When Forbes Travel Guide recently unveiled its 2016 Star Awards, a coterie of independent hotels joined our most elite winners. Spanning from Tokyo to Paris to Cape Cod, these hotels nabbed the coveted Five-Star award for the first time, proving that you don’t need a big name behind you to deliver superior travel experiences.
If you want to avoid cookie-cutter chains but don’t want to have to sort through hit-or-miss little-known hotels, we can help. The below one-of-a-kind properties provide unparalleled service and outstanding amenities and are well worth your stay.
Wequassett Resort and Golf Club, Cape Cod
Sprawled across 27 acres of gardens, salt marshes and woodlands, this scenic family-friendly hotel overlooks Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic. Drop off the kids at the children’s center to let loose on the pirate ship playground and treasure chest ball pit so you can retreat to the two pools or beach, try the four Har-Tru tennis courts, play the neighboring Cape Cod National Golf Club or head to Wequassett’s dock to ride sailboats or kayaks, or embark on a sunset cruise.
Cap your day with a succulent butter-poached lobster at Four-Star Twenty-Eight Atlantic and then retire to your charming suite or cottage.
The Goring, London
Family owned since 1910, this elegant hotel exudes character. Quirky, fun touches abound — the ground floor’s hand-painted park scene mural shows a wig-wearing gorilla and a horse-mounted monkey in race gear, and a stuffed sheep resides in each of the 69 uniquely designed rooms. One of the best perks is the secret green space, one of the city’s largest private gardens.
Reserve a suite to receive your own footman impeccably dressed in a scarlet tailcoat, and ask head concierge “Big John” Andrews to craft your itinerary. He’s done everything from secure an exclusive tour of nearby Buckingham Palace to organize a flash mob wedding proposal in the London Eye.
Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados
When you need a tropical escape, this Caribbean hotel beckons. Play a round on the Tom Fazio-designed, for-guests-only Green Monkey golf course carved from a limestone quarry; hit the nine tennis courts; go windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling or kayaking; laze at the 7,500-square-foot pool complete with a waterfall; or lay out on the immaculate white-sand beach.
No matter what you choose to do, rest assured that you’ll be pampered from the minute you arrive — Sandy Lane’s Mercedes or BMW will fetch you at the airport, someone will unpack your luggage and a beach attendant will mist you with Evian when the heat picks up.
J.K. Place Roma, Rome
An architecture school once resided in this 17th-century building, and design remains a focus at the 30-room hotel. Replicas of ancient marble sculptures mix with contemporary art on the ground floor. The neutral guest rooms get punched up with green and burgundy, a mix of midcentury modern furniture and intricate moldings. Striped gray and white Italian marble cover the bathrooms.
Don’t miss the boutique hotel’s weekend brunch at J.K. Café. Housemade breads, pastries and tiramisu tempt you, but also save room for ribollita (a Tuscan vegetable soup), cacio e pepe (Italy’s version of mac and cheese) and pasta carbonara.
La Réserve Paris
If this Paris hotel reminds you of a private mansion, it’s because it used to be one. Built for Napoleon III’s half-brother, the Haussmann building was also the residence of fashion designer Pierre Cardin. But now you can make yourself home amid the gilded mirrors, parquet floors, marble fireplaces, silk-covered walls and velvet drapes.
Despite being steeped in history, technology is a highlight. Rooms come with televisions hidden in mirrors, tablets, Bluetooth speakers, temperature-controlled kettles and electronic Toto toilets.
When you stop playing with the gadgets, take in views of the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais and the Pantheon from the 14 rooms and 26 suites, or swim in its indoor pool, a rare find in Paris.
Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa
You’ll find a duo of Five-Stars at this Palm Beach beauty. Designer Jonathan Adler infused the Five-Star hotel’s rooms with a vibrant, beachy feel — a palette of ocean blue and canary yellow, nautical carpets, teal lacquered mirrors and conch shell lamps. Expect amenities like a beach bag with flip-flops — required footwear in these parts — and journals.
More perks await in the Five-Star Eau Spa. Concoct your own body scrub in the Scrub and Polish Bar, sip champagne in the Self-Centered Garden’s cabanas and dipping pool, or relax in the Bath Lounge’s steam room or under the waterfall in the Jacuzzi — and that’s all before your treatment even starts.
Hotel Hassler Roma, Rome
Rising above the Spanish Steps, this veteran Rome hotel is almost as iconic as the famed landmark. The original 1885 building was rebuilt in 1938, and its 96 individually decorated rooms and suites all have tapestries, Venetian lamps, marble, silks, ornate moldings, frescoes and splashes of red and ochre. But even more impressive is the attentive service, exclusivity and discretion you’ll find here, which is why it’s a repeat destination among celebrities.
If you want to travel like the stars, have a dinner at sixth-floor restaurant Imàgo. While noshing on quail ravioli, admire the astounding views of spots like Villa Borghese and the Pantheon from its big-picture windows.
Palace Hotel Tokyo
As the first Japanese-branded hotel to win the Five-Star award, this Tokyo gem is one of a kind. First, the setting: It sits along a swan-dotted moat next to the Imperial Palace gardens. Then the details: You’ll find Imabari towels in the bathrooms and Maruyama Nori tea and nambu-tekki (cast-iron teapots) in the mini-bar. And then there are the local experiences: The hotel will arrange a Kabuki trip where you can learn about the ancient stage drama with a journalist or a sumo excursion with a sports broadcaster.
But it all comes down to the hotel’s omotenashi, which general manager Masaru Watanabe described as “graciousness and genuinely heartfelt service from which all hospitality is extended.”
Portrait Firenze, Florence
When the Ferragamo family attaches its name to a hotel, you know it will be as stylish as patriarch Salvatore’s expertly crafted shoes. Chic rooms come with hardwood floors, midcentury furnishings, cashmere throws and framed black-and-white photos of celebrities like Clark Gable and Audrey Hepburn in Florence during the ’50s and ’60s. Most accommodations feature fantastic vistas of the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno.
But the best perk of staying here is that you’ll nab free entry to the Ferragamo museum and a discount at the Salvatore Ferragamo store, just a three-minute walk from the hotel.