The 23 Best Hotel Experiences We Had This Year

best hotel Park City

Heated pool at Washington School House in Park City

Here at Hotel Scoop we reviewed around 250 resorts, hotels, B&Bs, and other lodging in 2013. That’s a lot of nights in a lot of random beds. We tend to ignore the clunkers rather than feature them, so highlighting the best ones in all of that is not an easy task.

These are the places we wish we could return to right now, the hotels that really provided a special vacation or holiday weekend experience.

Estremoz castle hotelEditor Tim Leffel hasn’t stopped raving about the converted Washington School House Hotel in Park City, Utah since using it as a January base for skiing around the area. “The personalized service was some of the best I’ve experienced anywhere in the world—super-helpful without being clingy—and I loved all the attention to every detail, including an actual book one night at turndown!”

He stayed in a lot of interesting hotels while biking through Portugal, but the historic Pousadas of Portugal one that topped them all was Rainha Santa Isabel in Estremoz, a real castle anchoring a castle town on a high hill. “It was like going into a movie and sleeping in the kind of place you thought only appeared in historic films.” The best room of the year though was the apartment-sized one with an  outdoor shower at all-inclusive Blue Diamond Resort in the Riviera Maya.

Migis Lodge in Maine

Jodi Grundig and her family loved their stay at the Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake, Maine this past summer. “From the delicious all-inclusive meals to the fun kids’ club, I was completely relaxed at this luxurious yet rustic resort.”

Ojai pool

Ojai Valley Inn

Travel writer Nancy D. Brown specializes in equestrian travel, so it is no surprise that her top resorts include horses. “I have fallen in love with Montana,” says Brown. “For an upscale family-friendly vacation or a romantic getaway, my pick is the Ranch at Rock Creek. My second selection is Ojai Valley Inn and Spa in Southern California. You’ll need to head to the outskirts of town for horseback riding. Then come back to the resort for a relaxing massage and a soak in the hot tub.”

Kristin Winet can’t stop dreaming about the Berjaya Langkawi resort on Langkawi island in northeast Malaysia and the Centara Grand in Bangkok, Thailand. Perhaps it’s because she’s downright falling in love with Asia (who could blame her?), but perhaps it’s also because both resorts had such fundamentally different impressions on her: “Sleeping in a 5-star treehouse on the white sand beaches in Langkawi was one of the most peaceful experiences I had in Malaysia….and spending the night dining and dancing on Centara’s swanky rooftop bar with a 360-degree view of beautiful Bangkok was one of the most unforgettable moments I had in Thailand.” Plus, for American travelers, the prices for both are exceptional: $150 USD for a rainforest chalet at Berjaya and $75 USD for an early booking at Centara Grand.

Berjaya Langkawi bungalows

Carolyn B. Heller says she tried to escape to islands whenever she could this year. She visited six in French Polynesia alone, where one of her favorite lodgings was the Hotel Maitai Lapita Village on the island of Huahine. “I loved how the Lapita Village felt deluxe and stylish, while retaining a strong connection to the local community. There’s a restored marae (ancient temple) right on the property, and staff encourage you to go off exploring.” She says she also has to give a special shoutout to the Inn at Mama’s Fish House on the Hawaiian island of Maui. “Not only did I enjoy the relaxed vibe, with cottages that felt as if a thoughtful friend had outfitted them for our holiday, but the staff found out that my husband and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and made our stay, and our celebratory dinner, extra special.”

Huahine Island

Maitai Lapita, French Polynesia

Diana Rowe says this was a year of many awesome experiences and great hotels. “I have to say one of my faves was the InterContinental Wellington because of its great location in Absolutely Positively Wellington and the staff was super accommodating!” Yet she says, “there’s no place like home” and her shout out to Downtown Denver Hotels Hit a Home Run has overviews where to stay in her Colorado backyard and what makes these Denver hotels stand out.

Buzzy Gordon says, “I had so many good experiences in Peru it’s hard to choose. But a unique one was certainly Second Home Peru.”

Lodge at Sonoma

Lodge at Sonoma

Katie Hammel is still dreaming of the clear blue water and soft white sand at the beach at Napili Kai on Maui. “It was everything I wanted from a romantic stay in Hawaii: impeccable service, gorgeous grounds that felt so private , and the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen just steps away from my door.” Closer to home, in California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys, she was equally impressed with the luxurious Hotel Yountville in Napa and Sonoma’s Lodge at Sonoma just off the town’s main square.

Bilboa art hotel

Staircase at the Silken Gran Hotel Domine in Spain

Donna Tabbert Long says she has spent nights at some impressive lodgings this past year–including the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, KY. But one of the most memorable accommodations she stayed at in Europe  was Casa cu Zorele in the tiny Transylvanian village of Crit in Romania. “Actually, the whole region was a beautiful surprise. But truffle hunting was definitely a highlight at this outstanding guesthouse. The owners really put their heart and soul into all the aspects of their little inn; I wish I could have stayed longer.”

On a trip through the Basque Country of Spain in 2013, she adds, the Silken Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao was another unforgettable hotel stay. “Its location –and waking up to a view of the stunning Bilbao Guggenheim museum across the street–was probably my favorite part–but I also loved the original artwork, all the hotel’s architectural details, and the food was fantastic too.”

Glacier Park LodgeOne of Jamie Rhein’s and her family’s favorite places to visit is Glacier National Park in Montana. Glacier Park Lodge turned 100 this year making this summer’s visit extra memorable. If you happen to be in South Dakota, Rhein found out that swinging by De Smet, South Dakota is worth the effort. De Smet is where Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of  the Little House on the Prairie series lived. If you go, De Smet Super Deluxe Inn & Suites offers an affordable, hospitable stay.

Twin Farms Vermont

Twin Farms, former home of Sinclair Lewis

Mike Dunphy loves hotels that don’t just create accommodation, but another world. The first great out-of body experience this year was at 4reasons Hotel in Yalikavak, Turkey. Situated on a citris-surrounded hilltop overlooking the Aegean Sea, ambiance almost overwhelms it. “I loved the boutique style design, which found the perfect balance between traditional and modern sensibilities.” Number two was at Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont. The former country home of Nobel Prize winning author Sinclair Lewis now thrives as an all-inclusive resort for the very well-to-do. “Dimension is probably a better word,” where ski slopes are private, artwork worth millions, and buckets of champagne left at the door.

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  1. Jamie Rhein