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It List: The best new hotels 2012

After a day at the beach, you wander back to your villa and, right on cue, a personal chef stops by to grill lobster tails—and do the dishes afterward. That’s the kind of above-and-beyond service to expect at Secret Bay, a stylish newcomer on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

You know the markers of a lousy hotel (poor service, snooze-inducing design, mediocre food), so what makes a hotel one of the best—not just recommendable, but groundbreaking? For our seventh annual It List, T+L editors traveled the globe to test out new and renovated hotels. The results are in, and our favorite 50 hotels showcase the best the hotel industry has to offer this year.

Whatever your definition of a great hotel, you’re sure to find it in T+L’s 2012 It List. — Kathryn O’Shea-Evans

It List: The best new hotels 2012

Mandarin Oriental Paris (Photo: George Apostolidis / Mandarin Oriental)

Design: Mandarin Oriental Paris

If we were to choose one word to describe this 138-room property, which opened in 2011, it would be whimsical. There are butterfly-centric design touches throughout: purple winged clusters line the moody hallways, and the gastronomic restaurant Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, designed by Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku and a T+L Design Award winner this year, feels like an ivory cocoon. Jewel-hued rooms, many with images by photographer Man Ray, start at more than 400 square feet—some of the most expansive in Paris. Though courtyard-view rooms are blissfully quiet, they lack the sense of place of street-facing suites (by far our preferred option), which look onto Rue St.-Honoré. The trump card? The city’s most dialed-in concierge staff awaits in the soaring atrium lobby. mandarinoriental.com. $$$$$

—Sarah B Spagnolo

Hôtel Americano (Photo: Jim Franco / Hotel Americano)

City: Hôtel Americano, New York

Who would stock a Manhattan mini-bar with a harmonica and furnish a bathroom with denim bathrobes? The answer: cult-favorite Grupo Habita, the inventive Mexican company behind Hotel Boca Chica (It List 2010), in Acapulco. The steel-and-glass aesthetic of the 56-room hotel matches the creative vibe of Chelsea’s burgeoning gallery scene. The High Line is a stone’s throw away; contemporary-art dealer Paul Kasmin has a new annex across the street. Americano frequently hosts exhibition opening after-parties, and the tapas restaurant has become the de facto canteen for the city’s art insiders. While the property could use better door service for 10th Avenue taxi pickups, we love that New York’s of-the-moment neighborhood finally has a stylish hotel to call its own. hotel-americano.com. $$


—Shane Mitchell

Hotel Chocolat (Photo: Just Boucan by Hotel Chocolat, Saint Lucia)

Beach: Hotel Chocolat, Soufrière, St. Lucia

Make no mistake: St. Lucia’s sexy new retreat, on a working cacao plantation in the island’s jungly Soufrière area, is one of the most exciting new Caribbean hideaways—for foodies and beachgoers alike. The property and farm are the passion project of a pair of British entrepreneurs who bought the derelict 140-acre estate in an effort to restore the island’s once-thriving chocolate industry. The 14 rustic-chic cottages, with their stone walls, polished granite bathrooms, and open-to-the-sky showers, are especially inviting during the occasional tropical downpour (we curled up with a novel and a glass of Cabernet). The sweetest surprise? Innovative chocolate-infused dishes—cacao gazpacho; yellowfin tuna with chocolate pesto; slow-cooked lamb with chiles and cocoa—all served in an open-sided pavilion with postcard-perfect views of the rain forest and the iconic Petit Piton beyond. thehotelchocolat.com. $$$$

—Richard Alleman

Corinthia Hotel London (Photo: Corinthia Hotel London)

City: Corinthia Hotel London

A staggering $488 million went into the purchase and restoration of this former Ministry of Defense headquarters south of Trafalgar Square. The 294-room hotel is an ode to grand living: it’s filled with extravagant gestures, such as seven two-story penthouse suites (the Royal Penthouse has a walk-in wine cellar and even a private cinema), and megawatt designer David Collins is behind the gilded accents at Bassoon bar and the vast seafood-focused restaurant, Massimo. Newsworthy, sure, but worth the price tag, even in a city flush with Olympic glory and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee? The power-breakfast crowd surely thinks so. Meanwhile, we were impressed by the subtler touches: Northall, the smaller English restaurant, for its all-local, organic ingredients; the über-private sleep “pods” in the four-story spa; even the straightforward in-room light and temperature controls (blessedly no mind-boggling touch-screen wizardry here). $$$$

—T+L Staff

Washington School House (Photo: Michael Spengler)

Rustic: Washington School House, Park City, Utah

Park City’s recent splashy openings—the Waldorf Astoria Park City (It List 2010), St. Regis Deer Valley, and Montage Deer Valley (It List 2011)—have some competition from a tiny off-mountain gem. Complete with creamy white wainscoting, vintage chandeliers, and French and Swedish antiques, the 1889 schoolhouse, renovated to the studs, is more Alpine chic than Rocky Mountain rustic. Staffers offer spot-on recommendations for restaurants and boutiques and instantly coordinate transportation to your mountain of choice (though Park City’s Town Lift is steps away). Add in the 12 unique rooms and suites—some quirkily configured to respect the original architecture—and the heated pool, and Utah’s adventure-and-entertainment capital has a new home base. washingtonschoolhouse.com. $$$$

—Laura M Teusink

Lords South Beach (Photo: Lords South Beach)

Beach: Lords South Beach, Miami Beach

Take an Art Deco building in the center of South Beach, add bright bursts of lemon and cerulean as well as campy details (oversize Cleopatra prints; a lobby sculpture of a giant polar bear holding a beach ball) to the 54 rooms, and you’ve got the first outpost of a new, gay-friendly hotel brand and already one of the city’s most talked-about properties. Sure, the design is exaggerated—the hotel’s gold-tiled Cha Cha Rooster bar channels King Midas—but it’s not all brazenly over-the-top. We found the daytime scene around the three pools subdued, and our 285-square-foot Cabana room was thankfully quiet. Come evening, the hotel’s informative iPhone app came in handy on our quest for Miami’s best martini. lordssouthbeach.com. $

—Joshua Pramis

Hotel Bel-Air (Photo: Hotel Bel-Air)

Renovation: Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles

It took a dream team to pull off the renovation of Los Angeles’s classic canyon estate, mere minutes but a world away from Rodeo Drive. Guest rooms underwent a Hollywood Regency–inspired makeover by Alexandra Champalimaud: where there was formerly wood, chintz, and white tile, now there’s marble, limestone, and oversize botanical prints that reference the leafy grounds; and California cuisine king Wolfgang Puck reigns in the David Rockwell–updated bar and restaurant. The L.A. landmark, part of the Dorchester Collection hotel group, also added an airy new lobby, a La Prairie spa, 12 suites with canyon views, and state-of-the-art technology (iPads; cutting-edge fitness equipment). Classicists shouldn’t fret: the Bel-Air has preserved its signature touches, including the resident swans and burbling fountains on the 12-acre property. Proof that the hotel is attracting the who’s who? Scan the restaurant’s coveted alcove booths, and you just might see Justin Timberlake nibbling on white-truffle risotto. $$$$

—Michael Gross

St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort (Photo: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort & Residences)

Beach: St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Florida

At the northern tip of Miami Beach, the tony enclave of Bal Harbour has long been known for its wide, white-sand beaches, lavish residences, and high-end shopping mall. Yet the area lacked a true luxury hotel. Enter Starwood, which poured $700 million into a three-tower development with a new 243-room St. Regis. Celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is behind the restaurant and poolside grill, and the Yabu Pushelberg–designed interiors include the eye-catching entrance hall—a very chic take on a house of mirrors. In the guest quarters, tiled walls in muted tones put the emphasis on the view (a coup: every room overlooks the ocean). Less impressive is the overly ambitious in-room technology, including a lighting system so confusing that, as one staffer admitted, the hotel has considered penning an instruction booklet. stregis.com. $$$$

—Laura Begley Bloom

Rosewood Hotel Georgia (Photo: Rosewood Hotels & Resorts)

Renovation: Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver

If you think the ornate wall clock, 30-foot chandelier, and fedora-clad doormen hint at the past, you’re right: the Hotel Georgia originally opened in 1927, and was bought and overhauled by the Rosewood Group. Rather than adding rooms to compete with the city’s gleaming high-rises, Rosewood instead retained the same intimate scale that drew both Elvis Presley and the Beatles to this spot when they toured British Columbia. There are just 156 high-tech rooms and suites, and the attentive staff anticipated our needs, often before we thought of them. The chauffeured hotel Bentley was available when we wanted to explore the city; our reading glasses were wiped clean at turndown; and, on our final evening, a U.S. customs form was slipped under our door—making for a seamless trip back across the border. rosewoodhotels.com. $$$

—Sarah A Khan

The Saint (Photo: Carter Rose)

City: The Saint, New Orleans

On a lively edge of the French Quarter, the Saint exhibits a crisp, highly stylized fantasia. Texas-based owner D. Mark Wyant, an American Airlines pilot, and his mother are behind the restoration of the landmark 1909 Audubon Building on Canal Street. Wyant looked to his travels as inspiration for the interiors, where dark-blue hallways open onto 166 rooms with Art Deco touches, such as all-white lacquered furnishings and indigo ceilings. A sign that Wyant’s Southern roots worked their charms? Sweet Olive Restaurant has been embraced by finicky locals. On weekends, the communal table fills with New Orleanians ordering classic Louisiana crab cakes and ice-cold Abita beers. thesainthotelneworleans.com. $$

—Thomas Beller

In pictures: It List: The best new hotels 2012

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