The scent of mimosa linked arms with an aroma of fresh mint and did a sensual pirouette in the steam that was floating above warm, translucent water. A swimmer in the spa reached the half way mark in the pool and needles of light from a doorway to a herb garden sewed threads of gold in her hair. A Japanese-style sauna sat in a corner, the lamps on its wooden beams throwing a cascade of shadows upon a 200-year-old ceiling high above a flagstone floor. This is the spa at the Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath ( www.royalcrescent.co.uk ), two hours west of London. It is at the rear of the hotel's garden, an expanse of trees, flower beds and croquet lawns that ends at a dower house where English kings have lived. After a massage and a swim in the hotel's spa, its waters fed by springs that were first discovered by the Romans, guests can take tea at large teak tables beneath green canvas umbrellas. Squirrels run across the grass, crossing paths where Jane Austen once strolled. Maids in Victorian costume walk by, heading for cleaning duties in suites that have enormous beds and antiques; soon a waiter in pinstriped trousers brings afternoon tea. This is not just a solitary cup of Earl Grey or Darjeeling but a full pot crafted from the finest porcelain, accompanied by a miniature tower of silver and bone china in with each floor is devoted to a different variety of cake or sandwich. This type of indulgent service is found in a new type of hotel where the guest is offered more than a bed for the night. At such properties guests are signing on for a profoundly memorable experience. The Royal Crescent Hotel, built in 1767, is dedicated to providing clients with luxury of an unforgettable quality. Its credo is based on offering a level of accommodation, dining and ancillary services that consistently exceed expectations. Alongside these luxurious 'experience hotels' has grown up a breed of travel professionals whose goal is to assess the claims they make, separating reality from hype. These hospitality experts group the hotels into a luxury brand, assuring clients that the hotels on their list are up to scratch. Relais aux Chateaux ( www.relaischateaux.com ) and the Leading Hotels of the World ( www.lhw.com ) have been providing this service for decades - the latter recently celebrated its 80th anniversary. But there are several new upstart groups challenging the assumptions of the luxury hotel industry and forcing hoteliers to meet rising standards. One of the most prominent in this field is the Kiwi Collection ( www.kiwicollection.com ) led by Erik Haugen, a successful mergers and acquisitions specialist who spent 20 years on the road as a businessman, often staying in properties that claimed to be the world's finest hotels. 'I found many of these properties were not as good as they claimed,' says Haugen. 'I wanted to hold the industry to a higher standard.' Software entrepreneur Philippe Kjellgren founded the Kiwi Collection in 2003. Haugen became its chief executive officer in 2005. Since then he and the Kiwi Collection Regional Team have travelled the world, inspecting and selecting hotels. No property, no matter how many Michelin or Fodor stars it has, can ask to be included in the Kiwi Collection. 'Admission is strictly by invitation,' says Haugen. 'Less than 1 per cent of the world's hotels are good enough to be included in the Kiwi Collection. And we remove properties from the list if they do not maintain their standards.' The Royal Crescent is a Kiwi Collection property. As is Cowley Manor ( www.cowleymanor.com ) in Gloucestershire, near Cheltenham, 150 minutes west of London. Where the Royal Crescent sits in one of the most beautiful urban settings in the world, Bath being the only English city designated as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, Cowley Manor is deep in sylvan countryside where birdsong and whispering meadows are often the only sounds. 'This hotel is a perfect embodiment of the Kiwi Collection philosophy,' says Haugen. 'We look for properties that stimulate all the senses in an environment where all the services are provided with exceptional attention to detail.' Cowley Manor qualifies on every count. It sits on a rise in the rolling Cotswold Hills, at the entrance to a cosy village. A driveway leads up through gardens and the Italianate manor house suddenly comes into view like a grand galleon sailing over the horizon. The manor, built in the 1880s, was once the home of Sir James Horlick, who invented the malted milk drink that bears his surname. Sir James is buried in the graveyard of the gorgeous 16th century church that sits next to the Manor House. Inside the manor a shock is in store, especially for anybody expecting a classic country house. The interior has more in common with a New York nightclub or a hip London art gallery than the world of Victorian England. After the Horlick family moved on, the manor house was sold to an American family who destroyed all its original features. It then spent three decades as an elderly persons home before it was purchased by Jessica Sainsbury, whose father invented the British version of the supermarket. Rather than attempt an ersatz restoration of the manor's original features Sainsbury hired furniture designers Andrea Stemmer and Sarah Kay along with architects De Matos Storey Ryan to give the hotel's interior a character of its own. The result is stylish public rooms with elegant modernist furnishings. There is a billiard room with purple felt on the table and a bar that could have been shipped straight from Manhattan. Despite four-star food with an accent on comfort and gallery-grade art it's the grounds of the hotel that offer something unique. The Cowley Manor gardens feature four lakes, a gorgeous Victorian cascade with elaborate gargoyles spewing moss green water, a secret herb garden and a Modernist spa that follows the Frank Lloyd Wright edict that buildings should lie upon the land as if formed by nature. Guests with a vigorous constitution can spend a memorable day. Begin by waking up in room 12 where the floor to ceiling windows look over the Cotswold Hills or room 17, which has stunning views of the main lake. Unwrap from Egyptian cotton sheets and shower in a slate stall large enough to house a football team. Wolf down an English breakfast with local bacon, eggs, tomatoes and hand-crafted bread. Next, downstairs and out the front door: There you will find serried ranks of Wellington boots for the use of guests. Select a pair and spend an hour hiking a circular trail that includes a visit to Horlick's grave, the lakes, fields full of sheep and flower-scented pathways. By now you are ready for a massage. Walk past the 18th century stable block and take a dip in the heated pool. Then chose from a menu of five treatments, all using techniques developed by Michelle Roques-O'Neil, Britain's leading aromatherapist. 'To call the Cowley Manor look 'designer' doesn't do justice to its funky aesthetic,' says celebrity chef Raymond Blanc, who reviewed the hotel for MrandMrsSmith, another specialist hotel site ( www.mrandmrssmith.com ). 'The 55-acre [22 hectare] property is simply beautiful' A weekend at the Cowley Manor could provide fodder for dozens of dinner party reminiscences, especially with all the celebrities like Jude Law who flew in by helicopter (the property has its own landing site) and Ferraris, Maseratis or Bentleys - there are usually a handful of each in the parking lot. But for spectacular displays of wealth one needs London and the Connaught ( www.the-connaught.co.uk ). 'If any hotel embodies the luxury standards that Kiwi Collection represents, I'd have to say it is the Connaught,' says Haugen. 'It offers an impeccable experience, a hotel that many people in the business can only dream about.' The Connaught opened in 1896 as the Coburg and was renamed in 1917 after Queen Victoria's third son, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, who was a regular visitor. Situated in the heart of Mayfair, London's most exclusive neighbourhood, the building oozes an air of aristocratic luxury from every brick and exquisitely carved panel. The hotel has only had six general managers since it opened and it has the feel of an English country house, populated with butlers and maids who give the impression they live to serve. The hotel has just completed phase one of a two-phase restoration project. The goal was to retain the original features of the building while upgrading its infrastructure to the 21st-century standards. The result is a triumph. The enormous suites have an elegant sitting room with working fireplace, chandeliers and period furniture. An antique desk has connections for high-speed internet access and guests will not have time to remove their shoes on arrival before a personal butler sashays in to unpack, take away shoes for polishing and offer the daily treat, which can be anything from banana cake to vintage champagne with strawberries. Shoes are returned polished to a mirror shine, housed in John Lobb shoe boxes and swathed in tissue paper. In the bedroom a vast bed with a dozen pillows sits opposite a bank of closets with French carving, offering space for all the Louboutins, Prada dresses and couture gowns that can be purchased close by. Personal service is the sine qua non of the Connaught. Ask to rent a car on a day when none seem to be available anywhere in London and a member of staff will devote several hours to finding one that fits your specifications. While he is busy doing the impossible one can take tea in a conservatory that curves around the side of the hotel and offers views of Mayfair streets and a historic Catholic church. Guests who want to visit the Royal Crescent, Cowley Manor or the Connaught can make reservations directly with the hotels but booking through companies such as the Kiwi Collection brings an important element to the mix. 'We enable our customers to book directly with the hotels that we have approved for membership. Bookings can also be made via the Kiwi Collection website,' says Haugen. 'We get the best rates, which is not necessarily a discounted rate; an upgrade or VIP treatment is worth more.' Getting there: Air New Zealand Business Premier class offers a luxurious and relaxing way to arrive in London. All seats can be converted to beds and the in-air package includes cotton sheets and a duck down duvet along with in-flight entertainment from the moment flyers take their seats. Food is by New Zealand chef Peter Gordon and wines include the Martinborough Pinot Noir 2005 that won the Best Business Class red wine prize at the 2007 Cellars in the Sky awards. Fares begin at HK$24,800 excluding taxes and surcharges. Prices: the Connaught - Rates begin at GBP550 per night for a Deluxe Queen room to GBP3,100 for a one-bedroom Connaught Suite, excluding VAT. Cowley Manor - Rates for October and November start at GBP250 per night for a good room, GBP385 for an exceptional room. Royal Crescent - October and November rates begin at GBP440 per night for a midweek stay in a Classic Suite and range up to GBP870 per night for a Saturday night stay in a master suite.