I have reviewed hundreds of hotels – this is what makes a perfect 10

Gritti Palace in Venice
The Gritti Palace in Venice is one of few Telegraph reviews of city hotels with a 10/10 rating

It is my life’s mission to quote from Frasier as much as can be justified. There is a glorious line I have used more times than it has been repeated on TV: “What is the one thing better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all night!” In the show, the flaw cited is the lack of “even one outstanding cognac on the carte des digestifs”.

When I am visiting a hotel to review it for my column, there is nearly always a single but sizeable flaw to pick at that denies it 10/10. Perhaps the staff are overly chatty at breakfast, or serve my latte in a much-hated tall glass. Infinitely more irritating: a bedroom untroubled by the hands of housekeeping when I return at the end of the day, or the offer of a “superior” Wi-Fi speed should I wish to pay for it.

Estelle Manor, Eynsham
Mark gave Estelle Manor his first 10/10 Telegraph review

Last summer I gave my first 10/10 since beginning my monthly Telegraph column in 2017, to the newly opened Estelle Manor in Oxfordshire. I had to think long and hard about a rogue fire alarm and whether I should knock a point off for that – but everything else had been so brilliant, it felt petty to do so. This hotel was a solid 10. I had that same feeling you have after a really amazing first date that turns into a weekend affair. I didn’t want it to end. I couldn’t believe the beauty of the rooms, designed by my favourite interiors studio, Roman and Williams, responsible for some of the most amazing spaces in New York.

I likened the look of the place to Wayne Manor from Batman, but it also had an exuberance and a giddy glamour. It is a place full of wow factor that made me wonder constantly how much it all cost. The service was perfect, the landscaping lush, each menu in the various dining rooms offering up something delectable – and the bedrooms made the mansion in Saltburn look like a slum.

Estelle Manor, Eynsham
'The bedrooms made Saltburn mansion look like a slum,' Mark says of Estelle Manor

When I walked into the Chinese restaurant, I genuinely gasped – the green malachite tables, velvet banquettes and copper-coloured luminescent mirrored panels make it one of the most exquisite rooms in the country. Estelle Manor got my first full 10 because it felt like it was created to love-bomb every guest who walks through the door.

Technically, Estelle Manor wasn’t the first place to be awarded full marks in one of my reviews – but it was the first in that particular column (which covers only UK hotels). The vast majority of The Telegraph’s thousands of hotel reviews are delivered in a different format to that of my column: broken down into six individually scored categories (location; style and character; service and facilities; rooms; food and drink; and value for money), the average of which determines the hotel’s overall rating.

In 2022 I wrote a review of Awasi in Patagonia, after staying there while researching a feature, and rated it 10/10. As with Estelle Manor, I felt Awasi had been engineered to exceed any guest’s expectations. Essentially a safari lodge in one of the most remote parts of Chile, it made me feel like I was at the home of an absurdly wealthy and hospitable best friend. Awasi seems to second-guess everything you might want, and then make it extra special. I returned one afternoon from an excursion, and a hot tub had been prepared for me.

Awasi Patagonia
Awasi is essentially a safari lodge in one of the most remote parts of Chile

Awasi reminded me of the Point on Lake Saranac in the Adirondacks, in New York state, which was once a log mansion for the Rockefeller family to escape to during the stifling Manhattan summers of the 1920s. It is boutique all-inclusive (there are just 11 rooms), with lavish meals every few hours. Champagne picnics are laid out in hidden-away spots before guests go out trekking in the woods and discover them. The whole place looks like the most lavish Ralph Lauren ad campaign, and on each of my three visits I have felt intense joy about every aspect of the experience, from the black-tie-and-tiara dinners to the emperor-sized Goldilocks beds.

The Point, Saranac Lake USA
'The place looks like the most lavish Ralph Lauren ad campaign,' Mark says of The Point - The Point Resort

Yet the reviewer who visited it for Telegraph Travel gave it a  nine rather than the 10 I would certainly have awarded it.

The challenge of city hotels

All reviews are subjective, of course. And both The Point and Awasi are niche. The latter has 14 rooms, and a stay costs from £1,808 per night, so of course they can afford to lavish attention on detail and guests. It is harder to offer perfection at a behemoth property.

Tokyo is perhaps an exception to this rule. The Mandarin Oriental and the Peninsula are both a solid 10 in my opinion, but if I was choosing a favourite in town, it would be the Aman. This doesn’t mean I would take a point off any of the others. It’s just that Tokyo does hotels really well, in contrast to somewhere like New York, where the culture of service is so totally different (tips are an offence in Japanese culture; in the United States they are expected).

The Mark and the Greenwich come as close to 10s in Manhattan as I can imagine, but there are a lot of sixes and sevens, all in the five-star price range. The Gritti Palace in Venice is one of few Telegraph reviews of city hotels with a 10/10. It is my dream hotel in the Floating City. I get the same feeling when I walk in as I did at Estelle Manor. It hits the heart as well as the eyes. I remember the first morning I sat at my table on its terrace on the Grand Canal and teared up.

Gritti Palace Hotel, Venice, Italy
'It hits the heart as well as the eyes,' Mark says of Gritti Palace

My proximity to the traffic jam of gondoliers rowing their way in straw hats past Peggy Guggenheim’s old house was sensory overload. But shortly after that moment was where my experience diverged from the other reviewer, because breakfast happened. Bad food is no surprise in Venice, and both my begrudgingly served morning cappuccino and dinner that night were solidly in the category of “no surprise”.  So, there we have it: the one flaw for me at The Gritti Palace.

Objectivity and expertise

My job is to put myself in the consumer’s shoes. Is this hotel worth it? Has enough effort and care been taken in making this worth anyone’s hard-earned (or even inherited or stolen, for that matter) money? If not, why not? How does this compare to the standards I have seen set elsewhere?

Obviously, the staff know I am a journalist – but while I might get a particularly good table at dinner and a few extra dishes “that the chef wants you to try”, a hotel can’t put on a totally different show for one visitor over another. I also do my homework and will avoid a property if I think it is going to be awful. I suggest to my editor hotels that will make for an interesting column, rather than being assigned something purely because it is a new opening.

I have been writing about hotels for decades and like to think I know what is good or bad, and why – even if there is no way I would pay £1,000 a night for a room myself. That is not my reality, though I can make the imaginative leap. I asked Geoffrey Kent, founder of luxury travel brand Abercrombie & Kent, what makes a perfect hotel. “Beyond the thread count of the sheets, the gleam of the taps or the turndown service, it is revealed through small acts of warmth,” he said. “It comes in the form of a kind word when you are weary, sincere attention paid, a quiet force that makes you feel simultaneously cared for yet part of something greater.”

Is perfection a fantasy?

Another hotel given 10/10 by The Telegraph is Ballyfin, built as a lavish private home in rural Ireland in the 1820s. The restoration to turn it into the most luxurious hotel in the country took longer than the original build, but the care that went into it is evident in every bit of hand-painted fancy stucco. This is maximalist luxury, designed to pull you into a 19th-century fantasy of four-poster beds and fascinating cocktail rituals.

Ballyfinn Hotel, Ireland
Ballyfin was built as a lavish private home in rural Ireland in the 1820s

As I mentioned earlier, far harder to achieve is the perfect contemporary city hotel. The Park Hyatt Bangkok, designed by Yabu Pushelberg, is a solid 10/10 for me. This is a hotel that is super-modern and doesn’t sedate you with nostalgia. The spaces are sculptural in nature, brilliantly light and glamorous, and there is lift access to a shiny mall full of seriously good restaurants and interesting retail possibilities. In a city with aggressive humidity, this is golden.

Park Hyatt Bangkok
The super-modern Park Hyatt Bangkok is 'brilliantly light and glamorous'

Like the Park Hyatt Tokyo, best known for its star turn in Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation (and also among my favourite city properties), the Bangkok hotel is spread across the highest floors of a skyscraper. “Both are situated at the top of architectural landmarks,” says Andrew Mensforth, vice-president of operations, Asia Pacific at Hyatt. “They offer guests a sophisticated, residential setting and tranquil respite from the city streets alongside panorama views.”

They also feel a part of the city they are in. Giving a score to anything, whether it is a film, a meal or a hotel, is difficult. You can’t weigh it. You can’t take its temperature. A hotel that I would rate between a five and a seven is hugely different from an eight. A 10/10 is incredibly rare, but easier to score, in a way, because I know it instinctively. It is not just about things being flawless; it is about feeling like the place is trying to improve on what is already perfect – and making me want to go back as soon as possible.

Five more 10/10 Telegraph hotel ratings

Palé Hall, Wales

A fantasy Victorian mansion on the fringes of Snowdonia National Park. Bedrooms are downright decadent, with ornate fireplaces and large windows offering sweeping views over the grounds. A harpist might serenade you as you drift down the galleried staircase in your finery for drinks and canapés; at dinner expect imaginative riffs on regional dishes from the holder of Wales’ first Michelin Green Star.

Book it: Doubles from £199

Palé Hall, Wales
Palé Hall is a fantasy Victorian mansion on the fringes of Snowdonia National Park

Son Blanc Farmhouse, Menorca

This beautiful 19th-century farmhouse is the baby of couple Benoit and Benedicta, whose eye for detail and sustainable philosophy has created a hotel oozing with a luxury money can’t buy. With verdant grounds, breakfast and dinner from the garden, yoga and pottery classes on offer, it’s an unforgettable getaway.

Book it:Doubles from £170

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, Thailand

The grande dame of Bangkok, perfectly positioned on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, has been welcoming the great and the good for almost 150 years, and today its glitz, grandeur, glorious dining and sterling service continue to attract the upper crust in droves. Extensive facilities are spread across both sides of the river – an ornately carved wooden pontoon will deliver you where you need to be.

Book it: Doubles from £353

Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok attracts the upper crust in droves

Il San Pietro di Positano, Italy

The legendary San Pietro lives up to its reputation and is frequented by such stars as George Clooney and Julia Roberts. But the luxuriousness and spectacular setting on the Amalfi Coast belie what is, at the heart, a family operation, so the five-star service comes with genuine warmth.

Book it: Doubles from £680

Dorp, South Africa

High on the slopes of Signal Hill, with unparalleled Table Mountain views, Dorp is a grand yet unpretentious place to stay in Cape Town. The work of a creative maverick, with a fairytale country garden adding to its otherworldly atmosphere, it is both haven and inspiration.

Book it: Doubles from £195