How do you even begin to pick the top hotels in Europe? Impossible, right? But we love a challenge, and began with what we think Time Out readers are looking for – that perfect mix of great design, location and amenities – then factored in less tangible elements such as history, experiences and ambience. So here, in no particular order, are our favourite 13 hotels in Europe. They include timeless classics, like London’s Claridge’s, cool style hotels such as Stockholm’s Ett Hem and Barcelona’s Soho House, fin de siecle beauties like Vienna’s Hotel Sacher and Moscow’s Metropol, and others that focus on wellness, like Austria’s Ayurveda Resort Sonnhof and Portugal’s Six Senses. We feel sure that a stay at any of these will be one of the best hotel experiences you’ll ever have.
The best hotels in Europe
Where is it? Stockholm, Sweden
Why go? A ten-minute drive from Stockholm Central Station, Ett Hem is ‘a home’ you’d love to be yours, even for a night. The vibe is ‘laidback cool’. Wood-panelled rooms – 12 of them – are Scandi classic with flashes of contemporary; some have marble bathrooms, retro chandeliers or cast-iron four-posters, even a wood-burning stove. Hang out in the library, relax in the cool glasshouse, or have a treatment and chill in the mini-spa. A fitness area includes pilates equipment, and the chef creates simple meals, with a distinctly Swedish flavour, from whatever the day’s market offers.
Where is it? Taormina, Italy
Why go? There’s a wonderful whiff of old-style Italian glamour at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, which sits on its own private beach in Sicily’s chicest town. Many of the light, breezy rooms have balconies with views of the Bay of Mazzarò, and you can hop on the nearby cable car to reach central Taormina (or take the free shuttle). An infinity pool and spa surrounded by luxuriant gardens, plus waterside Restaurant Oliviera, raise the glamour quotient even further. If you prefer to be in the heart of buzzy Taormina itself, the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo is equally impressive and offers outstanding views.
Where is it? London, England
Why go? This five-star has always been London’s classiest option, thanks to its Mayfair location and list of starry guests (Kate Moss had her 30th here). But after an incredible Art Deco redesign, Claridge’s is simply dazzling, from its enormous Dale Chihuly chandelier in the sumptuous art deco foyer to Simon Rogan’s Michelin-starred Fera restaurant. All rooms are luxurious, but suites come with a butler and even the use of a Burberry trench coat. Needless to say, the service here is also 5-star.
Where is it? Hinterthiersee, Tyrol, Austria
Why go? To rest mind, body and soul, this mountain resort offering a European ayurvedic experience is unbeatable. All your senses are awakened here, from the sight of the surrounding Austrian Alps that backdrop the hotel to the smell of alpine trees and incense wafting throughout, via the touch of the expert therapists in the spa and the taste of creative Ayurvedic cuisine (included in the room rate). Add in the feel of luxurious fabrics in the colourful rooms and gorgeous public areas and this really does add up to a feast for the senses.
Where is it? Barcelona, Spain
Why go? Minutes from La Rambla, this Spanish outpost of the super-cool Soho House brand has plenty to recommend it, from the fabulous rooftop pool, with views over Port Vell and the sea beyond, to the luxurious Cowshed spa, with indoor pool, steam room and wood-panelled treatment rooms. As with all SH establishments, the style here is classy but chilled, with an emphasis on relaxing in a fun atmosphere, aided by chummy, attentive staff. Excellent food is available at ground-floor Cessoni’s, or the house kitchen, and there’s even a cinema, with cocktail bar next door.
Where is it? Santorini, Greece
Why go? On one of Greece’s coolest islands, this minimalist boutique hotel is the perfect hangout – thanks not least to its location; the pared-back predominantly white hotel is carved out of the cliff. After a day relaxing by one of the most impressive infinity pools imaginable, with views over the sea, guests can move into an award-winning Champagne bar and an open-air restaurant that’s one of the finest on the island, both with sea views. And so to bed…many of the elegant rooms have plunge pools, in-room fitness kits, and a few have their own hammam.
Where is it? Ile de Ré, France
Why go? Ile de Ré, that favourite holiday island for Parisians, epitomises laidback Atlantic chic – as does Le Clos Saint-Martin in Saint-Martin-de-Ré. The style is exactly in keeping with the island’s architecture: two-storey whitewashed buildings with grey shutters, which overlook two swimming pools and a hollyhock-filled garden. Zen meets the seaside in its 33 rooms – all pale oak floors, white furnishings and the softest fabrics. If that doesn’t send you into a state of calm, the spa and its supremely comfortable loungers will.
Where is it? Douro, Portugal
Why go? Located in the Douro Valley, surrounded by lush, vine-covered hills, Six Senses is idyllic. The 19th-century manor house prides itself on its excellent kitchens and restaurant, and also features swimming pools and an organic garden. The spa offers plenty of beauty treatments and therapies, and individual programmes can be arranged, following non-invasive health screening. But this is far from a joyless health resort; we’re in wine country after all, so the hotel has its own wine library, and can arrange trips to nearby winemakers for tastings and even a chance to tread the grapes.
Where is it? Casares, Spain
Why go? Just half an hour's drive from bustling Marbella, Finca Cortesín is a gorgeous retreat that features palatial courtyards, and vast grounds scented with jasmine and roses. It also boasts one of the country's best championship golf courses, a Thai-inspired spa and a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant. Within, the finca has been styled by interior designer Duarte Pinto Coelho, and along with intricately carved wooden ceilings, the decor is enhanced with Spanish, Portuguese and Moroccan antiques. There’s also a private beach club.
Where is it? Vienna, Austria
Why go? This elegant 19th-century five-star hotel is a real institution (former guests have included John F Kennedy, Indira Gandhi and Queen Elizabeth II), and is named after Eduard Sacher, son of the creator of the famous Sachertorte. Chocolate fans will be thrilled that the legendary breakfasts include plenty of the cake, and the theme extends to your bathroom – even the soaps smell like chocolate. Located a short walk from the State Opera, the hotel is perfectly situated for sightseeing and shopping, and as well as two restaurants, includes a terrace bar and a well-equipped spa.
Where is it? Paris, France
Why go? The only hotel on Paris’s tranquil Place des Vosges, the Pavillon de la Reine is a true city bolthole – and you’re right in the heart of the buzzing Marais district. This 17th-century mansion draped in ivy is pure romance, with its private courtyard garden and countryside ambience. Its 56 rooms range from antiques-filled traditional style to more modern décor, some with four-poster beds and beamed ceilings. The feeling of being cosseted extends to the spa and the library-like restaurant and bar.
Where is it? Moscow, Russia
Why go? If seriously over the top opulence floats your boat, Moscow’s five-star Metropol should definitely be on your hotels bucket list, if it isn’t already. First opened in 1905 as a hotel, this fabulous buidling steps from the Kremlin and Red Square boasts heaps of period Art Nouveau features, including stained glass, sculpture, and art. Bathrooms are jaw-dropping in their marble splendour, and as you sit under the leaded roof of the beautiful dining room, perhaps taking in an evening concert, you can ponder on what former guests and visitors such as Trotsky, Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Marlene Dietrich and Michael Jackson made of it all.
Where is it? Florence, Italy
Why go? This sympathetically restored Brunelleschi-designed palazzo is just 10 minutes north of the Ponte Vecchio and in a romantic spot right on the River Arno. Its lofty spaces, filled with colour, sumptuous furnishings and beautiful antiques, take you back to the Renaissance, and its 99 handsome are ornate without going over the top. It’s worth upgrading to one of the rooms with its own balcony overlooking the Arno. The Winter Garden restaurant is a real beauty, and one of the best in Florence, where Italian cuisine is given a Michelin-starred gloss. The spa is an intimate affair, with private hot tubs in each treatment room.