News & Reviews News My stand-out hotels of 2017

I was asked to put this together by a fellow reader months ago, yet life managed to find a way to force me into watching endless TV series on Netflix instead.  Sometimes life is a cruel mistress with no mercy.  But here it is!  Better late than never, yet still not later than the end of the year.  My collection of stand out properties from 2017.  I have stayed in 44 different luxury hotels this year, some as my 3rd, 4th or even 150th stay, and for better or worse, here are those that have stood out so far.

Let’s start with the easy ones.  This year I set out to stay in every single FHR hotel within London – all 22 of them.  With just 4 to go, here are what I would rank as the best of the year.

Favourite London hotels

Each has their own cons.  The Connaught with their terrible tech and small entry rooms; The Beaumont with their dark rooms, masculine design and lack of pool; The Lanesborough suffering from poor cuisine; The Bulgari, competing with British Airways for their never-ending cost cutting.  Yet each offers something utterly brilliant as well.  For the fact that they recovered so well, and offer such an incredible spa, facilities, amenities, location and those freaking awesome Roja toiletries, I feel The Lanesborough has just won it.

Favourite non-London city hotel

Ellerman House. World class service, hospitality, food and views.

Best beach resort

Iniala – once again one of my favourite properties in the world, but somehow it got even better.

Best experience

Singita Lebombo – almost every part of the safari experience was magical.  Do ensure you get a private tour guide, as otherwise you may end up with people like me next to you.

A white lion – often shun from the pack. Because even animals are racist.

Best Surprise

The Pig at Combe.  I did not even expect to enjoy this property, let alone love it.  6 months on, my partner still talks of her massage there and ranks it amongst the best she’s ever had.

The Pig at Combe

Biggest disappointment

Miavana.  Unlike another guest, we didn’t threaten to sue them upon departure, so that made us only their second worst guest of that day.  My review that currently sits top of Google, so I doubt they will be sending me a Christmas card, although HQ’s complete lack of response makes me wonder if they even bothered to read it.

Miavana private pool

Special mention to Villa Honegg for becoming Lord of the Flies, but in a horribly literal sense.

Best meal

The Restaurant at The Dolder Grand.  Somehow it only has 2 Michelin stars, instead of the 427 that it deserves.

Biggest culinary disappointment

The Michelin star restaurant at Four Seasons Florence would win this in any normal year for their feeble attempts at food, but excellent attempts at overcharging. Instead Jean-George at The Connaught has won their crown.  Not because of the restaurant, but the stupidity of now having no eating options other than afternoon tea between 2:30 and 6:30 in a luxury hotel.

Biggest service recovery

Amanzoe.  I am still to write about it, but my 5th visit to Amanzoe was by far the worst.  I do not feel it appropriate to mention what they did to recover, but seeing that I complained and asked for nothing, they went above and beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I will be back in May ’18.


Best country

Switzerland.  Beau-Rivage, Dolder Grand, Alpina Gstaad, Park Hotel Vitznau are just a small percentage of the gems available in this country of masterpieces.  I still have 5 other hotels I’m desperate to visit next year.

Worst country

I would say Madagascar.  Of course I would.  That entire countries tourism industry is reliant on a company that is living on achievements 20 years ago. Yet I’ve decided to stick closer to home and will instead say England; don’t waste your time with our countryside properties when Switzerland is but 2 hours away.  Cliveden House, Lympstone Manor, Whatley Manor are all vying for your hard-earned money.  You will wonder why you bothered working.

Worst service recovery

Lympstone Manor – thou shalt not give any shits about you, me or anyone not called Michael.

Biggest disappointing stay at a newly opened hotel

All of them.  Never, ever, go to an opening of a luxury hotel.

Best overall hotel

Iniala, Park Hotel Vitznau and Ellerman House.  All 3 stood out this year; all 3 are part of the clear pattern emerging, that non-chain based hotels can offer the best experiences; all 3 have owners that care not about money, but sheer pride in delivering something truly world class.  Yet there can be only one winner.  Park Hotel Vitznau, step forward.


There were more hits than a Chris Brown reunion in 2016.  It twas the year of the big holidays: North Island, Laucala, Fregate, Amanpulo.  In 2017, Singita Lebombo, Sweni, Miavana, Ani Villas and Iniala were the big hitters, but between them, I traveled more by spending more time in Europe.

Whilst spending a lot can inevitably lead to disappointment, as can trying out lots of new places.  2017 revealed the mediocrity of what can exist, and of what can be perceived as luxury yet fail to achieve the basics.  There were just too many hotels that were either uninspired, or simple disappointments along the way.  Too many that were certainly 5 star, but some way from a luxury experience.  Too many that live off past glories, or the promise of a bright future.

Yet there is hope.  Amongst my collections of gems are Sant Francesc in Mallorca; Palazzo Parigi in Milan; The Balmoral in Edinburgh and an even more impressive, second stay in The Peninsula in Paris.

The more you do something, the harder it is to impress, but ultimately excellent service can overcome most issues – unless you’re charging $5000/n for it.  If a hotel in South Africa with 13 rooms can deliver world class service, perhaps it’s time to stop excusing other properties.

Any hotels you would mention amongst your favourites?  

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 5th Nov '17

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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