There are other cities that possess a comparable crackle and fizz, a similar quotient of what Martin Amis once referred to as ‘italics in the air’. New York, naturally. Tokyo. London on a good night. Sydney. São Paulo. But nowhere else on earth does confusion, complication and contrariness quite like Shanghai. Here is a place that is neither completely Chinese nor wholly Western; where foreign-ness has been courted, embraced, shunned and then courted and embraced again; where unobstructed expansion and unpredictable change are the only constants. These qualities are quite thrillingly visible to the naked eye. The best vantage point from which to take them in is this hotel, at the northernmost end of the Bund, directly across the Huangpu River from the dense forest of skyscrapers that has lately popped up in Pudong. Any room in particular? No – practically all have excellent views. Otherwise Sir Elly’s rooftop terrace bar is perfect, especially in the evening. With its understated opulence – muted silks and vivid Art Deco flourishes – the hotel mirrors the hybrid aesthetic of the city itself, cosmopolitan, polyglot, at once nostalgic and contemporary. Shanghai may not have looked so good or felt so energised since its first period of explosive growth in the 1920s. And nowhere else allows you to savour its beauties and ironies in such fine style as the Pen. It embodies much of what made this beguiling, elusive, maddening city great – and still does. By Steve King
A top-to-bottom refit of the Lambs Club, the historic thespian hangout in the heart of Midtown’s Theater District, has turned this actors’ den into a sleek 76-room hotel with Art Deco lines and ocean liner-inspired fittings that hark back to travel’s bygone era. Rooms are fitted with gorgeous steamer trunk–like wardrobes and desk-vanity combos in chocolate leather, while bathrooms come with wall-to-wall mirrors and rain showers stocked with custom Asprey amenities. Guests can find a break at the cozy Lambs Club Bar, hidden away above the lobby, and at the underground spa, with a clever "endless" lap pool and small gym—probably the only place on the property where you can let them see you sweat.
A quiet alternative to San Francisco's busy downtown hotels, the luxurious Inn Above Tide is within walking distance of the shops, restaurants, and ferry in quaint, ritzy Sausalito (the scenic ferry ride to the city takes about 30 minutes). The 31 sophisticated rooms here have sweeping bay views and most come with patios overlooking the water. While there's a spa, free breakfast, and free wine and cheese receptions, its lack of a pool and an on-site restaurant may deter some visitors.
At this palatial 32-acre hilltop estate, there's an art to the first impression: Because cars aren’t permitted beyond the front gate, visitors arrive at reception in a golf cart or, for VIPs, a horse-drawn carriage. In lieu of a formal check-in desk, a standard bearer greets guests by militarily clicking his heels before leading them under a shower of rose petals and into the former ruler of Hyderabad’s neo-Palladian palace. The rest of the experience is no less impressive, with museum-quality reception rooms furnished in late-Victorian style, gleaming with burnished wood and leather, and a gracious garden courtyard with trees and fountains is flanked by two wings housing most of the 60 rooms. (Just beyond one of the wings, the suites faithfully decorated in a grand Edwardian manner surround a smaller, star-shaped courtyard.)
Originally the Royal Danish Embassy, designed in the late 1930s by the same architect as the city's famed KaDeWe department store, Das Stue opened its doors as a hotel in early 2013. Spanish-born interior designer Patricia Urquiola has created a playful mix of old-meets-new, which has attracted a chic clientele. Das Stue occupies prime real estate in more ways than one: sitting on the edge of the Tiergarten, it’s a mere 1.6 miles from the famed Brandenburg Gate. Decor is modern but peaceful, with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows—many rooms have views of the park. When you need to relax after a day out sightseeing, head to the 260-square meter spa, which has a 14-meter long indoor pool and a Finnish glass sauna.
Not since the Vietnam War have the outdoor café tables immortalized in Graham Greene's The Quiet American graced historic Lam Son Square. In 2015, Park Hyatt Saigon brought al fresco dining back to the neighborhood at Opera, one of two restaurants designed by Japan’s acclaimed Super Potato at the 245-room property. The Italian eatery offers the ideal vantage point to appreciate the capitalist vibe zooming through this city like the endless stream of motorcycles streaking past.
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