When I was a child, a trip for us meant a beach vacation in Florida or a visit to my grandparents in St. Louis. Any stay in a hotel was a thrill for me, even the nondescript, generic roadside motels where we sometimes stopped for the night. My dad would immediately lie down on the bed while my brothers and I, blessedly released from the small confines of the back seat where we’d been poking each other with sporks, raced to throw on our bathing suits and hit the pool, my mother lounging poolside while we frolicked and splashed in delight. A vending machine that sold potato chips was the height of an amenity for us.
Fast forward and my tastes have changed a bit. But my thrill at discovering new hotels has not, although I rarely wear my bathing suit underneath my clothes in anticipation of that first splash. I still love that moment of anticipation when I first open the hotel room door to discover what’s beyond.
We hope you share our excitement as we present our first annual The Travel 100 Top 10 Hotels and Resorts. I can’t tell you about our extensive data gathering process, elaborate criteria we used or scientific way we chose these – the process was much simpler than that. These are places I stayed recently that I loved – whether for the high-end luxury and service, a fabulous rooftop or amazing restaurants. I’d gladly return to any of these properties and hope you have the chance to check them out. Please see our related stories of favorite from readers, staff and travel writers.
Where: County Laois, Ireland
Why: 5-star luxury in the Irish countryside, white-glove service, exquisite meals, opportunity to feel like royalty
“Lunch is in the conservatory,” the white-gloved staff member told us as we sipped our Champagne while completing the check-in process. Of course I immediately thought of the game of Clue and hoped for a sighting of a tweed-wearing, mustache-sporting Colonel Mustard.
We made our way through the giant, elegant rooms of this former country home to take a seat in the glassed-in room with views of the magnificent grounds. I’d never felt more like a character in a foreign film, one who traveled by Rolls Royce, never packed or unpacked my own bags and was not unaccustomed to stays in 5-star resorts.
Set on 614 acres at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in central Ireland, Ballyfin may be the most elegantly appointed place I’ve ever stayed. It’s the kind of place where no ottoman or pillow goes unfringed, dust is banished before even thinking of settling anywhere and a full suit of armor on the staircase landing seems totally normal. With just 20 bedrooms, you’re assured a quiet, uncrowded stay.
With just a one-night stay, we did our best to make the most of it. After our three-course lunch of squash soup, fried hake, goat cheese and onion tart, and Irish cheeses we set off to explore the massive grounds on the complimentary bikes.
The service here is attentive, yet not stuffy. Assured we couldn’t get too lost, I asked, “What if we do?” The response was a cheerful, “There will be two less people for dinner.”
With our rudimentary map we explored fern grottos, climbed a medieval tower and cycled through charming walled gardens. We cycled around the scenic lake, then took a spin around the lake in a wooden boat with my husband rowing while I marveled at the spectacular view of Ballyfin from this vantage point. It felt like a setting in a novel, with a sound track of either romantic music or one filled with foreboding as I should either be getting proposed to or preparing for my death at the bottom of the marshy lake.
It was a perfect way to spend our afternoon as we got some exercise and an overview of the estate. Other activities here include fishing, archery, falconry, air rifle target shooting and horseback riding. The property also has an indoor pool, whirlpool and small spa.
Dinner begins with cocktails in the library, which we enjoyed fireside in the 80-foot-long room. In this increasingly digital age, it was comforting to be surrounded by thousands of books placed on every available surface. Our martinis came ice cold accompanied by beautiful little canapes. At our leisure we made our way to the dining room where we enjoyed an eight-course meal with white-glove service with dishes that included Wexford monkfish, roast lamb sweetbreads and blue cheese with gooseberries.
This is the type of place where rooms have names, not numbers, and we bedded down for the night in the Maryborough, which had beautiful views of the property, a writing desk and a large bathroom. I almost squealed in delight when I saw the fireplace, in the bathroom, and the large window with a view of the lake. Located about 65 miles southwest of Dublin, Ballyfin is easily accessible by train.
Where: Aguas Calientes, Peru
Why: Authentic Peruvian experiences, art and cuisine, view of the famous mountain and chance to tour Machu Picchu with a shaman
This bucket list trip to Machu Picchu was elevated to another level by touring the magical mountain led by a shaman, later having my coca leaves read by him and watching him perform ancient Peruvian rituals.
Add to that the fact the hotel is Peruvian owned, has a small but fabulous spa and the most amazing view of Machu Picchu and the Urubamba River and you’ve got the ingredients of a trip of a lifetime. This is the place to stay for your Machu Picchu experience.
For more on Sumaq Machu Picchu see the related story: Mystical Machu Picchu at Sumaq Machu Picchu
Where: Palm Beach, Florida
Why: Stellar spa, fabulous restaurants, oceanside location, beachy but elegant décor
I don’t really consider myself elegant enough for Palm Beach. Maybe that’s why we got tossed out of one of the most exclusive country clubs there. Well, not even the club itself, just the parking lot.
We were on bikes trying to follow the lake trail when we got a bit lost and ended up in the parking lot of the Everglades Club, one of the most exclusive clubs in the country where the annual dues are most likely more than the value of my house. It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by golf carts and nicely asked to remove our lower net worth selves from the premises.
I felt more welcome when we stayed at the unstuffy Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, a gorgeous oceanfront resort with one of my favorite spas in the world.
We had visited back when it was a Ritz-Carlton and were interested to see the update. The whole effect is much lighter, brighter yet still sophisticated. I loved the blue-and-yellow color scheme for our room and the murals set around the pool.
The food is fabulous but the highlight of a visit here is a visit to the spectacular spa. While the treatment was wonderful, it’s the other amenities here that really stand out, including the swinging chairs in the courtyard and the wishing well when you first enter.
For more on Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa see the related story: Perfect Palm Beach Getaway: Where to Eat, Stay, Play and Thrift Shop
Where: Naples, Florida
Why: Location on Fifth Avenue South, sunsets from the rooftop hot tub, club level amenities
My heart sings a little whenever I hear the words “club level,” as I’ve never had a bad experience on the club level and delight in the access to the food and beverages. My husband proposed to me during our stay on the club level of The Ritz Carlton, Atlanta where we made the most of our access. We may or may not have ordered Bloody Marys the night before and taken them to our room to enjoy for breakfast the next day.
A stay at one of the 32 suites on the club level at the Inn on Fifth includes access to a large dining area with plentiful food and beverage offerings. There’s a daily continental breakfast, afternoon snacks and evening cocktail with appetizers. And we aren’t just talking about a little cheese plate here – there was loads of foods including a huge shrimp platter with all the shrimp lined up perfectly on the tray. Is it just me or do they taste better that way?
My suite overlooked Fifth Avenue South, the hub of Naples where everyone comes to shop, dine and just promenade down the palm tree-lined streets, enjoying the 35 restaurants and 32 shops.
The suites range in size from 516 to 1,200 square feet. My favorite feature was the balcony to lounge on and watch the street scene below. Another big bonus of the club level is access to the gorgeous rooftop sundeck with a giant tiled whirlpool and fabulous views of Naples, where no tall buildings block your view. Apparently in Naples, no building is allowed to be more than 45 feet tall. The beach is just ½ mile away, and there are vehicles that will drive guests there.
In addition to the club level suites, there are 87 more rooms and a huge, beautiful pool across the street where the lobby just underwent a major renovation.
A few extra things I loved about the Inn on Fifth: no parking fee, no universally hated resort fee and when the hotel undergoes renovation, they let their employees sign up to get the items they no longer need.
Where: Lima, Peru
Why: Beautiful historic property with massive rooms, Peruvian cuisine and Dom Perignon suite
I sat in my cozy hotel robe, a room-service table with breakfast set up in front of me, watching the wedding ceremony of Prince Harry and Meaghan Market taking place across the world from my comfy perch at Country Club Lima Hotel in Peru. What better place to watch a royal wedding than from a room in a palace?
This Peruvian national monument has a grand entrance, an exquisitely decorated lobby, 300 works of original art, 70 rooms and 13 suites, including a Dom Perignon suite, one of only six in the world. Shouldn’t every day end with a bottle of Dom Perignon served by your personal butler?
Every room is unique in this property, built in 1927. My room was quite large, with a seating area and huge marble bathroom. I had my first taste of Peruvian cuisine in the Perroquet Restaurant where I ordered the national dish of loma saltada for lunch, had an elegant dinner and dined on a huge buffet for breakfast. The restaurant is hugely popular with locals in Lima, who consider it one of the most elegant restaurants in this city of close to 10 million people.
The English Bar, all wood-panel and old-boys vibe, is famous for its version of the Peruvian national drink, the Pisco Sour. This delicious cocktail is made with lime juice, egg white and Angostura bitters.
Lima Country Club Hotel is only 7.5 miles from Jorge Chavez Lima International Airport, a bonus for guests traveling to Machu Picchu with early morning flights.
Where: Dunmore Town, Harbour Island, Bahamas
Why: Small intimate property with Tiki bar, freshwater pool on a small, lush island in the Caribbean with pink beaches
Eating outdoors is at the top of my list of favorite activities. Eating outdoors on a pink sand beach with a picnic and cold beverages waiting for me in a cooler? Doesn’t get better than that.
That was the delight that awaited us after a walk on the beach, part of the amazing amenities available to guests of Bahama House on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. We settled down on the blue-and-white checked tablecloth and dined on avocado hummus with plantain chips, chicken pasta, conch salad and refreshing sips of Kalika beer. We were surrounded by chairs with umbrellas, kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel equipment for afternoon activities.
It was my first visit to this small island off of Eleuthera, which is only ½ mile wide by 3.5-miles long and filled with cute cottages, white picket fences, boutique hotels and amazing restaurants. Our home base of the Bahama House was a short walk from this beach or a fun golf cart ride, which is what many guests opt to do, especially since it’s the preferred mode of transportation around the island.
Bahama House feels like a large, rambling home, a pastel-colored beach retreat built around a central court with a tiki bar and inviting freshwater pool. With only 11 rooms, it’s tucked away just off the road in Dunmore Town. My room was part of a two-bedroom room villa with a deck overlooking the pool, private sitting room and a fridge stocked with snacks and beverages. I loved the artwork and the four-poster bed, although the lack of a closet was a bit of a drawback that meant I had to lay my dresses down on a shelf in a cabinet.
How I love a Tiki bar and the bartender, aka Doctor Robert, greets guests with a smile and handcrafted drinks. Another delight of this property is the complimentary breakfast.
Bahama House is part of Eleven Experience, a collection of lodges, chalets and beach houses, with a focus on experiential travel at its properties. Guests can sign up for adventures, including scuba diving, snorkeling, deep sea fishing and an excursion to a nearby blue hole where you can take a giant leap to splash into the depths below. I took that leap without fear, but needed help from the guide to climb the slippery rock to get out of the hole.
Where: Cannon Beach, Oregon
Why: Intimate property with beachfront location, gas fireplaces, nightly wine hours and nightcaps, gourmet breakfast
Growing up I primarily visited beaches in Florida, bordered by dunes and palm trees. I knew nothing about the coast of Oregon and was charmed by its craggy coastlines, cute arts-filled towns and the giant rock formations visible off shore.
I stayed in several properties during a multi-day tour down the coast, but was most charmed by the Stephanie Inn with its huge oceanfront suites with gas fireplaces right on the beach. Owners Jan and Steve Martin opened the 41-room inn in 1993 and named it after their daughter. In addition to the gorgeous guest rooms, I loved the complimentary Northwest Wine & Beer Gathering held in the oceanfront library where guests gather to enjoy local wines and a large selection of appetizers. A Goodnight Cap is also available along with a huge gourmet breakfast in the morning.
But back to those magnificent views of the wide sandy beaches of Cannon Beach. One feature that dominates an ocean view is Haystack Rock, a 235-foot sea stack that rises out of the ocean and appeared in the movie, “The Goonies.”
A stay here includes the opportunity to sign up for Stephanie Inn Sojourns, guest experiences that include guided adventures to meet local winemakers, fish for salmon, tour a local brewery or take a cooking class with a pastry maker.
We had a beach bonfire one night, which included wine by the fire and s’mores, a delightful way to end the day before retiring to my room to fall asleep with the sounds of waves crashing on the beach.
Located about 80 miles from Portland, Cannon Beach is a small city called one of the most beautiful places in the world by National Geographic. The streets are lined with art galleries, local restaurants (no chains here!) and shops, perfect for strolling through during the day.
Where: Clayton, New York
Why: Lake views, stellar restaurant, proximity to recreational opportunities and town of Clayton
I could see Canada from my hotel. Really. The 1000 Islands is located in both Canada and the United States, divided by the scenic, island-filled St. Lawrence River. I was enchanted by the hundreds of tiny islands, some completely filled with one house, while others have scenic lighthouses and one has a giant castle.
During our stay I paddled happily through the calm, glassy waters and spent a day zooming around in a gorgeous restored 1953 Chris-Craft boat, making stops to tour lighthouses and the famous Boldt Castle. I fell in love with the area, and my experience was enhanced by a stay at 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel.
We began with lunch on the flower-filled Riverside Patio, open for the warmer months where we had a view of the water. Other dining options include the upscale Seaway Grille and 1000 Islands Bar.
The hotel has 105 spacious guest rooms, some with river views. My room had the most marvelous, gigantic marble bathroom with a separate tub. The room had a cottage-y feel with hardwood floors, neutral colors and white dressers and headboards.
Our weather was gorgeous so we spent as much time outside as possible, but in bad weather guests can enjoy an indoor pool and fitness center. The hotel sits at the edge of the charming town of Clayton, which has shops and restaurants lining the main street. For a special treat, dine on one of the patios overlooking the water with magnificent sunset views.
Where: Marco Island, Florida
Why: Wide beaches, historic property, gastropub/gaming emporium, opportunities for water sports
My eyes widened as the bartender set a trio of giant adult milkshakes on the bar, brims rimmed with more sugary items to up the decadence factor – Oreos, marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers and one was even topped with a pink frosted doughnut. These are some of the treats available at the bar of 10K, the giant gaming emporium at the JW Marriott Marco Island Resort, where guests can order an adult beverage and enjoy mini golf, mini bowling, pool and sports simulators for golf, hunting and clay shooting.
That’s just one of the activities to enjoy at the huge property set on 3.5 miles of white sand beach on Marco Island, Florida. The Balinese-style resort has 726 rooms, 10 restaurants, three pools and two 18-hole golf courses. The property underwent a $320 million renovation in 2017 and just opened a 94-room adults-only tower called Paradise by Sirene with its own rooftop pool area.
One evening we had a rum tasting a sunset, and let me tell you, nothing beats sipping on frosty, frozen rum drinks and enjoying a few snacks with your feet in the sand and a view of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico.
The first thing I do when I walk into my hotel room is check out the view. My only regret about my stay here is I didn’t have more time to hang on the fantastic balcony with the view of the palm trees, pool and ocean. Gorgeous.
See related story: Things to Do in Marco Island, Florida [In and Out of the Water]
Where: Alexandria, Virginia
Why: Location in Old Town, historic building
I don’t think it’s just my American Studies major at the University of Virginia that made me fall in love with Alexandria, one of our country’s most historic cities. Its waterfront location, proximity to DC, historic homes and cobblestoned streets would charm any visitor. Not even a fairly steady downpour could ruin our weekend there.
Another bonus of Alexandria is its proximity to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. No sooner had we settled into our Lyft than it was time to get out. The lobby of the Alexandrian is small, but welcoming with a giant fireplace front and center, and the check-in counter to the right where guests are offered a glass of Prosecco upon check-in, which always puts a smile on my face.
In this era of understated hotel décor, our room was delightful in its explosion of patterns and colors, with lanterns and birds and other graphics vying for our attention.
The hotel is in a prime location right on King Street. We could walk just about anywhere we wanted to go, but if we had gotten tired we could have jumped on the free street trolley that runs down the street.
Do you have some favorite hotels? Share them with us by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief