It's that time of year again when people go off on holiday and ask me to recommend hotels. I'm always reluctant to suggest places because no two people have the same experiences at a hotel. But, as the rupee has strengthened and more and more people have resumed travelling abroad, readers have repeatedly asked for hotels abroad that I think they'll like.
I'm still not making any recommendations. But these are the hotels I've experienced over the last two years and enjoyed myself at. You might regard them as worth a visit.
If you want to splash out a little, then stick to Pierre, New York.
The Pierre, New York:
The great New York institution is now better than ever with excellent Taj management. You can find cheaper hotels in New York but the Pierre is not the most expensive either. (The Four Seasons and the St Regis will probably cost more.) So if you want to splash out a little and enjoy the best location and some of the finest service in New York, then stick with the Pierre. And the Taj is offering competitive rates for Indian guests.
The Crosby Street Hotel, New York: Firmdale is a British hotel group run by a couple called the Kemps. Their London hotels are small and quirky and they bring that same approach to New York, the city where the hip hotel was actually invented by the likes of Ian Schrager and André Balazs. The Crosby Street Hotel is within walking distance of some of the city's most popular restaurants (Balthazar, for instance) and shops (the iconic Prada store designed by Rem Koolhaas). It is a fun, charming hotel that brings warmth to the hip hotel formula.
Banke: A boutique hotel on the same street as Paris's two big department stores (Galeries Lafayette and Printemps), this is quirky, individualistically designed and a lot cheaper than the grand Paris hotels. What you lose in terms of service, you make up for in flair and more money for shopping. (The building used to be a bank; hence the name).
The Westin: The best value in Paris if you want a five-star hotel. This is a grand old hotel near the Louvre that used to be the InterContinental. The Westin takeover means that it no longer offers grand hotel service but the rooms can be massive, the views (The Eiffel Tower etc.) are spectacular and a room will cost you half the price of a smaller room at the Meurice next door.
The Royal Monceau: Easily my favourite hotel in Paris, this is a new-generation luxury property with a stunning design by Philippe Starck, two Michelin-starred restaurants, a great location and outstanding service. So much better and fresher than the Grand Dames of Paris, with their derisory service and over-priced rooms. It's a great location too within walking distance of the Champs Elysées.
The Royal Monceau is a new generation luxury property and is so much better and fresher than the Grand Dames of Paris.
The Washington and the Courthouse: Indian visitors to London know the Washington. It is Indian owned and gets a better class of Indian than the Taj's St James' Court, which went downhill over the last four years. The location, in the heart of Mayfair, is unmatched and though service can be minimal, the rates make it a steal. The same owner also has the hipper Courthouse, just off Carnaby Street and well-located for Oxford Street and Soho. It gets lots of Indian film stars (it has a private cinema) and is also great value. The Courthouse is managed by Hilton, which gives it DoubleTree branding but don't be fooled. It is much better than the brand suggests and the building is a former Magistrate's Court where Mick Jagger and Keith Richard were kept overnight on drug charges. It also has the cell where Christine Keeler was temporarily imprisoned.
The Mandarin Oriental: Still the best hotel in London. Asian-style service, a great restaurant (Dinner by Heston Blumenthal), Knightsbridge location and views of Hyde Park. Great if you can afford it - which I can't, most of the time!
The Mandarin Oriental is still the best hotel in London.
Hotel de Russie, Rome: One of the great names of hoteliering in Europe, this is a simply stunning garden hotel tucked away in the heart of Rome. Very expensive but if you want jet set glamour, then this is the place. If you want to get away from the teeming crowds near the Spanish Steps then at least go for an al fresco lunch in the garden restaurant. It's not that expensive, the chef is a celebrity, and the ambience is elegant and refined.
Villa La Massa, Florence: Not really in Florence but a few miles out, this is the sister property to the world-famous Villa d'Este in Lake Como; but is less well-known. It has the air of a rich man's country estate, is beautiful, well run and is a lot cheaper than the competition, say the Villa San Michele or even the grand hotels of Florence. Stay here, take a taxi to Florence and beat the tourist hordes.
Villa La Massa, Florence, has the air of a rich man's country estate, is beautiful, well run and is a lot cheaper than the competition.
The Danieli, Venice: There are many great hotels in Venice: the Cipriani, the Bauer, and the recently restored Gritti Palace must rank as some of Europe's most famous properties. The best value, however, is the Europa & Regina, on the Grand Canal. This was once part of the Aga Khan's luxury Ciga Group but is now a Westin and rates are much lower than at the grand hotels. Of the grand hotels, I recommend the Danieli (where Angelina Jolie stayed in The Tourist) because it has the best location. You are two minutes away from Piazza San Marco and have two vaporetto stations right opposite you. It is expensive but it does give you the sense of being in the heart of Venice, which such places as the Cipriani do not.
The Dolder Grand, Zurich: The Swiss don't always tell you this but Zurich and Geneva are two of the most boring cities in Europe. But you have to visit one of them if you want to hit the resorts that Switzerland is famous for. If you are on your way to Interlaken or Lucerne, then try the Dolder Grand. It is a historic hotel not far from the airport or the centre of Zurich. It has recently been restored and the millions of francs have been well spent. You have the sense of being in a resort in the centre of a forest while enjoying the proximity to the locations you want to go to. Service can be patchy though.
At the Dolder Grand, Zurich, you have the sense of being in a resort in the centre of a forest .
Hôtel Hermitage, Monte Carlo: The very mention of Monte Carlo scares people off. But it is the gem of the Riviera, cheaper than Cannes or Nice and much cheaper than Antibes or the jet-set watering holes. This is a lovely old hotel and the best base for the Riviera. Monte Carlo takes about two days to finish from end to end, so you can visit the French villages that give this beautiful area its charm.
Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island: It is not really on anybody's way so you have to make a special trip to Kangaroo Island, which is one of those unspoilt bits of Australia where kangaroos and koalas outnumber humans. Southern Ocean Lodge is world famous for its design and luxury. There are only 21 rooms and it is the sort of hotel Aman might have built had the chain understood the 21st century.
With only 21 rooms, Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, is world famous for its design and luxury.
W, Sentosa Cove:
I have been slow to accept the W concept which is, essentially, a corporate reworking of the 1980s ideas of people like Ian Schrager. But this is the hotel that made me change my mind. Stunning rooms, warm service and a great steakhouse make it one of Singapore's best hotels for the hipper traveller.
Stunning rooms, warm service and a great steakhouse make W, Sentosa Cove one of Singapore's best hotels for the hipper traveller.
The Westin, Singapore: Probably the city's newest hotel, this is in the heart of the financial centre and though it is clearly intended to be a business hotel, there is a freshness, originality and flair to the execution that suggests a new generation of business hotels.
The Shangri La, Paris: I've never stayed there which is why it is not on the main list. But I toured the property and ate at the (Michelin-starred) restaurant. It is nothing like your typical Shangri La but is a small, elegant hotel housed in an old palace that once belonged to Napoleon III. If you want something classy but not large and stuffy, then this is it.
If you want something classy but not large and stuffy, then go to Shangri La in Paris.
From HT Brunch, June 15
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