Personal service, exotic locales, luxury furnishings, indulgent spas, gourmet restaurants. These are the ingredients of a fine hotel. But if there’s one thing that truly elevates a property, it’s the pool. And the very best hotel pools are more than places to relax or get exercise; they are architectural masterpieces that bring the hotel into harmony with its surroundings. Whether it’s an outdoor infinity pool overlooking a desert landscape or a calming indoor oasis, a great pool reignites our sense of wonder.
Here are 15 of our favorites from around the world.
Canyon Point, Utah
Stretching along the base of a rocky plateau in southern Utah, Amangiri’s 34 rooms offer spectacular views of a desert landscape untouched by man. The visual highlight of the resort — which is set on 600 acres of private land — is a stunning swimming pool that wraps around a huge natural rock formation. The pool attaches the resort to the extraordinary surrounding landscape, and the expanse of cool water amid the parched desert seems somehow miraculous.
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Sedona, Enchantment Resort still feels a world away from civilization thanks to its secluded location at the bottom of an immense red rock canyon. There’s no better way to enjoy the drama of the setting than sitting beside the resort’s large cerulean pool. Throughout the day the landscape is restless: With the progression of the sun, shadows congregate and dissipate, and as evening finally approaches the towering escarpments catch fire in a scarcely believable orange blaze.
San Juan, Dominican Republic
Aman resorts are famous for their pools. The first one, at Amanpuri in Thailand, was a startling expanse of black marble. The next, at Amandari, was woven into a landscape of Balinese rice paddies. One of the latest is at Amanera. The resort is situated between the rainforest and Playa Grande, a mile-long stretch of pristine golden sand. The main zero-edge pool is perched high above the waves and gives bathers the sense of swimming in a preliminary stretch of the shimmering Caribbean.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The eighth-floor rooftop infinity pool at Rio’s Fasano hotel, a contemporary 89-room boutique property designed by Philippe Stark, overlooks both the sands of Ipanema beach and the Dos Hermanos, two dramatic rock spires that soar from the midst of encircling favelas. While relaxing on a daybed, sipping a caipirinha, it seems that Rio has fulfilled every hedonistic expectation.
Perched atop a 1,000-foot cliff on the Amalfi Coast, the Hotel Caruso is built around an 11th-century palazzo. The hotel’s famed infinity pool provides stupendous vistas over the Gulf of Salerno, along with a dedicated pool concierge on hand to offer fresh fruit, an Evian vaporizer or an iPod pre-loaded with your favorite songs.
Recently reopened after a four-year, $450-million renovation, this Parisian grande dame is definitely ready for her close-up. In addition to the Bar Hemingway, Bar Vendôme and a tea salon inspired by Marcel Proust, one of the hotel’s most alluring attractions is its underground mosaic-tiled swimming pool, which features a hand-painted trompe l’oeil ceiling that gives swimmers the impression they’re staring up at the summer sky.
Built in 1905, this art nouveau–style hotel, perched 3,000 feet above Lake Lucerne, was entirely refurbished in 2011. Guests come for Villa Honegg's breathtaking location, the exclusivity (only 23 rooms), the fine dining and — perhaps not least — for the stunning horizon pool. Heated to 95 degrees year-round, it offers unforgettable panoramas of the lake and mountains that extend southward as far as the jagged peaks of the Saint-Gotthard massif on the border of Italy.
Named after its owner, the historian and art collector Dimitris Tsitouras, this 18th-century mansion-hotel on the Greek island of Santorini comprises five separate “houses,” each furnished with antiques and paintings from his collection. Guests share a magnificent freshwater pool perched 1,000 feet above the Aegean, with a sensational panoramic view across the island’s caldera, the result of an immense volcanic explosion 3,500 years ago that probably gave rise to the legend of Atlantis.
Set on the banks of Udaipur’s exquisite Lake Pichola, the pool at The Oberoi Udaivilas is ringed by distinctive black-and-white steps evoking a traditional Indian bathing ghat. Swimmers can gaze across the lake to the famous Lake Palace and to the massive golden ramparts of the 16th-century City Palace, still home to Udaipur’s Maharana.
Occupying floors 79 to 93 of the 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center in the Pudong business district, the Park Hyatt Shanghai is one of the highest hotels in the world. And where better to enjoy dizzying 180-degree views than from the hotel’s 65-foot, mosaic-tiled zero-edge pool, located on the 85th floor. At times, you feel as though you are flying rather than swimming.
The outdoor pool at the Four Seasons Hangzhou was designed so as to seem like an extension of the city’s famous West Lake, a serene expanse surrounded by forested pagoda-dotted hills that has been an inspiration to writers and painters for nearly two millennia. Despite being close to the center of a large thriving city, swimmers feel as though they are totally immersed in a supremely tranquil and timeless landscape.
Johannesburg, South Africa
The extraordinary 10,000-square-foot outdoor horizon pool at The Saxon dominates the grounds of this lavish boutique hotel — formerly a private mansion where Nelson Mandela wrote his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Although it is located in an upscale suburb of Johannesburg, the pool is surrounded by a 10-acre estate that provides an enclave of almost preternatural calm.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Built on a hilltop overlooking the awe-inspiring Serengeti plains, this peerless safari lodge offers some of the most mind-blowing views on the continent, as well as the ambience of a refined European country house. From the main pool it is possible to gaze out across 50 miles of immemorial Africa, populated by tens of thousands of grazing animals. Each June, you can even watch the Great Migration file past — 1.7 million wildebeest and half a million zebra — while up to your neck in water!
Mitzpe Ramon, Israel
“Beresheet” means “Genesis” in Hebrew and the setting of this resort in the Negev Desert does seem to resemble some primal stage of the planet’s history. The sensational horizon pool overlooks the 25-mile-wide, 1,500-foot deep Ramon Crater (actually a “makhtesh” a gigantic dent in the earth’s surface caused by the subterranean erosion of soft rock strata). At times it is hard to resist the notion that you have been teleported to a galaxy far, far away.
The magnificent 340-foot Long Pool at The Chedi Muscat ends at the edge of the glinting Gulf of Oman. Swimming leisurely laps beneath the palm trees, it is easy to fall into a meditative trance, as pool and sea and sky seem to merge into a kind of mysterious unity.