By Michael Matthews
December 20, 2007 -- This is the last column for 2007, surely an ideal time for me to recap the highs and lows, along with the hugs and brickbats, of my hotel adventures for this past year.

The high has to be my nearly five months running the Ventana Inn & Spa in Big Sur, California. Congratulations to Joie De Vivre Hospitality on being awarded the new management contract. Chip Conley and his team will surely bring Ventana to the next level. Jonathan Farrington is the new general manager and, unlike this old man, he is young, full of new and (mostly!) sensible ideas. He's personable to boot! Hugs also go to Ventana's owners, Walton Street Capital, for agreeing to put in $10 million to redo plumbing, finish renovations started last year and execute other important, behind-the-scenes upgrades. And to the Ventana Inn's team of wonderful employees, my top hug for 2007.

Another hug goes to my friends at Rosewood Hotels and Resorts and the incomparable Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. Simply wonderful service and so unobtrusive you hardly know that it's there. The newly renovated bar and outside patio for drinks and cigars occupied our late evening hours superbly; the offerings from the Mansion's new chef have, in my opinion, surpassed those of celebrity chef Dean Fearing. (Fearing's exodus from the Mansion to the newly opened Ritz-Carlton Dallas caused waves amongst the blue-rinse set.) A hug to the Mansion's new general manager, whose kindness in providing a bottle of Champagne for my wife and a six-pack of beer for me showed his British sense of humour. Like the piano in the Presidential Suite, The Mansion is a well-tuned hostelry and it's still the number-one hotel in Dallas. But why, oh why, have they renamed it the "Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek"?

Meanwhile, a brickbat to that new Ritz-Carlton Dallas simply because I couldn't find the entrance, let alone any signage to point the way. Maybe that's why it's not doing well and seems to be hemorrhaging staff.

A brickbat for the stupid desk clerk at the Fairmont San Jose in Silicon Valley. He asked us on check-in, "Did you have a nice flight?" No, it's one in the morning, the flight was six hours late and our bags never made it. Please, hoteliers, train your staff not to ask that dumb question. Flights to anywhere these days are awful and the odds of anyone having had a nice one are nil.

The Carlyle hotel in New York continues to amaze and has surely now nudged itself to top position in the big metropolis. The refurbished Café Carlyle is wonderful. And how kind that the hotel added the incomparable Bobby Short to the room's famed mural. Short held forth at the Café Carlyle for almost 40 years and died in 2005. A hug for all.

A brickbat to Marriott for its endless public relations hype on how they are protecting the environment by separating garbage, installing energy-efficient lightbulbs and the like. A visit to the JW Marriott at Starr Pass in Tucson, Arizona, found me searching for those special bulbs--and the trash area showed no sign of separated garbage. Shame on you.

Well done La Quinta Inns. You've become my wife's favorite hotel group. Everything you expect and that the chain promised in its advertising came true during many visits this year. Wow, they even called my wife by her name--and that's saying something for $75 a night. Hugs, but do be sure you get one of the newer builds.

The Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotels is as an iconic a bar as you can get. Those in the know, however, now go to the hotel's new lobby bar. Bar Nineteen 12 has terraces overlooking Beverly Hills, lounges on which to recline and service that's exemplary. I personally still prefer clubby-type bars that are warm and cozy. But if I had to pick the best new place of 2007, Bar Nineteen 12 would win.

I never thought I'd give a hug to Sheraton, but they've come a long way, baby. I tried three of them this year and didn't have a complaint. As for their "dogs allowed" policy, an extra-special hug. Millie loves you.

A brickbat to all municipalities that tax us, the poor travelers, so that the city can build a new football stadium that we'll never get to visit.

Last and not least, a hug to all of those hotel employees around the world who rise from their beds at 4:00 a.m. or even earlier to make sure that the water is hot when you get up, the coffee is ready, the orange juice is squeezed, the bill is slipped under you door and the shuttle to the airport is warm inside. Most of them still do it with a smile.

Happy Christmas to all and a great New Year to everyone!
ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

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