If you're looking for the finest hotels for service in the world, your best bet is to stay away from major cities. Head straight to the countryside — the more exotic, the better. That's the inevitable conclusion to draw from this year's list of the Top 15 Hotels for Service, as determined by the Forbes Traveler 400 board of experts, who gathered to name the world's finest deluxe destinations.
The 15 hotels on this year's list are located in 13 different countries, and each offers a distinct range of experiences. But only one, the Four Seasons Dublin, is located in a major capital — and even this hotel is located in a residential neighborhood of Ballsbridge, an urban retreat of embassies and Georgian architecture miles from the city center.
It's hard to imagine getting farther away from it all than Le Touessrok, set on a secluded bit of island-studded coastline surrounding a quiet lagoon along the eastern shore of Mauritius. The islands are protected from the Indian Ocean by a natural coral reef, so swimming, snorkeling and windsurfing near pristine beaches are a given.
But you'll also find a Givenchy spa; spectacular restaurants, including Three-Night-Eight, where the cuisines of nine countries are prepared in eight show kitchens over three floors; and even an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Bernhard Langer, nestled on its very own island. "Le Touessrok has aged gracefully," says one Forbes Traveler 400 expert, "like a fine wine."
Fine wines of less metaphorical vintage, meanwhile, are on offer at the boutique Chateau les Crayères, nestled on 17 acres of private greens in the heart of historic Reims in the Champagne region of France. A popular culinary getaway for Parisians, the Chateau's restaurant is overseen by Alain Ducasse's protegé Didier Elena and boasts a wine list that features more than 300 labels of the region's namesake bubbly.
In the word of one Forbes Traveler board member, Elena "has cooked for heads of state the world over." And since the boutique property has only 20 rooms, your gastronomic experience will get the same care and attention — quite literally, as a meal fit for a king.
For a different but equally regal experience, the city of Baden Baden in Germany's Black Forest has long been synonymous with excellence in spa retreats. Brenner's Park-Hotel and Spa is a top ranked health and beauty spa worldwide. (It's "a classic," says one Forbes Traveler 400 expert; "gorgeous with near-perfect service," another adds.)
The array of skin and body care treatments are nearly overwhelming, as are the range of massage techniques from around the world, including one homegrown remedy unblinkingly described as "body torture" — though said to be exquisite. Several fine restaurants and intimate dining salons are also on offer, with accommodation ranging from luxurious guest rooms to a 6,500-square-foot villa.
For a forest experience of a slightly more tropical kind, Lapa Rios Ecolodge is a tranquil, romantic, environmentally sensitive resort set in a 1,000-acre private nature reserve on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. The main lodge — a stunning 50-foot thatch and local-hardwood affair — and the adjacent guest bungalows sit on three ridges more than 350 feet above the sea.
Spectacular views and cooling breezes — not to mention activities like horseback riding, yoga, rainforest hiking, kayaking, surfing or simply watching the local birds, monkeys, turtles and other wildlife around you — make Lapa Rios a honeymoon favorite.
Depending on taste, however, any of the other properties on this list could make an equally breathtaking honeymoon, retreat, or similar getaway. They range from Wildflower Hall in the hills above Shimla, India; to Las Ventanas al Paraiso at the tip of Baja in Los Cabos, Mexico; to the cliffside vistas of Palazzo Sasso, in Ravello, above Italy's Amalfi Coast.
But "getaway," above all, appears to be the key word. Highly personalized and attentive service, it seems, are rarely found in the world's biggest cities. We're sure city-dwellers worldwide are shocked to hear the news.