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The world's best hotels & resorts

November 20, 2006 14:41 IST

Admit it: In Forbes Traveler's list of the world's top 400 hotels and resorts, you want to know who's No. 1.

It's a fair question of a list defining the best anything. But hotels are to the veteran traveler as sails are to a schooner captain: the soul of the experience.

After all, if you have a bad flight, it's over in a few hours. Terrible dinner? You'll be hungry by morning. But book seven nights in a disaster hotel and you'll likely develop a deep animosity for your travel agent. Or your spouse. Or yourself.

Forbes Traveler didn't set out to find No. 1, or even the top 10. Instead, we wanted to point our readers to a wide range of the absolute best places, and we figured a few percentage points here and there shouldn't really matter.

The planet is replete with amazing hotels and resorts, of course: high-rise city hotels with iconic views; hideaway island resorts with your own personal beach; rustic mountain inns with gourmet cuisine; sprawling family resorts with surprisingly personal service. We wanted you to have your pick, without worrying about the difference between, say, No. 50 and No. 54.

But we also wanted to create something different -- not just a list, but a definitive statement. So we went out and assembled a panel of travel professionals to come to a consensus on what makes a hotel a "world's-best." We looked for the savviest of travelers -- those who consistently experience enough five-star hotels to be able to discern the differences between the amazing and the so-so.

We tapped such globe-trotters as the Today Show's (and Forbes Traveler columnist) Peter Greenberg, celebrity chef Mario Batali and ├╝ber-designer Adam Tihany. We found top-tier travel agents like Pallavi Shah and Lisa Lindblad, whose discriminating clients wouldn't settle for anything less than perfection.

We called on tour operators like Geoffrey Kent of Abercrombie & Kent and George Butterfield of Butterfield & Robinson, who have built their businesses and reputations on choosing top hotels.

We bent the ear of travel industry executives like Gregg Michel of Crystal Cruises and Rob Solomon of (Forbes Traveler partner) SideStep. We listened to Andrew Harper, editor of the exclusive Hideaway Report, and Rudy Maxa, the Savvy Traveler of National Public Radio. And we also had the assistance of CEOs around the world -- travel warriors who log hundreds of thousands of miles each year, do business in the top hotels and relax in the best resorts.

The premise was simple: Rate a list of hotels on different criteria, from decor to service, the quality of the rooms to the quality of the food (see the complete methodology).

We began with a large compilation of hotels, drawn from a variety of respected sources that create most of the lists worldwide. Certainly not every great hotel made the compilation we gave our panel, but it was as comprehensive a pool of candidates as we could find.

New hotels didn't make the list, since we figured not enough of our panelists would have stayed in them yet to get a consensus opinion. Then there are phenomenal properties (like La Mamounia in Marrakech, the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans and the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong) that are or were in the middle of extensive renovations.

And though we expect them to reopen even better than before, we wanted to know that firsthand before we declared them to be 400-worthy.

So what did we find? Sure, you'll be able to guess some of the legendary names: The Oriental in Bangkok, the Halekulani in Hawaii, the Four Seasons, New York, the Hotel Ritz in Paris. But you'll also find everything from the six-suite Lodge at Paratiho Farms in New Zealand to the 4,000-room Venetian in Las Vegas. You'll learn how to escape reality at Richard Branson's Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, or escape the wildlife-seeking crowds at Ulusaba in South Africa (yes, that one's also a Branson creation).

Still, this is more than just a list -- it's a travel resource. From the Caribbean to Cape Town, Florence to French Polynesia, we offer an independent, personally researched, in-depth look at each of our 400 picks.

We recruited writers who had been to these properties but had not accepted a complimentary stay, so they could give an honest review. Though these hotels are the best, each one isn't right for every traveler. We wanted our readers to know, for example, if the furniture's uncomfortably formal (or uncomfortably hip); if the restaurant is a can't-miss or a must-miss; if the view from some rooms is of the parking lot; or if the staff is so busy taking care of celebrity clientele that regular guests feel ignored.

So peruse the list. And when you're ready to plan a trip, read our insider's take before you book.

Just don't worry about who's No. 1. With these 400 amazing properties, it doesn't matter much. And that's exactly the point.

Rich Beattie, Forbes