It's that time of year again where we list the best of the best 2016 winners for a variety of categories including best hotel, best culinary experience, best spa, best innovative experience, best family program and so much more! Below is Virtuoso’s 10th Annual Best of the Best 2016 Award Winners.
Hotel of the Year: Borgo Egnazia, Puglia, Italy
“The design of this 183-room resort perfectly blends Puglian style with a clean modern feel,” says New York City-based travel advisor Judy Stein. Picture a traditional village (a borgo) surrounded by olive groves, then add a championship golf course, Adriatic beach clubs, a spa that incorporates local herbs and olive oils into treatments, six restaurants (one just for kids), and enrichment programs from fishing and photography to bartending and wine appreciation. “If you let the staff know you love ricci di mare, don’t be surprised if a local fisherman pulls up to the beach club in his boat with the most perfect and delicious sea urchin,” Stein says. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and one dinner for two.
Best Achievement in Design: Faena Hotel Miami Beach
Argentine developer Alan Faena enlisted film director Baz Luhrmann and costume designer Catherine Martin to mastermind the renovation of Miami’s 1947 Saxony hotel. “Their passion created a wonderful blend of fan- tasy and glamour,” says Wendy Davis of Toronto, who sat on the hotel’s preopening advisory board. Floor-to-ceiling murals by Juan Gatti greet guests as they enter through the lobby “Cathedral,” while a 24-karat gold-plated woolly mammoth sculpture by Damien Hirst guards the garden. The cinematic experience continues throughout the property and its 169 guest rooms, with bold red and teal accents, animal prints, and furnishings stealing attention from the balconies’ ocean views. “Wherever you look, there’s a new detail to love,” Davis says – right down to the pillowcases embroidered with Alan Faena’s fedora- and-feather logo. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit.
Best Culinary Experience: The Farmhouse Restaurant, Farmhouse Inn, Forestville, California
While this family-owned, 25-room Russian River Valley inn has innumerable charms – cottages with vaulted ceilings and wood-burning fireplaces, a carriage-house spa, winemaking owners – it’s the Michelin-starred restaurant, housed in a restored 1873 farmhouse, that lures guests and local residents back time and again. “Chef Steve Litke strives to create dishes that bring us back to places in our past,” says travel advisor Ken Neibaur of Palo Alto. (Given a recent lineup of Hog Island oysters, spring pea ravioli, and tamarind-kissed Snake River Farms short ribs, Litke has led an enviable life.) Dinner is the main attraction, but Neibaur also recommends breakfast’s sweet cream biscuits with Meyer lemon curd or French toast with mascarpone and poached pears, which he deems “a real culinary awakening.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.
Best Spa: T Spa, Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como
“Relaxing at the spa’s infinity pool overlooking Lake Como is pure enchantment,” says travel advisor Karen Howland of Glencoe, Illinois. The 90-room hotel’s recently redesigned eighteenth-century wellness villa welcomes guests with Espa treatments and, among other flourishes, a white marble Hammam Suite with a steam room, couples’ bathtub, scrub plinth, and rain shower with a nebulized waterfall. Howland’s recommended way to cap off a day of exploring nearby gardens and lakeside villages: the Grand Garden Ritual, a nearly two-hour aromatherapy session that includes an exfoliation, massage, and facial created exclusively for T Spa. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily, a 25-minute spa treatment, a winetasting once during stay, and complimentary entrance to Villa Carlotta and its gardens.
Most Innovative Guest Experience: Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, Brazil
As the sole resort situated within Brazil’s Iguaçu National Park, Belmond offers guests a true “only here” opportunity. “The hotel is impressive, but the top reason to stay there is for exclusive access to the falls before and after the park opens and closes,” says NYC-based advisor Alexandra Korey. The resort also has a resident biologist who leads guided walking tours of the rain forest and falls, which are visible from many of the 193 guest rooms. “I loved when our walk reached Devil’s Throat,” Korey says. “When you arrive at this tallest, most magnificent part of the falls, it hits all five senses with unbelievable power.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and one-way private airport transfers.
Best Family Program: Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Children at the 74-room hotel’s kids’ club can participate in daily hands-on activities inspired by Mexican arts-and-crafts traditions, such as making piñatas, papier-mâché masks, and ceramics. “It’s a great way to introduce them to the city’s culture before they go out and explore it in person,” says travel advisor Robert Merlin of Saint Louis. Staff members also teach kids about artwork featured throughout the hotel and will help plan families’ days to highlight area art. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.
Sustainable Tourism Leadership: &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa
“As leaders in the Rhinos With- out Borders project, &Beyond Phinda stands at the forefront of a major effort to prevent the species’ extinction in the wild,” says Costas Christ, Virtuoso’s director of sustainability. The four-lodge, 61-room property worked to transform degraded farmland into a wildlife habitat, set up a “wilderness safety zone” that’s now home to South Africa’s fourth-largest cheetah population, and fostered numerous local partnerships for community projects, including a health clinic that serves 10,000 villagers, a community recycling center, and an education fund. Phinda’s sustainability focus and eco-friendly practices touch areas others often overlook: “Not only was Forest Lodge built by hand,” Christ says, “but workers also carried construction materials to the site by hand to avoid vehicles and equipment disturbing the rare and unique sandforest habitat.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily, a private dinner for two, and a travel journal and shoulder bag.
One to Watch: Hotel Eden, Rome
Ideally located in the Old City, just a short walk from the Spanish Steps, the historic 121-room property closed for renovations in 2015 and is scheduled to reopen in early 2017. One highlight destined to remain unchanged: impeccable service. “There really are no set rules for what the Hotel Eden team will do for guests,” says travel advisor Julie Anne Juba of Wyckoff, New Jersey. To illustrate her point, Juba recalls a client who dreamed of meeting the Pope: “The hotel made it happen during the Holy Father’s private mass, when the guest was allowed to walk up to him and kiss his hand.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.
Hotelier of the Year: José Silva, Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris
In 2014, José Silva left his post at Four Seasons on Lake Geneva to help reinvent one of the world’s most prestigious addresses, Four Seasons Hotel George V. “José is one of the industry’s most innovative, proactive GMs,” says Manhattan-based advisor Dan Beschloss, who has known the Portuguese native since his days in charge of Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon more than a decade ago. Two years on, Silva’s mark on the 244-room George V has been unmistakable. Service has “softened up” – it’s less stuffy, but eminently friendly and welcoming. He introduced guest experiences such as flower- arranging classes and concierge-led jogging around Paris monuments. On the guest-room front, Silva paired two previously unused terraces with suites and has overseen two new Pierre-Yves Rochon-designed Presidential Suites that rival any in the city.
“For me, José’s highlight so far has been opening Le George,” Beschloss says. The restaurant bucked Parisian hotel tradition by serving healthy Mediterranean-inspired dishes in a more casual setting than the property’s three-Michelin-starred Le Cinq. “I really appreciate being able to dine in a top luxury hotel without having to dress in my Savile Row best.” Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily.
By Celeste Moure