Marcel at Gramercy, New York City.
A fall 2008 redesign has transformed the Marcel into a chic yet affordable place to stay, providing guests with both style and substance. The small lobby is outfitted in a dark palette of black, grey, and blue, giving it a swanky nightclub vibe; rooms have been modernized with flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations, Frette linens, and Gilchrist & Soames bath amenities. The 10th floor lounge, with its complimentary computer and Wi-Fi access, free coffee, and connecting outdoor patio, offers respite from the bustling city below. Highly-noted Italian restaurant Bar Milano is located on the ground floor and provides room service to hotel guests. Pros: outdoor patio offers great space and spectacular views of the city; good value. Cons: elevators are slow; poor TV reception; complimentary wine and cheese reception lasts until the wine and cheese run out. 201 E. 24th St., Gramercy. 212/696-3800. www.TheMarcelatGramercy.com. 133 rooms, 2 suites. In-room: safe. In-hotel: restaurant, room service, Wi-Fi, laundry service, Internet terminal, no smoking rooms. AE, MC, V, D. Rooms start at: $277.
Tintswalo Atlantic, South Africa.
Visitors attracted to the Cape Peninsula for its natural grandeur will think they’ve died and gone to heaven at this discreetly luxurious boutique hotel. Directly off Chapman’s Peak Drive (a contender for world’s most scenic road) and built around a wonderland of native fynbos plants and milkwood trees, Tintswalo Atlantic is the only beachfront development in Table Mountain National Park. Themed after different islands, eleven roomy suites each have breathtaking views of Hout Bay from verandas and bathtubs, wood-burning stoves, and heavenly bedding, all against the sound of breaking waves. Only 20 minutes from Cape Town, guests can enjoy the city, but may also opt to watch the whales playing in the bay. Exquisite four-course meals, an impressive wine cellar, and excellent service complete the pampering at this exclusive and truly unique hideaway. Pros: whale watching; stupendous breakfast. Cons: no gym; must drive to all activities and sights. Km2 Chapman’s Peak Drive, Chapman’s Peak, Hout Bay, 7806. 011/464-1070/1 (ph.). 011/464-1315 (fax). www.tintswalo.com. 10 island suites, 1 Atlantic Presidential Suite. In-room: refrigerator, DVD, Wi-Fi. In-hotel: restaurant, room service, bar, pool, beachfront, spa, water sports, no elevator, laundry service, public Internet, airport shuttle (fee), no kids under 13 (except from Dec.15-Jan 15). AE, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at: 7,100 ZAR.
Encantado, An Auberge Resort, Santa Fe.
Sister to famed Auberge du Soleil and Esperanza Resort, Encantado embraces five-star luxury while respecting the region’s Native American spirit. Taking advantage of Santa Fe’s endless supply of sunshine, villa-style casitas are contemporary, airy, and earthy. Kitted with adobe fireplaces, deep soaking tubs, heated bathroom floors, and spacious dressing areas, rooms exemplify comfortable luxury. Local Colorado products in the mini-bar (Cap Rock Organic Grape Vodka and C.G. Higgins Caramel Corn) are a thoughtful touch. Detox at The Spa with regionally inspired treatments like Mountain Spirit Purification, or take a Pilates class in the movement studio before enjoying a sunset cocktail at The Bar and a globe-spanning culinary adventure at Terra. Complimentary shuttles run regularly into town and guests have access to Encantado’s downtown concierge center. Pros: free-standing couples spa suites; Terra was recently announced as one of Esquire’s “Best New Restaurants 2008;” complimentary mini-bar (non-alcoholic beverages only). Cons: several of the private terraces overlook parking lots; service isn’t consistently up to five star standards; landscaping is not mature. 198 State Road 592, Santa Fe, 87506. 877/262-4666 (ph.). 505/946-5888 (fax). www.encantadoresort.com. 65 rooms. In-room: safe, refrigerator, DVD, Wi-Fi. In-hotel: restaurant, room service, bar, pool, gym, spa treatments, no elevator, laundry service, concierge, public Wi-Fi, parking (no fee), some pets allowed (fee), no-smoking rooms. AE, MC, V. Rooms start at: $475
Clarion Sign, Stockholm.
Big, brash, and right by Central Station, Clarion Sign burst onto the scene in 2008 with fanfare and promise. Part of the Choice Hotels chain, its two main selling points seemed to be a roof terrace with year-round pool at the top (fantastic), and the first home-turf restaurant helmed by Swedish-born New York superstar chef Marcus Samuelsson at street level (passable). But what of in between? The rooms are big on Swedish design, generous in size, and somewhere near middle on the luxury scale. Neither pure business behemoth nor dictionary-definition boutique, Clarion Sign is a well-balanced and very pleasant addition to Stockholm’s hotel scene. Pros: big rooms; great roof terrace. Cons: drab location; impersonal service. Östra Järnvägsg. 35, 101 26. 08/6769800 (ph.). 08/6769801(fax). www.clarionsign.se. 588 rooms. In-room: safe, refrigerator, Ethernet. In-hotel: restaurant, room service, bar, pool, spa, laundry service, public Internet, no-smoking rooms. AE, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at: SKr 2,650.
Dana Hotel & Spa, Chicago.
The Dana, located in the trendy River North neighborhood, uses exposed concrete ceilings and sliding track doors to create the feel of an urban loft. But this isn’t a drafty old warehouse. It’s a purpose-built hotel with state-of-the-art technologies, such as a heating and air conditioning system that automatically lowers or raises the thermostat when a room is unoccupied. Guests enjoy sound systems from Bowers & Wilkins, and pre-stocked wine chillers. Warm Jarrah wood flooring provides a homey feel and the spacious spa-style showers offer a great way to unwind. Pros: the 27th-floor Vertigo lounge provides great city views; an outdoor deck has heaters and a fire pit for chilly nights. Cons: The hotel is hard to spot (look for the sandwich board on the sidewalk); while the showers are luxurious, there aren’t any bathtubs. 660 N. State St., River North, 60654. 312/202-6000 (ph.). www.danahotelandspa.com. 216 rooms. In-room: safe, Wi-Fi. In-hotel: restaurant, 2 bars, room service, gym, spa, concierge, Wi-Fi, valet parking (fee), pets allowed (some), no-smoking rooms. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at $595.
Chef Michael Solomonov has brought great buzz to several restaurant locations in Philadelphia. With his latest entry, showcasing the cuisine of his native Israel—as well as the cuisine of other cultures that have left a mark on that Promised Land—he’s done it again. Taking advantage of its dramatic perch above one of the city’s oldest streets, the stripped-down Zahav relies on architectural features such as picture windows and soaring ceilings to create spectacle. The open kitchen, on view behind leaded glass, is the true stage. There, a small staff mixes and matches a melting pot of flavors, from the chraime, a fish stew with tomatoes and peppers, to the “Bulgarian” kebab, with ground beef, lamb, cumin, rice, and beans. Cap off your meal with desserts like cashew baklava or laffa (flat bread) with a thick chocolate spread. 237 St, James Place, Old City. 215/625 8800. www.zahavrestaurant.com. AE, MC, V, D. Median entrée price: $23.
Contributors: Emma Fox, Carolyn Galgano, JoAnn Greco, Rob Hincks, Jay Jones, Lee Middleton
Photo courtesy of Marcel at Gramercy