There is a wide consensus as to what makes a good hotel – convenient or picturesque location, quality of service, range of amenities, comfort – but what makes a hotel truly exceptional? With no universal standard for hotel ratings, travellers rely instead on reviews, national and international classification systems, and, ever more increasingly, best-of lists. In fact, the internet is inundated with best-of lists, both general and specific, from the best luxury and beach hotels, to the best hotels for families and pets, to the best hotels in specific regions and cities. Suffice it to say then that it takes a lot for a new ranking to grab our attention, let alone bring the global hotel community together. And the first edition of The World’s 50 Best Hotels, which was announced on September 19th, has done just that. Featuring hotels from 35 different destinations across six continents, the brand-new list was created by the prestigious 50 Best brand, known for turning restaurants like Noma into household names.
What makes this ranking exceptional is its methodology; it is based on the input of a global jury of 580 hoteliers, journalists and seasoned travellers who were simply asked to share (anonymously) the seven best hotels they had stayed in in the last two years anywhere in the world. In other words, every hotel was eligible for votes. Europe dominates the list with 21 out of the 50 listed properties, six of which are located in France, with Asia coming in second with 18, boasting four hotels in the top five. London and Paris solidify their reputation as hospitality meccas with four properties each, with Bangkok also sharing the distinction; New York and Marrakesh come second with two hotels each. For better or worse, large hotel groups and luxury brands dominate the list, though several independent venues have made the list, most notably the family-owned and female-run Passalacqua hotel in Italy, which was deservingly awarded the top spot.
Passalacqua’s distinction as the first-ever World’s Best Hotel is even more impressive considering it only opened a year ago. Nestled on the shore of Lake Como, the 24-suite boutique hotel takes over a grand villa built in the late 18th century for Count Andrea Lucini-Passalacqua, a scion of one of Como’s leading noble families. Having hosted numerous illustrious visitors like Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and Vincenzo Bellini, the villa opened its doors to “mere mortals” in the summer of 2022 under the ownership of Valentina De Santis and her family, owners of the nearby Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Masterfully restored interiors dazzle with beautiful frescos, intricate stuccowork, gilded mirrors, Murano glass chandeliers and a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind antiques. Immaculately landscaped gardens cascading down to the lake, a magnificent pool terrace and a boutique complement the historic villa. The sheer beauty of the setting and attention to every detail is reason enough for the accolades it has received, but what ironically makes this lakeside haven the best hotel in the world is that it feels less like a hotel than a private home.
Passalacqua’s winning combination of historic premises, idyllic setting and intimate hospitality is echoed by a number of properties on the list such as the family-run Le Sirenuse (No.20), which is housed in an 18th-century summer villa perched high on Positano’s cliffside in Italy’s Amalfi coast, and the 24-room Aman Venice (No.14) which takes over one of the eight palazzo monumentali left in Venice, an 16th-century edifice where soaring ceilings, priceless historic frescoes, and enormous Murano chandeliers meet the hospitality brand’s signature minimal design to thrilling effect.
Historic properties on the list also include Badrutt's Palace (No.46) in St. Moritz, Raffles Singapore (No.17), and Claridge’s in London, three of the oldest continually running hotels on list, opened in 1896, 1887 and 1812 respectively. All three establishments have managed to retain their mythical status thanks to regular tweaks and renovations that balance old school splendour and contemporary luxury. The list’s most recent arrival on the other hand, Dubai’s Atlantis The Royal (No.44) eschews any sense of balance for an excess of opulence and grandiosity. Inaugurated by Beyonce earlier this year, the ultra-luxury mega resort features 800 rooms, 17 restaurants and bars and over 90 swimming pools.
It will come as no surprise that the World’s 50 Best Hotels include plenty of tropical resorts like One&Only Mandarina (No.8) which is set on a spectacular stretch of coastal rainforest in Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit. Hidden amid the tropical jungle, the eco-conscious resort’s 105 cliff-top villas and treehouses are the epitome of low-key luxury with design-led interiors, private plunge pools offering expansive views, and a dedicated butler.
Other exotic getaways include Hotel Esencia (No.19) in Tulum, a former holiday home of an Italian duchess turned boutique resort where the Yucatán jungle meets one of the few undeveloped beaches remaining intact on the Riviera Maya, and NIHI Sumba (No.18), a luxurious, beach-chic resort in Indonesia with 27 bamboo-and-teak villas with four-poster beds, private infinity pools and gorgeous views of the Indian Ocean.
Also on the list, immersive urban hideaways like the Four Seasons Astir Palace (No.35) on the glamorous Athens Riviera, The Siam (No.42) in Bangkok, and The Oberoi Amarvilas (No.45) in Agra, which offer an oasis of luxury and serenity amid the metropolitan hubbub. Spread over nine acres of terraced gardens, pools, stone-carved fountains and pavilions, tbe Oberoi Amarvilas' exotic opulence is matched only by the unobstructed views of the Taj Mahal. Designed as an Art-Deco-meets-Thai high style riverside palace, The Siam's stately, monochrome interiors are filled with exotic vegetation and antiques, a combination that never fails to enchant. Reopened after a major renovation in 2019, the Four Seasons' first property in Greece takes over a sprawling modernist comlex built in the 1960s at the tip of a pine-clad peninsula.
Finally, there are the bona fides city hotels, from recent arrivals like NoMad London (No.46) and Cheval Blanc Paris (No.34), both of which breathe new life into historic landmarks – the former occupying a grade II-listed former magistrate’s court and the later the emblematic La Samaritaine department store – and more seasoned properties like The Upper House (No.4) in Hong Kong, an ultra-sleek, minimalist haven of understated luxury located high above the city’s hustle and bustle. We will never forget the feeling of floating above the clouds from our room on the 47th floor the last time we stayed in The Upper House – ultimately, the sort of feeling that distinguishes a good hotel from one of the best hotels in the world.