With the euro zone in crisis and the U.S. economy sluggish at best, luxury breaks in some of the world's best hotels might not be at the top of everyone's priority list, but premium hotels are doing surprisingly well, according to research by American Express Business Insights.
Looking at hotel sector trends in Europe from the 2008 downturn to the first quarter of 2011, Sujata Bhatia, vice president of AMEX Business Insights for Europe and Asia, found that luxury accommodation is rebounding more quickly than premium or mid-range hotels, and visitors from the U.S. and BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China — are driving the growth.
"Luxury spending is back," Bhatia said. "If you talk to people in the industry, they're really starting to feel that there are a lot of people from outside Europe coming in and holding up their recovery."
So where are the best places to stay for a discerning luxury traveler willing to spend eye-popping amounts of money on some of the best hotel rooms in the world? We consulted Christine Gray, editor-in-chief of Luxury Travel Magazine, for her pick of Europe's best, while Travel + Leisure magazine singled out some of the newest European luxury lodgings offering modern alternatives to old-school opulence.
Click ahead to find out.
By Antonya Allen
Posted 21 October 2011
This opulent hotel, located just across the street from the embattled Greek Parliament, offers guests breathtaking views of the Parthenon and the Acropolis — a 20-minute walk away.
Opened in 1874, the Grand Bretagne remains a favorite with American tourists. Notable guests who have stayed over the years include Winston Churchill, Joan Collins, Jacques Chirac, and Jean Paul Gaultier.
The Grand Bretagne offers everything a VIP would expect, from a vast marble lobby stuffed with neo-Baroque furniture to a rooftop pool with views over Mount Lycabettus.
The grandest of the hotel's 321 guest rooms is the 400-square-meter Royal Suite, complete with a 16-person dining room, butler, wine cellar, and private gym.
Standard rooms at the Grand Bretagne will set you back around $360 per night.
Since it opened in November 2009, Barcelona's Mandarin Oriental has established itself as one of the city's foremost luxury destinations. Located on Barcelona's most upmarket shopping street, the Passeig de Gracia, this hotel was once the Circulo Ecuestre, a member's club for the super rich. It was also once a bank.
Indeed, the hotel bar (unimaginatively named the Banker's Bar) has a ceiling constructed entirely of safety deposit boxes in a nod to its previous function. Guests can also enjoy award-winning martinis until the early hours after dining at the Michelin-starred Moments restaurant, which specializes in Catalan cuisine.
This 98-room hotel offers a roof terrace, complete with dipping pool, and double rooms start at $450 per night.
Arguably the most beautiful hotel on this list, the Four Seasons in Florence was once the Palazzo della Gherardesca and many of the hotel’s most striking features date back to the 15th century. A short walk from the Duomo, this hotel is set in immaculate gardens and the walls of the hotel's chapel (now a reading room) were painted by Flemish Mannerist artist Jan van der Straet.
Some of the most exceptional interiors can be found in the $20,000-a-night Royal Suite, which contains an original 18th century ceramic floor by Ignazio Chiaiese and Venetian glass chandeliers.
Arguably, the Four Seasons is as much a museum as a hotel, and the seven-year renovation to restore two former palaces to their Renaissance glory was overseen by the Italian government department responsible for the maintenance of historical art and architecture.
The hotel spa is another highlight, with 10 luxurious treatment rooms and products made by the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, where monks have mixed potions from Tuscan flora and fauna since the 13th century.
Double rooms are available from $460.
Built in 1870, this former residence of the Count of Valenca is set on a hill in the wealthy Lisbon neighborhood of Lapa, overlooking the Portuguese capital.
The palace became a hotel in 1992, and its 109 rooms are divided between the historic palace itself, the Garden Wing, and the Villa Lapa, which opened in 2002 and offers a modern alternative to the ornate décor of the older buildings.
Guests are made up of glamorous Brazilian jetsetters, the obligatory wealthy Americans, and a variety of European diplomats and business types. Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Bono, and Cher have stayed here, adding a smattering of music royalty to the mix.
Large gardens boast a range of water features, including a pond, waterfall, streams, and a heated swimming pool.
Home of the most famous afternoon tea in the world, London's Ritz first opened its doors in 1906 and has remained a benchmark for luxury ever since.
Located at 150 Piccadilly, the Ritz is the most palatial of London's luxury hotels, and its pastel-hued bedrooms are adorned with 24-carat gold leaf and Louis XVI furniture.
The hotel's Swiss founder, Cesar Ritz, intended this landmark to encapsulate the comfort of a French chateau with the grandeur of a palace. The hundreds of tourists who descend on the hotel's Palm Court each day for tea spend a few hours masquerading as modern-day royalty, as they are served jam and scones from silver platters by immaculately dressed waiting staff.
In a city crammed with some of the world's finest hotels, The Ritz is still the most famous. It has managed to stay true to Cesar Ritz's vision more than a century later, under new owners Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay who undertook a huge refurbishment project in 1995 to restore the hotel to its original glory.
Rooms at The Ritz start at $590 per night.
Like many of the hotels on this list, the Westin Palace in Madrid has royal roots. Commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912, this central Madrid hotel was built in classic Belle Epoque style and faces the Paseo del Prado and Neptune Fountain.
The Palace's rival, The (Madrid) Ritz is also across the street and two years older than The Palace. The two vie for the title of Madrid's most luxurious hotel.
A highlight of the Westin Palace is the glass-domed Palace Bar, where guests can sip cocktails under magnificent stained glass. American novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote about the famous bar in his 1926 novel, "The Sun Also Rises."
The Royal Suite is the pinnacle of the Palace's 467 guest rooms, with its mahogany library complete with marble fireplace. The hotel was renovated in 1997 and double rooms start at around $350 a night.
In a city full of luxury hotels, it is difficult to single out one, but the George V has maintained a reputation for excellence since it opened in 1928.
Arguably, the older Plaza Athénée and Paris Ritz can stake a claim as one of the most luxurious hotels in a city that prides itself on premium hospitality, but the George V consistently tops surveys as the best Paris has to offer.
Situated in the 8th Arrondissement, the George V is located between the Seine and the Champs Elysees. As you might expect from a top Parisian hotel, it houses a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Cinq.
Greta Garbo, J.P. Morgan, Marlene Dietrich, and The Beatles all stayed here, and more recently Angelina Jolie has praised the George V for its child-friendly atmosphere.
Many of the rooms have private terraces with stunning views of Europe's most romantic city, and 9,000 flowers from Holland arrive at the hotel weekly.
Double rooms at the George V start at $1,040 per night.
Situated in 15 acres of parkland overlooking the Italian capital, the Cavalieri appears on just about every “best hotel” list going.
In a country known for its magnificent art, the Cavalieri contains enough to give most museums a run for their money. The exceptional La Pergola restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars consistently since 2005.
La Pergola is (somewhat surprisingly) the only three-starred restaurant in Rome and can therefore claim to be the best in the city. The six-course tasting menu will cost you $264, rising to $292 for nine courses, and can be enjoyed al fresco with stunning views of Rome.
The athletically inclined can swim in one of the hotel's three swimming pools, play tennis on one of two floodlit Davis Cup clay courts, or scale a 10-meter (32-foot) climbing wall.
All 345 rooms are at least 50 square meters (164 feet) in size, and there are 26 suites. The four most luxurious suites boast French Louis XVIII furniture, Andy Warhol paintings, and Swarovski Bohemian crystal faucets.
Rooms at the Cavalieri start at $1,000 a night.
The Hotel Cipriani is located on the tip of Giudecca Island, and views of Venice are guaranteed from almost anywhere in the hotel.
The Cipriani overlooks the Venetian lagoon, and the adjoining Palazzo Vendramin offers views of the Piazza San Marco.
The famous Cip's Club restaurant was originally intended to serve guests staying at the two Palazzi of the Cipriani, but a waterside location and informal atmosphere have cemented Cip's status as one of the prime dining destinations for Venetians and visitors to the city.
The best room at the Cipriani is the Palladio Suite, complete with its own private boat dock. The Dogaressa Suite at the Palazzo Vendramin is a grand alternative for guests wishing to stay in a real-life Canaletto painting, with views over the Piazza San Marco, Doge's Palace, and the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Madonna, Al Pacino, and Steven Spielberg have all stayed here, and you can too for a cool $1,290 a night.
The majestic Dolder Grand sits high above the Swiss financial capital, backing onto woods and a nine-hole golf course.
On clear days, guests are treated to sweeping views of the Alps, lake and the city of Zurich. Previously known as the Grand Hotel Dolder, it was built in 1899 as a spa. In 2004, it closed for an extensive renovation overseen by celebrated British architect Norman Foster.
Resembling a fairy tale castle from the outside, the remodeling has transformed the interior into sleek, modernist luxury. The hotel restaurant has two Michelin stars, and guests can skate on the 6,000-square-meter (19,685-square-foot) open air ice rink from October to March, while tennis courts and an outdoor pool are free to use during spring and summer.
The hotel has four “top suites” ranging from the "Rolling Stones inspired" Suite 100 to the classical music influenced Maestro Suite spanning two floors in the tower of the Dolder Grand.
Prices are in keeping with incomes of clientele made up of bankers, their spouses, and the super rich from Asia and the Middle East. Double rooms cost $870 a night, rising to $2,808 a night for a suite.
The latest addition to the Soho House family occupies an imposing late-Bauhaus building in the city's Mitte district.
Rooms at Soho House come in a variety of sizes ranging from “tiny” beamed attic rooms to apartment-sized “extra large” rooms, complete with free-standing bath tubs and vintage gramophones.
Guests staying in one of the club's 40 rooms enjoy membership status while they are there, including use of the rooftop pool and impressive seventh floor bar.
Those familiar with the New York and London private members' clubs will be delighted to find similar fare on the Berlin food menu, which features favorites such as Mac n' Cheese, steak frites, and American breakfast pancakes.
Soho House reflects Berlin prices and non-members can stay for as little as $160 a night.
This new, independent hotel occupying two 19th century buildings in the center of Stockholm doesn't disappoint in the Scandinavian design stakes.
Adorned more with clean lines and muted colors than other opulent establishments on this list, the Nobis manages a homey feel through a clever combination of designer objects and modernist furniture.
In a previous existence, one of the hotel's buildings was a bank, where armed robbers held a number of employees hostage for several days. A bond formed between the Kreditbanken workers and their captors, giving rise to the term “Stockholm Syndrome.” Today, the scene of that particular crime houses the flagship store of über cool Swedish brand Acne.
Alessandro Catenacci, the Italian-born CEO of the Nobis Group, claims to have a "different view of luxury than the traditional definition." Unusually, for a five star hotel, the Nobis shies away from what Catenacci calls "unnecessary excesses.”
The Catennaci family restaurant that started it all, Caina, has relocated to the Nobis and guests can enjoy award-winning cocktails in the glamorous, '70s-inspired Gold Bar.
Double rooms start at $310 a night.
The Hotel Imperial was originally built in 1863 for the Prince of Württemburg who didn't like the end result, so it opened as a hotel a decade later during the reign of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I.
This grand history is matched today by the grandeur of the hotel itself with its silk walls, numerous antiques, and opulent Viennese architecture.
Adolf Hitler worked briefly at the Hotel Imperial in his early years as a struggling artist, only to return as a revered leader in 1938 following Nazi Germany's annexation of his native Austria.
Vienna's famous Imperial Torte originated here and the chocolate truffle dessert is now delivered worldwide to those who cannot make the trip to the Austrian capital.
For those who do, there are 76 guest rooms and 62 suites available, with double rooms costing upwards of $630 per night. Two Royal Suites offer the grandest accommodation at the Imperial, where guests are tended to by a private butler.
Resembling the Taj Mahal from the outside, Copenhagen's hotel Nimb looks less incongruous inside, where interiors mix the simplicity of Nordic design with luxurious antique furniture and fabrics.
The Nimb Hotel is the smallest on this list, with just 14 guest rooms overlooking Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens amusement park.
The Nimb houses the one-Michelin-starred Restaurant Herman, offering the very best Danish and Scandinavian cuisine, including fresh local seafood and specialty cheeses.
Check-in at the Nimb is done over a glass of champagne in your room. Prices vary depending on the opening times of the Tivoli Gardens, starting at $650 per night when the park is open from mid-April to late September, and over the Christmas and Halloween holidays, down to $480 when the gardens are closed.