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Hotel Classics for the New Millennium

We applaud the opening of any great new hotel, but the 15 properties here are so sensational they deserve special accolades. They run the gamut, from a renovated Venetian monastery with heart-stopping views to a mod Santa Monica hangout with a fantastic restaurant run by a star chef. They're fresh and new—indeed, a few are on the cusp of opening as we go to press—and we predict they're here to stay.

San Clemente Palace

VENICE
Either six months or 350 years old, depending on how you look at it, Venice's latest spectacular hotel occupies a 17th-century Camaldolese monastery on a lagoon island. This one is for traditionalists—all velvets and damasks and Murano glass, with Venetian and Mediterranean food in the four restaurants that dot the four-acre park, plus a retro cocktail bar. A round-the-clock ferry shuttles guests to Piazza San Marco, but what you lose in convenience, you gain in atmosphere; most of the 205 rooms offer views of San Marco Basilica or La Giudecca (doubles from $270 in low season, $420 in high; Isola di San Clemente, San Marco; 011-39-041-241-34-84 or www.thi-hotels.com).

Villa Feltrinelli

LAKE GARDA, ITALY
The house to which Mussolini was banished at the end of his life, Villa Feltrinelli provides a 21st-century version of la dolce vita in a 19th-century neo-Gothic villa on the shores of Lake Garda. It's flamboyant but never over-the-top, secluded but feels like the very place to be. Its secret? Service...and bathrooms: Every one is outsize and opulent. Add a talented German chef who takes advantage of local specialties (from lemons to lake sardines) and a large staff who will take you cruising in the villa's vintage boat and you have one of the grandest small hotels in a country stuffed with them (doubles from $800 in low season, $990 in high; Via Rimembranza 38­40, Gargnano; 011-39-0365-798-000 or www.villafeltrinelli.com).

The Grove

RICKMANSWORTH, ENGLAND
Four years in the making, this 227-room hotel opening this month in a landmarked 18th-century mansion bears no relation to England's stolid stately homes or its frumpy country-house hotels. Designer Mary Fox Linton, the genius behind London's One Aldwych hotel, has had everything custom-made in a palette ranging from cool creams to midnight blue and cocoa. The estate's 300 acres of parkland include two lakes, three restaurants, a spa, a helipad and an 18-hole championship golf course—all of which should satisfy anyone's hotel fantasy (doubles from $400; Chandler's Cross, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire; 011-44-1923-807-807 or www.thegrove.co.uk).

The Chanler at Cliff Walk

NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
The Chanler, an 1873 mansion, is not so much a grand hotel as a grand home. It was the first of the famous Cliff Walk mansions to be built, and it's also the first to welcome paying guests. Opened this summer, the hotel's 20 rooms run the gamut of styles, from Federal to Victorian. Chef Richard Hamilton, who trained with Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon, presides over an open kitchen in the Spiced Pear restaurant (doubles from $300 in low season, $400 in high; 117 Memorial Blvd.; 401-847-1300).

Bel Air Plantation

GRENADA
One of the lusher yet lesser-known islands, Grenada gets a boost with the just-opened Bel Air Plantation—a brightly colored gingerbread village on 18 landscaped tropical acres. The mood is laid-back, beachy comfort, with verandas, whirlpool tubs and kitchens in the cottages. This winter, more cottages will open, for a total of 24; by the end of next year, the hotel will have added three pools and a second, more formal hilltop restaurant. Barbadian chef Hassan Gibson is creative with the local canon—think jerk-chicken chowder with coconut milk and cilantro or thin-crust three-cheese and callaloo pizza (doubles from $250 in low season, $300 in high; St. David's Harbour, St. George's; 473-444-6305 or www.belairplantation.com).

Villa Marie

RAMATUELLE, FRANCE
Jocelyne and Jean-Louis Sibuet opened their 10th petite property in June, and it's as perfect as fans of their Provençal Bastide de Marie and their Alpine hideaways in Megève would expect. That means a private-house atmosphere, beamed ceilings, terra cotta­tiled floors, country-French antiques—with a few Tuscan pieces thrown in—and glamorous bathrooms to go with the 42 peaceful rooms. Yes, peaceful, since this place, overlooking the Baie de Pampelonne in quaint Ramatuelle, is secreted a mile away from superhip-again beach-playground port town Saint-Tropez. Thanks to Jocelyne's chef networking, the Mediterranean restaurant—featuring meat and fish roasted in the fireplace—is bound to be une très bonne table, as the Michelin Guide would say (doubles from $235 in low season, $450 in high; Route des Plages, Chemin Val Rian; 011-33-4-94-97-40-22 or www.villamarie.fr).

Montage

LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA
The view alone is a stress reliever, and—in a too-rare instance of architectural common sense—all 262 rooms at this new resort have Pacific panoramas. Laguna Beach was adopted by a group of artists from the California Arts & Crafts movement, so look for a large collection of their works, as well as dark-wood furniture and all the goose down, fully wired comfort you'd expect. A huge draw is chef James Boyce at Studio—his repertoire includes seared foie gras with white nectarines, and wild turbot with caramelized salsify. Don't worry; you can work it off with oceanside yoga (doubles from $450 in low season, $540 in high; 30801 South Coast Hwy.; 866-271-6953 or www.montagelagunabeach.com).

Viceroy

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
The year-old fantastical 170-room hotel near the pier, equal parts beach retreat and business base, is one of four Kelly Wearstler­designed California hotels, and it's the most fun yet. This time the theme is British colonial through the looking glass, a Hollywood animation of a stately drawing room. Luckily, Viceroy doesn't sacrifice good service to good looks—the staff is sharp and the amenities comprehensive. Nor do guests have to suffer through fashion food, not when F&W Best New Chef 2000 Tim Goodell (of Newport Beach's Aubergine) is in charge of Whist, the very happening restaurant (doubles from $240; 1819 Ocean Ave.; 800-622-8711 or www.viceroysantamonica.com).

Grand Hyatt

TOKYO
Think of the biggest urban development you know. Now triple it. Roppongi Hills opened in April as a $4 billion complex containing offices, a major art museum, more than 120 upscale shops and 70 restaurants (including one of Joël Robuchon's latest), and this 390-room hotel. Décor is in the urbane top-end Hyatt vernacular, featuring mahogany, limestone and glass—call it modernist-textural. Amenities go the extra mile: flat-screen televisions in the bathrooms; safes that lock up your laptop while it's recharging; a 13,900-square-foot spa complete with a red granite pool. Befitting the general vastness, there isn't just one restaurant, but seven. Most have a single-cuisine focus—the French Kitchen; Chinaroom; Fiorentina; Shunbou for the Japanese ritualized meals called kaiseki—and import some ingredients from their country of inspiration (doubles from $390; 6-10-3 Roppongi, Minatoku; 011-81-3-4333-8800 or www.tokyo.grand.hyatt.com).

Exedra

ROME
Built over the ancient Roman baths of Diocletian and basking in the Piazza della Repubblica's new theatrical floodlights, this nine-month-old grand hotel is striking, to say the least. Behind the neoclassical facade are 240 huge guest rooms with striped-silk walls and gilt-framed mirrors, a decadent rooftop pool and soaring public spaces lit almost as dramatically as the Piazza. The Roman dining scene benefits from an on-site branch of the Etoile haute cuisine school (guests can grab a class) plus two restaurants: a louche black and white marble homage to Fellini and a rooftop terrace arranged around a Brobdingnagian silver espresso pot. If the jazzy, naughty style seems familiar, it's because designer Adam Tihany injected his signature pizzazz (doubles from $440; Piazza della Repubblica 47; 011-39-06-48-93-81 or www.boscolohotels.com).

The Gray

MILAN
Considering its status as a fashion capital, it's astonishing that Milan had no wildly contemporary hotel until this 21-room boîte opened in June opposite the Galleria. Wild is indeed the word for the Guido Ciompi design (he's best known for Gucci boutiques), with its splashes of saturated pink and orange, colored-light effects and nutty touches in the rooms, like round tubs with TVs in their rims, moving walkways or beds suspended by steel cables. Natural, if fashionable, materials—striped marble, African wenge wood, leather—soften the edginess. The restaurant, Le Noir, with its black box of a lounge and tables on rails, isn't all gimmick. Chef Giovanni Panzeri has worked with well-regarded Milanese chef Gualtiero Marchesi and cooks in both traditional and modern Italian styles (doubles from $350; Via San Raffaele 6; 011-39-02-720-8951 or www.sinahotels.com).

Hotel Amigo

BRUSSELS
The capital of the European Union was short on (okay, devoid of) high-style grand hotels until the Rocco Forte group opened this refurbished place a year ago. As with its sisters (such as the Hotel de Russie in Rome), the 174-room hotel, just off the Grand Place, was designed by Sir Rocco's sister, Olga Polizzi, in her traditional yet contemporary style. Here that means Flemish tapestries and embroidered velvets juxtaposed with Italian leather desks and headboards—plus fanciful all-Belgian art to leaven the mix: Magritte prints in the bedrooms and Hergé's Tintin in the bathrooms. At the restaurant, a new European menu and chef are in the works—and should be worth the wait(doubles from $230; Rue de l'Amigo 1-3; 011-32-2-547-4747 or www.hotelamigo.com).

Cocoa Island

MALDIVES
Since Christina Ong's Parrot Cay resort in the Turks and Caicos remains one of the Caribbean's hottest tickets, she opened this resort in February to replicate the private-island experience in the Indian Ocean. Strung along a wooden pier, the 30 thatched-roof timber villas disguised as dhonis (Maldivian fishing boats) only appear rustic—in fact, they're air-conditioned and wired to the nines, with vaulted ceilings and simple mahogany furniture. As at Parrot Cay, the Shambhala spa is known for its Ayurvedic treatments and yoga pavilion. At Ufaa Restaurant, talented Australian chef Stana Johnson cooks in a blend of Sri Lankan and Indian styles, including tandoori-oven-roasted seafood. Celebrity sightings are inevitable (doubles from $420; Makunufushi, South Male Atoll; 011-960-44-1818 or www.cocoa-island.com).

The Willcox

AIKEN, SOUTH CAROLINA
Live like a Vanderbilt, Whitney or Astor, and winter at The Willcox. As you'd expect from the owners of The Point and Lake Placid Lodge in New York's Adirondacks, this 22-bedroom late-19th-century Southern manor still does a convincing impression of the top-notch Yankee retreat it once was. White colonnades, leather club chairs and mahogany four-poster beds form the appropriate setting for fishing, golf (Augusta is 30 minutes away) and anything equestrian, from fox hunting and polo to trail riding. Lest you forget that this is the 21st century, chef Bob Conte cooks in regional contemporary style, which means dishes like a roasted-green-tomato napoleon with goat cheese (doubles from $250; 100 Colleton Ave.; 877-648-2200 or www.thewillcox.com).

The Lodge at Torrey Pines

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA
This 18-month-old hotel pays endless tribute to the early-20th-century design greats who inspired it—from California Craftsman architects Greene & Greene, on whose work the post-and-beam stained-glass building is modeled, to William Morris, Stickley and Tiffany. But it's also genuinely meticulous in its attention to detail: The spa showers have inlaid mosaics inspired by the works of designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh and even the restaurant is named for A. R. Valentien, the Impressionist painter whose work hangs on its walls. Chef Jeff Jackson is rather detail-oriented himself with his pared down, produce-led California cuisine. And, as if this Arts & Crafts bounty weren't enough, there are other draws: the world-renowned Rees Jones­designed golf course, which many of the 173 rooms overlook, and the adjacent 2,000-acre nature preserve with its quiet beaches (doubles from $375; 11480 North Torrey Pines Rd.; 888-826-0224 or www.lodgetorreypines.com).

Published September 2003
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