Originally appeared in September 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life
Awards presented at Hotels and Resorts dinner during Virtuoso Travel Week 2015
Every year, Virtuoso travel advisors vote for their favorite luxury hotels from a portfolio of nearly 1,100 properties around the world. Virtuoso’s Best of the Best awards recognize excellence in ten categories ranging from restaurants and bars to spas, family programs, sustainability, and more. The awards are presented in Las Vegas at Virtuoso Travel Week, the largest luxury travel trade show in the world, and are also featured in the September issue of Virtuoso Life
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Hotel of the Year: Ashford Castle
“Ashford represents a time stamp of the eras,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Julie Smothers of Montgomery, Alabama. “Its staff members are like warm and inviting walking history books.” The 82-room property was constructed over hundreds of years, with new sections added to the original. After closing for an extensive renovation, the castle reopened in April and welcomed travelers back to explore Ireland’s only fjord, cruise lakes, and fly-fish while surrounded by some of the country’s most striking scenery. “When the bagpiper greets you at the grounds’ old stone archway, you feel like you’ve entered a fairy tale.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $95 dining credit.
Best Bar: Connaught Bar in London's The Connaught
“The Connaught Bar surprised me,” admits Virtuoso travel advisor Cliff Morgan of Westport, Connecticut. “The space feels like a beautiful living room with a very approachable staff. Watching the bartenders is part of the experience – drinks are created and served like works of art.” When you order a martini at the 121-room Mayfair hotel, the bartender rolls out a trolley loaded with Tanqueray 10 gin, Snow Queen vodka, and other spirits, as well as a wide range of herbal and spice extracts, from lavender to coriander to cardamom
. And unless you’re with the British Secret Service, your drink is stirred, not shaken. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $95 dining credit.
Best Restaurant: Epicure in Le Bristol Paris
“Epicure is a unique three-Michelin-star experience,” says Paris-based Virtuoso travel advisor Victoire Spoerry about the 188-room property’s formal restaurant. “The setting is magnificent, and chef Eric Fréchon cares about every little detail on the plate, yet still manages to come by with big smiles to say hi.” Spoerry’s recommendations: macaroni stuffed with black truffles, artichoke, and duck foie gras, followed by poached Bresse chicken supreme in vin jaune broth. “And save some room for the liquid cocoa with gilded sorbet.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.
Best Design: The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto
“You must see it to believe it,” says Manhattan-based Virtuoso travel advisor Takami Yao. “The hotel has a beautiful way of expressing Japanese Zen, with soothing waterfalls, washi-lantern-lined walkways, and traditional lacquer-lined cabinets.” Situated on the banks of the Kamo River, the discreetly low-lying 134-room hotel harks back to Japan’s Meiji-era architecture. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 hotel credit.
Sustainable Tourism Leadership: The Brando
“Located on Tetiaroa Atoll, roughly 30 miles north of Papeete, The Brando exemplifies ecotourism at its best,” says Virtuoso’s director of sustainability, Costas Christ. Among the property’s conservation initiatives: 35 villas constructed from naturally sourced materials
; air conditioning that uses deep-sea water, rather than fossil fuels, to cool buildings; and staff at the on-site marine-research station who work to protect coral reefs and endangered sea turtles. Marlon Brando never got to witness the realization of his dream for his tropical island: to transform it into an eco-resort so beautiful it inspires others to care about protecting the planet as much as he did. His Tahitian-born son, Teihotu, together with Pacific Beachcomber, has brought his vision to life. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $110 resort credit.
Best Spa: The Dolder Grand
“The Dolder Grand’s 43,000-square-foot spa feels cozy because it’s broken up into peaceful, separate spaces,” says Palo Alto, California-based Virtuoso travel advisor Suzanne M. Bouldoukian. “And with Virtuoso’s $100 spa credit, there’s no better way to get over jet lag.” Travelers at the 176-room property can relax in aroma pools, a snow room, a meditation space, a library, and an outdoor whirlpool with great views of the Alps. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.
Best Family Program: Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort
According to Baltimore-based Virtuoso travel advisor Jessica Ourisman, the 443-room resort strikes a great balance between fun and luxury: “It has just a touch of whimsy to remind you where you are, but not too much to drive you crazy after a day in the parks.” Let the on-site Disney concierge team sort out logistics for visiting the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios while the kids splash around in the hotel’s water park, Explorer Island. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.
Most Innovative Guest Experience: (tie)
Corcovado Sunrise Picnic at Belmond Copacabana Palace
Red Carpet Ready at The Peninsula Beverly Hills
Travelers can typically visit Corcovado only during park hours, when it’s packed with tourists, but Copacabana Palace can arrange a picnic breakfast at Christ the Redeemer – an opportunity available only to guests of the 239-room beachfront hotel. “You get to watch the sun rise over Sugarloaf and slowly illuminate the statue before the park opens to the public,” says Dallas-based Virtuoso travel advisor Laura Bassett. “It’s an intimate, moving experience.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.
Stars-in-waiting at the 194-room Peninsula Beverly Hills can take part in that only-in-L.A. ritual of getting styled, dressed (complete with Mikimoto loaner jewels), and photographed on the red carpet by a Hollywood photographer. Vancouver, Canada-based Virtuoso travel advisor David Lowy praises the package’s glamour: “It’s the ultimate way for a lady, gentleman, or couple to have a memorable experience and photographs for a lifetime.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.
One To Watch: Rosewood Beijing
“I love Rosewood Beijing’s boutique, residential feel,” says Athens, Georgia-based Virtuoso travel advisor Catherine Whitworth. “Its local artwork makes a dynamic, bold, and quintessentially Chinese statement, and the hotel design creates a comfortable vibe with a lovely sense of place.” In a city where space is at a premium, Rosewood’s calligraphy-filled lobby stretches three stories high, and its 231 guest rooms and 52 suites range from a roomy 538 square feet to just over 1,900. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.
Hotelier of the Year: Antonio Sersale, Le Sirenuse
“Antonio Sersale is the best of the best,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Mimi Davenport of Atlanta. For just one example, she recalls the time a client broke her foot at Pompeii. Sersale personally made sure she received treatment and had room service brought to her balcony. “Most Virtuoso agents have known for years that he is peerless at what he does.” After starting his career as a trainee at The Leading Hotels of the World, Sersale has managed his family’s 58-room hotel since 2004, introducing a writers conference (celebrating ten years in March) as well as Franco’s Bar, which is named for his father and debuted on a scenic terrace above the hotel in July. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.