Across all corners of the globe, there has never been a broader choice of hotels – from budget to boutique, glitzy or simply grand. But what is it that lifts a hotel above its competitors, to warrant the accolade ‘great’?
Travel journalist Paul Oswell says service is vital: “It sounds clichéd, but attention to detail is key. From super high end properties to bed and breakfasts, the reason I remember hotels fondly is the thoughtful items they placed in the room, the extra mile they went to help you. This has very little to do with the physical luxury of the hotel – thoughtful service (attentive without being intrusive) makes for a great stay.”
Kevin Evans, founder of travel website www.thetraveleditor.com, says the quality of food sets the outstanding hotel apart from the merely good.
He says: “The quality of the restaurant is one thing that makes great hotels stand out above the rest. Breakfast at the sumptuous Gallia in Milan or in the beautiful courtyard garden of Las Golondrinas in Oaxaca, Mexico, are wonderful ways to start the day.”
A list of the world’s ‘best’ will always be subjective, but we have rounded up an international list of outstanding hotels – each shining out for its sheer luxury, service, outstanding heritage or just that extra something.
The Grand Dame of colonial hotels, Raffles in Singapore was renovated in 1991 and styles itself as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of South-east Asia. The hotel opened in a sombre bungalow building in 1887, named after Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of modern Singapore. But times have changed, and modern Raffles shines for its service and old-style grandeur. The definitive Raffles experience remains taking leisurely afternoon tea, sampled in the 1930s Tiffin Room or the Bar & Billiard Room, fringed by tropical gardens. If you can stay, don’t miss out – the hotel’s 103 suites are complimented with 18 restaurants and bars and a world-class Spa.
The Savoy, London
Currently closed for a £100m restoration project, London’s Savoy Hotel is one of England’s institutions. When the hotel opens in May 2009 the 263 guests rooms, public areas, roof top swimming pool and restaurants will have seen a thorough revamp. One of London’s most central hotels, The Savoy perches on a prime situation on the Strand, a stone’s throw from both the financial heart, The City, and the prestigious shops and boutiques of Knightsbridge and Mayfair. A quintessential Savoy experience is still Afternoon Tea; from 2009, guests will dine in the Thames Foyer, complete with a specially built conservatory.
Four seasons, Bosphorus, Istanbul
Perched on the European banks of the Bosphorus, this stunning hotel is set in a characterful 19th century palace, re-fashioned as a chic urban hotel and spa. The 141 guest rooms and 25 suites are contemporary and airy. Despite its central position, many boast waterfront and garden views – making this a place for relaxation as well as business or fast city living. The design reflects national heritage: a blend of Ottoman furnishings combine with a deep blues and terracotta, while the rooms and living spaces are decked with traditional Turkish art. The Spa draws inspiration from the traditional hammam, or Turkish bath – there are ten treatment rooms, men’s and women’s hammams and a sky lit indoor pool.
The Orchard Garden Hotel, San Francisco
It may not be dripping with chandeliers, but the Garden Orchard is setting the bar for environmentally sustainable hotels. It is only one of four hotels in the world to receive Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation. Furniture is made from forest stewardship certified maple and 85% of original construction material was reclaimed from landfill. There are in-room recycling facilities and cosmetics are organic. The excellent hotel restaurant, Roots, sources ingredients from local suppliers and serves organic food where viable. All this with no compromise on luxury – the guest rooms are large and luxurious, and mod cons include high-speed Wi-fi, LCD television, and iPOD docking stations.
Raj Palace, Jaipur, India
One of India’s most luxurious hotels is also the most expensive – a night at the Shahi Mahal Suite at the Raj Palace in Jaipur costs no less than £20,000. This hotel oozes opulence and history: it boasts one of the biggest crystal chandeliers in India and an antique crockery museum showcasing crockery once used by the Majaraja of Jaipur. The old palace building has been painstakingly restored with its heritage fully in mind. Lord Mountbatten and Fredrick Forsyth have been among its guests. The individually designed 29 rooms overlook the plush gardens, courtyard or pool.
Hotel Maricel, Mallorca
Mallorca boasts plenty of top-end hotels, but the Maricel stands out for its superlative sea-front location, impressive service and stylish rooms. The hotel re-opened in 2002 after a long period of refurbishment and remodeling that saw it transformed into an exclusive 29-room five-star hotel.
Since its reincarnation into Mallorca’s stable of top-end hotels, celebrities such as Bill Clinton and The Coors have been spotted here – drawn to the hotel’s exclusive feel, discreet setting and stunning sea vistas.
Famous Spanish architect Xavier Claramunt designed the new-look Maricel, and he has artlessly combined old and new, with art deco touches, high ceilings and white, minimalist décor.
An infinity pool hovering over the sea, a wonderfully private, outdoor spa, and a plethora of terraces with sea views complete the Maricel experience.
Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
Along with the Oriental in Bangkog, the Mandarin Oriental is often lauded as Asia’s best hotel on account of its superaltive harbour position, world-class luxury and acclaimed service.
The hotel has been an iconic city institution since opening its doors in 1963. The 500 guests rooms and suites come with superlative harbour or city views; the hotel claims the suites, which measure up to 300sq m, are the most luxuriously spacious in Hong Kong.
The integrated Mandarin Spa draws on techniques and philosophies around the globe to sooth and relax; Zen and Ayurveda feature strongly, and beautiful Shanghai textures add to the feeling of tranquillity.
Ananda Spa, Himalayas
Set in the Himalayan foothills, Andanda’s Eastern heritage runs through the fabric of this luxurious and exclusive world-class spa. The focus is squarely on restoring balance and harmony using a programme of yoga and ayurveda that works with mind, body and spirit in equal measure.
Nestling among 100 acres of virgin forest, Ananda boasts a Viceregal Palace, acclaimed spa, 75 deluxe rooms and suites and three private villas, housing two double bedrooms, with views of the Ganges river.
The spa is integral to any stay. Facilities include a Turkish steam bath, Finnish sauna, Jacuzzi, couples’ suite, hydro-massage systems and outdoor swimming pool. Treatments are based on the Ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda, and are taken in 22 treatment or relaxation rooms.
The Peninsula, Bangkok
This luxurious, top-flight hotel is consistently voted top hotel in Thailand, and won World’s Best Hotel in 2003 by Travel & Leisure magazine. It’s 37 storeys high and perches on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, offering panoramic views of Bangkok at just about every turn. Large rooms allow guests to control their environment with the flick of a hand or touch of a switch – while a host of restaurants offer everything from home-style Thai cooking to an international buffet and Cantonese cuisine. A full-service spa is complimented by a three-tiered swimming pool, fitness centre and every therapy under the sun.
Four Seasons Hotel, New York
Last year, a travel journalist gushed that The Four Seasons in New York is set to achieve “a new height in opulence among Manhattan hotels”. The opening of the Ty Warner Penthouse this summer, set 52 stories above street level, has boosted this hotel’s luxury rankings. Set between Park and Madison Avenues, the Four Seasons Hotel New York boasts breathtaking views of the city skyline. All 368 ‘oversized’ guest rooms feature a roomy marble bathroom and King-sized bed (or two twins), plus a list of add-ons that includes a twice-daily housekeeping service and refrigerated private bar. There is also the obligatory Spa, and acclaimed restaurant L’Atelier.