Europe is bejewelled with famous, historic hotels, but which ones really deserve their reputation for winning style, undiminished elegance and exceptional service? Here are six still worth the journey
Grand Hotel Europe, St Petersburg
The Grand Hotel Europe is perfectly placed beside the most famous street in St Petersburg, Nevsky Prospekt. Opened in 1875 and graced with art nouveau flourishes, this is where Tchaikovsky honeymooned and Rasputin drank, and it's long been the preferred choice for A-list visitors to Russia's most fabulous city. Now restored to a modern splendour, the Grand's 301 rooms and suites include a new historic floor with period furnishings and butler service. Downstairs, the Caviar Bar is the best place in town for a serious encounter with premium caviars and vodkas. More crucially, this is a hotel that can open all the best doors for its guests. Tickets for the Mariinsky Theatre, an insider tour of the Hermitage... whether you dream of visiting in the White Nights of summer or the snowy depths of winter, it pays to start planning now.
Venice offers a feast of five-star hotels, but none is more restful than “the Chip”. This feeling begins the minute you board the private launch that whisks guests from the tourist circus of St Mark's Square to the bucolic corner of Giudecca island on which it stands. Suddenly the sensory assault course that is La Serenissima is replaced with a flower-filled garden and genial staff suggesting it might be time for a restorative Bellini. Further exploration reveals an Olympic-sized heated outdoor pool, a spa inspired by Casanova, and a vineyard. Impeccably furnished in a classical style, most of the 96 rooms and suites at the Hotel Cipriani are set in a main building looking onto the lagoon or garden. For something special, ask about the suites in the adjacent Palazzo Vendramin and Palazzetto, many of which have views worthy of a Canaletto.
La Residencia, Mallorca
Tucked up in the mountainous northwest of Mallorca, the village of Deía is home to a luxury hotel that ticks all the right boxes if you're looking for a refined but relaxing country getaway. Forty minutes' drive from Palma, La Residencia is a charming jumble of stone-built manor houses and newer buildings, which somehow contain 67 rooms and suites, including eight new Tramuntana suites set high on the hillside with a plunge pool, terrace and enchanting views. The superb location is enhanced by three pools, a spa, a gracious restaurant and an engaging art collection that reflects Deía's long history as a sanctuary for poets, artists and musicians. The village is unexpectedly endowed with fine places to dine, and the affable hotel staff will arrange walks, cultural tours, boat trips and summer picnics, along with transfers to its own private cove by the sea.
Hôtel Martinez, Cannes
The Côte d'Azur is all about celebrating the joys of sunshine, good food, a sparkling blue sea and top class people-watching - and such pleasures reach their peak on La Croisette, the palm-lined seafront at Hôtel Martinez, which opened in 1929. Its 412 rooms come in a mix of styles and views, but it's hard to beat those with a seaview balcony where you can throw open the doors to behold the shimmering Mediterranean, although - unusually - those at the back also have their appeal, being quieter with a view to the hills inland. There's also a heated pool, a two-Michelin-star restaurant and, across the road, a private beach club, Zplage. With 400 loungers, a massage booth, evening DJs and a restaurant serving exotic salads and fusion frappés, this is pure 21st-century French Riviera.
Hotel Splendido, Portofino
A 45-minute drive east of Genoa, the Hotel Splendido presides like a queen over the five-star fishing village of Portofino. Opened in 1901 with a commanding view of the Ligurian Sea, its star feature is a series of long and leafy terraces perfect for sipping a glass of prosecco in the sun or reclining by the pool with a copy of Italian Vogue. The hotel's chef, Corrado Corti, is a master of the light and sensual dish while the Wellness Centre, which offers aromatherapy treatments and massages in the garden, is proof of just how invigorating a few nights at a luxury seaside hotel can be. The best of the 64 rooms and suites come with private terraces, or, if you prefer to be closer to the action, down in Portofino there is a boutique companion, the 16-room Hotel Splendido Mare, which has a delightful harbourside restaurant.
Le Meurice, Paris
No hotel sparks that “Yippee - I'm in Paris” thrill better than Le Meurice. Its rue de Rivoli location is unbeatable, with the gardens of the Tuileries opposite and the fashion-filled shops of rue St-Honoré behind. The best of its 160 truly pampering rooms and suites offer panoramic views of the city skyline, while the public areas have been given a Dali-inspired redesign by Philippe Starck. There's a Valmont spa and the pleasingly snug Bar 228, but the big lure is the sumptuous Restaurant Le Meurice where three-Michelin-star chef de cuisine Yannick Alléno creates gastronomic miracles in a jewel-box dining room adorned with gilded mirrors, elegant mosaics and dazzling chandeliers. The hotel is also a good choice for a family treat, with younger guests fêted with toy boats, carousel rides, mini-bathrobes and a treasure hunt.