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Despite the shaky economy, travel has been staging a comeback: Vacancy rates have dropped, and 47% of U.S. hoteliers expect higher rates this fall compared with last year, according to the latest TripAdvisor Industry Index. Why the resurgence? It could be our escapist tendencies, but it could also be a spate of new openings in the hotel industry: From chic new properties in evergreen destinations like London and Chicago to a coastal paradise in Montenegro, the options are plentiful. But where to go? We searched near and far to come up with a shortlist of the best hotels that have opened or reopened in the past two years. Take your pick -- then pack your bags.
Opened September 2011
Hip hotelier Ian Schrager has again struck gold -- Gold Coast, specifically -- with Chicago's Public, his wildly chic but decidedly democratic makeover of the former Ambassador East Hotel. Schrager has said that Public -- the Chicago location is the first in a planned chain -- represents "a paradigm shift" away from sky-high rates and pricey minibars and toward exceptional value, design, and service -- a concept that makes sense in the current economy. The airy rooms are signature Schrager ("soothing, 'no color' color palette" and all); the hotel's Pump Room restaurant has a revamped menu by Jean-Georges Vongerichten; and perks like Trek bikes for touring the Windy City and Public Express -- healthy, reasonably priced brown-bag meals delivered to your room -- strike the right budget-friendly note.
Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
Opened March 2011
It's a tall order, so to speak, but Ritz-Carlton has done it: The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, rising from the 102nd to 118th floor of the International Commerce Centre and dominating the city skyline with sweeping views of Victoria Harbour, is officially the world's tallest hotel. And the service is just as lofty: With 312 state-of-the-art rooms, the property features six restaurants and an alfresco rooftop lounge, complete with fire pits, that measures 1,600 feet above sea level. Ritz-Carlton is zeroing in on Asia as a key market for expansion: The luxury chain has recently opened properties in Okinawa, Japan, and Shanghai; an additional 13 properties are planned for Bali, Vietnam, India, Japan, and China -- where eight more hotels are on the drawing board -- by 2017.
Aman Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
Opened May 2011
One of the most recent additions to the portfolio of hotel visionary Adrian Zecha's spectacular Aman Resorts, this Balkan paradise, located in the center of Montenegro's Adriatic coastline, sits on the site of a former fortified 15th-century village. Nestled amid cedar and pine forests and surrounded by olive trees, the resort offers six "spa cottages" scattered across the property; a larger, deluxe spa is planned for 2013. And a trip here will instantly make you a card-carrying member of the travel cognoscenti. Following the lead of its neighbor to the west, Croatia, which has seen a steady uptick in boldface-name visitors during the past few years, Montenegro appears poised to be the next big thing in travel: The World Travel & Tourism Council predicts the country's annual investment in travel and tourism will grow by an average of 16.4% through 2021 -- higher than that of any other country in the world.
Palazzo Margherita, Bernalda, Italy
Opened March 2012
Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's latest love letter to his ancestral home, this enchanting nine-room palazzo, a 19th-century villa with frescoed ceilings located in the center of Bernalda -- Coppola's grandfather's birthplace in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy -- is a true immersion in the elusive art of la dolce vita. Decorated by celebrated Parisian interior designer Jacques Grange (with creative input from Coppola's family), the hotel offers guests daily cooking classes from the palazzo's chefs, as well as a private pool and a garden that supplies vegetables, herbs, and citrus fruits to the palazzo's always-open kitchen. Located in a region relatively untouched by tourism (no small feat in Italy), it's just 20 minutes from the beaches of the Ionian Sea and 40 minutes from Matera, a Unesco World Heritage Site where ancient cave dwellings have been reclaimed as homes, churches, museums, and restaurants.
The Redbury, Los Angeles
Opened September 2010
Move over, Chateau Marmont: There's a new bastion of bohemian hotel chic in the City of Angels, and its name is the Redbury. Owned by SBE Group, the real estate and hospitality powerhouse helmed by nightlife impresario Sam Nazarian, the hotel features 57 "guest flats" brimming with ikat pillows, souzani fabrics, and other design touches, all conceived and curated by "visual auteur" -- a.k.a. photographer -- Matthew Rolston, who has shot more than 100 covers for Rolling Stone. The lobby restaurant, Cleo, draws regulars like David Beckham, Scarlett Johansson, and the Jonas Brothers, while a recently launched live-music showcase in the hotel's Library Bar attracts a big (if less boldface) crowd every Wednesday.
Corinthia Hotel, London
Opened April 2011
European grandeur doesn't get much better than this latest offering from the Malta-based luxury hotel chain. Located a stone's throw from Trafalgar Square, Westminster, and Covent Garden, it features a sprawling, stylish lobby awash in fresh flowers, high-ceilinged public spaces bathed in tons of natural light that offer dramatic views of the city, and sumptuously appointed rooms, complete with Nespresso coffee machines and Italian-marble bathrooms. The ESPA Life spa, the largest in London Town, boasts an "amphitheater sauna," "relaxation pods," a hammam, a steam room, and an ice fountain. High-wattage guests include Rihanna and Sofia Vergara.
Four Seasons, Denver
Opened October 2010
The designers of the Four Seasons Denver have imbued the luxury chain's entry into the Mile-High City with plenty of local color. Its design scheme plays up the natural beauty of the Rockies, with lots of warm earth tones and richly grained woods and stone, while bringing the region's flourishing art scene inside: Some 1,200 pieces created by Colorado artists grace its public spaces and 239 guest rooms. The hotel has classic Four Seasons touches: Many rooms have freestanding oval tubs and heated floors, while a rooftop pool on the third level of the hotel serves as a sanctuary in the heart of downtown, landscaped with more than 60 indigenous trees. The spa offers "Weekday Work Break" treatments targeted toward busy executives who are pressed for time, while the hotel's EDGE Restaurant, a sleek steak house, features the only wood-burning (pecan wood, in this case) grill of its kind in the city.
The Saint, New Orleans
Opened January 2012
Finding a cool, stylish place to stay isn't always easy in the Big Easy, which is exactly why this affordable New Orleans newcomer is such a welcome addition. Located on the edge of the French Quarter and housed in the historic Audubon Building, it has a distinctly mod flavor, with indigo blue and white rooms (all with 46-inch flat-screen HDTVs), lacquered furniture, and a custom-made pool table in the lobby. The sexy Burgundy Bar, complete with draped velvet walls and ornate chandeliers, is the ideal place to grab a cocktail before disappearing into New Orleans' famous nightlife.