Venice, Italy Cipriani
Why it’s special Founded more than 50 years ago, by members of the Guinness family who wanted a retreat and knew Sr Cipriani would be the man to back. The family’s personal suites are still much sought after. Tucked away on the island of Guidecca, there is a 24-hour boat shuttle service that allows guests to retreat when they’ve had enough of Tiepolo, crowded squares and stumbling over bridges.
What you can do in the area Is that a serious question? Venice is like no other city on the planet, and one of the pleasures is simply wandering aimlessly over its bridges and wondering at its beauty. We visited the Biennale, as fascinating for the individual pavilions put up by different nations as for the contemporary art displayed every two years, and the late Peggy Guggen-heim’s canalside home is worth a snoop for the best modern art. We enjoyed a Vivaldi concert in Chiesa San Vidal and Carpaccio’s paintings in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, and took Links’s advice to only spend half an hour in the first 19 rooms of the Accademia. To avoid queueing for St Mark’s cathedral, peer through the gates late at night for an undisturbed view of the gold mosaic ceilings.
I really like The enormous saltwater swimming pool. Legend has it that the builders used metric instead of imperial measurements in their calculations, so that the Cipriani practically has its very own lagoon.
Best room The Guinness suites are impressive, but the vast Palladio suite has its own jetty, windows on all sides and beautiful furniture and paintings.
Barcelona, Spain Hotel Arts
Why it’s special Barcelona and Hotel Arts are a positive example of what an Olympics can do for a city. At 44 floors, the five-star hotel, the youngest of our grandes dames, is the tallest building in Spain. Sited on the marina, it’s a beacon of the city’s regeneration, especially the once-grotty port area, that took place after the 1992 Games.
What you can do in the area An orgy of art: the breathtaking Sagrada Familia, Gandi apartments, Picasso and Miró museums, plus shopping and tapas bars, are all within walking distance.
I really like All the bedrooms have spectacular views of either the city or the sea through pleasingly large windows; the slatted shutters that pull across at night provide a cosy aloofness from the buzz outside. And the apartment-like bathrooms with cave-sized baths and showerheads as big as soup plates are magnificent.
Best room The apartments come with butler service, free massage and even the use of a Mini Cooper. The Mediterranean Suite has a baby grand piano. For the utmost in privacy, book the 4,305sq ft Royal and Presidential Suite on the 4th floor.
Staff profile Hotel Arts was voted best overseas hotel in 2008 by Meetings & Incentive Travel Magazine and there’s always someone on hand to speak pretty much any language, from Urdu to Russian.
Paris, France Hotel George V
Why it’s special Opened in 1928, The George V has always been at the height of Parisian style. In 2000, it reopened after a refurbishment that has reinstated all of its former glamour. The objets d’arts and beautiful furniture of the George are all used in the everyday life of the hotel.
What you can do in the area The hotel is only minutes from the Champs Elysées in the centre of Paris. The Eiffel Tower is visible from one side (20-minute walk), the Arc de Triumph from the other (15 minutes). The Rodin Museum and the Orangerie are also nearby. Dinner at Le Cinq, the George V’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant, or L’Entrecôte, which is very nearby, rounds off a perfect weekend.
I really like The theme of the interior is redesigned every month. The walls of the swimming pool and spa are decorated with trompe l’oeil views, and the American bar feels like home. The balconies outside the bedrooms are big enough to dance on.
Best room The Honeymoon Suite, overlooking the Eiffel Tower.
Staff profile Cheerful, efficient, eloquent and bilingual, so if your French fails you at the final hurdle, you’ll be rescued without embarrassment.
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Sorrento, Italy Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria
Why it’s special Composed of two palazzi flanking an incongruous Edwardian chalet-style building, the Vittoria is set 165ft up on the cliffs above Sorrento harbour, with a lift to take you down. It’s been in the same family since it was built in 1834, and retains an old-style grandeur, with sweeping staircases and marble floors. Several royal visitors have stayed here, as did Marilyn Monroe, Pavarotti and Sophia Loren. The great tenor Enrico Caruso returned again and again.
What you can do in the area Vesuvius is just across the Bay of Naples, and the towns it destroyed, Pompeii and Herculaneum, are 40 minutes’ drive away. Meander down the Amalfi coast or take the hydrofoil to the island of Capri. There, ride the funicular to the main square and visit the Roman villa of Emperor Tiberius, or sail round the vertiginous cliffs to the Blue Grotto.
I really like Sipping bellinis on the terrace as the sun sets in a splash of gold. The Bosquet Restaurant is scented by cascades of flowers, and the food is intricate with plenty of fresh seafood-the lobster ravioli is the stuff of dreams. Every two months, the Italians dance the tango at a Milonga-if you’re asked onto the floor, it’s nigh impossible to say no. The antique-filled drawing rooms would be beguiling even in winter.
Best room The Aurora Suite has a magnificent painted ceiling-but the Caruso suite with its sitting room and balcony is the ultimate luxury.
Staff profile Charming and attentive, but never intrusive, the staff make you feel at ease even when clad only in paper pants at the spa, where you can luxuriate with rose-crystal facials or full-body treatments. The waiters have a wonderful sense of humour-one asked deadpan: ‘You asked for tomato and mozzarella, yes?’ Our confused horror vanished as the covers were whipped off to reveal exquisitely presented fish, as ordered. The crêpes flambée are a must-if only to watch the performance as the Grand Marnier is poured and the flames rise.
Deià, Mallorca La Residencia
Why it’s special Hidden away in the unspoilt mountainous bit of Mallorca, the hotel is in a village where Robert Graves, author of Goodbye to All That, lived for 40-odd years. There are still many artists with varying degrees of eccentricity living here, but the arrival of the likes of Lord Lloyd-Webber, who has a holiday home on the village edge, is making it increasingly fashionable.
What you can do in the area There are wonderful walks over the mountain. Graves’ house recently opened and is worth a visit. The local artists are welcoming, and there are good bars to while away the afternoons.
I really like The hotel is based around a series of terraces on different levels, creating an air of intimacy and privacy.
Best room New rooms have recently been completed high up on the hillside. Accessed by lifts improbably rising through rock, the Tramuntana Suites have luxurious cotton sheets and private gardens filled with plants chosen by botanical experts. The best suites have plunge pools. If you want something older, the Tower Suite is said to have been built by Templar Knights.
Staff profile Most of the staff are from nearby, and have been working here since it opened in 1984, which gives the hotel a real family feel. Some members of staff are even couples, such as Cati Albañana and Bartolome Coll, who are married and grew up in Deià before coming to the hotel.
Cabourg, Normandy Le Grand Hôtel
Why it’s special Immortalised by Marcel Proust, who went back there for many years, it’s a haven of old-fashioned style and elegance mixed with up-to-date comfort. It has an intimate feel as there are only 70 rooms, which face either the extensive gardens or the sea, giving spectacular views of Cabourg’s boardwalk, once the haunt of the Impressionists.
What you can do in the area It’s a great base for taking in the delights of the Normandy coastline, especially the Second World War beaches. Follow the William the Conqueror trail or simply stroll around and enjoy the fairy-tale architecture of the area. If good food is what you crave, local Norman produce such as foie gras, Calvados and Camembert will keep you more than happy or take a gourmet break at the hotel and enjoy its first-rate cuisine. Sample the fresh seafood on the beach in Trouville or go in September and visit the Deauville American Film Festival.
I really like Step through the door and the beauty of the hotel will convince you you’ve gone back in time or into the pages of À la recherche du temps perdu. And the attentive staff treat you like a long-term resident.
Best room The hotel is currently undergoing refurbishment-half the rooms and the hotel’s exterior have been completed and the rest will be finished by March. We were particularly taken with the bathrooms, which are vast. If possible, stay in a room facing the sea so you can enjoy the breathtaking views.
Staff profile From genial manager Gérard Sagnes on down, all the staff are welcoming and attentive, making you feel as if you are the most import-ant guest there. Even tricky dietary requests (one of our party was gluten intolerant) didn’t faze them.
Provence, France Crillon le Brave
Why it’s special Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Crillon is one of Provence’s most charming discoveries. Owner Peter Chittick fell in love with the perfectly preserved hilltop village on a cycling trip years ago. When an 11-bedroom house was put on the market, he snapped it up, and has since added six other houses to the collection. As a result, the hotel runs through a mishmash of buildings, linked by passageways and staircases, discreetly sewn together by shutters and window frames painted in a distinctive battle grey.
What you can do in the area It sits under the shadow of Mont Ventoux, the tallest mountain in Provence, and a stage on the Tour de France, so cycling is almost a must. The lively antiques market town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is about a 45-minute drive (go on Sundays and have a prix fixe lunch at Le Jardin du Quai) or the hotel organises picking and tasting trips to a local château during the vendange (grape harvest), as well as cookery demonstrations on site.
I really like Their attitude. This is serious wine country (lots of Syrah and Grenache, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape is minutes away) so enjoying the fruits of the terroir is on most people’s agendas. Also, the wine prices at Crillon aren’t too marked up: ‘We’d rather people came and tried different bottles, rather than simply sticking to house wines, so we keep prices deliberately low,’ says patron Patrick Gaillard.
Best room No 11 has amazing views
Staff profile Patrick, who is French by birth but has lived in so many Anglo-phone countries that he sometimes gets corrected on his native grammar, runs the ship in a convivial style, sometimes followed by Rosé, his blonde retriever. The other members of staff are all young, local and friendly.
Baden-Baden, Germany Hotel Bareiss
Why it’s special The owner’s mother, a widow whose husband died in the Second World War, started a small gasthaus in the village of Mitteltal. Over the years, the family business has developed into a 99-bedroom hotel, with six restaurants, the top one recently adding a third Michelin star.
What you can do in the area In the heart of the Black Forest, Hotel Bareiss is about an hour’s drive into Germany east of the French border near Stras-bourg. Wind up into the heights of the Schwarzwald for glorious walking, riding, hunting and fishing in summer or experience a place of dazzling delight when the winter snows come.
I really like Children are specially catered for, with lots for them to do and their own house in the grounds for games, where meals can be taken.
Best room The latest venture has been to take over a derelict local farm and rebuild it. It’s a fascinating place, where the farmer was once the local healer. Once a week, you can dine there.
Staff profile Hermann Bareiss is as far removed from Basil Fawlty as you can get. At night, he patrols the tables, chatting to his guests, determined all should be well. Immaculately dressed and twinkling-eyed, he talks to each client, many of whom have been returning for decades. Our visit was enlivened by a lady who has been to the Bareiss twice a year for 35 years.
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