What defines a great hotel now? Travel + Leisure editors crisscrossed the globe to find out. From urban oases to jungle retreats, from a castle fit for the Sun King to the latest from hotel czar Ian Schrager, we considered hundreds of contenders, weighing their pedigrees and potential. Here, our picks of the year's 15 coolest new hotels, including an exclusive look at some of the most anticipated debuts on the horizon. Each of these singular properties embodies what a hotel can (and should) be. Let the buzz begin...
Four Seasons Tented Camp
Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle
The mountains of northern Thailand now harbor one of the world's most luxurious campsites. Fifteen tents with polished teakwood floors; handwrought, copper-clad bathtubs; and other well-chosen sybaritic interventions take the edge off roughing it (guests must walk beneath bamboo trees and jungle ferns and across a suspension bridge to reach the spa, restaurant, and two bars). Days are dedicated to exploration (trips to local villages), adventure (riding elephants—there are six in residence), and relaxation (nine different treatments are on offer at the spa). ROOM TO BOOK Tent No. 15 offers the most privacy, and prime pachyderm-watching—it overlooks the elephants' own camp and pool. T+L TIP Arrange a day trip to Mae Fah Luang, the Royal Thai–sponsored agricultural project, to sip locally grown coffee and visit hill tribes. DON'T MISS A Thai massage on your private sundeck at dusk, when a chorus of frogs and birds can be heard along the Ruak River. THE FACTS 800/332-3442 or 66-53/931-200; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $1,200, all-inclusive.
What do you call an upstart brand that blends the cheeky tone and smart looks of design hotels with the user-friendliness and affordability of mid-level chains? We call it a welcome relief. Stephen Hanson's first James hotel, in Scottsdale, Arizona, was a runaway hit. Now the restaurateur-hotelier is shaking things up in the Windy City. The 297 guest rooms are inviting exercises in mid-aughties minimalism—dark-wood platform beds, leather cube stools, cocoa-brown carpeting, slate-tiled bathrooms with brushed-chrome and marble sinks, and an orchid placed just so. Amenities, however, are anything but spare: in addition to Wi-Fi and a 42-inch plasma TV, each room has a stereo with an iPod dock. ROOMS TO BOOK Any of the 550-square-foot Loft rooms, which have views of installations by Chicago artists. DON'T MISS A cut of dry-aged beef from Kentucky's renowned Creekstone Farms, at chef David Burke's Primehouse, the hotel's requisite steak joint. (This is still Chicago, after all.) THE FACTS 55 E. Ontario St.; 877/526-3755 or 312/337-1000; www.jameshotels.com; doubles from $250.
Marakele National Park, Limpopo
Hunter Hotels already has a corner on the golden-era safari experience in coastal South Africa. Gorah and Tsala Treetop Lodge both offer variations on the same crystal-decanter, high-thread-count "wilderness" environment. You'll find all of those bells, whistles, and amenities at Marataba, which opened just in time for New Year's. Prouvé-style furniture adorns the 15 tented suites; handcrafted architectural lighting hangs from rough-hewn beams in the main lodge; and an enfilade of sleek chaises waits beside the 40-foot plunge pool. But Marataba's biggest asset is its location: Marakele National Park is not only home to ample numbers of the Big Five but is also a sanctuary for rare antelope species—roan, sable, mountain reedbuck—and more than 400 kinds of birds, including the endangered Cape vulture. ROOM TO BOOK Those seeking privacy will prefer Suite 1, the most secluded, reached by a walking bridge and featuring a vast picture window with spectacular views of the Waterberg mountains. T+L TIP Request a dinner served in the boma, under the starry African sky. THE FACTS 27-44/532-7818; www.hunterhotels.com; doubles from $828, all-inclusive.
Palacio Duhau, Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
Walking up the sweeping stone staircase of Palacio Duhau is like walking into a private mansion. Just three blocks from the elder statesman of Buenos Aires elegance, Alvear Palace Hotel, the new Park Hyatt has all of Buenos Aires eagerly anticipating its grand opening later this summer. Carefully restored oak floors and carved wood paneling dating back to the 1930's provide a backdrop for furnishings in muted browns, tans, and whites. A garden planned by Carlos Thays—who designed the city's botanical gardens—eases past a tiered waterfall up to the new 17-floor Posadas building, which houses most of the 165 rooms, all of them equipped with the latest modern luxuries (marble baths, high-speed Internet). At the Ahin spa, treatments come with tea and music selected specifically for the time of day. ROOMS TO BOOK The 23 rooms in the palacio have antique chandeliers and oversize tubs. Ask for one that looks onto the garden. T+L TIP Vinoteca's menu has some 3,500 bottles and 40 Argentine cheeses. DON'T MISS A swim in the indoor pool, where 750 colored bulbs simulate the changing of light from dawn to dusk. THE FACTS 800/233-1234 or 54-11/5171-1234; www.buenosaires.park.hyatt.com; doubles from $410.
A coupling of Italian refinement and Asian hospitality defines Bulgari's first resort, opening next month on a 500-foot-high headland on Bali's southern tip. The 59 villas are built of ylang-ylang thatch, volcanic stone, and dark tropical woods. The Milanese style of designer Antonio Citterio is apparent in the sleek Bangkiray wood and chocolate tones of the clifftop bar, the geometry of the bamboo-beamed ceilings, and the clean lines of the black terrazzo bathrooms. But Citterio has also integrated the work of island artisans: centuries-old rice-barn walls are on display in public spaces. A helicopter and vintage Harley-Davidsons are available for use, but the hotel's best feature is an untouched beach worthy of Robinson Crusoe. ROOMS TO BOOK Oceanfront villas closest to the bar are an ideal perch for viewing fiery sunsets and theatrical storms that roll in from the sea. T+L TIP Stroll the beach and watch surfers at Dreamland, a dramatic sweep of sand a 10-minute drive away. DON'T MISS Climbing the stone kul-kul tower at the temple on the grounds. THE FACTS Jalan Goa Lempeh, Banjar Dinas Kangin; 62-361/847-1000; www.bulgarihotels.com; doubles from $1,250.
Reported by Aric Chen, Tina Isaac, Sarah Kantrowitz, Xander Kaplan, Peter Jon Lindberg, Rob McKeown, Shane Mitchell, Bridget Moriarity, Ian Mount, Maria Shollenbarger, and Valerie Waterhouse.
Here is an exclusive look at the coolest new (and soon-to-open) properties around the globe, from New York to Dubai
Gramercy Park Hotel
New York City
PEDIGREE It's where Humphrey Bogart once tied the knot, where Babe Ruth held court at the bar, where Joe and Rose Kennedy stayed with a young John F. in tow. Could the Gramercy Park Hotel possibly have more panache?Apparently, yes. Long a favorite haunt of writers, artists, and rock stars, this shabbily genteel institution is getting a multimillion-dollar makeover under its new proprietor, Ian Schrager. The boutique-hotel impresario has enlisted artist Julian Schnabel to create its interior. WHAT TO EXPECT Schrager is also developing an adjacent property into apartments designed by minimalist architect John Pawson. But with Schnabel's touch, the hotel is bound to have a more eclectic vibe. "It's a completely new aesthetic for me—more original, individual, and bohemian," Schrager says. ROOM STATS Forty-six suites and 139 rooms. T+L TIP Michelin-starred chef Alan Yau, of London's Hakkasan and Yauatcha, is set to open a ground-level boîte with leafy views of the park across the street. DON'T MISS A stroll in Gramercy Park, the only private park in Manhattan—hotel guests are given the much-coveted key. THE FACTS 2 Lexington Ave.; 212/920-3300; www.gramercyparkhotel.com; doubles from $450. Opens July 2006.
The London NYC
New York City
PEDIGREE LXR Luxury Resorts is transforming Midtown's Rihga Royal into a cross-branding nirvana, with a little help from its A-list friends. A master of urban glamour, designer David Collins will introduce the same sleek sensibility (glossy satin, leather, sexy mood lighting) that turned the Berkeley Hotel's Blue Bar into a red-hot scene for the coolest Britons in London. Bad-boy chef Gordon Ramsay gets a chance to play nice in a dining room patterned after his original Chelsea restaurant, where he first gained attention for an aggressively contemporary menu. WHAT TO EXPECT Quintessentially, the elite global concierge, will handle guests' every whim (private jets, box seats, after-hours shopping) without blinking. And the Golden Door will bring its 24-karat fitness routines to a workout studio with two private outdoor decks. ROOM STATS Some 500 rooms, including 10 suites and 40 studios. COOL FACTOR Waterworks will make a splash with its custom line of bath fixtures, apothecary products, towels, and robes. T+L TIP Check out Ramsay's informal bar menu, which we hope will include favorites such as pressed foie gras with smoked eel or roasted scallops alongside peppered golden-raisin purée. THE FACTS 151 W. 54th St.; 866/656-1777 or 212/307-5000; www.thelondonnyc.com; doubles from $499. Opens September 2006.
Château du Champ de Bataille
Le Neubourg, France
PEDIGREE Designer Jacques Garcia, whose work can be seen in some of the world's most glamorous palace hotels (from Costes in Paris to La Mamounia in Marrakesh, La Réserve in Geneva, and the Métropole in Monaco), is putting the finishing touches on his own château, Champ de Bataille. Garcia acquired the castle in 1992 with the intention of eventually welcoming guests there. Located halfway between Paris and Deauville (an easy hour's drive from each), the 17th-century castle was designed by Le Vau, the architect of Versailles, and is an ideal place to act out your Sun King fantasies. WHAT TO EXPECT "One of the former stables is now both the lobby and restaurant, so guests will have the impression of arriving at the most extravagant and whimsical fête," Garcia notes. COOL FACTOR The place was already an attraction, thanks to its 100-acre private gardens (the largest in France), Garcia's personal collection of 17th- and 18th-century objects and furniture (including chairs that belonged to Madame du Barry, Louis XV's mistress), and a program of open-air summer operas. ROOM STATS Each of the 18 luxurious guest rooms (the first of which will be completed this fall) has been named and decorated in the same exuberant spirit as the other hotels Garcia has done around the world, often using specially commissioned fabrics. T+L TIP Book the Japanese room, furnished with Viardot antiques and custom-printed, hand-embroidered silk curtains by Etro. DON'T MISS Reserve now for this summer's alfresco performances of Mozart's Magic Flute and L'Illusion Comique, by the great 17th-century French playwright Pierre Corneille. THE FACTS 33-2/32-34-84-34; www.duchampdebataille.com; prices unavailable at press time. Opens September 2006.
PEDIGREE Boccadileone Suites (the temporary name at press time) is the first property that the Ferragamos' Lungarno Hotels has established outside of the family's native Florence, where the fashion clan already owns the design hotels Continentale and Gallery Hotel Art, as well as the classic-but-cool Hotel Lungarno and Lungarno Suites. With a heritage like this, great style seems guaranteed. WHAT TO EXPECT The location, a 19th-century palazzo above the Ferragamo men's store on Rome's Via Condotti, can't be beat—nor, from what we hear, can the attentive service (one staff member per room) or the ultra-hip interiors by Michele Bonan, the architect behind the Florentine hotels. COOL FACTOR The hotel's interior and Ferragamo's brand are explicitly linked with details such as sofas in tailored gray suiting fabrics, silk-lined curtains splashed with the Ferragamo buckle logo, and black-and-white photographs illustrating the shoemaking family's history. ROOM STATS Nine studios, four suites, and one split-level penthouse suite with rooftop views and a vast marble bathroom. T+L TIP In warmer weather, take breakfast (locally sourced bakery products, fruit, jams, honey, and yogurt) on the sixth-floor outdoor terrace-lounge—one of the highest points on Via Condotti—with breathtaking views of Rome, from the Pincio hilltop to the Spanish Steps. THE FACTS 23 Via Bocca di Leone; 39-055/ 2726-4000; www.lungarnohotels.com; doubles from $485, including breakfast.
Do & Co Hotel
PEDIGREE One of Vienna's postmodern landmarks, Haas Haus, is now home to the new Do & Co Hotel. The 45-room aerie occupies the top four floors of local architect Hans Hollein's stone-and-glass masterpiece, facing the ornate Gothic towers of St. Stephen's Cathedral. WHAT TO EXPECT The design firm FG Stijl, which recently won kudos for Amsterdam's College Hotel, has created a lavish Turkish-inflected interior, with silver filigree nightstands, kilim bedcovers, and a hammam-style spa. Why the detour to Asia Minor?Europeans love insider allusions, and Vienna was besieged by the Turks in 1529. Plus, Do & Co just happens to be owned by Istanbul native Attila Dogudan, a restaurant mogul known for his toffee-colored dining establishment in Stephansplatz. General manager Albrecht Clary says guests can expect the hotel's room service menu to have "everything from schnitzel to sushi." ROOM STATS Forty-one rooms and two suites with steam baths. All rooms have espresso machines, Bang & Olufsen multimedia centers, and Demel chocolates at turndown. T+L TIP The Bernie Suite's balcony—above Stephansplatz—offers the best view in the house. DON'T MISS A glass of crisp Riesling Trocken Gaisberg in the clubby Onyx Bar. THE FACTS 12 Stephansplatz; 800/337-4685 or 43-1/24188; www.designhotels.com; doubles from $425, including breakfast.
PEDIGREE The arboreal logo should look familiar. This property, just launched in the ancient capital of the Naxi kingdom on the Yunnan plateau, is number seven for the hugely successful Banyan Tree group, a Singapore-based chain famous for its Asian-influenced style and environmentally conscious ethos. WHAT TO EXPECT The 55 single-story villas, which start at 1,148 square feet, each have a private gate and garden and face the peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. In a nod to the indigenous culture, buildings use signature pink stones, gray bricks, and red-clay roof tiles curved in the Naxi style; works by local artists accent the interiors. COOL FACTOR Culture buffs explore the nearby Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; relaxation-seekers retreat to the spa for a classic Royal Banyan treatment; and the adventurous head north to Shangri-la, taking in Tiger Leaping Gorge—the world's deepest, sandwiched between the Jade Dragon Snow and Haba Snow mountains—on the way. ROOM STATS Forty garden and deluxe garden villas; 13 pool and deluxe pool villas; one two-bedroom pool villa; and one two-bedroom, two-bath Presidential villa with a private driveway and outdoor pavilion. T+L TIP Drink like the locals in the Tea Lounge, where a small but well-edited selection of homegrown mountain brews is served, including the fruity Bi Luo Chun and Chen Nian Pu-erh (known for its health benefits). THE FACTS Yuerong Rd., Shuhe, Gucheng; 866/822-6926 or 86-888/533-1100; www.banyantree.com; doubles from $500.
W Maldives—Fesdhu Retreat & Spa
PEDIGREE The progenitors of the affordable-chic urban hotel experience—defined by vast swaths of sleek stone surfaces, mood lighting, and techno-dub sound tracks in the lobbies, plus genially insouciant service from a youthful staff—would hardly leave all their hip credentials behind just because they're setting up shop on a pristine deserted island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. WHAT TO EXPECT Away-from-it-all privacy, but with modern conveniences a "whatever, whenever" phone call away. The resort's 28 beachfront villas and 50 over-water retreats filter traditional island elements (thatching, bamboo) through W's signature contemporary aesthetic. Guests can pick their own fruit for breakfast—orange and grapefruit trees have been planted in abundance all over the property—and have it prepared and delivered to their rooms (likewise with fish: hook your own catch of the day for dinner, and the chef will bone, fillet, and cook it to order). The Away Spa, with its four guest roomsized treatment rooms for facials, wraps, and massages, will offer yoga and guided meditation. COOL FACTOR For the Maldives, off the charts: where else within one hundred miles can you find a subterranean bar with live DJ's every night—or a manicurist who makes beach calls, ready to spiff up your ragged nails while you sip a cocktail under your palapa?ROOM STATS Seventy-eight Retreats: 28 Marvelous Beach, 46 Marvelous Aqua, three Wow (suite-style), and one Extreme (villa-style). T+L TIP Book an inflatable "island," a raft that accommodates up to six and comes stocked with a cooler full of your libations of choice. THE FACTS North Ari Atoll, Fesdhu Island; 877/946-8357 or 011-960/ 332-9489; www.whotels.com; doubles from $1,300. Opens July 2006.
PEDIGREE Two years on the heels of her wildly popular, Philippe Starckdesigned JIA Hong Kong, 27-year-old Singaporean phenomenon Yenn Wong, ambassador of the boutique-hotel concept in China, is opening a second property in Shanghai. Wong's 54-room venture promises to fill a much-needed gap in the city's hotel market with the same irresistible blend of clean design, intimacy, and sex appeal. WHAT TO EXPECT Buro/Hecker Phelan and Guthrie, the A-list Australian architecture and design partners, have transformed a 1924 building in Jingan, near People's Square, into an ultramodern temple filled with colorful printed fabrics, wallpaper, and furniture by the likes of Pier Giacomo and Patricia Urquiola. COOL FACTOR Space has not been sacrificed to style—even standard rooms clock in at almost 500 square feet—or comfort to convenience, for that matter. And with high-end stores occupying the first two floors and the city's boutique district just five minutes away, JIA will be a shopper's paradise. ROOM STATS Fifty-two rooms, plus two 1,000-plus-square-foot penthouse suites, both specially designed for high-profile guests (with bodyguards in tow). COOL FACTOR Wong's ambitious expansion of the JIA brand (next stop: Krabi, Thailand) is bound to attract droves of natty globe-trotters who are sure to make this Shanghai's newest hot spot. THE FACTS 93133 Nanjing Rd., Jingan; www.jiahongkong.com; doubles from $225. Opens October 2006.
PEDIGREE Sri Lanka's post-tsunami renaissance has been propelled by the recent openings of two Aman properties. The Fortress, in Galle, 70 miles from the capital of Colombo, is sure to add to the already building buzz. The sprawling resort pays homage to the UNESCO-preserved Galle fort and promises to bring modern sophistication to the misty 2,000-year-old merchants' port town. WHAT TO EXPECT Singapore's C&C Design (which recently won an award for the design of Huvafen Fushi, the Fortress's sister resort in the Maldives) chose a soothing aesthetic: simple lines, Burmese teakpaneling, a Dutch vaulted entrance, and expansive garden colonnades that draw the eyes toward panoramic vistas of stilt fishermen casting their lines into the Indian Ocean. ROOM STATS The 49 guest rooms are divided into five types, including two Fortress Residences, each of which features a frangipani-shaded infinity pool, plasma TV's, and two bedrooms with super kingsize rotating beds dressed in Frette linens. DON'T MISS Wine3, a wine bar housed in a 750-square-foot glass cave, offers degustations from the 2,000-bottle cellar. T+L TIP Visit the T room, meet with the hotel's tea sommelier, and try Sri Lankan handpicked white-tip tea, reputed to protect skin from sun damage. THE FACTS Galle; 800/ 525-4800 or 94-91/438-0909; www.thefortress.lk; doubles from $370, including breakfast and dinner. Opens September 2006.
The Middle East
Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates
PEDIGREE The venerable hoteliers at Kempinski do outsize luxury like nobody's business: the Çiragan Palace in Istanbul would make any Ottoman prince feel immediately at home, and Berlin's Adlon sets the bar for surfeits of marble, velvet, and crystal. So, of course, the company hastened to put down stakes among the shining towers of Dubai, the Middle East's capital of excess. WHAT TO EXPECT Over-the-top entertainment and appealing extravagance. The hotel is well situated within the mall (the biggest outside of North America); Ski Dubai, the third-largest indoor ski resort in the world, is right next door. You'll find the requisite sumptuously appointed rooms (all with flat-screen TV's, multimedia players, and ultra-plush robes), a lengthy menu of spa treatments, and an ayurvedic wellness center. And then there are the 15 ski chalets, to house the guests who come to schuss down those pistes. COOL FACTOR Considerable, especially with the dining options; these range from Aspen Café, which overlooks Ski Dubai and serves "Arabian high tea" (diminutive onion-labneh sandwiches; saffronblack currant scones), to a juice and vitamin "bar" next to the fitness center, to the 935-seat Sezzam, where guests select one of three venues—Flame, Steam, or Bake—and their order is prepared accordingly. ROOM STATS The 393 rooms, spread over a formidable 520,000 square feet, include everything from deluxes to a sprawling 1,000-square-foot Presidential suite. T+L TIP Don't want to ski?The 200-acre Montgomerie golf club is just a 10-minute drive away. THE FACTS Sheikh Zayed Rd., Al Barsha; 800/426-3135 or 971-4/341-0000; www.kempinski-dubai.com; doubles from $520.
Portrait Suites, The Lungarno Collection
Rome’s four-story Portrait Suites, centrally located near the Spanish Steps, is part of the Lungarno Hotels group, owned by the Ferragamo family. And thanks to interior designer Michele Bönan, it's a chic and sexy urban retreat. Walls are black-stained French oak, white-marble bathrooms have gunmetal-gray floors, and ice-blue flannel chairs are placed in front of logo-dotted, chartreuse-lined silk curtains. The roof terrace is all teak furniture and carefully clipped potted boxwoods—a perfect foil for the Baroque splendor it overlooks.
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle
“They provide an experience that you could miss in an ordinary concrete box,” says designer Bill Bensley of the tents at the Four Seasons Tented Camp, in Thailand’s Golden Triangle. “Guests can hear the sound of elephants munching their way through the jungle. It’s escapism to the nth degree.” That sentiment is evident in Bensley’s design for the resort. He drew inspiration from northern Thailand’s hill-tribe villages as well as camps he visited in Botswana, and he filled the 15 tents with metal craftwork from local artisans, along with explorer-themed antiques (an old compass, rifles, primitive fishing tools).
Situated on the sixth floor of the Do & Co Hotel, the space has windows about 30 feet high looking straight across Stephansplatz at the tiled roof and towers of the Gothic St. Stephen's Cathedral. Settle into this clean-lined, hard-edged room for a glass of equally crisp Riesling Trocken Gaisberg.
Duhau Restaurant & Vinoteca
Compare Malbecs from Argentina’s different regions around this tall marble tasting bar. Here, superman sommelier Marcelo Rebolé oversees a 7,000-bottle cellar with some five dozen by-the-glass offerings complemented by house-aged cheeses.
David Burke's Primehouse
Located inside the James Hotel, owner and renowned chef David Burke’s Primehouse is known for its awarding-winning cuts of meat, such as the 55-day aged rib eye. Red leather tables and brown leather chairs fill the dining room, where patrons head for dishes from the ever-rotating menu. Using local and organic ingredients, executive chef Rick Gresh prepares creative favorites like the pretzel crusted crab cake and Kobe beef sashimi on Himalayan rock salt. To create the perfectly marble-ized and most tender steaks, the restaurant dry-ages its meats inside an on-site Himalayan salt-tiled aging room.
Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates
Set in the heart of so-called New Dubai (about 20 minutes south from downtown), this 393-room hotel looks right onto one of Dubai’s most extravagant new attractions: Ski Dubai—the world’s biggest indoor snow park. In fact, hotel guests can access Ski Dubai—and the swanky shops in the adjacent Mall of the Emirates—right from the Kempinski’s soaring alpine-themed lobby. It’s a surreal (but very real) draw. While the common spaces are flights of fancy, though, the rooms and suites are firmly grounded: all are warmly lit refuges with polished wood floors; high, recessed-lit ceilings; streamlined modern furniture; and spacious marble baths with bidets, separate tubs and showers, and double vanities. The hotel has three main restaurants, but the most wildly popular is the gargantuan (935-seat) Sezzam, with a menu that’s organized by cooking method—e.g., flame, bake, steam—rather than cuisine.
Tip: Escape the mall on the rooftop, where the open-air Mosaic Bar extends into the overflowing swimming pool and overlooks the Jumeirah skyline.
Room to Book: One of the 15 “ski chalets,” with their beamed wood ceilings and European chalet décor. One-bedroom chalets look out over Ski Dubai’s indoor slopes, but two-and three-bedroom suites have both slope-side and city skyline views.
JIA consists of fifty-two rooms, plus two 1,000-plus-square-foot penthouse suites, both specially designed for high-profile guests (with bodyguards in tow). Space has not been sacrificed to style—even standard rooms clock in at almost 500 square feet. Jia means "home" in Mandarin, and given how frenetic Shanghai is, we loved the property's host of cozy amenities: well-stocked marble kitchenettes, in-room board games, and help-yourself (complimentary) tea and bottled water. There's even free Wi-Fi, still a luxury among upscale properties. And with high-end stores occupying the first two floors and the city's boutique district just five minutes away, JIA is a shopper's paradise.
W Retreat & Spa - Maldives
The design-savvy W hotels group has expanded to the South Seas with a private-island resort in the Maldives. The traditional structures were built with modern materials—tented Teflon fiber ceilings that resemble soaring white sails at the Away Spa replace thatch and wood. Each of the 78 overwater and beach villas comes with its own infinity or plunge pool, and they all have curving decks that take in stunning beach and ocean views. Moroccan poufs with red piping and saturated abstract paintings punctuate white linen and simple wicker furniture. Straightforward and youthful, it’s taking W in a new direction. Check-in at the W Retreat & Spa—Maldives begins when guests arrive at Male International Airport, on Hulhule Island. There are W Welcome Ambassadors to greet them and direct them to the W Van that takes them to the W Lounge, where they are offered food, drinks, and, if they choose, a shower. Meanwhile, W Welcome Agents complete the check-in process before guests board a seaplane for the 25-minute flight.
Banyan Tree, Lijiang
Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Venice of Asia for its centuries-old network of canals and bridges, sits in a forested nook of mountainous Yunnan province. The Banyan Tree resort is as picturesque as its location. Each of the 84 traditional curved-roof villas is set in its own walled garden; opulent red fabrics and lacquered furniture accent the polished interiors. Shining pools and ponds dot the property, reflecting Lijiang's intimate association with water.
Do & Co Hotel
The hotel occupies the top four floors of Haas Haus, a cylindrical, concrete-and-mirrored-glass postmodern landmark dropped into the heart of the centuries-old former capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Hans Hollein. The rooms and suites have dramatic curved walls and a dramatic Turkish-inflected interior, with silver filigree nightstands, kilim bedcovers, and a hammam-style spa. Why the detour to Asia Minor?Europeans love insider allusions, and Vienna was besieged by the Turks in 1529. Plus, Do & Co just happens to be owned by Istanbul native Attila Dogudan, a restaurant mogul known for his toffee-colored dining establishment in Stephansplatz. General manager Albrecht Clary says guests can expect the hotel's room service menu to have "everything from schnitzel to sushi." Book the Bernie Suite for the best view in the house.
Château du Champ de Bataille
The London NYC
Since opening in late 2006, the London may have received less press than its Gordon Ramsay-run in-house restaurant, but this elegant, all-suite hotel justly deserves its own following. The 562 suites, the smallest of which are an expansive 500 square feet, are models of streamlined elegance; the parquet oak floors, dark embossed-leather desks, and curving velvet banquettes were all chosen by designer David Collins, who has worked his magic at some of Europe's chicest hotels. All bathrooms are furnished by Waterworks with sunken marble tubs, showers with dueling "rain" showerheads, and sumptuous bath towels and robes. Book a table at Mr. Ramsay's only stateside restaurant a month early; if you can't get in, try for a slate-blue banquette at his less-formal spot, Maze—or just order room service from the restaurant.
Gramercy Park Hotel
The Bulgari Resort is perched in the southernmost tip of Bali, allowing for sunrise and sunset views from any of the 59 freestanding, private villas. Each villa has been designed by Antonio Citterio and combines a fusion of Indonesian and Italian styles, with walls of volcanic stone, mahogany window and door frames, spacious bathrooms, outdoor living rooms, and private infinity pools. The main pavilion is a Javanese joglo (house), and the oceanfront spa includes rainshowers, a pool, a yoga pavilion, and steam rooms. The Sangkar restaurant serves Indonesian fare, while Il Ristorante cooks Italian cuisine.
Marataba is the newest golden-era safari experience from the Hunter Hotels group, responsible for bringing crystal-decanter, high-thread-count wilderness chic to coastal South Africa. Prouvé-style furniture that would look at home in a SoHo loft adorns the 15 tented suites, three with river views. Architectural lighting hangs from roughly hewn beams in the main lodge, and chaises line the outer edges of the 40-foot plunge pool. Suite No. 1, reached by a walking bridge that spans a small gorge (and is high enough for an elephant to pass below), is the most secluded. Its vast picture window has views of the Waterberg Mountains to the north. Marataba’s biggest asset is its location, in Marakele National Park, which holds large numbers of the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and black rhinoceros) and is a sanctuary for rare antelope, like roan and sable, and 400 kinds of birds, including the endangered Cape vulture.
The James, Chicago
Opened in April 2006, The James marries a residential vibe to a hotel setting. To evoke an apartment style, all of the 297 contemporary rooms have a separate dining area with plasma screen TV’s; some include a separate living area with oversize couches, coffee tables, and Eames chairs. Art is also an essential part of the property—the lobby features a rotating gallery from the Museum of Contemporary Art; David Burke’s Primehouse restaurant showcases painter Todd White; and the Jbar displays video art on plasma screen TV’s.
Palacio Duhau - Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
This Park Hyatt feels like two hotels in one. The original 23-room mansion, built in 1934 by French architect Leon Dourge, defines Belle Époque elegance with elaborate ironwork, glass chandeliers, and Persian rugs. Next door is the 142-room Posadas building, a sleek and minimalist tower that opened in 2006. What links the two spaces—in addition to rotating contemporary art exhibits—is impeccable service that elicits kudos from even the most discerning globetrotters. And while the rooms’ appearances vary according to their era (hardwood floors and silk curtains in the Palacio, a natural palate and contemporary furniture in Posadas), all have the highest-end technology, soaking tubs, and bathrooms bedecked in Travertino marble. At La Vinoteca lounge, a sommelier and maitre fromager pair wines from among 3,500 bottles of Argentine vintages with regional cheeses.