The past two decades, luxurious five-star (and even six and seven-star) hotels and resorts are popping up like mushrooms in all corners of the world. Although this is great news for discerning travelers (and I count myself among them), not all new expensive and glitzy hotels meet the standards of a truly refined and memorable experience. In my humble opinion, only a few hotel chains succeed at delivering the consistency of unrivalled excellence that luxury-minded globetrotters expect these days. These brands stand out and leave the competition behind with impeccable service, extraordinary locations (whether a beach, city, or remote wilderness spot), world-class wellness facilities, superlative gastronomy, spectacular accommodations, and – last but not least – environmental conscious policies. I hereby present to you the 10 most exclusive hotel brands in the world, the ones I happily return to again and again when traveling around the globe.
10. ST REGIS
St Regis is one of two ultra-luxe hotel brands managed by the Marriott Hotel Group (the other one being Ritz-Carlton). Born of a distinctive legacy and crafted for discerning travelers who desire the finest experiences, the brand established luxury hospitality with the launch of The St. Regis New York property in 1904. From the moment John Jacob Astor IV opened the doors of his Beaux-Arts masterpiece on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, the St. Regis brand has always been associated with uncompromising elegance and bespoke service. Butler service has been a signature feature of the St. Regis experience for more than a century, and St Regis remains the only luxury hospitality brand in the world to offer this personalized service at every one of their hotels. Combining classic sophistication with a modern sensibility, more than 30 St. Regis hotels around the world are committed to delivering exceptional experiences.
9. MANDARIN ORIENTAL
Over the past 50 years, Mandarin Oriental has grown from a well-respected Asian hotel company into a global brand. The group has a rich and proud history which began with the opening of the brand’s flagship property, The Mandarin, in 1963 in Hong Kong. The hotel, which was the tallest building on the island when it opened, soon built up an enviable reputation for service excellence and instantly became a historic landmark – a status it still holds today. In 1974, The Oriental in Bangkok, which was already acknowledged as one of the world’s most legendary hotels was partially acquired by the group, making the company unique in the way that it has two flagship hotels whose names represented the very best in hospitality. Today, the group is firmly established as a truly global luxury player and operates more than 30 hotels worldwide, with each property featuring a distinctive oriental design (reflecting its heritage) and a unique sense of place.
8. PARK HYATT
Park Hyatt is the most luxurious brand of the USA based Hyatt Hotel Group, which now manages more than 10 distinctive brands in its portfolio, each designed to deliver experiences attuned to the lifestyles, attitudes, values, and aspirations of the guests for whom it is designed. Located in major gateway cities and prime leisure travel destinations worldwide, Park Hyatt hotels are a symbol of luxury, offering impeccable service, world-class spas, and state-of-the-art guest rooms, all perfectly tailored to those who expect nothing but the best. Each Park Hyatt property is designed to reflect the unique character of its locale – the chic of Paris, the exotic allure of the Maldives, or the all-American style of Chicago. Park Hyatt hotels are especially known for their acclaimed art programs, sleek and minimalist interior design, and exceptional dining venues under the direction of celebrated chefs.
7. ONE&ONLY RESORTS
The fabulous One&Only brand was created in 2002 exclusively for the luxury resort market by Solomon Kerzner – a South African accountant and business magnate – and now features some of the highest-rated resorts in the most idyllic spots in the world, such as the Maldives, Mexico, and Cape Town. The award-winning collection continues to evolve with the launch of One&Only Nature Resorts, such as One&Only Nyungwe House and One&Only Gorilla’s Nest in Rwanda, building on the success of Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in Australia. Each resort in the One&Only collection not only offers unique design and ambiance which embraces the local surroundings, but also an unparalleled commitment to the finest experience on every possible level. Luxurious accommodation is complemented by impeccable service, exclusive wellness sanctuaries, lively entertainment, and a host of activities, as well as exquisite culinary adventures from some of the world’s most accomplished chefs.
6. FOUR SEASONS
Four Seasons is probably the best-known luxury hotel brand in the world, with more than 100 properties in five continents and dozens of hotel projects in development. The Canadian-based company has, for nearly 50 years, transformed the hospitality industry in a tale of continual innovation, remarkable expansion, and a single-minded dedication to the highest of standards. Four Seasons was founded in 1960 by the young architect Isadore Sharp, but the real breakthrough of the brand came in the seventies with the opening of the Four Seasons London, which set the tone for the future direction of the company and pioneered many of the signature Four Seasons services now delivered worldwide. Although the company went public in 1986, the Sharp family – along with a group of like-minded investors such as Bill Gates and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal – took the company private again in 2007 to protect the integrity of the brand well into the future.
The Rosewood story began in 1979 when a historic mansion in Dallas, Texas, was transformed into an acclaimed, world-class restaurant and hotel – The Mansion on Turtle Creek – whose success was the blueprint for all subsequent Rosewood hotels and resorts. Today, Rosewood manages a distinctive collection of highly individual, luxurious, residential-style hotels across the globe, including world-famous properties such as The Carlyle in New York and Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. Led by a team of seasoned industry veterans Rosewood’s acclaimed attention to detail, proactive approach to environmental sustainability, and dedication to relationship hospitality has earned the group numerous awards and accolades. Each property delivers a one-of-a-kind ambiance and style, in which location, culture, history, and geography are part of the fabric of the hotel, reflecting the company’s “Sense of Place” philosophy.
Belmond – known as Orient Express until its rebranding in 2014 – is a hotel and leisure company that manages an ultraluxe collection of 49 iconic hotels, trains and river cruises in 24 countries, bringing together some of the world’s most sensational journeys and destinations. With Belmond, you can stay in timeless hotels in Venice, Rio, and St. Petersburg, embrace the spirit of adventure at Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat, glide along the rails through the Swiss Alps, soar across the Andes, or explore the mystifying rivers of Myanmar. It all began in 1976 when the company received the keys to the legendary Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice. A year later, they began collecting the carriages for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which launched in 1982 to whisk intrepid travelers to La Serenissima in style. Since then, Belmond has grown to a carefully curated collection of travel adventures, each with a rich story to tell.
3. SIX SENSES
Founded in 1995 by the owners of the Soneva brand (cf below), Six Senses is an award-winning and very unique hotel group, that offers exceptional guest experiences in remote and exquisite locations, whether a virgin territory or adjacent to a UNESCO World Heritage site. The brand is synonymous with a unique eco-chic design – authentic, personal, and sustainable – and all properties are in harmony with their natural or cultural surroundings. Six Senses resorts always adapt seamlessly to host cultures in an environment that evokes wellbeing, supported by outstanding anticipative service and attention to detail. Six Senses experiences are always delivered by a wealth of experts from diverse backgrounds, from visiting spa practitioners and celebrity chefs to stargazers, marine biologists, and even their own paragliding professionals. A key element of all Six Senses properties, the Six Senses Spa concept is a layered approach to wellness that unites a pioneering spirit with treatments that go beyond the ordinary.
Meticulously designed to frame their natural settings, Aman hotels are renowned for breathtaking locations, locally inspired architecture, and ultimate privacy. Each welcomes guests as if to the home of a close friend, instilling a sense of peace and belonging amid some of the most diverse natural and historical landscapes. It is an approach that has changed little since 1988 when the first retreat was built on Phuket’s west coast. It was named Amanpuri, meaning ‘place of peace’, and Aman was born. Today, embracing 31 ultra-luxe hotels in 20 countries, Aman is known as one of the best ultra-luxe hotel brands in the world continues to seek out transformative experiences and awe-inspiring locations around the world. Among Aman’s habitués is a group of passionate repeat customers – self-proclaimed ‘Aman junkies’ (count me in) – who rave about the service and design aesthetic and whose travel plans are determined by Aman locations.
In 1995, Sonu Shivdasani, an Indian-British hotelier, launched the now world-famous Soneva Fushi resort on the deserted Maldivian island of Kunfunadhoo, pioneering a trend for back-to-nature luxury holidays. He also built his house there, together with his wife Eva Malmstrom, a Swedish fashion model, who developed the design and furnishing of the unique resort. They had no idea that their intensely personal vision of a locally crafted villa and environmentally responsible lifestyle would form the basis of a successful collection of world-class hotels, resorts, and spas. But that’s exactly what happened. In 2009, the Soneva Hotel group built a second, even more, spectacular hotel, Soneva Kiri, on the unspoiled Thai island of Koh. And in 2016, Soneva opened the most spectacular hotel in the Maldives, if not the world, Soneva Jani. Founded on shared passions and masters of innovation, Soneva is a thriving community working hand in hand with the environment to craft beautiful, beyond bespoke experiences where discovery is a way of life.