The World's Best-Designed Hotels 2015
Maybe it’s that glittering chandelier hanging in the lobby, or the cool claw-foot tub in your hotel bathroom. “Aesthetics, and thoughtful details, have a lot to do with drawing guests back to a hotel,” says Heather Richardson, the marketing and editorial director at Jacada, a London-based safari and tour operator.
Thanks to social media, though, such details can also be irresistible in terms of another kind of instant gratification. “Travel has also become quite competitive,” Richardson admits. “People want to post photos that inspire their friends and family.”
Whatever their motivations, Travel+Leisure readers clearly love hotels that tastefully stand out, either through tiny details or dramatic settings. In this year’s World’s Best Awards, magazine readers ranked hotels around the globe for such qualities as their excellent locations, onsite spas, good value and compelling designs. Some of the top 20 design winners are located in former castles (and one is even a former prison), meaning that years of history have shaped their aesthetics. Other winners use contemporary design to literally connect travelers to their environments, whether it’s a tree house in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or a bungalow’s glass coffee table that acts a lens into the South Pacific below.
But all of them share a magical quality that dazzles travelers—even if those travelers never feel the need to share that experience on Instagram. Dena Roché felt the effects of one top 10-winner, South Carolina’s Inn at Palmetto Bluff, “the second I turned onto the property, and drove the weeping-willow-lined stretch to get to the hotel.”
“I drive like Danica Patrick normally,” says the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based travel blogger, “but it was so beautiful I found myself inching along. The whitewash and neutral colors are soothing, and the outdoor rocking chairs will have you ‘porching,’ an inn tradition, after just one day. The design lulls you into tranquility.”
No. 20: The Cloister, Sea Island, GA
This stately barrier-island resort has hosted a few Downton Abbey-themed weekends, and no wonder: Even if the exterior of the main building is Mediterranean rather than English (it was originally designed by legendary Florida architect Addison Mizner), the hotel still plays the role of country estate to the hilt, with its overstuffed chairs, gilded mirrors, Turkish rugs, and marble baths. The resort is currently being expanded by 63 rooms, but still offers access to five miles of beach, three golf courses and its own Wonderland sweet shop, home of the pecan-laden Gold Brick Sundae. Readers applauded the friendly service and another sensory delight—the poignant sounds of bagpipes at sister property The Lodge at Sea Island.
No. 19: The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur, India
Built on the grounds of an 18th-century Shiva temple, this domed resort showcases the classic pink-plaster walls found around Jaipur—nicknamed the Pink City—as well as gold-leaf frescoes, Mughal arches and no shortage of chandeliers. It’s no surprise, then, that the hotel’s “tent lodging” is far from camp-style. The tents feature golden-thread canopies, traditional Indian block printings and royal tassels, as well as air-conditioning and plumbing, including claw-foot tubs. If you need more space, one villa measures 11,000 square feet and has its own 60-foot pool. Readers ranked the hotel highly for both its rooms and facilities—which, here, includes peacocks wandering the grounds.
No. 17 (tie): The Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, B.C., Canada
The exact location of this 75-room resort was chosen, during the 1950s, because the founders wanted the best spot for watching the area’s dramatic storms, with huge waves crashing against the rocks. Today, readers also love this Vancouver Island retreat because its woodsy aesthetics blend so nicely with the scenery—Chesterman Beach, the surrounding pine trees and the occasional bald eagle. Constructed of cedar, fir, driftwood and stone, the rooms have big windows, fireplaces, double-sized soaker tubs and heated bathroom floors. If you want to witness those gale-force winds yourself, the hotel offers a Storm-Watching Package (prime season is from November through February), which comes with oilskin hats and the all-important wine and cheese plate for afterward. If you prefer to storm-watch from a warm-and-dry perch, your room also comes with binoculars.
No. 17 (tie): One & Only Palmilla, Los Cabos Resort, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
This Baja resort facing the Sea of Cortes first opened in 1956 with just 15 rooms and an assortment of A-list guests, like Bing Crosby and President Eisenhower. After it was hit hard by 2014’s Hurricane Odile, the now-173-room resort got an elegant makeover, with fresh red-tiled roofs, floor-to-ceiling windows, and colorful native patterns set against sun-washed white. If you book at least a junior suite, your terrace comes with a daybed, convenient for private outdoor siestas. The architecture lets you enjoy both privacy and access: One reader loved that you can hear the waves from every corner of the suite. Gourmands will also love Seared, the on-site steakhouse launched by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
No. 16: Esperanza, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Readers loved the easy access to nature at this 17-acre resort overlooking Punta Ballena, which means “whale point:” from your room, you can watch humpbacks breaching in the waves during the winter. The recently renovated rooms have Mexican artisan furniture, rough-hewn trellises and a pale, surf-and-sand palette. Beyond that, the 57 suites and casitas take one seemingly basic feature—your patio door—and make it dramatic, turning it into a wall that slides open onto your veranda; most casitas and suites also come with a private, infinity-edge hot tub. The resort also offers painting classes, moonlight yoga and cooking classes—using, for instance, the local, dark-shelled chocolata clams.
No. 15: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawaii
The high-end Disney resorts have mastered the art of creating luxury lodging that entertains the kids but also nicely coddles the parents. This 359-room hotel on Oahu’s western shore dazzled readers with its locally-sourced design—from the lava-and-coral flooring in the lobby to the large collection of local art and architectural details like lashing, a Hawaiian building method that uses twisted cords instead of nails. Readers were also wooed by the everyday perks, like the free kids club and well-orchestrated activities. The resort’s swimming options include the man-made Rainbow Reef, a 3,800-square foot saltwater lagoon where you can either snorkel among fish (and note the artistic carvings on the rocks) or watch the marine life through the glass.
No. 14: Rosewood Mayakobá, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
This 130-suite Mexican resort made the design top 20 by forgoing the traditional red-tiled roof and charming readers with a more contemporary aesthetic instead. These sleek, villa-style suites are constructed of indigenous limestone and wood, and get raves for feeling private, thanks to the elegantly discreet wooden lattices on the patio. Many suites have rooftop terraces, private plunge pools and views of the mangroves—but readers also liked the hotel’s selection of local wines, and the personal butlers who can arrange your dinner reservations and spa treatments.
No. 12 (tie): The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur, India
This bougainvillea-covered resort on the banks of Lake Pichola is comprised of dome-topped buildings, garden walkways, and a deer-and-wild-boar-filled nature reserve—and as a result, it feels right at home among the area’s other waterfront palaces. Readers especially loved the rooms and public spaces: Fountains, chandeliers and dramatic geometric tile complete the regal ambience in the lobby, while rooms—starting at a generous 600 square feet—feature antique-style pieces and vibrant jewel tones. Repeat guests may get to take a little bit of the sumptuous design home, in the form of trinkets like jewelry boxes or mirror-work coasters.
No. 12 (tie): Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
With its 80 overwater villas, this South Pacific classic on Motu Piti Aau makes the most of its location. Function meets form in these thatched-roof huts, with their ocean-color palettes, easy views of Mt. Otemanu and glass-bottom coffee tables that let you watch sea creatures below. Don’t miss the spa, too, for both the treatments using deep-sea waters (drawn from depths of nearly 3,000 feet) and the glass-floored treatment rooms.
No. 11: Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Granite cliffs set off this 226-suite Baja California beach resort, which started out with just 20 rooms back in 1970s. Even though the contemporary buildings blend nicely with the natural environs, the details make it stand out, like the inlaid walkways and stone archways in the public spaces, and the rooms’ hand-carved wooden furniture, elegant ironwork and pops of red (along with the convenience of a full kitchen, equipped with stainless steel appliances and marble countertops). Readers also loved the views outward, including the Land’s End Arch and possible whale sightings.
No. 10: Triple Creek Ranch, Darby, Montana
Not many luxury hotels get extra points from readers for offering a good cattle-drive activity, but this ranch-style spot in the Bitterroot Valley deftly walks the line between cowboy and culture. The 1- to 3-bedroom log cabins have glowing cedar interiors, stone fireplaces, and classic and contemporary Western art, ranging from Frederic Remington to Oleg Stavrowsky. Even the activities are rustically gorgeous, from fly-fishing and horseback riding (with or without cattle-herding) to panning for sapphires. Readers also applauded the Triple Creek for its friendly staffers and, given the all-inclusive rates, declared it an excellent value.
No. 9: Four Seasons Hotel, Gresham Palace, Budapest, Hungary
The prime location may be the first thing that struck readers about this 179-room hotel: it not only overlooks the Danube, but sits at one end of the historic Chain Bridge, the first to link Buda and Pest. But the hotel, whose building dates back to 1907, also wins praise from readers for embracing its status as an Art Deco landmark, with the jaw-dropping chandelier in the lobby and the gorgeously restored ironwork and stained glass. Rooms have vaulted ceilings, step-out balconies, and floor-to-ceiling windows, along with Nespresso machines and Hungarian-spa products by Omorovicza. The hotel’s newest feature is the Kollázs Brasserie & Bar, which channels classic Budapest coffee culture.
No. 6 (tie): St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Miami Beach, FL
Sitting across the street from the elegant Bal Harbour shops, this 227-room hotel holds its own in terms of sleek design. The lobby features a silver cloud sculpture hanging from the ceiling and the rest of the hotel’s décor—with soft blues, greys and earth tones—was created by acclaimed interior design firm Yabu Pushelberg. The Art Deco flourishes throughout the hotel are a wink to Morris Lapidus, the architect who helped define Miami’s neo-Baroque hotel style. Rooms come with floor-to-ceiling windows, glass-enclosed balconies and a high level of service: Readers loved the butlers who will unpack, press shirts and draw the shades for you.
No. 6 (tie): Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
An hour from Bangkok, this 98-room resort embodies pastoral Thai bliss: the “pavilion” cottages have teak floors and Siamese antiques, as well as a ceiling-fan-topped verandas, with their own daybeds for relaxing views across the rice paddies. (You’re not roughing, it, though: the pavilions also have iPod docking stations and satellite TV.) You can paddle across the infinity pool overlooking the Mae Rim Valley, or take a cooking class to hone your Thai culinary skills. No surprise, readers also ranked the hotel highly for its excellent cuisine.
No. 6 (tie): Sunset Key Guest Cottages, Key West, FL
Readers ranked this private-island hotel in the top 10 because it gets to have it both ways in terms of location: fun-loving Key West is just 500 yards away by boat, but the hotel also feels blissfully away from the hubbub. Its 40 white-washed cottages exude a Victorian-meets-Caribbean aesthetic, featuring tin roofs, pastel walls, and verandas outfitted with Adirondack chairs. You have easy access to the 37-slip marina at the Westin Key West across the way, or you can just stay put at Sunset Key’s private beach and zero-entry saltwater pool. Thanks to the relative seclusion, the hotel also scored highly with readers for romance.
No. 5: Inn at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, SC
This collection of 50 clapboard cottages, surrounded by live oaks and Spanish moss, made readers feel like they were staying in quaint, low-country vacation homes—ones that have gotten a plush makeover, with vaulted ceilings and steam showers complementing the old-school screened porches. Montage bought this resort in 2014, and has launched an expansion, due to be completed in 2016, which will include 150 more rooms, a new restaurant, pools and a spa. For now, the waterfront resort offers paddle boarding on the May River as well as tennis, bocce ball, and a Jack Nicklaus golf course.
No. 4: Four Seasons Hotel, Istanbul at Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
It takes more than pillowtop mattresses to turn a former prison into a plush hotel, but this Four Seasons has made the Neoclassical landmark so lovely— handwoven kilims, damask upholstery, original Turkish art—that it feels much more like a palace than an old jail. The soaring ceilings and giant wood-frame windows help you to enjoy some of the perks that perhaps even the prisoners once had: views of the Sea of Marmara and the Blue Mosque. The spa’s Sultanhamet Massage embraces the dual personality of Istanbul, combining both Eastern and Western massage techniques, and readers also loved the rooftop bar, A’ya, which offers local wines, Turkish puff pastry and an easy view of the Hagia Sophia.
No. 1 (tie): Ocean House, Watch Hill, RI
This year’s design category was topped by a three-way tie—including this fabulous comeback story on the Eastern Seaboard. The yellow, bluff-top Ocean House first opened in 1866, but closed in 2003 after falling into disrepair. In 2010, the 49-room, 15-suite hotel reopened after being completely rebuilt, using thousands of original artifacts and great attention to detail: each of the 247 windows is in the exact same location as before. Readers raved that the results conjure the golden age of travel, enhanced by modern comforts like flat-screen TVs and iPads. Many rooms have fireplaces, and each room has a view of either the Atlantic or Little Narragansett Bay. You can spend your day lounging on the private beach, playing croquet or making use of one of the hotel’s tasteful accessories: Mercedes-Benz house cars that you can borrow on a first-come basis.
No. 1 (tie): Primland, Meadows of Dan, VA
Surrounded by 12,000 acres and the Blue Ridge Mountains, this tied-for-the-top hotel got raves from readers for feeling serene. Each of the 26 rooms has mountain views, and the woodsy, LEED-registered property used indigenous materials for the exposed beams and stone fireplaces to help recall local historic homes. The resort also has walking trails, horseback riding, and a Celestron-equipped observatory for stargazing. To feel completely enveloped in the natural setting, however, book one of the three tree house cabins, built into the tops of big trees overlooking Dan River Gorge. The ridge-top golf course—laid out by renowned architect Donald Steel—also got design accolades from readers.
No. 1 (tie): Castello di Casole, Siena, Italy
A 10th-century castle sits at the heart of this hotel, which is located on 4,200 acres of rolling Tuscan landscape. The estate underwent a huge renovation in the 19th century, then became the sprawling home of a film director in the 1960s, so staying here offers a variety of time-capsule experiences. You can choose from, say, the Classica suites with exposed stone walls, wooden beams and mosaic-tile bathroom floors, or the Oliveto suites, whose mod aesthetics employ sleek greys and blues, travertine floors and brushed nickel, and look out over the estate’s olive groves. The spa, meanwhile, is housed in the former wine cellar, with vaulted ceilings and restored stone walls, and offering treatments incorporating local rosemary, grape seeds, and olive oil.