The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: The 18 best luxury hotels across the world in 2017
When you spend as long on the road as I have this year, you begin to hate sloppy hotels and love the ones that are smoothly and efficiently run. This is my list of the hotels where I had the best stays in 2017. They are not necessarily all beautiful, destination properties. Nor are they always the best in their class.
But they are all well-run, have good food and made me feel welcome and comfortable when I stayed at them.
The Oberoi Mumbai: The best-run hotel in India by a long, long way and one of the world’s best hotels – at least in my limited experience. Superbly managed, beautiful designed, wonderfully located with great views of the sea and run with attention to detail. My hotel of the year.
The St. Regis, Mumbai: This used to be the worst five-star hotel in India when it was run by its owners and called The Palladium. When Starwood took it over I thought the group was making a huge mistake. I was wrong. They have turned it around so completely that it is among India’s top luxury hotels.
The Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad: One of India’s most unusual palaces, this beautiful property has been painstakingly restored by the Taj group and is run with flair and verve. Very different from the Rajasthan palaces but special in its own way.
Hyatt Regency, Chandigarh: You will find Park Hyatts from all over the world on this list. But Hyatt’s real achievement has been to go into India’s second-tier cities with Hyatt Regency, its base category five-star hotel brand, and run world-class properties. This is an excellent hotel that surprised me each of the many times I stayed there this year.
Penha Longa, Portugal: One of the best resort hotels I have ever stayed in, this is a sprawling, beautiful property with great rooms, Michelin-starred restaurants and faultless service. It is run by Ritz-Carlton and is less than half an hour from Lisbon and just minutes from the coast so it doubles as a city-hotel and a holiday destination.
Park Hyatt, Majorca: One of the newest Park Hyatt resorts, this is a state-of-the-art resort in a beautiful Spanish island. It is miles from anywhere and has no beach. So, Hyatt has created an environment that is so peaceful and relaxing that it ensures that even if you never leave the hotel , you will still have a great time.
JW Marriott, Juhu: An old hotel. I love it because it has soul and warmth. The food is good and the views of a cleaned-up Juhu beach are wonderful. I will never forget how sensitively the staff behaved last February when I was anchoring an event at the hotel and my mother died. If only Marriott can get the soulless, ugly, badly-managed newer JW Marriott in Sahar to reach this standard!
The Ritz, Lisbon: Built by Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar as a grand hotel for state guests, this could have turned into another Ashoka Hotel. But while our government still runs the Ashoka, the Ritz has been handed over (in the democratic post-Salazar era) to the Four Seasons which runs it like the grand hotel it is.
Park Hyatt, Bangkok: My stay was not perfect. There were teething problems with the service. But so spectacular is this art-filled, classy, modern hotel that I only remember the good parts of the stay. If they get it all right, then it is potentially Bangkok’s best hotel.
St.James Court, London: The one consistently profitable international hotel run by the Taj group. St.James Court is now on top form thanks to the kick-ass style of General Manager Digvijay Singh who runs it like a luxury hotel rather than a dharmsala for rich Indians who are too cheap to stay on Park Lane.
ITC Gardenia: My favourite Bangalore hotel is the ITC Windsor, but when it was being renovated they switched my booking to the Gardenia. I am glad they did. It is an elegant hotel, with great food and high service standards.
Park Hyatt, Saigon: My default position when travelling to a new destination is to look for a Park Hyatt. So far, I have hardly ever gone wrong. This is Saigon’s top hotel, an oasis of cool luxury with two new world-class restaurants.
Four Seasons, Bosphorus: You often hear that cliché about a hotel that radiates warmth. But at this Istanbul property (one of two Four Seasons in the city), you will understand what it means. Even if you are not blown away by the location overlooking the Bosphorus you will be staggered by the friendliness of the service and the personalisation of the experience.
W Goa: This is about two generations ahead of every other hotel in Goa; a sleek but spread-out international-level 26 acre property that effortlessly outclasses every other hotel in the state. Even if you are not wild about the oh-so-cool-and-happening W ethos, it is an outstanding hotel on any parameter: rooms, food, beauty, luxury ,efficiency and flair. I had a great time and came away impressed.
Sukh Vilas, Chandigarh: Be honest: the idea is a little ridiculous. Who would want to go to a Vilas property in Chandigarh? That is what I thought when I first went there. But it took me only a day to change my mind. The great thing about the Vilas hotels is that it no longer matters where Biki Oberoi chooses to open one. The basic concept is so strong that anywhere can be made to seem luxurious.
Maria Cristina, San Sebastian: This is the greatest and grandest old hotel in the region whose kitchens afforded opportunities to many great chefs when they were starting out. It is owned by the local municipality and managed by Starwood Luxury Collection to exceptionally high standards. Of all the hotels I have stayed at in Spain, this was easily the best.
Ritz Carlton, Bangalore: In retrospect, there are things the Ritz could have done differently. It could have marketed itself better. The decision to accept air crew (in a Ritz Carlton!) was ill-advised. The vast North Indian restaurant is a mistake. But in essence, the hotel’s problem is that its air of discreet luxury is too ahead of its time for the Bangalore market. But I love this art-filled, sophisticated property.
ITC Grand Chola, Chennai: Staying here is like floating in a sea of marble; luxury levels are phenomenal and the food (especially the new Avartana) is amazing.
This is the hotel that redefined ITC and changed our concept of city hotels forever. My first choice on every trip to Chennai.
Honourable Mention: There are too many Mumbai hotels on the list so I left some out. One is the Four Seasons which collapsed after a spectacular opening a decade ago and has now been revived by General Manager Vikram Reddy and his deputy JJ Assi. The Hyatt Regency near Sahar airport has finally reached its full potential under the inspirational leadership of Hardip Marwah. And the Trident in BKC is top notch: a luxury property with rates that are lower than a full-fledged Oberoi hotel, even though the Trident is better than many of Mumbai’s other deluxe hotels.
And finally: Each year, when I do these lists, the same thought creeps up: what happens to our own hotel chains? So far Oberoi and ITC are holding their own and even the Taj group still has a lot going for it.
But Marriott-Starwood is now the biggest hotel company in India (it has four Indian hotels on the list – more than anyone else) and Hyatt is the chain to watch. Both companies have increasingly Indianised their operations with Indian bosses: Sunjae Sharma at Hyatt and Neeraj Govil at Marriott-Starwood. More and more of the general managers are Indian as are the chefs.
If this trend continues then the Indian hotel industry will become just one piece in a global game. Our own hotel companies will have to struggle to compete as the advantage increasingly shifts to the newly Indianised global brands.