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A list of the best hotels I stayed in during 2023

Is there any such thing as a perfect hotel?

I am not sure that there is. All of us look for different things when we stay in hotels. And if you are like me, a comfort factor is an advantage that is hard to explain.


For instance, though I must have stayed in most of London’s great hotels, these days I always book myself into the Taj-run 51 Buckingham Gate. It may not be the best hotel in London but it is where I feel the most comfortable because I like the excellence of the service, the delicious breakfasts and the Tajness that the hotel represents.


   In Mumbai, the ITC Maratha cannot call itself the best in a city that also has the grand, original Taj and the spectacular, elegant Oberoi. But the Maratha is a hotel with such warm and efficient service that I always feel at home.


   Bear this in mind when you read this list of the best hotels I stayed in during 2023. They may not be objectively the best. But they are the ones I will remember. To keep the numbers down, I have eliminated all Indian hotels so this is a list of hotels around the world.


The Four Season, Florence: This one is fairly predictable: the hotel appears regularly on most lists of the world’s best hotels. The primary reason for its fame is that it is stunningly beautiful. It consists of two separate buildings and a huge, art-filled private garden, in the centre of Florence. One of the buildings used to be a medieval monastery. And the other is a centuries-old palazzo that has been lovingly restored and its frescoes retouched.


   I had a historical room in the palazzo building and it may well have been the most stunning bedroom I have ever slept in. The walls were full of beautiful original frescos and the furniture was designed to evoke the Florence of the Medici.


   It is a Four Seasons so naturally it is well-run: service standards are impossibly high, the Concierge knows every corner of the city and the staff are warm and friendly.


Atlantis, The Royal, Dubai: This is the hotel that everybody who could not manage to stay there bitched about. Because it is built to dazzle, it is easy to call it flashy or vulgar. But the truth is that it is luxurious and stunning from the inside with rooms that are state-of-the-art.


   The original Atlantis contains a sophisticated hotel, and gourmet restaurants but also has a water park so you may be annoyed by whooping children. This one is an updated version of the old Atlantis without the theme park element or the excited children and is much more grown-up and sophisticated in its approach. And it has its own gourmet restaurants including a laidback, beach version of Nobu (the original Atlantis has a huge, glam outpost) as well as the Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal which is even better than the London original.


The Edition, Tokyo: Ian Schrager invented hip hotels when he opened Morgans and the Royalton in New York in the 1980s. Now, that idea has been relentlessly plundered, cheapened and corporatized (W Hotels, for instance) but Schrager  finally got his own back when he teamed up with Marriott to launch Edition, a collection of 21st Century updates of the original concept. (He is less involved with the hotels now but Marriott has mastered how to run them.)


"I like that the Taj has respected the New York heritage and character of The Pierre and not tried to over-Indianise it."

   The Edition in Tokyo throws out many of the old Royalton-era concepts. Rooms are large, it is brightly lit, service is friendly rather than trendy and vibe is light rather than dark.


   I loved the Tokyo Edition, was gobsmacked by the influence of its Concierge and was proud to see that it was managed by an Indian: Anshul Kaul, who some of you may remember from his time with Oberoi Hotels.


The Pierre, New York: This is one of the city’s most famous, most iconic and most elegant hotels. But it is hard to run profitably because of the usual New York issue (unions, for instance ) and the fact that many of its residents own their apartments, have their own views on how it should be run and have seen off the Four Seasons, which ran it for a while before throwing in the bath towel.


   Full marks to the Taj therefore for restoring The Pierre to its original glory, sustaining high service levels and finally managing to turn a profit. I like that the Taj has respected the New York heritage and character of The Pierre and not tried to over-Indianise it. And they have restored the elegance the Pierre was always known for.


Le Grand Controle, Versailles: This a tiny hotel (18 rooms) within the Versailles palace complex: it used to house the King’s treasury and is the only hotel to ever be allowed to open on the palace grounds. This means that when the tourists have gone home they will open the palace for private tours — which alone makes staying there worth it. But is also an extraordinary hotel, distinguished by its ability to recreate the era of the Bourbons and the refinement of the rooms.


   It is also fortunate to have Alain Ducasse do the food. Not only does he run the Michelin-starred restaurant but every bit of food at the hotel from the flaky breakfast croissants to the world’s best Croque Monsieur, all emerge from kitchens run by Ducasse’s chefs.


The Oberoi, Marrakech: The first Vilas-style hotel to open outside India but Biki Oberoi apparently refused to call it a Vilas because he wanted it to reflect the heritage of Morocco. Which it does: the architecture is inspired by Marrakech’s most famous buildings and the acres and acres of gardens (the site used to be an olive plantation) are distinctively Moroccan.


   It has Oberoi levels of service but hardly any Indian employees. It is a triumph for the group that it has been able to inculcate the Vilas mind-set in so many staff-members who have never even been to India. Marrakech has many world famous hotels (including La Mamounia and the Royal Mansour) but the Oberoi with its beauty, its huge guest rooms and pool villas and its gorgeous gardens more than holds its own.


The Four Seasons, Koh Samui: If the rumours are correct (and so far there is no official confirmation) then many more of us will soon know all about this hotel: it is apparently where the next season of the White Lotus will be shot. Given that the Four Seasons Taormina, where the second season was filmed, is now booked out months in advance by rich Americans who want a taste of the White Lotus experience, it may be a good idea to go to Koh Samui quickly before the third season is released.


   The hotel is one of the most breath-taking seaside resorts I have ever seen with exquisite villas designed by Bill Bensley and fabulous views of the soaring cliffs and the roaring sea. It is not a place you will forget in a hurry. And for Indians, there is another reason to be proud. Like so many of the world’s best hotels, it is run by one of us: JJ Assi who had two successful stints at the Four Seasons in Mumbai.




  • Col Gautam 29 Dec 2023

    Jasjit Assi, a smart, handsome, hardworking, soft spoken , ever smiling ,honest to the core young boy is embedded in unquestionable integrity as I know him with long association. He has always excelled wherever he was placed. No doubt, this hotel headed by him tops the list. Well done boy! You have brought laurels to you heavenly parents. Good luck to you.

Posted On: 29 Dec 2023 01:00 PM
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