‘Coûte que coûte’ goes the punning family motto of Sir Charles Coote, for whom the opulent Ballyfin estate was conceived in the early 19th century. ‘No matter the cost’ is how this loosely translates, proving as apt an adage in the 21st century as it was then. Many millions of euros may have been lavished on this stately pile in County Laois, both in its original construction and, more recently, its painstaking restoration. For the architectural historian, the house is a head turner – the culmination of Regency craftsmanship brought together in lusciously modelled plasterwork, scagliola in varying colours, stained glass and staggeringly intricate parquetry. For the sybarite, the house is a place of comfort and grandeur, not least in the Gold Drawing Room where walls are hung with lustrous silk and vast windows frame views of the 28-acre lake. Bedrooms are also decorated with rich fabrics and wallpaper, fine antiques, fresh flowers from the garden, art and books – a fabulous amalgamation of Anglo-Irish panache. New this year is Ballyfin’s 21st room and first standalone property: the tiny Gardener’s Cottage overlooking, to the rear, the walled gardens, which supply Ballyfin’s kitchen with organic fruit and vegetables. The grounds are made for strolling in the complimentary wellies, with grottoes and rockeries, a folly and a fernery, a rose garden and an aviary. There is no finer Irish-country house experience. By Pamela Goodman
The pristine Four Seasons, the only five-pearl property on the Big Island, is unlike any other resort on the Kohala Coast. Lush and beautifully landscaped grounds surround private bungalow-style rooms and suites tucked along winding paths throughout the large property. The thoughtfully designed architecture, pools (all seven of them), and public spaces are indulgent without seeming excessive. Dining options on-site are few in number but high in quality, and include what is arguably the best restaurant on the Big Island. The service is excellent and the experience is first-rate down to the last detail.
Foodies who are eager to enjoy Napa Valley's award-winning wineries and restaurants will love staying at Auberge du Soleil. This upscale property features a 15,000-bottle cellar and two eateries, both of which are helmed by Michelin-starred chef Robert Curry. After filling up on gourmet fare, travelers can enjoy complimentary yoga classes at the Japanese-style pavilion, go for a walk through the sculpture garden, unwind with a treatment at the spa or sip cocktails by the outdoor pool. The No. 1 Best Hotel in Napa Valley also boasts relaxation-focused extras, such as fireplaces and soaking tubs, inside its guest rooms. (Courtesy of Auberge du Soleil, An Auberge Resort)
An instant modern classic when it opened in late 2017, The Sanders has a sense of drama in its bones. The name is derived from ‘Alexander’s’, after its owner, Alexander Kølpin, who for many years was one of Denmark’s leading ballet dancers. Leaving the stage, he rejoined the family hotel business but wanted to have a project to call his own. To say the resulting property is ‘good’ is like saying Swan Lake is a ‘nice bit of choreography’. Sanders is impeccable, with a seemingly three-fold secret to its success: extraordinary attention to detail, warm and inviting design, and staff who pride themselves on making guests feel at home. Many hotels have concierges with whom you can have a brief conversation when you return at the end of the day. But how many, the next morning, have already prepared a map for a place you’d mentioned you might visit – and laminated it, in case of rain? Style-wise, it blends colonial-era comfort – wicker chairs, a beige-and-white colour scheme, an abundance of artworks on the walls – with some Left Bank charm and a huge dollop of Danish hygge (there’s a fireplace in the bar, after all). Like so many of the very best hotels, it has made itself a part of the fabric of the city. Locals stop in at the French-style bistro for weekend brunch, grab a quick coffee on the street outside, or come for an evening drink. Remarkably for a new arrival, the place feels old-school, perhaps because there’s no focus on fashion or trying to be painstakingly of the moment, but rather on service, style, and comfort, which it delivers with curtain-call-worthy aplomb. By Stephen Whitlock
Experience the unique Hôtel de glace “Ice Hotel” just 10 minutes away from downtown. The ephemeral work of art is renewed winter after winter. You’ll be enchanted by the magic of its majestic snow-capped vaults, crystalline ice sculptures and thematic rooms and suites each one more original than the next. If you cannot spend the night over spend at least an unforgettable evening at the ice bar. Many couples are eager to celebrate their wedding in its fairytale chapel built for this purpose. The hotel takes care of your comfort with appropriate bedding; a fireplace or private spa in suites; and an outdoor area with sauna and spa to relax under the stars!

Building a hotel into the face of Santorini’s dramatic sea cliffs lends an immediate advantage: The location alone is enough to make it a showstopper. Happily, the 18-room Mystique lives up to its stunning site, and is well worth the step-filled trip it takes to get there. The free-form rooms, decorated in what might be called cave-art style (driftwood for headboards, a dining table and chairs that appear to be made of egg-shaped boulders), are carved directly into the cliff, and the views—toward the town of Fira—are magnificent.
This fashionable hotel earns acclaim for its elegant design and prime location in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood. The No. 4 Best Hotel in Chicago boasts exceptional customer service, an indoor pool, a spa and a health club. Accommodations within the Waldorf Astoria Chicago are dressed in stylish gray tones and contemporary furnishings. (Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Chicago)

Often referred to as the USA's best small hotel, this 20-suite Relais & Châteaux property - with cottages and outbuildings anchored by a 1795 New England farmhouse - sits in 300 acres of breathtaking wildflower meadows, pine forests, lakes and orchards. Its sophisticated style is the result of a long and fruitful relationship with the cream of NYC's interior-design world. In the 1990s, the original owner, Hawaiian newspaperman Thurston Twigg-Smith, commissioned designer and one-time Warhol apostle Jed Johnson to work his magic on the first 15 rooms. Cue chinoiserie toile pelmets, hand-carved ravens atop barley-twist bedposts and a trompe-l'oeil tented ceiling. Johnson's rooms are still marvellous, but when Twin Farms added another five bedrooms in 2005, plus spa treatment rooms, architect Peter Bohlin (known for his Apple stores) and interior designer Thad Hayes were called in. Their suites - such as The Aviary, with its Douglas-fir panelling, shag rug and buttoned-leather headboard, all in orange - are as luxurious as Johnson's, though less zesty. As delightful as the rooms are, the farm-raised, seasonal food (veal with butternut-squash purée in winter, grilled halibut and prawn gnocchi in summer) from chef Ted Ask and pastry honcho Christopher Wilson possibly tops it all. There's also access to deserted hiking trails, private ski slopes, fly-fishing, the Out of the Woods Spa and a 20,000-bottle wine cellar.


'If we want things to stay as they are,' Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa famously wrote, 'things will have to change.' Anyone who knows and loves The Carlyle will want things at this Upper East Side institution to stay as they are, while also understanding that a certain amount of tweaking is, alas, necessary. Designer Tony Chi, who did such a fine job at The Carlyle’s sister property, Rosewood London, is currently overhauling 80 percent of the hotel’s 190 rooms. The first of these will become available in early 2019. Renovations here have always been a fraught business, not least because, as well as being a hotel, it also contains 50 or so privately owned apartments spread across its 35 floors, making it impossible to do the whole place up all at once. Thus some rooms are florid and chintzy; some are 1920s time capsules; some are slick and steely; and still others are something in between. Broadly speaking, they get better the higher the floor. Plus, you get to spend more time in the elevators —not an activity to enjoy in everyday life, but this is not everyday life. The ones at The Carlyle are the stuff of legend, as much admired as the astounding Dorothy Draper lobby or Bemelmans Bar. Imagine if you had been there when Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, and Steve Jobs all piled in (true story). You would have been in awe. Not of them, of course, but of the real superstar – the unflappable, icy-calm, white-gloved Carlyle elevator operator. By Steve King
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