From a private Venetian island to a tower overlooking Times Square, a Jane Austin-worthy spa hotel to the first Park Hyatt in Africa, the hotel industry's Class of 2015 did not disappoint. We checked in at many of these newbies to see what works, what's hype, and what's truly buzzworthy—and ended up with this list of our 25 favorite launches of the year. Read on to see where you can mingle with local artists, sip afternoon tea in a historic mansion, get insider intel on Austin's music scene, and so much more. —Sandra Ramani
Considering Amsterdam's vibrant style, design, and nightlife scenes, it's hard to believe the city never had hotel by W, a brand that celebrates those same touchpoints. Problem solved: opened in fall of 2015, right on Dam Square, the W Amsterdam features the city' s first rooftop pool, two destination restaurants (both with panoramic views), and X Bank, a creative “incubator” space that connects local fashion, music, and design talents, and encourages visiting guest interactions. The 238 rooms are spread out between two noteworthy buildings—The Exchange, a former telephone exchange HQ, and The Bank, once the home of KAS Bank—both full restored with a mix of original and playful, contemporary elements. There are also W signatures like an Away Spa and a W Insider concierge to connect you to Amsterdam's latest and greatest.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Amsterdam Guide
There's lots of hotel activity brewing in Seattle, particularly in emerging pockets of Downtown, so kudos to The Palladian for getting in there early—and getting it right. Located at the edges of Belltown and the Retail Core, a short walk from Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, the 97-room Kimpton hotel reflects its neighborhood's hip-with-an-edge vibe through design touches that are both vintage-inspired and playful; lobby portraits and throw pillow covers that depict pop culture figures—from Patrick Swayze and Jimi Hendrix to Bill Gates—in historic military garb have become a favorite guest talking point. Along with all the welcome Kimpton signatures (complimentary bikes and daily wine hours, locally-sourced mini-bars, in-room yoga amenities), there's the Pennyroyal lobby lounge (serving breakfast, then small plates and a full bar) and Shaker + Spear, a lively restaurant focused on fresh seafood and killer cocktails. An excellent, passionate staff helps pull it all together.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Seattle Guide
JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa
For its first property in Italy, the JW brand went big, opting for a private island fifteen minutes by boat from central Venice. Home to hospitals in the 19th and 20th centuries, the manmade, 40-acre Isola delle Rose (Island of Roses) is now the peaceful setting for a 266-room hotel, a Michelin-starred restaurant, Venice's largest spa (complete with vitality pool and hammam), the Sapori cooking and wine academy, and gardens of olive trees and fruit plants, from which the hotel has produced its own olive oil blend. The restored on-site church is a hit with wedding parties—and, we imagine, guests who want to give thanks for landing in this slice of heaven.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Venice Guide
There's a lot going on in Charm City these days, from a thriving craft brew scene, lively waterfront, and restaurants from James Beard Award-winning chefs to the regeneration of the leafy, townhouse-lined Mount Vernon neighborhood, a designated National Landmark Historic District. Of the several new hotels opened here in 2015, the standout is The Ivy, a Relais & Chateaux member set in a restored 1890's Mount Vernon mansion. Each of the 18 rooms is individually designed and uniquely furnished; some may have bay windows or private balconies, other claw-foot tubs, four-poster beds, or oversized fireplaces. All feature complimentary mini-bars (including wine, snacks, and homemade cookies), and all rates include a multi-course breakfast and afternoon tea and wine hours, held in the library or the pool table-equipped conservatory. With a cozy spa and the popular Magdalena restaurant both on-site, many guests are checking in for a romantic weekend and never leaving the hotel—though free neighborhood car service is available, if you can tear yourself away.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Baltimore Guide
The Gainsborough Bath Spa
As any Jane Austen reader knows, the southwest English town of Bath has long drawn wellness-seekers with its natural, mineral-rich hot springs, which are said to be healing when both sipped and soaked in. But while you can still find working pumps around town, and a wellness center offering water treatments opened several years back, the town (which is designated World Heritage Site) has never had a true spa hotel—until now. Opened in late-September 2015, and set in two historic buildings with preserved Georgian and Victorian facades, the 99-room Gainsborough Bath Spa is the only hotel in the United Kingdom with a spa that draws from private natural thermal springs. (It's also the only Leading Hotels of the World member in the region.) After taking the waters in the glass atrium-topped pool, retire to contemporary guest rooms crafted by noted designer Alexandra Champalimaud, each with creature comforts like Bluetooth connectivity and heated bathroom floors. Michelin-starred chef Johann Lafer brings his “dining without borders” philosophy to his namesake on-site restaurant.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bath Guide
Originally opened in 1906 by John Jacob Astor IV (who also owned the Waldorf-Astoria, and later died on the Titanic), The Knickerbocker was the reputed birthplace of the martini, and a favorite of so many notable politicians, businessmen and celebrities, it was dubbed “The 42nd Street Country Club.” Closed in 1921 and later converted to offices, the hotel was resurrected under its original name in early 2015—though that's about all that remains from back in the day. Designed to be a serene respite from the chaos of Times Square just outside its doors (though many of the rooms' soundproofed windows do have direct views of 42nd Street and Broadway), the property is the only real five-star in an area dense with towering chain hotels. Standout touches include top-of-the-line bedding and bath amenities, complimentary soft mini bars, 24-hour concierge, complimentary house cars, and three on-site Charlie Palmer-helmed dining venues—plus priority reservations at his nearby Aureole restaurant. There are also extensive fitness facilities and programming, and an in-room salon menu by celeb stylist Ted Gibson. The rooftop St. Cloud lounge, with indoor/outdoor seating and dramatic corner pods that seem to float off the edge of the building, is the best place from which to watch the New Year's Eve ball drop.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New York City Guide
The Temple House
Historically, the southern Chinese city of Chengdu has been famous for its good food (it's the home of spicy Szechuan cuisine), relaxed teahouse culture, thriving arts scene, and the giant pandas that come from its surrounding hills. In recent years, though, it's also become a tech and start-up hub, with dozens of international companies moving in—leading to a mini hotel boom, too. Among the new arrivals is The Temple House, sister to Hong Kong's Upper House and Beijing's Opposite House, located in the buzzing Taikoo Li mixed-use complex near Chunxi Road. Guests arrive at a restored, century-old stone house that was once part of the Daci Temple complex, then continue past a bamboo-lined courtyard to two modern mini-towers holding 100 guest rooms and 42 serviced residences, all done in a clean, contemporary style, with perks like complimentary mini-bars, turbo espresso machines, and TVs with streaming capabilities. Drink and dine at an Italian eatery, a vegetarian teahouse, and a chic cocktail bar Don Draper would seem at home in, or get contemplative at the indoor pool and tucked-away spa.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Chengdu Guide
Chicago Athletic Association
Cool the minute it opened, this destination hotel right on Michigan Avenue has the vibe of an old school gentleman's club reborn for the Wallpaper-reading set. As the name explains, the building once housed an exclusive men's athletic club (its heyday was in the 1890s), and the current incarnation reflects both its architectural and social history: past the grand marble staircase, you'll find gym ladders transformed into storage walls, bathrobes that mimic boxer's robes, and nightstand legs covered in tennis racket leather. Guests can continue the athletic tradition at the 24-hour gym, on a complimentary trainer-led Saturday run along Lake Michigan, or by checking out one of the free Heritage Bicycles. The five on-site food and beverage choices, including Cindy's rooftop terrace, with panoramic views, and a Shake Shack outpost, are bringing locals in on the fun.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Chicago Guide
Hong Kong can be an overload for the senses, so with its minimalist philosophy—and self-professed aim to be “timeless, placeless, and genderless”—TUVE provides a serene place to retreat after a busy day (or night) out. Everything is low-key, from the lack of any major outside signage to the simple room decor of concrete floors and fluffy white bedding, but there's still plenty of comfort and quality, with Fresh bath amenities, gourmet snacks, HDTV cable, and walk-in showers. Services are limited—there's 24-hour front desk staff and daily housekeeping, but no on-site spa or fitness center—but luckily the convenient location in Causeway Bay, near a MTR station, puts you in the thick of it when you're ready to leave the dimly lit cocoon.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hong Kong Guide
Hotel Van Zandt
Opened in late-2015, Kimpton's first Austin outpost sits at the gateway to the Historic Rainey Street District, close to live music venues like Austin City Limits Live, and just next to lovely Lady Bird Lake—views of which can be enjoyed from the fourth floor pool, bar, and cabanas. The 319-room hotel takes its name from Isaac Van Zandt, The Republic of Texas Ambassador to the U.S., whose third great-grandson, Townes Van Zandt, was a noted musician (Townes' son, JT Van Zandt, has also created original artwork for the hotel.) You'll see a love of Texas—and music—throughout, from lobby light fixtures inspired by musical instruments and the breakfast tacos at the grab-and-go Cafe 605 to the local flavors and live shows at Geraldine's, the signature restaurant. There's also a dedicated Director of Music and Social Programming to help connect guests to the best of what on in Austin.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Austin Guide
InterContinental Bordeaux – Le Grand Hotel
Coming into 2015 just under the wire (it opened in December), the InterContinental Bordeaux – Le Grand Hotel sits right on Bordeaux’s main square, Place de la Comédie, alongside high-end shopping and restaurants. French architect/designer and hotel industry favorite, Jacques Garcia took inspiration from the building's 18th-century roots for the interiors, which balance rich jewel tones and gilded furnishings with splashes of modern whimsy. Along with a two-story Nuxe spa, rooftop “beach,” and a fine dining restaurant from Gordon Ramsey, the 130-room hotel offers destination-specific services like a Wine Concierge, who can get guests special access to some of Bordeaux's otherwise-private wine estates.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bordeaux Guide
1 Hotel South Beach
Dedicated to responsible, sustainably-minded hospitality, 1 Hotels this year launched its first property in South Beach, in two Collins Park neighborhood buildings formerly occupied by The Perry Beach Hotel and the Gansevoort South Hotel. The oversized rooms and suites (with either city or ocean views) feature hemp-blended mattresses, organic sheets, and nature-inspired furnishings, as well as 1 Hotels standards like triple-filtered water systems and Hepa air filters, yoga mats, natural bath products, and a 5-minute shower timer to help conserve water. There are four cabana- and day bed-ringed pool decks (one is adults-only), a lobby farmstand, bars, two restaurants—including Beachcraft, by Tom Colicchio—and 600 feet of private sandy beachfront; a spa is in the works to complete the picture.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Miami Guide
Park Hyatt Zanzibar
For its first property in Africa, Park Hyatt headed to the Spice Island of Zanzibar, set off the coast of Tanzania in the blue-green Indian Ocean. Up until now, the island has mainly drawn tourists with its beach resorts, but Park Hyatt chose to go another way, renovating a historic former British embassy and adjacent mansion in the heart of Stone Town to create the capital city's first true five-star hotel. Guests still enjoy beach access and views (the hotel sits right above a wide, sandy stretch where locals play soccer and launch wooden dhow boats), but also have a convenient base from which to explore vibrant, eclectic Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 67 rooms are spread out over the two connected buildings, and like the rest of the decor, feature a crisp, contemporary decor accented by local fabrics, woodwork, and furnishings (like traditional carved and inlaid trunks.) Two gardens, a pool, a small Anantara Spa, and a beautiful restaurant, lounge, and dining terrace—all hit with the local society set—offer respite after a day on the town.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Zanzibar Guide
New York EDITION
An instant favorite with the tech, fashion, and art crowds, the New York EDITION helps visitors feels like locals with residential-style rooms and a location in the vibrant Madison Square Park area, just a block from the Flatiron Building (and Eataly.) The 273 rooms and suites have oak floors, custom Le Labo amenities, BEATS Bluetooth speakers, and super-sized windows (some showcasing Empire State Building views.) The two-room spa is only open to hotel guests, but locals can join in at the lobby bar, the stunning Gold Bar (with mahogany walls and 24k gold leaf-covered bar) , and Chef Jason Atherton's lauded The Clocktower restaurant.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New York City Guide
andBeyond Benguera Island
Wide, near-deserted beaches, meals served under lantern-lit trees, sunset drinks sipped barefoot in a bar made from a wooden sailboat—this idyllic resort has all the elements of tropical paradise, presented in a way that feels intimate and authentic. One of only a couple resorts on Benguerra Island, part of the Bazaruto Archipelago just off the coast of Mozambique, the hotel has just 12 cabanas and casitas, each with design elements that reflect the area's Portuguese history (think wooden four-poster beds, hand-painted tiles, and traditional fabrics), as well as perks like outdoor showers, plunge pools, and private beachside day beds. The set-up mimics a safari, with rates including all meals, most drinks, laundry, and select activities like snorkeling, sea kayaking, castaway picnics, and village visits. You can add on things like horseback rides or helicopter tours, or just hang in your picture-perfect retreat.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Mozambique Guide
The Old 77 Hotel & Chandlery
Just blocks from both the French Quarter and the Convention Center, the latest launch from Provenance Hotels sits in a converted warehouse that once stocked provisions like rope, canvas, and tobacco for the Port of New Orleans. The restored structure's decor now features a wide array of locally-sourced art, thanks to partnerships with the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and area galleries. (The lobby level Chandlery gift shop also sells works by local artists, as well as artisan-made fashion, jewelry, fragrances and more.) Rooms have original touches like exposed brick walls or hardwood floors, along with walk-in showers or oversized tubs, free WiFi, and unique amenities like a Spiritual Menu (offering the religious text of your choice) and a Spotify Menu with curated NOLA soundtracks. Dogs get the red carpet with dedicated room service menus, welcome treats, and—because it wouldn't be New Orleans without the quirk—a library of “pet spirituality” books and a list of local pet resources, from dog walkers to pet psychics. It also wouldn't be New Orleans without good food and drink, and the hotel has that covered with the Compere Lapin restaurant from Top Chef Nina Compton, and the Tout La cafe for coffee and pastries.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New Orleans Guide
Four Seasons Seoul
Four Seasons first Korean property, opened in October, sits in a newly-built complex in the heart of the Central Business District, close to major business and trendy shopping and nightlife. Along with housing 317 airy rooms (each with the new, customizable Four Seasons bed), the hotel serves as a lifestyle complex for both visitors and locals, with seven dining and drinking venues (including a European-style market hall and speakeasy-inspired lounge), plus two specialty food shops. The three-floor Four Seasons Club Seoul—with three pools, an indoor driving range, Korean spa and more—is a hub for health and fitness, while two ballrooms and seven event spaces have made the hotels a fast favorite for weddings and events.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Seoul Guide
The Cape, a Thompson Hotel
Following 2014's Hurricane Odile, many Los Cabos hotels took the opportunity to renovate or upgrade, knowing that a slew of new hotels were slated to open in 2015. Among the latter was Thompson Hotel's first in Mexico, and it's first non-city resort; The Cape, which opened in June 2015 on the famous, surfer-favorite Monuments Beach. Along with the direct white sand access, the resort features 161 with views of the Sea of Cortez and iconic The Arch granite formation (which guests of most other hotels need a boat ride to see), as well as copper-leafed tub, outdoor day beds, and in some, plunge pools. Other standouts include the only rooftop lounge in Cabo (complete with firepits and sunken seating), an infinity pool with swim-up bar, and spa with two al fresco treatment cabanas. Award-wining chef Enrique Olvera helms the signature restaurant, which showcases the best Baja ingredients.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Los Cabos Guide
COMO The Treasury
Helmed by leading Australian architect Kerry Hill, Perth's Cathedral Square Development project is a major restoration and re-vamp of one of Western Australia's most important heritage neighborhoods. Opened in mid-October 2015, this hotel serves as a centerpiece of the revitalization, occupying three interconnecting State Buildings that—over a three-year process—have been restored to their 19th-century glory, complete with copper rooftop trims, a stripped facade, and re-installed dormer windows. Inside, the 48 rooms feature high ceilings, custom-made beds, and complimentary mini-bars that get replenished daily. As befits the wellness-focused COMO brand, there are aromatherapy-based bath products, a full-service spa offering holistic therapies, an indoor pool, and yoga and Pilates classes. The lobby-level Post serves French-accented Australian dishes, while the rooftop Wildflower restuarant's fine dining fare comes with Swan River views.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Perth Guide
St. Regis Istanbul
Istanbul's seen a lot of hotel arrivals this year, and one of the biggest was that of the St. Regis Istanbul, located in the upscale Nisantasi neighborhood, just across from Maçka Park. Reflecting the Art Deco heritage of the area, the hotel houses an impressive art collection (there are different original pieces in each room, plus works by everyone from Botero to Robert Indiana scattered throughout), and 132 rooms and suites with signature St. Regis touches, like butler service for all. (Specialty suites include one designed by Bentley, with custom furnishings that evoke the sleek style of a luxury car.) A seven-room spa, lobby eatery with streetside seating, and rooftop Spago restaurant with panoramic views are drawing the local see-and-be-seen crowd.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Istanbul Guide
Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech
Boasting an Atlas Mountains backdrop, Marrakech's latest luxury arrival comes from Mandarin Oriental, which has been promising a Moroccan outpost for years. Set closer to the historic old town than many of the other international branded resorts, and offering direct access to two of the city's top golf clubs, the 54-villa, 9-suite property is spread over acres of olive groves and landscaped gardens, the latter housing over 100,000 roses. The stylish accommodations have private pools and walled gardens; the grounds include jogging paths, heated pools, and a hammam-equipped spa. Moroccan-born, French-trained chef Meryem Cherkaoui puts a modern twist on regional classics at the signature Mes'Lalla restaurant, while Le Salon Berbère transforms from a tea and sweet shop to a Champagne lounge come sunset.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Marrakech Guide
The Principal Madrid
Shaking up Madrid's often-stuffy upscale hotel scene, Unico Hotels' The Principal puts a modern twist on Old World gilt. Set inside a restored 17th-century Renaissance building, at the intersection of the hip Salesas and historic Habsburg Madrid neighborhoods, the hotel features 76 rooms, each with high-ceilings, massaging shower heads, free WiFi and Bluetooth sound systems. Both the laid-back sixth-floor Atico lounge and rooftop terrace and solarium—the latter with plush deck chairs surrounded by olive and cypress trees—serve a menu crafted by Michelin-starred chef Ramón Freixa. The signature afternoon “pret-a-por-tea,” complete with live DJ, has become a local favorite.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Madrid Guide
Following a multi-million-dollar renovation, a 1909 landmark building just three blocks from the Alamo and Riverwalk re-opened this year as the St. Anthony, A Luxury Collection Hotel. Elements of the structure's history abound, from the lobby's 12-foot ceilings and gold leaf-topped columns to the marble and bronze figures of the Sculpture Garden, but they now blend seamlessly with the contemporary style of the 277 guest rooms and suites, many of which have Travis Park views. (It's worth asking a staffer about the building's past or scheduling a tour, as these walls contain a lot of stories.) Breakfast is served in the park-view Loggia, lunch and dinner at the Texas-accented ReBelle, and drinks at the Pool Bar, overlooking the city, or at The St. Anthony Club, a former private club now offering signature cocktails, live jazz, and a glimpse of days gone by.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s San Antonio Guide
Mandapa, A Ritz Carlton Reserve
For the third property in its top-end Reserve portfolio, Ritz-Carlton found inspiration in the lush rice paddies and flowing Ayung River of central Bali, opening Mandapa, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve in a scenic spot just outside of Ubud in mid-2015. Ubud is known as the island's cultural, artistic and wellness hub, and the 60-room resort reflects that with beautiful local textiles and design elements, an extensive spa (offering Balinese and ESPA products), and a long list of available healing, cultural, and outdoor activities. Mandapa (which translates to “temple”) is also about privacy—whether for romance, contemplation, or just relaxation; villas have private pools and Balinese gardens, one of the restaurants has just nine cocoon-style tables, and yoga sessions can be arranged overlooking the river or rice fields.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bali Guide
Le Meridien Paro Riverfront
While Bhutan is still a relatively pristine and protected destination, there's a flurry of hotel development on its horizon, with several international companies announcing planned projects. With the recent opening of two Le Meridien hotels—including the Le Meridien Paro, Riverfront, launched in fall 2015—Starwood has beat some of the other brands to the punch, and snagged some prime real estate in the process. Set along the Paro River, a short drive from the town center and just across from working orchards and rice paddies, this 59-room resort is one of the largest in Bhutan, but still feels intimate, thanks to a serene decor, attentive staff, and the overall peaceful retreat vibe. Standout amenities include the country's largest heated indoor pool, a riverview gym and spa, three dining outlets, an in-house temple and meditation room, and an outdoor event space with bonfire and BBQ. Rooms are bright, modern and comfortable, and feature satellite TV and WiFi—so you won't feel quite so far away.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bhutan Guide