by Robb Report
Hundreds of new hotels open every year. But only a few are the Best of the Best.
This year, new hotels and resorts proved that travel isn’t simply about a nice place to stay. It’s about the journey that takes place beyond the comforts of a well-appointed room. And nobody was more committed to that journey than Wilderness Safaris, the outfitter behind Rwanda’s new Bisate Lodge. More than a beautiful safari lodge, the property has opened up the treasures of this budding African country, serving as a means to not only see its critically endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat but also support its communities through conservation and empowerment programs. We saw similar initiatives around the globe, from a Shanghai hotel that’s protecting a centuries-old forest to a Napa Valley retreat that helped save its neighbors from wildfires. Indeed, it is an exceptional hotel that truly makes a difference—but the special few who do hold a rightful place among Robb Report’s Best of the Best.
#1 - Kokomo Private Island Fiji
What is it about Kokomo? You feel it the minute you step off the resort’s seaplane. The heat of the sun-bleached jetty is warm enough to put a spring in your barefoot step, yet you can’t help but take your time, soaking up the views of the vibrant lagoon—somehow even bluer than the rest of the South Pacific Ocean—and golden sands. Greetings of “Bula!” ring out every time you arrive in the lobby, which, to be fair, is hardly a lobby at all but rather a breezy, beachy living room where you’re as comfortable in a dripping wet suit, fresh catch in hand (a gift for executive chef Anthony Healy to cook up for lunch), as you are dressed for the nightly five-course tasting menu.
Kokomo is the kind of place where plenty of guests never leave their villa. And who can blame them? Those sparkling infinity pools and soaking tubs are enough reason to keep room service on speed dial (especially when the menu includes the freshest sashimi this side of Japan). But an equally persuasive case can be made for experiencing everything Kokomo has to offer: diving at the Great Astrolabe Reef—the fourth-largest barrier reef in the world—and sipping kava with the local chiefs on a neighboring island. Whatever it is about Kokomo, it’s impossible to replicate—and almost as impossible to leave.
#2 - Belmond Andean Explorer
Peru’s vast altiplano is an adventure as much for what it offers (riverbeds filled with hot-pink Chilean flamingos, galloping gauchos, volcanoes spewing smoke) as for what it doesn’t (luxury hotels). The Belmond Andean Explorer has introduced a way to see it all in comfort—without disrupting its undeveloped appeal.
The 24-cabin sleeper train roared down the region’s storied rails for the first time last summer, taking passengers on epic one- and two-night trips from Cuzco to Arequipa and stopping along the way at ancient Incan ruins, Quechua villages, and remote mountaintop markets. As with any great adventure, however, it’s the journey—not the destinations—that makes the experience aboard the Andean Explorer so arresting. One day, the train may halt in the shadows of the Andes for an impromptu ceviche-making class; the next, it might roll apace with a herd of llamas. And on those evenings when nothing more than the limitless altiplano landscapes are left to keep you company, it’s a crisp pisco sour in the observation car that makes the voyage all the more moving.
Belmond Andean Explorer in Peru. Photo: Shaun Fenn
#3 - Hôtel de Crillon
Until last year, Louis XV deserved much of the credit for Hôtel de Crillon. The landmark structure, which the king commissioned in 1755, had been Paris’s most regal address for centuries, a grand showcase of neoclassical extravagance filled with frescoes, friezes, and miles of marble. But last July, a new Crillon emerged as a brighter and more vivacious version of its former self, brought to life by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and a dream team of Paris-based designers, artisans, and craftspeople.
Unlike Paris’s other recently renovated palace hotels, the Crillon has pulled off a true reinvention. Gone are the Louis XV salon chairs and heavy velvet drapes. In their place are custom furnishings with a midcentury-modern flair, vibrant textiles, and, in the Karl Lagerfeld–designed Les Grand Appartements, sleek bathrooms covered wall-to-wall in marble. The legendary fine-dining restaurant Les Ambassadeurs has been transformed into an elegant, gilded bar, and a long-ignored courtyard is now the alfresco spot for lunch in Paris.
Of course, plenty of original details—those decadent gold-and-marble walls included—needed little more than a faithful refresh. The result is a hotel that honors its royal past yet remains firmly rooted in the present. And though the Crillon perhaps feels a little bit less French—and, blessedly, a lot less stuffy—we can’t help but think that even Louis the Beloved would have approved.
#4 - Bisate Lodge
It’s easy to be blinded by the beauty of Bisate. Set in the heart of northern Rwanda’s Musanze Valley at the foot of the majestic Virunga Mountains, the safari lodge is unlike any you’ve ever seen. There are no canvas tents adorned with leather trunks or mosquito-net-covered beds here. Utterly un-camp-like are its six thatched villas, which, burrowed deep into a fern-covered hill, call to mind giant birds’ nests or oversize baskets. Inside is equally distinct; the domes are a strange and wonderful combination of royal and rustic, where glittering green chandeliers composed of thousands of recycled glass shards and giant, black, egg-shaped bathtubs blend with volcanic-stone walls and black-and-white animal hides. Only the sweeping terraces off each villa provide a reality check, with views over Mount Bisoke and, just beyond, the legendary Volcanoes National Park.
Indeed, the real beauty of Bisate is what lies outside its shaggy walls. The lodge has helped to open up the wonders of this long-overlooked African country, where nearly half of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas reside and where Dian Fossey carried out her groundbreaking research on the great apes during the 1960s and ’70s. Thanks to its unique setting and style, Bisate creates the dilemma that every safari camp should: the hunger to experience everything—and the temptation to relax and do nothing at all.
#5 - Fontenay Handburg
First come the cultural attractions, then come the hotels. That’s the standard formula for turning a second-tier city into a world-class destination. And with the debut of the Fontenay—Hamburg’s no-holds-barred design hotel on the edge of Alster Lake—the reinvention of this once-sleepy German city is nearly complete.
Opened on the heels of a slew of state-of-the-art projects that include the mesmerizing Elbphilharmonie concert hall and Zaha Hadid’s rippling River Promenade, the Fontenay, with its amorphous white exterior, is an arresting newcomer to a neighborhood full of Hanseatic mansions and cherry trees. But the facade’s unorthodox ebb and flow isn’t architecture for the sake of architecture—its fluid shift from convex to concave creates innovative living spaces, where bubble-like glass walls eliminate the appearance of a barrier to the outside world, and trapezoidal-shaped rooms promise panoramic vistas from every angle.
Crafting the Fontenay’s interiors—which to the average eye appear effortless and simple—was no easy feat, requiring made-to-measure fur-nishings and lighting to fit each oddly shaped space. In the atrium lobby, a custom-made rug weighing more than a ton was designed by Hong Kong’s House of Tai Ping to fit perfectly in its curved setting. In the guest rooms, designer Christian Meinert rethought even the most mundane details, from the TV stands to the closets. And on the canopied roof—which is home to Germany’s first La Mer spa—the nebulous swimming pool has been ingeniously molded to ensure views of each of Hamburg’s five principal churches—as well as the city’s growing collection of new architectural landmarks.
#6 - Amanyangyun
Shanghai didn’t need another luxury hotel—but it needed Amanyangyun. Opened in January in the quiet suburb of Minhang, the newest property from Aman Resorts has nothing in common with the city’s modern hotels. Rather, tucked away in a forest of centuries-old camphor trees, this tranquil retreat, with its utter lack of ostentation, is a reminder that there’s more to China’s famed financial capital than skyscrapers and urban sprawl.
Those camphor trees? They traveled over 400 miles from the southeast province of Jiangxi before being replanted on Aman’s 25-acre parcel. More than a vanity project, the monumental relocation was an act of preservation that saved the forest—along with 50 Ming-dynasty-era stone houses—from being submerged by a local reservoir. Re-created brick by brick, the village houses have been repurposed as 13 guest villas that feature deep soaking tubs and infinity-edge pools alongside original carved wood walls and antique desks.
As is the Aman way, Amanyangyun delves into the sleek and minimal, too. A collection of 24 suites offers more contemporary interiors, while three restaurants walk the line between old and new, with cuisines that range from traditional Jiangxi to farm-to-table Italian. Perhaps most needed in frenetic Shanghai, however, is the 30,500-square-foot spa, where traditional Chinese medicine and modern wellness work hand in hand.
#7 - Las Alcobas, Napa Valley
Though Las Alcobas Napa Valley’s first opening was a highly anticipated affair, it was the St. Helena hotel’s second opening—just seven months later—that secured its true wine-country status. The 68-room property from Mexican hotelier Samuel Leizorek debuted last spring, claiming what is possibly the last secluded sliver of real estate in one of Napa’s most coveted enclaves—just steps from the revered Beringer Estate and surrounded by some of Napa’s most storied vines. By October, however, Leizorek was forced to shutter his new hotel as one of the most devastating wildfires in California history blazed through the region. But rather than close entirely, Las Alcobas opened its doors to firefighters and evacuees, providing them with meals and a place to sleep. When the property reopened to guests on October 25, it was as a member of the tight-knit local community—and a new favorite for Napa fans.
Welcoming those devotees are sleek interiors by Yabu Pushelberg that enhance the close-enough-to-touch vineyard views. A circa-1905 Georgian-style mansion houses the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, adding a dash of antiquity to Chris Cosentino’s modern California cuisine. And though Las Alcobas’s four acres—which include a 3,500-square-foot spa and a saltwater swimming pool—give visitors enough reason to stay pleasantly put, we love it most for the relaxed, residential, and not-at-all-resort-like style that implores guests to go forth and explore the sights, sounds, and sips that make Napa so worthy of devotion.
#8 - Bürgenstock Resort
The ancient Romans may have invented the concept of a spa, but the Swiss perfected it with their combination of cutting-edge products and clinics and crisp Alpine air. Further solidifying Switzerland’s place at the peak of world wellness is the country’s most anticipated project in years: Bürgenstock Resort. Set on the edge of Lake Lucerne, the historic Bürgenstock—which hosted Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn during its first heyday—relaunched in full last December following a $566 million renovation. The 148-acre mountain retreat is a one-stop wellness hub, home to the Waldhotel—a contemporary, 160-room property with a comprehensive medical center—and the five-star Bürgenstock Hotel, with its 107,000-square-foot Alpine Spa. Visit the latter for pure relaxation—La Prairie facials and Kneipp baths included.
Check into the former for exclusive wellness retreats and targeted programs that range from personal training and medical procedures to anti-aging skin therapies and organic cuisine. Eschewing all of that Swiss innovation, however, is Bürgenstock’s purest form of wellness: miles of private hiking trails, surrounded by unspoiled Alpine forests and an endless supply of fresh air.