The Taj Mahal Palace is a 1903, grey-and-white stone, red-domed wedding cake of a building that stands sentry over Mumbai’s harbor. When your taxi pulls up through the throngs of families and tourists who choke the roads near the Gateway to India arch and you’re ceremoniously welcomed by doormen in traditional silk kurtas, you have that pinch-me feeling of Wow, I’m really staying here? You’re in good company, as everyone from George Bernard Shaw to Barack Obama has spent the night here too. Because the Taj is such a landmark, there are tourists and locals who come and go from the hotel’s restaurants, shops, and bars, as well as the daily Heritage Walks around the property. But some parts of the hotel are off-limits to non-guests, so you quickly leave the bustle of the lobby behind. The Taj has the best pool in Mumbai, and a dozen restaurants, bars, and cafés, including Wasabi by Morimoto, Souk for Tagines, and Kraft Masala for Indian.
That’s why Sharon Cantor loves The Chanler, a sprawling, former summer home in Newport, R.I. “It’s a journey back to the Golden Age of mansions—architectural beauty, timeless elegance, and impeccable service,” says the Miami resident. During one recent stay, Cantor and her husband Steve were invited to a 1930s-themed gala, and Chanler staffers helped them hunt down last-minute costumes. “We have stayed at many five-star hotels,” says the Cantor, “but none of them compares to the personal attention and genuine warmth shown to us by the staff of the Chanler.”
The No. 1 Best Hotel in Wisconsin is The American Club, a historic Tudor-style hotel in the small town of Kohler. Once used as a dormitory for immigrants, the property now welcomes guests to its charming accommodations, which feature rich fabrics and dark woods. Each room is named after an iconic figure like Fred Astaire or Harriet Beecher Stowe and comes equipped with a minibar and Kohler Waters Spa amenities, among other perks. Visitors also have access to an array of high-end facilities, including two championship golf courses and a health center with tennis courts and fitness classes. (Courtesy of The American Club and Kohler Co.)
The Lowell is conveniently situated near Fifth Avenue and Central Park on the Upper East Side. Offering 74 rooms and suites with cashmere throws, king-sized beds and pantries or kitchenettes stocked with Dean & DeLuca snacks, this boutique property also features an array of drinking and dining venues, including the elegant Majorelle, the oak-paneled Jacques Bar and the cozy Club Room. And no visit to the No. 2 Best Hotel in New York City would be complete without sitting for afternoon tea in the Pembroke Room. (Courtesy of The Lowell Hotel New York)
Retaining its neoclassical splendour yet introducing mischief and modernity, art curator Nuria Ferrer Klein – the owner’s mother – has perked up this 19th-century mansion’s ancient coffered ceilings and paved courtyard and gallery by using a smoky charcoal-grey hue. Bespoke contemporary canvases by trailblazing artists Guillem Nadal and Josep Maria Riera i Aragó are an arresting sight in the otherwise serene lobby. In the former stables, the snug Quadrat restaurant serves up convincing yet edgy Mediterranean dishes such as scarlet-shrimp socarrat rice. Hollywood stars and the hotel’s savvy regulars head for the private garden, or chow down on sushi served by the pool on the rooftop terrace, the largest in town. While common spaces are filled with chequered stone tiles, soft grey textiles and sofas, bedrooms cut a dash, some with frescoed ceilings, French oak flooring and bold chandeliers. Set in the city’s twisty-turny historic quarter, the hotel can sort inspired concierge-curated diversions, including gin making at a local distillery – but if that’s too taxing, the barman can easily rustle up the real deal here instead. Sant Francesc sums up what makes Palma so alluring in the first place – that intersection of old and new imbued with a playful spirit. This is Palma’s most self-assured though understated address. By Anna Nicholas
This former 17th-century convent mixes elements of its past (exposed wood ceilings, beautiful arched walkways) with modernity in a very graceful way: Rooms are either contemporary or colonial-style, and while the newer ones offer views of the pool or the Caribbean, colonial suites have antique furniture and overlook the Old Town or interior gardens. To play at being pious, check out Restaurant 1621, once the Clarist nuns’ dining room, which now serves French-inflected cuisine.
To stay in a charming European area that is full of small bistros and traditional pastry shops, book a hotel in the neighborhood of Petit Champlain, such as the Hôtel Champlain Vieux Québec. In Petit Champlain, you can see some of the first houses built in Quebec City, or you can visit specialty stores like Charlevoix Pure Laine, a local wool accessory shop.
Music producer Chris Blackwell, who introduced the world to Bob Marley back in 1973, also founded this oceanfront island hideaway a few years later, based around the clifftop villa where Ian Fleming wrote all his Bond novels. In the decades since its reach has grown and grown. There’s no sign at the entrance, which is part of the low-key charm. It’s easy to see why many music and film stars make their way here: this is a sweet spot with a very independent flavour, a world away from the oversized all-inclusives, and more honed than Blackwell’s companion hotel, Strawberry Hill, in the Blue Mountains. Couples tend to hole up in the wooden beach huts; families and friends take over the massive villas; industry bigwigs feel right at home in Fleming’s former house, which has three bedrooms and a personable, clued-in staff. There are a few nods to 007 – black-and-white photos of Bond in reception plus novels and films on loan – but GoldenEye is mainly about Jamaica, a sensibility found in the blazingly coloured fabrics, breezy breakfasts on the verandah with cups of Blue Mountain coffee, and heaps of tropical fruit. The sheltered bay for morning swims is just a few paces away across immaculate sands. It says everything that Blackwell still lives here (guests have been known to unwittingly roll up to his villa and ask for a drink, which is always obligingly provided). And why would he leave? He gets to enjoy a highly original hangout that is entirely of his making. This is that rare beast: a hotel that balances heritage and hip and gets away with it. By Nigel Tisdall
On paper it shouldn’t work. An entire Puglian village, built from scratch. A reimagining of townhouses and a square, a colonnade of shops, villas dotted around the grounds, a little farm area with horses and chickens and rabbits. How could it possibly be anything other than pastiche? And yet… at the grand old age of 10, Borgo Egnazia has carved a name for itself as one of the loveliest places to stay in all of Italy. It is dreamily beautiful, the way the harsh Mediterranean sun hits the mellow tufu limestone from which the buildings have been honed, the shock of bougainvillea that has crept up every wall, the softness, the shadows, the dusky lanes between the hotel rooms. It is of course a hotel, but feels far from formulaic. Rooms are soaring and elegant, cool stone underfoot, mini posies of dried lavender on shelves, huge linen cushions and sun-trap terraces. They are retreats in themselves, some with their own little kitchens, others with swimming pools, or sea views from the rooftops. The restaurants are smart, with the most covetable traditional Italian splatterware plates and bowls, and food made straight from the fields you see around you: broccoli, tomatoes, aubergines, pasta made with the local semolina flour, very good olive oil. There is the sweetest children’s club you’ll ever stumble across, and a supremely cool beach hangout, and a spa that is mesmerising and magical. At night the entire place is lit by citronella lanterns, smoking into the warm air. Sometimes a bonfire crackles in the central square. A deeply special place. By Issy von Simson
Featuring a coveted location in the charming Georgetown neighborhood, the No. 3 Best Hotel in the District of Columbia, offers contemporary digs and an upscale atmosphere. All of the property's accommodations boast neutral decor with vivid artwork and accent fabrics, plus granite bathroom countertops, minibars and glass-enclosed showers. Outside the rooms, visitors will find additional amenities, such as a 12,500-square-foot gym, an indoor lap pool, a 24-hour business center and a wine bar. (Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC and Michael Kleinberg)
Rooms at the Mercer are bright, spacious, and impeccably laid out; some have even been built into an original Roman defense tower, translating to walls of gorgeous, centuries-old brickwork. The food here is equally superior, without being stuffy: you’ll find foie gras and caviar, yes, but also patatas bravas and beer. For the full five-star boutique experience, there’s no better bang for your buck in Barcelona.
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)