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."
Explora Hotel, Easter Island, Chile
This hotel is so new it doesn't officially open until December, but our insiders were able to preview it. It comes as no surprise that it topped the category since Explora, a boutique Chilean company whose mission is to marry luxury lodging and expert guides with environmental sensitivity, has won twice before in our polls for its flagship property in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.
This new hotel is especially notable because Easter Island is one of the world's true "must see before you die" attractions, with an economy entirely tourism-based, yet Explora is the first and only lodging on the island remotely approaching luxury status, and as such has essentially no competition. The new resort is a compound of circular buildings entirely comprised of local stone, terraced into the hillside and linked by glass hallways, outdoor terraces and paths, with sea views from all 30 rooms, the glassed-in dining room and the outdoor Jacuzzis. Cifelli says, "Explora's strength has always been hiring the best guides and offering the best accommodations, excursions and cuisine in whatever setting they enter, and on Easter Island this is even more the case than usual."
Private Island Resort
Rania Experience, Maldives
With pristine lagoons, one of the world's best service economies and no more than one resort per island, the Maldives has become one of the hottest luxury beach destinations on earth. Despite offerings from Four Seasons, Como, One&Only and other top resort brands, only one truly private island is available for individual takeover, and that is the Rania Experience. Staff includes an international team of chefs, spa therapists, dive master and private butlers. This is the first of its kind in all of Asia and accommodates a maximum of 15 people.
Ranch/Dude Ranch Resort
Resort at Paws Up, Montana
Another repeat winner, Paws Up sits amid 37,000 acres teeming with activities, from horseback riding to sporting clays. There are more than 100 miles of trails separated for specific use for ATVs, mountain bikers and hikers; a litany of guided wilderness activities, including kayaking, canoeing and rafting; and seven miles of private blue-ribbon fly fishing on the Blackfoot, made famous in the film A River Runs Through It. Indoors, Paws Up is no slouch either, with 20 luxury Old West—style homes. A second resort within the resort called Tent City evokes the golden age of safaris, right down to the "camping butlers" and a "spa village." The remote Encampment at Bull Creek is the third lodging option. Travelocity editor Amy Ziff finds the best of both worlds, a place where she can "wake to the sounds of nature all around you, but never miss a moment of the best amenities that a top resort offers."
Four Seasons Westlake Village, California
Just 40 minutes from Los Angeles, this newcomer has raised the bar, challenging our perennial winners such as Canyon Ranch. East meets West here, as a spa that blends traditional practices such as meditation and yoga complements the adjacent California WellBeing Institute, which offers cutting-edge science. All this good-for-you activity is mixed with the kind of lodging, cuisine and service that top-tier brand Four Seasons, a consistent winner in our polls, is known for. Journalist Anne Dimon, Canada's leading spa authority, notes that "this hotel offers an innovative spa and luxurious accommodations in acres of lush and exotic gardens."
Larry Olmsted is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.
BEST BY REGION
From downtown New York to the heart of Buenos Aires, these are the best resorts by region.
Since this property took Best Small Hotel honors in the entire country, it is no surprise it won its own city as well, but the Gramercy Park Hotel made a very strong second-place showing in a city awash in new hip hotels.
This small, 18-room, 50-suite boutique hotel, the latest addition to the Italian Baglioni luxury hotel group, packs a wallop. Butler service is included in all rooms, guests are squired around the city courtesy of the hotel's chauffer-driven Maserati Quattroporte and its Italian eatery, Brunello, is one of the city's best.
Another key city hotel that also won our Best Urban Hotel in the international category. Our panelists were emphatic about this newcomer, as no other hotel in the City of Light received a single vote.
Four Seasons Resorts Lana'i
Long known as the Lodge at Koele and Manele Bay, the Four Seasons group bought the two properties and merged them into one luxurious resort. Both hotels closed for six months and underwent a combined $100 million in upgrades, from new restaurants and spas to a complete revamp of every guest room. The result is a unique pair of sister hotels that share fantastic facilities, including two top-notch golf courses, shooting and riding centers, and white sand beaches. The Four Seasons Resorts Lana'i offer the only high-end lodging on the island, affording guests privacy and a return to pristine Hawaii.
Hotel Caruso, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Another classic hotel that achieved "new" status, in large part because ancient ruins were uncovered during a face-lift, stretching the renovation out to nearly six years. Set amid lush gardens with a stunning infinity pool perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, the Hotel Caruso immediately regained its status as one of the world's great hotels when it reopened in 2005. The hotel is currently adding new luxury suites, and once again has stumbled onto archaeological finds, but the "new old" structure is fully open for business—and pleasure.
Four Seasons, Hong Kong
In a region dominated by top luxury chains, more new hotels have opened than anywhere else: Peninsulas in Tokyo and Beijing, Mandarin Orientals in Hong Kong and Tokyo, Park Hyatts in Seoul and Saigon, and Ritz-Carltons in Tokyo and Beijing. Amid this clamor, the Four Seasons stood out for its waterfront location, connected luxury mall, air-conditioned pedestrian links to the ferry terminal and airport express train, and array of excellent restaurants.
Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau, Buenos Aires, Argentina
In another region with a plethora of high-end newcomers, the Park Hyatt won over voters with its combination of old and new, combining a modern tower with a loving renovation of an existing classic mansion. "This is the most artfully and yet thoughtfully designed hotel I've ever been in," says Amy Ziff, adding, "Located in the charming Recoletta neighborhood, it's also as romantic as it is divine."
TOP 10 CIGAR-FRIENDLY HOTELS & RESORTS
Cigar Aficionado's editors pick the best hotels and resorts in the world for cigar smokers.
Burj Al Arab, Dubai
Dubai is a mecca for cigar lovers and many of its public spaces are havens for lovers of the leaf. The sumptuous 202-suite Burj Al Arab hotel is no exception. A Jumeirah property, the hotel has been built to look like a billowing sail that commands the city skyline. Rich furnishings abound, from jewel-toned velvet pillows to silk coverlets to plush sofas. The Juna Lounge offers an extensive list of premium Cuban cigars, including Montecristos and Cohibas, all of which can be paired with one of the largest selections of single-malt Scotch in the region.
Hotel Byblos, St. Tropez
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, St. Tropez's iconic hotel is a jet-setter's and cigar smoker's dream. Each of the Byblos's 96 rooms and suites is elegantly decorated in neutral hues and Mediterranean reds and blues. The hotel caters to those wanting exclusivity amid rich nightlife as well as those who'd rather relax with a good cigar. Owner Antoine Chevanne developed a cigar menu that includes a brief history of the cigar industry, Cuba's role in it, and a definition of the various shapes and sizes and the famous Cuban marques including Cuaba, Saint Luis Rey, Vegas Robaina and Bolivar.
Hotel Caruso, Ravello, Italy
This stunning 45-room luxury hotel, perched on a cliff high above the picturesque Amalfi coast, was a favorite haunt of Humphrey Bogart, Tennessee Williams and Jackie Kennedy. Spectacular Mediterranean views abound from the luxuriously appointed rooms. Patrons can take excursions to nearby Capri, Positano or Pompeii or just relax in lovely Ravello. But cigar lovers need look no further than Caruso's Portico terrace at which they can savor a Cuban Cohiba, Partagas or Montecristo from the hotel's list, organized and overseen by head barman Carlo Carlino.
Isle de France, St. Barths
The Caribbean has many outstanding properties and one of the best is this alluring, privately owned hotel on the French island of St. Barths. Designated the top hotel in the Caribbean by Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report, Isle de France on Baie des Flamands beach proffers 33 sumptuous rooms, suites and villas, each distinct yet lushly decorated in an island style. The hotel caters to cigar smokers, who can enjoy a Cohiba Siglo or Partagas Serie D No. 4, among others, at La Case de l'Isle, the beautiful open-air French restaurant.
Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong
This renowned, environmentally conscious 700-room hotel has some of the most spacious accommodations in Hong Kong. Each modern room, with its neutral tones and state-of-the-art amenities, features a huge bay window with breathtaking views of the city or Victoria Harbour. The Kowloon also houses one of the only bars in the city where cigar smoking is allowed. The stylish Tapas Bar, known for its extensive wine list, sells Montecristos, Cohibas and Davidoffs. From time to time, the bar also invites cigar rollers to demonstrate the cigar-rolling process for guests.
The Lanesborough, London
Situated on Hyde Park Corner in the heart of London, the 98-room Lanesborough, a St. Regis hotel, re-creates the timeless elegance and romance of the Regency period. Rich velvet pillows pepper sateen coverlets, plush sofas dot the living areas and Carrera marble decorates the bathrooms. Although London laws forbid smoking in dining and drinking establishments, the Lanesborough offers a haven for cigar smokers: The Library Bar features pre-revolution Cuban cigars, such as the La Gloria Cubana Sabrosos and Trinidad Diplomaticos for guests' smoking pleasure.
Parrot Cay, Turks & Caicos
Nestled on a private island in the Turks & Caicos, Parrot Cay caters to those who want beauty amid exclusivity. Guests can rent spacious beachfront villas with swimming pools or rest in one of 56 tranquil hotel rooms. A mile-long white sand beach beckons sun worshippers while the world-renowned Como Shambala retreat lures yoga lovers. Cigar devotees are not neglected. Smokers are welcome at the Terrace and Lotus Bars, where they can choose from a list of distinctive Cuban cigars, including the Bolivar Tubos and the Hoyo de Monterrey Coronation.
Sea Island Resorts, Georgia
Georgia's scenic barrier islands play host to one of the world's most beautiful golf resorts. Built in 1928, Sea Island offers golfers a choice of three unique championship courses. Guests can stay at the historic 156-room, antique-furnished Cloister at Sea Island or the English manor—style, 40-room Lodge at Sea Island. The Smoking Lounge at the Cloister showcases leather chairs, pecky cypress beams, heart pine millwork and antique maps, as well as an array of single-malt Scotch, private-label brandies and Ports, and cigars, most notably Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Stories and Ashton Cabinet Vintage torpedoes.
St. Regis Temenos, Anguilla
With its spectacular Greg Norman—designed golf course and its stunning views of tranquil azure seas and St. Maarten, the ultra-exclusive St. Regis Temenos in idyllic Anguilla is a vacationer's and golf aficionado's dream. Guests can stay in one of three decadent, four- and five-suite whitewashed private villas (a 120-room hotel and additional villas will open in 2008), relax on the pristine private white-sand beach or hit the challenging 18-hole course (the 10th hole is particularly tough), where one can enjoy cigars.
Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Safari-goers who don't want to rough it often venture to Sir Richard Branson's vast African game reserve in South Africa. Located in the heart of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, the 10,000-acre Ulusaba provides luxury amid a rugged terrain of unsurpassed beauty. On a given day you could spy wild game in the bush and get a world-class massage. No stone is unturned for guests, even cigar aficionados. Many Cuban marques are for sale and with much of the property being open air, cigar lovers can find many a spot to reflect as they enjoy their smokes.
—Shandana A. Durrani
60 Hyde Park Gate
London SW7 5BB
Burj Al Arab
Jumeirah Beach Road
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dublin 4, Ireland
Américo Vespucio Sur 80, Piso 5
46 Avenue George V
75008 Paris, France
Four Seasons Resort Whistler
4591 Blackcomb Way
Whistler, British Columbia
Canada V0N 1B4
Four Seasons Hong Kong
8 Finance Street, Central
Hong Kong, China
Four Seasons Resorts Lana'i
One Keomoku Highway
Lana'i City, Hawaii 96763
Two Dole Drive
Westlake Village, California 91362
Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole
7680 Granite Loop Road
Teton Village, Wyoming 83025
Avenue Paul Signac
83990 St.-Tropez, France
Piazza San Giovanni del Toro 2
84010 Ravello SA, Italy
18 Ninth Avenue
New York, New York 10014
Isle de France
French West Indies
64 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Hyde Park Corner
London SW1X 7TA
Lodge at Doonbeg
County Clare, Ireland
118 Woodbury Road, Route 47
Washington, Connecticut 06793
Nam Hai Hotel, Vietnam
55 Duong Thanh Street
Auf dem Fels
San Jose Del Cabo
BCS, CP 23400 Mexico
Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau
Avenida Alvear 1661
British West Indies
Resort at Paws Up
40060 Paws Up Road
Greenough, Montana 59823
Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman
Seven Mile Beach
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
One Sanctuary Beach Drive
Kiawah Island, South Carolina 29455
St. Regis San Francisco
125 Third Street
San Francisco, California 94103
St. Regis Temenos
Long Bay, British West Indies
Sea Island Resorts
100 Salt Marsh Lane
St. Simons Island, Georgia 31522
Sabi Sand Reserve
Our Expert Panelists
Paul McManus is the president and CEO of Leading Hotels of the World and oversees the industry's strictest quality evaluation programs, subjecting his hotel and spa members to annual secret inspections with hundreds of detailed evaluations. Paul Kerr is the joint managing director of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, a group he helped found in 1992, and previously was finance director for Cunard Lines. Jonathan M. Tisch is the chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels and is the chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable, a coalition of chief executives representing various sectors of the travel and tourism industry. Stephen Brandman is a partner in and COO of Thompson Hotels, which owns 60 Thompson, Thompson Lower East Side and 6 Columbus at Columbus Circle in New York, and the Thompson Beverly Hills, Hollywood Roosevelt and Gaige House in California. George L. Ruff is the senior principal of Trinity Hotel Investors LLC, which owns the Miraval Life in Balance spa/resort, L'Auberge de Sedona, La Posada de Santa Fe and the Cadogan Hotel in London. Anne Scully is a vice president at McCabe Bremer Travel, one of the nation's leading luxury leisure specialists. Gary Mansour is a 30-year travel industry veteran and founder of the Avion Private Jet Club and is CEO and founder of Mansour Travel Co. in Beverly Hills, one of the top travel agencies in the country. Anthony Lassman lives in London, where he owns and publishes Nota Bene, which has been called "the world's most discerning independent travel review publication." Dan and Anne Miller are the husband-and-wife team that publishes the quarterly Distinctive Destinations travel newsletter and the Newsletter for Sophisticated Travelers. David Baum is the editor and publisher of Golf Odyssey, a critical, advertising-free newsletter devoted to golf travel. Ruthanne Terrero is the editorial director of Luxury Travel Advisor. She gauges the vacation trends of the ultra-affluent consumer by staying in constant touch with her readership of 13,000 sellers of affluent travel. Everett Potter writes a travel column for USA Weekend and also pens columns for Luxury Spa Finder, Diversion and Laptop and writes Everett Potter's Travel Report, a blog that keeps tabs on the latest travel trends. Chris McGinnis is the editor of Expedia's quarterly Travel Trendwatch report and has covered the travel beat since 1987 in a variety of roles, from travel correspondent on CNN Headline News to business travel columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Entrepreneur and Fortune magazines. Tara Mandy has been the travel editor at New York magazine since the weekly launched its regular travel column in January 2000. Amy Ziff is a travel reporter and the editor-at-large for Travelocity.com and publishes Travelocity's insider travel guide, Local Secrets, Big Finds. Drew Limsky is the travel editor for Elegant Bride magazine and has written on travel for The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, International Herald-Tribune, New York Daily News, National Geographic Traveler, Business Week and Men's Journal. Valarie D'Elia is a broadcast travel journalist who contributes to several outlets, including NY1 News, the "Today" show, "The Early Show" on CBS, and the Travel Channel. Janine Cifelli is a 20-year luxury travel industry veteran and has been active in the Virtuoso luxury travel network for a decade, providing marketing and reservation services for premier small hotels and resorts around the world. Vicky Lowry is the features editor at Elle Decor magazine and also writes about travel, health, skiing and style for The New York Times, Food & Wine, SKI and Real Simple. Jeff Williams is a golf writer and Cigar Aficionado's contributing golf editor. Shari Mycek is a contributing editor for Spa magazine and reports on spas, wellness and luxury travel for Conde Nast Traveler and In Style. Debbi Karpowicz Kickham is the editor in chief of Boston's new Mirror magazine, a beauty and body care publication. Steve Jermanok writes regularly for Forbes Life, Health and the The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and has been a contributing editor at Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, a columnist at National Geographic Adventure and a regular contributor to Travel & Leisure. Anne Dimon is a leading Canadian spa authority and is a veteran spa and wellness travel writer and the founder/editor of www.traveltowellness.com. Mary Bemis has served as a spa adviser to Shape magazine and a contributing writer for Luxury SpaFinder Magazine, and is now the editor in chief of Organic Spa Magazine, which she founded. Kim Fredericks has been covering luxury travel and resorts since 1997 for a variety of publications. Nicole Alper writes for more than 30 national and international magazines, including Gourmet, Modern Bride and Harper's Bazaar Australia. Michael Patrick Shiels is a prominent member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Society of American Travel Writers, and hosts a daily morning radio show throughout Michigan and contributes to network broadcasts on XM Radio and throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Jeff Wallach has written more than 600 articles, mostly about travel, for such publications as Outside, Men's Journal, Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine, Backpacker and Men's Health. Patrick Gallagher is the founder and managing partner of Black Diamond Research LLC, a New York firm providing investors with specialized research on the pharmaceutical and technology markets. Gallagher travels the globe year-round calling on clients.