What Michelin’s new hotel rating system means for travelers – and what makes a Three-Key stay

In 1900, a French tire company published a restaurant guide to encourage motorists to hit the road and buy more of their product: brilliant content marketing that was ahead of its time. It started in the 1930s with the awarding of ‘stars’ and we know the rest of the story: a new benchmark for good food was established. Today, Michelin hopes to write a new chapter with Keys, a three-tiered designation system like the Stars, but for hotels, which it hopes will become the same reference point for accommodation.

This is not entirely new territory for Michelin. The Guide has always included accommodation recommendations and already lists 5,000 hotels around the world. As with the culinary stars, the keys are awarded after a visit by anonymous judges, whose identities are protected confidentially to prevent any form of special treatment. The inspectors, high-ranking hotel and restaurant professionals from around the world, work on committees to choose which hotels are listed.

The Guide already contains accommodation recommendations for 5,000 hotels internationally

The guide has already included accommodation recommendations for 5,000 international hotels – Alamy Stock Photo / Three Chimneys Restaurant

According to Gwendal Poullennec, the international director of the Michelin Guide, inspectors look for hotels that “offer the most remarkable experiences” on a number of criteria: architecture and interior design, quality and consistency of service, overall personality and character, value to the customer. price, and a significant contribution to the guest experience in a particular setting.

The announcement of the keys began, Naturally, with the French market in April 2024, and the US and Spain soon after. The selections for Italy and Japan will be announced later this year, with more countries expected to be added as practice progresses.

The French market has the highest number of keys granted to date, with 24 Three Key hotels, indicating “an extraordinary stay”. French tourist authorities already consider France a world-leading destination in luxury travel, hence the creation of the ‘Palace’ award in 2010, which is only awarded to French five-star hotels that meet criteria such as having a spa and a world-class class concierge service.

It’s essentially the same as classifying a hotel as a six-star hotel: the hotels that make the cut, like Le Bristol, are generally in a different league to other hotels in terms of opulence and have a price tag to match, ter value of €2,000 per night or more (excluding breakfast!). There are 31 of these properties across the country, 12 of which are in the capital.

Several of them have been recognized with Three Keys in this new Michelin ranking, including La Réserve, rated 9 out of 10 by myself, known for its modern take on classic luxury. The restaurant, Le Gabriel, was also awarded the elusive three Michelin stars this year. I said at the time: “Aside from star designer Jacques Garcia’s exquisite styling, this ultra-luxury Parisian hotel offers a hard-to-beat location in one of the city’s most prestigious neighborhoods. There are 14 rooms and 26 suites, even the smallest of which are the size of a standard Parisian apartment. Butler service is standard, while the spa offers a range of high-end treatments.”

The hotel is accompanied by traditional Grandes Dames such as Le Bristol, which I scored a 9 out of 10. This hotel gives guests the opportunity to feel like Belle at Disney’s Beauty and the beast when Lumière, the singing candlestick, calls out, “Tie your napkin around your neck, chérie, and we’ll take care of the rest.” I said in my review: “The feel is traditional grandeur, from the physical key for each room to the original 1940s elevator and resident Burmese cat Fa-Raon [retired in 2021 and replaced by a kitten called Socrate]often found sleeping under a Louis XV chair in the lobby.”

The Four Seasons Hotel George V, located in Paris’ chic “Golden Triangle,” also receives top billing, along with Le Meurice, Plaza Athénée and, of course, Ritz on Place Vendôme. All these establishments each have between one and six Michelin stars attached to their restaurants.

The Ritz on Place Vendôme is home to a Michelin-starred restaurantThe Ritz on Place Vendôme is home to a Michelin-starred restaurant

The Ritz on Place Vendôme is home to a Michelin-starred restaurant: Getty

However, the Palaces and the Three Keys are not aligned, perhaps highlighting that they serve a slightly different purpose – not least because Michelin aims for its rating to have a global reach, rather than being limited to just French excellence. Michelin inspectors selected the 11-room Maison Villeroy for Three Keys, although it is not a ‘palace’.

While I understood the majority of the choices on the French list, there were a few omissions that surprised me – Byblos in St. Tropez, for example, also a Palace hotel. I stayed recently and thought it was one of the best of them. The Telegraph‘s reviewer praised the style that pays tribute to the origins of the fishing village of St. Tropez, the top-notch service that treats everyone like movie stars and the quaint beach club.

With the exception of the Mandarin Oriental, all Parisian palaces receive at least one key. The Lutetia on the left bank and the peninsula near the Arc de Triomphe are both given two keys. I’d say they’re just as decadent as their Three-Key counterparts: the Lutetia has a €10,000-a-night suite with a Francis Ford Coppola camera collection, while the Peninsula has a bespoke caviar tasting menu and rooms with nail polish dryers. Speculation remains as to why these two don’t end up in the top tier, although Lutetia may not have a Michelin-starred restaurant.

As with restaurant reviews, there is a certain sense of mystery. Admirers of Michelin stars praise the designation’s elusiveness, but are also criticized for its elitism and opacity.

Poullennec gave a few more clues about what the inspectors are looking for. According to him, the chosen hotels “offer travelers a stay that is guaranteed to reflect the destination and its traditions. Our team also looked for a willingness to pay special attention to the well-being of guests [via the likes of] ultra-personalized bedding, controllable lighting throughout the day, personalized in-room amenities, etc., as well as a commitment to sustainability.”

The US list, published on April 24, includes 11 Three Key hotels, 33 Two Key hotels and 80 One Key hotels. It includes legendary addresses such as Chateau Marmont (Two Keys) in Los Angeles and Chelsea (One Key) in New York – but also newer design addresses: the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn (One Star), Downtown LA Proper Hotel (Two Keys) and the SingleThread five-room hotel in California’s wine country, which now has three keys to its three farm-to-table Michelin stars; our reviewer gave it a rare 10 out of 10 for food and drinks.

The Spanish selection includes five Three Key hotels, 12 Two Key hotels and 80 One Key hotels, with a mix of mansions such as Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid (Three Keys), island beauties such as Es Princep in Palma de Mallorca (One Key) and on food-oriented addresses such as Akelarre in San Sebastián, which now has to find space to store its Two Keys next to its Three Stars.

But it’s not just about the bling. In particular, the more commonly assigned One Key rating leaves room for different types of properties to be listed. Of the 127 in France, we find some unconventional choices, such as the hip boutique Hôtel des Grands Boulevards from the Experimental Group. I happened to be there last week and the young team was surprised and happy to be there.

Hotel des Grands BoulevardsHotel des Grands Boulevards

The guide also rated sharper establishments such as Hôtel des Grands Boulevards in Paris – Mr.Trippier

John O’Ceallaigh, founder of luxury travel consultancy and content agency Lute, thinks it is a smart move for Michelin to reposition itself on the more innovative side of the travel world.

“For Michelin Stars, even though our approach to dining has evolved tremendously over the decades, the perception of what a Michelin Star restaurant entails is largely anchored in the past,” he said. “What I find exciting here is that Michelin has the opportunity to expand our perception of what a luxury hotel is. I was particularly interested in the American list because some of the Keys had much more egalitarian or modern properties than you might expect.”

Loire Valley Lodges, a luxury treehouse retreat with no Wi-Fi, a rotating selection of guest chefs and a spa, was another atypical choice on the French list. “I wanted to create a hotel that had never been seen before in France,” says founder and director, Anne Caroline Frey. Frey said she was “very surprised and very proud” that her hotel received One Key and believes the inclusion of a property like hers — where trees replace air conditioning and walkie-talkies replace telephones — “shows that the standards for hospitality change. and evolves, just like society”.

Lodges in the Loire ValleyLodges in the Loire Valley

Loire Valley Lodges is a luxurious treehouse retreat – AnneEmanuelle_Thion/Loire Valley Lodges

On the Spanish list, One Key was awarded to Petunia, a bohemian-cool boutique hotel set in traditional finca buildings in Ibiza; another example of a more relaxed, contemporary property with a focus on wellness, recognized by Michelin. “Earning a Michelin Key was a big surprise!” said General Manager Josep Sastre. “This recognition reflects the dedication of the team […] and it drives us to keep improving our offering.”

One key was awarded to Petunia, a bohemian-cool boutique hotel in IbizaOne key was awarded to Petunia, a bohemian-cool boutique hotel in Ibiza

One key was awarded to Petunia, a bohemian-cool boutique hotel in Ibiza – Benoit Linero

“The Keys do not reward a catalog of services and facilities,” says Poullennec. “They celebrate, with a resolutely human approach, authentic lived experiences. They want to be a reliable reference for travelers, and an answer to the ‘hyper-choice’ and standardization of tourism.”

This may be the tire company’s boldest move since 1900.

Leave a Comment