We’ve tried bringing the hotel to us, turning our bathrooms into five-star spas, and recreating our favorite beach-bar cocktails at home, but the truth is, there’s no replacement for the real thing. A great hotel can make or break a vacation. (And in some cases, the hotel is the entire vacation.) Here, just a few of the many reasons we can’t wait to get back out there and check in.
- A sense of place.
From hearing morning calls to prayer from a private riad at the Royal Mansour Marrakech to hand-cranking fresh pasta dough during a cooking class at Tuscany’s Borgo Pignano, we love when a hotel and the experiences it offers truly embody a destination.
- Hotel stationery.
There’s nothing quite like firing off a memo or miss-you note on personalized hotel stationery. (It also makes a lovely souvenir collection.)
- Smart tech.
Blackout blinds. Ambient lighting controlled via tablet. Ultra-comfortable beds with thread counts so high we didn’t even know they existed – today’s hotels are tricked out in ways we never would have expected two decades ago. Case in point: The rooms at the Equinox Hotel, New York City feature “proprietary sleep systems” that include temperature-regulating mattresses and soundproof walls.
- The hotel bathrobe...
“Nothing says hotel guest as definitively as wrapping yourself in the luxury of a hotel bathrobe. It might be Turkish terry. Or waffle weave. Or kimono-style with an understated logo. In the 1950s and ’60s, even the humblest hotel room came stocked with an ice bucket (since the first thing you did after check-in was pour a cocktail). But now the first thing you do, at least if you’re anything like moi, is shed your clothes and try on that robe.
Robes have become so iconic that it’s universally acceptable to wear one riding up and down the elevators of a five-star hotel – whether you’re headed to the spa or not. Stripped of our street identities, we’re free to roam our rooms like slightly crazed characters who have just stepped out of a Wes Anderson film. Good thing you can almost always find them online – if you haven’t already splurged on one at the gift shop, that is.” – Kim Brown Seely
- ... and slippers.
We’ve made our way through a few pairs of house shoes this year. Luckily, some of the ones we love from our favorite hotels are available to purchase online, including these regal orange-velvet beauties from New York City’s The Mark.
- The bartenders.
Just as iconic as the legendary bars in the world’s best hotels are the people meticulously crafting the cocktails behind them. One mixology A-lister: Colin Field, who’s been at the helm of the Ritz Paris’ Bar Hemingway since it opened in 1994. “The ‘Tokyo OH Oh’ is a big favorite at the bar,” Field says of his Junmai Daiginjo sake and Champagne cocktail, garnished with a cherry blossom. “I presented it to Sofia Coppola at the Hemingway Bar and she named it.”
With strict in-room safety protocols sending most minibars away for now, we’re still waiting to see what these midnight snack oases will look like in a post-pandemic world. No matter what shakes out, we’ll always have fond memories of soothing nightcaps after harried flights, cans of Pringles after nights out in new cities, and those tall drinks of Fiji water.
- Scoring a fountain-view room at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
- Champagne toasts.
One constant at our favorite hotels: A great glass of bubbly, whether it’s a much-loved welcome amenity waiting for us in our suite or a prosecco toast in the lobby bar before a night out in a new city.
Some places take their Champagne game very seriously: At the Baccarat Hotel New York, guests can pick their preferred stemware – there are more than 15,000 pieces of crystal in use throughout the hotel. The Champagne Room at London’s Connaught is a tiny retreat behind a velvet curtain that specializes in rare pours in French crystal. And at St. Regis Hotels & Resorts worldwide, the sunset Champagne sabering is a beloved happy hour ritual.
- Exclusive access.
After-hours tours, quiet breakfasts at the foot of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue – we love a hotel that makes us feel as if the world is ours alone. One shining example: Beijing’s Aman Summer Palace.
Not only can the hotel arrange privately guided hikes on a tourist-free section of the Great Wall, followed by a picnic lunch at a village farmhouse, but the property’s direct entrance to the Summer Palace grants you extremely easy access. Make sure to bring your cell phone while you're out exploring: Call the hotel when you're back and they’ll open the secret door for you.
“Having lunch by The Peninsula Beverly Hills’ pool in perfect weather, whether in January or July, is one of the best people-watching experiences in the world – you’re almost guaranteed to see celebrities.”
- Virtuoso amenities.
Along with daily breakfast and preferred rates, Virtuoso advisors secure hotel perks that range from spa and dining credits to suite upgrades, limo transfers, and more. Here, a few complimentary experiences you’d miss out on by making reservations on your own.
- A wine and cheese tasting at Palacio Duhau - Park Hyatt Buenos Aires’ Vinoteca.
- A cooking class at Montalcino, Italy’s Castello di Velona Resort.
- A souvenir-worthy farm-to-table gift set at Vermont’s Twin Farms. Road-tripping through Ireland’s Kenmare area in Sheen Falls Lodge’s 1936 Buick Roadmaster convertible.
- Pools that make a splash.
Trust us when we say you need to add these dreamy swimming spots to your Wanderlist right now: The rooftop pool overlooking Rio de Janeiro at the Hotel Fasano; the infinity-edge beauty at Fregate Island Private in the Seychelles; the one that’s tucked within gardens at the Mandarin Oriental, Taipei; the perfect sunset perch (with a margarita in hand) at Antigua’s Jumby Bay Island; the unreal Pacific views from the main pool (or your room’s private pool) at Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn; and the sprawling one overlooking Crete’s Spinalonga Island at Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort.
- Hotel pets – and perks for your pets.
Dogs, cats, mini horses, parrots – we love hotels’ animals-in-residence, and we’ll always stop to say hello. It's even more special when our favorite luxury hotels extend a warm welcome to our own pets, offering everything from plush dog beds and house-baked bones to concierge recommendations for nearby pet-friendly establishments and (oh yes) pet massages.
- The lobbies.
“J.K. Place Capri’s stylish lobby was the inspiration for redecorating my living room,” says Virtuoso Life design director Melanie Fowler.
- The incredible service.
“Finding a framed picture of my dog on my nightstand at turndown during my stay at Villa San Michele, a Belmond Hotel in Florence blew me away – it was both personal and thoughtful.” – Bob Watson, Virtuoso travel advisor
- Big gesture for little guests.
Many Virtuoso hotels take family vacations and turn them into unforgettable trips, whether it’s providing something as simple as babysitting services so parents can have a night out, or completely transforming guest rooms into the ultimate movie night retreats (complete with makeshift tents and s’mores). From naturalist-led field trips in Montana to ukulele and hula lessons in Hawaii, we love when kids get the royal treatment too.
- Tea time.
You don’t have to be British or raise your pinkies to enjoy a fine cuppa. Afternoon teas at hotels around the world range from uber-traditional to haute couture. The Berkeley’s afternoon Pret-a-Portea in London, for example, takes it inspiration from high-fashion designers. It’s on pause right now, but we know its imminent return will be stylish.
- Room service – whenever you want it.
“Some say room service has a time and a place. Yes. It is any time, in any place,” writes Virtuoso Life’s Amy Cassell in her ode to the in-room meal. “Is there anything more unabashedly ‘I’m on vacation, ya’ll!’ than eating breakfast in bed while wearing a fluffy robe?”
- Bush walks with cheetahs.
It’s one of the wild activities organized by The Royal Livingstone Anantara in Zambia. (Your travel advisor can tell you about many other sustainable wildlife experiences in Africa.)
- Rooftop bars.
“I love Portrait Roma’s 360-degree views and comfy sofas,” says Virtuoso Life contributing photographer Luis García. “Day or night, it’s a highlight of a trip to Rome.” Another Roman rooftop bar we love: the chic space at Hotel de la Ville, a Rocco Forte Hotel.
- Memorable sips.
“[I love] Hotel Santa Caterina’s lemonade, made from trees on the Amalfi Coast property. I have no idea how they make it, and the staff won’t tell me, but I fantasize about it all the time.” – Shelby Donley, Virtuoso travel agency owner
- Bamboo tree-pod dining.
It’s as amazing as it sounds, and you’ll find it at Soneva Kiri in Thailand.
- Two words: outdoor showers.
Step out in your birthday suit. You’ll find suites with sun showers at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla, L’Auberge de Sedona, and California’s Carneros Resort and Spa, to name a few.
- A perfect night’s sleep.
“Sometimes I want to send a postcard about an outstanding hotel pillow I’ve slept on. There was the goose-down beauty awaiting me at the Shangri-La Hotel, Paris years ago after an 11-hour flight from L.A. behind a colicky newborn. In Bora-Bora, my wife and I rode out a colossal overnight thunderstorm with puffy St. Regis pillows as MacGyvered noise mufflers. I once spent several days on silent retreat at a friary in the hills above Malibu.
The sad, skinny sponge inside my pillowcase had but one function: making it easy to get out of bed for 5:30 a.m. meditation. Call me a pillow snob, but life is too short to sleep on a waffle. The Peninsula Beverly Hills, for example, personally monograms its pillows for returning guests and those in suites or villas, then stores them until your next visit. Now that’s a pillow to write home about.” – David Hochman