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3 Unbelievable European Hotels that Will Make You Buy Your Ticket Now

Kayla Douglas

To get an insider guide to the most exciting places to stay in Europe, we partnered with SmartFlyer, a full-service travel agency catering to modern travelers.

In the age of Instagram, vacation ideas are sparked by a bookmarked post – whether from a friend or influencer you’ve made your virtual BFF. As a marketing manager for SmartFlyer, a luxury travel agency based in Manhattan, it’s my job to spur this elusive “I need to go there” response to our posts. Thankfully, I have our network of over 120 travel advisors to tell me if a hotel simply makes for a good photo-op. Or, if it will deliver the type of satisfaction that goes far beyond a like.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful the shot may be. If a property doesn’t truly move us – with its plush sheets, delectable cuisine, or personalized service – we don’t share it with our clients. I recently sat down with three of our NYC-based travel experts to learn more about the hotels that have left a lasting impression. These three European properties are reason enough to book a flight ASAP.

Il Borro (Tuscany, Italy)

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The ultimate Tuscan retreat, Ferruccio Ferragamo (yes, like the shoes) dove into a passion project and purchased Il Borro estate. The property is over 1,000 years old and was previously owned by royal families. Sounds fancy, right? Well, it is, but in an understated way. Beyond the impressive refurbishments you’d expect from these stylish owners, guests are moved by the genuine hospitality at Il Borro.

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Manhattan-based travel advisor Xavier Cano shares this insight:“Il Borro oozes soul and authenticity. The property is surrounded by a medieval village that still has artisans creating handmade goods. For instance, you can literally get measurements of your feet taken by the local cobbler, and he’ll handcraft a pair of pristine leather shoes for you. Then, he keeps the imprint of your foot forever so you can order shoes for years to come!”

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Beyond the incredible goods you’re sure to return home with, the real treat for oenophiles and casual wine drinkers alike is Il Borro vineyard. In fact, the production of their vintages is part of the property’s focus on sustainability. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a well-connected travel advisor can secure guests an invite to the harvest, which takes place each year in September. This annual event is an opportunity for guests to interact with the Ferragamo family and race their fellow travelers in a friendly grape-picking competition.

If you can’t make it for harvest, Il Borro Cellars are available year-round for a journey into the heart of Tuscan winemaking. A tour here is made even more special thanks to the property being the home of the first ever Chianti produced; so, guests truly get an insight into the deep-rooted history of this art form.

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The design of the accommodations at Il Borro transports guests to another time and place altogether. Suites and villas are simple, but luxurious. And according to Xavier, “While the estate is sprawling, it still feels intimate. With an actual princess (with ties back to the aristocratic family who built the property) overseeing the guest house to this day, staying at Il Borro is truly like a fairytale come to life.”

Bürgenstock (Obbürgen, Switzerland)

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Odds are fairly high that the stunning Bürgenstock Resort infinity pool – overlooking the utterly photogenic Lake Lucerne – has already gone straight into your folder of future vacay bookmarks. The SmartFlyer team is right there with you, but for reasons well beyond its highly Instagrammable pool. Since its debut in 1873, this legendary property has been deeply entrenched not just in the surrounding community but embraced by celebrities and royals alike. Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn did call Bürgenstock home, after all.

Bürgenstock reopened its doors in 2017, after a nearly decade-long closure and 550-million Swiss francs worth of extensive refurbishments, to great anticipation. Both the Swiss locals and the international hospitality industry have embraced the results of the project with overwhelming approval, noting its ability to put Lucerne on the map in a way few other investments have been able to before.

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New York City-based travel advisor Barrett Hollo just checked out the property this past month and shares: “From the second you leave the Zürich airport, even your journey to Bürgenstock is part of the adventure. The best way to arrive is by train, followed by boat and finally, cable car which zips you up to this gorgeous vantage point the hotel was built from that’s like nothing else.”

For spa-lovers, the property’s extensive 100,000-square foot facility is the ultimate retreat. Staying at Bürgenstock is the only way to gain access to The Alpine Spa without incurring hefty fees, ensuring crowds are small and guests can truly relax. Plus, Barrett adds, “You can only take photos in the super Instagrammable spa pool between 7am-10am or 5pm-7pm. This ensures the high-profile clientele can retain an element of privacy, which is great.”  It’s likely you’ll run into a recognizable face or two during your stay here.

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Aside from the spa, with a dozen restaurants on the property alone, guests can opt to never leave Bürgenstock’s grounds. Of course, we don’t recommend it; the beauty of Switzerland is just waiting to be uncovered. No matter the time of year you visit, guests can enjoy outdoor activities from skiing to bike tours to epic hiking and more.

Canaves Oia Santorini (Santorini, Greece)

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At first glance, the mention of popular Santorini amongst our top picks may seem all too obvious. Potentially eye-roll inducing. But, hear us out; because a stay at the family-owned Canaves Oia is one of the few that our advisors swear by on this well-touristed island.

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Located at the footsteps of the pedestrian area of town, Canaves Oia could easily rest on its location. Yet, they do anything but play it safe as their dedicated team is constantly innovating and elevating the guest experience. Long Island-based travel advisor Melissa Gulotta shares of her recent stay: “The views here are iconic and I assure you that photos will never do it justice. With nearly 20 years in the industry, this is one of those rare resorts that’s even more magical in person than you’ve imagined.”

For the rather competitive matter of sunset in Santorini, Canaves Oia guests don’t have to fight the crowds for a vantage point. The very best place for golden hour is actually sister property Canaves Oia Sunday Suites, which travelers have access to as a guest of any Canaves property (there are five on the island). With only a few tables, this intimate setting is the perfect spot to see the sun go down with some Greek wine in hand.

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In terms of actual accommodation, the suites here are truly spectacular. Melissa shares, “With the entire property built into the rock, each room category here is unique. So, as a travel advisor who has seen practically every room category first-hand, I’m able to help my clients identify which is right for them. One that people often see photos of and end up requesting is the River Pool Suite which has a perfectly private pool flowing into the room. It’s great for honeymooners.”

Finally, what we love most about a stay at Canaves Oia is that it feels like the secret golden ticket to all the hidden gems Santorini has to offer. Markos Chaidemenos, the owner, knows practically every soul on the island, so his guests are treated like royalty at any restaurant they visit or any excursion they want to try.  (Think: best table in the house.) With family ownership of a boating company in addition to the hotels, Canaves Oia guests are ensured to have a seamless experience booking their inevitable Santorini caldera catamaran sail where you’ll be rocking your Summersalt suit.

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So, there you have it. We could go on for days about our favorite hotels in Europe, but this small window into what we’re loving now is a great launching point for your next trip. Overwhelmed by the planning process? Contact  SmartFlyer to begin planning your ultimate adventure.