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The post-9/11 world has been tough on the hotel business. Smacked by a one-two punch heightened travel fears and corporate cost-shaving executives at top-tier hotels have had to find ingenious ways to thrive.
Some have managed better than others, as revealed in our 26th annual ranking of the worlds best hotels. Once again our elite group of voters CEOs and other senior executives from the U.S., Asia and Europe has revealed the finest hotels on the planet. These extreme business travelers should know: Last year they spent an average of 46 days away from home.
Many of the hotels on this years list (see page 107) have distinguished themselves from the pack by getting personal knowing more about their guests than their guests know themselves. These are the places where your preferred brand of Italian chocolate magically appears on your bedside table every evening and the TV is preset to your go-to news channel. (In hotelkeeping there are no coincidences, only detailed guest history logs.)
If success relies on an obsessive attention to customer needs, hotels rely more than ever on their front-line staff. The very best anticipate guests requests and are unique sources of local knowledge. For a sampling of what can be gleaned at some of this years highest-ranking hotels, weve turned to general managers, chefs and bartenders from Bangkok to London and asked them to let us in on the secrets of the hotels and cities they represent. Weve found the Italian restaurant in Paris, where you can hash out a deal in privacy, and Rios most impressive beach. Now theres only one thing left for you to do: Go enjoy yourself.
MANDARIN Oriental Washington, D.C.
Ranked: No. 1 in North America; No. 1 overall. In the nations seat of power, this 347-room, 53-suite hotel features views of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument and houses a 10,000-square-foot spa.
Insider: Lynn Hight, concierge. In the hotel business for 15 years, a concierge for five, Hight is the go-to source for visitors to Washington planning a glamorous night on the town.
Whats the best room to book at the hotel? The Presidential Suite, hands down. Theres no other place like it. It has a total of nine rooms and incredible views of the city, especially at cherry blossom time. And the shower is unbelievably luxe: It has eight different showerheads, full-body massage nozzles and accommodates 12 if you need it. The room goes for $8,000 per night. What if Im not a president? Go for one of our Water Premiere View rooms ($595), which are standard guest rooms but positioned at an angle, offering more windows. Best lunch spot when impressions matter? The Capital Grille on Pennsylvania Avenue. Its close to the hotel and close to the Capitol. Theres a buzz about it; its a real power scene of congressmen and senators. Knowing phrase to slip into the conversation? Try, Whats interesting about Washingtons buildings is that they cant be taller than the width of the street theyre on, plus 20 feet.Nightspot must? The Adams Morgan area, two miles from the White House in northwestern Washington. Its basically Mardi Gras comes to Washington. And for a recovery brunch the next day? Georgia Browns on 15th Street is the bomb of Southern cooking. The sweet-potato pie is simply the best. Part of town that tells you the most about the city? U Street. Its our version of Harlem. In the 30s and 40s, it was the place to go to, and now its had a real renaissance. The area between 12th and 15th Streets is the best stretch. Most overrated attraction? The Washington Monument. Its just an observation platform. There are other places in town that offer a view without having to wait in line.
The Oriental Bangkok
Ranked: Best hotel in Asia;
No. 2 overall. A favorite of VIPs for 130 years, the Bangkok Oriental recently completed a $75 million refurbishment, overhauling its Garden Wing Deluxe rooms and the hotel spa.
Insider: Khun Boonlert Panvivatanatana, duty manager. A nine-year veteran of the Oriental, the hotels duty manager learned his trade in France before returning to his native Thailand.
Whats the best room to book at the hotel? The Oriental Suite. It is a luxurious two-bedroom apartment with a panoramic view of the Chao Praya River. It goes for 96,900 baht ($2,550) per night. And where, in the hotel, is the best place to hash out a deal? There are three places: The Reading Room in the Authors Wing; a private room in China House, for dim sum; or a quiet corner at the Authors Lounge for traditional English afternoon tea. And to find the meal of a lifetime? Le Normandie, inside the hotel. Chefs come from restaurants like Le Grand Véfour in Paris, whose famous Guy Martin is consultant for Le Normandie. For Thai fine dining, Sala Rim Naam, a spot by the river with nightly entertainment that features Thai dance. Its also within the hotel. Phrase to practice until perfect? Mai-pen-rai khrab (women replace khrab with kha), which translates as Youre welcome, or Never mind. Its one of the most frequently used expressions by Thai people. Where would you send someone with only a day to see the sights? Visit the Vimarnmek Golden Teak Mansion, which used to be King Chulalongkorns residence. The design and interiors of this throne hall and residence were greatly influenced by European architecture, and inside are displays of gifts offered by royalty from all over the world. What are the most overrated Bangkok attractions? The Floating Market and the Crocodile Farm have both become commercial tourist traps. Theyre quite a disappointment for most first-timers. What tourist attraction deserves its hype? The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is a must if you visit Thailand, the same as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Big Ben in London. Some might be able to recognize it from one of the scene backdrops in The King And I. Within its compound is the magnificent Royal Palace with several Throne Halls. Most royal ceremonies are conducted there.
George V Paris
Ranked: Best hotel in Europe;
No. 10 overall. The 245-room Four Seasons George V in a landmarked 1928 building has private balconies overlooking the Champs-Elysées.
Insider: Antoine Corneille, head
bartender. Corneille brought 15 years of bar management experience to the Four Seasons George V in 2004 and now heads a staff of 38. He learned his trade at the venerable Ritz Paris.
Whats the best room in the hotel? Our honeymoon suite, for its private terrace with a view of the Eiffel Tower. (E3,950; $5,010) Where would you send someone with only an hour to explore Paris? The St. Germain des Prés area for its typical Parisian atmosphere: tiny streets, little cafés with terraces, trendy shops. And with an afternoon? I would visit the Louvre des Antiquaires, the citys biggest gathering of antiques dealers. Its located right in front of the Louvre; its indoors and open daily except Mondays. Best place for a discreet meeting? The tiny Italian restaurant Le Stresa, in the Champs-Elysées district, for its quiet and exclusive atmosphere. For a memorable meal? The hotels restaurant Le Cinq, which has been awarded three Michelin stars since February 2003. And later that evening? The VIP Room on the Champs-Elysées, for the special care they put into entertaining their guests. The hostesses, dressed in black and easily recognized by their hats, help you socialize with others at the club. They make sure you dont stay alone in your corner. Wheres the best Sunday brunch? Try the Mariage Frères on the rue du Faubourg St Honoré. They have the most incredible selection of tea. Whats your favorite drink? The Bye Bye Baby, an infusion of raspberry in vodka, mixed with sugar and lime, in which we add freshly cut fruit. Its a natural, tangy drink with a delightful color.
Rio de Janeiro
Ranked: Best hotel in Latin
America; No. 18 overall. Built in 1923, the 225-room Copacabana Palace embodies Rio's glamour.
Insider: Francesco Carli, head chef. The Italian-born and trained Carli opened the Ristorante Hotel Cipriani at the hotel in 1994 and oversaw its quick ascension to a favorite haunt of Rios jet set.
The best room to book in the hotel? One of our six penthouses ($1,950-$2,300) because they have the best butlers in town and because of the Copacabana Beach views. Also because of the rooftop black pool, which is surrounded by black granite. The pool itself is lined with tiny glass tiles. It looks over the Pedra do Inhangá on one side, the sea on the other. Best lunch spot to impress a business partner? Antiquarius restaurant on Rua Aristides Espínola, with its terrific Portuguese food. Where would you send someone with only an hour to see the city? Visit the beaches of Copacabana, Urca, Ipanema and Leblon. Stop by a kiosk to have a coconut water. All in an hour? If you have to choose one above all others, see Ipanema Beach. Where can you find the meal of a lifetime? Any Brazilian barbecue house, but especially Porcão Rio because of its setting at Flamengo Beach. And the quintessential Brazilian cocktail? Caipirinha, a traditional drink made with cachaça, the liquor distilled from Brazilian sugarcane. Best Sunday brunch? No doubt at all: Pergula Restaurant at the Copacabana Palace. Its run by the much-respected chef Luiz Incao in a spot between the hotels Olympic-size pool and Copacabana Beach. Knowing phrase to slip into a conversation? Ask about the Flamengos this season. Flamengo is the biggest soccer team in Rio, and if a person is not a Flamengo supporter, he or she will love to say that the team is sinking.
Ranked: No.1 in the U.K.; No. 21 overall. A 150-room hotel on Park Lane, the Met is designed with chic, modernist sensibilities, and the staff wear only Armani.
Insider: Thomas Orchard, general manager. An industry veteran, Orchard has worked in hotels from the U.K. to the Caribbean. He became GM of Londons Halkin hotel six years ago and later added the Metropolitan to his list of duties. Both hotels are owned by London- and Singapore-based Como Hotels and Resorts.
Whats the best room to book at the hotel? The penthouse (£2,800; $5,320) for its floor-to-ceiling windows, flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations and huge bathroom and shower, both of which offer views over Hyde Park. Whats the best lunch spot when you need to impress a local client? Galvin at Windows, on London Hilton Park Lane, for its outstanding French food. Its on the 28th floor, so youre on top of the world, with a 360-degree view of the city. Where would you send customers looking for a quiet place to discuss a deal? The private dining room at the Halkin, a very discreet hotel in Belgravia and a five-minute walk to the shops of Knightsbridge and Chelsea. And a not-so-quiet place to celebrate a deal? The Market Porter public house, the best real ale pub in London. Order a Harveys Sussex Best Bitter, made at a brewery in Sussex. Wheres the best place to find a memorable dinner? Nahm restaurant on Halkin Street in Belgravia. Its the only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe. A London must that often gets overlooked? Borough Market on the weekend. I suggest sampling something from every food stand. Its the best selection of produce in London. Most overrated tourist attraction? Madame Tussauds wax museum. At £22.99 for an adult, it is far too expensive.