It List: The Best New Hotels 2012

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Petit St. Vincent Resort
Mike Toy Photography

From a Caribbean rustic-chic retreat to New Zealand’s Minaret Station (accessible only by helicopter), these are the year’s best new hotels.

After a day at the beach, you wander back to your villa and, right on cue, a personal chef stops by to grill lobster tails—and do the dishes afterward. That’s the kind of above-and-beyond service to expect at Secret Bay, a stylish newcomer on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

You know the markers of a lousy hotel (poor service, snooze-inducing design, mediocre food), so what makes a hotel one of the best—not just recommendable, but groundbreaking? For our seventh annual It List, T+L editors traveled the globe to test out new and renovated hotels. The results are in, and our favorite 50 hotels showcase the best the hotel industry has to offer this year.

Consider Tierra Patagonia, a spectacular resort that rises from a glacier-scape on the edge of Torres del Paine National Park. Rooms are stocked with local comforts (handwoven throws, armchairs upholstered in light Patagonian wool), but it’s the only-possible-here activities that you’ll be talking about for months after your stay, such as fording the Baguales River on horseback or shearing sheep by hand with the help of gauchos.

In Italy’s untrammeled Basilicata region, director Francis Ford Coppola opened his fifth stunning hotel project: Palazzo Margherita. With only nine guest rooms, it feels much like your own private estate—one that happens to be owned by a Hollywood mogul, with hand-painted frescoed ceilings, glass chandeliers, and a hidden inner courtyard.

Closer to home, we love the Washington School House in Park City, UT, for its French and Swedish antiques and easy access to the ski slopes, and Florida’s St. Regis Bal Harbour—part of a $700 million development on Miami Beach—for its Jean-Georges Vongerichten poolside grill and eye-catching entrance hall.

You can enjoy a different kind of water view from the Conrad New York, a Zen-inspired respite in the Financial District that overlooks the Hudson River. Further north, New York’s of-the-moment neighborhood Chelsea finally has a trendy hotel to call its own, thanks to the opening of the steel-and-glass Hotel Americano near the High Line. The modern hotel reveals irreverent details Johnny Cash might appreciate (harmonicas in the mini-bar, denim bathrobes in the restrooms).

Whatever your definition of a great hotel, you’re sure to find it in T+L’s 2012 It List.

Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000

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City: Hôtel Americano, New York

Hotel Americano
Jim Franco / Courtesy of Hotel Americano

Who would stock a Manhattan mini-bar with a harmonica and furnish a bathroom with denim bathrobes? The answer: cult-favorite Grupo Habita, the inventive Mexican company behind Hotel Boca Chica (It List 2010), in Acapulco. The steel-and-glass aesthetic of the 56-room hotel matches the creative vibe of Chelsea’s burgeoning gallery scene. The High Line is a stone’s throw away; contemporary-art dealer Paul Kasmin has a new annex across the street. Americano frequently hosts exhibition opening after-parties, and the tapas restaurant has become the de facto canteen for the city’s art insiders. While the property could use better door service for 10th Avenue taxi pickups, we love that New York’s of-the-moment neighborhood finally has a stylish hotel to call its own. hotel-americano.com. $$

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Beach: Lords South Beach, Miami Beach

Lords South Beach
Courtesy of Lords South Beach

Take an Art Deco building in the center of South Beach, add bright bursts of lemon and cerulean as well as campy details (oversize Cleopatra prints; a lobby sculpture of a giant polar bear holding a beach ball) to the 54 rooms, and you’ve got the first outpost of a new, gay-friendly hotel brand and already one of the city’s most talked-about properties. Sure, the design is exaggerated—the hotel’s gold-tiled Cha Cha Rooster bar channels King Midas—but it’s not all brazenly over-the-top. We found the daytime scene around the three pools subdued, and our 285-square-foot Cabana room was thankfully quiet. Come evening, the hotel’s informative iPhone app came in handy on our quest for Miami’s best martini. lordssouthbeach.com. $

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City: Corinthia Hotel London

Corinthia Hotel London
Courtesy of Corinthia Hotel London

A staggering $488 million went into the purchase and restoration of this former Ministry of Defense headquarters south of Trafalgar Square. The 294-room hotel is an ode to grand living: it’s filled with extravagant gestures, such as seven two-story penthouse suites (the Royal Penthouse has a walk-in wine cellar and even a private cinema), and megawatt designer David Collins is behind the gilded accents at Bassoon bar and the vast seafood-focused restaurant, Massimo. Newsworthy, sure, but worth the price tag, even in a city flush with Olympic glory and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee? The power-breakfast crowd surely thinks so. Meanwhile, we were impressed by the subtler touches: Northall, the smaller English restaurant, for its all-local, organic ingredients; the über-private sleep “pods” in the four-story spa; even the straightforward in-room light and temperature controls (blessedly no mind-boggling touch-screen wizardry here). $$$$

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Rustic: Washington School House, Park City, Utah

Washington School House
Michael Spengler

Park City’s recent splashy openings—the Waldorf Astoria Park City (It List 2010), St. Regis Deer Valley, and Montage Deer Valley (It List 2011)—have some competition from a tiny off-mountain gem. Complete with creamy white wainscoting, vintage chandeliers, and French and Swedish antiques, the 1889 schoolhouse, renovated to the studs, is more Alpine chic than Rocky Mountain rustic. Staffers offer spot-on recommendations for restaurants and boutiques and instantly coordinate transportation to your mountain of choice (though Park City’s Town Lift is steps away). Add in the 12 unique rooms and suites—some quirkily configured to respect the original architecture—and the heated pool, and Utah’s adventure-and-entertainment capital has a new home base. washingtonschoolhouse.com. $$$$

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Beach: Hotel Chocolat, Soufrière, St. Lucia

Hotel Chocolat
Just Boucan by Hotel Chocolat, Saint Lucia

Make no mistake: St. Lucia’s sexy new retreat, on a working cacao plantation in the island’s jungly Soufrière area, is one of the most exciting new Caribbean hideaways—for foodies and beachgoers alike. The property and farm are the passion project of a pair of British entrepreneurs who bought the derelict 140-acre estate in an effort to restore the island’s once-thriving chocolate industry. The 14 rustic-chic cottages, with their stone walls, polished granite bathrooms, and open-to-the-sky showers, are especially inviting during the occasional tropical downpour (we curled up with a novel and a glass of Cabernet). The sweetest surprise? Innovative chocolate-infused dishes—cacao gazpacho; yellowfin tuna with chocolate pesto; slow-cooked lamb with chiles and cocoa—all served in an open-sided pavilion with postcard-perfect views of the rain forest and the iconic Petit Piton beyond. thehotelchocolat.com. $$$$

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Renovation: Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles

Hotel Bel-Air
Courtesy of Hotel Bel-Air

It took a dream team to pull off the renovation of Los Angeles’s classic canyon estate, mere minutes but a world away from Rodeo Drive. Guest rooms underwent a Hollywood Regency–inspired makeover by Alexandra Champalimaud: where there was formerly wood, chintz, and white tile, now there’s marble, limestone, and oversize botanical prints that reference the leafy grounds; and California cuisine king Wolfgang Puck reigns in the David Rockwell–updated bar and restaurant. The L.A. landmark, part of the Dorchester Collection hotel group, also added an airy new lobby, a La Prairie spa, 12 suites with canyon views, and state-of-the-art technology (iPads; cutting-edge fitness equipment). Classicists shouldn’t fret: the Bel-Air has preserved its signature touches, including the resident swans and burbling fountains on the 12-acre property. Proof that the hotel is attracting the who’s who? Scan the restaurant’s coveted alcove booths, and you just might see Justin Timberlake nibbling on white-truffle risotto. $$$$

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Design: Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris
George Apostolidis / Mandarin Oriental

If we were to choose one word to describe this 138-room property, which opened in 2011, it would be whimsical. There are butterfly-centric design touches throughout: purple winged clusters line the moody hallways, and the gastronomic restaurant Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, designed by Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku and a T+L Design Award winner this year, feels like an ivory cocoon. Jewel-hued rooms, many with images by photographer Man Ray, start at more than 400 square feet—some of the most expansive in Paris. Though courtyard-view rooms are blissfully quiet, they lack the sense of place of street-facing suites (by far our preferred option), which look onto Rue St.-Honoré. The trump card? The city’s most dialed-in concierge staff awaits in the soaring atrium lobby. mandarinoriental.com. $$$$$

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Beach: St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Florida

St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort
Property of The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort & Residences

At the northern tip of Miami Beach, the tony enclave of Bal Harbour has long been known for its wide, white-sand beaches, lavish residences, and high-end shopping mall. Yet the area lacked a true luxury hotel. Enter Starwood, which poured $700 million into a three-tower development with a new 243-room St. Regis. Celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is behind the restaurant and poolside grill, and the Yabu Pushelberg–designed interiors include the eye-catching entrance hall—a very chic take on a house of mirrors. In the guest quarters, tiled walls in muted tones put the emphasis on the view (a coup: every room overlooks the ocean). Less impressive is the overly ambitious in-room technology, including a lighting system so confusing that, as one staffer admitted, the hotel has considered penning an instruction booklet. stregis.com. $$$$

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Renovation: Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver

Rosewood Hotel Georgia
Courtesy of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

If you think the ornate wall clock, 30-foot chandelier, and fedora-clad doormen hint at the past, you’re right: the Hotel Georgia originally opened in 1927, and after an extensive overhaul, unveiled a new look in this past summer. Rather than adding rooms to compete with the city’s gleaming high-rises, Rosewood Hotel Georgia instead retains the same intimate scale that drew both Elvis Presley and the Beatles to this spot when they toured British Columbia. There are just 156 high-tech rooms and suites, and the attentive staff anticipated our needs, often before we thought of them. The chauffeured hotel Bentley was available when we wanted to explore the city; our reading glasses were wiped clean at turndown; and, on our final evening, a U.S. customs form was slipped under our door—making for a seamless trip back across the border. rosewoodhotels.com. $$$

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City: The Saint, New Orleans

The Saint New Orleans
Carter Rose

On a lively edge of the French Quarter, the Saint exhibits a crisp, highly stylized fantasia. Texas-based owner D. Mark Wyant, an American Airlines pilot, and his mother are behind the restoration of the landmark 1909 Audubon Building on Canal Street. Wyant looked to his travels as inspiration for the interiors, where dark-blue hallways open onto 166 rooms with Art Deco touches, such as all-white lacquered furnishings and indigo ceilings. A sign that Wyant’s Southern roots worked their charms? Sweet Olive Restaurant has been embraced by finicky locals. On weekends, the communal table fills with New Orleanians ordering classic Louisiana crab cakes and ice-cold Abita beers. thesainthotelneworleans.com. $$

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Rustic: Lamai Serengeti, Tanzania

Lamai Serengeti
Courtesy of Nomad Tanzania

The Tanzanian government has allowed a handful of safari companies to set up camp in the Serengeti’s formerly off-limits northwestern corner, and Lamai Serengeti, from pioneering luxury outfitter Nomad Tanzania, is the most impressive. Set amid the ancient boulders of the rugged Kogakuria Kopje cliff, 12 permanent tented suites decorated with woven rugs and handblown glass lamps blend into the landscape; each has a valet box where fresh coffee awaits in time for your early-morning nature walk. Thoughtful touches aside, the reason you’ll want to make Lamai the base for your next African adventure is the unparalleled, crowd-free encounters with the Big Five, as well as sightings of migrating herds of wildebeests, which cross the nearby Mara River between July and October. nomad-tanzania.com. $$$$

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Design: Conservatorium, Amsterdam

Conservatorium
Amit Geron

As a follow-up to his pioneering Jerusalem property, Mamilla (It List 2010), hotelier Alfred Akirov and his son Georgi set their sights on Amsterdam’s landmark 1897 Sweelinck music conservatory. Three years later, Conservatorium, a 129-room hotel with an arsenal of standout features, debuted with spare but opulent interiors, courteous service (especially praiseworthy in a city known for a lack thereof), and serious wellness amenities. To our mind, Conservatorium has upped the ante in Amsterdam across every category. Milanese architect Piero Lissoni filled the spaces with low-slung Italian furniture and state-of-the-art eco-technology (in-room sensors; neon LED lights), while preserving the building’s most beautiful features, such as original hand-painted tiles and inlaid stone floors. The subterranean Akasha Wellbeing Center is arguably the most impressive element: a 100-foot-long lap pool, hammam, full gym and yoga studio, and four oak-walled treatment rooms stand head and shoulders above any other spa we’ve experienced in the Low Countries. conservatoriumhotel.com. $$$

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Resort: Vivanta by Taj Bekal, Kappil Beach, India

Vivanta by Taj Bekal
Courtesy of Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces

Thanks to this sprawling new spa retreat, the tropical backwaters of Kerala are getting a welcome dose of luxury. The lush setting of the 26-acre property, on India’s southernmost tip, where the Kappil River meets the Arabian Sea, is referenced throughout: flowing contours and coir-and-thatch façades mimic the area’s Kettuvallam houseboats, while the 71 rooms (many of which open onto plunge pools) are painted with murals inspired by Indian epics. The 165,000-square-foot Jiva spa, the cornerstone of the property, plies travelers with rejuvenating aromatherapy and ayurvedic treatments, the most thorough of which lasts two weeks. If only we could stay that long. vivantabytaj.com. $$

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Renovation: Le Bristol, Paris

Le Bristol
Courtesy of Hotel Le Bristol

Oh, Paris: your palace hotels are turning up the dial, each one-upping the other with refinements. And this grande dame? A delicate $130 million renovation retained the 19th-century paintings and gilded ceilings dating back to 1925, but infused the space with a lighter, welcoming sensibility. Floor-to-ceiling windows give an airy feel to the new La Prairie spa, and the Michelin three-starred Epicure restaurant is completely redone, with romantic two-tops overlooking the leafy courtyard. A pair of new suites—with parquet floors, petite balconies, and Louis XVI–style furnishings—are reachable by an original wrought-iron elevator, which also leads to the Panoramic Suite (you’ll recognize the 1,700-square-foot space from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris). In the cream-colored Matignon wing, a staircase is illuminated by a winding, seven-story light installation—perfectly suited for the City of Light. $$$$

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Design: Olive Exclusive, Windhoek, Namibia

201205-w-it-list-olive-exclusive
Micky Hoyle

Long known as a hasty post-safari stopover from Namibia’s national parks, Windhoek had little in the way of stylish sanctuaries for weary travelers. Enter the Olive Exclusive, the city’s first contemporary boutique hotel, designed by South African photographer Micky Hoyle, in a quiet residential neighborhood a five-minute drive from the urban center. Each of the seven suites is inspired by a different Namibian region: Egrongo (pictured) is named for a chain of mountains in central Namibia, and is done up in earthy tones, with sculptural woven ceiling lights and larger-than-life photography of abstract landscapes by Hoyle. Ample modern conveniences—in-room laptops; deep soaking tubs—are all the more appreciated after a long stretch in the wilderness. theolive-namibia.com. $$$$

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Resort: The Selman, Marrakesh, Morocco

The Selman
Mr. Grégoire Gardette

There’s no shortage of ultra-chic lodgings in Marrakesh, where every new riad hotel seems to out-design the last. But the Selman—just minutes from the busy medina, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains—takes an exotic new approach. Inspired by the owner’s passion for Arabian horses—16 of which reside on the property in state-of-the-art stables—the walled compound harks back to Morocco’s golden age. Jacques Garcia, who restored the city’s legendary La Mamounia in 2009, created the 61 guest rooms and 13,000-square-foot spa with Moorish touches: mashrabiya screens, intimate alcoves leading to private balconies, and a 260-foot reflecting pool. Arrange a desert ride on one of the horses or opt for afternoon tea on the shady veranda, where the only sound breaking the silence will be that of hooves on the grass. selman-marrakech.com. $$$

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Beach: Secret Bay, Dominica

Secret Bay
Derek Galon

Dominica, with its volcano-sculpted terrain and black-sand coves, is unlike any other destination in the Caribbean. The large, interchangeable resorts of nearby islands are absent; instead, small inns are tucked into overgrown hillsides and along windswept beaches. Secret Bay, near the northwestern town of Portsmouth, perfectly fits the island aesthetic but gives Dominica an infusion of luxury and style. Cantilevered like tree houses, the four villas are smartly designed, and spacious kitchens are stocked with everything from house-made yogurt to watermelon sorbet. Right on cue, a personal chef will stop by to grill lobster tails—and do all the dishes afterward. You can easily lose a week here, lounging on a hammock, or keep occupied with a kayaking excursion or a picnic of all-local ingredients—one of many reminders of Dominica’s eco-friendly vibe. secretbay.dm. $$$

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Renovation: Sofitel Legend Old Cataract, Aswan, Egypt

Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan
Courtesy of Sofitel

Aswan, a palm-fringed city an hour’s flight south of Cairo, saw glory in the 1950’s, when politicos and bold-faced names arrived to visit the Aswan Dam. But even during Egypt’s recent unrest, the peaceful destination remained out of the fray. That’s why a top-to-bottom revamp of the riverfront landmark hotel, a cinnamon-colored Nubian manse, is well-timed. Tourism is beginning to rebound, and this updated icon is a reason to extend your stay. Of the two buildings, the Nile is more modern, with walls of windows that frame a village square. We prefer the Palace, where Sofitel’s preservation efforts are on display: the public spaces have Egyptian antiques and Oriental rugs. It all whetted our appetite for another bygone-era experience: tea on the hotel’s legendary terrace, which still offers an inimitable view of felucca boats that inspired Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. $$

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City: Casa Gangotena, Quito, Ecuador

Casa Gangotena
Courtesy of Casa Gangotena

We’d like to think that if sisters Mimi and Gloria Gangotena, the former residents of this mansion on Quito’s Plaza San Francisco, returned to their grand, early-20th-century manse, they’d feel as if their house had been reborn. The property’s 31 bedrooms, with 12-foot ceilings embellished with Art Nouveau molded tiles and decorative plasterwork friezes, have been painstakingly restored. Now they have beds topped by goose-feather duvets, and all have exquisite Statuarietto marble bathrooms (the 1926 residence had just one). Pair Casa Gangotena, by far the city’s most dignified property, with its sister hotel, the 22-room, glass-walled Mashpi Lodge, which opened in April in the Andean cloud forest, and Ecuador has the makings of one of Latin America’s next great getaways. casagangotena.com. $$$

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Rustic: Aguas Arriba Lodge, El Chaltén, Argentina

Aguas Arriba Lodge
Courtesy of Aguas Arriba Lodge

Until recently, large swaths of Argentinean Patagonia, home to hundreds of glaciers and rushing, aquamarine rivers, were almost impenetrable. Now that the six-room Aguas Arriba has opened on a steep, forested shore above the trout-filled Lago del Desierto, intrepid travelers finally have a place to rest their heads. Getting to the property is an adventure in itself: the one-hour drive from modest El Chaltén to the lake’s edge is over a rutted dirt road. But we were warmly greeted by the hotel owners before the scenic boat ride to the property, where the spotlight is on the surrounding wilderness. There may be no concierge, but each staffer serves triple duty. Our host/masseuse/yoga teacher led us on a hike through hillside forests of woodpecker-filled lenga trees and native orchids, then showed us to our lakefront porch for a dinner of beef fillet and baked pears in Burgundy sauce. After all, heeding the call of the wild doesn’t have to mean sacrificing creature comforts. aguasarribalodge.com; all-inclusive. $$$$

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Design: Andaz Shanghai

Andaz Shanghai
Courtesy of Andaz Shanghai

Standing out in a city in the midst of a hotel boom is no small feat. Yet Andaz Shanghai, the Asian debut for Hyatt’s boutique brand, offers a fresh, style-centric vibe thanks to creative collaborations with local designers and artists. In a coveted location in the historic Xintiandi district, the hotel mixes playful elements (you can order a drink inside the lobby’s 645-square-foot egg-shaped steel sculpture) with guest-friendly touches (in-room mini-bar snacks and soft drinks are complimentary). If you’re wondering why the staff looks so spiffy, it’s because their sleek black ensembles were designed by locally born Han Feng, who created costumes for New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Upstairs in the 307 guest rooms, night owls can thrill at being in the neon-filled heart of the city, spied through curved, retro-space-age windows. With all these bells and whistles, though, we found that the new Andaz was still a work in progress and needed to forgive the staff in training and the lack of a pool and spa, which are still to come. andaz.hyatt.com. $$$$

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Resort: Tierra Patagonia, Chile

Tierra Patagonia
Courtesy of Tierra Hotels

Tucked within the windswept landscape of southern Chile’s Patagonia, on the edge of the Torres del Paine National Park, this low-slung, all-inclusive escape is one of the region’s most anticipated openings. It’s the second hotel from the Tierra group: the first, Tierra Atacama (It List 2008), lures adventure-types to Chile’s northern reaches. Here in the south, rooms all come with 180-degree views of Lago Sarmiento and are stocked with cozy local comforts (handwoven throws; armchairs upholstered in light Patagonian wool). Three duplex suites offer additional space, but may not be worth the added price, as the best moments at the hotel are spent in the public areas—around the tiled infinity pool, in the 4,000-square-foot spa, or on one of the 30 bespoke excursions (biking; hiking; even sheep shearing with gauchos). tierrapatagonia.com; all-inclusive, three-night minimum. $$$$$

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City: Conrad New York

Conrad New York
Courtesy of Conrad New York

New York’s dramatically transformed Financial District is a fitting choice for the expanding and reenergized Hilton-owned Conrad group’s U.S. flagship, its first Manhattan hotel. Behind the glass façade, 463 Zen-inspired suites tower above a 15-story atrium lobby turned art gallery, anchored by an aluminum-and-cable installation by Venezuelan architect Monica Ponce de Leon and a massive painting by conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. The property already lures the suit-and-tie crowd, who convene each morning for the scrambled-egg bruschetta at the hotel’s Mediterranean Atrio restaurant. From there, it’s an easy walk to the arresting new 9/11 Memorial, the 1.2-mile Battery Park City waterfront, and perhaps soon, a proposed Frank Gehry–designed performing arts center. conradnewyork.com. $$$$

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Rustic: Fellah Hotel, Marrakesh, Morocco

Fellah Hotel
Courtesy of Fellah Morocco

This new entry to the Marrakesh scene successfully steers clear of the overdone Arabian Nights fantasy. The property, the project of a local art patron and his wife, is located in the lush Ourika Valley oasis, just a 20-minute drive outside the city. Fellah is both hotel and artists’ colony: one building holds a library partly funded by Libraries Without Borders that welcomes scholars-in-residence (during our stay, we met a Spanish expert on Arabic poetry), while another houses visiting international artists who collaborate with local craftspeople. The same spirit of creativity reigns in all 69 guest rooms: vintage photographs sourced from nearby souks hang on bedroom walls, hammered-metal desks were made by local artisans, and 1970’s radios were scavenged from flea markets in Casablanca. fellah-hotel.com. $

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Design: Hotel Fasano Boa Vista, Porto Feliz, Brazil

Hotel Fasano Boa Vista
Courtesy of Hotel Fasano

São Paulo, South America’s largest metropolis—a sprawling concrete jungle with 11 million residents—can border on overwhelming for the visitor. That’s why Hotel Fasano Boa Vista, the sexy Fasano Group’s latest property, is such a welcome addition. On a quiet 2,800-acre farm an hour’s drive northwest of the city center, it delivers São Paulo’s first true countryside resort. Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld, who also designed the group’s first retreat in Punta del Este, Uruguay (Hotel Fasano Las Piedras, It List 2011), used golden brown freijo wood for the residential-style lobby, with its triple-height windows and mid-20th-century furnishings, as well as for the 39 light-filled guest rooms. Large verandas in the suites face rolling green hills and have fireplaces and rocking chairs that beckon upon arrival (go ahead: the staff will unpack for you), while the large infinity-edged pool is a quick barefoot stroll through the grass. fasano.com.br. $$$$

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Resort: Amanruya, Bodrum, Turkey

Amanruya
Courtesy of Amanresorts

Come summer, Bodrum takes its place among the “it” capitals of the Mediterranean, and until now, the smart set decamped at the seaside Maçakizi hotel. All that may be changing since Amanruya, the latest from Amanresorts, opened in December among the olive- and pine-forested hills above Mandalya Bay, overlooking the Aegean. For Aman junkies, this arriviste will both be embraced, and, alas, seem occasionally disappointing. The setting is spectacular, but it’s minus a beach. The 50-acre resort itself, inspired by the ancient Anatolian villages along the southern Turkish coast, still needs seasoning and a few growing cycles to add patina and sense of place. Yet we still admired the 36 pool terrace cottages, with their Turkish mangal (charcoal) fireplaces, individual pools and gardens, and sumptuous bathrooms with limestone tubs. An added thrill for the culture buffs: ancient ruins, like those of Priene, are just an hour’s drive away. amanresorts.com. $$$$$

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Beach: Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

Song Saa Private Island
Courtesy of Song Saa Island

Exploring the necklace of pristine atolls off Cambodia’s southeastern coast once meant a bumpy, three-hour boat ride and bare-bones lodging. That all changed with the arrival of Song Saa, a resort on two islands that now transports guests by speedboat from the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville to its white-sand shores in just 30 minutes. We were greeted by name upon arrival, and our penchant for desserts was remembered with an unbidden sweet roll at breakfast. When we weren’t unwinding in one of the 27 beachfront villas, with their soaring thatched roofs, weathered timber floors, and plunge pools, we swam at a nearby protected reef and visited the resort’s smaller island to the north, a nature reserve. songsaa.com. $$$$

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Renovation: Petit St. Vincent, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Petit St. Vincent Resort
Mike Toy Photography

When new Texas-born owners took over Petit St. Vincent, a coral-rimmed atoll in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the resort’s many repeat guests had one demand: keep the 22 cottages unplugged. Without the distractions of television and Wi-Fi, the star is the island itself. Though we found it a little rough around the edges (service is uneven and, at one point, the hotel lost power for more than an hour), this may be as close as one can get to an unspoiled paradise in the Caribbean. The new beachside restaurant makes expertly grilled spiny lobster and scallop ceviche, and the volcanic-stone and purple-heart hardwood cottages were recently revamped in a beachy palette of white and turquoise. It’s possible to hole up in your waterfront room and never see another soul. Drop a note in your bamboo mailbox and hoist the yellow flag and the staff—mostly locals from the surrounding Windward Islands—will bring you whatever you desire, from frothy piña coladas to house-made ginger-and-nutmeg ice cream. $$$$$

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City: Efendi Hotel, Acre, Israel

Efendi Hotel
Courtesy of Efendi

It’s hard to believe that two Ottoman-era mansions in Acre, a beach-lined port city in Israel’s northern Galilee, sat empty until local restaurateur Uri Jeremias saw the site’s potential. Under his watchful eye—and in strict accordance with Israel’s Antiquities Authority—the two residences, complete with Byzantine walls and Crusader-period cellars, were intricately restored to become the palatial Efendi Hotel, with 12 white-on-white rooms, each with original trompe l’oeil ceilings. We ordered Israeli wines and pan-Mediterranean dishes in the 900-year-old cellar turned tapas bar before taking a 10-minute stroll south along the Mediterranean to Jeremias’s restaurant Uri Buri, known for its simple spin on local seafood, passing the city’s 4,000-year-old sights along the way. efendi-hotel.com. $$

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Rustic: Crusoe Island Lodge, Juan Fernández Islands, Chile

Crusoe Island Lodge
Courtesy of Noi Hotels

This new 16-room refuge has transformed a little-known island—complete with buried treasure, top-notch diving, and a rich literary history—into a castaway fantasy. The cozy oceanfront lodge, in an archipelago off the coast of Santiago, brings the outdoors in. Guest rooms with light-as-marshmallow duvets open onto terraces with views of Pangal Bay. Days are spent on guided treks into the forested peaks of the World Biosphere Reserve (where pirates are rumored to have stashed Incan jewels) or on a boat tour to a hidden cave once inhabited by the 18th-century sailor who inspired Robinson Crusoe. A boon for time-crunched adventurers: the hideaway is now accessible by a two-hour hotel-chartered flight from Santiago. crusoeislandlodge.com. $$$

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Resort: Palais Namaskar, Marrakesh, Morocco

Palais Namaskar
Courtesy of Palais Namaskar

We’re keeping a close eye on the Oetker Collection, a small, pedigreed European hotel group with big expansion plans—it’s also behind the renovation of Paris’s classic Le Bristol, on 2012’s It List as well. This year the group is turning heads in Africa with the debut of Palais Namaskar, a grand retreat in the city’s upscale Palmeraie neighborhood. The property’s 41 guest rooms, villas, and gold-domed palaces are set on more than 12 acres of gardens, pools, and ponds, all edged by arcades of Moghul and Andalusian arches. The classic architecture belies modern interiors, with their aubergine palettes and oblong fireplaces. We found the same sleek aesthetic in the hotel’s 14-seat private jet, which whisks guests between Casablanca and Marrakesh in less than half an hour—a magic carpet for the 21st century. palaisnamaskar.com. $$$$

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City: 45 Park Lane, London

45 Park Lane
Courtesy of 45 Park Lane

Walking into the lobby of London’s 45 Park Lane, you almost don’t know that you’re in a hotel. There’s no front desk, and apart from the address on the exterior of the building, there’s no signage. Stylish and understated and with just 45 rooms, the property has become the address of choice for guests in search of low-key luxury. The building—the former home of the Playboy Club—was taken over by the Dorchester Collection, the team behind the Bel-Air in Los Angeles (another It List 2012 winner) and the Dorchester, just down the street. Thierry Despont, who has worked his magic on such properties as London’s Claridge’s and the Carlyle, in New York, has given the property an Art Deco twist, with sexy touches like a mahogany-and-black-granite bar and artwork ranging from Damien Hirst prints to vintage photos of Hollywood celebs. Our only complaints: many of the electric outlets are ill-positioned for oversize chargers, and the smaller rooms have no space on the sink or in the shower for our stylish amenities. But there’s a lot to love, including spectacular views of Hyde Park, an iPad in every room, and a subtle sense of humor (we’ll admit that we swiped the purple rubber ducky from the bathroom). $$$$

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Rustic: L’And Vineyards, Évora, Portugal

L’And Vineyards
Fernando Guerra

Until recently, Portugal’s sleepy, wine-producing Alentejo region was the exclusive preserve of rustic conventos and pousadas. Now, an eye-catching Modernist wine resort is raising the stakes. L’And, a low-slung lakeside property 45 minutes by car from Lisbon, has 22 sleek suites with slatted wall panels made of eucalyptus and slate soaking tubs; during the warmer summer months, the best rooms to book are the 10 Sky suites, which have retractable ceilings for stargazing. You’ll experience the terroir in the new biodynamic winery’s first bottles, paired with the restaurant’s regionally inspired dishes such as game pie with watercress and pomegranate. We took a leisurely day trip, arranged for us by the property’s efficient concierge, to Évora, a Unesco World Heritage–protected medieval town just 20 miles away. l-andvineyards.com. $$

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Design: The Singular, Puerto Borries, Patagonia, Chile

The Singular
Courtesy of Singular Hotels

Here’s a challenge: take a century-old meat-storage facility on the shoals of Patagonia’s icy fjords and turn it into a top-notch adventure resort. The first hotel from Singular, an independent, Santiago-based hotel company, is up to the task. Chilean-born designer Enrique Concha helped transform the brick-and-timber structure an hour from Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park into a cavernous main lodge with cathedral ceilings and dramatic walls of glass. Fifty-seven guest rooms—all with floor-to-ceiling windows—look onto the original pinewood dock, the Last Hope Sound, and the snowcapped Andes. After a hearty traditional breakfast we were fortified enough to explore our surroundings, which included the two for-guests-only private reserves, just a short sail away. thesingular.com. $$$$

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Beach: White Pearl Resorts Ponta Mamoli, Zitundo, Mozambique

White Pearl Resorts Ponta Mamoli
Courtesy of White Pearl Resort

The only hotel for miles on a vast blond beach on Mozambique’s untrammeled southern coast, White Pearl is the first part of a master plan to open up this poor but wildly beautiful area to sustainable tourism. The resort is an oceanside respite for the post-safari set just a 30-minute helicopter ride from the capital of Maputo. Built with local woods, all 22 stand-alone suites overlook the beach, with plunge pools and crisp organic linens in muted shades of sand and sea. Should you leave your suite—and frankly, that’s hard—you could gallop along the empty beach on horseback or visit an offshore reef where you’ll see turtles, dolphins, and humpback whales among the vividly colored coral formations. Back on land, a well-made mojito at the chic beach bar gives a hint of the direction in which this pristine coastline is heading. whitepearlresorts.com. $

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Renovation: Viceroy Riviera Maya, Mexico

Viceroy Riviera Maya
Courtesy of Viceroy Riviera Maya

There’s no grand driveway—not even a sign—leading to the recently revamped Viceroy Riviera Maya (formerly the Tides), the newest addition to the brand’s portfolio of sleek hideaways. But that hasn’t stopped the resort from making a splash. The 11 new oasis-like suites, all with private plunge pools, outdoor showers, and tubs big enough for two, are also the resort’s only beachside, oceanfront rooms; the other 30 villas overlook shaded patios and hammocks. Overhauled common spaces, such as the (much-needed) casual waterfront restaurant and expanded outdoor patio areas, join the Mayan culinary school and the first-rate spa—with a lush, palm-shaded massage area that’s so serene you’ll forget you’re just 15 minutes from Playa del Carmen’s throbbing nightlife. $$$$

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City: Istanbul Edition

Istanbul Edition
Courtesy of EDITION Hotels

Istanbul—with its grand mosques and intoxicating mix of cultures—is on the must-visit list for Europe-bound travelers, and the city’s hotel options are growing to meet the demand. We’re most excited about the Istanbul Edition, the second property from Marriott’s boutique brand. Designed by New York–based Gabellini Sheppard in collaboration with Ian Schrager, the lobby is covered in travertine marble and gold mosaic tiles, while warm rosewood and blond-oak walls dominate the 78 serene guest rooms. The hotel’s location means key cultural sites such as Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace are a bit of a trek (a half-hour by car). But access to the shop- and restaurant-filled Levent district and basking in the property’s opulent 20,000-square-foot spa (a T+L 2012 Design Awards winner) seems like a fair trade. $$$

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Rustic: Minaret Station, Wanaka, New Zealand

Minaret Station
Fredrick Larsson, Larsson Photography

Welcome to New Zealand’s Southern Alps, one of the earth’s last untouched landscapes, with snowcapped mountains, towering glaciers, and pristine lakes. And thanks to the arrival of the region’s first luxury camp, you no longer have to be a celebrity (Shania Twain owns a ranch nearby) or a hobbit (Peter Jackson filmed Lord of the Rings here) to experience the area’s profound beauty in style—though you will have to pay a premium for the access to one of the country’s prettiest corners. Minaret Station, a stone lodge with just four tented suites, is set on 65,000 acres of valley floor that can be reached (from Queenstown) only by helicopter. Interiors reflect the surroundings, from the sheepskin rugs to the bottled water by your bed at turndown (it comes from a nearby waterfall). A typical day might include a chopper ride into the belly of the Mount Aspiring glacier or, if it’s summer, an expedition to the coast for abalone and crayfish diving. If all that fresh air doesn’t lull you to sleep, a dip in your private veranda’s heated soaking tub should do the trick. minaretstation.com. $$$$$

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City: Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai

Kerry Hotel Pudong
Michael Webber

Whoever says you can’t mix business and pleasure hasn’t stayed at Kerry Hotel Pudong, the debut property of Shangri-La’s new lifestyle brand. Here, the seasoned Hong Kong–based hotel group offers all the amenities to keep hardcore road warriors happy (round-the-clock business facilities; easy train access from the airport; private offices for rent) while amping up the fun factor (martial-arts-inspired wushu body therapy in the spa). The 574 guest rooms, accented in warm wood, are filled with natural light. Evening drinks are at the Brew, where New Zealand–born brewmaster Leon Mickelson handcrafts his addictive, coriander-infused, Belgian-style ale. Athletic types will love the gym: at more than 8,000 square feet, it’s Shanghai’s largest. thekerryhotels.com. $$$

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Rustic: Palazzo Margherita, Bernalda, Italy

Palazzo Margherita
Lisa Limer

One look at this 19th-century retreat in Italy’s untrammeled Basilicata region, and it’s no wonder director Francis Ford Coppola cast Palazzo Margherita as the star of his fifth hotel project. Discovered while Coppola was traveling through southern Italy researching his family’s roots, Palazzo Margherita is located in the picturesque village of Bernalda and now features impeccable interiors by designer Jacques Grange. Nine enormous guest rooms, with hand-painted frescoed ceilings, glass chandeliers, and tiled floors, surround a hidden courtyard and fountain-filled garden. Despite the property’s pedigree—it was owned by one of the region’s most important families—it manages to feel like an Italian home away from home. It was hard to choose where to dine: in the garden, in our room, or in the shady courtyard. We opted for a casual dinner in the palazzo’s eat-in kitchen, chatting with the gregarious Filomena, a local nonna and the resident chef, as she prepared our meal, and before long we were helping her make the evening’s pasta. palazzomargherita.com. $$$$

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City: Oberoi Gurgaon, Gurgaon, India

Oberoi Gurgaon
Courtesy of The Oberoi Gurgaon

You may experience a sense of dislocation when you enter the huge glass box that is the reception area, at the top of a grand, winding, tree-lined driveway. No one could blame you if you forget for a moment you are in India—the space is gleamingly, almost blindingly white, and even the flowers, an enormous orb of red carnations that appears to levitate above a white center table, convey a sense of hyperreality. Below, a huge expanse of blue water that banks up against the restaurant Threesixtyone° as well as guest-room and spa wings, entirely fills the hotel’s enormous courtyard. The restaurant—one of two, the other specializing in seafood—serves a pan-Asian menu ranging from sushi and Chinese “wokkerie” to Indian curries and tandoors, and the crowd is a stylish mix of hotel guests and jeunesse dorée. Need we mention that the rooms are really nice? If hard work can get us to this “luxury business hotel,” again, sign us up! oberoihotels.com. $$$

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Rustic: The Pig, Hampshire, England

The Pig, Hampshire, England
Courtesy of The Pig

When it comes to the new breed of English retreats, Hampshire’s Lime Wood (It List 2010) remains the grand country house to beat. But this year, the property’s little sister—a diminutive charmer a 15-minute drive away—is stealing the spotlight. At the Pig, chef James Golding, a protégé of Mark Hix, cooks seasonal, locally sourced food in simple, unpretentious combinations, serving house-smoked salmon as well as all manner of piggy parts, roasted, smoked, and salted. Inviting English-chic interiors converted what was previously a dark manor house into a welcoming inn. Sitting areas are decorated with wingback chairs, eclectic vintage glassware, and working fireplaces, while the 26 guest rooms have claw-foot bathtubs and botanical prints. Just outside your door: the New Forest National Park, where Golding and his staff foraged the ingredients you’ll be eating for dinner. thepighotel.co.uk. $$

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City: 137 Pillars House, Chiang Mai, Thailand

137 Pillars
Courtesy of 137 Pillars

Chiang Mai’s reputation as the low-key antidote to Bangkok’s bustling energy got a major boost when this tranquil, 30-suite retreat opened early this year. Other boutique properties in town clamor to out-hip one another, but 137 Pillars House strikes an entirely different note: that of a classic colonial hotel. Located in a leafy residential neighborhood near the Mae Ping River, the two-acre property was once part of the sprawling compound of a British teak-trading company. A beautifully restored 19th-century teakwood bungalow now houses a library and lounge, while each detail at the hotel, from the rattan planter’s chairs on private terraces to the discreetly attentive service, evokes an earlier, more genteel era. 137pillarshouse.com. $$

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Rustic: Villa Clarisse, Île de Ré, France

Villa Clarisse
Relais & Châteaux

There’s nothing we like more than uncovering a hidden gem. This year’s standout: Villa Clarisse, a petite hideaway on the picturesque French island of Île de Ré, a summertime destination for British and French travelers off France’s Atlantic Coast. Sister property to the polished Hôtel de Toiras in the port of St. Martin de Ré, Villa Clarisse is unfussy and rustic, tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood a three-minute walk from the harbor. In an 18th-century house, nine guest rooms designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon and owner Olivia Le Calvez all have antique desks, whitewashed walls, and green shutters that open to garden views. Only breakfast and lunch are served on property, which means you’ll need to make the five-minute stroll to town for dinner—a small sacrifice for sweet seclusion in one of the island’s quieter corners. villa-clarisse.fr. $$

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City: Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong

Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong

With every intention of becoming the destination for the jet-setting elite, Ritz-Carlton’s new Asian flagship pulls out all the stops: at 1,600 feet, it’s the world’s highest hotel, occupying floors 102 through 118 of Hong Kong’s International Commerce Centre. The lobby and restaurants are studies in Italian marble, onyx, crystal chandeliers, and hand-tufted carpets, and the vertigo-inducing top-floor bar, Ozone, is where you’ll rub shoulders with power brokers and socialites alike. In contrast, the 312 guest rooms are done in soothing creams, chocolates, and dark woods—with the best views in town (which you can check out with your personal telescope). For the ultimate in sky-high indulgence, the infinity-edged indoor pool on the 118th floor has a ceiling of LED panels featuring a perpetual blue sky. $$$

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Design: Armani Hotel Milano, Milan

Armani Hotel Milano
Courtesy of Armani Milan

It’s a man’s world at the Armani Hotel Milano, the second collaboration between the Italian designer and Dubai-based Emaar Hotels, in the city’s main shopping district. Extravagance here registers in deceptively simple ways: bespoke sandalwood soaps, sculpted to resemble Zen-like river stones, and leather-paneled doors discreetly separating bedrooms from living spaces. Touch-screen remotes control heat, light, and entertainment, and summon your personal “lifestyle manager” (concierge) in an instant. From the Art Deco–style furniture to the six-inch-long Q-tips, everything has been hand-selected by Giorgio Armani. The property delivers a sense of Milan as a city of history, style, and considerable charm. Armani’s love song to his hometown is certainly a seductive one. armanihotels.com. $$$$

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Renovation: Park Hyatt, Sydney

Park Hyatt Sydney
Courtesy of Park Hyatt Sydney

The city’s top hotel was closed for almost a year to undergo a dramatic $68 million overhaul. Finally, the Park Hyatt Sydney, a 22-year-old harborside landmark, has reopened its doors, and it was well worth the wait. Commissioned works by Australian artists such as sculptor Bruce Armstrong dress up public spaces, while new floor-to-ceiling windows throughout play up the hotel’s unparalleled views (three suites on the new fourth floor have wraparound terraces that look onto Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House). Local timber and sandstone accent the 155 guest rooms, while bathrooms are stocked with toiletries from cult New York City perfumer Le Labo. With a (doubled) staff of local butlers at the ready, service remains of the quintessentially casual Australian kind, but with an impressive new level of polish, much like the building itself. $$$$

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City: Trump International Hotel & Tower, Toronto

Trump International Hotel & Tower, Toronto
II BY IV Design - David Whittaker Photography

To say that Toronto’s hotel scene is booming would be an understatement. The year 2012 will mark four notable arrivals, including Trump Hotels’ first foray north of the border, a stone, glass, and steel property in the 11th to 30th floors of a 65-story tower. (Trump also opened a behemoth in Panama last summer that nabbed the title of Central America’s largest building.) The city-center location is a boon: it’s near the newly expanded Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto International Film Centre building, and many of the 261 rooms, as well as the 12,000-square-foot health club and spa, have views from the CN Tower to Lake Ontario. You’ll find plenty of Ivanka’s signature design touches (jewel-toned furnishings; tufted leather headboards), and the surprising cherry-blossom motif in the rooms and lobby confers a lighthearted touch on an otherwise masculine business hotel. trumphotelcollection.com. $$$

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Renovation: Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane

Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane
Richard Waite

Opened in 1970 on a leafy corner in Mayfair, this property, formerly the Inn on the Park, was the first European entry from the Four Seasons brand. It offered a canny fusion of old-school opulence and cutting-edge service: your dad loved it, and your mom did, too. But, like many of us, it needed some work upon reaching middle age. Now, after a two-year closure, one of London’s best-loved hotels is back with a new name, a new layout, and a bold new look. Four Seasons is touting the property as a symbol of what’s next for the company—and, no question, Pierre Yves Rochon’s high-drama interiors (starting in the lobby lounge, with its bordello-red piano) are a departure for the typically subdued brand. Upstairs, guest rooms have been enlarged and given a crisper, more masculine design, but remain as soothing as ever, with walnut and sycamore paneling and walls the color of clotted cream. The biggest change: an entire floor was added to create the new rooftop spa, which provides a spectacular vantage over neighboring Hyde Park. $$$$

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City: W St. Petersburg, Russia

W St. Petersburg
Courtesy of W Hotels Worldwide

Russia’s intellectual capital, traditionally known for its opulent palace retreats, is shaking up the hotel scene with the launch of the W St. Petersburg, the Eastern European debut for Starwood’s fast-growing, fashion-centric brand. Just a five-minute walk from the Hermitage, in the heart of the city’s history-rich center, the property’s 19th-century limestone-and-marble-clad façade belies modern interiors that are inspired by Fabergé eggs. The 137 guest rooms feature etched mirrors, drapes and fabrics dressed in gold and burgundy, and hand-carved metal lamps that sparkle. Come sunset, we found our way to the lively rooftop lounge and sipped cocktails while taking in vistas of the grand domes and gilded spires of the centuries-old city. whotels.com. $$$

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