The World's Best New Hotels & Resorts
Top-tier brands remain on our travel experts' radar, but boutique properties and South American and Vietnamese destinations are also garnering rave reviews
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Nov/Dec 2007
The world population has never been wealthier and demand for luxury goods, services and accommodations is at an unprecedented high. Whether today's affluent travelers are traversing the globe on business or vacation, they are demanding the finest places at which to stay, from rustic escapes to modern urban hotels.
But what is luxury? The term has become grossly overused, and describing a hotel or resort as a luxury property means little these days. Countless luxury lodgings are opening around the globe, and it is impossible for anyone not fully immersed in the upscale travel industry to stay on top of which ones deliver excellent accommodations, food, service and amenities, and which are mere pretenders. For this reason, we once again gathered our panel of experts—top travel writers, hoteliers, hotel executives, travel agents and assorted experts in specific travel categories, from spas to golf to skiing—to determine the world's best new hotels and resorts, limited to those that opened, or in special cases, that changed ownership or underwent renovation no earlier than January 1, 2004.
Because of the vast number of new properties around the globe, and the limited time many have been open, we again saw the clear advantage of our poll methodology: using trusted experts who have the knowledge of the marketplace and have actually been to the places they describe. Cigar Aficionado does not trust the reader polls other magazines use because their tiny samples tend to make them statistically unreliable—while the expertise and honesty of their respondents are unquantifiable. Votes in these polls can be cast by those who have never been to the hotels, by friends of hotel owners or perhaps by the hotel staff themselves. By using full-time experts in the hospitality business, and preventing them from voting for properties with which they are affiliated, we present the clearest picture of the best.
It used to be the industry norm for hotels to mature as they aged, typically experiencing growing pains when new, but as we have seen, new properties are now capable of meeting the most discerning standards from the moment they open, and in many cases, the best new hotels and resorts are the best, period.
During the research for this poll, we noticed several recent trends. Top-tier brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, St. Regis and the like are still beloved, but as they open more hotels, it becomes harder for them to stand out, and with the exception of perennial panel favorite Four Seasons, none of these managed to wow our panelists with more than one hotel. Small hotels that are either stand-alone properties or a part of small conglomerates fared much better. From Ireland to New York City to remote Easter Island, these boutique properties prove that travelers increasingly value distinctiveness and originality. Design is becoming a greater factor in making the best hotels stand out, whether they are in carefully renovated antique buildings or cutting-edge construction, with carefully chosen touches from sheets to faucets to electronics increasingly catching the eye of discerning guests.
Two fast-growing destinations caught our attention. One is South America, which placed a couple of winners on our list, as well as receiving votes in a myriad of surprising categories such as Best Golf Resort. In the travel industry, South America has been on the verge of emerging as a star for years, and its long overdue success did not surprise us. Vietnam is a different story. As the world's top hotel brands fall over one another to open grand palaces throughout Asia, specifically in China, Macao and Japan, it was sleepy Vietnam that stood out, garnering votes for a number of properties, in multiple categories, from spas to beach resorts to city hotels. Hal Phillips, a golf travel panelist who lived in Asia for years and owns a media and Web development company in Vietnam, tells us "the [Vietnamese] economy is absolutely booming, and after 20 years as an essentially closed society, luxury properties are emerging in quantity. They're quickly making up for lost time. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a superb tropical climate, an educated workforce and a thousand miles of undeveloped coastline. The influence of French colonial legacy is another factor: the Vietnamese luxury and quality. I can think of a dozen historic properties that have been restored to their original, colonial-era grandeur." This reflects a lesson we saw around the world: sometimes everything old really is new again.
THE BEST NEW URBAN HOTELS
With votes cast around the world, the United States and Europe reigned supreme in this category. From New York to Paris to Dublin to San Francisco, the old world and new world were accounted for.
St. Regis San Francisco
Our panelists raved about this Bay Area newcomer, and the only thing they could not agree on was whether this new hotel in a historic old building was small or large. Many considered it a boutique property, a testament to its large rooms and intimate feel, but with 260 rooms spread across more than 15 stories, it definitely meets the "best large" criteria. Elegant Bride travel editor Drew Limsky says, "This stellar hotel represents the next generation of urban accommodations, with rich design materials and state-of-the-art technology," while travel agent Anne Scully calls it "a fine example of how to combine history with modern touches, offering unforgettable style with grace at a great location." None of this was lost on the editors behind Mobil Guide either, who gave the St. Regis their rare five-star rating.
Notable: Another new luxury hotel set within a larger urban tower, the Mandarin Oriental New York wowed Small Luxury Hotels Joint Managing Director Paul Kerr, but for the most part our experts championed unique new hotels over brand-named ones, casting votes for an array of different addresses in this category, from Conrad Miami to Chicago's Amalfi Hotel to Boston's Liberty Hotel to Seattle's Hotel 1000.
Fouquet's Barriere, Paris
Few hotels in this year's survey swept our poll so convincingly, wowing gourmands, hoteliers, journalists and travel agents alike. While many famous hotels give birth to top restaurants, the reverse is the case here. A posh extension of Paris's famed eatery, Le Fouquet's, the hotel is ideally located on the corner of George V and the Champs-Elysées and is a stunning combination of modern technology and classic elegance. Ruthanne Terrero, editorial director of high-end trade bible Luxury Travel Advisor, rhetorically asked after a stay, "What else is needed?" while Limsky pronounced it the city's best hotel, bar none, with Paris's best spa as well.
Notable: Park Hyatt, Hyatt International's top-tier brand, is growing faster overseas than at home, and many recent properties won over our critics, especially the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow, which Travelocity Editor Amy Ziff called "the best Moscow has to offer." The venerable Four Seasons also fared well, especially its new city hotels in Budapest and Hong Kong, the latter of which enjoys a one-of-a-kind location on Victoria Harbour.
Hotel Gansevoort, New York City
The Big Apple is awash in new boutique hotels, many of which received nods from our panel, but the Gansevoort, in the trendy Meatpacking District, stood out. Travel journalist Steve Jermanok says he "loved the ultra-hip Gansevoort, from the new G Spa that turns into a celebrity-studded lounge after 10 p.m. to the rooftop pool [with] its underwater music." Terrero notes that the hotel was already "a proven favorite of top luxury suppliers; it represents the new pulse of New York. Service is swell despite its hip vibe." In a city notorious for cramped spaces, the hotel has a fabulous open-air rooftop bar set in a landscaped garden where cigar smokers are welcome, and is home to Ono, one of the nation's only Japanese restaurants offering authentic robatayaki cuisine.
Notable: Other new hip New York hotels that caught our eye were The Mercer in Soho, the Gramercy Park Hotel, which was the favorite of Tara Mandy, travel editor of New York magazine, and the Hotel Bowery, which Elle Decor travel editor Vicky Lowry calls "the place to stay if you want cutting-edge cool."
Dylan Hotel, Dublin
The Dylan has made every best new and hot list, and was named Ireland's best new hotel by the country's hospitality association. Careful attention to design, gorgeous fixtures and linens, and personal touches such as cordless Bang & Olufsen phones and heated bathroom floors make it extremely comfortable. Lowry loves the Dylan, calling it "small, stylish and a great reason to visit one of Europe's coolest new-old cities."
BEST NEW BEACH RESORTS
With so many beautiful oceanside resorts being erected around the world, our panelists had the difficult task of narrowing down their selections to one choice per region.
Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Another runaway winner, this star of Ritz's resort portfolio garnered about the same number of votes as the other contenders combined. It even received votes in the best golf resort category, despite having just a nine-hole course. In short, the new resort on Cayman's Seven Mile Beach delivers on all fronts, from its two Eric Ripert restaurants, Blue and Periwinkle, to its Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and its ocean discovery center run by Jacques Cousteau's son, Jean-Michel. Terrero says, "The service [is] amazing throughout, but if you reserve condo accommodations, the butler service is the real deal." Travel agent Scully says that the resort "has something to offer everybody."
Notable: The only other property in the region with multiple votes was Amanyara, the Caribbean's first venture from well-known Asian luxury hotel group Aman Resorts. Hotelier Stephen Brandman, co-owner of Thompson Hotels, says that "service is over the top from the moment you arrive, and in their compound you feel as if you are in heaven. The architecture is phenomenal. Rooms sit directly atop the pristine blue water, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, making for immaculate views right from your bed."
One&Only Palmilla, Los Cabos, Mexico
Palmilla was a popular resort for decades, but it was only after One&Only took control, shuttered it for a massive renovation and expansion, and reopened the property less than three years ago that it joined the elite ranks of its ultra-luxe neighbors Las Ventanas and Esperanza. Additions included a new wing of huge, butler-serviced suites and the only restaurant outside of Chicago by star chef Charlie Trotter. It is also the sole resort in Cabo with its own golf course, a 27-hole Signature effort by Jack Nicklaus that even boasts air-conditioned carts. Gary Mansour of Mansour Travel says, "The outstanding service—butlers, staff and food—are all fantastic and the location is unbeatable." Hotel owner George Ruff declares the resort "a one-of-a-kind experience."
Notable: Mexico has had an explosion of new big-name resorts, from Mandarin Oriental to Fairmont, but the runner-up to Palmilla in this category was another revamp of a classic: Maroma Resort and Spa, an Orient-Express property on the Mayan Riviera that reopened last year after a massive face-lift, adding a new all-suite wing, the Casa del Mar. Brandman says, "Within my beachfront suite, I had my own private gym, pool, garden and indoor and outdoor showers. My suite also had a private palapa with toe massage beds. It was just idyllic."
Nam Hai Hotel, Vietnam
One of many Vietnamese luxury hotels and resorts exploding onto the global scene, the resort is more of a village, with guest rooms contained entirely in decadent freestanding villas, 40 of which have private pools, built around a pristine lagoon and stunning complex of three pools cascading into the ocean. Paul McManus, president and chief executive officer of Leading Hotels of the World, describes Nam Hai as "a resort of distinctive serenity and style located on China Beach with outstanding spa facilities."
Notable: The St. Regis Resort, Bora Bora had more than a few fans, including Drew Limsky, who says, "The over-water villas, at 1,500 square feet, instantly raised the luxury bar in French Polynesia. Some even have private pools suspended over the most beautiful lagoon in the world, with dead-on views of [Mount] Otemanu—you can't beat this kind of luxury. Most guests never leave their villas." Travel agent Mansour is impressed that "the owner has the clout to stop all fly-over aircraft for total privacy when needed."
BEST NEW GOLF RESORTS
At many resorts around the world, golf is king. We give you a selection of the best new places to play the game year-round, from the United States to Ireland to Scotland. The lodgings aren't too bad either.
Sanctuary Hotel, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
This new luxury anchor to one of America's greatest golf resorts has been awash in accolades since it opened, winning AAA Five-Diamond status and countless "best of" awards for its family-friendly atmosphere to its tennis and golf facilities. Our experts agreed, and David Baum, editor of Golf Odyssey, a critical golf newsletter, remarks, "This opulent oceanfront hotel creates a guest experience reminiscent of staying at a grand Southern estate. The quality of materials and craftsmanship are fantastic, and all the details are just right. With five courses headlined by Pete Dye's iconic Ocean Course, a Ryder Cup and now PGA Championship venue, plus exquisite service, endless family programs, 10 miles of wide beach and prolific wildlife, Kiawah Island Golf Resort is the preeminent full-service golf resort in the East."
Notable: The small Inn at Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina has just one very good course, but if it had more it might just give nightmares to much bigger resorts, since it handily beat the other competitors to finish second. Laid out like a Southern village, with rooms in cottages boasting tons of space, steam showers and wonderful porches, this waterfront escape from Auberge Resorts has a first-rate restaurant and spa, and Spanish moss and crumbling plantation ruins for the full Gone With the Wind effect.
Lodge at Doonbeg, Ireland
For more than a decade, PGA star Greg Norman dominated golf with his number one ranking. Now his highly praised design on Ireland's west coast is doing the same to golf travel. No category in our poll had such a clear-cut winner, and everyone who stayed at the property was bowled over by the luxurious elaborate stone townhouses that surround the opulent clubhouse. Golf writer and Ireland guru Michael Patrick Shiels says, "Doonbeg has easily the most impressive course-side lodging in all of Ireland," while Cigar Aficionado contributing golf editor Jeff Williams went a step further: "I've done Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay, Turnberry, Old Course Hotel, Kauri Cliffs and Pinehurst, and I believe [Doonbeg is] the finest single on-site golf accommodation in the world. Not a hotel in the classic sense, but rather a members club open to the public comprised of a substantial manor house and a surrounding village in the vernacular of Ireland. All brand new, but timeless and utterly fascinating. I just can't say enough good things about it, and all of this comes with the finest Irish hospitality."
Notable: While Doonbeg left the field in the dust, it is worth noting that Ireland is getting two more high-profile golf resorts this fall, including the first Ritz-Carlton in the British Isles, Powerscourt, with 36 holes. Competition will heat up when Horst Schulze, formerly the brains behind Ritz-Carlton, launches the first property in his new ultra-luxury brand, Capella, with Castlemartyr, a seventeenth-century Irish castle estate featuring a new 18-hole course by Ron Kirby.
In the everything-old-is-new-again category, the venerable Old Course Hotel, the premier lodging in the birthplace of golf, St Andrews, was sold in 2004 to plumbing giant Kohler, which operates the world-class American Club resort in Wisconsin, and the hotel immediately underwent a complete makeover, including lavish bathrooms and a spa now considered Scotland's best.
BEST NEW MISC. RESORTS
Although they don't fit into any of the aforementioned categories, these posh resorts—from ski chalets to ecological inns to outdoor retreats—are sure to excite and entice luxury travel aficionados.
Mayflower Inn, Washington, Connecticut
Proving that older is not necessarily wiser, and bigger not always better, this small newcomer in one of the most competitive and fastest growing categories simply crushed the competition. Last year, just months after it opened, the accolades, including five Mobil Stars and five AAA diamonds, started to mount. This year, the Mayflower won almost every vote cast: Travelocity editor Amy Ziff says the Mayflower "has taken the weekend getaway to new and luxurious heights. They've thought of absolutely every last detail. There's not a place in the world that feels like such a perfect home," while many other experts such as Mary Bemis, editor in chief of Organic Spa Magazine, and Tara Mandy, New York magazine's travel editor, call it their favorite.
Notable: Another northeastern newcomer not only took second place among U.S. spas, but got every vote not cast for the Mayflower. Pennsylvania's The Lodge at Woodloch is "the first proper destination spa to open in over a decade," according to travel and culinary journalist Nicole Alper.
Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman
Not satisfied to win for Best Beach Resort, this new property, the top finisher in our entire poll, also wowed panelists with its Silver Rain La Prairie Spa. From the Champagne served in the lounge after treatments to a Swedish massage that Luxury Travel Advisor editor Ruthanne Terrero says will "remove kinks in your back that have been there since birth," nothing was missed at this superlative facility. New York magazine's Tara Mandy was skeptical but won over, saying, "The Caribbean has always been good at creating spa environments, but the treatments are usually subpar. Silver Rain is not only spectacularly designed but also offers treatments and aestheticians that would hold their own in any of the top spas in New York or L.A. It's by far the best spa in the Caribbean."
Notable: The rest of the votes were cast in far-flung places, from South Africa's new Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa in Knysna to Bora Bora, where both the Thalasso Spa and St. Regis got nods. Likewise, several properties in Thailand received votes, including Sila Evason Hideaway & Spa at Samui, a Six Senses property and the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi. The only property in Europe to garner a vote was one that also fascinated our golf panelists, the Four Seasons Provence at Terre Blanche in France.
Ski Hotel—North America
Tie: Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Four Seasons Resort Whistler, British Columbia
It was pretty clear what brand our panelists thought did the best job of luxury ski-in/ski-out hotels, with a tie between Four Seasons' two newest ski properties. From the stunning après ski sushi offerings and four-day heli-ski, cat-ski and guided backcountry ski luxury adventure packages at the Jackson Hole property to the "Ski or Snowboard with an Olympian" offerings at Whistler, it's easy to see why these two hotels led the poll. Travelocity's Ziff says of Jackson Hole: "I could put this vote down just for having an amazing spa, but it's really the stellar lodge and service that make the Four Seasons Jackson such a standout. The rooms are as delicious as your warmed boots brought to you by the ski valet before you hit the slopes."
Notable: Several of our panelists were impressed by the three-year-old Park City Hotel in Park City, Utah, which just added even more upscale lodging in the form of its new Cottage Suites. The Hotel Terra Jackson Hole, an environmentally friendly, green-design luxury hotel in Teton Village, Wyoming, is the most anticipated new hotel in the area and will be a direct competitor to the Four Seasons Jackson Hole.
The Omnia, Zermatt, Switzerland
Zermatt is the quintessential alpine town, its main street blissfully car-free and lined with cuckoo clock—style exteriors, making the very contemporary Omnia a radical addition to the long unchanged lodging scene. With floor-to-ceiling glass walls, and balconies boasting views of the Matterhorn from every room, this new hotel wowed travel journalist and ski guru Everett Potter and travel industry insider Janine Cifelli, who says, "The Omnia gives Zermatt the best of both worlds: you can eat up the classic atmosphere of town, right down to the fondue, but then retire to luxe lodgings more like something out of Singapore or South Beach than Switzerland."
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