My Best Hotel Stays of 2015

In 2015 I stayed at 80 hotels. But only the ten properties stood out. Nobody paid me to write about these hotels. I did not factor in budget, style or geographic variety to create the list. These are my straight-up favorite hotels (and one rental) of 2015 that offered a truly excellent stay. The properties range from $120 per night to $667 per night. Below them are 17 honorable mentions which were also great stays. And below that is the entire list of 80 hotels I stayed at arranged in chronological order of when I stayed at them.


My Ten Best

1.Hiiragiya, Kyoto, Japan

This is best property I’ve stayed at, ever. Kyoto’s 28-room, sixth generation family owned ryokan dates back to 1818 and is everything a hotel should be and so very much more. The attention to detail is painfully correct. The sublimely perfect breakfast and elaborate kaiseki dinner are served on handcrafted Kiyomizu ceramics and elegant lacquerware. It’s served to you in your tatami mat floored room by fluent English speaking staff member, a rarity in Japan. No two rooms here are alike. Features include folding screens made of painted gold leaf or handmade paper, lacquered bathrooms, reed ceilings, antique writing boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl, hand-carved transoms, papered shoji windows and sliding fusuma doors. The courtyard adjacent to my room had a private garden where I watched warblers gently eating berries form a shrub. But what really struck me during my two-night stay in April was the ryokan’s ability to relax a fussy, ADD traveler like me. After one-hour in my room, I was instantly subdued. Hiirigiya is right in the middle of the city, but I felt miles away from it. That’s an art form not easily pulled off but I wish more properties would follow suit. Rooms from $275

2. Hoanib Camp, Wilderness Safari, Namibia

Wilderness Safaris is not just the leader of conservation-based safaris in Africa, but one of the most environmentally friendly hospitality companies in the world. Perhaps, the most. Their portfolio of stylish camps range from basic to luxurious but all have a bona fide emphasis on conservation, like their Desert Rhino Camp which is run in close partnership with the Save The Rhino Trust. In 2014, they opened the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp which I’d also argue is Africa’s best tented luxury camp. It’s located near the Skeleton Coast in the Namib Desert and shares a facility with dedicated researchers studying desert-adapted elephant and lion. This is research guests are encouraged to partake in, bringing citizen science to a whole new level. During my four nights stay in September I saw both lions and elephants, and also shaggy brown hyenas, cheetah, giraffe, and a staggering variety of plant life like quiver trees, elephant trunks succulents, and Namib Hoodia flowers and birdlife like colorful bee eaters and lilac breasted rollers. But it’s Hoanib’s three dimensional guides—the best in Africa—which push this camp over the top and help guests understand the full picture of African conservation. I learned more about wildlife than I did on the six previous safaris combined. Wilderness is a model both for safari camps and other hospitality brands, and I hope other hospitality brands follow suit. Rooms from $430

3. Alila, Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Traditionally, the rugged neighbor of the United Arab Emirates has been a place to go to escape luxury, not discover it. But the Sultanate has recently experienced a sandstorm of upgrades especially in the cool, windswept Jebal Akhdar (Green Mountain) region—long inaccessible due to a lack of roads. Here, the new cliff-perched, LEED-certified Alila sits atop Oman’s remote and rusty 2,000-meter high Saiq plateau, where the wind seems to speak poetry and the mountains record it in their cavernous valleys and lofty peaks. Guests are taken on half-day hikes to those same peaks and valleys to find wadis, bright cactus flowers, Egyptian vultures, and Arabian mountain gazelles. The resort itself is built in ophiolite rock and uses traditional Omani Design like pendulous copper incense lanterns and fort-like doorways, handmade pottery from Bahla, and aflaj water irrigation system. It terrace restaurant, Juniper serves up crunch Fatoush Salads, smoky moutabel and vegetable tajine and takes advantage of the hotel’s proximity to Oman’s Fruit Bowl where local dates, pomegranates, peaches and other fruits are grown. The spa emphasizes local ingredients too like juniper berry, frankincense and smoked damask rose water from the nearby ancient capital of Nizwa. But during my four-night stay in spring 2016, my favorite spot turned out to be the resort’s infinity pool edged up against a cliff and offering views of the remote Hajar Mountain valley below. Watch out Aman. Alila is a brand to watch! Rooms from $400

4. Villa Lo Scoglio, Fontane Bianche, Sicily, Italy

This is the only rental property on the list and it was such I had such an incredible 5-night stay in it in June, that I just had to include it. Wish Sicily, an agency specializing in Sicilian villa rentals, has the exclusive on this 1960s villa designed by its former live-in architect. It’s perched atop a promontory surrounded by sparkling turquoise seas and boasts (yes, I said boasts!) seven different verandas to watch it from, one for each day of the week. From it is a private bougainvillea and succulent lined path to the heaving turquoise Med, where you can plunge a tranquil underwater world of colorful fish and urchins (Scoglio) the namesake of the villa and harvested by local divers. The villa’s interior is a midcentury time capsule— Bright poppy Caltagirone ceramics, candy-striped sofas, and a spacious tiled kitchen lent it a certain Liz and Dick era panache. Local highlights nearby included Syracuse, the Vendicari Nature Reserve, the fascinating caves and rock formations at Cava d’Ispica and the baroque Noto, but we found ourselves wanting to go back to the villa early every day because it was so lovely and its own bit of authentic Sicily. Rooms from $150

5. Beach Village Nosoko, Ishigaki, Japan

We stayed on Ishigaki, the southernmost island in Japan’s Okinawa archipelago, for a blustery week in March 2015 and loved the tiny 4-room motel more and more every day. Set back from the ocean, but connected to it via a short path meant we could go on evening or early morning beach walks but more importantly that we could see, hear, and smell, taste and feel the ocean from our deck and stargaze and moon watch at night. The inside was basic, with a kitchenette, and washing machine, and TV. But what made the hotel stay a winner were the kind, intuitive owners, a couple from Tokyo who relocated to Ishigaki. They repeatedly went out of their way to help us enjoy our stay and offered local tips of where to eat and visit, and more importantly, they looked out for us. When it started to rain, the owner removed our clothes from the line so they wouldn’t get wet, they let us know when other guests were checking in, and they gave us a few gift bags of local brown sugar when we left. For an extra $5, guests can use their handy bbq service, which is a pre-stuffed grill with coal, ignited ahead of time and then removed when you’re done with it. Japan is full of cheap luxuries like this, but this was one of our favorites and it made our stay and an otherwise budget motel feel like a luxurious splurge. Rooms from $120

6. Palace Hotel Tokyo, Japan

This iconic hotel opened in 2014 after a multimillion dollar, three-year restoration. Located in Tokyo’s busy Marunouchi district, the 290-room structure has cocoon-like balconies that allow you to lord over the moats of the Imperial Palace and the perfectly symmetrical Mt Fuji in your bathrobe and slippers. Like the other PHT in this city of 28 million, (Park Hyatt Tokyo) this grand Tokyo hotel that rises 20 some odd stories into the sky has a design culture all its own: avocado carpets, pink spring pastels, and a delicate refined touch to every single things inside. During my three nights stay in February, the breakfast—blueberry vinoisseries, salmon Benedict, and truffled eggs—was not only a highlight and one of the best in Tokyo, but a power breakfast scene unlike anything I’ve seen. Dressing up for breakfast is imperative. Rooms from $400

7. Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan

I’ve stayed at this legendary hotel housed on the upper floors of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Kenzo Tange’s Shinjuku Park Tower three differnt times now, and never tire of it. The exterior may look stark, but a whoosh up the elevators bring you to a rarefied world unlike anywhere I’ve been. The room’s lush turquoise interiors and deep baths designed lovingly by John Morford are still my absolute favorite. But during my 3-night stay in March, I also feel in love again with the meticulously trained staff, the violet and yuzu bath salts the deeply relaxing penthouse spa, and its thermal baths, the skylight lit rooftop pool, the in-lobby art library guests must walk through to access the rooms, the backlit inroom minibars stocked with Hibiki whisky, the beef at New York Grille, the pianist at the bar, the smokers, the couples, the porters and the views of the neon canyon of Shinjuku below make this one of the world’s plushest sky-scraping properties. It’s one of my all time favorite hotels in the world, and it’s never once slipped in service during my three stays over the last five years. And I don’t expect it ever will. Such is the power of PHT. Rooms from $421

8. Otjimbondona, Windhoek, Namibia

The newly opened Otjimbondona, an hour southeast of Namibia’s capital Windhoek, is one of the country’s most stylish new retreats with four villas, each with a private plunge pool overlooking a network of walking trails snaking through the rust red Kalahari sands and camelthorn trees with swings hanging from them. The stylish new resort is owned by a local Namibian couple who know the area’s wildlife inside and out and can take guests out in impromptu safaris. I only stayed for one night in September 2015 which was not enough time to enjoy its charms, but I especially enjoyed its large bathtub, it’s plunge pools, the birdlife around the property and the sundowners during an electric orange and pink sunset at the property’s deckside lounge. Rooms from $667

9. Smyth Hotel, NYC, USA

Located in Tribeca, this dapper 100-room hotel, a member of Thompson Hotels, won me over immediately during a three-night stay in November. Gachot Studios designed the antithesis of NYC’s trendy hotels who seem to force their coolness on you (Ace, NoMad and the Standard) bringing a breath of fresh adult sophistication that made the other New York City hotels seem like a whiney teenager. Leather-lined walls, 1960’s Danish furnishings and understated, clean rooms that deliver a “less is more” feeling that you want in a hotel. Rooms from $295

10. Filario, Lake Como, Italy

New hotels directly on Lake Como are rare, so this modernist newcomer that opened in April 2015 is a welcome addition. The 21-room, six-story mini-tower is owned by a local Italian family and a member of Design Hotels. Rather than highlight Hollywood glamour like other Lake Como properties, Filario emphasizes the region’s natural appeal offering guests outdoor activities like kayaking, SUPing (both complimentary), nighttime fishing and vineyard hikes. What’s more, it’s got a private beach (another Lake Como rarity), an infinity pool, and spacious and understated rooms with balconies offering arresting views which I was lucky to experience during a September rainstorm for 1-night this past fall. Interiors were conceived by Milan-based Alessandro Agrati who used custom furniture like minimalist canopy beds and sea-green sofas made by local craftsmen in nearby Cantù, known for its Italian design and artisanship. Rooms from $350

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Sofitel, Philadelphia, USA
  2. Four Seasons Dubai, UAE
  3. Rivalgo, Lago Di Iseo, Sulzano, Italy
  4. Four Seasons Cap Ferrat, France
  5. Spectator, Charleston, SC, USA
  6. Hotel Grimsel Hospiz, Grimselpass, Switzerland
  7. Novotel, Mainz, Germany
  8. Nira Alpina, Silvaplana, Switzerland
  9. Badrutt’s Palace, St. Moritz, Switzerland
  10. Aman, Tokyo, Japan
  11. Couvente de la Tourette, Lyon, France
  12. Shukubo Temple Lodging Sekisho-in, Koyasan, Japan
  13. Benesse House, Naoshima, Japan
  14. Hoshinoya, Ishagaki, Japan
  15. Hotel Inca Real, Cuenca, Ecuador
  16. Pines and Palms, Islamorada, Florida Keys, USA
  17. Termas Papallacta, Papallacta, Ecuador

The Contenders: (Hotels I stayed at in 2015)

  1. Nira Alpina, Switzerland
  2. Badrutt’s Palace, St Moritz, Switzerland
  3. Gstaad Palace, Gstaad, Switzerland
  4. Palace Hotel, Tokyo, Japan
  5. Vessel Inn, Sapporo, Japan
  6. Kimamaya, Niseko, Japan
  7. Park Hotel Miyabitei, Noboribetsu, Japan
  8. Horohoro Sanso, Date, Japan
  9. Green Leaf, Niseko, Japan
  10. Grand Hyatt, Tokyo, Japan
  11. Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan
  12. Airbnb Apartment 1, Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan
  13. Uozu Manten Hotel Ekimae, Toyama, Japan
  14. Okuhinda, Yakushi no yu Honjin Onsen, Takayama, Japan
  15. Benesse House, Naoshima, Japan
  16. Airbnb Apartment 2 Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan
  17. Hiiragiya Ryokan, Kyoto, Japan
  18. Shukubo Temple Lodging Sekisho-in, Koyasan, Japan
  19. Apa Hotel Osaka, Japan
  20. Hoshinoya, Takatomi, Okinawa, Japan
  21. Beach Village Nosoko, Ishigaki, Japan
  22. Aman, Tokyo, Japan
  23. Aqua Dome, Tirol, Austria
  24. Hotel Adlers, Innsbruck, Austria
  25. Anantara Banana Island, Doha, Qatar
  26. Four Seasons, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  27. Alila, Jabal Akhdar, Oman
  28. Four Seasons, Doha, Qatar
  29. Novotel, Mainz, Germany
  30. Hotel Am Weißen Turm, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
  31. Hotel Bellevue Traben-Trarbach, Germany
  32. Gallia Excelsior, Milano, Italy
  33. Rivalgo, Lago Di Iseo, Sulzano, Italy
  34. Villa Lo Scoglio, Fontane Bianche, Sicily, Italy
  35. Le Peu Gerard, Les Breuleux, Jura, Switzerland
  36. Hotel Cappucin, Belfort, France
  37. Fluela Pass Ospiz Hotel, Fluela Pass, Switzerland
  38. Hotel Grimsel Hospiz, Grimselpass, Switzerland
  39. Kameha Grand, Zurich, Switzerland
  40. Vertigo Hotel, Dijon, France
  41. Zenitude, Besançon, France
  42. Best Western, Besançon, France
  43. Hotel Au Sauvage, Fribourg, Switzerland
  44. Hotel Londres, Brig, Switzerland
  45. Kemmeriboden, Emmental, Switzerland
  46. Hotel Lueg in Kaltacker, Emmental, Switzerland
  47. Hotel Capri, Mallorca, Spain
  48. Couvente de la Tourette, Lyon, France
  49. Hotel Le Corbusier, Marseille, France
  50. Marguerite du Chai, Peyriac-Minervois, France
  51. Hotel Fregate, Collioure, France
  52. Hotel Les Elmes, Banyuls-Sur-Mer, France
  53. Four Seasons Cap Ferrat, Cap Ferrat, France
  54. Filario, Lezzeno, Lake Como, Italy
  55. Hotel Poste, Sedrun, Switzerland
  56. Venissa, Mazzorbo, Venice, Italy
  57. JW Marriott Venice, Isola delle Rose, Venice, Italy
  58. Villa Pam Buffetti, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy
  59. Castelfalfi, Tuscany, Italy
  60. Otjimbondona, Kalahari, Windhoek, Namibia
  61. Hoanib Camp Wilderness Safari, Hoanib, Namibia
  62. Four Seasons Johannesburg, South Africa
  63. Linkwasha Wilderness Safari, Linkwasha, Zimbabwe
  64. Smyth Hotel, New York City, United States
  65. Dream Hotel Downtown, New York City, United States
  66. Sofitel, Philadelphia, United States
  67. Econolodge, Staunton, Virginia, United States
  68. Spectator, Charleston, South Carolina, United States
  69. Westin, Jekyll Island, Georgia, United States
  70. East Winds Rental, Ponce Inlet, Florida, United States
  71. The Betsy, South Beach, Florida, United States
  72. Pines and Palms, Islamorada, Florida Keys, United States
  73. Americas Copacabana, Rio, Brazil
  74. Pousada Caramanchao, Bonito, Brazil
  75. Pousada Xaraes, Pantanal, Brazil
  76. International Hotel Bristol, Sao Paolo, Brazil
  77. Pappalacta Termal, Pappalacta, Ecuador
  78. Black Sheep Lodge, Quilotoa, Ecuador
  79. Hotel Zeus, Riobamba, Ecuador
  80. Hotel Inca Real, Cuenca, Ecuador



By adam