Travel came to a standstill when the pandemic struck last year. Airplanes, trains and cruise ships emptied. Crowds deserted tourist attractions like Venice’s canals, the Louvre and the Empire State Building. Most of the world hunkered down at home, waiting for conditions to improve.
The global COVID-19 vaccine rollout offers some hope for 2021, allowing stir-crazy, grounded travelers to start planning their next getaway. To help inspire those next adventures, Forbes Travel Guide presents its 2021 Star Awards for the world’s best luxury hotels, restaurants and spas.
The 63rd annual list features 283 Five-Star, 576 Four-Star and 438 Recommended hotels; 73 Five-Star, 136 Four-Star and 77 Recommended restaurants; and 90 Five-Star and 200 Four-Star spas worldwide. (The winners were surveyed both before the pandemic and once regional restrictions allowed FTG’s incognito evaluators to visit.)
To rate properties, Forbes Travel Guide inspectors stay at each hotel for three days and two nights, posing as regular guests and paying their own way. They test up to 900 objective, stringent standards, from modern-day luxuries—such as whether a room is set up to enhance sleep, and the food-and-beverage choices are health-conscious—to more traditional luxuries, like the quality of the interior décor and design of the staff’s uniforms.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, service remains paramount. It’s more important than ever before that properties demonstrate the utmost regard for their guests’ wellbeing: 75 percent of a hotel’s rating is based on its service and genuine care and concern shown by the staff, while 25 percent is determined by the quality of its facilities.
When you’re ready to travel again—whether it’s to embark on a far-flung escape or a low-key staycation—check into one of the best hotels in the world. See the full list of Star-Rated properties here, and find out more about the newest additions to the collection below.
Tokyo Rises To The Top
Before COVID-19 spread, Tokyo was readying itself to host the 2020 Olympics, constructing stadiums, boosting its infrastructure and improving its hotels. While the Games were ultimately postponed, the metropolis’ luxury hotels still went for the gold—Tokyo gained more new Five-Star hotels than any other city in our list.
The four 2021 newcomers are The Capitol Hotel Tokyu, a property with authentic Japanese décor that celebrated its 10th anniversary last year; The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, A Luxury Collection Hotel, a contemporary retreat where every room looks out over the city; The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, which floats on top of a 53-story skyscraper in buzzing Roppongi; and Takanawa Hanakohro, an intimate 16-room ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) surrounded by a five-acre Japanese garden with 230 cherry trees and 16 types of flowers.
North America Celebrates Inaugural Wins
Five North American cities welcomed their first Five-Star hotels, including the Emerald City. Four Seasons Hotel Seattle picked up the first top honor in Washington State; situated across from the Seattle Art Museum, the downtown favorite overlooks the Olympic Mountains, the Seattle Great Wheel and Puget Sound (drink in the views from the terrace alongside the heated infinity pool and fireplace). The Four-Star spa’s treatments incorporate Pacific Northwest ingredients like juniper, cedar and ground coffee beans—though guests can order a steaming cup of joe through the hotel’s coffee concierge, too.
The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston brings a dose of Five-Star opulence to Texas. It houses the only Five-Star spa in the state, along with a multimillion-dollar art collection with works from Frank Stella, Robert Motherwell and more—not to mention a private helicopter pad. The garden-inspired Bloom & Bee restaurant makes a lovely Instagram shot with its ceiling of blown-glass flowers and bright-pink seating.
In South Carolina’s Hilton Head, Montage Palmetto Bluff was made for languid Lowcountry days when all you want to do is sit in the shade of your cottage’s screened-in porch. But there’s much to lure visitors outside. A riverside location affords bountiful water activities—plus there’s a nature preserve and a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course.
Over in the City of Brotherly Love, Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center and its crystal-filled spa debuted in 2019 within a 60-story tower. Both deliver sky-high views, whether you clink glasses in the top-level bar helmed by Jean-Georges Vongerichten or swim in the 57th-floor indoor pool. What’s more, every guest room affords floor-to-ceiling vistas of the city.
Also earning double Five-Star inaugural honors were Four Seasons Hotel Montreal and its soothing spa. The modern hotel bears a sleek black-glass façade and debuted in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile in 2019. It features celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s first Canadian outpost, Marcus Restaurant + Terrace.
Bali Sees Stars
Two new entries join Bali’s Five-Star ranks. The St. Regis Bali Resort includes spectacular suites and villas that stand out as enchanting oases with private pools, gazebos and Balinese decorative touches. Other superb amenities include a nearly 40,000-square-foot saltwater swimming lagoon, a butterfly-themed spa set on a koi pond and butler service for all guests.
The Mulia – Nusa Dua, Bali boasts the island’s longest and most stunning oceanfront infinity pool, lined with 20-foot-tall statues of women holding sheaves of rice—a symbol of prosperity. The all-suite resort also offers a 20-room Four-Star spa with bespoke treatments and some of the island’s top dining spots.
Scotland Hits A Milestone
Scotland landed its first Five-Star hotel with The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel in Edinburgh.
Within the stately, castle-like 1902 building, visitors are immersed in a thoroughly Scottish experience, with kilted doormen, a Gaelic poet-in-residence, a bar that stocks more than 500 single-malt whiskies and the must-visit restaurant Number One, which serves modern Scottish cuisine.
Los Cabos Cements Its Luxury Status
Mexico’s popular luxury sun-and-sand destination adds sister properties Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection and Esperanza, Auberge Resorts Collection to its Five-Star lineup. These siblings, though, have their differences. Chileno Bay boasts a more modern and sultry feel, and is home to one of Cabo’s few swimmable beaches. Its Baja-influenced spa also attained a new Five-Star rating.
Meanwhile the elder Esperanza is the only private beach resort in Los Cabos. Its cliffside setting provides a dramatic backdrop, especially when dining at Cocina del Mar, a tiered seafood restaurant that sits on a rocky promontory. Not to be outdone by its little sister, Esperanza has a palapa-topped spa that’s a repeat Five-Star winner.
Other Notable Winners
As Turkish landmark Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul celebrates its 30th anniversary under the Kempinski flag, it also marks its entry into the Five-Star echelon. But its history runs even deeper—the former sultan’s palace dates back to the 17th century. Today, you can live like a king in the grand 310-room estate. And don’t miss the sprawling infinity pool, which gives the illusion of swimming in the Bosphorus. A waterfront hotel in the UAE capital has also scored the top award. The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi’s Mediterranean architecture blends in with the pristine six-mile stretch of sand. And beyond the beach, there’s the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, a kids’ club and six restaurants.
Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing and its stylish spa both scooped up the coveted accolade. The 73-room boutique hotel contains some of Beijing’s largest accommodations—though you will not want to miss the vast rooftop garden terrace, which offers incredible views of the Forbidden City.
Stateside, The St. Regis San Francisco—a newly renovated destination for art aficionados—climbed to Five Stars. Not only is the property home to the Museum of the African Diaspora and located next to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but it also carries its own collection of works from local artists. Each room’s desk showcases a California landscape from famed photographer Ansel Adams under smoked glass.
And Utah’s Montage Deer Valley is a Five-Star haven for outdoor enthusiasts. During snow season, the mountain retreat draws them in with ski-in/ski-out access and the cozy, rustic Après Lounge serving Veuve Clicquot and caviar. When warmer weather arrives, activities shift to mountain biking, fly fishing and hiking.