Hotels and Resorts

Cigar Aficionado's panel of travel experts picks the most luxurious, most outstanding, most exciting range of destinations in the world

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This is the first time we formally added this as a category, though in all our past polls the clear majority of votes across the board went to Four Seasons. Little has changed in regards to this love affair over five years—except there are a lot more of them. While Paris’s George V and the Thai and Balinese properties were the most cited favorites, our panelists praised everything from the Costa Rican golf resort to urban powerhouses in New York, Sydney and Vegas. The consistency of service was the hallmark, but in recent years Four Seasons has made great strides in avoiding a “cookie- cutter” image. “It’s always reliable but not always the same,” observes Amy Ziff. Debbi Karpowicz Kickham says, “They move heaven and earth to provide stellar, unexpectedly wonderful service,” while Michael Patrick Shiels believes that “Four Seasons is consistently creative in an understated manner, yet there is always an elegant crispness and reliable simplicity.”
Second Place: Peninsula. While the flagship Hong Kong hotel has been our dominant global winner for years, and again won its category despite stiff competition, every single Peninsula property on earth, with the sole exception of Manila, received votes in this poll. “When it comes to urban hotels, Peninsula sets the pace. Pick one in any city and you’ll be happy,” says Wallace. Next up is a new Paris hotel in 2012.
Third Place: Mandarin Oriental. Much larger than Peninsula, Mandarin covers much of the same ground in big cities like Tokyo, but also is by far the dominant hotel in many lower-profile destinations like Munich and Barcelona. The brand also has more resort properties, from Chiang Mai to Mexico’s Riviera Maya, and the new Las Vegas hotel in CityCenter was a poll favorite.
Honorable Mention: Park Hyatt, which initially had difficulty creating its own name recognition apart from the broader Hyatt brand, is finally getting the respect it deserves, with several properties making our list and many more getting votes. Milan, Sydney, Melbourne, Beaver Creek, Colorado and Buenos Aires are among the standouts.
Favorite Small Hotel & Resort Chain/Brand
Aman Resorts
Combining the best of exquisite Asian service, an ultra-relaxing Zen aesthetic and a penchant for small hotels in perfect settings, Aman pioneered the current boutique luxury lodge craze, and has now taken its act —very successfully—to places like Beijing.  Even more so than large brand winner Four Seasons, Aman manages to maintain a consistency of excellence but with radically different properties, like a string of remote outposts in Bhutan and a ranch-style Utah escape. “It’s all about the guest experience, and Aman excels on all levels, from thoughtful (and often not thought of) locales to construction to design and décor and of course over-the-top service. Amanfayun in China, for example, is woven throughout a village,” says Srnka. “What I love about Aman is that they strive to incorporate authentic, local culture into the guest experience. Staff training is clearly a top priority as service levels are arguably the best of any chain,” said MoonRing’s Wallace.
Second Place: Montage We asked for “small” chains and we got it. Our panelists loved Montage to death—though there are only two hotels open. The original Laguna Beach Montage won for Best Beach Resort, U.S., in our initial pool, and since then, Montage Beverly Hills opened with a spectacular location across the street from Spago in the heart of the glitz. But that’s it, yet our panelists heaped praise and noted the great anticipation surrounding the about-to-open (late-Dec. 2010) Deer Valley, Utah, ski property, which many are predicting will be the world’s best ski hotel.
Third Place: TIE: Capella, COMO Hotels & Resorts. Capella is the result of a longtime Ritz Carlton executive’s desire to build an even better mousetrap, and by panelists’ accounts it seems to be working, though the motto, “the world’s first six-star hotel and resort management company” is a self-proclaimed boast more typically associated with cruise lines and Dubai hotels eager to award themselves ratings no one else will give them. To date, Capella has only opened in offbeat locations, from Telluride to Veldene, Austria, though major-city hotels are on the drawing board. COMO, another fast-rising Asia-based chain, competes directly with Aman and its style of properties in places like Bali and Bhutan, runs the celebrity favorite Parrot Cay in the Turks & Caicos, is a previous winner and also operates more traditional luxury urban hotels in London.
Honorable Mention: Orient-Express. Panelists largely skipped this as a brand, even while voting over and over again for its hotels. That is precisely because Orient-Express has taken great pains to not be perceived as a “chain”—there is absolutely nothing cookie-cutter about it. The main ideology is to take one-of-a-kind historic buildings and lovingly convert them into one-of-a-kind hotels, often with the absolute best setting. Their Sanctuary Lodge in Peru, for instance, is the only sound choice for visitors to famed Machu Pichhu, period. Likewise their Hotel Splendido in Portofino occupies some of the finest real estate on earth, while the Villa San Michele outside Florence still has original frescoes by Michelangelo on the wall. Several hotels made our list or got high acclaim, including the Observatory Sydney, Splendido, Cipriani and so on. The thing I personally love about Orient-Express is that almost anywhere you find one, you know it is going to be the best—and most memorable—in town.
Larry Olmsted is contributing editor for Cigar Aficionado.
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