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Hotels and Resorts

Cigar Aficionado's panel of travel experts picks the most luxurious, most outstanding, most exciting range of destinations in the world
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010

(continued from page 2)

Honorable Mention: Deer Valley Ski Resort, Utah suffers from too much of a great thing. Its array of luxury hotels split the vote, and with two third-place finishers, Stein Eriksen Lodge and St. Regis Deercrest, Deer Valley was our top overall luxury ski destination. This dynamic duo will soon become a terrific trio with the addition of the new Montage this winter, and Deer Valley cements its ritzy reputation.

Best Ski Destination, International

Switzerland

Most of the world’s top-hotel general managers learned their craft in Ithaca, New York or Switzerland, the homes of the finest hotel schools. Like its watches, Switzerland’s hotels have become famous for enduring quality, precision and painstaking attention to detail, and when you throw in the Alps, this combination makes Switzerland to skiing what Thailand is to spas and Bali to beach resorts: No. 1. Our experts’ consensus was simple: if you leave the U.S., the best ski accommodations are here.

Favorites: Riffelalp Resort, Zermatt; Badrutt’s Palace, St. Moritz; Omnia, Zermatt. The Riffelalp’s signature feature is stunning views of the Matterhorn from virtually everywhere on the property, but especially from the highest altitude outdoor pool in Europe, complete with jetted tubs and massage showers. The spa and gastronomy are first class as well. The Omnia won as Best New Ski Hotel in our previous poll, and also showcases the local icon, the Matterhorn, with floor to ceiling glass and modern architecture that led one panelist to describe it as “luxe lodgings more like something out of Singapore or South Beach than Switzerland.” Badrutt’s is one of Europe’s classic grand hotels, but the one that happens to be in Switzerland’s most sophisticated ski town, the Aspen of the Alps.

Best Safari Lodge/Property (Worldwide)

Singita Lodges, South Africa and Tanzania

Upscale safaris are among the “authentic” travel experiences that have benefitted from the changing landscape of the last five years, with more vacationers forgoing the epic scale of the traditional hotel-to-hotel East African package tour experience for the intimate seclusion and luxury that until recently only South Africa offered. Thanks in large part to Singita, a leading operator of these deluxe boutique lodges, the possibilities have expanded as they opened three similar lodges in Tanzania.

Singita tied for first in our original poll, but its collection of nine game preserve lodges broke out for a runaway win in a category where it faced daunting competition. High-powered travel agent Anne Scully’s Singita favorite was Boulder Lodge, “a Zen experience in the South African Bush. This lodge lends itself to the best safari experience while enjoying fine dining, fantastic wines and world-class service. Private suites with plunge pools overlook the river.” Honeymoon specialist Carrie Wallace of MoonRings does a lot of safari business and knows the product well, and she singles out Singita’s Grumeti Reserve in Tanzania. “The three lodges each take advantage of their setting to deliver a quintessential Serengeti safari experience. How they deliver such a luxurious experience in the middle of the Serengeti is remarkable.”

Best adventure/wilderness resort (Worldwide)

Four Seasons Tented Camp
Golden Triangle, Thailand

This Toronto-based luxury brand has consistently been our panelists’ favorite since our polls began, but Golden Triangle is unlike any other Four Seasons on earth—in a good way. Comprised of just 15 tents—albeit deluxe tents with hand-hammered copper tubs and teak furnishings—this is a satellite escapist property to the larger mothership resort 175-miles away at Chiang Mai. Run like a deluxe African safari lodge, it is all-inclusive and features daily guided excursions, including elephant rides, hikes and river cruising in traditional long tail canoes. Activities, food and drink are bundled as three- or four-night packages, simply called “The Camp Experience,” and this is a place to experience things, not lounge around. As Wallace puts it, “Guests have more to look forward to here than just elegant tents and fabulous service. How many of their friends can say they’ve been a mahout (elephant trainer)?  Such a unique experience in such a beautiful setting!”

Runner-Up: Explora Posada de Mike Rapu, Easter Island, Chile. For a tiny hotel chain (four properties) based entirely in one country (Chile), Explora has lit up our polls. Its Patagonia resort, Hotel Salto Chico, won our inaugural poll in this category, then won again for Best Adventure/Eco Resort in our all-resort poll, and then this property on Easter Island won for Best New Adventure/Eco Resort. The facility is excellent, but it is the combination of location and by far the best guides that make Posada de Mike Rapu a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. As a ruins junkie myself, I have been and can safely say that other top sites such as Machu Picchu and Tulum pale in comparison with the Moai of Easter Island.

BEST BY REGION

Best Hotel New York City

The Surrey

Apparently size does not matter. The Surrey won earlier for Top U.S. Small Hotel, and was also our favorite at any size in the Big Apple, the nation’s most competitive hotel market. While most new hotels go through growing pains, this was not the case here, according to Abel, “I stayed here last December, just a month after opening, and not a hair was out of place.” It beat our defending champion, the Four Seasons, which fell into a tie with up-and-coming Mandarin Oriental, which had previously scored in our Best New Hotels Poll.

Runners-Up: TIE: Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental.

Best Hotel London

The Lanesborough

In previous polls, London was never able to yield a clear winner, suffering from an overabundance of top luxury properties. This time, however, despite plenty of votes spread among all the usual suspects, from the timeless Connaught to the hipper Haymarket by Firmdale, The Lanesborough won, and convincingly, showing  a fundamental shift in the English capital. Amy Ziff, former Travelocity editor-at-large and longtime travel journalist says, “The Lanesborough is not just a classic hotel, it has become an institution. You’ll always be in style, and its fabulous location in Knightsbridge overlooks Hyde Park. Your personal butler will get you acclimated to the surroundings, and, things only go up from there.”

Runners-Up: TIE: The Goring, Dorchester, One Aldwych.

Best Hotel Los Angeles

The Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows

Tying for the nation’s Best Large Hotel, this one easily carried Los Angeles, with its combination of classic timelessness and up-to-the-minute relevance, especially among the A-listers who frequent it and the countless stars who choose it to host interviews. It also enjoys an incredible location in the heart of the city’s most desirable neighborhood. “With its hidden bungalows and iconic Old Hollywood nature, the ‘Pink Palace’ will have you posing poolside in your fluffy robe or taking an important phone call with the other glitterati in the Polo Lounge,” says golf and travel writer and broadcaster  Michael Patrick Shiels.

Runners-Ups: TIE: Beverly Wilshire, Peninsula Beverly Hills.

Best Hotel Paris

Four Seasons George V

Best in Paris, best anywhere. Perhaps the only hotel on earth famed for its incredibly excessive lobby flower arrangements, the George V won in a landslide and was the world’s top vote getter in this poll. Nonetheless, the other grand dames of Paris had a good showing, with votes cast for the Meurice, Plaza Athenee and Crillon, which finished second. To journalist Everett Potter the George V’s appeal is simple: “They get all the details correct.” Carrie Wallace is quick to recommend it to romantic honeymooners, because “they understand the mentality of their U.S.-based guests without compromising their French credentials.” Not surprisingly, this hotel easily won the same category five years ago, prompting Nota Bene’s Lassman to credit it with, “The finest hotel service in Europe with arguably the most polished room service of any hotel in the world.”

Runner-Up: Hotel Crillon.

Best Hotel Las Vegas

Wynn Encore

This upscale tower hotel within the larger Wynn Las Vegas was a bit of a surprise, edging out the luxury non-gaming Four Seasons, new Mandarin Oriental, over-the-top Mansions at MGM, butler served MGM Skylofts, and everything else bright and shiny in town. Then again, it was Steve Wynn who repeatedly rewrote the Vegas hospitality rulebook and raised the bar over several decades, and this is his latest and greatest feat. Former USA Today travel editor Chris Gray explains the appeal: “The casino hotel for those who don’t like casino hotels, Steve Wynn’s Encore seems geared for Monaco rather than the masses. Plus, natural light! When’s the last time you saw that in a Vegas casino?”

Runner-Up: Mandarin Oriental

Best Hotel/Resort Europe


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