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The World's Best Hotels & Resorts

Cigar Aficionado surveys travel experts for their favorite luxurious lodging
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

Major travel magazines crown a great many "bests" each year: best hotels, best resorts, best spas, etc. But most of these lists are based on reader polls, which are flawed because they use tiny samples of unqualified travelers, who may or may not have visited any of the places rated. Cigar Aficionado decided to take a different approach to crowning the top hotels and resorts in the world.

We asked the people in the know—leading travel journalists, travel agents, hotel critics, hoteliers (who could not vote for their own products), international business travelers and specialists in different travel fields, including golf, spas and resorts—for their top picks because they have visited high-end properties on almost every continent and thus, have many informed opinions on what is deluxe and what is sub-par. • Luxury, world-class and five-star are terms tossed about so loosely these days that they have almost lost their meaning.

Many good hotels and resorts exist, but only a few are truly great.

Nothing takes the wind out of the sails of an upscale vacation faster than spending an arm and a leg on a hotel only to find out that your choice of lodging is second-rate at best.

Rating agencies, from AAA to Mobil to Michelin, are pretty consistent and a good place to start, but each covers only a small portion of the globe, and then, only broad categories. Travel magazines have lists that often run the gamut from unreliable to ridiculous. The readers' polls save the publication a lot of money it would otherwise have to spend on actual research and inspection. The readers might just like the hotel's ads or they might have stayed at a hotel on their honeymoon 20 years ago, and still feel enough of a soft spot to give it a high rating, even if the hotel has changed hands a dozen times since and gone into decline. A reader used to one-star accommodations who splurges for a three-star hotel might think it is the world's best, simply because he has no basis for comparison. In many cases, the samples are so small that one reader can swing the results, and often the readers are given multiple choices from which to pick, rather than making their own selections, ensuring that properties preselected by the magazines will win.

That didn't happen with our poll. Our travel experts chose properties on their own and were not in contact with each other, so votes weren't skewed for one hotel over another. They cast their very informed votes and only in areas for which they are qualified (no spa experts picking golf courses or vice versa). The experiment was a success, since many of the panelists picked some of the same luxury properties.

Cesar Ritz did much to create the modern luxury hotel, but his most important contribution may have been coining the phrase, "The customer is never wrong." This credo helped propel Ritz from a mere hotel manager to a dictionary definition (we have him to thank for the phrase "putting on the Ritz," and that glamorous things are called "ritzy"). While Ritz may be gone, his philosophy lives on at deluxe hotels across the globe. Here are the travel experts' picks and our choices for hotels and resorts that live by Ritz's motto.

BEST URBAN HOTELS

Nowhere is the competition among top hoteliers as fierce as in big cities, where the best hotels have to please everyone, from demanding business travelers to well-heeled vacationers to visiting dignitaries and movie stars. Big cities are homes to all the top chains, as well as some of the world's most famous and historic hotels.

United States: Best Large City Hotel
TIE: Four Seasons Hotel, New York, and the Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park
These two properties edged out a Who's Who of local runners-up, including the St. Regis and The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park. The Four Seasons is a city icon with 52 stories of limestone-clad elegance designed by I.M. Pei, who has been doing exterior work on a pair of presidential suites and a penthouse suite over the past few years. The hotel claims that the suites are the nation's most expensive at $15,000 and more than $30,000 a night, respectively. They are also the highest hotel rooms in New York. www.fourseasons.com/newyorkfs/index.html


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