By Nikki Ekstein
The founders of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Bars lists have crowned the world’s best hotel for the first time—and it’s Lake Como’s Passalacqua.
The tiny, 24-room hotel only just opened in June 2022 after a years-long restoration to its 18th century building—which has played host to guests as illustrious as Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and Vincenzo Bellini who made it his home in the 1800s. The hotel’s instant, meteoric rise in popularity among the jet set has come largely on the heels of charismatic owners Paolo, Antonella and Valentina De Santis who have made the hotel a true labor of love, and who had a built-in following as owners of the beloved Grand Hotel Tremezzo, also in Lake Como. (Rates at Passalacqua start at around $1,800 per night for next summer’s season.)
"If you can dream it, you can do it! Here we are!" said Valentina De Santis, visibly moved as she received the top award. "We don't have big shoulders behind us, and we still arrived here."
Following closely behind Passalacqua were a series of iconic Asian stays. Rounding out the top five were Rosewood Hong Kong; Four Seasons Chao Praya River, Bangkok; The Upper House, Hong Kong; and Aman Tokyo. La Mamounia, in Marrakesh, came next—a triumph for a city still reeling from the devastating earthquake on Sept. 8.
Despite the Asia-heavy top 10, the list skewed heavily European—prompting viewers on the live stream to wonder if it was in fact Europe’s 50 Best hotels—with properties on that continent taking up 21 of the 50 slots. Outside of two New York City entries, the Aman and Equinox, no other hotels in the US made the cut. Also notable, independent hotels far outdid branded entities; Marriott and Hilton claimed zero entries between them, though Aman and Four Seasons each took home four nods. Maybourne Hotel Group and Oetker Collection each took home three—both lesser-known brands, but beloved by luxury consumers.
The pronouncement, which took place under the dramatic Medieval arches of London’s Guildhall, marks the first hotels-focused list from the team at 50 Best, which is known for its global and regional restaurant and bar lists—all compiled by UK-based company William Reed Business Media. In its 21 years, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list has anointed new global destinations like Copenhagen or Lima—turning them from secondary cities to bucket-list-topping culinary destinations.
“There are multiple facets to what makes a list like this successful,” explains William Drew, director of content at William Reed, adding that the hotels list has been nearly a decade in the making. “How it drives business to the hotels is important, and on a slightly less empirical level, how it encourages discovery—cultural discovery—encouraging travel to new parts of the world that you might not have done otherwise.” (The headline sponsor for the inaugural World’s 50 Best Hotels list is SevenRooms, a back-end technology platform for restaurants and hotels.)
This is particularly true when it comes to the 50 Best Restaurants. But when it came to this year's list of hotels, the potential to chart new destinations went vastly unrealized.
In addition to La Mamounia (No. 6), Marrakesh notched one other entry, Royal Mansour (No. 23); it would be a wonderful boon to the city if the accolades helped give travelers confidence in their ability to travel to the Red City, which was largely spared the earthquake’s damage and relies heavily on its tourism economy. Sri Lanka, similarly, may stand to benefit; at No. 38, Amangalla may have less prominent positioning on the list, but it would deservedly cast a spotlight on a country where tourism has had difficulty taking root, despite a vast richness of hospitality, cuisine, and cultural appeal.
The process by which World’s 50 Best compiles its rankings is based on the first-person experience of 580 jurors assigned to their roles by regional division heads called academy chairs. These jurors each file votes for the top seven hotels, in order of preference, that they have stayed in in the last 24 months (in future iterations of the list the window will shrink to 18 months). Jurors can work within the industry as hoteliers, staff, travel agents, or journalists—including those who are typically hosted for free on press trips and familiarization trips—or be deemed experts simply for having a particularly itinerant lifestyle.
In addition to the 50 best hotels, special awards were given to six properties: Among them, Soneva Fushi in the Maldives was named Lost Explorer Best Beach Hotel (the best hotel within 20 meters of a beach) and Capella Bangkok was distinguished as the Nikka Best New Hotel, a recognition of the top-ranking hotel that opened during the inaugural two-year voting window, from May 2021 to May 2023.
Other special accolades included the Flor de Caña Eco Hotel, a sustainability prize that went to Singita Lodges Kruger National Park in South Africa—where conservation and social empowerment are top priorities; the hotels source cooks from their own culinary school that trains at-risk local youth—and the Carlo Alberto Vermouth Best Boutique Hotel, awarded to The Newt in Somerset as the top-ranking independent hotel with 50 or fewer rooms.
A seventh special award went to Sonu Shivdasani, CEO of Soneva, and the only person to be recognized individually at the ceremony. (The award is for being “a positive force in the global hotels sector.”) His three resorts, including No. 7 Soneva Fushi and No. 36 Soneva Jani, are temples of sustainable luxury; the latter resort, in the Maldives, has both overwater villas with their own waterslides and its own glass recycling plant, all on a tiny private atoll.
When asked whether the ongoing effects of the pandemic—such as the slow reopening of borders in Asia—could affect the rankings, Drew expressed faith in the system. “I'm confident that it’s pretty even handed and that the parts of the world that were slower to come out lockdowns have caught up a bit because of pent-up demand,” he says. And indeed, Asia performed spectacularly.
But geographic diversity was a challenge. Drew says a strong emphasis was placed on establishing a jury with geographical diversity, to ensure that the list had the potential to reflect the entire globe and not just the major capitals that see the largest number of international visitors. Yet he conceded this was a tall order. “It's never going to be a perfect, entirely equitable system. It's not possible to do that. This is the best we can make it.”
To wit, only one hotel in South America ranked on the list: the Rosewood Sao Paolo. And of all the incredible, highly luxurious safari lodges on the African continent, only Singita Lodges Kruger National Park was recognized. (The same issue of representation plagued a recent hotel ranking by La Liste, in which Belmond Hotel Cipriani ranked best in the world; that hotel did not rank on the World’s 50 Best at all.) Despite the fact that international travel to Japan and Hong Kong only resumed in October 2022 and January 2023, respectively, those destinations were represented with three properties in the top ten, perhaps pointing to the fact that even the most traveled pros can only get to so many corners of the globe in a two-year span. Indeed, those travel experts will prioritize what's new or, in the cast of post-pandemic travel, what's newly available to them—which likely explains why this list skewed towards the buzzy more than the best overall.
As to how you compare a colorful beach resort in St. Barth to an urban oasis whose lobby is on the 33rd floor of Otemachi Tower in Tokyo? Drew says the complexity of the proposition—the apples and oranges of it all—is the very thing that makes the list interesting. “We want there to be discussion about what makes a great hotel, because everyone's answer is slightly different,” he explains. “And that's a positive for us. It’s what makes it dynamic and keeps it moving and ever-evolving.”
Here's the list of the World’s 50 Best hotels in full.
1. Passalacqua, Lake Como, Italy
2. Rosewood Hong Kong
3. Four Seasons Chao Praya River, Bangkok
4. The Upper House, Hong Kong
5. Aman Tokyo
6. La Mamounia, Marrakesh, Morocco
7. Soneva Fushi, Maldives
8. One & Only Mandarina, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
9. Four Seasons Firenze, Italy
10. Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
11. Capella Bangkok (Nikka Best New Hotel Award)
12. The Calile, Brisbane
13. Chablé Yucatan, Chocolá, Mexico
14. Aman Venice
15. Singita Lodges Kruger National Park (Flor de Caña Eco Hotel Award)
16. Claridge’s, London
17. Raffles Singapore
18. Nihi Sumba, Indonesia
19. Hotel Esencia, Tulum, Mexico
20. La Sirenuse, Positano, Italy
21. Borgo Egnazia, Savalletri, Italy
22. The Connaught, London
23. Royal Mansour, Marrakesh, Morocco
24. Four Seasons Madrid
25. Aman New York
26. Maybourne Riviera, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France
27. Rosewood Sao Paolo
28. Capella Singapore
29. Le Bristol, Paris
30. Park Hyatt Kyoto
31. La Reserve, Paris
32. Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Scotland
33. Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, Antibes, France
34. Cheval Blanc, Paris
35. Four Seasons Astir Palace, Athens
36. Soneva Jani, Maldives
37. The Newt, Bruton, UK (Best Boutique Hotel Award)
38. Amangalla, Sri Lanka
39. Hoshinoya Tokyo
40. Desa Potato Head, Bali
41. Eden Rock, St. Barth
42. The Siam, Bangkok
43. Badrutt’s Palace, St. Moritz, Switzerland
44. Atlantis The Royal, Dubai
45. Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, India
46. Nomad London
47. The Savoy, London
48. Equinox New York
49. Six Senses Ibiza
50. Hôtel de Crillon, Paris