By Antonya Allen, CNBC.com
Impressive European Hotels
With the euro zone in crisis and the U.S. economy sluggish at best, luxury breaks in some of the world's best hotels might not be at the top of everyone's priority list, but premium hotels are doing surprisingly well, according to research by American Express Business Insights.
Looking at hotel sector trends in Europe from the 2008 downturn to the first quarter of 2011, Sujata Bhatia, vice president of AMEX Business Insights for Europe and Asia, found that luxury accommodation is rebounding more quickly than premium or mid-range hotels, and visitors from the U.S. and BRIC nations - Brazil, Russia, India and China - are driving the growth.
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"Luxury spending is back," Bhatia said. "If you talk to people in the industry, they're really starting to feel that there are a lot of people from outside Europe coming in and holding up their recovery."
So where are the best places to stay for a discerning luxury traveler willing to spend eye-popping amounts of money on some of the best hotel rooms in the world? We consulted Christine Gray, editor-in-chief of Luxury Travel Magazine, for her pick of Europe's best, whileTravel + Leisure magazine singled out some of the newest European luxury lodgings offering modern alternatives to old-school opulence.
Arguably the most beautiful hotel on this list, the Four Seasons in Florence was once the Palazzo della Gherardesca and many of the hotel's most striking features date back to the 15th century. A short walk from the Duomo, this hotel is set in immaculate gardens and the walls of the hotel's chapel (now a reading room) were painted by Flemish Mannerist artist Jan van der Straet.
Some of the most exceptional interiors can be found in the $20,000-a-night Royal Suite, which contains an original 18th century ceramic floor by Ignazio Chiaiese and Venetian glass chandeliers.
See the full list of Europe's 14 Most Luxurious Hotels
Four Seasons, Florence
Arguably, the Four Seasons is as much a museum as a hotel, and the seven-year renovation to restore two former palaces to their Renaissance glory was overseen by the Italian government department responsible for the maintenance of historical art and architecture.
The hotel spa is another highlight, with 10 luxurious treatment rooms and products made by the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, where monks have mixed potions from Tuscan flora and fauna since the 13th century. Double rooms are available from $460.
The Ritz, London
Home of the most famous afternoon tea in the world, London's Ritz first opened its doors in 1906 and has remained a benchmark for luxury ever since.
Located at 150 Piccadilly, the Ritz is the most palatial of London's luxury hotels, and its pastel-hued bedrooms are adorned with 24-carat gold leaf and Louis XVI furniture.
The hotel's Swiss founder, Cesar Ritz, intended this landmark to encapsulate the comfort of a French chateau with the grandeur of a palace. The hundreds of tourists who descend on the hotel's Palm Court each day for tea spend a few hours masquerading as modern-day royalty, as they are served jam and scones from silver platters by immaculately dressed waiting staff.
In a city crammed with some of the world's finest hotels, The Ritz is still the most famous. It has managed to stay true to Cesar Ritz's vision more than a century later, under new owners Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay who undertook a huge refurbishment project in 1995 to restore the hotel to its original glory.
Rooms at The Ritz start at $590 per night.
Four Seasons George V, Paris
In a city full of luxury hotels, it is difficult to single out one, but the George V has maintained a reputation for excellence since it opened in 1928.
Arguably, the older Plaza Athénée and Paris Ritz can stake a claim as one of the most luxurious hotels in a city that prides itself on premium hospitality, but the George V consistently tops surveys as the best Paris has to offer.
Situated in the 8th Arrondissement, the George V is located between the Seine and the Champs Elysees. As you might expect from a top Parisian hotel, it houses a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Cinq.
Greta Garbo, J.P. Morgan, Marlene Dietrich, and The Beatles all stayed here, and more recently Angelina Jolie has praised the George V for its child-friendly atmosphere.
Many of the rooms have private terraces with stunning views of Europe's most romantic city, and 9,000 flowers from Holland arrive at the hotel weekly.
Double rooms at the George V start at $1,040 per night.
Hotel Cipriani & Palazzo Vendramin, Venice
The Hotel Cipriani is located on the tip of Giudecca Island, and views of Venice are guaranteed from almost anywhere in the hotel.
The Cipriani overlooks the Venetian lagoon, and the adjoining Palazzo Vendramin offers views of the Piazza San Marco.
The famous Cip's Club restaurant was originally intended to serve guests staying at the two Palazzi of the Cipriani, but a waterside location and informal atmosphere have cemented Cip's status as one of the prime dining destinations for Venetians and visitors to the city.
The best room at the Cipriani is the Palladio Suite, complete with its own private boat dock. The Dogaressa Suite at the Palazzo Vendramin is a grand alternative for guests wishing to stay in a real-life Canaletto painting, with views over of the Piazza San Marco, Doge's Palace, and the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Madonna, Al Pacino, and Steven Spielberg have all stayed here, and you can too for a cool $1,290 a night.
Soho House, Berlin
The latest addition to the Soho House family occupies an imposing late-Bauhaus building in the city's Mitte district.
Rooms at Soho House come in a variety of sizes ranging from "tiny" beamed attic rooms to apartment-sized "extra large" rooms, complete with free-standing bath tubs and vintage gramophones.
Guests staying in one of the club's 40 rooms enjoy membership status while they are there, including use of the rooftop pool and impressive seventh floor bar.
Those familiar with the New York and London private members' clubs will be delighted to find similar fare on the Berlin food menu, which features favorites such as Mac n' Cheese, steak frites, and American breakfast pancakes.
Soho House reflects Berlin prices and non-members can stay for as little as $160 a night.
Check out the full list of Europe's Most Luxurious Hotels.
By Antonya Allen, CNBC.com