1. Crillon, Paris
For sheer style, there is nowhere in Paris – possibly in the world – to beat the Hôtel de Crillon. The polished marble floors, the guilded stucco, the glittering chandeliers, and the oh-so-discreet and efficient service are the epitome of what a palace hotel should be. Rooms vary enormously – some are palatial, some much more modest – but all are smart. The showpiece restaurant, LesAmbassadeurs, has one of the best wine lists anywhere.
2. Four Seasons George V, Paris
Further up towards the Arc de Triomphe, and much bigger and perhaps a little brassier than the Crillon, with slightly showier service, the George V vies for the top spot in Paris. It has an Art Deco rather than an 18th-century heritage, but the feeling is just as much that of a city palace. The rooms – of a good size and more consistent than the Crillon – are in Louis XV style. Le Cinq is the gastronomic restaurant, currently holding two Michelin stars.
3. Le Taha’a, French Polynesia
This private resort offers one of the last chances to see what French Polynesia was like before it got too popular. Set on the small islet of Motu Tautau, it offers that winning honeymoon formula of overwater villas, spacious decking, complete privacy, faultless service and shallow azure waters. The villas themselves are spacious, with dark wood furnishing, stark white linens and even a glass-topped trunk at the foot of the bed with views of the ocean beneath. For those who prefer a snorkel and mask, the resort’s coral garden offers snorkelling to rival that on the very best reefs.
4. Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, Australia
From the moment you walk into the limestone-clad, open-plan lobby you are confronted by a wraparound screen of floor-to-ceiling glass to show off this wilderness-and-wellness retreat’s dramatic Southern Ocean setting – with gentle rollers in summer or thunderous breakers in winter. The views from all 21 suites (each named after a shipwreck) are no less impressive, the food is fresh and imaginative, and the service always comes with a smile. There can be few better places to be shipwrecked.
5. The Peninsula, Hong Kong
Opened in 1928, this is the Peninsula group’s flagship property and Hong Kong’s most historic hotel. You have a choice between the original building or the soaring tower that was built around the original in 1994 and which commands outstanding views of Victoria Harbour and beyond. The service remains the best in modern hospitality; the restaurants, particularly the French-influenced Gaddi’s and the Philippe Starck-designed Felix, are superb; and the traditional afternoon tea, taken in the glorious lobby, remains one of the former colony’s great traditions.
6. Four Seasons, New York
From the moment you walk into the soaring, marble lobby, designed by I M Pei, you know you are in a grand hotel. It is modern grand, for it was only completed in 1991. Since then, however, it has towered over Manhattan’s hospitality landscape and is one of the places to be seen in New York. The concierges are walking encyclopedias, the location on 57th and Park is central uptown, and the 364 rooms are bright, with silk-lined walls and furniture of English sycamore. From rooms above the 40th floor, there are superb views of Central Park. L’Atelier du Joël Robuchon is also worth a visit.
7. The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder
Staff here make it seem the most natural thing in the world to get every detail right. It’s expensive, but good value for money, with access to 850 scenic acres of Perthshire, a shooting school, gun-dog school, off‑road driving centre, tennis and croquet – not to mention a superb spa and three championship golf courses. Standards are universally high, and there is a refreshing lack of stuffiness – guests of all ages are made to feel very welcome.
8. Villa San Michele, Florence
A converted 15th-century Franciscan monastery (with a façade reputedly designed by Michelangelo), the Villa San Michele has 46 rooms with magnificent views over Florence and the hills of Tuscany, an achingly romantic restaurant and terracotta-floored, butter-yellow rooms.
9. Little Palm Island, Florida Keys
A tiny private island reached by speedboat from the Lower Florida Keys, Little Palm Island was once a favourite playground of presidents (Roosevelt and Truman) and still draws American celebrities (Michael Jordan, Ivana Trump, Drew Barrymore) to its 30 secluded bungalows. The beach is narrow, but the sense of peace and privacy (there are no televisions or phones) is first-class.
10. Parrot Cay, Turks & Caicos
A 1,000-acre private-island resort with a chic, almost south-east Asian vibe, 35 minutes by boat from Providenciales. With a white-sand beach, holistic spa and two excellent restaurants, it offers the best kind of barefoot luxury. Stay in a private villa, with its own pool, on the beach.
11. COMO Shambhala Begawan Giri, Ubud, Bali
The former, and somewhat eccentric, Begawan Giri hotel was transformed into the world’s most luxurious – and effective – holistic retreat by COMO hotels in 2005. Everything, from the location and vernacular design to the spa and wellbeing programmes, is impeccable. With butler service to ensure that nothing dissipates that just-back-from-the-spa feeling, it’s impossible not to feel rejuvenated.
12. Maia, Seychelles
Thirty simple but beautifully done villas, all with private pool and butler service, on a secluded peninsula landscaped with exotic plants. With 230 staff, service at this French-managed resort is exemplary; and though it is well placed for exploring the other islands on the resort’s own luxury yacht or Mahe’s lively capital, 30 minutes’ drive away, you will probably want to stay put most of the time. Gorgeous spa with outdoor treatment rooms.
13. The Dorchester, London
There are several contenders in London, including Claridge’s, the Connaught and now the Savoy. But for us, the Dorchester has pulled ahead this year: superb restaurants (we even like the Scottish murals in The Grill), skilful but friendly service and that unbeatable location overlooking Hyde Park. The urban-chic design of the new spa is innovative and wholly appropriate for the location. Our favourite room: The Terrace Suite.
14. Park Hyatt, Toyko
The Lost in Translation hotel is still the one to head for in Tokyo and it begins on the 38th floor of the Shinjuku Park Tower. Bedrooms are sumptuous, with fabulous views of the city. Overall attention to detail is second to none. Head for the New York Bar and Grill on the 52nd floor – it’s expensive but the cocktails and steaks are worth it.
15. Four Seasons, Istanbul
Housed within the ochre-coloured walls of a former prison, the austere cells of the infamous Sultanahmet jail have been replaced with large, airy rooms and Ottoman-era antiques. The atmosphere is elegant and rarefied (just 65 rooms and suites), and the hotel’s verdant courtyard provides a welcome respite from the hubbub of one of the world’s most populous cities. Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace are moments away, while the call to prayer from the neighbouring Blue Mosque resounds evocatively throughout the hotel.