I love to travel. My best travels are those that involve a bit of adventure, and adventure is nicely rounded out by a great hotel to come “home” to at night after a day of adventuring.
What makes a hotel “great”? For me, location is important, as is a fun bar or public space. In addition, the décor needs to be clean, and a little surprising. All of the following have that and more.
Some of my favorites:
Beit Wakil, in Aleppo, Syria
Al-sissi street, Jdaideh, Aleppo + 963 21 9776
Location: This is located in the al-Jdaideh, or “new” part of town, which is home to many Christians and Armenians. Do not let the moniker fool you; the Jdeidah comprises cobbled alleyways lined with stone mansions that date back several hundreds of years. It is also relative, as the city of Aleppo has settlement dating back several millennia. The restaurants in this part of town are fantastic, and because it is in the Christian quarter, alcohol is easy to come by with your meal. This is easily one of my favorite hotels in the world, in one of my most-favorite neighborhoods. I am not sure of its current status, given Syria’s civil war.
Décor: “Beit” means “house” in Arabic and this is a 450 year old mansion converted to a hotel and restaurant. The rooms are a little tired, and the bathrooms not luxurious by modern standards, but the amazing architectural details and the commitment to “oriental “ style is enchanting.
Public Space: The mansion contains an open-air courtyard from which rooms can be entered. There is a fountain, plantings, seating, and a continuous cool breeze and chirping birds. The second courtyard was converted to a semi-open restaurant in which some of the best food in Aleppo could be found.
Les Maisons de Cappadoce, in Uçhisar (Cappadocia), Turkey
Semiramis A Ş, Belediye Meydanı No. 6, PK 28, Uçhisar, Nevşehir, Turkey
Location: The stunning, surreal, Martian landscape that is the Göreme Valley. Look outside at the surrounding spires and peaks, being sure to catch the sunset.
Décor: Minimalist, clean, and modern. The rooms make use of the readily-carved rock as architecture —as did people in this area for millennia. Benches and niches are carved from the rock walls. The terrace is the perfect spot for sundowners, for dinner (with grill!), and for breakfast.
Public Space: The villa’s are private affairs, with little mingling space. Bring some friends and enjoy the scenery from your private terrace.
Hotel Vintage, in Brussels Belgium
Rue Dejoncker 45 – 1060 Brussels – phone + 32 2 533 99 80
Location: It is near to the Grand Place, but far enough to easily avoid the crowds, and it is close to great museums, like the Magritte. This is also a fine place to start your Tintin/Comic Strip Walking Tour!
Décor: Retro-fabulous! I love the styles of the 1960’s and 1970’s, with their flokati rugs, psychedelic wallpaper, and Verner Panton plastics. A nice touch is the mini-Rubik’s cube attached to each room key.
Public Space: Wine Bar. Yes, that is what I said. The public areas comprise the breakfast room, lounge with wi-fi, and outdoor seating—all with the added bonus of a selection of wines by-the-glass. The selections could have been a bit more adventurous during my stay, but they were nonetheless interesting and tasty.
Snow Hotel, in Kirkenes, Oslo
Radius Kirkenes AS, PO box 200 N-9915 Kirkenes, +47 78 97 05 40
Location: Above the Arctic Circle, in the woods, by a lake. The location is pretty—not central. All necessities (restaurant, bathroom) are on site. Transfers are provided to- and from- the airport, and to- and from- the town center.
Décor: Ice. No, really, the décor is made of ice and snow—lit with low wattage LED’s. The actual sleeping areas of the hotel are formed of snow domes. The snow walls are decorated in relief. The only furniture in the room is the bed, which is carved out of ice. The bar in this area of the hotel is made out of ice. Large, throne-like chairs line the walls in the central bar, each of which is made of… ice.
Public Space: The heated restaurant and bathroom/shower/sauna/tea/coffee area is decorated rather simply and somewhat shabbily—though you do get to fire-roast your own reindeer sausage! But, the public space is not the draw here. The snow hotel and the beautiful scenery are the real charmers.
Ryokan Watazen, Kyoto, Japan
Rokkaku-Sagaru, Yanaginobaba, Nakagyo-ku Kyoto, Japan 604-8113 tel: +1 81 75-223-0111
Location: This Ryokan is located perfectly in central Kyoto. It is walking distance from the main train station (Gion Shijo) and just up the road from the Imperial Gardens (Kyoto Gyoen). It is a further walk—but walk, nonetheless, to the Gion “Geisha” district, the main shopping and food markets, and museums.
Décor: This is a traditional ryokan, which means there are rice-paper screens, and tatami mats on the floor. Ryokan staff sets up futons on the floors in the evening, and sets up the space for daytime use in the morning.
Public Space: The main draw of the ryokan for me—other than the fantastic location—was morning breakfast in the main breakfast room. The décor was nothing special—more tatami mats with low tables and floor seating. But, onto those low tables was placed a new feast each morning. Breakfast was traditional Kaiseki-style. This consisted of several dishes that always included a rendition of Kyoto-specialty “Yudofu” (boiled tofu), as well as a broiled fish dish, an egg dish, miso soup, and several, other items. This traditional breakfast is worth the time.