The best moment of any hotel experience comes just after check-in, and just after the trip in the ornate lift, and just after the handing over of pleasingly heavy-set keys, and just after the bell-hop has escorted your luggage (magicked, it seems, from no-where) up to your room, and — after the long and winding journey to this homing beacon of hospitality — you shut the door behind you and stand alone in your room for the first time.
Jump on the bed, hark at the view, take your shoes off amid the pillowy carpet/ reclaimed concrete/ mahogany floorboards/, boggle at the steep-sided bath, and ogle the local lager in the hidden mini bar. Good hotels achieve a unique trick — they transport you completely, while always making you feel at home. And the following 50 examples are worth visiting for that reason, among many others. They are set out in no particular order and with no algorithm at work beyond our own experience, some highly informed hearsay and the fairytales of others (though they start in the UK and fan out slowly from there.) See you at the bar.
Claridge’s, London, England
London’s most glamorous and best-loved hotel, Claridge’s has become a byword for brilliant service, exquisite hospitality and old-world sparkle. The hotel most other Mayfair hotels want to be when they grow up.
The Fife Arms, Braemar, Scotland
Founded by the art tycoons behind Hauser and Wirth, the Fife Arms is a wonderfully detailed, completely imaginative and pleasingly traditional hunting lodge, set among the Cairngorms in dark mahogany, tartan finery, and jolly playfulness.
Limewood, The New Forest, England
A handsome country house in rambling grounds, this New Forest institution has become one of Britain’s best-loved Grand Dame hotels, thanks to its Georgian grandeur, homely charm and Angela Hartnett’s sublime kitchen.
La Colombe d’Or, Saint Paul de Vence, France
The Riviera as it once was, and as it should be. Hidden away, understated, family run and vaguely unknowable, La Colombe d’Or is scattered un-showily with incredible artworks from the masters of the 20th Century — many of whom would settle their restaurant bills with paintings. It is handsome and homely, and the pool looks good enough to drink.
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes, France
The Grande Dame to end all Grand Dames, and a spot for the truly interesting people of this world for 150 years. Commanding and yet welcoming, elegant but relaxed, Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc is staffed by some of the loveliest people in the world, and its walls still glow in the sunset like nothing else. The cabanas are the thing of legend, and the rock-slung swimming pool — yes, that one — deserves a modelling contract.
Le Sirenuse, Positano, Italy
John Steinbeck visited the Amalfi coast in 1953, and wrote how “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” And the most dream-like of all locations here, perhaps, is Le Sirenuse — with its arched balconies, white and terracotta walls, and creeping plants. It turns 70 this year, is still family owned, and seems happily untouched by the modern age.
Il Pellicano, Porto Ercole, Italy
Embedded in a hidden cove somewhere between Pisa and Rome, this Tuscan delight is made up of a few terracotta houses scattered up a rocky hillside. The best bit, perhaps, is the series of staggered, natural-rock terraces — dotted with picturesque parasols — that lead down to the sparkling blue waters of the ocean.
Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy
Draped in wisteria like some majestic caped countess, The Belmond Hotel Splendido sits high above the pretty jumble of Portofino — where wooden fishing boats jostle with hefty superyachts — at a commanding yet secluded vantage point. A former monastery, with all the cool thick walls and softly worn corridors you’d expect, its infinity pool may well be the greatest in the world.
Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy
Indescribably elegant and impossibly stately, Villa d’Este is a towering, glowing monument to the Good Life that seems to rise from the waters of Lake Como. The landscaped gardens are truly unique, while the whole pool-floating-in-a-lake thing is mad and ingenious all at once. They’re famous for their punchy negronis, too, which should be sipped on the lake-side terrace at sunset, sun-kissed and contented.
The Gritti Palace, Venice, Italy
A 15th Century Palazzo in one of the finest spots on the Grand Canal, The Gritti is an exquisite ode to Venetian luxury and craftsmanship, dotted with antiques, frescoes and rococo details. It is princely, enveloping, and full of charm and grace. An eternal classic.
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli, Lake Garda, Italy
A dusty pink Castillo on the shores of Lake Garda, Villa Feltrinelli feels more like a gorgeous private home than a luxury hotel. It sits there on the shores of the lake like a sumptuous wedding cake, and is filled to the brim with antique furniture, sumptuous design and decadent touches. Wondrous.
Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine, Valladolid, Castilla y Léon, Spain
Wine runs through this unique boutique hotel like lifeblood, soothing and caressing as it does so. The vineyards of the Ribera del Duero region stretch all around the central building, whose golden stones date back to the 12th century. Inside, however, there is modernity and ingenuity at every turn — not least in the kitchens of two-Michelin-starred chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, or in the inspired ‘vinotherapy’ treatments of the on-site spa.
Badrutt’s Palace, St Moritz, Switzerland
Towering above the frozen lake up in oofy St Moritz, the decadent Badrutt’s Palace keeps the spirit of the Jet Set alive and well. The Palace is a place of endless fun, friendship and character — this, after all, was the spot where where arch playboy Gunter Sachs would base himself during the winters (with a piece of bullet proof glass installed in his room for a particularly spicy party trick), and where a giant elephant was once paraded into the ballroom for a 50th birthday celebration. A glittering jewel.
Istoria, Santorini, Greece
Istoria is sometimes said to be the world’s most Instagrammable hotel — but don’t let that put you off. A striking work of art as much as a lodging, it is a cool, white, organic, modernist place on the fashionable Greek island’s calmer south-east coast. Once owned by an eccentric and wealthy Greek widow, it is a place alive with tales and a certain mystique — hence its name, which translates to ‘Story’ in English.
Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice, Italy
An impeccably appointed and historic hotel with incredible views across the Venetian Lagoon, Cipriani is set in sumptuous grounds which stand apart from the hodge-podge maze of Venice proper. This gorgeous, Bellini-scented, Murano glass-drenched spot is located on the eastern tip of Giudecca island, and overlooks the grandeur of St Mark’s Square.
Monastero Santa Rosa, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Perched high above the day-tripping rabble down on the glittering coast, this crow’s nest of a hotel is formed from a striking, handsome 17th century former monastery. The winding terraced gardens are quite magical, with an infinity pool that hangs lazily above the ocean.
Deplar Farm, Iceland
Situated on the wonderfully named Troll Peninsula, Deplar Farm is a grass-roofed adventure destination of considerable charm. Harmoniously sewn into the sweeping green valley around it, this former sheep ranch is now one of the best places for wild salmon fishing and heli-skiing in the world — and combines chic luxury with splendid isolation.
Hotel Alfonso XIII, Seville
Princely by name and princely by nature, the historic Hotel Alfonso XIII is fringed by palm trees and drenched in old-fashioned opulence — much of the original 1920s decor remains, including marble floors, crystal chandeliers and wooden lifts.
Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo, Monaco
Hotel de Paris has played backdrop to two separate Bond movies over the years, which ought to tell you a great deal about its standing in the world. Cinematic, glamorous, decadent and fabled, it is a monument to Belle Epoque style, with a three Michelin-starred restaurant, and the world’s largest wine cellar to boot.
Le Bristol, Paris, France
The first ever hotel in the French capital to be deemed a ‘palace’ (one notch above a five star), this is a true continental institution, situated down on the smart Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. A bastion of Paris chic, it has bright, wide, marble-laden hallways and a famous covered rooftop pool — not to mention double rooms larger than your average Parisian apartment.
Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona
Set in the neoclassical 19th century building once home to the city’s cotton-makers’ guild, this unusual hotel is theatrical, playful and delightful — a lot like Barcelona itself.
Ett Hem, Stockholm
Decked out in elegant woods, worn marble and the enveloping cosiness of velvet and leather, this is Scandinavian chic at its most inviting. Ett Hem translates to ‘At Home,’ and the place is blessed with a welcoming, familiar atmosphere, thanks to its minute attention to detail and charming staff. (A charming example: you can have dinner in the kitchen among the working chefs, if you so desire.)
The name means ‘heavenly place’, and Amansara lives up to the billing. It was once a residence for guests of King Sihanouk, and retains the princely 1960’s New Khmer architecture of that era, with modernist proportions that sit handsomely against the wilderness. Sat beneath a canopy of tall trees on the edge of the Angkor Unesco World Heritage space, it is a tranquil, nigh-on spiritual idyll in one of the most striking natural landscapes imaginable.
Asaba, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan
Serene and understated, this remarkable property in the inland hot spring town of Shuzenji is a soothing antidote to the whirr of Tokyo life. Staff by bowing, kimono-clad, almost telepathic staff, the main attraction at Asaba is the restorative onsen waters — though aesthetes will adore the minimalist ryokan style, with tatami floor mats, vast wooden bath tubs, and peaceful symmetry throughout.
Qualia, Whitsunday Islands, Australia
An island hopper’s dream. Sat on a peninsula at the Northernmost tip of Hamilton Island in the dramatically beautiful Whitsunday region, Qualia blends seamlessly into its wild surroundings. This is a truly special resort, often regarded as one of the best of its kind in the world, characterised by lush, exotic foliage, colourful wildlife and mind-boggling views over the Great Barrier Reef.
The Upper House, Hong Kong
This jet set bolthole was the first ever ‘paperless’ hotel in Hong Kong, and retains the high-tech, super convenient edge that that implies. But it’s characterised with traditional comforts and beautiful touches, nonetheless — like the Thomas Heatherwick-designed stone entrance wall, or the almost extravagantly spacious rooms with their truly exceptional views.
Amangiri, Utah, United States
A striking idyll of luxury in one of the most jaw-dropping landscapes on the continent, Amangiri takes the world-renowned opulence of the Aman brand and places it harmoniously into the rugged, Alien rocks of the Utah desert.
Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland
Stunningly remote and ingeniously designed, this highly unique hotel feels like a traditional Newfoundland fishing village transmuted into a modernist masterpiece. The home-made food — foraged locally and strictly seasonal — is absolutely delicious, while the socially conscious ethos of the place is a rare and welcome bonus.
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
Long the beating heart of Hong Kong society, the famed Mandarin Oriental has a glamorous past, a towering reputation — and quite possibly one of the best locations in the entire city. The dining room is utterly glorious and the service is truly world-beating. A place of charm, atmosphere and fun.
Qasr Al Sarab, Abu Dhabi
Sat in the middle of the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world, Qasr Al Sarab is an improbable, immersive and beguiling oasis, surrounded on all sides by mind-boggling, perspective-shattering views. Quite mad, entirely brilliant.
Belle Mont Farm, St Kitts
Understated and full of charisma, this little spot high in the green hills of St Kitts has a beautiful golf course, shimmering views across the ocean, and a calm, cool ambience. A retreat in every sense.
Palm Heights, Cayman Islands
The first boutique hotel on Grand Cayman, the gorgeously designed Palm Heights banishes the image of corporate golf and tax haven-hunters with luxurious aplomb. Pleasingly mid-century and characterised by exquisite details, the hotel itself sits on arguably one of the carribean’s finest stretches of sand. A future classic.
Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica, United States
A friendly, wood-clad Santa Monica beach house, Shutters on the Beach is beautifully designed and pleasingly laidback, despite its celebrity clientele and impressive reputation. Exquisite sunset views throughout, and a lovely, lobster-heavy menu.
The Peninsula House, Dominican Republic
As far removed from the expected carribean mega-resort as you can get, the Peninsula House is a six roomed boutique revelation decked out in Louix XIV furnishings and ringed by sky high palm trees. The broad, French-inflected veranda is surely one of the great places to have a nightcap.
Royal Mansour Marrakech, Marrakech, Morocco
The ‘Royal’ here is not an exaggeration — the hotel (the most prestigious in Marrakech) was conceived by King Mohamed VI, and still welcomes the royal family and their pals. Designed as a ‘medina within a medina’, it is surrounded by mature, paradisiacal moorish gardens and divided into 53 cool private riads, characterised by exquisite Moroccan design.
Inkaterra La Casona, Cuzco, Peru
Cuzco was the capital of the Incan empire before the invading Spanish took over. The incomers rather liked its grandeur and unique atmosphere, too, and built some of their finest churches and palaces in the city. La Casona is probably the oldest of all these colonial dwellings, and has been restored lovingly and beautifully into a dark-wood clad, sandy-stoned, earth-hued hotel-mansion of serious renown. There are just eleven suites, but they are each exquisite in their own right. Calm and pampering.
Ian Fleming bought the clifftop plot on this site in 1946, before the estate was converted, many decades later, into a hodgepodge of luxury hillside huts and gorgeous, pontooned mini-villas down on the turquoise waters of the bay. Discreet, relaxed and friendly, it is a serious carribean hot-spot for those in the know, and the estate is dotted by trees bearing the names of the famous figures who planted them. A uniquely luxurious and yet homely delight.
The Carlyle, New York, United States
The Carlyle lives up (and surpasses) that most overused of terms: an institution. It was a celebrity hotspot before ‘celebrities’ were a thing — a glorious Beaux Arts behemoth with Art-Deco inflected rooms and a long, long list of notable admirers. Bemelmans Bar off the lobby is a legend in its own right, while the schmoozy Café Carlyle sees Woody Allen practising clarinet most Monday evenings.
Rosewood San Miguel de Allende
Beautifully finished in Colonial Mexican finery (think dark bevelled woods, leather accents, splashes of orange against vast white-washed walls), this handsome hotel belies its relatively young age (it was opened in 2011.) Sensual and inviting, with an exceptional dining room.
Alila Yangshuo, China
Stupendously unique. Housed in a 1960s sugar mill down on a misty riverside patch, the hotel has been ingeniously restored into a series of industrial chic (and yet completely luxurious) villas and suites. Characterised by a clever use of the original materials (concrete and huge chunks of timber, for example) as well as plenty of calming water features, it is a triumph for design set among sky-high mountains and cavernous valleys.
Tongabezi, Livingstone, Zambia
Adventure meets luxury in this series of river-fronted sort-of-tree houses down by the unforgettable Victoria Falls. White water rafting, waterfall helicopter flights and bungee jumping might be the order of the day, but by night this ingenious, friendly hotel turns into a bastion of opulence, with incredible food, sunset river cruises, and ridiculous views throughout.
La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco
A modern day icon decked out in dripping Moroccan finery, La Mamounia has long had a fabled reputation and plenty of friends in high places. Impressive, inviting and incredibly photogenic, this former Roaring Twenties hotspot feels timeless and singular, even now.
Angama Mara, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Sat atop the Great Rift Valley with sweeping views over the endless Maasai Mara plains, this safari experience cleverly combines traditional tented living with modernist touches, contemporary art, and complete luxury. Really, though, it’s all about that view.
Ellerman House, Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town’s most exclusive and beloved hotel has a quietly ridiculous, gently cinematic perch on a cliffside outcrop overlooking the sea. With spectacular views, swaddling privacy and long-held glamour, this palatial Edwardian resort is a true gem.
One&Only, Le Saint Géran, Mauritius
A romantic idyll of sugar-white sands and swaying palms, the Mauritius hotel gets its name from the ship Le Saint Géran, whose dramatic nearby sinking was the birth of the story of Paul and Virginie — the local version of Romeo and Juliet. Expect iconic colonial architecture and truly exceptional service.
The Lowell, New York
Stylish, knowing and understated, this boutique spot on the Upper East Side is characterised by discretion, wonderful service and a glamorous clientele. Each room is unique, and each regular has their favourites. But all of them are world class and sumptuously finished.
&Beyond Mnemba Island, Zanzibar, Africa
A 15-minute speed-boat jaunt off the coast of spice island Zanzibar, the &Beyond resort on tiny Mnemba Island is perhaps one of the most unique and otherworldly in all of Africa. Twelve rattan-inflected, four poster-bedded suites are dotted among the still waters and dappled sand, in a discrete and luxuriously remote experience.
Eden Rock, St Barths
A society legend ever since French aviator Rémy de Haenen trotted down here with Greta Garbo in the 1950s, this lively spot — sat on its own rocky outcrop amid the sands of the Baie de St Jean — is now one of the best-loved hotels in the Carribean.
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
A striking minimalist delight embedded in the deep green canopy of the Choco rainforest, Mashpi sits in the vast nature reserve that shares its name. Expect tropical flowers, lush vegetation and a kaleidoscope of exotic wildlife, among gently rushing waterfalls and exquisite views.
North Island Seychelles, Seychelles
Among the startling white sands and coconut-laden palms, this paradise island resort is the finest on the Seychelles, with unique culinary creativity, legendary service, and a pleasing, understated immersion in nature.