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michael SOME BLOSSOMS AND BED
BUGS TO END THE YEAR


BY MICHAEL MATTHEWS

December 21, 2006 -- 'Tis the season for the last column of 2006, so here's my hotel roundup for the past year. Allow me to pass out some metaphorical blossoms and bed bugs.

As I tour the country and the world, I am amazed by how good hotels are getting. Not only those at the top of the pyramid, but also those at the lower price points, too. I loved finding that Radisson Hotels as a group seems to have turned the corner. La Quinta gave my wife and I some wonderful nights this year--but make sure you book into one of the newer ones because the old ones are generally dogs. My hotel-of-the-year designation goes to the Rosewood-operated Carlyle in New York. It's expensive, to be sure, but the service is unbeatable. If your budget allows it, do try it in 2007. Tell James McBride, the general manager, that I sent you.

On the flip side, Holiday Inn continues its decline and, given the chain's historic importance, it's a great shame that they can't seem to get their act together. Westin may have the best advertising and they do try hard, but the chain's hotels lack consistency, which defeats the purpose of the advertising. I hate W as a brand: I swear at the Ikea-style furniture in the guestrooms and I'm too old to enjoy the bars for which they are famous. The new W Hotel in Dallas saw a great surge of business when it opened earlier this year, but regulars have gone back to the Hotel Crescent Court. I stayed there a number of times this year and had no complaint other than the price of sushi in Nobu, one of the hotel's restaurants.

On the international front, London is still a city that will never bore and the Lanesborough is a 90-room emporium of comfort. Geofrey Gelardi has run The Lanesborough since the day it opened; call him, he picks up his own phone. The Landmark, run by the affable Francis Green, continues to be a bargain by London hotel standards. Don't let the location across from Marylebone Station deter you. But London is now an incredibly expensive city with the pound creeping up to nearly two dollars. If you go, bring money and lots of it!

I found Dubai, with a gathering of some of the world's best branded hotels, a mind-blowing experience. But why half of Europe has found it to be the new Riviera is beyond me. Any traveler interested in new-wave architecture should visit, otherwise Dubai offers a very mediocre experience. I prefer Bahrain; it's developing fast, but has managed to keep its local culture.

Tokyo continues to amaze me. My wife had a tremendous stay at the Seio Ginza Hotel, where Lloyd Nakano runs a tight ship. Hong Kong has a new Four Seasons and it's giving the venerable Peninsula a run for its money. I haven't seen the newly reopened Mandarin Oriental, but my spies tell me that the always-bustling Captains Bar has quickly reasserted itself as the town's top watering hole. Shanghai is a must on any visit to China and, like so many cities in Asia, all of Shanghai's internationally branded hotels are quite good. Sydney has a number of new hotels of the boutique variety, but the huge Four Seasons on the edge of The Rocks area is still my choice. See Stephen Lewis there; he runs a terrific ship. If you have to go to Melbourne, stay at the Westin, where Rudy Markle is your man.

After a number of trips to Hawaii this year, I continue to be amazed at the unique, 40-year-old Kona Village Resort on the Big Island. It still operates without telephones, television or locks on the doors and the bar closes at 9.00 p.m. That's probably why Steve Jobs and other corporate honchos make it home when they seek a few days R&R away from the galloping herds. See Ulrich Krauer, a humorous Swiss if there is such a thing. He runs the joint. In its own quirky way, it's as great a place as the wonderful Halekulani in Honolulu. I hate Waikiki, but the Halekulani is a true oasis. I love the fact that you can sit in your bathtub and view the ocean. Peter Shaindlin is the man to call when you are headed there.

On the West Coast, I still prefer the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. The unflappable Alberto Del Hoyo plays host to you and most of Hollywood. In Santa Barbara, the Beanie Baby king, Ty Warner, continues to renovate the San Ysidro Ranch and he's rumored to have spent more than a million dollars a cottage bringing them into shape. Duncan Graham, a talkative Englishman, has brought some manners to the place. His nightly soiree for guests serves excellent local wines--for a thousand bucks a night, so he should--and it's a great way to meet other visitors. In San Francisco, Campton Place remains my favorite hotel. But its manager of many years, Paul Zeust, has left, and I am unable to report how the place is faring since his departure. Portland is getting a lot of positive press, but I can't say a single good word about its hotels.

If you are ever in the northern part of North Carolina, in the Appalachian mountains, take time out for a couple of days at the Old Edwards Inn in the village of Highlands. A great find in one of the most beautiful spots in America. Meanwhile, the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta wins my award for the most overrated hotel in the nation. I also visited the Delano in Miami's South Beach this year and I was impressed by the number of older gentlemen visiting with their nieces.

And on a personal note, I'm often asked where to stay in Phoenix and Tucson, the latter being my home base. In Phoenix, I'd suggest the Royal Palms, although it is undergoing a major rehab just now. In Tucson, I'd opt for the Hacienda Del Sol with the Arizona Inn a close second.

By the way, JoeSentMe columnists Chris Barnett and Joe Brancatelli and I were recently a part of a panel put together by ForbesTraveler.com to select the world's 400 best hotels. We were part of a panel of 83 eminent travel writers, travelers and corporate bigwigs. The list was a massive combination of big egos and opinionated thoughts. How the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead got on the list I will never know.

That's all for this year, folks. You are all wonderful and I hope that I have answered some of your hotel questions this year. And I trust that this coming year will be a rewarding one with many happy hotel stays.

Good night and don't let the hotel the bed bugs bite.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2006 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.