2012 Awards of Excellence Winners

Kyoto, Japan Cherry Blossom
Kyoto, Japan Cherry Blossom // Photo by Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Luxury Travel Advisor has named the 2012 winners of its prestigious Awards of Excellence. Our advisory board, an invitation-only panel of those influential travel advisors who have graced the cover of Luxury Travel Advisor, selected each of the nominees across several categories. Luxury Travel Advisor readers then voted exclusively to determine the best of each segment. Please join us in congratulating the 2012 Luxury Travel Advisor Awards of Excellence winners.


Best New Hotel in Africa, Indian Ocean or Middle East

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Viceroy Maldives 

The Viceroy Maldives opened in 2012 on the private island of Vagaru in Shaviyani Atoll, less than an hour’s flight from the capital island of Malé. Encircling a blue lagoon, the resort has five restaurants, with beachside dining, a private chef’s table and a wine cellar. All villas come with private plunge pools and lots of living space. Beach villas have lovely gardens with outdoor showers. Fancy an over-water massage? Five of the seven villas have steam showers, private decks and two hydraulic treatment tables. The Couple’s Suite boasts a private wet chamber with a Vichy shower. Now that’s living.


Top Luxury Hotel Renovation

Halekulani, Waikiki, Hawaii 

Halekulani emerged from a lengthy renovation that saw many impressive improvements last summer. Guestrooms got new furniture, carpeting and linens; reconceived bathrooms (think updated showers, sinks and fixtures); and new technology. A fresh bar concept was also launched at La Mer, Hawaii’s longest consecutively ranked AAA Five Diamond restaurant.  L’Aperit offers unique cocktails and “amuse bouches” appetizers.


Best New Luxury Hotel in Europe

Hotel Castello di Casole, Tuscany, Italy 

A former 10th-century castle-turned-41-suite boutique hotel, Hotel Castello di Casole has more than 100 acres of vineyards and olive groves, plus a wellness center. Once home to Italian nobility, 14 of Hotel Castello di Casole’s suites have large private gardens and terraces with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking acres of vineyards and lemon and olive trees. The three-bedroom Bargagli Penthouse has a private terrace. Ristorante Tosca serves local Tuscan cuisine using produce from the hotel’s gardens.


Best New Luxury Hotel in North America

St. Regis Bal Harbour, Bal Harbour, Florida  

Bal Harbour’s posh locals quickly made this resort their “it” place and why not? Public spaces designed as jewel boxes flow into each other, revealing a lobby here, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s J&G Grill there, and a bit farther, a  very sophisticated St. Regis Bar (where live jazz plays nightly). Super high-tech elevators allow entire floors to by blocked off, letting A-list VIPs inhabit an enclave of four suites and eight guest rooms in complete privacy. The vibe at Remède Spa is one of the most peaceful we’ve enjoyed.


Best New Luxury Hotel in Asia

The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa, Japan 

The first Ritz-Carlton in Japan was built to reflect the Okinawan concept of hospitality, as well as contemporary design, with Shurijo face motifs, red clay roof tiles, white walls and holy water ponds. Balconies of the 97 rooms and two suites overlook the East China Sea and the Kise Country Club (think golf course). Highlights of the spa are the outdoor cabanas offering Shiatsu or Thai massage, and two Retreat Suites with private decks and stone baths. Consumer reviews praise the large bathtubs in rooms and Afternoon Tea. 

Best New Luxury Hotel in Latin America

Palacio Nazarenas, Cuzco, Peru

A former convent converted into a chic hideaway with just 55 suites, Orient-Express’ sixth property in Peru is the result of a restoration project lovingly carried out under the guidance of eight archaeologists and Peru’s National Institute of Culture. Each room comes equipped with oxygen and private bar for mixing drinks made with ingredients grown onsite. Other amenities include a spa, Cusco’s first outdoor pool, and locally sourced cuisine.


Best Luxury Hotel/Resort Worldwide

Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy

This perennial dreamy favorite still inspires the most-traveled luxury travel advisors and affluent jetsetters with its old-school elegance. A former 16th-century princely residence, Villa d’Este is surrounded by a 25-acre park but its location over Lake Como is what makes it such a treat. We say this member of The Leading Hotels of the World also gets top kudos for its manicured gardens, haute cuisine, and bespoke hospitality. If you go, be sure to save time for drinks on the terrace. This Italian gem should be on everyone’s bucket list. 


Most Anticipated New Luxury Hotel Opening

Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace, St. Petersburg

This former 19th-century Russian royal palace will reveal two “see-and-be-seen” restaurants, a glass-roofed winter garden, and a four-story spa housed in an original courtyard when it opens this month. Of its 177 rooms, 26 are suites. Its location puts it two blocks from the Hermitage Museum and close to Nevsky Prospekt and the Mariinsky Theatre.


Best Luxury Boutique Hotel Worldwide

Hotel Esprit Saint Germain, Paris  

This intimate hotel dazzles guests, who rave about how quickly it provides them with an authentic Left Bank, Parisian experience. They also praise how quiet its 28 rooms are, despite the fact that it’s just steps away from cafes and shops in one of the world’s most dynamic neighborhoods. Hint: Save time for Champagne at the lobby bar.


Most Romantic Table at a Luxury Hotel

La Terrazza Restaurant, Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Italy 

When we dined at La Terrazza Restaurant at this Orient-Express hotel, we felt we were in one of the most special places on earth. Pictured here, the old-world elegance and sheer natural beauty; that’s the Italian Riviera below. The service at La Terrazza is exquisite and the fresh fish, hand-made pasta and fresh mozzarella will convince you that there’s no reason to ever leave. If your Mediterranean cruise stops at Portofino, reserve a seat at the restaurant well ahead of time, especially during weekends and in peak season. Arrive early to enjoy a Bellini or two.

Best Luxury Beach Resort Worldwide

Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora 

The most stress you’ll have planning a stay at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora is whether to book an overwater bungalow or a two-bedroom beachfront villa (the resort has a package that lets you do both). The stunning accommodations are just part of the experience in this idyllic locale; for romance, there’s the option of a private beachfront table by candlelight, the sun setting over the turquoise lagoon. The spa’s 72-foot ceiling creates a temple-like environment and sports options abound here.


Best Luxury Hotel Bar Worldwide

The Bristol Bar, Le Bristol Paris 

Pierre-Yves Rochon designed Le Bristol Bar as an enclave whose décor is classic and decidedly modern. Rare bottles and exclusive cocktails, like the Bristol Old Fashioned No. 1, are served by Head Barman Maxime Hoerth and Roman Devaux (formerly at the Bar Hemingway at the now-closed Ritz Paris).

Top General Manager of a Luxury Hotel

Patrizio Cipollini, Four Seasons Firenze

Patrizio Cipollini took the helm of Four Seasons Firenze’s preopening team in 2007, fulfilling his dream of returning to his Tuscan home region to open a luxury hotel. The paternal warmth that Cipollini extends to his team sets the tone for the welcoming service at the hotel. “Florence is like a village. It’s easy to feel at home here; we want to extend that feeling into the hotel,” he says.


Best Destination Management Company

IC Bellagio, Italy 

Say the name Andrea Grisdale and any luxury travel expert will think, “Insider access to all things Italy.” British-born Grisdale, who now resides in Lake Como, has, over the years, assembled a team of enthusiastic, multi-lingual individuals devoted to customer service and to orchestrating each and every client’s trip to Italy to perfection.


Best Cruise Line for Luxury Ocean Cruises

Regent Seven Seas Cruises 

The posh, club-like atmosphere on Regent’s ships is complemented by its doting staff, which knows intuitively how to provide luxury service. Regent voyages continue to get top compliments from luxury travel advisors, who like its “all-inclusive” positioning, which includes a luxury hotel package with pre-cruise accommodations that come with breakfast; airport-hotel and hotel-ship transfers, roundtrip air, open bars, free and unlimited shore excursions, gratuities and taxes.


Best Cruise Line for Luxury Small Ships

Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn has a fiercely loyal clientele who sail its intimate ships again and again. Why do cruisers come back? Guests we spoke with cited the intimate size of the ships, meaning you’re never too far from anything, including your own quarters. Seabourn’s new “larger” ships, Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest, which have just 225 suites, have won over this devoted customer base with their much more active pool scene, a much larger spa and a more spacious sun deck. There are also more hidden pools, decks and Jacuzzis on the newer vessels. The best part? The very high level of service remains the same.


Best Luxury River Cruise Company

AMA Waterways

AMA Waterways keeps the bar for river cruising high, particularly with its newest vessels. Clients cite their well-designed staterooms with double balconies; others like the many inclusions, such as wine with dinner, shore trips and bottled water. Nearly all on a recent sailing said they were impressed with the service and the crew’s level of professionalism and friendliness. Overall, AMA vessels exude a boutique hotel feel. It’s exceptionally classy with many of the bells and whistles of a luxury product, said our cruise editor, Susan Young, when sailing on the AMACerto’s christening cruise last year.

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