To understand the value of a good hotel, you only have to cast your mind back to the bad ones. The boxy room with the strange smell. The spectacular vista of a worksite and a brick wall. The service that bordered on hostile.
These memories make you realise that a hotel isn’t just a place to sleep: it’s an institution that can make or break your holiday.
We all know these bad ones. But we’re also familiar with the good hotels, the great hotels, the hotels that get things just right, the places that have thought of everything, the accommodation that turns out to be the highlight of your entire holiday.
So, Traveller, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, thought it high time to award these standouts. But, not content with simply awarding hotels individually, we’ve deconstructed them in order to recognise their most vital parts.
Collectively, the writers who have contributed to our own awards estimate they have spent thousands of nights inside hotel rooms throughout their travels. They’ve seen every tap fitting in every shower set-up imaginable. They’ve fumbled around looking for hidden light switches in establishments across the globe. In doing so, they have come to know exactly what makes a hotel exceptional, from the doorman or woman on arrival right through to breakfast the next morning. – Ben Groundwater
CONTRIBUTORS: Anthony Dennis, Ben Groundwater, Julietta Jameson, Brian Johnston, Catherine Marshall, Rob McFarland and Ute Junker
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The Peninsula, Hong Kong Its unrivalled fleet of venerable Rolls Royce limousines provide airport transfers of the most glamorous kind. And with so many heads turning as you glide grandly along city streets it’s hard to resist the urge for a regal wave. See peninsula.com
Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle, Thailand It’s a jungle out there so a Jeep is a fun and appropriate airport transfer choice. But it doesn’t stop there. Well, it does actually, at a wharf where you’re transferred by traditional motorised longtail boat along a Mekong tributary to the secluded lodge. See fourseasons.com
Tea Trails Hatton and Wild Coast Lodge, Yala, Sri Lanka The “limo” service – a seaplane – delivers superlative views of plantation-cloaked highlands sloping towards rugged coastlines. See resplendentceylon.com
Shinta Mani Wild Tented Camp, Cardamom National Park, Cambodia From a four-storey tower where your butler will strap you into a harness so you can zipline your way above treetops and into the camp. At the other end, a second butler awaits with a cold towel and a drink, as one would expect. See wild.shintamani.com
Wildwaters Lodge, Kalagala, Uganda The hotel’s “limo” is a wooden canoe paddled by a staff member with the island only a hundred or so metres from the mainland. But reaching it necessitates crossing the approach channel to Kalagala Falls, a treacherous class six rapid. See lemalacamps.com
THE WINNER: The Peninsula Hong Kong
The Peninsula Hong Kong’s famous fleet of Rolls-Royces. Photo: Peninsula Hotels
Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Los Cabos, Mexico The welcoming committee includes a margarita butler, who offers you a welcome shot (and a second one, if you are that way inclined), so much the better. See rosewoodhotels.com
Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa, Fiji On arrival you are serenaded by a pair of burly, angel-voiced men with frangipani flowers tucked behind their ears before a trio of grass-skirted warriors brandishing impressive war clubs leads you to check in. See sofitel-fiji.com
RAAS Devigarh, Delwara, India Rose petals flutter down from fortress ramparts as you arrive with formalities conducted over a cool drink on the bar terrace, from which fabulous views stretch over village and countryside to purple hills beyond. See raashotels.com
Aguas Arriba, El Chalten, Argentina Owners Patricia Garcia and Ivor Matovic are waiting on the steps as guests arrive by boat at their forest-cushioned log cabin, surrounded by icefields mountain chain on the shores of Lago Desierto in southern Patagonia. See aguasarribalodge.com
Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge, Vancouver Island, Canada When your floatplane lands at the tiny jetty at the far end of the forest-covered fjord, a horse-drawn cart is waiting at the foot of a dirt road. Hop aboard for a drive through the wilderness that ends at the homestead where the lodge’s entire staff is waiting to greet you. See clayoquotwildernesslodge.com
THE WINNER: Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa, Fiji
Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa, Fiji.
The Connaught London, UK A luggage-laden traveller, bedraggled from months on the budget road, was greeted here as if she were arriving royalty.
Fingal, Edinburgh, Scotland It’s not so much a doorman at this five-star hotel set aboard a former lighthouse tender and more a gaggle of smiling and helpful staff positioned by the entry at all times.
Raffles, Singapore The traditional, tall and at times faintly intimidating (if you’re a non-staying, non-paying interloper, that is) Sikh doorman at this official national Singaporean man-made treasure is not only an emblem of the hotel there’s also a souvenir toy based on him at the inhouse gift shop. See raffles.com
Plaza Athenee, Paris, France When a doorman also greets you by name – even though this is your first visit to the hotel – you know you have arrived at a next-level property. See dorchestercollection.com
Illa Experience Hotel, Quito, Ecuador Juan David Chang, a 2.1-metre-tall former national basketball player sporting a long grey overcoat and a black top hat, towers over you as you’re ushered into the inner courtyard of this converted historic mansion. See illaexperiencehotel.com
THE WINNER: Raffles Singapore
The traditional, tall and at times faintly intimidating Sikh doorman at Raffles Singapore. Photo: AP
The Langham, London, UK The lobby of Europe’s first grand hotel feels both glamorously five-star and cosily homely.
Reverie Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam The fantasy lobby here is mind-bogglingly ostentatious yet somehow the hotel pulls it off, Murano glass chandeliers and blue Bolivian marble tiles and all. See thereveriesaigon.com
JK Place Roma, Italy Settle into one of the sink-into sofas in the lobby any time of day or night and a staffer will bring you a coffee to sip as you flick through the coffee table books. See jkroma.com
Hotel Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand Over a welcome cup of kawakawa iced tea, admire the striking black sand feature wall, artwork by renowned Kiwi painter Shane Cotton, a native totara tree growing out of the reception desk and coffee table fashioned from a three-tonne slab of Timaru bluestone. See thehotelbritomart.com
Mandarin Oriental Singapore Many lobbies are showier, more glamorous and more contemporary but, if you belong to the pre-Instagram era, you’ll love this hotel’s old-fashioned central atrium, soaring 21 floors up and surrounded by wrap-around corridors. See mandarinoriental.com
THE WINNER: Reverie, Saigon
The Reverie’s lobby.
The Library, Phuket, Thailand You’re presented with a lidded goblet and, on lifting the lid, dry ice vapour swirls and entices, a whispering hint of what lies ahead at a place where detail is of the essence.
La Residence, Franschhoek, South Africa The welcome drink here is quite simple: it’s a glass of wine, local of course, sourced from one of the surrounding vineyards in this gorgeous part of South Africa. See theroyalportfolio.com
Illa Experience Hotel, Quito, Ecuador Don an apron and stir a mixture of naranjilla juice, cloves, cinnamon and Norteno (a distilled sugarcane-based spirit) in order to make canelazo, a traditional Ecuadorian hot drink. Serve in small copper mugs. See illaexperiencehotel.com
The Clan Hotel, Singapore At this hotel, which salutes Singapore’s historic Chinese diaspora guilds, guests are not merely served a restorative welcome tea but an entire, though not too extended, welcome Chinese tea ceremony, served by a schooled inhouse tea master. See theclanhotel.com
Abbaye de la Bussiere, Burgundy, France At this mediaeval former abbey, you’re installed on the lawn with a half-bottle of champagne and small jug of cassis. Pop the cork as a pony munches on grass, bees buzz and swans paddle on the pond. See abbayedelabussiere.fr
THE WINNER: The Clan Hotel, Singapore
Get a welcome tea ceremony at The Clan Hotel, Singapore.
The Raj Mahal Palace RAAS Jaipur, India At nearly 300 square metres, the awe-inspiring multi-room Maharaja Suite at this confection with 18th century roots is big in area and giant in personality. See raashotels.com
Hoshinoya, Tokyo, Japan Rooms at this beautiful “modern ryokan” feature soft light filtered through paper screens, tatami-mat floors, traditional futon beddings and spartan yet perfectly chosen furnishings. See hoshinoya.com
Bensley Collection pool villas, Siem Reap, Cambodia Secluded behind high walls, each villa offers a wealth of delightful design details such as walls moulded like the folds in a monk’s gown – as well as an indoor-outdoor bathroom, a lap pool and a rooftop terrace. See angkor.shintamani.com
Joali Maldives, The Maldives Joali Maldives is the Maldives’ first “art island”, and the sheer scale of your villa, with its massive rooms flowing into each other and its expansive deck area, all with point-blank water views, is matched only by the serene design. See joali.com
Chedi Muscat, Oman Moorish, whitewashed villas offer cool respite from Oman’s heat with their domed roofs, Zen-like bedrooms and vast bathrooms fitted with sunken terrazzo bathtubs and scented with heavenly Acqua di Parma toiletries. See lhw.com
THE WINNER: Bensley Collection, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Your private villa pool at the Bensley Collection Shinta Mani, Siem Reap. Photo: Bjorn Teufel
Elewana Loisaba Star Beds, Kenya Your handcrafted four-poster bed is moved each evening from your hut onto a deck where there’s just the stars and a mosquito net separating you from the Kenyan bush. See elewanacollection.com
The Fairmont, Singapore The beds throughout the Fairmont chain are not too hard, not too soft and just right. They’re so widely loved you can buy them for home. See fairmont.com
L’Oscar, London, UK What you’ll remember most from your stay here is the bedding, and in particular the Doona, which is filled with Icelandic eiderdown that takes two and a half years to collect and costs a staggering £5000. See loscarlondon.com
Schloss Elmau, Bavaria, Germany Here the focus is on comfort and relaxation rather than pretension, and it shows in the bed. It’s big, unadorned with annoying cushions and sits squarely in the middle of the room and faces a fabulous mountain view, inviting breakfast-in-bed indulgence. See schloss-elmau.de
The Moso, Vanuatu The king size beds here invite lazy lie-ins and languid afternoon naps with their Goldilocks springs (not too hard, not too soft), sensuous bedlinen, driftwood headboards and a cooling breeze through louvred windows. See themosovanuatu
THE WINNER: L’Oscar, London, UK
L’Oscar, London: What you’ll remember most from your stay here is the bedding, and in particular the Doona.
Sir Victor, Barcelona, Spain Gaudi to the left, Gaudi to the right – the rooftop bar presents a diorama of some of the avant garde artist’s beautiful Barcelona landmarks, notably the iconic Casa Mila apartments buildings. See sirhotels.com
Marriott Mena House, Cairo, Egypt Wake up, draw the curtains and step out onto your balcony and find the one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World right there in front of you. See marriott.com
Shakti 360 Leti, Uttarakhand, India This extraordinary mountaintop retreat is surrounded by a dramatic halo of snaking glaciers, snow-capped peaks and plunging forested valleys. All of which can be admired in unexpected luxury from one of four glass-fronted stone cabins. See shaktihimalaya.com
Bebek Hotel by the Stay, Istanbul, Turkey Watching the Bosphorus never gets old and from your riverfront room at this glam boutique hotel, you can take in 180-degree water views. See thestay.com.tr
Chateau de la Chevre d’or, Eze , France Eze teeters in mediaeval splendour atop a cliff above the French Riviera, looking over Cap Ferrat and squinting at distant Corsica with views unfurling from the moment you totter along a vertigo-inducing path towards the reception. See relaischateaux.com
THE WINNER: Marriott Mena House, Cairo
Marriott Mena House: One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is right there in front of you.
Amber, The Mandarin Oriental Landmark, Hong Kong Two Michelin-starred Amber won a 2022 Michelin Green Star in 2022 for its sustainable focus. It now offers a dairy and gluten-free vegetarian menu with reduced salt and sugar.
Troisgros, Ouches, France The restaurant, which has held three Michelin stars for over 50 years, is the heart of the hotel and the extraordinary food isn’t the only attraction. This must be the only restaurant in France designed as an artificial forest where each table sits under its own spotlight. See troisgros.com
Keio Plaza, Tokyo Japan So many of the great hotels of Tokyo offer high-quality dining experiences across a range of styles and cuisines. None are quite as exciting as the Keio with its 16 different restaurants, the highlight of which is Kyubey, a legendary Tokyo sushi restaurant, founded in 1935.
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, US Every dish is a culinary artwork (think immaculate towers of couscous topped with inky black Osetra caviar) while the overall experience is one of unrestrained excess (a sweet cart with 40 different petits fours; a 33-page wine list with bottles costing $US20,000). See mgmgrand.com; mgmresorts.com
The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore Jade is one of the world’s prettiest hotel restaurants thanks to its light, pastel-shaded and gilt-free decor including wallpaper on which flowers bloom and birds twitter. The top-quality is a superb showcase of classic Cantonese cuisine with deft contemporary influences and stylish plating. See fullertonhotels.com
THE WINNER: Troisgros, Ouches, France
The kitchen team at Troisgros. Photo: Felix Ledru
Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka Ah, bed tea. A pre-rising Indian tradition, in Sri Lanka it’s taken to elegant heights at Ceylon Tea Trails’ restored historic tea planter residences.
The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, India Served by an immaculately attired butler, the candlelit four-course feast would be memorable enough on its own, but when it’s served on your suite’s private balcony with captivating, uninterrupted views of the Taj Mahal, it becomes legendary. See oberoihotels.com
Le Bristol, Paris, France Its inhouse restaurants boast a collective four Michelin stars so you’d expect a spectacular 24-hour room service offering and Le Bristol Paris doesn’t disappoint.
Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling, India There’s nothing more annoying than bad, fussy, pretentious or tip-seeking room service but you won’t get that in this 1930s hotel. Food arrives on trays carried by a white-gloved waiters who engage you in eccentric concentration. Wonderful. See windamerehotel.com
THE WINNER: The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, India
Enjoy room service with a view of the Taj Mahal at the Oberoi Amarvilas Agra.
Hotel Marques de Riscal Elciego, Spain With the hotel itself designed by Frank Gehry, you’d have to work hard to make the interior décor stand out. Hotel Marques de Riscal does just that, with high-end, unique furnishings and interior design accentuating Gehry’s brilliance. See marriott.com
Ritz Paris, France Opened in 1898 and the home of Coco Chanel, a 2016 overhaul upheld the legendary hotel’s traditional 18th century French decor and immaculate opulence. See ritzparis.com
TWA Hotel, New York, US Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the striking wing-shaped former TWA 1960s terminal building has been transformed into a playful homage to the dawn of the Jet Age era of travel. See twahotel.com
Il Tornabuoni, Florence, Italy The hotel may be housed in a renaissance palace but the dazzling interiors – done in vibrant colour combinations like blue and green, pink and peacock blue, or yellow and grey – are resolutely contemporary. See hyatt.com
RAAS Jodhpur, India Knockout 17th-century Rajasthan architecture in ornately carved sandstone fuses with contemporary additions, including a glass-box reception area, magnificent pool and two chic restaurants. Look up and the vulture-circled Mehrangarh Fort looms. See raashotels.com
THE WINNER: RAAS Jodhpur, India
RAAS Jodhpur, India Knockout: 17th-century Rajasthan architecture in ornately carved sandstone fuses with contemporary additions.
Cielo, Hotel de la Ville, Rome, Italy “Unrivalled views” is an oft bandied term but Cielo, the rooftop bar at the Hotel de la Ville can truly claim it in the Eternal City. Mingle with the beautiful people, sip an aperitif and dine on scrumptious signature dishes. See roccofortehotels.com
Palace Hotel Tokyo, Japan Though the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku attracts all the attention – thanks to Lost in Translation – the bar at the Palace Hotel Tokyo is far more personal and refined. See palacehoteltokyo.com
InterContinental Hotel Dieu, Lyon, France Le Dome bar is all about the dome. Built into an 800-year-old chapel topped by a 32-metre high dome, Le Dome’s architecture is nothing less than monumental. The glamorous fit-out includes an alabaster bar with sophisticated cocktails. See lyon.intercontinental.com
So Sofitel Vienna, Austria This minimalist hotel’s crowning glory – literally – is Das Loft bar, perched atop the hotel’s tower with views over Vienna’s old town. The ceiling’s entirely taken up with a video installation: a giant eyeball blinks, goldfish swim past, forests rise up and disappear. See so-vienna.com
Pier 24, Amerikalijnen, Oslo Norway Norwegian immigrants passed through this former shipping building en route to New York, where they’d alight on Pier 24 (for which the bar is named). Their stories are conjured in a cocktail menu celebrating the building’s history, See amerikalinjen.com
THE WINNER: Hotel de la Ville, Rome
Mingle with the beautiful people at Hotel de la Ville’s rooftop terrace.
Somalisa Camp, Hwange, Zimbabwe Slip into that pool – or even lounge on its sides – and watch the elephants, herds of which regularly roam the plain directly behind the pool. No infinity pool compares. See africanbushcamps.com
Burgenstock Resort, Lucerne, Switzerland The infinity pool makes you feel you’re swimming off into the sunset as Lake Lucerne glimmers silver far below and snowy peaks fade into the night. With a pool like this in which to wallow and soothe your soul, you won’t need a spa treatment. See burgenstockresort.com
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Suspending a 1.4-million-litre, 150 metres long infinity pool almost 200 metres above a triumvirate of sentinel towers is technically impressive and as an actual immersive experience, unforgettable. See marinabaysands.com
Cape Weligama, Sri Lanka This may be the most photogenic swimming pool in the world – a 60-metre crescent moon infinity pool with spectacular, uninterrupted sunsets across the ocean. See resplendentceylon.com
Thanda Safari Lodge, Hluhuwe, South Africa The aqua infinity pool is suspended amid a swathe of knob thorn bushes and marula trees with private plunge pools recessed into each of the nine bush suites’ decks. See thandasafari.co.za
THE WINNER: Cape Weligama, Sri Lanka
Cape Weligama may have the most photogenic swimming pool in the world. Photo: Tom Parker
Tierra Atacama, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile It feels soothing enough to stare at the Licancabur Volcano at Tierra Atacama but add in the experiences and treatments at the Uma Spa and you have a holistic wellness experience. See tierrahotels.com
Bliss, W Hong Kong, China Started in Soho in 1996, this cheeky, irreverent wellness brand was a perfect fit for the equally exuberant W Hotel group. Move over celery sticks and whale soundtracks; bring on brownies and the blues. See marriott.com
Nihi Sumba, Nihi, Indonesia Why did Nihi Sumba locate its spa on the other side of the island from the rest of the resort? So it could create a “Spa Safari”, of course. Start with an early-morning hike through rice fields and villages. On arriving at the spa, cool off in the pool and tuck into breakfast before enjoying your treatment. See nihi.com
Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, Monaco This four-storey glass-and-marble wonderland of healthy hedonism has hot tubs and saltwater pools under a shell-shaped roof from which you can gaze at the princely palace and mega-yachts in the harbour. See montecarlosbm.com
Gangtey Lodge, Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan Sink into the pinewood bathtub at the Australian-designed bathhouse and submit to dotsho, a traditional hot stone bath ritual. The bath is filled with soothing forest-foraged wormwood and heated with river rocks and baked in a fire. See gangteylodge.com
THE WINNER: Tie Gangtey Lodge, Bhutan and Nihi Sumba, Nihi, Indonesia
Gangtey Lodge, Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan: Sink into the pinewood bathtub at the Australian-designed bathhouse.
Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, India This is an actual palace, called Jig Nawas, built in 1746 as a summer retreat for the Mewar royal family. Fashioned entirely from marble in the Mughal style, the building featured in the Bond film Octopussy. See tajhotels.com
Benesse House, Naoshima, Japan Art, architecture and nature coexist peacefully in this national park in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Concrete-and-stone angles protrude futuristically from the emerald hillocks in which much of the Tadao Ando-designed museum-hotel complex is embedded. See benesse-artsite.jp
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore There aren’t many contemporary buildings that 12 years on still look as audacious and arresting as the day they were built. But thanks to a visionary design by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, Marina Bay Sands still resembles an ambitiously futuristic artist’s impression.. See marinabaysands.com
Bisate Lodge, Volcanoes National Park , Rwanda There are few things as exhilarating as trekking with gorillas. Coming home to Bisate Lodge afterwards comes close. Each room, set on a ridge line above the landscape and resembling a woven basket, has curved walls, magnificent views, and a volcanic stone fireplace. See wilderness-safaris.com
Hotel Borgo Sam Felice, Tuscany, Italy Few other hotels boast a Romanesque chapel and mediaeval olive press. The atmosphere is rustic but terracotta and stone interiors are enlivened with rich fabrics and Tuscan furnishings. See relaischateaux.com
THE WINNER: Taj Lake Palace, India
Taj Lake Palace is fashioned entirely from marble in the Mughal style.
Palace Hotel, Tokyo, Japan There’s a Western-style buffet here but you would be crazy to go past the set meal of traditional offerings: a piece of perfectly grilled fish, seasonal condiments, salted plum and pickles, miso soup, rice and toasted nori. Perfection. See en.palacehoteltokyo.com
Crown Sydney, Australia Nine open kitchens, serving everything from omelettes and waffles to curries and dumplings; an enormous selection of fresh fruit and juices; the maple glazed gammon; the salted egg custard buns; the heavenly chocolate croissants. The defence rests. See crownhotels.com.au
Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo, Monaco Forget the breakfast buffet and say hello to the breakfast trolley, laden with delights including half a dozen different types of bread, cheeses, fruits and cold cuts. It gets even better with a choice of hot chocolate (“French or Italian style, madam?”) and hard-boiled eggs that arrive in silver egg cups, already peeled. See metropole.com
Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, India Is it the lentil-stuffed masala dosa or finger millet-style ragi dosa or the medu vada (deep-fried lentil dumpling)? There’s no wrong answer in this deeply ambrosial establishment. See tajhotels.com
Hotel Chateau Monfort Milan, Italy Custard-filled croissants, hazelnut cake, sponges and biscuits induce a sugar coma though you can have to-order hot dishes too. Every ingredient is top quality, from the finest Parma ham to the coffee served in silver pots. See relaischateaux.com
THE WINNER: Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo, Monaco
Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo.
The best of the best: World's top hotels named – Traveller