Our itinerant staffers logged more than 1 million miles traversing the globe last year. Here, some of our favorite hotel finds, from unforgettable rooms and one-of-a-kind meals to intrepid concierges and style-setting boutiques.
ROOMS AND LOBBIES
The lobby of the Dorchester, in London, is everything an important hotel lobby should be: at once grand and intimate, classic and modern. You can have a cozy chat in an alcove, and you'll feel as if you're on a catwalk when you approach reception. www.dorchesterhotel.com
Room 405 at the Gora Kadan, in Hakone, Japan, has a watercolor-worthy view of a valley dotted with cherry and pine trees, and an onsen tub big enough for a sumo wrestler. On the desk is a lacquer writing box with paper, dry ink, and a traditional bamboo brush, just in case you feel inspired to pen a haiku. www.gorakadan.com
With its 230-degree views of the Indian Ocean—plus a private lap pool, terrace, and bale (bamboo pavilion) for meals and napping in the shade—the Indrakila suite at Bali's Amankila is close to perfection. www.amanresorts.com
The spa bungalows at the Four Seasons Resort, Carmelo, Uruguay, are the ultimate place for alfresco bathing: each has a shower tucked away in its own garden. The sleek, color-saturated Asian interiors are an unexpected pleasure in the middle of a South American eucalyptus forest. www.fourseasons.com
Quintessentially Dutch (i.e., supremely tasteful, in a laid-back way), the Picasso Suite at Seven One Seven, in Amsterdam, occupies the entire front half of the hotel's second floor; it has an antique refectory table with two huge Belgian-linen slip-covered sofas on either side, and five enormous picture windows facing the Prinsengracht. Squint, and you're back in the 18th century. www.717hotel.nl
The Vera Wang boutique at Honolulu's Halekulani is the source for her lines of crystal and silver-plate serving pieces, her collection of correspondence cards, and more. www.halekulani.com
Italian architect-designer Maria Hedley stocks the boutique at Carlisle-Bay, Antigua with a surp rising selection of treats: handmade coral jewelry and children's clothes from small Italian and Belgian designers such as Livio de Simone and Archimede. www.carlisle-bay.com
For a stylish mix of Muriel Brandolini caftans, Missoni bikinis, and jewelry designed by Alexis Bittar, Julie Sandlau, and Colette Malouf—in short, everything you need to fit in poolside in South Beach—we love the shop at the Raleigh. www.raleighhotel.com
GARDENS AND POOLS
In the pool villas at Trisara, in Phuket, the beds are positioned to overlook each villa's gorgeous private swimming pool and, beyond, the Andaman Sea. www.trisara.com
Venice's Oltre il Giardino, an inn set in a house once owned by Gustav Mahler's widow, Alma, has a beautiful walled garden filled with olive trees and magnolias, perfect for breakfast in warmer weather. www.oltreilgiardino-venezia.com
It may not be the most lavish of the breed, but the infinity pool at the Horned Dorset Primavera, in Puerto Rico, is one of the most serene. It's rarely crowded, because the resort is so secluded and most guests spend the day by the larger, more central pool. Plus, you can lean right over its edge to watch the waves steadily lapping the shore below. www.horneddorset.com
Wine and Dine
RESTAURANTS, DISHES, AND CHEFS
After running restaurants in SoHo and Cape Town, Geoffrey Murray left the urban grind to create a fresh-from-the-earth concept at North Island, Seychelles. New chef David Godin continues the tradition with breadfruit-and-citronella soup, Creole octopus curry, and bananas St. Jacques. www.north-island.com
The minuscule 10-seat dining counter of Kyoto's Yoshikawa Inn focuses on tempura specialties: whitefish, tiny shrimps, bamboo, shiitake, fiddlehead fern, and sweet potato, all dipped in roiling oil in a perfectly polished copper wok. Truly superb. www.kyoto-yoshikawa.co.jp
Luca Mazzola at Villa Amistà restaurant, in Verona's Byblos Art Hotel, makes his own bread and grows his own vegetables; it shows in the exceptional flavors and textures of his cuisine. www.worldhotels.com
Fasano at the Hotel Fasano, in São Paulo, has it going on, looks-wise (soaring ceiling, incredible wine rack, plenty of models and celebrities) and substance-wise (faultless authentic Italian cuisine from chef Salvatore Loi). www.fasano.com.br
The enchiladas at Cielo, at Ventana Inn & Spa in Big Sur, with perfectly smoky mole sauce and just-made guacamole, have been on the menu for years for good reason. Pair them with a Negra Modelo and the view down the coast toward San Simeon, and you know you're in California. www.ventanainn.com
Caprice, at the new Four Seasons Hong Kong, is dazzling—with inlaid glass panels and flooring, East-meets-West detailing, panoramic views of Victoria Harbour, and modern cuisine from the former sous-chef at the Four Seasons Georges V in Paris. www.fourseasons.com
Is there anything more indulgent than opening your door, padding across a lush lawn in your pajamas and bare feet, and picking your own grapefruit at the Mojave Resort in Palm Desert, California? No. This is exactly why you schlepped here all the way from Duluth. www.hotelmojave.com
BARS AND DRINKS
Gae Aulenti designed the romantic, whimsical champagne and raw bar on the terrace at Le Sirenuse to highlight one of Positano's most spectacular views of the Mediterranean. www.sirenuse.it
The crowd is always an eclectic mix, but during the South by Southwest music festival in March, the bar at Austin's Driskill Hotel cannot be beat for off-the-charts rock-star spotting. www.driskillhotel.com
Establishment Hotel, in Sydney, is the heart of the city's late-night action, with top-notch bars, lounges, and clubs—not to mention one of Sydney's best restaurants, Est., only steps from your room or suite. www.establishmenthotel.com
A flute of Lanson rosé at the Bar Fontainebleau at Paris's Le Meurice—the perfect place to admire the parading beau monde during Fashion Week. www.meuricehotel.com
The Lobby Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental in New York has a heart-stopping 35th-floor view over all of midtown Manhattan and serves Harushika Tokimeki sparkling sake. www.mandarinoriental.com/newyork
Services We Love
SPAS, GYMS, AND INDULGENCES
The Pilates facilities in the spa at the Landmark Mandarin Hong Kong, with its contemporary Asian style, are extraordinary. Meela is a brilliant instructor. www.mandarinoriental.com
The new 42,000-square-foot spa at the Peninsula, in Beverly Hills, has waterfalls, dark brown cork floors, and periwinkle-blue carpeted walls. Try a gemstone oil massage, with products imported from Dubai. www.beverlyhills.peninsula.com
At the Datai in Langkawi, Malaysia, open-air couples' treatments are given on a teakwood terrace right at the edge of the forest. A pack of tiny black monkeys might be frolicking in the trees above, watching you both. www.thedatai.com
The best 360-degree views of Lisbon can be had from the running track on the roof of the Four Seasons Ritz, Lisbon. www.fourseasons.com
AMENITIES, EXTRAS, ABOVE AND BEYOND
Casa Howard in Florence has custom-packaged pomegranate and mint soaps from the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy—which happens to be right next door. www.casahoward.com
The telescopes in the suites at the Peninsula Hong Kong exploit the hotel's Kowloon views to the fullest—and are a beautiful, antique brass and teakwood retro touch in an otherwise totally automated environment. www.hongkong.peninsula.com
The Villa Feltrinelli, in Gargnano, Italy, takes laundry service to new heights of luxury: each article of clothing is folded perfectly, wrapped in tissue, and tied up with a silk ribbon and a sprig of lavender. www.villafeltrinelli.com
Banyan Tree in the Seychelles has the most stylish welcome pack—tropical-print slippers that come in a chic little drawstring bag and a coordinating cosmetics case. www.banyantree.com/seychelles
The Hotel Monasterio, in Cuzco, Peru, has the most beautiful, and appropriate, background music: Gregorian chants, playing softly at all hours. www.monasterio.orient-express.com
CONCIERGES, GUIDES, AND MORE
Securing everything from hot restaurant reservations to the hardest-to-get theater tickets is a breeze for the concierges at the Lanesborough, in London, and they always have the inside scoop on where to shop. www.starwoodhotels.com
Alejandro Peralta, the butler at Las Ventanas al Pararíso, in Los Cabos, is almost psychic—and incredibly gracious. He sets up laptops, coordinates appointments, recommends menus, arranges car rentals, and keeps an eye out for overzealous beach vendors. www.lasventanas.com
Alessandra Roberti Cozzo, the concierge at Rome's Hotel de Russie, trained at the Hyde Park Hotel in London but is a born-and-bred Trasteverina, so she knows the ins and outs of every neighborhood in Rome. www.hotelderussie.it
Guy Palme, the leopard-safari guide at South Africa's Phinda Game Reserve, has been tracking the cats for research purposes for years, so sightings are virtually guaranteed—along with a wealth of information. www.phinda.com
The artistic flower-petal designs on the beds at La Casa Que Canta, in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, were a lovely surprise—and added even more romance to the room. www.lacasaquecanta.com
The babysitters on the Crystal Serenity require almost no advance notice—and seem to genuinely love kids. www.crystalcruises.com
Phinda Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
To guests staying in one of the seven high-design lodges on-site, the 54,000-acre reserve’s teeming wildlife—black rhinos, elephants, cheetahs, and over 380 species of birds—seems to have been there forever. But this biodiversity is the result of an intensive ecological restoration program that transformed scarred and misused farmland into one of southern Africa’s most diverse game parks.
The Spa at the Datai
The Spa at the Peninsula Beverly Hills
Tucked away on the fifth-floor roof garden of the Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel lies The Peninsula Spa. Relaxation and high-end pampering await just beyond the heated rooftop pool and outdoor cabanas. Seven treatment rooms, adorned with marble floors and powder blue, cushioned benches and wall-coverings, are available to try any number of holistic and therapeutic massages, including unique sessions utilizing gem-saturated oils, like ruby, emerald, and diamond. Decadent body treatments, such as white chocolate body soufflé, tantalize the senses and distressed skin. Couples massages are available in the Serenity Room, and there is a eucalyptus-infused steam room.
This restaurant on the sixth floor of the Four Seasons Hong Kong has established itself as a French cuisine authority in Hong Kong, earning two Michelin stars in 2014 and 2015. The night begins at the Caprice Bar, the elegant and discreet corner where visitors can kick back with a glass of wine or champagne. Bar manager Milan Ale is praised in the biz for having an elephant's memory: Quick to recall preferences of each guest, he is the ideal confidant to any type of palate. Views at the adjacent 108-seat restaurant range from Victoria Harbor to a look into the open kitchen; crystal chandeliers, gold walls, and elegantly set round tables form the atmosphere. Under the direction of chef de cuisine Fabrice Vulin, the fine eatery provides lavish French fare with Moroccan influences, such as a blue lobster tart topped with fresh fruits and a caramelized pigeon breast with exotic spices. The most visually compelling moment by far is when the selection of cheeses gets transported from the cellar: The platter is so huge, it can only be lifted by a minimum of two staffers.
Cielo, Big Sur
A traditional ryokan (inn) on a quiet sidestreet in Kyoto, the Yoshikawa Inn presents classic Japanese hospitality in a 100-year-old building surrounded by gardens. Guests can eat at the casual twelve-seat counter or in one of nine private tatami rooms. The Inn is known for its tempura—batter-dipped shrimp, pickled mackerel, fiddlehead ferns, mushrooms, or sweet potatoes, for example—served as the last course of a kaiseki (multi-course) meal and kakiage (a mixed, aged tempura) served with rice or chazuke style (hot tea over rice). The house dipping sauce is a closely guarded secret that's been handed down through generations.
North Island Restaurant
Seven One Seven
Located in a 17th-century manor house built for a wealthy sugar merchant, the Seven One Seven hotel contains nine opulent guest rooms named after famous European artists, such as Picasso, Shakespeare, and Frans Liszt. Each room is individually decorated with antique furniture, French windows, original artwork, and a color palette matched to the spirit of the artist. Most rooms overlook the garden patio, while the two large executive suites provide impressive views of the neighboring canals. The hotel does not have a restaurant but serves a full breakfast in the Stravinsky Room, decorated with fresh flowers and a grand piano.
Casa Howard Florence
This affordable guesthouse—opened in 2005 as a Florentine outpost of successful Roman experiment in a new kind of Italian lodging—features 13 themed accommodations in a prime location near Santa Maria Novella church. This is not a full-service hotel: There’s no concierge, no porter for your bags, not even a receptionist—a housekeeper checks in guests and gives them the keys (though you should advise them about any unduly early or late arrivals so they'll be sure to have someone around). The idea of the guesthouse is to treat is as more of your private Florentine flat, complete with WiFi and LCD TVs. Each room is unique, with unusual colors and quirky furnishings—the Oriental Room is filled with pieces collected on the owners' Asian travels against tomato red walls, the large Drawing Room has Venetian mosaic marble floors and black walls with eye-popping white trim, the cozy Hidden Room has a padded wall and sunken tub, and the Garden Room has its own Turkish Bath.
Room to Book: The Library Room has wall-to-wall shelves filled with books in English. The family-friendly Play Room has a private climbing wall.
Landmark Mandarin Oriental Spa
Weary travelers needing a respite from the bustle of one of the world’s busiest cities seek out this two-level spa in the Central district. The Oriental Spa is 25,000 square feet and offers 15 treatment rooms, a Pilates studio, and a yoga space. The neutral tones and soft white light in the lobby provide a soothing introduction to rest of the space, which includes a Roman laconium for women and a Turkish hamam for men. Treatments range from Oriental Essence to the Native American-influenced Aroma Stone and the Moroccan Rasul mud treatment.
Even Aman junkies will admit that this extraordinary resort, perched above the dramatic Lombok Strait on Bali's forested east coast, raises the bar for the hotel group. The 20-acre property has 34 spacious, freestanding villas with soaring cane ceilings and carved four-poster beds; all are connected by elevated walkways that thread through the manicured gardens and overlook the Indian Ocean. At its shores lies a stretch of private beach and a 134-foot-long swimming pool, but it’s the three-tiered infinity pool set into the cliffside and facing the sea that is the real showstopper. (There’s a phalanx of staffers at both pools, ready to scurry over with towels and icy ginger-and-mint infused drinks.) Though the nearby village of Karangasen has plenty to explore, don’t be surprised if you’re disinclined to leave the property.
A multicourse breakfast is served by a room attendant bearing a tray laden with such morsels as grilled trout, seasonal tofu, miso soup, and a variety of teas. Sit at the low table and contemplate a view of the manicured garden at this venerable ryokan inn.
Hotel de Russie, a Rocco Forte Hotel
It's hard to beat this beautifully updated 19th-century palazzo with 122 rooms, phenomenal terraced gardens, and incredible location between Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps. Since its 2000 opening, the Hotel de Russie has been a favorite of Hollywood elite not just for its convenient location and white glove service, but also for its urban seclusion. Near some of the city's best shopping on Via Condotti, the hotel is a shopper's paradise as well as a rare urban oasis of green. Its distinctive modern interiors are an eclectic mix of pastels, handsome dark woods, and walls accented with Mapplethorpe photography. The newly renovated on-site spa is rock star-ready with Turkish bath, swimming pool, chromatherapy, wellness zone, and ever-present personal trainers. Especially pleasant in summer is the Stravinskij bar in the outdoor garden courtyard and the Jardin de Russie restaurant with its terraced gardens.
Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon
Las Ventanas al Paraíso, A Rosewood Resort
Horned Dorset Primavera
This intimate, 33-suite resort, spread over seven beachfront acres on Puerto Rico's western coast, could just as easily exist on the southern coast of Spain. Its whitewashed stucco buildings cascading down a verdant hillside and its central courtyard surrounding a terracotta fountain have a distinctly Mediterranean feel. Though the current duplex suites are plenty luxurious—averaging 1,400 square feet and furnished with mahogany canopy beds, teak chairs, and expansive marble bathrooms complete with soaking tubs—six newer suites are even more so. These have carved arched entryways, Moroccan furnishings, and private plunge pools—the ultimate in casbah chic.
Room to Book: Beachside rooms are literally steps from the azure sea.
The Peninsula Hong Kong
Belmond Hotel Monasterio
In the Andean capital of Cuzco, this 16th-century former Jesuit seminary—a relic of Spanish colonial architecture with two landscaped courtyards and covered arcades—has been transformed by Orient-Express Hotels. The 126 guest rooms, no longer the ascetic monks’s cells of yore, are individually furnished with antique-style furniture and modern technology; many ward off altitude sickness with pumped-in oxygen-enriched air. The Baroque chapel houses religious artwork, including an impressive collection of Cuzquenian School paintings dating from the 17th century. After a long day hiking Cuzco's cobblestone hills, guests can unwind in the barrel-vaulted Lobby Bar before dining at Peruvian restaurant Deli Monasterio.
La Casa Que Canta
Pure romance of the white-wine-at-sunset and walk-on-the-beach variety is the allure at this 25-suite hideaway above La Ropa Beach. All rooms have a cool Mexican contemporary vibe, ample ocean views, and private terraces (televisions are notably absent); 11 have private plunge pools. Because of the hotel's construction—made up of three terra-cotta-colored villas built into a terraced hillside overlooking Zihuatanejo Bay—there are lots of secluded decks and hidden corners, perfect for canoodling couples or sunbathers. Of the two pools, our favorite is the saltwater expanse: It's adjacent to the beach is filled naturally by the sea. Lounge there in the evening as the sun sets into the Pacific.
The Lanesborough will be closed for renovation from late December 2013 to late 2014.
A Georgian-style building overlooking Hyde Park, the Lanesborough maintains the elegance of an 18th-century private residence. The 93 rooms blend Regency period details--parquetry inlaid furnishings and wood veneers--with state-of-the-art tech amenities (complimentary laptops, Mac mini entertainment systems), ensuring that you'll never have to compromise on either convenience or style. 24-hour butler service means that you'll never have to unpack or press your clothes, and that tea and coffee will be served with your wake-up call. The oak-paneled Library Bar stocks hard-to-find whiskeys and Cognacs (including some dating back to 1770).
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli
The mansion of an aristocratic family in the 19th century (and, during World War II, Benito Mussolini), Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli resembles a private country manor. Its 21 suites pay homage to the Feltrinellis, with more than a thousand of their paintings and antiques on display. Also on site: a 500-label wine cellar and restaurant, a 52-foot wood-paneled yacht for trips along the lake, and an eight-acre Italian garden overlooking the water.
Designed with the concept of Palm Desert in the late 1940’s, this one-level motor-style inn is a bright beacon of orange and lemon yellow. Twenty-four guest rooms and suites surround a central area equipped with a pool and Jacuzzi, spa, and garden, with plenty of seating to relax in the sunlight. Lemon trees are planted within the grounds, while palm trees along the exterior act like a barrier for a more secluded appearance. Vintage movie posters line the walls of the lobby, and a complimentary breakfast is available daily. It is also a quick walk to El Paseo for dining and shopping.
Four Seasons Resort, Carmelo
This rural retreat seems designed to coddle the post-Buenos Aires traveler into a numbed state of relaxation. Designed in Balian style, with Asian-inflected design elements and imported woods, the hotel has 44 guestrooms housed in 20 private bungalows (many of them duplexes) constructed of Brazilian walnut. Some rooms offer views of the vast Rio de la Plata and the distant glow of Buenos Aires, while others are tucked away in the eucalyptus forest. Activities here are decidedly low-key: channel your inner gaucho on a guided horseback outing, then feast at a barbeque at La Estancia, the hotel's ranch and organic farm. Or, you can always just read a book under a palapa on the surprisingly wide golden-sand beach before taking a dip in the (clean) river. The property is best-known for its Bali-inspired spa—with its wood-burning chimney, pool, dry sauna, and Asian treatments—and magnificent, “truest bend” golf course.
Banyan Tree Seychelles
The Dorchester, Dorchester Collection
With a prime address on Park Lane facing Hyde Park, this grande dame embodies a posh formality that’s attracted Prince Philip (who held his bachelor party here in 1949) as well as rock and Hollywood royalty who regularly take up residence. Rooms are spacious and charmingly designed; you’ll also find excellent service, afternoon tea in the opulent lobby lounge, a smart gift shop (think bespoke bathrobes), a luxurious spa, and China Tang, David Tang’s Art Deco-inspired Cantonese restaurant and classic cocktail bar. Its 175 rooms and 75 suites are light and airy, and feature floral drapes and carpets, antique furniture and inviting armchairs, and marble bathrooms (with what may be the deepest tubs in town). For a large hotel, it’s still reassuringly exclusive.
Room to Book: One of the Junior or Dorchester suites; each has access to a tech-savvy “E-Butler,” on call daily to solve any Internet or plasma-screen-TV issues.
While the adults soak in infinity pools overlooking the Andaman Sea, the kids take advantage of the Trisara Kids pavilion. Thirty-nine accommodations make up this resort, ranging from individual rooms to a six-bedroom residence. The “Third Garden in Heaven” (the resort’s name in Sanskrit) sits on its own bay near the international airport and has over a mile of shoreline. Hardwood floors, clean-line furnishings, and cream-colored linens are typical of the room interiors, while decks equipped with lounge chairs round out the exteriors. The spa’s signature is the “Royal Trisara” massage, and the dinner-only Trisara Grill is the main dining option.