By Everett Potter
My favorite hotels in 2011? I stayed in some pretty wonderful places, but here are three where I’d gladly check in tomorrow morning:
ROOM WITH A WATER VIEW
Who knew that Park Hyatt could offer a hotel experience as smooth as the best Four Seasons Hotel? I guess I didn’t, because I was pleasantly floored by my stay at Park Hyatt Chicago. Honestly, it’s as good as a big city luxury hotel can get. It’s not just the subtle colors, the marble baths, or the comfortable yet stylish furnishings, which include an Eames Lounge Chair with Ottoman (when’s the last time you saw that as standard issue in a hotel room?). The killer view sealed the deal, over Water Tower Place, through a green corridor and out to Lake Michigan itself in all of its summer glory. There might be a better place to wake up to a Midwestern sunrise – or witness a July thunderstorm that was as dramatic as any I’ve seen – but I’ve never found it. The indoor pool is airy and made for laps while the Nomi Garden terrace bar manages to be both a sophisticated and casual space for lunch or drinks in the Windy City. The staff is great – pleasant, efficient, but blending into the background until you needed them. Clinching the deal is the location – you’re just steps off Michigan Avenue, a short stroll to the Oak Street Beach, and everything else you might want downtown. High aesthetics with a friendly Midwestern backbeat — cocoon here the next time you’re in town. Doubles start at $296 Park Hyatt Chicago
What did we do on our winter vacation? We went dog sledding, snowshoed in the Quebec woods, and skated on a rink in the bracing air at Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. My daughter and her cousin swam in a 1930’s era pool with a hand painted wooden roof. They shyly joked in their beginning French with the waiters, seasoned pros with a well-practiced repartee with children. My wife took to the Spa, and I enjoyed every minute of a few glorious days of winter in one of the most remarkable lodges in the world. Chateau Montebello overlooks the Ottawa River, a venerable Canadian resort that is said to be the world’s largest log building, built with some 10,000 red cedar logs that were hauled from British Columbia in 1930. It is a classic lodge but with a multitude of outdoor activities, it is also a bastion of winter sports.
Sled dogs bark as you arrive, down a long drive past cross country skiers gliding on an adjacent trail. Guests are skating or playing hockey on a diminutive rink, or heading out to explore Kenauk, the 100 square mile wilderness area originally deeded by the King of France in 1674 that the hotel now manages.
It is imposing, a mass of black logs with sawn ends painted bright red. Call it north woods baronial. You could be in Norway or Finland or even somewhere in the heart of Russia. A Tolstoy novel would be a fitting tome to bring along.
It’s vast, laid out like an idealized snowflake in an asymmetrical hexagonal, with long wings containing the 211 guestrooms. There are even outbuildings in the same style, including an indoor curling rink.
But the focal point of the hotel — and everyone’s experience — is the vast hexagonal lobby, which is centered on a majestic six-sided stone fireplace, made of cut stone and the rough stone found on traditional Quebec farmhouses. It rises like a lighthouse some 65 feet to the peak of the roof. Surrounding it are dozens of wooden lounge chairs and rattan sofas, with arts and crafts lamps and dozens of tables, turning it into the mother of all great rooms.
Sure, the guest rooms are quite comfortable and to their credit, Fairmont left the creaks and the charm while modernizing things that needed updating, like the bathrooms. But the raison d’etre of this hotel is to get you out of your room and into either the great Canadian outdoors or that vast living space for reading, cocktails, conversations board games, or — dare I say it — computer time. The Bed & Breakfast Package starts at $249 (CAN) per room, per night, based on double occupancy. Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello
Casa Felipe Flores is a dream of a Mexican colonial hotel in San Cristobal, Chiapas. It was restored 20 years ago by an American couple named Orr who continue to run it as a six-bedroom inn. In typical Mexican fashion, the stone exterior faces onto the street and gives no clue of the interior. But step inside and you enter a courtyard filled with lush plants that’s open to the sky. There is a living room with a fireplace, statues of saints from Guatemala, an assortment of contemporary artworks, and some of the textiles that Chiapas is known for. It is 19th century colonial Mexico come to life.
There’s an elegant dining room where breakfast is cooked to order. Several guestrooms lead off from the courtyard and there’s a passageway to a second courtyard, with columns, more plants, more guestrooms. Each guestroom has similar antiques and artworks, as well as a fireplace.
But I liked my room the best. It was located on the roof, reached by outdoor spiral stairs. The room itself was small, perhaps 8 x 10, with a beamed ceiling, tile floors and two windows. I slept under a welcome duvet and an electric blanket, because here in the mountains, it can get chilly at night. Thankfully, there was also a corner fireplace where I lit a small fire of pinion logs which burned aromatically. The best part may have been the private terrace with table and chairs, with a view over the neighboring buildings to the green hills. It was an aerie, a meditative sanctuary in the heart of Maya Mexico. To my mind, it was perfection. Doubles from $95 with breakfast. Casa Felipe Flores.