Best of the Best: 2017 Virtuoso Winners

Virtuoso travel advisors voted on the top wellness program, dining experience, newcomer, and more in our 11th annual hotel awards.


Hotel of the Year — Palazzo Seneca

Norcia, Italy

“This award recognizes a beautiful part of Italy that has so much to offer and needs tourists as never before,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Julia Kostina of Vancouver, British Columbia. “I was totally charmed by it.” When Federico Bianconi and his family, whose roots in hospitality go back more than a century, took over the 50-year-old Palazzo Seneca in 2008, they tasked the region’s best artisans with refurbishing the property using exceptional Umbrian materials and objects. The result was an intimate 24-room hotel that fused design, local traditions, and exemplary service. Then a 6.6-magnitude earthquake last October devastated much of the town and surrounding villages – many of Norcia’s in-habitants lost their homes and jobs. “The Bianconis took on the responsibility of leading the area’s recovery,” Kostina says. “They’re beautiful people who care for others who are less fortunate and love the land where they were born.” After reopening Palazzo Seneca in April, Bianconi and his family are helping put Norcia back on Italy-lovers’ lists.
 
 

Best Achievement in Design — Six Senses Douro Valley

Lamego, Portugal 

“What sets this resort apart is that it retains the charm and beauty of a large country manor among rolling hills and vineyards,” says travel advisor Linda Zelisko of Raleigh, North Carolina. “There’s a prevailing sense of quiet, calm, and relaxation as soon as you enter.” Perched on a terraced slope overlooking the ancient Douro Valley wine region and its eponymous river, the 57-room resort (Six Senses Douro Valley) encompasses a destination spa, two pools, and an impressive wine cellar and organic garden for its acclaimed Vale de Abraão Restaurant. The minimalist design, coupled with Georgian antiques and Brazilian and Goan artifacts, creates an interesting juxtaposition between indoors and outdoors, past and present. “Rooms decorated in subtle color palettes offer the most amazing views from large windows and private decks,” Zelisko says. “The outdoor beauty is part of your stay from the moment you wake up and open the drapes.”

 

Best Dining Experience — La Terrazza, Hotel Eden

Rome, Italy

From the rooftop of the recently re-opened 98-room Hotel Eden, La Terrazza’s dramatic views stretch from Saint Peter’s Basilica to Villa Borghese. But you’d be forgiven for turning your attention to the interior, where design firm Jouin Manku has turned the concept of a fine Italian suit into a polished dining room
with delicate fabrics, varnished woods, and a frescoed glass wall that heightens the sense of drama. Chef Fabio Ciervo’s seasonal creations are equally eye-catching and surprising. Take, for example, the “extraction of mixed herbs,” a starter that dis-tills a green salad into a series of variations (one of them liquid), or his white-asparagus risotto with turmeric and ground coffee. Every bite is a culinary revelation. “Have you ever eaten pasta surrounded by dry-ice vapor?” asks Phoenix-based Virtuoso advisor Jonathan Phillips. “It is simply the most innovative dish I have ever seen.”

 

Best Bar — Bar Hemingway, The Ritz Paris 

Paris, France

“Walking into Bar Hemingway is like stepping back in time,” says advisor Liora Manilof of Miami. The Ritz Paris’ 142 rooms may have recently undergone a $400 million renovation, but its bar – famously “liberated” from the Nazis by Ernest Hemingway in 1944 – has remained largely untouched. Photos of Papa cover the walls, while his old typewriter and handwritten letters decorate the room. Manilof recommends getting there early to score a seat at the bar: “Colin Field is a book of stories,” she says of the head bartender. “You can sit back, listen, and just imagine.” Her second tip: Try the Serendipity cocktail, made with Calvados from the Pays d’Auge, apple juice from bitter Normandy apples, fresh mint, and Champagne. Or, as she calls it, “France in a glass.”

 

Best Wellness Program — Canyon Ranch, Tucson

Tucson, AZ, United States

“The range of programs is far superior to that of any other spa I have experienced,” says Milwaukee-based travel advisor Peggy Purtell of the 169-room Canyon Ranch, Tucson. For almost four decades, guests have checked into the 150-acre resort in the Arizona desert seeking inspiration from an expert team of dietitians, nutritionists, physicians, and therapists, who help turn aspirations and goals into commitments to healthy living. “I love the lectures,” Purtell says, describing how she learned to make healthy meals in the demo kitchen during one event and discovered how to establish a better bedtime routine at another. But what she appreciates most are the staff, some of whom have been there for years. “You can tell people enjoy working there,” she says. “It’s so nice to go back time after time and see a familiar, friendly face.”

 

Best Virtuoso Newcomer — Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown

New York, NY, United States

Brushed-bronze accents, muted jewel tones, and subtle textural elements set a distinctly contemporary tone throughout the Four Seasons’ new 189-room property a block from One World Trade Center. “The large wrought-iron front doors give this hotel a luxurious first impression,” says NYC-based advisor Sylvia Betesh Lebovitch. “But the standout feature is the beautiful spiral staircase and cascading sculpture on the ground level.” The smallest of the guest rooms starts at 400 square feet – spacious for NYC, as is the 75-foot lap pool with two-story windows looking out on Lower Manhattan. Lebovitch also gives high praise to Cut, Wolfgang Puck’s first restaurant in the city. “Breakfast was my favorite meal of the day,” she says. “The eggs Benedict served on a jalapeño white-cheddar biscuit with maple hollandaise was so unique.”

 

Best Virtuoso Experience — Andaz Mayakoba Resort, Riviera Maya

Quintana Roo, Mexico

The fourth hotel to open in the ecologically diverse Mayakoba complex north of Playa del Carmen, Andaz Mayakoba feels a little more modern and youthful than its neighbors. Credit some of that to the hotel’s “Cultural Insiders,” such as Sol Tamargo. The photographer documents guests’ adventures among the 214-room resort’s wildlife-filled lagoons and canals or with a modern Frida Kahlo-inspired session. “From the moment you arrive in The Sanctuary Lounge and make a wish by throwing a little stone into the cenote, you know you are in a special place,” says Virtuoso advisor Areli Guzmán of Culiacán, Mexico. The design – a collection of sleek white buildings constructed of local wood, with facades based on Mayan glyphs and numerology – also reflects a sense of fun.

 

Sustainable Tourism Leadership — Cavallo Point – The Lodge at the Golden Gate

Sausalito, CA United States

“Sustainable tourism can sometimes lead to unexpected opportunities,” says Costas Christ, Virtuoso’s global strategist for sustainability. Case in point: the 142-room LEED Gold Certified Cavallo Point lodge overlooking San Francisco Bay, which served as a U.S. military base for more than a century before being transformed into an urban eco-resort. “It’s a tale of tourism helping transform swords into plowshares,” says Christ, who adds that, by reusing building materials and maintaining 100 percent of the exterior design, Cavallo Point preserved the Fort Baker army barracks next to the Golden Gate Bridge – garnering top architectural honors from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Landscapers have planted some 58,000 native species throughout the grounds, many grown from seed. Guests now enjoy access to miles of biking and hiking trails in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, along with a healing-arts spa, a tea bar, and farm-to-fork dining at the lodge’s Murray Circle restaurant.

 

Best Family Program — The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Naples, FL, United States

For kids, life’s much more than a three-mile beach at this 450-room Gulf resort. Designed in the style of a Mediterranean castle and decorated with antiques, Oriental carpets, and impressive chandeliers, The Ritz-Carlton offers daily interactive children’s programs that focus on the environment – interactive nature walks, hands-on discovery sessions in the science lab, and field trips. “They have great options for families to visit local museums and bird sanctuaries, and a special program with a local artist who leads glass-blowing classes,” says advisor Nicholas Cutrone of Ronkonkoma, New York. At its gaming center, Vue, players can face off with the latest from Xbox, Wii, PlayStation, and Alienware while a staff of avid gamers dispenses tips and advice. “They really go out of their way to make the experiences as engaging as possible for the kids,” Cutrone says.

 

Hotelier of the Year — Susanne Hatje, Mandarin Oriental, New York

New York, NY, United States

“Passionate,” “motivating,” “full of life,” “creative” – these are just a handful of the words Virtuoso travel advisors use repeatedly to describe Susanne Hatje. An avid surfer and sailor, the German native has held senior management positions with Mandarin Oriental for the past 18 years – including serving as the GM in Boston, Hong Kong, and Munich – before taking the reins at Columbus Circle in 2013. “Susanne is the quintessential general manager,” says Virtuoso advisor Bob Watson of NYC. “She’s bright, personable, extremely well organized, and always available to guests.” Manhattan-based advisor Judy Stein agrees: “She’s the true definition of what a leader should be – and she does it all with a great sense of humor and an equally great sense of style!”

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