Which were our lodging highlights for the past 12 months–the resorts, inns, and hotels that impressed us the most? As the year comes to a close, we want to highlight our favorite hotels and our most memorable experiences.
At Hotel Scoop, our professional travel writers collectively put up a new resort review each weekday, every week of the year. As our dozen contributors are bopping around the USA, Canada, and the world, we’re bringing you detailed looks and original (un-doctored) photos so you can get an honest look from a well-traveled advisor. While we love how Tripadvisor and the online travel agent reviews help hold managers accountable, we try to bring you perspectives from seasoned travelers who aren’t just taking one or two trips a year.
Here are the best hotels of the year from where our professional travel writers spent the night.
Editor Tim Leffel dispatched reviews from Nepal, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Belize, and Argentina, but he spent more time than usual in the USA, especially Florida. While he enjoyed sleeping above a Czech brewery and strolling downtown Key West from Chelsea House Hotel, he gets especially jazzed about grand historic hotels restored to glory. The 1924 Hotel Syracuse in New York State now combines beautiful interiors in the “they don’t make them like that anymore” class with modern room gadgets and professional management as the Marriott Syracuse Downtown.
Travel writer Diana Rowe offered the scoop on hotels and B&Bs from Ireland to her home state of Colorado this past year. Although Ireland did serve up some amazing hotels and B&Bs (including Harvey’s Point Hotel in Donegal, which made the list last year), her favorite hotel this year is a win for the Colorado Rocky Mountains with a stay at the historic 1893 Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. That’s it pictured at the top of this post.
“Historic, romantic and just downright amazing, there is a lot to love about Hotel Colorado and Glenwood Springs. Start with healing hot springs right across the street and the newer Iron Mountain Hot Springs a short drive away) or just stay and enjoy Old West luxury within this Colorado hotel walls.”
Carolyn B. Heller headed to Switzerland this year, where she fell hard for the elegant Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. For her, this castle-like lodging, built in 1896 in the mountain town of St. Moritz, checked all the boxes: Views of the Swiss Alps. A Michelin-starred restaurant. An expansive indoor-outdoor pool area, with vistas of the mountains. A grand lobby with an elaborately carved wooden ceiling. And an efficient service staff that takes care of everything you might need, in multiple languages.
Ilona Kauremszky, always on the prowl for her next cool travel story had many memorable moments this past year exploring US stomping grounds and Asian bucket-list places. There was New York City’s Sofitel New York, Nevada’s iconic David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort and a bunch of Florida hot spots coming in future columns. Topping the exotic locales, in China she discovered one hotel is themed after the Great Wall of China. But the standalone destination that has left an indelible imprint is India due in large part to one particular hotel chain. The ITC Hotels tops her best hotel chain category because of the emphasis on responsible luxury and the company values in sustainability and supporting the local communities among other CSR efforts. Her favorite sleepover this year is bar none the ITC Mughal, Agra. The hotel faces the Taj Mahal like a mirage in the horizon.
Katie Hammel explored more of her home state of California, discovering hotels like the charming Inn at the Cobbler’s Walk in Mendocino and the conveniently located Up Valley Inn and Hot Springs in Calistoga. International escapades took her to Italy, where she reveled in luxury surrounded by vineyards at Arborina Relais in Italy’s Piedmont region, and soaked in the Scottish culture at her top pick of the Station Hotel, a whisky-themed property with an amazing suite complete with a second-story bathtub.
For Dana Rebmann, it was restored historic properties that stood out in 2018. Overlooking Quito’s Plaza San Francisco (shown above), Casa Gangotena dates back to the early 1900s. The three-story Ecuadorian mansion turned hotel only has 31 guest rooms. It’s complimentary ‘Quito Experiences’ program includes options like chocolate tastings, and sunset climbs up the bell tower at the neighboring Church and Convent of San Francisco. Dana also can’t stop raving about her stay at Ireland’s Ashford Castle. (It was fellow writer, Katie Hammel’s top pick for 2017.) From Afternoon Tea, to whiskey tastings, and falconry ‘Hawk Walks,’ guests are indeed treated like royalty.
When travel writer Nancy D. Brown heads across the pond to Europe, she likes to stay at historic hotels. Her stay at the 5-star Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa fit the bill in Bath, England. The 18th century Georgian architecture is beautifully maintained, while the modern spa and Dower House restaurant are fit for a queen, or anyone who enjoys being pampered while they travel. When she’s in her home state of California, she heads to the Mendocino Coast for a relaxing stay at Inn at Newport Ranch. Both of these luxury hotels have their own spa on property.
Buzzy Gordon visited his eastern Mediterranean neighbor Greece twice this year from his home base in Israel, but his most memorable trip in 2018 was to Central Asia — Kazakhstan to be precise, for the 20th birthday celebrations of the country’s capital, Astana. There he stayed at the elliptical Hilton Astana, a brand-new hotel whose magnificent design reflects the futuristic architecture of the ultra-modern city as a whole. The property’s interior and atrium are no less impressive, while the amenities — in particular the spa complex, with its distinctive salt room that induces healthful relaxation — are superb. Finally, Buzzy ended the year with a favorite from his adopted home country, at the stunning Setai Sea of Galilee. This resort brings a whole new level of luxury and sophistication to the shores of the lake where Jesus walked on the water.
For Susan McKee, the best hotels overseas combine the expected Western amenities (such as complementary WiFi) with evocative dashes of local history and culture. The Wyndham Grand Xi’an South in China’s Shaanxi Province is one of these standouts. Tourists have long been drawn to Xi’an by the prospect of seeing the famed terracotta warriors – the thousands of life-size figures of soldiers, horses, chariots and more assembled alongside the tomb of the first Emperor of China to escort him through the afterlife.
The Wyndham Grand Xi’an South offers a preview of that tour by staging replica warriors throughout the lobby. Then, it goes one step further in the amenity department by offering the Handy Phone. This is a proprietary cell phone provided to each guest that not only includes hotel information AND city information AND tourism information, but also access to all those sites blocked by the Chinese government (including Twitter, Facebook, the New York Times, and everything Google.
Mary Jo Manzanares found rustic luxury close to home at Lakedale Resort in the San Juan Islands. Located about halfway between the towns of Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor, Lakedale Resort has several styles of accommodations, from the luxurious lodge to upcsale yurts. It’s cozy and casual, definitely not roughing it, and was like the very best parts of summer camp without any of the worst parts of it. Plus, there was wine and complimentary WiFi.
Although Jamie Rhein’s travels took her across the U.S. and to the Philippines, her favorite stays were in Ohio. At The Mohicans outside Loudonville, guests become members of the Swiss Family Robinson, the boutique version of Crusoe’s tale. Six unique tree houses, with more being built, provide an overnight stay in the trees. Two of the upscale cabin style treehouses were created by Pete Nelson of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters. Matthew McConaughey and his family even stayed in one. The Lafayette Hotel in Marietta, Ohio was another standout. Appointed with maritime memorabilia, this hotel that had its 100th birthday this year. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, the Lafayette is a perfect place to watch boats, including barges, go by and enjoy the ambiance of a place firmly rooted in American history.
We hoped you enjoyed this rundown of some of our favorite hotels and resorts we experienced over the past year. Where did you stay that was superlative? Drop us a line in the comments!