Forbes Traveler top 400 hotels

Jul 17, 2009

The world's most distinguished travel experts pick the finest hotels

"A once-in-a-lifetime experience that sets a new standard for over-the-top luxurious hotels. This is a masterpiece. If you want to see what living like a billionaire is like—just once in your life—stay here."

"In 35 years of hotel design and visiting, this is the best hotel experience I have ever had. Such a wonderful location and such wonderful service—it was a magical experience. I was heartbroken to leave."

"Truly one of the most beautiful spots—and hotels—in the world. What more can I say?"

These are just three of the many comments we collected from the Forbes Traveler 400 board of travel experts who determined the 2008/2009 list of the world's top luxury hotels. You're just dying to know which hotel they're talking about, right? Well...to paraphrase the Bard, there's the rub.

When we first published this groundbreaking list two years ago, we broke rank from the other travel magazines and websites that place great emphasis on mathematically ranking the best hotels in the world. Statistically speaking, the only way to make such a claim is to ask several thousand people for their opinions. The world's best hotels, then, are often ranked by a sea of anonymous web surfers.

Turning to the crowd is good for certain tasks. When you can't remember the capital of Belarus, ask everyone on the bus. Someone will probably remember it's Minsk (a fifth-grader, no doubt). But when picking the right hotel means the difference between an unforgettable trip and an unforgiving spouse, shouldn't you ask people who stay in luxury hotels once or twice a week—not once a year?

Blanket Bay

New Zealand
Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific

The Experience

Hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, skiing, fishing—all are just moments away. Granted, the stone-and-timber lodge, with its 30-foot-high Great Room, looks more like it belongs in the Rocky Mountains than the Southern Alps (as New Zealand's South Island mountains are known), but it's such a beauty that no one's going to quibble about local design. Plus, the surrounding scenery (the location for the Lord of the Rings saga) is so staggering in its jagged-mountain and glassy-lake drama that you're grateful for the tall windows to take it all in.

The Rooms

The term "wide-open spaces" could also apply to the interiors, where the five smallest rooms, the lodge rooms, are 580-square-feet, with balconies for lounging and admiring the view of Lake Wakatipu and the mountains. Decor is plush but simple: natural-fiber rugs and cushy chairs in neutral colors, with the odd basket or wood table for accent. Lodge and Chalet suites go up to 700-square-feet; though that's not a big jump in size, two features make it worth the upgrade: gorgeous stone fireplaces and a sprawling 400-foot terrace to take in the view.

The Service

The staff here are very low-key and friendly, but don't mistake that for laissez-faire; if you need a helicopter the next morning for sightseeing or heli-fishing, or in a different season, a private guide for skiing or heli-skiing, they can arrange it.

The Highlights

The food is prepared by an all-star line-up of award-winning local chefs, and fits in with the general mise-en-scène: sophisticated but casual, refined without calling too much attention to itself. Perfectly grilled fish or venison in a red wine sauce might turn up on the menu served at individual tables (unlike the communal dining experience common at many New Zealand lodges) in the lakeview dining room. There's also a small spa for after-activity massages and a pool, both with large windows or open to the air for outdoor views. There's a terrace overlooking the lake for cocktails or, if the weather turns chilly, an indoor lounge with a great roaring fireplace, a perfect place to wind down after a rugged day.

Visit http://www.forbestraveler.com/forbes400/ to see The Top 400 List and meet the panel of judges.