Six grand hotels that really feel grand

by Nigel.Tisdall

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.

Cipriani, Venice

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.




My globetrotting career began one wet Monday morning in 1985 when I went to London's Liverpool Street station and caught a train to Hong Kong. Since then I've travelled all over the world on assignments for numerous publications, in particular the Daily Telegraph newspaper and British Marie Claire.

My London

Where I always grab a coffee: At home, which is close to the Angel Underground station in Islington, north London, where there are so many travel writers living I used to hold a regular party every year - but of course, many of them were away... My other favourite coffee haunt is Bar Italia in Soho (22 Frith St), usually at about 3am when it's packed with lots of entertaining people who don't want their wild night to stop - myself included.

My favourite stroll: A walk across any London bridge is always rewarding and rich with historic associations. Head to Westminster Bridge and it's hard not to think of the poet Wordsworth celebrating its uplifting city views in his sonnet 'Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802', while London Bridge often brings to mind TS Eliot pondering its rush hour commuters in 'The Waste Land' (1922).

Fiction for inspiration: Salaam Brick Lane: A Year in the New East End, by Tarquin Hall, is an enjoyable and spirited introduction to the great jumble of human stories that is modern life in London. For more books about the capital, make a beeline for the Edwardian calm of Daunt Books in Marylebone High St ( where you can happily browse for hours.

Where to be seen: Drinking vintage Louis Roederer Champagne at the opulently gilded Beaufort Bar in the new-look Savoy Hotel (

The most breathtaking view: Climb up to the Golden Gallery of St Paul's Cathedral.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Green Park ( gets a lot of use but somehow there is always a bench or patch of grass where you can grab a breather.

Shopaholics beware: For a spot of window-shopping, I always enjoy a bowl along Jermyn Street, just off Piccadilly, which is lined with venerable gentlemen's outfitters and specialist shops devoted to cigars, cheese and leather goods. If I need to buy a present, Heal's ( in Tottenham Court Road will always have something, or pop into the equally appealing Habitat next door.

City soundtrack: 'Up the Junction' by Squeeze is so very London... You should also load up 'Waterloo Sunset' by The Kinks, 'Itchycoo Park (The Small Faces), 'God Save The Queen' (Sex Pistols) and 'London's Calling' (The Clash).

Don’t leave without... drinking a proper pint of ale in an unreconstructed pub. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet St is satisfactorily ancient, while the Princess Louise in High Holborn is a magnificent piece of Victoriana. My local is the tiny Charles Lamb in Elia St, N1 ( - see you there...