Our guide to the coolest hotels on the planet is back – and it’s grown a massive beard, moved to Clapton and started banging on about small-batch gin. Yep, THAT cool. It’s a law unto itself…
Best for: Design
Hotel Unique, São Paulo, Brazil
It’s known locally as the ‘Watermelon’, but we’d say it looks more like a massive boat. At least that’s what Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake was hoping for when he designed this São Paulo hotel to look like the hull of a ship (with porthole windows, because squares are for, well, squares). Rooms are as sleek as you’d expect for a design-led hotel, and if you want to speak to your roommate while they’re in the bathroom (you don’t do that?), you can do so via a garage-style door. São Paulo’s a hip, sprawling concrete jungle, so the nearby greenery of the Ibirapuera Park is welcome. If you can drag yourself from the rooftop bar that is – hello caipirinhas with a skyline view. All in all, a pretty ship-shape experience…
Ion Hotel, Iceland
A Brutalist slab of concrete may not sound like a geographer’s dream, but drop it at the foot of a volcano belt in Iceland and you’re on to a winning combination. It’s not just one for geology geeks, either: the uniquely designed property goes big on industrial chic on the exterior, while other parts of the hotel are much softer (the spa helps, with the outdoor, geothermal hot tub overlooking lava fields, and treatments concocted with wild Icelandic flowers and volcanic ash from that darn volcano). But it’s the setting that makes it more than just a modern architectural marvel. Just an hour south of Reykjavík, Ion offers a sense of discovering deepest, darkest Iceland – best viewed with a backdrop drenched in the Northern Lights.
Yes Hotel Semiramis, Athens, Greece
If you long for that 1960s nightclub vibe all day, all night, then look no further than Kifissia, a neighbourhood in the north of Athens. That’s where you’ll find the Semiramis, the first hotel from the funky YES! hotel group, where the design is seriously psychedelic – designer Karim Rashid seems to have drawn inspiration from a pack of Skittles Sours for this project. By day your eyes will be drawn to the kidney-shaped pool, complete with green and blue floor, while at night you’ll be gazing up from the cocktail terrace at neon pink and fluorescent yellow balconies. The inside’s just as crazy: tiny canary-yellow tiles line the bathroom, while bedrooms look like a kid’s been at them with a pack of Sharpie fluoro highlighters – in a good way. If you’re looking for a distinctive hotel that radiates energy, is this the one for you? Big fat YES!
Best for: Old-school cool
Hôtel du Petit Moulin, Paris, France
“Où est la boulangerie?” That GCSE French will finally come in handy for this hotel in the backstreets of Paris. The Hôtel du Petit Moulin is hidden away behind the frontage of an old bakery, in the historic Marais district – whose streets are packed with independent boutiques and beautiful people. Not only is this hotel tiny and personal, but the Christian Lacroix-designed interiors (think bold colours, animal prints and vintage collage – in a good way) feel like a fashion house as much as a hotel. Don’t worry, you won’t be tortured by the wafts of buttery croissants during your stay (the boulangerie closed decades back), but you will still enjoy a sumptuous Parisian breakfast, with pastries galore, bien sur.
Don Ferrante, Puglia, Italy
We spent hours agonising over which rustic Italian hotel to include in this list (monasteries, caves, farmhouses). Damn it, they’re all so good-looking. With a bit of pressure we’ve arrived at this beauty – a converted fortress built directly into Monopoli’s ancient seafront rampart. It’s now a tangle of corridors leading to ten ultra-chic, stone-clad rooms – high ceilings and neutral palettes as standard. Puglia is a beaut of a region to explore, famed for rustic cooking, just-like-mama-makes (because mama probably makes it) but with the option to dine in a 16th-century gunpowder cellar, you might never leave Don Ferrante’s walls. The roof terrace and pool will only make matters much worse (or much better).
Parador de Cardona, Catalonia, Spain
A ninth-century castle with a second-century tower? In north-east Spain? Consider us sold. This historic hotel in the sun- and food-filled region of Catalonia is a dream for history lovers, and the sprawling structure houses 42 airy bedrooms, the church of San Vincente (built in 981AD!) and Gothic towers, moats and canals. Castle-cum-hotel Parador de Cardona sits on a hill, with views over fields, monasteries and Roman bridges. Now that’s how to do history.
Best for: The great outdoors
Whitepod, Valais, Switzerland
Using the word ‘hotel’ is stretching it a little with this one.
sleeping under a huge canvas pod in the middle of snowy Switzerland is about as cool as you can get
But sleeping under a huge canvas pod in the middle of snowy Switzerland is about as cool as you can get. Thankfully you won’t actually be cold, because the pods are furnished with cosy beds, throws and log-burning fires. Each pod is set on a hillside with 13 other curvy tents, and there’s an on-site restaurant where you can munch on typical mountain cuisine with some mulled alcoholic drinks – perfect after a day skiing. It’s not just a winter destination, though. Come summer, the snow thaws to reveal lush green fields, with the surrounding mountains making for prime hiking, biking or just standing-around-and-gawping-at-the-view territory. We’ll see you at the summit…
Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
This converted kasbah’s location is so spectacular that it’s made the cut on several Hollywood films, including Scorsese’s Kundun (in which it was used as a Tibetan monastery). Just 64km from Marrakech, the 14-bedroom hotel is the prime mountain-side base for those keen to hike 4,167m up mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. But with that home-cooked food, warm rooms and hammam, we wouldn’t blame you for kicking back and rocking the kasbah instead.
Glen Oaks, Big Sur, USA
You don’t really arrive in Big Sur. The place just gradually dawns on you – the mountains get bigger, the hills get greener, and the sea gets bluer as Highway 1 wraps its way along the whole thing. That being the case, it’s no surprise to learn that generations of free-spirited creative types have headed there to work, walk, think and generally cut themselves off from civilisation.
Hidden away in a forest, and based around a 1950s adobe motor lodge, Glen Oaks is a designer sanctuary tucked off Highway 1
Hidden away in a forest, and based around a 1950s adobe motor lodge, Glen Oaks is a designer sanctuary tucked off Highway 1. The lodge itself is cool and cosy, but for getting-away-from-it-all isolation, Big Sur-style, the wooden forest cabins are hard to beat. The attached Roadhouse restaurant, with Brendan Esons at the helm, puts a Californian twist on Southern soul-food classics, in a hip, art-laden setting.
Best for: Your wallet
Jack Sprat Shack, Treasure Beach, Jamaica
Hostels get a bad rep. Dingy rooms, bed bugs and drunken top-bunk fumbles (hey, we’ve all been there – haven’t we?). But that’s all in the past – particularly at Jamaica’s Jack Sprat hostel in Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south-west coast. The sturdy bunk beds and simple decor are ideal for people who care about aesthetics, but are travelling on a budget. If you have a bit more dollar to splash, check out Jake’s Hotel from the same owners, where for £60 per room, per night you can enjoy purple walls, tropical-print bedspreads, a location right on the beach and the annual Calabash Literary Festival, if books are your thing (and your timing’s right).
Michelberger Hotel, Berlin, Germany
Just navigating the website of this hotel was a total minefield (it felt like being trapped inside a videogame. Great, if you’re good at videogames). Don’t let that put you off, though, because despite the low price point, the Michelberger hotel comes with a high design spec – one that aims to make you feel like you’re chilling at your mate’s house. That doesn’t mean a load of dirty plates, but it does mean a relaxed atmosphere, with kitsch wallpaper and tonnes of books. Located in a former factory (so Berlin), the hotel’s intended to look partially unfinished, and embodies the gritty vibe the German capital has become known for. In fact, it’s just one of the trendy hotels in a city absolutely drenched in cool.
Capsule Inn, Tokyo, Japan
The clue’s in the name. Capsule hotels are all the rage in Japan, but not just for travellers. According to the website, they’re great for when you “miss the last train after work”, “when you’re looking for a job”, for when you’re just one of the “ladies”. Sounds like we’re missing a trick over here. It’s the novelty and the price that appeals to us for this one, though – for a bargain £15 a night (that’s a great price for anywhere, let alone Tokyo) you enter via a washing machine-like door, then lie down in your coffin/cabin very quickly. Apparently they’re also great after a night out in the city’s karaoke bars. We know our tune already: sweet dreams are made of this. Sorry.
Best for: Urban adventures
Hotel Saint Cecilia, Austin, USA
If you’re going to do Austin, Texas, then make sure you DO Austin. That doesn’t just mean bar-crawling through the best musical hangouts (although that’s a big part of it), but you should also embrace the musical vibe with the right hotel. The Hotel Saint Cecilia is just the ticket.
Named after the patron saint of music, the rooms offer a rebellious rock’n’roll character
Named after the patron saint of music, the rooms offer a rebellious rock’n’roll character (vividly coloured walls, chandeliers and retro tiles), with inspiration drawn from the likes of Andy Warhol and the Stones. The bar blares out 1960s and ‘70s folk, and the 50ft pool is lit up with a neon ‘soul’ sign. As for the location? Right off the SoCal strip.
Burj Al Arab, Dubai, UAE
Gold. Marble. £910 a night. The Burj Al Arab isn’t immediately cool (unless you’re a billionaire prince), but the sheer madness of it all gets our vote. There’s the shape – it looks like a sail; the location – 250 metres off shore; and the height – 321 metres (with a helicopter landing pad at the top of that). But for all the big, impressive numbers, it’s the ‘world’s most luxurious hotel’ tag (assigned by others and happily borrowed by the hotel) that’s the most important superlative here. That makes it something of an obvious choice, but you still need to see the Burj Al Arab to believe it – for mere mortals it’s a great place to pop in for afternoon tea, but you’ll need a few quid for an overnighter.
Urban House, Copenhagen, Denmark
Tattoos are cool, and if your mum tells you they aren’t, she’s wrong. While some hotels offer bespoke treatments and pillow menus, what we really want is a late-night inking option. Urban House is a new hostel-hotel in the Danish capital, offering just that and more. Along with the in-house tattoo parlour, there’s also 950 beds, a live stage and a cinema. The team’s social media urges you to #DoCopenhagen. Go on then…
Best for: The beach
Per AQUUM Zanzibar, Tanzania
Ok so we’re cheating a little with this one – the hotel doesn’t officially open for a few months – but we’re expecting big things from Per AQUUM’s newest hotel, set on the talc-white sands of Zanzibar (this is the brand that brought travellers the world’s first underwater spa, and the world’s first underwater nightclub – both in the Maldives). It’s sure to be another playground for the rich and famous, but if your budget can stretch to it, you’ll be rewarded with luxurious, funky interiors, creative food and a cocktail menu longer than our to-do list. Oh, and the beaches in Zanzibar? Yeah, they’re pretty much some of the best we’ve seen. Anywhere. Ever.
Otter Creek Tents, Goa, India
You’ll have to move quickly to nab a space in one of these beautiful beach-side tents in Goa (pictured, above). They aren’t any ordinary tents (camping in that heat? No thanks); in fact, as rustic as they look from the outside, inside the Otter Creek Tents are verging on luxurious, with four-poster beds, warm running water and a ceiling so high you can actually stand up properly. It’s the location that’s the winner here, though. Each tent has a private bamboo jetty leading to a salt-water creek (which keeps the mosquitoes away), and it backs on to one of the most peaceful stretches of sand in Goa. Hell, we’re even tempted to try a downward dog. Peace and love, people!
Hotel Villa Mahal, Kalkan, Turkey
If you’re one of those people who ‘doesn’t do romance’, this hotel will soon have you reaching lovingly for your partner’s hand. The “soul quenching” property (their words, not ours) sits on a hill in Kalkan, home to that postcard-worthy turquoise sea off the Lycian coast, and more bright pink bougainvillea than you can shake a stick at. There are 13 bedrooms to choose from and extensive grounds, so privacy during your stay is pretty much guaranteed. This place goes big on the long, lazy breakfasts: creamy yoghurt sweetened by raw honeycomb, homemade pancakes and baklava. Perfect for the bikini bod...
Best for: Closer to home
The Pig hotels, various, UK
We’re cheating a little with this one: the Pigs are a litter of hotels scattered across the UK. But for a hip escape, they get it right every time. There are four to choose from (including Southampton, Bath and the New Forest), but we love the Pig at Studland Bay in Dorset, with views out to sea and perhaps the odd stray nudist (there’s a naturist beach nearby). Food is a big deal here – expect locally sourced garden-to-plate dishes, hefty portions of meat and huge cheese platters. These pigs know how to pamper, so leave time for a spa treatment, which takes place in a sheep hut or a barn. Oh yes.