(CNN) — Wood-fired hot tubs. Private plunge pools. Cape Dutch architecture, South Africa's top restaurants on the doorstep, and a cell phone pre-programed with numbers for all the local wineries.
The Boutique Hotel Awards recognizes trailblazing, independent hotels across the planet, and representatives from some of the world's most luxurious properties gathered at London's Merchant Taylors' Hall on November 9 for the 2017 awards.
This year's winners include a private island in the Maldives, a Lake Garda wellness spa with five saunas and a crushed ice fountain, and a timber-and-glass villa paradise in the Great Barrier Reef.
'Different is difficult'
The winners were selected from more than 600 nominees in more than 80 countries, with each entrant nominated by a committee of 70 leading travel experts.
The Boutique Hotel Awards prides itself on the personal touch. Each property is visited by a hotel judge and decisions are based on first-hand guest experience of dining and entertainment, design, facilities, location, staff service and staff emotional impact.
Two-time world heavyweight champion boxer Wladimir Klitschko, owner of Kiev's 11 Mirrors hotel and winner of the 2016 award for World's Best City Hotel, delivered this year's keynote speech.
"Different is difficult," he told the room. "It's very important to be special."
Addressing his fellow hoteliers, he praised this "family of creators."
Most agreed that what transforms a great hotel into a home from home is family — whether the blood ties of a family-run business, as many of the night's winners are, or the bonds created by a close-knit team.
Lefay Resort and Spa, Qualia and The Chester Grosvenor were among those chosen for their quality offerings and unique boutique experience.
"My brother and I have always got on so well," Nicola Campa, co-owner of Venice's Ca Maria Adele with brother Alessio, told CNN Travel.
Their sympathetic and artfully decadent restoration of a Venetian palazzo in the Dorsoduro art district won them the 2017 award for Most Inspired Design Hotel.
It's safe to say design is in their blood. One side of the family, Campa tells CNN Travel, were furniture makers, while the other side were glass makers on the Venetian island of Murano. Their grandfather created one of the world's largest chandeliers, a six-ton, 22,000-piece structure that hangs in Knokke Casino in Belgium.
Louise Cottar, UK-born director and share holder of Cottar's 1920s Safari Camp, married into the five-generation family business and has lived in Kenya for 30 years.
Cottars was named Best Sustainable Hotel 2017 and, said Cottar, family bonds allow them to experiment and take risks that wouldn't be possible in a more corporate environment.
And, at a time when tourism around the world has been rocked by both political events and natural disasters, the awards offered an opportunity to come together and offer support.
"The Caribbean's had a rough couple of months," said Janus Kamradt, villa manager at Over Yonder Cay as he collected the award for Best Private Villa.
Jordi Serras from Serras Hotel — winner of Best City Hotel — was more direct:
"Barcelona wants you all!"
Here are the 2017 winners in the top categories:
World's Best Beach or Coastal Hotel:Qualia, Whitsundays, Australia
World's Best City Hotel: The Serras Hotel, Barcelona, Spain
World's Best Classic Hotel: The Chester Grosvenor, Chester, UK
World's Best Culinary Hotel: Vila Joya, Algarve, Portugal
World's Most Inspired Design Hotel: Ca Maria Adele, Venice, Italy
World's Best Relaxation Retreat: Castello di Guarene, Italy
World's Most Romantic Hotel: Aenaon Villas, Santorini, Greece
World's Best Wellness Spa: Lefay Resort & Spa, Gargnano, Italy
World's Best Private Villa (joint winner): Coco Privé, Kuda Hithi Island, Maldives
World's Best Boutique Hotel: Akademie Street, Franschhoek, South Africa