Monthly Archives: March 2017

The most exciting 2017 hotel opening in Asia

It already has some of the best destinations on the planet and in 2017 Asia will be able to claim even more of the best hotels as prestigious new venues open up.
While historic hotels continue to be a thing, new trends are also an influence, says Sii Eawsakul, founder of ‪LuxuryHunt and one of Asia’s leading women of online travel.
“The region’s heritage properties — Raffles Singapore, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, and the Eastern & Oriental hotels of Asia — hark back to that golden era of travel, but in recent years there has been a rise in travel experiences based around fashion, cuisine and off-the-grid escape,” says Eawsakul.
Hotel chains have also been breaking away from their old formats.
Leading the way is Bill Bensley, a Harvard-educated, Thailand-based designer behind many wish list properties including the Four Seasons Tented Camp Chiang Rai.
“In my opinion, the brand standards of all big hotel chains anywhere in the world are self-destructive and more often than not homogenize the guest experience,” says Bensley, who’s led the designs on several hot properties opening in 2017.
“My goal as a hospitality designer is primarily to bring a fabulous new adventure to the guest, and second, tick the box of brand standards. The trend I am creating this decade is storytelling, as we look at the design of hotels like making a movie.”
Pride yourself for being among the first to experience the world’s hottest new properties? Here are seven of the ones we’re particularly looking forward to checking into in 2017.

Alila Fort Bishangarh (Jaipur, India)

Opening: February 2017
The hotel may be three years behind its original opening schedule, but that’s a blip compared to the 230 years that have passed since the warrior fort was built atop a granite hill looking over the rural Rajasthani landscape.
The original fort, with its stone wall fortifications and turrets, has been kept intact in the seven-year restoration, which saw a new structure added to house 59 suites.
The library is tucked in amid old marble pillars while the spa is housed in the former dungeon carved out of granite rocks.
Bishangarh Village is an hour’s drive from Jaipur.

Bawah Private Island (Indonesia)

Opening: Mid-2017
Anambas Archipelago probably doesn’t ring any bells. That’s a good sign that guests are not likely to have many neighbors on this stunning private island.
“Private islands are all the rage and its moving beyond the Maldives and into Southeast Asia,” says Bill Barnett, founder of hospitality consultants C9 Hotelworks.
The guest count at Bawah is capped at 70. With three lagoons and 13 white beaches between, chances are private one-on-one moment with Mother Nature will be interrupted are slim.
Safari tented villas are all made with sustainable materials (no heavy machinery has been used for resort construction).
The island is also the first of many in the region to be powered by renewable energy and, being an official marine conservation area, the underwater life is flourishing.
All in, Bawah is just two hours from Singapore, with the travel time split between the ferry to Batam and a one-hour flight in a private seaplane.

Rosewood Luang Prabang (Laos)

Opening: Late 2017
Perfect for those looking for a “get away from it all” experience, this hideaway is tucked amid thick forest complete with a river and waterfall.
Best of all, there’s no proof of other civilization in sight.
There’s a handful of villas (including ones with private pools) but the 100 square meter luxury tents, with wraparound decks, are pretty spectacular.
“Glamping is shifting out of the safari stereotype and moving into the mainstream luxury segment,” says C9 Hotelworks’ Barnett.
The 22-key forest retreat is designed and built by Bill Bensley according to UNESCO guidelines — the historic quarter of Luang Prabang is just a 10-minute drive away — drawing in the quaint city’s Lao and French influences.
The resort will also house a community-based philanthropic hospitality school, billed as the first in the country.

Capella Ubud (Bali, Indonesia)

Opening: Late 2017
Capella’s first branded Bali property invites guests into one of 22 luxury tents — each with a private plunge pool, of course — also designed by celebrated architect Bensley.
This particular resort is inspired by European settlers’ homes in the 1800s but everything an Ubud experience can’t miss — rice paddy fields, forested terrain — is well covered here.
The retreat is draped along the Wos River, a traditional gathering spot for the local community, while for yet more local culture, the Ubud Traditional Art Market and Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary are nearby, excursions the Capella Personal Assistants would be more than happy to arrange.

Aman Shanghai

Opening: Late 2017
It’s Aman’s most ambitious property to date.
Threatened by the construction of a reservoir in Jianxi, 50 historic Ming and Qing dynasty dwellings were disassembled, relocated 800 kilometers and restored piece by piece, the process unearthing family histories dating back more than 2,000 years.
The decades-long project also posed the monumental task of relocating 10,000 ancient camphor trees — each weighing up to 50 tons apiece.
When all that’s in place, the resort will feature two pools, six dining venues, 24 restored Antique Villas with additional private pools and a vast garden.
It’s the Aman, it’s philanthropic, it’s the preservation of heritage through larger-than-life relocation.
It’s got everything going to become an instant classic.

Six Senses Krabey Island (Cambodia)

Opening: December 2017
Love trees and love luxury travel? Chances are you’ve already stayed at a Six Senses property.
This year, there’s another address to add to your wish-I’d-washed-up-on-this-island fantasy list.
The island resort will offer 40 eco-villas, each with its own plunge pool, and mini wine cellars in the higher room categories.
The spa is a big focus here, with wellness to-dos ranging from healing treatments and multi-day journeys to alternative therapies and an onsite meditation cave.
Guests familiar with the brand will be pleased to hear this resort will also feature a Six Senses signature — the al fresco Cinema Paradiso for casual entertainment under the night sky — as well as an astronomical observatory for more serious stargazing.
The mainland jetty to reach the island is less than 10 minutes from Sihanoukville Airport.

Train Suite Shiki-Shima (Japan)

Opening: May 2017
Though it’s a train, Shimi-Shima will put most hotels to shame when it rolls out its luxury wheels this spring.
The train suite has big names behind the project: Designs by Ken Okuyama, best known for his work with Porche, Ferrari, Maserati; food by Katsuhiro Nakamura, the first Japanese person to receive a Michelin star for La Bourdonnais in Paris; and uniform designs by the costume designer to the Empress of Japan.
The 10-car train includes two glass-walled observatory cars and a private shower and bathroom in each suite. The highest suite categories come in duplex configurations.
The train will host one- to three-night excursions between Ueno Station in the capital and northern Japan for a maximum of 34 lucky passengers per trip.

Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai (Hoi An, Vietnam)

Opened: December 2016
Set on a half-mile stretch of private beachfront near several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Four Seasons’ latest resort has the best address in Hoi An.
Formerly The Nam Hai hotel, the resort features 60 beachfront villas with private outdoor terraces.
There are also 40 pool villas which each have their own private swimming pool.
Also on site: three communal pools, four tennis courts, a spa, two restaurants and a beach bar.

W Shanghai The Bund, Shanghai (China)

Opening: June 2017
Perched on the banks of the Huangpu River, this ultra hip hotel will be Starwood Hotels’ third W-branded property in China, after Beijing and Guangzhou.
Its 374 rooms and 35 suites are spacious and modern, blending the W’s eclectic aesthetic with traditional Shanghai decor.
Hotel highlights include a sprawling outdoor pool and lounge, and the W’s signature AWAY Spa, specializing in restorative local treatments.

11 Hotel Trends in 2017

1. The new country house hotel

The country house has long been a bastion of the glorious English countryside but this year belongs to their cooler younger sisters: the new-era inn. Last summer saw the opening of Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall by two highly acclaimed chefs – April Bloomfield of New York’s Spotted Pig and Tom Adams of London’s wood-smoked meat restaurant Pitt Cue Co. Food, of course, is a focus (Tom cooks up three-course feasts featuring his own rare-breed Mangalitza pig), as is the community feel – Fiona Duncan, hotel expert, reported ‘evenings are successful, with strangers gelling.’ Similarly, The Mash Inn, recently opened in Buckinghamshire, aims to remove the barrier between chef and diner through an open kitchen, kitchen garden, plus homemade beer.

Early this year Beaverbrook in Surrey will join the fray. It includes an 11-bedroom Garden House (which is now open), farm-to-table Italian restaurant plus cooking school and a treehouse hideaway for children, all overseen by hotelier Justin Pinchbeck (formerly of The Berkeley, Lime Wood and The Zetter Townhouse).

2. High and low-brow stays

If ‘poshtels’ have been the biggest recent trend in the budget realm, then the next big thing is the combination of high and low brow features in hotels. It might be a design hotel offering dormitory rooms alongside suites, with cool accoutrements, such as Reykjavik’s new Oddsson hotel and hostel.

Chicago’s The Robey and The Hollander hotels, situated next door to each other, also follow a similar model: the former is a boutique hotel in an Art Deco skyscraper with skyline views, a French-American restaurant and a rooftop pool, the latter offers shared bunk rooms (plus affordable private ones), a coffee shop and social media scheme whereby guests can connect on Instagram prior to their stay. It is described by Kate Silver, our Chicago expert, as ‘catnip for value-hungry hipsters’. Guests of both properties will be able to access each other’s facilities and the rooftop will be accessible via a walkway between each hotel.

Lastly, there’s even a new hotel dedicated to the trend: Portland Oregon’s first Hi-Lo Hotel opens early this year, and will offer rugged interiors with sleek finishes, and a casual Mexican restaurant from a Michelin-starred chef.

3. A spotlight on secondary cities

Ace Hotels has been a leader in popularising secondary cities and unlikely neighbourhoods – despite having hotels in big hitters such as New York, London and Los Angeles, their focus leans more towards cities such as Seattle, Portland, Pittsburgh and New Orleans (a Chicagooutpost will open in 2017).

New British hotel brand Principal – hotels for modern travellers based in heritage properties – also follows this theme, opting to launch the hotel not in the capital, but in Manchester, Edinburgh and York(London opens later this year). Back in the UK, Irish hotel group O’Callaghan has picked Cambridge as the location of its first hotel The Tamburlaine, which will open its doors in spring.

Likewise, new US luxury group Pendry has picked San Diego’s Gas Lamp district and Baltimore’s Recreation Pier as the location for its first two hotels, and millennial hotel group Canopy by Hilton will open properties in Washington DC, Portland and Dallas. Conversely, the flamboyant Zetter Townhouse hotel group will open its first hotel outside of the capital in 2018 in Manchester.

4. Heading South

2016 saw a host of Central and South American openings from the top to toe of the continent, not least due to new direct flight routes from London to Lima. Early January 2017 saw the launch of the first non-stop flights to Santiago. Traditional mansion houses in South American capitals are being converted into boutique hotels, such as Hotel Magnolia and Luciano K in Santiago, Atemporal in Lima and, this year, Illa Hotel in Quito. La Paz also welcomed its first design hotel Atix, while international brands will continue to open: the Oekter Collection’s Palacio Tangará and a Four Seasons will both open in Sao Paulo, plus a Melia hotel is set for Cartagena.

5. Hotel sweet hotel

The popularity of hotels which look like an idealised version of your own home continues. If hotels are a portrait of the times then this period is all about décor that whispers rather than screams, with subtle design references – and not a four-poster bed in sight. As Muriel Muirden, VP and Managing Director of global strategy for design firm, WATG, says: ‘Hotel guests are rejecting generic, fussy, cluttered hotel interiors and over-the-top bathrooms, in favour of simpler, calmer and more streamlined design. However, it still needs to be an aspirational home from home, with quirky art work, super comfy beds and sexy walk-in showers.’

Head to the the likes of Masseria Moroseta, a modernist masseria in Puglia with furniture sourced from the area’s antique markets (some of which is for sale), London’s Scandi-chic Leman Locke, or Barcelona’s Casa Bonay, which is ‘as trendy as a New York lobby, yet as comfortable as your grandmother’s living room,’ according to our reviewer Zoe Johnson. You can now also make your home more like a hotel too, with brands launching their own furniture lines, such as Uxua Casa, Soho House and Oetker & Eden Rock group’s new line Eden Being.

6. Brands opening hotel chains

Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld and watch brand Shinola are just two of the brands which are opening bona fide hotels this year and next. The former will launch in Macau followed by yet-to-be-announced destinations, though all will offer the chance to ‘experience the world through Karl’s lenses’; the latter will open in its birthplace of Detroit.

Unsurprisingly, homeware brands also have plans to open properties, mostly as an extension of their shop windows. West Elm, a Brooklyn-born artisan furniture store will open a chain across the US (including Detroit, Savannah and Indianapolis), while Restoration Hardware, a luxury US brand, will open a 14-room hotel and restaurant in New York’s Meatpacking District. Both will allow guests to purchase furniture as easily as checking in.

7. Cocktails are king

If last year was all about conceptual, interesting restaurants in hotels, then this year the attention has moved onto the drinks. Wizard-like drinks expert Tony Conigliaro, lauded for his avant-garde cocktail bar 69 Colebrooke Row in London, and for overseeing the drinks menus at the Zetter group, plans to open a bar and restaurant with rooms in Cognac this summer, opposite the Hennessy cellars. Everything will be locally sourced.

Back in London, drinks will be flowing at the Experimental Cocktail Club’s second hotel, the 18-bedroom Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden(their first was the Grand Pigalle in Paris). Mimi’s, a new hotel and cocktail bar by Berlin hotelier Lutz Strangemann, is also on the cards, which is located on Frith street and takes inspiration from Soho’s heyday.

Existing hotels are also offering interesting takes on cocktails – suites at The London EDITION places drinks trolleys with a ‘virtual’ book on how to make signature drinks from the hotel’s atmospheric Punch Room; the W London offers a similar in-room ‘MegaBar’ experience with a bartender, disco ball and soundsystem in tow, while The Lanesborough now offers miniature tasting cocktail flights at its Library bar.

8. Hotels and art

While art curation in hotels is prevalent – 21c Museum Hotels combine contemporary art with boutique hoteliering, and the Rome Cavalieriholds Europe’s biggest art collection – Cape Town’s new hotel The Silo, which opens in March, goes one step further: it will sit atop the city’s new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (the museum’s opening will follow in September). Both the hotel and museum are situated in a former grain store (The Silo’s 28 rooms will sit in the old lift tower), which has been redesigned by Thomas Heatherwick. The sixth floor will have a weighbridge directly to the museum’s sculpture gallery, and the concierge will be able to arrange private tours.

Other hotels are also embracing local cultural spots: Lisbon’s AlmaLusahotel offers free entry to the new and nearby Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, while the Hotel de Russie in Rome will hold an exclusive exhibition of Picasso’s engravings to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his first visit to Rome (from January 20 to February 28).

9. Make your own hotel

Customisation has reached new heights. Travel company Black Tomato has launched Blink, a new service which allows people to ‘design their own luxury temporary accommodation in locations that are so private, pristine and untouched that no one else will have stayed there before (or again) in the same way.’ The company’s experts will hand-pick unlikely locations, from the Bolivian salt flats to an Icelandic fjord, where camps can be set up for clients. Afterwards, there will be no trace it was ever there. Prices range from £8,800 to £23,000 (both based on six people), depending on destination.

Similarly, Epic Retreats will allow travellers to stay at a ‘disappearing’ hotel in one of three natural spots in Wales, to celebrate the country’s Year of Legends. If pop-ups aren’t your thing, then book into one of the Oetker Collection’s properties instead. The group offers personal experiences for guests, such as skiing with three-time Olympic and World Championship medalist Florence Masnada on the slopes of Les Trois Vallées (in conjunction with L’Apogée Courchevel), or diving with multiple world record-holder with Fred Buyle at Eden Rock St Barthsand Fregate Island in the Seychelles.

10. The Maldives redefined

The Maldives is no longer only synonymous with honeymooners. Despite it still being a global marker of luxury around the world – Four Seasons opened its first exclusive-use private island in the island nations’s only Unesco Biosphere in December of last year – the Maldives has been realigning its new accommodation offerings to suit a broader range of guests.

The arrival of Thomas Cook’s new Eriyadu resort and the stylish new Kandima Maldives (which boasts the longest pool in the Maldives and a marine biology school) will establish it as a bona fide family getaway, while those looking for more affordable options can book into the Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort from February, said to be the best value available across the atolls. Those looking for more than just fly and flop will also be happy to hear that the New York-based Butter Group have launched clubs at both Finolhu and Amilla Fushi, which will offer everything from live DJ sets to pool parties with mermaids, acrobats and stilt walkers.

11. More members’ clubs

The prevalence of members’ clubs in hotels, also featured on last year’s list, show no sign of slowing down. Last year saw the opening of La Granja, a 10-room farmhouse in Ibiza for members run by Design Hotels, plus numerous others such as the Devonshire Club. 2017 will see the likes of east London’s The Curtain Hotel and Private Members’s Club to rival Shoreditch House; The Ned, a partnership between hotel group Sydell and Soho House & Co in the former Midland Bank building; and the Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square which will hold the first ever Four Seasons members’ club on its top floors. The Lanesborough Club & Spa is also set to open a private fitness and health club, inspired by the Roman Baths. The Ned will open in April 2017 in an Edwin Lutyens-designed building which was the former Midland Bank.

Hotels Offer Your Family-Friendly Options

American hotels have long appealed to families with children’s play areas and special menus, but then suggested accommodations in grand suites or adjoining rooms to handle the clan. Now the hospitality industry is catching up to family demand, as well as to European resorts where triple or quad rooms, often booked by families, are common.

“Today, the amenity war between hotel brands is being fought in the configuration of the guest rooms,” said Chekitan Dev, a marketing professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

The just-opened Asbury hotel in Asbury Park, N.J., offers family rooms with tents children can sleep in and bunk rooms accommodating up to eight. Renovated in late 2014, the Garland hotel in North Hollywood, in Los Angeles, added four family suites with nooks for bunk beds, TVs and DVD players. And the water park chain Great Wolf Lodge offers a variety of family rooms, from those stocked with Diaper Genies, Pack ‘n Plays and swim diapers to bunk beds in wolf-themed dens.

In urban areas, the rise of cheap-chic hostels, such as Freehand in Chicago and Miami or Safestay in Edinburgh and other cities in Britain, present affordable options, including rooms with multiple bunks. Even the Linq Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas has added 12 rooms with bunk beds, starting at $69 a night.

Whether your family plans to travel domestically this summer or further afield, the following new and improved hotels and resorts offer more than just shelter. You might find a lion next door, your own horse or s’mores at evening bonfires.

UNITED STATES

Summercamp

Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts

Named in homage to the Methodist camp meetings held in the cottage-filled Oak Bluffs area since the early 1800s, the new 95-room Summercamp hotel has revitalized the 19th-century Wesley Hotel. Its bright, playful décor features nostalgic accents like wall-mounted vintage tennis rackets and archery bows, dragonfly-print drapes, platform beds with marine rope for bedposts and child-friendly bunk beds. Porches wrap the hotel, which overlooks the harbor, but for those who want more action, there’s Ping-Pong, Twister, movie screenings in the recreation hall and cornhole games on the lawn. The hotel lacks a restaurant, but stocks its Camp Canteen with retro snacks including Cracker Jacks, “penny candy” and Dreamsicles. Rooms from $149

Opal Sands Resort

Clearwater, Fla.

Beach-loving families will find Gulf of Mexico views from all of the 230 rooms at the shorefront Opal Sands Resort, each done in tones of driftwood and sea blue. Chairs and cabanas are available for rent at the beach, where the shallow and often calm water attracts swimmers. There’s also a zero-entry pool, which gradually slopes deeper, like a natural beach, and poolside food service. Other restaurants include the Italian Sea-Guini, which has a pasta-making station, and the beachside Sandbar, with live music on weekends. The resort is near the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to the stars of the movie “Dolphin Tale” and its sequel, and it is about a 10-minute walk to Pier 60, which stages a nightly sunset festival with street performers, including musicians and jugglers. Rooms from $269

Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina

Bar Harbor, Me.

A convenient base for exploring nearby Acadia National Park or taking a whale-watching or lobstering tour in family friendly Bar Harbor, Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina offers country club-style amenities with a casual spirit. Guests have access to the Bar Harbor Club, with an oceanfront swimming pool, tennis courts and a club for children 5 to 12. Among its 193 rooms, five Kids’ Suites, which include a separate room with a bunk bed, TV, DVD player and video game console, were recently added to the hotel. Four new Boathouse Suites offer more space, with two bedrooms, a full kitchen and a rooftop patio with a hot tub. Located in town, the resort is within walking distance of shops and restaurants and frequently hosts evening bonfires with s’mores. Rooms from $239

Home Ranch

Clark, Colo.

Offering an all-inclusive vacation with a western accent, dude ranches not only have horseback riding but plenty of wide open space for children to roam. The Home Ranch near Steamboat Springs in northwestern Colorado assigns each member of the family (age 6 and up) a horse for the week. Rugged activities such as hiking and fly fishing are balanced by resort-like amenities including a heated outdoor pool. Counselors running the children’s program offer activities until 9 p.m. daily, and teens have their own program, which might include rock climbing or barrel racing. The ranch recently planted an organic farm, supplying the kitchen with fresh produce and serving as a demonstration garden. Accommodations include lodge rooms and log cabins. Rates from $6,920 for two people for seven nights, the minimum stay in the summer

Suttle Lodge & Boathouse

ditUncage the Soul Sisters, Ore.

The Portland-based hospitality group the Mighty Union, the creative and management company behind Ace Hotel Portland, is reviving a rustic resort in the Deschutes National Forest of central Oregon with a strong sense of play and an affinity for good food. Suttle Lodge & Boathouse is to open in late June on Suttle Lake, with 11 lodge rooms, six two-story lakefront cabins and eight budget cabins with a shared bathhouse on 15.5 acres. The chef Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene’s restaurant in Portland will oversee the food, including the locavore Boathouse restaurant. A 3.6-mile hiking trail rings the lake, and guests can take to the water via canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Expect naturalist talks and tours, and stargazing with an astronomer. Rooms from $125

ABROAD

Château St. Pierre de Serjac

Languedoc Region, in France

Thoughts of a family vacation don’t usually bring a French wine estate to mind. But the Château St. Pierre de Serjac in the Languedoc region, fresh from a two-year, $31 million renovation, caters to families with a heated pool, loaner bikes and, in July and August, a kids’ club and supervised children’s dinners. The 19th-century chateau, on 200 acres with vineyards and orchards, houses eight guest rooms. Several outbuildings, including the stables and barns, have been repurposed to host 36 apartments with two to four bedrooms or stand-alone homes with private pools. The larger accommodations include full kitchens, but the property also offers a restaurant and bar. Rooms from 295 euros (about $325)

Gir Lion Lodge

London

Many zoos offer occasional camp-outs to sleep near the animals. But this summer the ZSL London Zoo is introducing Gir Lion Lodge, nine cottages available for overnight stays near the habitat of the Asiatic lions of the Gir Forest of India. Residency comes with two meals — dinner and breakfast — and guided walks in the zoo, including tours at sunset, at night by flashlight and in the morning before the zoo opens. The colorful cabins sleep four. Overnights are available six nights each week from May 25 through December, and will run from February through December in 2017. Children must be 5 or older. Rates start at 378 pounds for two (about $550), with each additional child £50

Hilton at Resorts World Bimini

Bimini Island, Bahamas

On the slim, seven-mile-long island of North Bimini, about 50 miles south of Miami, the main modes of transportation are golf cart and bike. Explore it from the new 305-room Hilton at Resorts World Bimini, opening this month, with three pools, including a lazy river and a rooftop pool, and six restaurants. Beachcombing, snorkeling and diving are the real attractions, and the resort also offers kayaking, paddleboarding and a kids’ club. Families can tour the Bimini Sharklab, a biological research station, to view juvenile lemon and nurse sharks. For now, travelers reach the island via floatplane or regular commercial air, though ferry travel is expected this summer. Rooms from $229

JW Marriott Los Cabos

Beach Resort & Spa

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

Opened last winter, the 299-room JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa channels a vast, contemporary beach house, with lots of outdoor living space, including furnished balconies off the rooms. Among 10 swimming pools, two are earmarked for families and another for children. Nayaa Club offers activities for children and teenagers ranging from treasure hunts to Spanish lessons, Zumba classes and tennis games. Restaurants include Mexican and seafood-focused grill options. A 45-room hotel-within-the-hotel, Griffin Club, includes a game room, movie theater, private beach and pool. The resort is on the quieter end of Los Cabos and near the town of San Jose, where local families frequently gather in the town square in the evenings. Rooms from $460

The Best Hotels and Resorts of 2016

As 2016 winds to a close, I’m taking this final week to reflect on the past 12 months in all things travel. Yesterday I looked at aviation and frequent flier topics, the Year In Flight. Today I am revisiting the 10 best hotel experiences I had in 2016. Many of these were new or importantly renovated properties, but some were time-tested classics – what they all had in common was that I stayed and critically experienced their charms firsthand. For avid travelers, two years ago I launched two new resources to make it easier for travelers to find critical info, Great Urban Weekend Getaways and Hotel Test Drives. Hotel Test Drives focuses on new and smaller market properties, while I save the best of the world’s hotels for my Hotels I Love column, which was reorganized into one convenient users’ guide earlier this year.

As a professional travel writer, I have traveled a great deal over the past 20-plus years, and have stayed in over a thousand hotels. Because the publications I write for skew towards luxury, the hotels I stay in reflect this and are pre-qualified to the degree possible. Nonetheless, often so-called “luxury” hotels are cookie cutter and fail to impress. In many cases, developers think endless expanses of marble or designer staff uniforms make up for service deficiencies and poorly conceived room layouts – note to these hoteliers, they do not.

Today my focus is on just the ten best lodging experiences I had this year that impressed me enough so that I would recommend them, regardless of price point. Some were properties I visited for the first time, but this year saw a lot of repeats, often several years since my last. Some I have covered here before in one way or another, and in those cases, I have provided links to past stories for more detail.

Four Seasons Florence, Italy: This is a hotel I returned to in 2016 after several years absence and I (again) found it so amazing that I made it the year’s only addition to my vaunted “Hotels I Love” list, a hyper-critical collection of the world’s most standout lodging properties, and my personal highest honor. That story is just a few months old so you can read it here for far more detail, but suffice to say, Four Seasons turned one of the city’s most amazing palaces and a former papal residence with the largest private park in Florence into a urban resort without parallel, a magnificent stunner with Michelin-starred food, stellar service, amazing art and a wonderful spa that are all of high enough quality to match amazing physical setting. Unlike Rome or Paris or London, with tons of high-end competition, this is simply THE place to stay in Florence if you can afford to stay anywhere.

Trapper’s Cabin, Beaver Creek, CO: Okay, so this one is not really a traditional hotel or resort by any standards, but rather a single home operated as a hotel by Rockresorts, the lodging arm of Vail Resorts, which in turn owns Beaver Creek, the single most luxurious ski resort in the United States. Trapper’s Cabin is unique in skiing, the only on-mountain lodging at Beaver Creek, and while there are plenty of ski-in/ski-out hotels at the base, this one is ski-down, guaranteeing first tracks to guests every single day. When you stay here, you literally have the mountain to yourself once lifts close. Situated slopeside at 9,500 feet, it is a deluxe log cabin that sleeps a single party of up to ten, with pool table, fireplace, decks, great outdoor Jacuzzi tub with stunning views, and much more. It is simply the premier address at Beaver Creek, with sno-cat transfers from the base lodge and a personal “Cabin Keeper” (concierge). Last season I wrote about the “White Glove Package,” arguably the top luxury vacation ski or snowboard experience out there, a four-night package for four that pairs Trapper’s with extras like private ski guides, VIP first tracks access, dinners, private meals, rental delivery to the cabin, free ski gear and much more – including four roundtrip first-class tickets from anywhere in the country. You can read that article for more detailed info on Trapper’s Cabin, which can also be rented a la carte nightly, and is just a wonderful place to stay, perfect for that special event ski trip, like an Anniversary.

Ritz Paris, France: There are grand dames and then there are grand grand dames, and the Ritz is the latter, the inspiration for many, if not most, of the world’s luxury hotels. This was the original flagship of Cesar Ritz, the “King of Hoteliers and Hotelier of Kings,” and spawned the terms Ritzy, putting on the Ritz, and gave birth to the Ritz-Carlton brand. This is the most famous hotel in a city full of famous hotels, and it just reopened after a four-plus year total renovations, and I was lucky enough to visit on a magazine assignment soon afterwards – I had also stayed there shortly before it closed five years ago. $450 million later, the Ritz still looks and feels very much like its cadre of loyal fans (Hemingway, Princess Diana, and Coco Chanel lived here full time) will remember, only better. Rooms were greatly enlarged and there are now only about half as many, half of these suites, and all with fantastically upgraded bathrooms and well concealed technology. The two-story spa and health club was completely rebuilt and houses the world’s only Chanel branded beauty facility, while the former Ritz Club nightclub was transformed into an elegant bar and classic French brasserie. There is a new retail arcade, a new retractable glass atrium that allows patio dining all year round, escapist gardens in the heart of the city, a new salon for afternoon tea, and three new high-tech instruction kitchens expanded the hotel’s famous in-house cooking school. A new executive chef, Nicolas Sale, came with four Michelin stars to take the helm at the Ritz’ Michelin-starred gastronomic eatery, L’Espadon. The Ritz Paris has again rightfully taken its place as one of the world’s greatest great hotels.

Amanera, Dominican Republic: Aman is such a beloved luxury boutique hotel operator that its ultra-loyal following has been dubbed “Aman junkies” in the travel industry. But while Aman has successfully opened posh resorts around the world and even moved into the urban hotels, Amanera was a big first for them – the first Aman golf resort. True to its reputation, the brand did not take the challenge lightly – the redesigned Playa Grande course, exclusive to Aman guests, is nothing less than the finest golf course in the Caribbean, a true stunner. I do not say that lightly, but I have been writing on golf travel and architecture for over 20 years, used to rate resorts for Golf Magazine, and have played the majority of the world’s top courses including the big names of the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. Playa Grande occupies a clifftop setting similar to that of Pebble Beach, only better, and with no garish homes, and it has ten holes on the Caribbean, far more waterfront exposure than any other course in of North America – including a mind blowing five-hole coastal finish. It gets so little play you don’t need tee times and in two rounds I saw one other player. Playa Grande is stupendous and worth a special trip for the serious golf lover. The rest of the resort is great too – most guests don’t even come to play golf. Lodging is in sumptuous casitas that put most other all-villa luxury resorts to shame, with incredible design, private pools and extensive indoor and outdoor living spaces. The facilities are hugely out of scale to the number of rooms, so that if everyone staying here went to the main pool or the beach or one of the restaurants at the same time, they would still feel empty. The resort has over 2,000-acres for 25 casitas, including a private mountain for hiking and expansive private beach. On top of all this, the service is phenomenal, almost psychic, and super friendly – staffers seem to truly love working here. It is the best I have ever encountered in the Caribbean, and the resort even has a special VIP meet and greet policy – for all arriving guests – that bypasses the airport hassles and immigration line and has you sipping a cool beer while other passengers are waiting for luggage. This is truly a slice of paradise and one of the most important hotel openings of the year.

Sun Valley Lodge, ID: Turning 80 this year, Sun Valley was America’s first destination ski resort – this is the place that literally invented the chairlift and changed skiing forever. Ever since it has attracted an A-list following of movie stars, royalty and other celebrities, from Hemingway and Monroe to Oprah and Bill Gates. Most of them have stayed at the historic Sun Valley Lodge, opened that same winter of 1936, and one of the most iconic hotels in the sport. But for last winter the Lodge underwent a 9-month reimagining, enlarging guest rooms so much that capacity dropped from 148 to 94 rooms. Guest rooms roughly doubled in size, adding gorgeous bathrooms with walk-in showers and soaking tubs, and most now feature fireplaces. Attention to detail in the renovation was incredible: floors are granite, cabinetry African hardwoods, and the five new “Celebrity Suites” are themed after hotel regulars including Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, and Hemingway, who wrote the Sun Also Rises while staying here for months. I had been to the Lodge before and it is absolutely better than ever, but at the same time it retained the look and feel that regulars will expect. It now has modern luxury comforts, a new centerpiece Lobby Lounge, designed as a vibrant focal point of the grand lobby, and a new 20,000 square foot spa with state of the art fitness center, beauty salon, and yoga studio. The famous circular heated outdoor saline pool was completely redesigned with a large new patio deck with hot tub, fire pit, and a new Poolside Café. Loved it!

Wynn/Encore, Las Vegas: I’ve been to Vegas 50+ times and have stayed at just about every other well-known hotel, big and small. But I most recently stayed at Wynn – and also twice in 2015. In all three recent visits I was very impressed. Wynn is more self-contained than most Strip hotels, a top choice for repeat Vegas guests who don’t need to wander. The campus includes the connected Wynn and Encore resorts, each of which also has a more luxurious Tower Suites hotel within a hotel, for a total of four lodging choices, each with its own entrance. In total, it has the most Forbes Stars under one roof of any property on earth, with about 60 in total, including two 5-Star hotels and two 5-Star spas plus ten 4-Stars hotels and restaurants. It is also the only casino resort in the city with its own onsite golf course, a huge advantage for golfers, a fun Tom Fazio design operated in the style of a top private country club. Wynn has an excellent slate of eateries, among the best selection of fine dining in the food obsessed city. As a big fan of the Las Vegas hotel-within-hotel concept, which bypasses the city’s biggest tourism weaknesses, huge lobby lines and poor bell and taxi service, I can emphatically recommend either the Wynn or Encore Tower Suites, both 5-Stars, and nearly identical except for décor.

Boston Harbor Hotel, MA: One of the least well known Forbes 5-star hotels in the country, this luxury fixture of Boston’s waterfront flies below the radar of many travelers but is awesome and has a very loyal repeat clientele. I have been a few times and covered it in my Hotels I l Love column, but this was my first visit since a recent renovation of all guest rooms that was completed in May. Like the Ritz Paris, this is an example of an already world-class hotel that is now better than ever. The rooms, which had heavy drapes and an Old World feel have been lightened and modernized, with great bathrooms and amenities, but what continues to wow is the food and service. Wine centric Meritage is a standout hotel restaurant, a rare example of a destination worthy hotel eatery in this country. This was the first time I visited with my dog, who found homemade cookies awaiting her, and staffers fell over each other to help, greet and offer assistance. It’s the rare kind of hotel where doormen remember each guest and it always feels like coming home. It is also home to the nation’s oldest food and wine festival, starting next month and running through March.

Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, A Four Seasons Resort, France: What do you get when you take one of Europe’s grandest grade dame resorts, the shining star of the French Riviera, and put it under the management of world-renowned luxury brand Four Seasons? You get the place I went for my 25th wedding anniversary this year. This coastal masterpiece oozes romance and luxury in a laid-back way, with palatial grounds, direct access to a coastal walking path on the Riviera’s most famously posh and private peninsula (neighbors include Paul Allen), and a truly iconic salt water pool where regular have brought their children to learn to swim for decades, including the Kennedys, Paul McCartney and Ralph Lauren. Complete with a Michelin-starred restaurant run by a chef who received France’s highest possible culinary honor, plus an amazing poolside open air eatery overlooking the Mediterranean, this is the kind of place you go for that big dream vacation – the hotel even has its own funicular. It is utterly private in a self-contained paradise, yet very close to the charms of both Nice and Monaco, and now it is offered in a best of all worlds package vacation with two other regional Four Seasons stunners, Florence (see above) and the ultimate retail therapy lodging spot for shopping lovers, the Four Seasons Milan.

Badrutt’s Palace, St. Moritz, Switzerland: Another iconic European grand dame, this is arguably the most famous hotel in skiing, in the very town that invented the winter sport vacation. Badrutt’s is big, posh and formal, in downtown St. Moritz, yet offers easy access to serval resorts and is the kind of place where the hotel picks you up at the nearby trains statin in a Rolls Royce. It oozes dark wood, classic art, live piano and harp music, and champagne flows like water. It sits on the lake that is the city’s centerpiece, with first row seats to summer sailing (it has its own marina and boat fleet) and winter’s most decadent event, the White Turf, an on snow horse racing meet held annually since 1907. In recent years Badrutt’s has quietly but substantially upgraded, and floor by floor, rooms have been completely renovated: almost all now feature contemporary luxury bathrooms with walk-in showers and heated floors, and many boast full outdoor balconies with stellar Alpine views. Every room has unique original art, complimentary mini-bars, and included breakfast is a spectacular spread, a grand Sunday brunch every morning. The big recent addition was a huge underground spa and health center, a three-year project that included state of the art treatment rooms, a yoga studio, and a separate “wet zone” full of saunas, steam rooms, ice room and experiential showers. Two blocks from the hotel is Chesa Veglia, the oldest building in St. Moritz, a 1658 farmhouse owned by Badrutt’s that houses three more hotel restaurants and two bars, a nice and unique historical touch. The Palace has a Michelin-starred main dining room and seasonal winter outpost of chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s eponymous Matsuhisa. For a ski or summer adventure that captures all the dramatic grandeur of the Swiss Alps, you cannot beat Badrutt’s.

Post Hotel, Lake Louise, Alberta: I wish I had discovered the boutique Post as some sort of hidden gem, but I can hardly take credit – the place has been awash in superlatives and awards for years. It was rated Canada’s Number One hotel of any size by Travel + Leisure, besting a slew of famed Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont properties, among many others, while Conde Nast Traveler named it the Best Ski Hotel North America, Best Food in the Americas and Number One Hotel for Service in the Americas. It wins Wine Spectator’s highest honor, the rare Grand Award of Excellence, annually, its owners were named hoteliers of the year for the entire world, and it is a standout member of the coveted Relais & Chateaux group. This would be one of the world’s greatest ski lodgings, located at Canada’s third largest ski resort – except that Lake this spot is far more popular as a summer destination. Lake Louise sits in Canada’s first and oldest National Park, Banff, and is one of the most photographed and iconic natural settings on the planet. I can’t say enough great things about the homey Post, opened by two Swiss brothers who decades later continue to run it very hardens on, and it excels in every way, while enjoying an unbeatable year-round location. It is home to a renowned fine dining eatery that is a destination in its own right, it has a wonderful full service spa with Roman-style saltwater pool, its own skating rink, and 3-minutes from the slopes (via hotel car), it is surrounded by more than 120 miles of Nordic ski trails, plus endless summer hiking. Despite its warm staff and rustic lodge feel, this is a stellar luxury hotel that rivals the very best of Aspen, Vail or Park City, but with a relaxed European vibe.