Guides (and 4 x 4’s) are on hand to take guests on excursions such as a llama caravan to the Tulor archaeological site or a picturesque hike crisscrossing the Vilamar River.
Value for Money The all-inclusive packages are a good price, but the best bargain is the flat-rate $350 a night, which doesn’t include excursions.
56-2/233-9641; www.awasi.cl; doubles from $900, based on two nights, all-inclusive.
Islas Secas, Panama
At this upscale eco-lodge 12 miles off Panama’s Pacific Coast, 14 guests can indulge in the ultimate castaway experience.
Location The easiest way to get to Islas Secas is aboard a private plane—it’s a 1½-hour flight from Panama City to Isla Cavada, the main island; 15 uninhabited islands can be explored by kayak on day trips organized by the resort. Nearby Coiba National Park is a World Heritage site recognized by unesco for its remarkable biodiversity.
Pedigree Michael Klein, a hedge-fund manager from Santa Barbara, bought the islands as a retreat for friends and family before deciding to share them with paying guests.
Style + Design Seven prefab yurts—chosen to minimize impact on the environment—are powered by solar panels. All have outdoor sitting areas overlooking the ocean; the thick jungle canopy and lush vegetation create a feeling of seclusion, even from neighboring guests.
Services + Amenities Islas Secas’ primary appeal is to amateur naturalists interested in exploring the bathwater-warm ocean (home to humpback whales, white-tip sharks, and rays). The Terazza restaurant will prepare decadent picnic baskets for pampered island excursions.
Value for Money At nearly $1,000 per night for a casita, this eco-option isn’t for the budget-minded.
805/729-2737; www.islassecas.com; doubles from $990, all-inclusive.
Tintswalo at Waterfall, South Africa
An ideal pre- or post-safari destination on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Location The lodge’s address in the 500-acre Waterfall Country & Equestrian Estate, just 20 miles southeast of Rand Airport, means that travel time to the region’s game reserves is less than two hours.
Pedigree Founded by South Africans Warwick and Lisa Goosen, who opened their original Tintswalo Safari Lodge on a lush private concession in Manyeleti Reserve, which shares an open border with famed Kruger National Park.
Style + Design The heavy stone walls and bolted timber beams of the main lodge recall classic equestrian estates. In each suite, teak floors, pillow-strewn king-size beds, and soft leather couches are livened up with animal prints (lest you forget that you’re en route to your safari).
Services + Amenities Jet-lagged travelers can breathe fresh air and recharge on private walking trails, or in the outdoor lap pool. On your way back from the bush, ease tired muscles with a special hydrotherapy bath treatment at the intimate Elemis spa.
Value for Money On the pricier end of Jo’burg hotels, but you’re paying for great service and convenient access to safari country.
Maxwell Dr., Kyalami, Midrand; 27-11/234-2456; www.tintswalo.com; doubles from $385.
Bauer Il Palladio Hotel & Spa, Venice
The newest hotel on Venice’s exclusive Giudecca island—and housed in a 16th-century Palladio-designed former convent, to boot.
Location Just a 10-minute vaporetto ride from St. Mark’s Square, and right at the water’s edge, with Canaletto-worthy views of Venice.
Pedigree Hotelier (and chairman of the Save Venice Foundation) Francesca Bortolotto Possati has set a high standard for style, service, and social responsibility at her three other Venice properties.
Style + Design Mostly laudable, beginning with the impeccable architectural credentials of Palladio. Public areas have Venetian terrazzo floors, original open-brickwork walls, and antique furnishings; trelliswork stencils and Murano-glass lanterns add intimacy to the 37 rooms and 13 suites.
Service + Amenities T+L visited on what might have been the chaotic first day of the new season, yet the staff was unfailingly efficient. An almost 5,400-square-foot spa opens this summer, with saunas, a Turkish hammam, and an impressive menu of treatments using Daniela Steiner products.
Value for Money Run-of-the-house rooms overlook the back garden and are much more affordable than those with views of St. Mark’s. (The remainder have views of unkempt courtyards and adjacent buildings, and aren’t worth the price.)
33 Giudecca; 39-041/520-7022; www.bauerhotels.com; doubles from $738.
The Barai, Hua Hin, Thailand
The spa suite trend—all the rage in Southeast Asia—reaches new heights at a retreat reminiscent of Angkor Wat.
Location A hotel within a hotel, on the grounds of the 204-room beachfront Hyatt Regency, a one-hour flight from Bangkok.
Pedigree Thai architect Lek Bunnag, who previously worked with Bill Bensley on the Four Seasons resorts in Chiang Mai and Langkawi, has mixed old and new, building spa suites and a garden courtyard and turning a 19th-century house into a beachfront bar and dining room.
Style + Design A maze of pooled courtyards and ocher passageways leads to 18 chamber-style treatment rooms. The eight suites (starting at 1,360 square feet) have steam rooms, soaking tubs, balconies, and massage tables.
Service + Amenities The convenience of a big resort is combined with the exclusivity of a private estate, which features personal butlers at your beck and call. The spa offers regional therapies (such as Hmong herbal compresses) along with a range of treatments using the Kerstin Florian line.
Value for Money Complimentary daily massages, private yoga classes, evening cocktails, and endless snacks like homemade chocolates and dried mango provide wallet-friendly pampering.
888/591-1234 or 66-3/252-1234; www.thebarai.com; doubles from $605.
Four Seasons Westlake Village, Los Angeles
A 20-acre retreat for the mind, body, and soul—alongside a full-service, 240-room Four Seasons hotel.
Location In a San Fernando Valley suburb 17 miles from Malibu.
Pedigree A joint venture between Four Seasons and the California WellBeing Institute, which includes a 40,000-square-foot spa, state-of-the-art workout center, and CWI’s innovative program blending modern science (DNA testing, diagnostic imaging) with alternative medicine, nutrition, exercise, and restorative therapies.
Style + Design Public areas are a bit McMansion-y, with patterned marble floors and 19th-century antiques, but the butter-hued guest rooms dressed in Pierre Deux chinoiserie exude a cozy charm. Service + Amenities The spa staff is doting. The Hydrossage (a detoxifying underwater massage) is a highlight of the extensive menu of wraps and rubs. Don’t miss the creative sushi at the loungelike Onyx restaurant.
Value for Money The California WellBeing Institute’s five-day package runs a steep $5,800, but a full battery of health tests (more than 20 labs are taken during the physical; your average doctor does 5), plus innovations such as DNA testing, make this a life-enhancing splurge.
Needs Work On our recent visit, hotel service was not yet up to speed: it took two calls to housekeeping and a half-hour wait to get turndown.
2 Dole Dr.; 800/819-5053 or 818/575-3000; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $345.
Melenos Lindos, Rhodes, Greece
An Aegean clifftop aerie secreted out of the way of the day-tripping crowds.
Location A 45-minute drive from Rhodes airport, on a promontory that juts from the eastern side of the island and plunges into the sea. The village is crowned by a world-class Greek-Byzantine medieval acropolis.
Pedigree Michalis Melenos, a native of the town of Lindos, spent nearly 15 years assembling the multilevel property.
Style + Design Created as a village within a village, with stairs and passageways, the 12 white stucco rooms and suites open onto terraces hand-set with pebble mosaics. Local craftsmen carved the wooden doors and sleeping platforms, artfully placed pottery and copper pieces from Greece and Turkey abound, and bathrooms have stone basins for sinks.
Service + Amenities Up-to-date luxury hotel appointments are a given, and should you decide to climb to the acropolis, there are hand-carved walking sticks to borrow. The dining area, outdoors but shaded by latticed vines and fabric tents, makes a fine setting for the hotel’s modern Greek-Mediterranean cuisine.
Needs Work Mattresses on broad platforms enclosed with spindle railings pay homage to Greek tradition and provide sleeping comfort, but crawling in and out of them is better suited to toddlers than adults.
Value for Money Prices are highest in July and August, when prices go up to $470 or more—but if you want to be on Rhodes, the price is fair.
30-22440/32222; www.melenoslindos.com; doubles from $360.
Hospes Palacio del Bailío, Córdoba, Spain
This 16th-century palace is the most dramatic property in the stable of a Spanish haute-design hotel group.
Location Situated on a whitewashed street in Córdoba, the eighth-century seat of the Moorish caliphate, the hotel is a 15-minute walk from the famous Mezquita, or mosque, and has also become an attraction in its own right.
Pedigree Hospes, Spain’s smallest—and hippest—hotel group, has a knack for turning crumbling architectural marvels into pitch-perfect contemporary hotels, with the help of archaeologists and art historians.
Style + Design A fluid melding of modernity and antiquity; sleek hallways are set off by 15th-century doors; public spaces and bedrooms are lit by cutting-edge Italian fixtures from Catellani & Smith. The star is the soaring atrium, which has a restored 19th-century fresco and a glass floor overlooking a Roman-era villa that was discovered beneath the building’s foundations.
Service + Amenities A top-notch multilingual staff, anchored by chef Periko Ortega, who serves Andalusian cuisine, with Arabic influences, in the popular Senzone restaurant; the Bodyna spa incorporates Roman bath-inspired design.
Value for Money Historic atmosphere and of-the-moment amenities, for a few dollars more than other local hotels.
10 Calle Ramírez de las Casas Deza; 34/957-498-993; www.hospes.es; doubles from $295.
Convento do Carmo, Salvador, Brazil
Finally, Brazil’s most vibrant city has a luxury hotel with character to match.
Location In a former convent that dates back to 1586, in the cobblestoned Pelourinho district—the heart of Salvador’s Old Town.
Pedigree This is the first Brazilian property from Pousadas de Portugal, a network of some 40 Portuguese inns, many of them historic landmarks updated with contemporary touches.
Style + Design A striking blend of the colonial and digital ages. Just beyond the convent’s whitewashed stone walls, tranquility awaits. Graceful cloisters are atwitter with birds. Pitched-beam ceilings and 19th-c entury antiques evoke Salvador’s past—punctuated by accents of brushed steel.
Service + Amenities The front-desk staff and concierges are fluent in English—a rarity in Salvador. A small spa offers an impressive range of treatments. And the central courtyard, with its lovely stone fountain transformed into a wading pool, is an ideal place to relax over a caipirinha with lime and maracujá (passion fruit).
Value for Money Impeccable service, a prime location, and the museum-worthy sacristy make this one of the city’s best deals.
Needs Work Convento could be more integrated into the neighborhood. With its imposing walls and guards at the front door, the hotel can feel a bit forbidding to public and guests alike.
1 Rua do Carmo; 55-71/3327-8400; www.pousadas.pt; doubles from $380.
Mandarin Oriental, Prague
The luxury Asian hotel group, famous for skyscraping glitz and glamour, has set up shop in a 17th-century monastery.
Location In the middle of the ancient Mala Strana neighborhood, a few minutes’ walk from the Vltava River and the Charles Bridge.
Pedigree The arrival of a Mandarin Oriental hotel is a merit badge for a city. This is the fourth European property from the Hong Kong-based company.
Style + Design The spotless cobblestoned entrance courtyard, occupied only by the hotel’s black Mercedes, feels like a Czech version of Davos—you almost expect to see Bill Gates and George Soros stroll by. Inside is an elegant maze of chambers and staircases, polished blond limestone and cream suede, accented red throw pillows. Many rooms have the original deep bay windows, and a blending of rich colors and natural tones dominates the décor.
Service + Amenities The youthful staff is helpful to the point of exuberance. The spa is set in a former Renaissance church (with a transparent floor revealing Gothic ruins beneath); the restaurant serves both pan-European cuisine—including a delicious pata negra ham appetizer and lots of game—and Asian dishes.
Value for Money Long live Eastern Europe! For the price of a night in a third-tier London or Paris hotel, Prague’s Mandarin Oriental has surroundings fit for a king.
459/1 Nebovidska, Mala Strana; 866/526-6567 or 420-2/3308-8888; www.mandarinoriental.com; doubles from $497.
Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street, Beijing
A glass-and-chrome tower whose ultra-sleek interiors seem spot-on for the city during its 2008 Olympic Games buildup.
Location Beijing’s newest commercial district, on the less developed western side of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
Pedigree This is a radical departure for Ritz-Carlton, which rolled out a new look for the company in 2006.
Style + Design Slightly minimalist, but with bold splashes of classical China, such as the entrance’s massive yin-and-yang marble sculpture, paintings by Chinese artist Bo Yun, and decorative screens.
Services + Amenities Standard rooms are a generous 538 square feet and feature 37-inch flat-screen TV’s. The 16,000 square-foot spa has, bizarrely, a full-length movie screen dominating one end of the 22-yard swimming pool. (Slot in a DVD of Mark Spitz for inspiration and your lap times just might improve.)
Value for Money While it doesn’t enjoy walking-distance convenience to the Forbidden City, as do its five-star rivals, the hotel surpasses them in design, and a solicitous staff seems more than eager to please.
1 Jin Cheng Fang St. E., Financial St.; 800/241-3333 or 86-10/6601-6666; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $538.
Hotel de Rome, Berlin
A grand 19th-century monument gets a new look from an ambitious hotelier intent on giving the illustrious Adlon a run for its money.
Location Billing itself as "Berlin’s architectural gem," the Hotel de Rome occupies the old Dresdner Bank headquarters on Unter den Linden, overlooking the Baroque-era Bebelplatz.
Pedigree The Rocco Forte group (Brown’s Hotel in London, the Hotel de Russie in Rome) typically makes magic out of rundown but exquisitely situated properties in Europe’s prestige capitals.
Style + Design Public areas, overseen by in-house guru Olga Polizzi, are simultaneously modern and grandiose: the lobby is replete with marble, dark velvet furniture, and heroically proportioned Romanesque vases. Bedrooms are less successful, but the bathrooms are the vast polished limestone playgrounds expected of this class of hotel.
Service + Amenities The Mediterranean restaurant, Parioli, serves up faultless veal saltimbocca and wild mushroom ravioli, and the bar has quickly established itself as a favorite with Berlin’s glitterati. The black granite-and-limestone spa, in the old bank vaults, is spectacular; among the first-rate treatments are a lomilomi massage and a carrot-vitamin body wrap.
Value for Money The address is ideal and the public spaces deliver, but room prices are ultimately out of line with the rooms themselves. The buffet breakfast, at $35 a person, is a particular sore spot.
37 Behrenstrasse; 49-30/460-6090; www.roccofortehotels.com; doubles from $600.
The Cloister at Sea Island, Sea Island, Georgia
One of America’s oldest oceanside escapes reopens its main building after a $500 million renovation.
Location Eighty miles south of Savannah, the offshore resort is flanked by a five-mile beach and a marshland nature preserve.
Pedigree Designed by Florida visionary Addison Mizner in 1928, the Cloister has attracted well-heeled families and more than a few world leaders (Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher). Four generations and one G8 summit later, the hotel caters to a loyal, Lilly Pulitzer-clad clientele who still dress for dinner and bingo.
Style + Design Dripping with Spanish-revival style: voluptuous bouquets, Turkish rugs (678 of them, to be exact), and 17th-century tapestries adorn stately stone and polished wood—an opulence rivaled only by the lush landscaping.
Service + Amenities Old-world details are the emphasis: gadgets are hidden inside armoires, stationery is personalized, and butlers are on duty around the clock. The new 65,000-square-foot spa includes a state-of-the art-gym, yoga classes, and a meditation garden.
Value for Money Worth it for 650-square-foot standard rooms, Jazz Age glamour, and authentic Southern hospitality. It would be nice if bikes or breakfast were included.
100 Cloister Dr.; 888/732-4752; www.seaisland.com; doubles from $595.
Hotel Fauchère, Milford, Pennsylvania
This weekend getaway for New York’s rich and powerful throughout the late 19th century has been reincarnated as a civilized 21st-century hideaway.
Location The town of Milford, Pennsylvania, on the edge of the Delaware Water Gap, 75 miles northwest of New York City.
Pedigree The 1880 hotel—opened by Louis Fauchère, the master chef at Delmonico’s in Manhattan—hosted everyone from prominent philanthropists (the Carnegies) to sports stars (Babe Ruth) to entertainers (Charlie Chaplin).
Style + Design The Italianate building has been painstakingly restored: chestnut floors, a walnut-and-mahogany banister, and a bead-board ceiling are all original. By contrast, the 16 rooms are contemporary retreats, with luxe touches—rain showers, radiant-heat floors, Frette sheets and towels.
Service + Amenities Food is a focus. The Delmonico Room has a $50 three-course prix fixe menu of old-fashioned dishes (frog’s legs, steak and potatoes). Bar Louis is more sleek, with photographs by Warhol protégé Christopher Makos, classic cocktails, and sophisticated bar food.
Needs Work The staff is a bit young and undertrained.
Value for Money Free Aqua Panna water, Chilean Merlot, and local chocolates are certainly generous, but even the lowest-priced rooms are still costly for blue-collar Milford.
401 Broad St.; 570/409-1212; www.hotelfauchere.com; doubles from $275.
Gramercy Park Hotel, New York City
A classic is reborn as New York’s hotel of the moment, thanks to an A-list design duo.
Location Manhattan’s genteel and historic Gramercy Park. (Think Edith Wharton—she used to live in this neighborhood.)
Pedigree The old Gramercy had a literary reputation and a gilded past; the new one has Ian Schrager and the artist Julian Schnabel, whose eclectic interior here is a radical departure from the cool minimalism of the boutique hotels Schrager is known for.
Style + Design Haute bohemian. Velvet draperies and leather armchairs share space with surrealist objects (sawfish-snout lampstands!) and sprawling canvases by Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly. Rooms and corridors are underlit, but the woodsmoke-scented lobby, with its 10-foot fireplace and thick Douglas fir columns, is a winner.
Service + Amenities Keys to Gramercy Park, the only private park in Manhattan, are available for guests at the front desk. Mahogany liquor cabinets stocked with full-size bottles trounce your typical mini-bar.
Value for Money By New York standards, $545 for a standard double isn’t all that unreasonable—and the Gramercy has what is arguably the best address in town.
2 Lexington Ave.; 212/920-3300; www.gramercyparkhotel.com; doubles from $545.
La Suite, Rio de Janeiro
This seven-room hotel offers an alternative to the jam-packed Ipanema and Copacabana.
Location Set in a former private house, 165 feet above the Atlantic, in Joatinga, a gated community 10 minutes’ drive south of Rio.
Pedigree Created by former investment banker Francois-Xavier Dussol, who opened La Maison, Rio’s first boutique hotel, in 2004, quickly garnering a fan base of fashion and beau monde types.
Style + Design Each of La Suite’s rooms is painted a different shade—acid green, poppy pink, lavender, saffron—with an überluxe bathroom clad in matching marble (yes, yellow and purple marble). All have private terraces with sea views. There’s a small plunge pool, two cabanas, and an infinity pool on the way.
Service + Amenities Either Dussol or his partner, Rodrigo Harold, is always on site to greet guests; other staffers are eager and friendly, but speak only Portuguese. The dreamy breakfast includes exotic tropical fruits, smoothies, and house-made French pastries.
Value for Money Service is warm and lovely, but decidedly small-hotel; and the business traveler might feel stranded.
501 Rua Jackson de Figueiredo, Joatinga; 55-21/9557-5986; doubles from $390.
El Casco Art Hotel, Patagonia, Argentina
One of many exciting openings in Argentina this year, a modern-art showcase with a stunning backdrop, Lake Nahuel Huapi.
Location Secluded in a copse of fir, pine, and sequoia, seven miles from Patagonia’s famed mountain resort Bariloche.
Pedigree First opened in 1970, El Casco Hotel had a reputation for restrained elegance throughout the seventies. Decades of neglect ended last December when a new owner, Buenos Aires art collector Ignacio Gutiérrez Zaldívar, completed a $5 million refurbishment.
Style + Design A sober coffee-and-cream color scheme extends from sofa-filled common spaces bedecked with 300 works of modern Argentine art to the 33 spacious guest rooms, where Egyptian cotton, goose down, and fine linen make up in coziness what they lack in flair.
Service + Amenities Executive chef Fernando Trocca (owner of buzzing Buenos Aires restaurant Sucre) elevates Patagonian classics. Zaldívar has assembled an amiable, efficient staff.
Value for Money Worth every penny for the superlative (if conservative) comfort surrounded by abundant Patagonian nature.
54-2944/463-131; www.hotelelcasco.com; doubles from $390.
Chambers Hotel, Minneapolis
Who could have predicted that the prairielands would be home to a minimalist hotel packed with maximalist art?
Location Downtown Minneapolis, a short drive from Herzog & de Meuron’s Walker Art Center extension and Jean Nouvel’s electric-blue Guthrie Theater.
Pedigree The Midwestern sister of the six-year-old Chambers in New York, with interiors by David Rockwell and a restaurant helmed by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Style + Design It’s all about the eye-popping contemporary art from the collection of owner Ralph Burnet. There’s a Damien Hirst at the front desk, video art in the halls, and original paintings and photographs by up-and-comers in the 60 guest rooms.
Service + Amenities All the perks of a fashionable hotel (24-hour room service from the Vongerichten restaurant, three trendy bars), with arty extras such as a gallery off the lobby and a gift shop specializing in design magazines and artist multiples.
Value for Money Pricier than anything else in town, but incomparably stylish: Where else can you sip a pineapple mojito within inches of MOMA-quality art?
901 Hennepin Ave.; 877/767-6990 or 612/767-6900; www.chambersminneapolis.com; doubles from $450.
Marques de Riscal (www.luxurycollection.com)
Room choice all comes down to whether you want to be in Gehry’s building (room Nos. 1-4, 12, 14 and 15 all enjoy panoramas of the village), or admire it (room Nos. 16-27, especially 19-27, have great views of the unusual edifice). If you have no other choice than to stay in No. 128 or 144, skip the visit; you’ll pay top dollar for viewless double in the annex.
Bowery Hotel (www.theboweryhotel.com)
Ask for one of the seven rooms with private terraces found on floors six, seven, and fourteen; all seven feature outdoor showers. For a truly spectacular view, request a room that overlooks the rooftops of the East Village and the Lower East Side.
For the most privacy, choose suite No. 1, located at the end of the camp’s footpath. The bathroom is secluded from view; the room, on the edge of an empty ravine, offers the best spot to catch sight of deer, including the chital or the sambar.
Fairmont Mayakoba (www.fairmont.com)
The 458-square-foot, lagoon-facing casita rooms are worth the $100 upgrade for additional space and a private balcony overlooking nesting herons.
Fazenda da Lagoa (www.fazendadalagoa.br)
Bungalows Nos.1, 6, and 14 have spacious terraces overlooking the sea or the river. Be sure to inquire about a king-size bed; only ten rooms have them. The remaining four are furnished with two queens.
Nam Hai (www.ghmhotels.com)
All 40 pool villas are positioned around five U-shaped sand banks. All of the villas have ocean views, but our favorites (room Nos. 1010, 1100, 2010, and 2120) are closest to the water, afford greater privacy, and make use of the sweeping views. Request a beach villa to experience the full roar of the South China Sea.
Koh Samui Four Seasons (www.fourseasons.com)
Splurge on one of two Beach Villas, which are tucked into verdant gardens with their own pathways to the beach. They epitomize privacy and romance (No. 910 is our favorite). The convenient location also means that guests avoid hiking the hill after taking a swim or having dinner at the Pla Pla Restaurant.
The five round rooms (Nos. 1-5) have the most personality, with arched doorways, lofty domed ceilings, and prime positioning—either near the bonfire or tucked discretely behind the pool. In-the-know travelers request Room 1, which has two private patios, as opposed to the standard one.
Islas Secas (www.islassecas.com)
At the Casita Grande for $200 more per night than the usual price, you get a tent on the property, complete with a full kitchen, and both sunset and sunrise views. Guests in search of quiet isolation should book the Magote. Located offshore on its own tiny islet, the main island can be reached on foot at low tide, but only by kayak at high tide.
Tintswalo at Waterfall (www.tintswalo.com)
Ask for a room on the top floor—Basuto, Connemarra, Akhal Teke, and Palomino—with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the polo fields and facing the Magaliesberg Mountains. Otherwise, views are limited to relatively unexciting landscaped grounds and the local countryside.
Bauer Il Palladio Hotel & Spa (www.bauerhotels.com)
We love the seven doubles on the second floor—all painted red, rose, and bordeaux— because of their spectacular views of the lagoon, the Doge’s Palace, and St. Mark’s Square. Those on the first floor are styled in drab browns and beige and look out only on the garden.
The Barai (www.thebarai.com)
Suites on the ground floor offer private diving pools and direct access to the beach, though none of the Barai’s rooms capitalize on the lovely ocean views. Beware of the top-floor rooms (Nos. 6, 7, 8, and 9); they are a hike from the beach and the main pool area.
Four Seasons Westlake Village (www.fourseasons.com)
Even-numbered rooms ending in No.16 to No. 54 have views of the grounds and of a man-made waterfall. Equally as nice are the seventh-floor accommodations with vistas of the Santa Monica Mountains. Avoid courtyard-facing rooms that look out on a parking lot and an adjacent wing.
Melenos Lindos (www.melenoslindos.com)
Suites No. 4, 5, and 6 measure about 400 square feet and are the most spacious, but all rooms feature traditional Greek sleeping platforms, retractable canvas roofs, and private terraces that have views of the Aegean Sea.
Hospes Palacio del Bailio (www.hospes.es)
Ask for room No. 109, where the walls are covered in 18th-century frescoes, and where Fernando de Cordoba, the Moorish warrior who first called this palace home, slept. The room leads to a tiny private patio with flowers and views of the fountain below.
Convento de Carmo (www.pousadas.pt)
Since the convent’s loftlike second story was divided into two levels (resulting in a third floor of rooms reachable via a dramatically cantilevered walkway), some units feel a bit cramped—better to reserve one of the harbor-facing rooms, which retain their original soaring ceilings. No. 238, flooded with sunlight and awash in colonial character, has polished plank floors, ornate handcrafted rugs, and a refreshingly contemporary bathroom.
Mandarin Oriental, Prague (www.mandarinoriental.com)
Premier-class rooms and the Castle View suite are all drama; each looks out on the painfully quaint Mala Strana neighborhood and the awesome medieval spires of Prague Castle.
Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street (www.ritz-carlton.com)
Only the upper floors of this new Ritz Carlton are blessed with panoramic views of Beijing. Ask for room No.1707, 1708, 1709, or 1710 on the club floor; all four feature fabulous easterly views that include the Tibetan-style White Pagoda Temple.
Hotel de Rome (www.roccofortehotels.com)
Go for rooms on the fourth and fifth floors; request one of the rooms with a terrace facing scenic Bebelplatz and Humboldt University. We also love the suites on the first floor that feature 14-foot ceilings, original stucco, and boardroom-style wood paneling.
Cloister at Sea Island (www.seaisland.com)
Though River View rooms in the main building lack a separate sitting area, they tend to feel as large as the suites (at about half the price).
Hotel Fauchere (www.hotelfauchere.com)
For an extra dose of privacy and charm, ask for the super-quiet deluxe suites on the second floor (Nos. 3 and 4), with terraces facing the back garden.
Gramercy Park Hotel (www.gramercyparkhotel.com)
The spacious Park Rooms (550-square-feet) feature French doors and wonderful views of Gramercy Park. For a truly lavish getaway, inquire about the Penthouse, which has soaring rooftop and park vistas, an original Sanford White fireplace and mantle, and antique furnishings.
Our favorite is the spacious Black Suite, where cascading bead curtains surround the platform bed. The suite features two black-marble bathrooms and a generous terrace. It’s also the only room with two huge walls of windows facing the sea.
El Casco Art Hotel (www.hotelelcasco.com)
Rooms differ only in the artwork hanging on the walls; pick your favorite from a lengthy list of modern Argentine greats, including painters Benito Quinquela Martín, Florencio Molina Campos, Raúl Soldi, or Pablo Curatella Manes.
Chambers Art Hotel (www.chambersminneapolis.com)
The loftlike Penthouse Studio rooms have balconies that extend over the sculpture-filled courtyard; in the evening, the courtyard is packed with stylish locals sipping ginger margaritas and milling around the Angus Fairhurst-designed one-armed bronze gorilla.