The world’s greatest hotels, as named by the people who run them09/11/2023
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They’re passionate travellers who also happen to be hoteliers with a passion for hotels whether they’re their own or someone else’s.
But what happens when the disposable slippers are on the other feet, the coffee tables are turned and the hotelier is the guest?
On the wish list: The Ritz, Paris.
What do hoteliers themselves look for in a hotel stay, and which are the hotels from here and around the world that have inspired them the most?
These are among the questions that Traveller posed to the operators of seven different, chic hotels around Australia.
Intimate boutique stays, immersive experiences and insider local knowledge feature high on their lists. A chef shares his go-to restaurants and a concierge reveals a hidden speakeasy frequented by locals.
No matter a hotel’s size, hoteliers champion those that make a lasting impression and leave you yearning to return.
“It’s the X factor that makes a hotel a must-return destination,” says Louella Grattan-Smith, from luxury boutique hotel Moss Manor in NSW’s Southern Highlands.
High on the hoteliers’ lists of (not unreasonable) expectations are that every guest is valued and treated as special and that the service is not fawning, overbearing or aloof. They also like to meet hoteliers in person where possible.
The experience should also match the marketing hype, says Colleen Guiney, of Victoria’s acclaimed Drift House at Port Fairy.
“The words ‘luxury’ and ‘boutique’ are liberally strewn across our industry but all too often the experience does not match the moniker,” she says.
It’s also the little things – personal recommendations, staff who remember your name and genuine friendliness – that rate highly among our survey group of seven Australian hoteliers.
Their collective responses are as interesting and diverse as the hotels they own and run.
Drift House, Port Fairy, Victoria
John Watkinson and Colleen Guiney
John Watkinson and Colleen Guiney, Drift House Port Fairy.
We love hotels because they’re exciting and allow you to live life, albeit briefly, very differently to how you do at home.
The inspiration for our hotel was John’s parents’ traditional English B&B in the Yorkshire Dales in the UK. We were both in our 20s and they trusted us to run it while they went on a much-needed holiday. It was an intense couple of weeks, but the seed was planted for a future life. But Riva Lofts (rivalofts.com) in Florence was perhaps our greatest inspiration. A beautiful small hotel designed by [Claudio Nardi] a leading Italian architect, it’s housed in a rambling collection of ancient buildings on the banks of the river Arno.′
Drift House at Port Fairy.Credit: Martina Gemmola
The most memorable hotel stay we’ve ever had was a tiny property called Casa Yok (helloyok.com) in Barcelona. Yok is owned and operated by fiercely proud Catalan couple Mari and Petz. Sitting down with Marie for an amazingly delicious, yet superbly humble Catalonian breakfast on the terrace overlooking the city rooftops was an unforgettable experience.
The one thing we expect from a hotel when we stay in one as a guest is that it does what it says on the tin. Another bugbear is the lip service paid by many hotels to sustainability. Little notes in bathrooms asking guests to minimise water and reuse towels just don’t cut it anymore. We want to see evidence of it in practice.
The one thing we try not to do as hotel guests is be indifferent. We know first-hand the passion, time and energy it takes to consistently deliver a great guest experience, so we go out of our way to show our appreciation and take a genuine interest in the property.
The one hotel we’d still love to stay in one day is Santa Clara 1728 (silentliving.pt) in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s a super small hotel housed in an 18th-century building facing an impossibly romantic square right in the heart of the city’s old cultural quarter.
The design-led, six-suite Drift House has raised the bar for boutique stays in Australia with its warm service, attention to detail and, more recently, convivial Spanish diner in the charming fishing town of Port Fairy. See drifthouse.com.au
Ship Inn, Stanley, Tasmania
Kerry and Alastair Houston
Kerry and Alastair Houston, Ship Inn.
We love hotels because we love to spoil ourselves and soak up the atmosphere a great hotel can provide. It doesn’t have to be large; the smaller and quirkier the better. Our favourite hotels are those in reimagined space, be they old mills or warehouses.
The inspiration for our hotel was the Anna Spiro-designed Halcyon House (halcyonhouse.com.au) at Cabarita Beach, NSW, which while it has a very different vibe to us, exemplifies the idea of a renovation of an older style building done in a tasteful and stylish way. While our own hotel is much older, starting life as an 1840s sailor’s tavern, we wanted to capture the authenticity of Stanley, a stunning 1800s fishing village in north-west Tasmania. With the help of stylists Lynda Gardener and Belle Hemming we were able to reimagine the spaces and create a vintage atmosphere with a unique modern style.
The most memorable hotel stay we’ve ever had was our return to the Crieff Hydro Hotel (crieffhydro.com) in Scotland where Kerry worked while backpacking in her early 20s. It was amazing to go back there with my family and experience the hotel as a guest rather than as a staff member living in a small room in the attic.
The one thing we expect from a hotel when we stay in one as a guest is friendly service. I know Airbnbs have their time and place but, for me, nothing beats the friendly service, personal recommendations, facilities and feeling of being looked after that a great hotel can provide.
The one thing we try not to do as hotel guests is start looking at the property with my hotel owner hat on.
The one hotel we’d still love to stay in one day is The Tasman (marriott.com) in Hobart. The staff kindly gave us a tour after they opened so we’re planning a child-free weekend getaway. The added bonus of Mary Mary bar is calling to us too. They do an incredible scotch which has been sitting in a glass flagon lined with Tasmanian beeswax and the flavours are amazing.
Tucked away in the quaint town of Stanley nestled below the imposing bluff known as The Nut overlooking the blustery Bass Strait on Tasmania’s north-west coast, the storied Ship Inn offers a striking balance between old and new. See shipinnstanley.com.au
East Hotel, Canberra, ACT
Dion Bisa, East Hotel ACT.
I love hotels because the good ones transport you to a special place taking you from your everyday life to something that stimulates your senses. From new scents to new tastes, colours and textures. I just love sitting in a great, buzzing lobby with a martini and soaking it all in.
The inspiration for our hotel was apartment-style living. Our family had built, owned, and operated serviced apartments in Canberra for 30 years, and we learned how people use apartments, what they need in an apartment and the types of people who wanted apartment-style accommodation. It was a natural progression to build an apartment-style hotel – the first in Canberra. Being a family business we wanted to create a great hotel that families could feel special in. It’s so important to consider the little people because if they are happy the parents can relax.
East Hotel Canberra.
The most memorable hotel stay I’ve ever had was The Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal, Mexico (waldorfastorialoscabospedregal.com). A lovely friend of mine, Fernando Flores, is the GM there and there’s simply nothing to fault. From the arrival where you are greeted by his team with a margherita, the chilled Evian water spray by the pool, the hand-painted, Clase Azul Reposado Tequila bottle in your room, through to the seafood dinner on their cliffside restaurant. It was an experience I think about often and I hope one day to return.
Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal, Mexico.
The one thing I expect from a hotel when I stay in one as a guest is practical consideration. A hotel cannot just be beautiful, it must work for the traveller. There needs to be space for luggage to be opened, food to be eaten and phones to be easily charged.
The one thing I try not to do as a hotel guest is fail to communicate. It’s so important to give staff a chance to help you. If there’s something wrong, let the hotel staff know and see what they can do. There’s no point writing about a problem on TripAdvisor after you have left when you didn’t notify the team during your stay.
The one hotel I’d still love to stay in one day is not a specific hotel, per se but I would love to stay in a glass igloo in Finland (kakslauttanen.fi) to see the Northern Lights.
Warm, personalised service is part and parcel of the stylish, family run 140-room East Hotel with its Negroni-centric bar, signature Italian restaurant, lobby with fireplace and popular bookshop and eatery in the capital’s fashionable Manuka precinct. See easthotel.com.au
Byng St Hotel, Orange, NSW
Kristen and Thomas Nock
Kristen and Thomas Nock, Byng St Hotel.
We love hotels because we love experiencing other people’s creations and seeing their passion shine through in their product and service. We tend to choose smaller, boutique-style hotels that provide a little quirkiness, particularly as it relates to interior design.
The inspiration for our hotel was Ham Yard Hotel (firmdalehotels.com) in London with its interior design elements influenced by Kit Kemp. We’re grateful we had the opportunity to have the best of both worlds with the Byng Street Hotel in respect to the juxtaposition of the heritage and the modern wing. Being built from scratch, the modern wing gave us the opportunity to have a clean slate and combine elements from hotels we have worked in and stayed in over the years.
Ham Yard Hotel, London.
The most memorable hotel stay we’ve ever had was Hotel d’Inghilterra (collezione.starhotels.com) in Rome close to the Spanish Steps. The location was amazing and provided the opportunity to explore so many iconic Rome landmarks on foot with the sense of being right among history. The hotel itself felt intimate and inviting with old-school luxury and detail second to none. The team members were traditional European hospitality professionals who took their roles very seriously and were proud of the city’s history and the hotel itself.
The one thing we expect from a hotel when we stay in one as guests is to feel welcomed and genuinely cared for with a team that is passionate about providing knowledge in regards to dining, attractions and interesting things to do from a local’s perspective.
The one thing we try not to do as hotel guests is book via a third-party website. This not only takes money from the hotel via commissions it also generally means that money is not staying in the same economy. We always book directly with the hotel as we know how much this is appreciated as a hotelier.
The one hotel we’d still love to stay in one day is The Ritz, Paris (ritzparis.com)
Old interlaced with new makes for a clever juxtaposition at Byng St Hotel. Expect old school country hospitality and a luxurious base for exploring the burgeoning cool climate wine region. See byngstreethotel.com.au
Hotel Vera Ballarat and Hotel Ernest Bendigo, Victoria
David Cook-Doulton and Martin Shew
David Cook-Doulton, Hotel Vera, Ballarat and Hotel Ernest, Bendigo.
We love hotels because for us a great stay should create an emotional connection with the hotel and the location. Modern times have redefined the word luxury. Luxury now inhabits the detail, the story, the one of a kind.
Hotel Vera, Ballarat.
The inspiration for our hotel was the magic of Ballarat and Bendigo. We wanted to tell local stories and for the hotels to be cultural and artistic ambassadors. We wanted to create something world class, yet incredibly local with the hotels named after David’s grandparents Vera and Ernest, meaning truth (in Latin) and sincerity. Their names act as a moral compass in how and why we do things.
The most memorable hotel stay we’ve ever had was Nobis in Copenhagen (www.nobishotel.dk). Its reverence to old and celebration of its new.
The one thing we expect from a hotel when we stay in one as guests is warmth. We’ve had some great experiences in smaller hotels when the owner has been full of smiles and warmth.
The one thing we try not to do as hotel guests is to consciously take off our hotelier hats. Each hotel is unique, and we want the experience to be without measure or expectation.
The one hotel we’d still love to stay in one day is Ett Hem (etthem.se) in Stockholm, Sweden, is on our list. We have loved watching it evolve over the years. It always seems fresh, new and consistently true to the original vision.
Immerse yourself in the Goldfields’ rich history at twin hotels Hotel Vera in Ballarat and Hotel Ernest in Bendigo which play to the strength of the gold rush era towns’ incredible architecture and storied past. See hotelbendigo.com.au; hotelballarat.com.au
Ace Hotel Sydney, NSW
Tim Price, Ace Hotels.
I love hotels because I was brought up in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands and while my passion for hotels didn’t come from there it did teach me that richness is not all about luxury and affluence. A great hotel is not an escape from its local environment; rather it embraces the very essence of its surroundings and celebrates it in an authentic way.
Ace Hotel, Sydney.
The inspiration for our hotel was Surry Hills itself, on the doorstep of Sydney’s CBD and Hyde Park, and without doubt one of the most cosmopolitan and eccentric neighbourhoods in Australia. In selecting the operator for the hotel we scoured the globe looking for one that could genuinely embrace the location and not just be desirable to the tourist, but a place locals could also feel at home. The essence of the Ace Hotels brand could not have been a more perfect fit.
The most memorable hotel stay I’ve ever had was Villa d’Este (villadeste.com) in Lake Como, Italy, with its celebrated grandeur and the breathtaking colours and emotion from the lake is unforgettable.
Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy.
The one thing I expect from a hotel when I stay in one as a guest is personal touches speak volumes such as the welcome, the introduction and the personal conversations. If you’re a return guest, I like to see a focus on making it better than last time.
The one thing I try not to do as a hotel guest is expect to be treated any better than the next guest. A quality hotel will make all guests feel unique and appreciated.
The one hotel I’d still love to stay in one day is The Royal Malewane in South Africa (theroyalportfolio.com) to see the best of the surrounding game parks and the Al Maha (marriott.com) in Dubai which combines luxury with its arid desert surrounds.
The first outpost south of the equator for the hip hotel brand, the Ace Sydney is housed in an historic former warehouse and channels the creative feel and cultural richness of its Surry Hills locale. Price is also behind the forthcoming Hannah St Hotel at Southbank Melbourne with Collections by TFE. See acehotel.com; tfehotels.com
Moss Manor, Moss Vale, NSW
Tony and Louella Grattan-Smith
Moss Manor’s Louella Grattan-Smith.
We love hotels because when you travel to a new place and a new hotel a spark lights your inner life with inspiration. If you allow yourself to listen to these experiences, you arrive home refreshed, full of energy and brave new ideas.
The inspiration for our hotel was interesting spaces and art however the thing you remember most is how a hotel leaves you feeling. Obviously the look and interior of the hotel can be truly inspirational but perhaps even more important is the energy the hotel exudes. Kauri Cliffs (robertsonlodges.com) and Huka Lodge (hukalodge.com) in New Zealand are both inspirational for their divine interiors and beautiful scenery.
Inspirational: Huka Lodge.
The most memorable hotel stay we’ve ever had was at smaller hotels throughout Europe although we loved Satellite Island (satelliteisland.com.au) in Tasmania. There are so many lovely hotels that provide unforgettable vistas and stunning interiors, however few also have what I consider the X factor.
The one thing we expect from a hotel when we stay in one as guests is hospitality not hostility.
The one thing we try not to do as hotel guests is to be disrespectful. Always treat staff with kindness and respect.
The one hotel we’d still love to stay in one day is Ett Hem, Stockholm (etthem.se) [also chosen by David Cook-Doulton and Martin Shew, above].
Best described as a small art hotel, Moss Manor offers a curated collection of contemporary artworks, classic interiors, manicured gardens and attentive service in a restored Georgian style manor in the Southern Highlands village of Moss Vale. See mossmanor.au
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