Below are ten standouts—some brand new, some new to me—listed in no particular order. (Disclosure: I was hosted as a journalist by several.)
Faena Miami Beach
I’d woken up in Oz when I found myself at Argentine hotelier Alan Faena’s latest tour de force. Like its predecessor in Buenos Aires, the Miami hotel is a sensory pleasure palace. “Everything is designed to be an experience,” says the public relations director. That includes the bold visuals—designed by Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin and Studio Job, among others—that bring back the glamour of Miami Beach in the 1950s; the spectacle of a Paris-style cabaret show; the flavors of grilled meat at Fuego, Francis Mallmann’s first restaurant outside South America; and the healing touch in the spa, where Faena’s own shaman helped conceive the treatment menu. And you may have heard about that gilded mammoth by Damien Hirst beside the beach.
Suján Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur, India
An 18th-century pleasure garden for a favorite queen, the British Residency during the Raj and the private home of His Highness Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, the pink palace is among the most sumptuous and regal hotels in India. Instead of giving guests the sense that they’re exploring a museum, the Rajmahal Palace transports them to a fantasy life of being nobility themselves. Society designer Adil Ahmad (a friend of the royal family, who still own the hotel) oversaw a recent, meticulous refurbishment of all 14 rooms and public spaces. I certainly felt like queen for a day when I was shown my room, the Maharani Apartment, easily the largest and most gloriously colorful hotel bedroom I’ve stayed in.
Borgo Egnazia, Puglia, Italy
The southern heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia is rugged and wild, flat and windswept, with stark white buildings blazing against blue skies and seas. A re-creation of a medieval village, Borgo Egnazia aims to be a new crossroads, a meeting place for global sophisticates. Built in 2010, the resort fools everyone into thinking it’s a historic cobblestoned village. The 184 rooms, villas and suites, three restaurants, two pools, spa and common areas are laid out in a way that’s designed to get guests lost—the PR manager was still doing so six months into her job—so they can find themselves again.
The Ivy, Baltimore
“I’m not in the commodities business,” says hotelier David Garrett. “I’m in the experience business.” And as the creative force behind this new hotel, he’s produced an extraordinary one. It feels more like a private club than a hotel. Apart from the very good restaurant (with a former chef from the Point and a wine cellar filled with 100-point bottles), it generally isn’t open to the public. The common areas and 18 individually decorated rooms have a layered, colorful look, fireplaces, fabulously functional bathrooms and focal-point “barmoires”—a furnishing Garrett claims to have invented by turning disused TV cabinets into large, well-stocked (and complimentary!) minibars—designed by students at the Maryland Institute College of Art. But the Ivy is about more than architecture. Garrett’s credo: “Creating a hotel doesn’t stop the day you open. You have to keep doing it every day.” And they do.
Nihiwatu, Sumba, Indonesia
It’s a luxury playground with a soul, a resort where everything is the best it could possibly be but nothing feels overblown. Tagged “the Edge of Wildness,” Nihiwatu is the kind of place where no one wears shoes. Guests form fast friendships and connect with an island that owner Chris Burch likens to Bali before the throngs rushed in. There’s a trip-worthy surf break, excellent equestrian program, gorgeous yoga deck, several terrific restaurants and a swoon-worthy spa that can be booked for an entire day. But the heart of the resort is sustainability and positive change—the place has become a philanthropic vehicle for the Sumba Foundation, which has completed dozens of community projects and bettered the lives of thousands of islanders.
The Upper House, Hong Kong
Understatement is not usually a virtue of big-city Asian hotels. That’s why the Upper House stands out—in the best of ways. The visuals, by trendsetting local designer Andre Fu, are a distillation of elegance: a palate of stone and straw, a play of light and angles, a collection of water- and nature-inspired art. Fu envisioned it as a “poetic upward journey,” a map of aesthetic experiences that give guests a feeling of serenity and belonging. The 117 rooms are the largest in Hong Kong and flooded with natural light and views. My favorite detail: The elevators have no “close door” buttons, the idea being that guests will slow down and relax.
Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado
It’s no surprise that just about everything at the rustic-luxe Smith Fork Ranch exudes quiet good taste. The owners founded the luxury leather goods company Ghurka. A working ranch in the 1880s, Smith Fork sits on 300 acres of pristine mountain land. The three guest cabins and two larger log homes, some of which date from the 1920s, are decorated with wood fireplaces, American primitive antiques, custom furnishings and original work from Western and Native American artisans. A full house is only 28 guests, creating an intimacy that’s unusual at Western guest ranches, as well as a one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio. And this isn’t an invisible-waiter kind of place: Staff and guests line dance together to live music every Saturday night.
The Highlands, Tanzania
“The new luxury is space, being away from everyone,” says the communications director of Asilia, the safari company behind this new camp. She’s right, but the Highlands, far from the developed areas in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, shows that old luxury is still relevant. Good service, delicious food and comfortable and stylish rooms matter. The design is stunning, with the eight tents taking the form of geodesic domes. Many of their sides are clear to the gorgeous landscape, and the interior details, such as Maasai tartan cushions and captivating portrait photography, are pretty too. It’s one of the coolest camps in East Africa now.
Tutka Bay Lodge, Alaska
Owned by a Cordon Bleu–trained chef, Tutka Bay Lodge makes cuisine its claim to fame. The food is indeed excellent, as are the half-day cooking classes. It’s fortunate that there’s a lot of exercise to be had. There are hiking trails around the property and nearby, kayaks and SUPs to be taken out on Kachemak Bay and world-class fishing opportunities. Along with six cozy cabins, the lodge has a Russian-style banya in which to warm up. (Beatings with branches and cold plunges in the Pacific are optional.) The longtime guides exude so much enthusiasm for nature and adventure that it’s hard not to join in.
Entre Cielos, Mendoza, Argentina
The “pod” guest room on stilts in a vineyard is the first thing people know about Entre Cielos. But there’s no bedroom that’s boring or bad. Undeniably comfortable, they drip with panache. One has giant, golden world map as an oversize headboard. They have terraces and vast views, most of which take in the hotel’s exteriors, some of which are covered in a sort of outdoor “wallpaper” that’s blown-up photographs of wine corks. The public spaces are playful too—a full wall is taken up with the equivalent of refrigerator poetry, and a lounge area has a strong Jetsons vibe. But the appeal of Entre Cielos isn’t just groovy good looks (or tasty food and wine, or a great Turkish-style hammam, though it has those too). It’s a profoundly relaxing place, a comfortable, aesthetically calming cocoon in which to escape the world.
Ann Abel, Contributor