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The very best places to rest your head

The results are in for Travel + Leisure’s 15th-annual reader survey of the absolute best hotels in the world.
Image: Villa d'Este
Villa d'Este in Cernobbio, Italy, came in at No. 33 on the World's Best Hotels 2010.Courtesy of Villa d'Este
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You’re lounging on a white sand beach, with nothing but turquoise water in front. Behind you lies the comforts of an 18th-century great house and luxurious yellow cottages with private patios, all set on a 30-acre, palm tree–filled plantation. Want to explore? A Vespa is at the ready. It’s just another day at the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club in Nevis.

It’s experiences like these that travelers crave. And it’s our mission at Travel + Leisure to help you make them happen. Which is why, every year for the past 15 years, we’ve asked our readers to vote on their absolute favorite hotels in the World’s Best Awards survey. (Nisbet came in at No. 6.)

This year, “the spirit of exploration prevailed,” says Travel + Leisure’s editor in chief, Nancy Novogrod. Out of the Top 100 hotels, 69 are located outside of the U.S. and Canada (there are eight in India, seven in South Africa, and six in Italy and France, respectively). TripAdvisor found similar results on a recent survey: 60 percent of travelers are planning to visit Europe in the next year.

A few top winners came from the most remote reaches of the globe. One example: the Fairmont Mara Safari Club in Nairobi, Kenya, which rose from No. 96 last year to No. 3 in 2010. We’re betting the high score is due to the presence of the evermore elusive Big 5 animals, which the resort’s expert trackers take guests to search for on twice-daily game drives. It’s clear that travelers are looking for “encounters with the natural world,” says Novogrod.

The Peninsula Bangkok also had a meteoric rise this year, from No. 66 in 2009 to No. 7 in 2010. We’re attributing this shift to our readers’ increased affection for Asia and Bangkok (newly anointed the 2010 World’s Best City), with its world-class hotels, shopping, restaurants, and happily, peace once again. [The survey ended before the upheaval.]

For those looking to stay close to home, this year’s list delivers plenty of ideas. Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago (No. 20) opened less than two years ago, but it has already wowed our readers with its minimalist design, stellar service, and indulgent brunch menu. Chicago also has three other hotels on the list, while perennial powerhouse New York City had only one: the Ritz-Carlton New York Central Park. Are second — and smaller — cities on the rise?

Halekulani Hotel

Perhaps so. The Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole skyrocketed to No. 41 in the Top 100 (its score was too low to be listed last year), which illustrates that less popular destinations do have their own appeal, and also that T+L readers are looking to connect more with the outdoors.

That same get-your-hands-dirty desire brings guests to the Inn at Palmetto Bluff (there’s horseback riding, boating, and fishing on the 40-acre riverfront grounds), though the South Carolina low-country hotel fell from No. 14 in 2009 to No. 41 this year (it’s tied with Jackson Hole), helping to make room at the top for No. 2 Triple Creek Ranch, Montana’s all-inclusive rustic lodge that ranked No. 4 in 2008 before failing to make the list at all last year.