Travel stopped when a pandemic hit last year. Planes, trains and cruise ships were emptied. Crowds have left tourist attractions such as the Venetian canals, the Louvre and the Empire State Building. Most of the world huddled at home, waiting for conditions to improve.
The global introduction of the Covid-19 vaccine provides some hope for 2021, allowing insane, low-lying travelers to begin planning their next escape. To help inspire the following adventures, Forbes Travel Guide is awarding the 2021 Star Awards for the world’s best luxury hotels, restaurants and spas.
The 63rd annual list includes 283 five-star hotels, 576 four-star hotels and 438 recommended hotels; 73 five-star restaurants, 136 four-star restaurants and 77 recommended restaurants; and 90 world five-star spas and 200 four-star spas. (Winners were surveyed both before the pandemic and after regional restrictions allowed FTG visitors to view incognito.)
To assess the property, Forbes tour guide inspectors stay at each hotel for three days and two nights, posing as regular guests and paying in their own way. They test up to 900 objective, strict standards, from modern luxury – such as whether the room is set up to improve sleep and food and drink choices health-conscious – to more traditional luxury, such as quality interior decor and staff uniform design.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, service remains paramount. It is more important than ever that real estate shows the greatest respect for the well-being of its guests: 75% of hotel ratings are based on its service and genuine care and staff care, while 25% determines the quality of its facilities.
When you’re ready to travel again – whether it’s a long-distance getaway or a covert stay – check into one of the best hotels in the world. Check out the full list of starred properties here and learn more about the latest collection additions below.
Tokyo climbs to the top
Prior to the expansion of Covid-19, Tokyo was preparing to host the 2020 Olympics, building stadiums, increasing its infrastructure and improving its hotels. Although the Games were eventually postponed, the metropolis ’luxury hotels still took the gold – Tokyo got more new five-star hotels than any other city on our list.
Four new arrivals from 2021 are The Capitol Hotel Tokyo, an estate with authentic Japanese decor that celebrated its 10th anniversary last year; Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, a luxury collection hotel, a contemporary haven where all rooms overlook the city; The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, floating on top of a 53-story skyscraper buzzing in Roppongi; and Takanawa Hanakohro, an intimate 16-room suite ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) surrounded by a 230-hectare Japanese garden with 230 cherry trees and 16 species of flowers.
North America celebrates inaugural victories
Five North American cities welcomed their first five-star hotels, including the Emerald City. The Four Seasons Seattle Hotel picked up its first major honor in the Washington capital; located across from the Seattle Museum of Art, a favorite city center overlooking the Olympic Mountains, Seattle’s Big Wheel and Puget Sound (drink views from the terrace by the heated infinity pool and fireplace). Four-star spa treatments include Pacific Northwest ingredients such as spruce, cedar and ground coffee beans – although guests can order a cup of steamed joe through the hotel’s coffee reception.
The Post Oak Hotel in Uptown Houston brings a dose of five-star luxury to Texas. It houses the only five-star spa in the country, along with a multimillion-dollar art collection featuring works by Frank Stella, Robert Motherwell and others – not to mention a private helicopter base. The garden-inspired restaurant Bloom & Bee makes a wonderful Instagram photo with its ceiling of blown glass flowers and bright pink seating.
At Hilton Head, South Carolina, the Montage Palmetto Bluff was created for the sluggish lower age when all you want to do is sit in the shade of your cottage’s shaded porch. But there’s a lot out there that entices visitors. The waterfront location provides plenty of water activities, plus there is a nature reserve and a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course.
The Four Seasons Philadelphia Hotel in the city of Comcast Center and its crystal-filled spa, debuted in 2019 in a 60-storey tower, in the city of brotherly love. They both offer heavenly views, whether you are clinking glasses at the top-level bar run by Jean-Georges Vongerichten or swimming in the indoor pool on the 57th floor. Moreover, each guest room offers floor-to-ceiling city views.
Double star honors with five stars were also earned by the Four Seasons Montreal Hotel and its soothing spa. The modern hotel has an elegant black glass façade and debuted at Montreal’s Golden Square Mile in 2019. It houses the first Canadian outpost of the famous chef Marcus Samuelsson, Marcus Restaurant + Terrace.
Bali sees the stars
Two new entries join Bali’s five stars. St. Louis Resort Regis Bali includes spectacular apartments and villas that stand out as enchanting oases with private pools, gazebos and Balinese decorative areas. Other great amenities include a nearly 40,000-square-foot saltwater lagoon, a butterfly spa on Lake Koi, and butler services for all guests.
Mulia – Nusa Dua, Bali, boasts the island’s longest and most amazing endless pool, lined with 20-foot-tall statues of women holding sheaves of rice – a symbol of prosperity. The resort with all apartments also offers a four-star spa with 20 rooms with special treatments and some of the best island dining spots.
Scotland hits a turning point
Scotland got its first five-star hotel with The Balmoral Hotel, the Rocco Forte Hotel in Edinburgh.
In a magnificent 1902 castle-like building, visitors are immersed in a basic Scottish experience, with a doorway, a Gallic poet, a bar with more than 500 malt whiskeys and the number one restaurant to visit, serving modern Scottish kitchen.
Los Cabos cements its luxury status
A popular luxury destination for sunbathing and sand in Mexico, its five-star series adds sister properties Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection and Esperanza, Auberge Resorts Collection. However, these siblings have differences. Chileno Bay boasts a more modern and steamy feel, and is home to one of the few bathing beaches in the city of Cabo. His Baja-influenced spa also received a new five-star rating.
Meanwhile, the older Esperanza is the only private beach resort in Los Cabos. Its cliff setting provides a dramatic backdrop, especially when eating at Cocina del Mar, a multi-storey seafood restaurant located on a rocky promontory. Not to be outdone by her little sister, Esperanza has a swimming pool at the top of the palace, which is a repeated five-star winner.
Other significant winners
While the Turkish landmark Palaceırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul celebrates its 30th anniversary under the Kempinski flag, it also marks entry into the five-star echelon. But its history goes even deeper – the former sultan’s palace dates from the 17th century. Today on a large estate with 310 rooms you can live like a king. And don’t miss the spacious infinity pool that gives the illusion of swimming on the Bosphorus. The hotel on the coast in the UAE capital also won the main prize. St. Louis Island Resort The Regis Saadiyat, the Mediterranean architecture of Abu Dhabi, blends in with the pristine sand of six miles. And next to the beach there is Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, a kids ’club and six restaurants.
Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing and its modern spa have garnered the coveted recognition. The 73-room boutique hotel features some of Beijing’s largest accommodations – though you won’t want to miss the spacious rooftop terrace with stunning views of the Forbidden City.
St. Louis State Park Regis San Francisco – a recently renovated destination for art lovers – has climbed to Five Stars. The property is just home to the Museum of the African Diaspora and is located next to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, but also contains its own collection of works by local artists. The desk of each room shows the California landscape of the famous photographer Ansel Adams under smoky glass.
And Utah’s Montage Deer Valley is a five-star retreat for outdoor sports enthusiasts. During the snow season, the mountain retreat attracts them with a ski-in / ski-out approach and a cozy, rustic Après Lounge serving Veuve Clicquot and caviar. When warmer weather arrives, activities shift to mountain biking, fly fishing and hiking.