As I approach the art deco entrance of the hotel, I spot my friend Anouschka Menzies, a woman known around London for her prodigious connections in the world of luxury hospitality. I approach to say hello, but a doorman beats me to it: “Good morning, Mrs. Menzies. Welcome back to Claridge’s.”
It is in that first genteel yet relaxed greeting that guests start to feel at home—bearing in mind, of course, that most homes don’t open up into checkerboard marble floors and crystal chandeliers. “When I pass through the revolving doors into the glamorous lobby of Claridge’s, I always feel a thrill,” designer Lulu Guinness has said.
Founded in 1854, the Mayfair hotel began a long line of royal visits in 1860, when Queen Victoria paid a call on Empress Eugénie of France, who was a guest. The current property was designed in 1898 by Harrods architect C.W. Stephens, and given its signature deco elements in the 1920s by society favorites Basil Ionides and Oswald Milne. Seventy years later, archival photos of their work were used by New York designer Thierry Despont to recreate their original designs. The results included an exquisitely polished look for the intimate and chic Fumoir bar with its Lalique panels; the Foyer, with a silver chandelier by Dale Chihuly; and the Reading Room, a meeting point for celebrities for more than a century.
Though the environment is sensational, what truly sets Claridge’s apart are the personal touches. Iconic British label Burberry not only provides gratis trench coats for guests’ use, but also offers styling experts for their fashion needs. Pillows are embroidered with the initials of returning clients. The legendary afternoon tea service has a gluten-free option. And preferences are faithfully remembered: “They know I love hydrangeas, and always have them in our room upon our summer arrivals,” says frequent guest Eilah Beavers. “Also, chocolate macaroons are always awaiting my husband’s immediate indulgence.”
Claridge’s creates a broader sense of community by treating its Mayfair neighbors like friends. “Locals feel that the property is an essential part of the neighborhood,” says head concierge Martin Ballard. For example, the staff signs for packages and holds them for pick-up, and some regulars leave their house keys at the desk for friends to collect. One Londoner has been arriving for daily breakfast for more than 40 years. “We always seek to create a special relationship with the residents in the area,” Ballard says.
Soon, another tradition will return to the hotel. First designed in 2009 by John Galliano for Dior, Claridge’s Christmas tree has become a holiday beacon in London. While Galliano’s original installation evoked a tropical tree complete with leopards, dragonflies and parrots, other world-renowned designers—including Alber Elbaz, Christopher Bailey and even Apple’s Jony Ive—have contributed their own special touch to the hotel’s festive decor.
Back in the lobby, Anouschka Menzies is reminiscing about the memorable days and nights she has spent at Claridge’s: “I dearly miss the days of cocktails and tales with Isabella Blow.” As we prepare to part, she drops a final comment, one that sums up the property’s appeal for those who adore tradition, discretion and the importance of a luxe sanctuary: “I used to visit a count friend of mine who went into hiding here because he didn’t want to get married. Claridge’s was his secret refuge.”
Mexico City, Mexico
This hotel’s location in the capital’s Polanco district reflects Mexico’s rich traditions and modern sophistication. On one side, the angular high-rise overlooks the city’s Chapultepec park, studded with prestigious institutions like the National Museum of Anthropology. On the other side of the 312-key property are Polanco’s celebrated restaurants and shopping. The hotel also nods to the country’s heritage through décor touches like ornately carved headboards. According to American Airlines Vacations president and Platinum List expert Eduardo Marcos, the hotel offers “outstanding service in a vibrant city.”
This hotel made a splash when it opened in 2009, and has earned fans like designer and Platinum List expert Tory Burch, who praises its “incredible view of the Bund and the city skyline.” The waterfront property is all about its breathtaking vistas, be it from Sir Elly’s Restaurant, the Michelin-starred modern European eatery, or a deluxe river room, where the Huangpu flows by past the picture windows. Throughout, the hotel pays homage to the city’s rich Chinese and art deco heritage with embellishments like lacquer, carved glass and bright chrome.
Hôtel Plaza Athénée
Across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, the Hôtel Plaza Athénée has become an institution in its century-plus history, its iconic red awnings immediately recognizable. Inside, Alain Ducasse’s eponymous restaurant presents a “cuisine of naturalness,” in which the chef presents a trinity of fish, cereals and vegetables that aims to bring us closer to a natural state of being. The 154 rooms and 54 suites, referencing both Louis XVI and art deco, feature marble bathrooms, antique furniture and bespoke linen. Situated on Montaigne Avenue—which is lined with chestnut trees and boutiques like Fendi and Bulgari—this fashionable hotel even boasts a spa with products by Dior.
San Francisco, California
While San Francisco may be known as the world’s tech capital, its most distinguished address is an old-school one: the Palace Hotel, a 1909 grande dame on Market Street, with a décor as opulent as its royal moniker. Its 8,000-square-foot Garden Court, dominated by a showstopping glass atrium and adorned with Austrian chandeliers and Italian marble columns, may appear to be a well-preserved museum, but the traditional Saturday Signature Tea reflects the city’s changing palate with bites like chicken curry bánh mì lightened with green papaya salad. The guest rooms embody the modern era with clean lines and smart grays reminiscent of the city’s iconic fog. And when you float in the heated pool, you’ll see through a transparent dome how San Francisco’s skyline continues to rise.