These remarkable hotels are a reminder that a great hotel can be a destination unto itself. They provide not just a place to rest your head but also an entire rationale to get on a plane and explore someplace new.
So check out this year’s It List and get planning.
Style Setter: Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s most sumptuous hotel is a newcomer disguised as a grande dame, tucked into six 17th- and 18th-century patrician houses on posh Herengracht canal. A hand-carved, Louis XIV–style staircase in the lobby sets a regal tone, but the 93 rooms take a more understated approach, with sleek marble fireplaces and subtle touches of the city’s famous Delft blue. Nods to tradition aside, these are no old-fashioned accommodations: the Vault Bar draws a fashionable crowd each night for what might be the city’s best martini.
Far-Flung Fantasy: Cape Weligama, Sri Lanka
Five years since the end of a decades-long civil war, Sri Lanka is gaining its footing as a leisure destination, and luxury hotels are arriving to meet the demand. The most resplendent among them is Cape Weligama, a cluster of 40 terra-cotta-roofed bungalows, each with its own frangipani-filled private garden, on a secluded stretch of southern coastline. From here, immersive trips to scenic tea plantations, Buddhist ruins, and rain forest leopard habitats are all within easy reach, and the 16th-century fortified city of Galle is just 16 miles away.
Design Star: El Blok, Vieques, Puerto Rico
The term design hotel gets tossed around indiscriminately these days, so it’s refreshing when a property truly merits the distinction. Such is the case at El Blok, the Caribbean’s most stylish new lodgings, on the quiet Puerto Rican island of Vieques. The materials—colorful cement tiles, rubber-and-concrete lamps from Dutch designer Renate Vos, a 25-foot single piece of almond wood that forms the bar—show off the gorgeous imperfection of the handmade, while perforated concrete louvers shield guest rooms from the afternoon sun and create Matisse-like shadows on the floors. Downstairs, the curves and ovals of the reception area intuitively lead guests to the bar, which faces the beach across the street and flows into the lively open-air restaurant, headed by Jose Enrique, Puerto Rico’s star chef.
Eco-Pioneer: Pikaia Lodge, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Luxury in the Galápagos Islands took an evolutionary leap with the debut of Pikaia Lodge, the archipelago’s first carbon-neutral five-star resort. The setting is spectacular: set along a plateau on Santa Cruz Island, its 14 rooms put the entire lush valley and Pacific coastline on display through floor-to-ceiling windows. But what’s most remarkable is that it exists at all. For decades, tourism in the Galápagos has been ruled by boats with rigid itineraries, but Pikaia lets you see the islands by both land and sea (the property owns and operates a private 100-foot yacht), a combination that allows guests to explore with fewer emissions and greater flexibility, whether snorkeling with sea lions or visiting an organic coffee farm.
Indie Darling: Drake Devonshire Inn, Prince Edward County, Ontario
We never knew we wanted to go to Prince Edward County until the arrival of the Drake Devonshire Inn, the Drake Hotel Toronto’s ultra-hip country sister. Now the property is turning a sleepy, vineyard-filled corner of Ontario into a buzzy summertime escape. In a converted 19th-century foundry, the 13-room hideaway draws high-profile creative types and weekending Canadians with live music, art installations, and the rustic charms of gabled ceilings, handmade wool throws, and lakeside bonfires. Oenophiles should get excited, too: some of the best Pinot Noir producers in the country are a short drive away, and the Drake’s tasting room stocks the region’s best bottles.
Scene Maker: Miami Beach Edition, FL
In any other hotel lobby, you probably wouldn’t be caught dead shooting pool on an all-white billiards table mere steps from the front door. But at the Miami Beach Edition, Ian Schrager and Marriott’s latest love child, showing off is compulsory. Open gathering spaces ripple through the white-and-gold Yabu Pushelberg lobby, a potted-palm-shaded lounge opening to a glassy cocktail bar that gives way to a market-style café. Downstairs there’s a nightclub, a bowling alley, and a pint-size skating rink. Even the round dining room of Jean-Georges’ Matador Room restaurant encourages gawking. If some of the 294 rooms seem simple to the point of afterthought, it’s hardly a deterrent for Miami’s cool crowd, which is flocking to what is hands down the city’s hottest address.
Safari Shake-Up: Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta already offered some of the most over-the-top safari experiences in Africa—yet andBeyond has upped the ante with this architecturally stunning camp. Sandibe was rebuilt from the ground up, and reopened last September with 12 cocoon-like suites that hover on stilts above a private floodplain reserve. Each is made with rounded, handwoven cedar, designed after the elaborate nests of the golden weaverbird. Wood-burning fireplaces, private plunge pools, and solar-powered air-conditioning make it easy to forget that you’re in the middle of nowhere. Except, of course, when you’re being gently woken up by birdsong, or sharing a communal meal by campfire when an elephant saunters by.
Instant Classic: Park Hyatt, New York
Amid the gravity- and market-defying high-rises sprouting up along Manhattan’s West 57th Street (a.k.a. Billionaires’ Row), Park Hyatt’s new flagship is both of—and apart from—its midtown milieu. Yes, it occupies the lower floors of the new One57 tower, where penthouses skirt the $100 million mark. And yes, the 25th-floor pool, running 65 feet under a tiered chandelier, is designed to make a splash. But the rest of the hotel is a study in discretion directed by Yabu Pushelberg, from the Living Room bar to the guest rooms with their restrained, residential-style interiors. The effect is serene, yet modern—cut through with bracing contemporary art and views that, if not show stopping, are decidedly New York: slivers of Central Park, the water towers of neighboring limestones, and a bird’s-eye perspective on the legendary Carnegie Hall.
Style Setter: Hotel Sahrai, Fez, Morocco
A trip to the immaculately preserved medieval city of Fez no longer means a coin toss between a budget hotel and a tiny riads. Embracing light and open space, the sophisticated new Hotel Sahrai sits on a hillside between the medina and the French-built Ville Nouvelle, and overflows with terraces, outdoor bars, dining areas, and a striking L-shaped infinity pool facing the old city fortifications. French architect Christophe Pillet gave the Sahrai’s 50 room’s glass walls and geometric Moroccan lamps, while the Givenchy Spa showcases traditional mashrabiya latticework. In the restaurant, Amaraz, food inspired by the chef’s grandmother (quail and almond tagine; orange-blossom-scented rice pudding) is served in the atmospheric glow of dome-shaped copper chandeliers.
Comeback Queen: Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Paris
The Parisian hotel scene is in steady supply of ritzy debuts and grande-dame makeovers, each one outdoing the next. And the Hôtel Plaza Athénée—a fixture of Avenue Montaigne since 1913—is the latest showstopper. The hotel has maintained its crystal-chandelier ambience while adding an haute couture flair (an homage to longstanding ties with Parisian designer Christian Dior). La Galerie, popular with Birkin-toting Parisians at afternoon tea, now showcases hologram displays of the head pastry cook’s fanciful confections, while in the Alain Ducasse restaurant, guests sample seafood-centric creations from new polished stainless-steel banquettes. Among the 14 new guest rooms, the corner Prestige Suite is the room to book, with brightly upholstered Regency-era furnishings, eight-foot ceilings, and Eiffel Tower views that never go out of style.