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.
A tricky business, the restoration of important old stuff. There are people who say that the Mona Lisa ought to be all bright and punchy and Instagram-ready and that 'The Night Watch' was actually The Day Watch. So what do you do about an ageing masterpiece like the Crillon? Nobody rushed to any conclusions. In the end, the refurb took four years and the hotel reopened in 2017 under the Rosewood brand. The Ritz, nearby, underwent the same process around the same time. But the two properties took divergent approaches: the Ritz to maintain the status quo, only more so, as it were; the Crillon to propel itself into the 21st century. In both cases, the results are exemplary. And if it is the Crillon whose name appears in capital letters in this list, it is in recognition of a moral rather than an absolute victory. A prize for bravery. The best of what was best of the Crillon has been thoughtfully preserved, while the best of what is new (the bar, the barbershop, L’Ecrin restaurant and the stupendous suites by Karl Lagerfeld) is gobsmacking in its boldness and daring. The Crillon has long been a sentimental favourite among the French. Something to do with all the beheadings that occurred outside the front door. Imagine what would have happened if Rosewood had, you know, got it wrong. By Steve King
DH Lawrence penned a love letter about it, Mussolini held court during the war, Churchill was moved to get out his watercolours and his memory lives on in the ancient resident cat of the same name that slinks around picking up titbits of the Michelin-starred food. This peachy-pink palazzo on the still waters of Lake Garda has been stealing hearts since the 1890s, and at the turn of the millennium, it was opened as a hotel, the loveliest in all of Italy. But what makes it so special are all the non-hotel bits: the exquisite antiques everywhere, the silver photo frames filled with black-and-white family shots, the engraved tumblers of fresh roses, the deep bath tubs, and the circus-striped umbrellas by the charcoal-grey slick of swimming pool. Helicopters land on the pristinely manicured croquet lawn and return guests arrive to a fanfare of hugs and kisses, pats on backs. They come here to feast like kings at night on plates of tortellini carbonara, spend the day lolling fatly by the pool watching the ducks and the windsurfers pootle past, and sleep outrageously well under frescoed ceilings in beds made up with crisp, scallop-edged Frette linen. Steep mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for the garden, and early mornings are particularly magic, the silvery pale ethereal light drifting across the lake. The feel of the place is old-school, spick and span, timeless, a bit matronly – and for anyone who likes a bit of Great Gatsby-style cosseting, it’s a dreamy retreat. By Issy von Simson