…..this is a list of the top 21 hotels my wife and I have stayed in so far. Although we are not ones to linger long in any hotel, it’s still one of the factors that makes or breaks a holiday. From rustic log cabins to super-opulent 5-star resorts, crumbling colonial-era relics to gleaming beacons of modernity, each one in this list is unique. Many great hotels we’ve stayed in have not made the list, and of course there are many great hotels we haven’t had the good fortune to stay in yet – so please let us know if you have any suggestoons by adding a comment and we’ll try and visit soon!
1. Hotel Los Frailes, Merida, Venezuela
Los Frailes. A beautiful old hotel in the middle of nowhere, a former monastery dating from the 1600s, this place is truly special, set in the open highlands of this beautiful part of Merida, a stream runs in front, and surrounding hills are full of the furry, fluffy and huge frailejones plant, whose leaves close when touched. The rooms themselves are basic, but the surrounds are what you stay here for. The impressive Lake Mucubaji is just up the winding road from here. In the evening, enjoy a heartening meal in the lovely restaurant, which is decorated with hunting trophies, randomly. African buffalo heads, lion skins, stuffed warthogs….all proudly displayed around the carpeted old room with its oak beams and tables. It’s a strange, time-trapped place, but in a pleasant, magical way.
2. The Venetian, Macau
The Venetian is like a small city in the gambling mecca of Asia. The roof is painted with blue sky and clouds, they have a replica of the Venice canal system, complete with gondolas….there’s almost no need to go out and explore the fascinating old buildings and forts of the old Portuguese colony. I lost more on roulette here in 10 minutes than I spent on the room….but the whole experience is well worth it. Rooms are huge, with a big, comfy, elevated bedroom, dining table and chairs and a mushy sofa. The bathroom is massive. Everything about the place screams over-the-top. The hotel hosts regular concerts, theatre productions, and all kinds of other events and conferences. It’s just the place to be in Macau.
3. The Intercontinental Hotel (formerly Four Seasons Hotel), Dublin, Ireland
Set in expansive, leafy grounds in the quiet suburban Ballsbridge area of South Dublin, the Intercontinental is perfect for that weekend break. It’s set in a traditional-looking brown-brick building, with lots of elegant touches. Staff are warm and courteous. Hotel rooms command views of landscaped gardens and fountains, and the decor is comfy and refined. The marble bathroom was the best place I’ve ever sat and read the morning paper in, and the bath is big enough to properly lay down in and sip a glass of single malt in the evening if you decide not to sip in the refined environment of the in-house Whiskey Bar. The garden courtyard outside the splendid Seasons restaurant was where we enjoyed our first guinness of the weekend – and it was merriment all round from then on in!
4. Hotel Ikin, Margarita Island, Venezuela
Just driving into Ikin you know it’s going to be special. You park up outside reception, the valet drives your jeep away, and as you begin the check-in process in the beautiful, simple lobby, with high ceilings and an open-air concept, with the Caribbean breeze seductively stroking your face beckoning you into the landscaped grounds, you know you aren’t going to want to wander far. We stayed here twice. The second time we brought our families. The swimming pool is beautiful, and it overlooks the ocean, whilst behind the stylish hotel buildings, all sleek modern lines yet in the indigenous style with thatched roofs and some impressive carvings, are mountains. The rooms use lots of wood in the decor, are chic-rustic in style yet with all the modern touches of comfort, and they have balconies overlooking the majestic Caribbean. There’s a private beach if you don’t want to stray too far, and the excellent restaurant serves typical Venezuelan breakfast, and the dinner menu is a ‘build your own’ type -where you tell the chef what you want – meat, fish etc, and what you want it with. A popular spot for weddings. It’s hard to leave.
5. Rui Plaza Panama
A stylish city hotel. Stylish lobby. Stylish staff. Stylish bar. Stylish rooms. It’s Panama City, after all. The rooms are bright and cheerful, with the usual modern touches. Ours offered a nice city view. They have a nice pool. The best thing about it though, was the breakfast buffet. Possibly the best buffet ever. This one, at the Rui Plaza, was a feast of everything you’d ever want for breakfast – and to top it off, they had grapes as part of the extensive fruit selection. Yes, grapes. Life is good in Panama.
6. Meeru Island Resort and Spa, Maldives
Jacuzzi Beach Villa. The Maldives. What could go wrong?
As with anybody planning a trip to the Maldives, I’d spent endless hours researching the best place to stay, reading review after review. As it’s bloody expensive, and quite possibly a once in a lifetime experience, it was important to get it right. With Meeru, I’d found perfection. Meeru was a great choice for me because:
1) It’s a ‘proper’ desert island experience. A lot of the resorts are only a 10 minute speedboat ride from the capital, Male. Some of these resorts are also amongst the most expensive. When you go to the Maldives, you want to feel like you’re on your own little desert island. Islands close to Male often have the view of Male from them. Or the ‘rubbish’ island, where all the rubbish from the islands is incinerated. The waters, surely, can’t be as clean. Other resorts, much further away, cost an absolute fortune to get there by seaplane. Meeru is a 55 minute speedboat ride away – far enough from Male to feel you’ve left civilization behind, and not too far to feel weary from more flights or longer boat rides. Perfect.
2) Space. Meeru Island is a big place. It’s 1200m long by 350m wide. Big enough to feel you’ve got the place to yourself in parts. They have 2 main buffet areas at either side of the island, and a nice sprinkling of bars, a fantastic over-water restaurant, an over-water spa, a lovely clubhouse, and 2 big infinity pools. Areas of accommodation (286 rooms) are spread over the island, from Garden Villas to Water Villas, with Jacuzzis slightly more expensive extras. All in all – there’s space. They even have the only FIFA-approved football field, which hosts regular Staff vs Guests games.
3) Adult’s-only. What a great idea! No pesky kids running around screaming or crying to disturb the peace you deserve. One half of the island is a kids-free area. So that means a kid-free restaurant, kid-free bar, and, very importantly, a kid-free pool!
4) The beach. The ocean. 1.5 km of white sand, palm-tree fringed beach lightly lapped by the warm, turquoise, Indian Ocean. Heaven.
5) Excursions and Activities. Plenty to do if you feel like getting off the sunloungers: Scuba-diving, snorkeling at the house reef, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, table-tennis, tennis, badminton, pool, golf, football, and fantastic excursions like the sunset cruise, trip to Male, love boat day sail, Robinson Crusoe island experience, seaplane photo flight….loads to do.
6) The staff. Friendly, helpful, full of good tips, genuinely concerned about you. The staff at Meeru are from all over the place, and I found them all fantastic, from the jolly Maldivian waiter assigned to us at the buffet restaurant to the helpful French woman who helped me arrange my romantic proposal dinner on the beach, to the practical German woman who helped me organize the day trips. Everyone was so nice, and I felt like I was treated as a special individual rather than one of the crowd.
7) The all-inclusive package. You only live once. I had to go for it. It’s an optional plan, which includes unlimited “all you can drink” alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages “all day – all night”; plus water, soft drinks, beer, wine, coffee, tea, iced coffee and iced tea from the Mini Bar; 24 Hour “Afternoon” Tea; one ½ bottle of Champagne, one Sunset Cruise; one half hour group lesson for Snorkeling, Windsurfing and Golf Driving Range; the Fitness Center, and daytime use of the Golf Driving Range, Tennis, Volleyball and Badminton Courts, the Games Room; Kayaks and Windsurfers. Definitely worth it.
7. Empire Hotel and Country Club, Brunei
The Empire Hotel and Country Club is situated in a sprawling private estate, some 30 minutes from the centre of the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. It’s absolutely huge. When Veronica and I walked in, we were greeted with Arab decadence at it’s most…..decadent. It’s lavishly appointed with chandeliers the size of small houses, huge white and gold pillars rising up and supporting the immense structure, floor to ceiling windows the size of which I never knew existed, marble floors, the finest leather sofas, huge ballrooms left right and centre….what a place. It costs an arm and leg to stay here, and the ocean room suite I’d booked didn’t even include breakfast, but it didn’t matter – this is the finest hotel in Brunei, with a style and lavish over-the-top ridiculousness that only the riches from oil can buy. Only the Venetian in Macau (see number 2) matches the place in my experience, not in terms of real class, you understand, but in terms of absurd, tacky, garishly entertaining flamboyance in design. And I haven’t even mentioned the huge swimming pool, the saltwater lagoon circling the hotel, or the on-site movie theatre and bowling alley. Oh, and it has it’s own private beaches too. And an 18-hole golf course. And it was originally built for the Sultan’s visiting friends. He’s got a lot of friends. I felt like one of them staying at the Empire.
8 Astor House, Shanghai
When Veronica and I walked into Astor House, the door was opened by a gentleman in white suit and black bowtie. That hints at the character and class of the place. And then we entered the cavernous lobby, all marble floors and fine chandeliers – they type of lobby they don’t build anymore. It looked like the setting of a period drama –and indeed a famous Chinese series set in the 1920s was being filmed there that very night and the next day.
The room we were given was suitably splendid. The modern touches of hot rain shower and bath gave the room a contemporary gloss to its matt of refined old elegance. Many a famous person has stayed in this hotel – from Charlie Chaplin to Albert Einstein. It’s a hotel steeped in tradition, rich in stories from a bygone era. If you like character in your hotels, you’ve got it in spades at Astor House. And it’s right next to the Bund too.
9 Riverside Boutique Resort, Vang Vieng, Laos
The views are what you come to this hotel for. The place boasts unparalled views of the majestic limestone karsts, sitting as it does on the banks of the Nam Song river, and an added bonus is the rickety wooden bridge to the left as you look out of the hotel grounds. You see all kinds of traffic passing over this bridge. Quite a people watching / event watching spot. The pool is lovely. The breakfast terrace is one of the nicest places in the world to have breakfast. They serve delicious food in the evening there too. This is a very fine hotel indeed.
10 Ye Olde Smokehouse Inn, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Ye Olde Smokehouse is a colonial-era bungalow converted to a boutique hotel dating from the 1930s. It is as though an English country home, replete with English country garden full of flowers, wood fires, chimneys, dining room serving afternoon tea, and impeccably trained and formal butlers, has been transported from olde England to Malaysia, and not one thing has changed. Fantastic. They have an Old wing and a Modern wing. When we stayed, there was only room in the Modern wing, but I’d like to try to Old wing next time. The room had all the mod-cons, but we weren’t interested in that. We headed straight into the quaint glass teahouse for a spot of Earl Grey and a scone. Heaven is a taste of home, and heaven is a place in the Cameron Highlands called Ye Olde Smokehouse. There is even an old red telephone box outside in case you wanted to call someone from back in time.
The ambience in the restaurant too is lovely – very hushed, people speaking in whispers…no music. Dim lighting. Candles on the table. When we visited we retired to the bar after dinner, a proper old bar, wooden beams, bronze plates and old photo frames hang on the walls, old studded leather chairs that invite one to linger for hours, and we sat by the log fire drinking wine while the bar man, impeccably mannered, regaled us with tales of British royalty and celebrity who have been to the Smokehouse. We felt like royalty ourselves that night. Splendid.
11 Gim’s Resort, Mae Hong Song, Thailand
Finally, a place I’d longed to stay in beautiful northern Thailand. Gim’s Resort is understated elegance, a collection of lovingly appointed villas, each with spotlessly clean bathrooms, living area, bedroom, and wooden veranda replete with hammocks, deckchairs and potted plants, and offering views of the local rice field, which a farmer wearing a conical straw hat was inspecting his crops in when we checked in. The only sound was the birds and the insects. I felt like I’d found paradise. That night we were lulled to sleep by a melodious sound drifting in and out like the ocean tide, created by the insects and the bullfrogs. Bliss.
12 Hotel Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena, Colombia
One of the ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World’, the Hotel Cartagena de Indias is a delightful blend of colonial architecture and contemporary styles. The rooms are nice, the rain shower is lovely, but it is the rooftop that sells it for me. The rooftop terrace has a jacuzzi, an infinity pool, and a sky bar, all overlooking the Old City of Cartagena – Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in a Time of Cholera coming to life….a truly romantic air about the place…..it is a truly spectacular setting.
13 Hotel Ichiei, Osaka, Japan
A hotel, but also a ryoken, a traditional Japanese-style hotel. Now, I’ve stayed in other beautiful ryokens, but this one is in my favourite city in Japan, Osaka, where I lived for three years. Veronica and I stayed there two cold February nights, but the genuine warmth of the staff, and the warmth of our spacious tatami mat room helped heat the nights, not to mention the heated seat of the toilet (toilets in Japan are the best). We slept on futons, and in the morning, we were woken by a lady dressed in a lovely kimono who served us a Japanese-style breakfast with delcious green tea. You can’t beat that.
14 Posada De Norma, Caracas, Venezuela
Veronica and I wanted to stay in a Posado (a mountain lodge) for the night while we were visiting her family in Caracas, as we needed a break from the city. In the village of Galipan, on the mountainside of El Avila, we found just the place. It was like an old English farmhouse, with a roaring wood fire, for it was misty and cold outside….except that in this old English farmhouse, people were dancing together in front of the roaring fire to Latin beats. We had a bottle of Chilean wine, and sat in front of the fire and drank and talked until the fire was just embers. We woke at 7 the next morning and threw open the doors of the room and stepped out on the balcony. Blue skies, a crisp, cool, summers morn, and incredible mountain view with the Caribbean sea below. A chef rustled us up a fantastic breakfast of arepas, cheese, black beans, and pulled pork, known here as desayuno criollo, and we washed it down with delicious strawberry juice and a cafe con leche in the morning sun. 30 minutes from the chaos of Caracas, is peace and harmony.
15 Sundown Studio, Boracay, Philippines
This place, tucked away at the end of the 4km White Beach in ‘station 3’, gets on the list because of the ridiculously large terrace overlooking the beach, swaying palms, and the sea. You can spend all day on the terrace, if you want to. We spent 2 weeks on that terrace. We had breakfast there, lunch, dinner, pre-night-out drinks. We sunbathed there, we read there, we stood there tall as people walked by looking up wondering why they hadn’t seen the place in the Lonely Planet. There are only 4 rooms in this place, each with lovely modern touches, mock coral-lamps, oversized candle lanterns, rustic painted chest of drawers, leather easy-chairs….there is a good-sized, bright bathroom, and there is a German restaurant downstairs. You really don’t need more in life.
16 The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore
A wonderful heritage hotel full of charm….refined luxury is what the Fullerton, a former post office built in 1928, is all about, and the Bentleys, Ferraris and Rolls Royces parked in front are an indication of the clientele the hotel and its facilities attracts. The setting is right over the Singapore river, and the views from the Lighthouse restaurant and rooftop bar in the evening are captivating. The Fullerton is an iconic landmark. They don’t build buildings like the Fullerton anymore. If you get tired of elegant heritage decor, guests can also use the facilities of the chic modern Fullerton Bay hotel, with an incredible pool overlooking Marina Bay Sands. The best of both worlds.
17 Grand Lucayan, Bahamas
A magnificent hotel, right across from a buzzing market with some great bars and restaurants. Walking through possibly the most beautiful lobby I’ve ever seen, you exit to a huge lawn commanding ocean views. The grounds are expansive, there are a few pools, and a lovely white beach with turquoise sea. Our ocean view room was absolutely majestic….and we caught a double rainbow when we were there, so that alone means it makes the list!
18 Hotel Majestic, Saigon, Vietnam
Dating from 1925, the Hotel Majestic is an extraordinary piece of French Colonial architecture, the Old Wing immaculately preserved, grand chandeliers hanging elegantly and proudly from the roof, polished wooden floors, gold trim fittings, lavishly appointed.
The M bar on the 8th floor of the Majestic, commands lovely views over the Saigon river. A classy, romantic place. The hotel also has a casino on the first floor, and the night I went I won $40 on roulette, breaking a 10-year losing streak…so a big thank you is in order to the Hotel Majestic, which certainly lives up to its name.
19 Waku Lodge, Canaima, Venezuela
You land in your 4-seater cessna plane on the dirt runway in the middle of Canaima. A quick transfer brings you to Waku Lodge, and straight to the restaurant, a beautiful place with amazing views of the Salto el Sapo waterfall. Of course, it’s Angel Falls you’re here for, and you wake up early the next day to see this, the highest waterfall in the world. Then you’re back at the lodge for tea and cake in the hammocks. Rooms are basic, but comfortable and clean, and this is the best lodge in Canaima….and with the powerful Salto el Sapo waterfall right in front, you’ll be asleep in no time.
20 Pink Flamingo, Cairns, Australia
I’d chosen the Pink Flamingo when I visited Cairns as it appeared unique – each villa full of charming touches that promised ‘something different.’ it’s no surprise that the Pink Flamingo enjoys a status as the number one gay and lesbian friendly resort in Cairns, and is in the top 5 in North Australia. Vero and I walked into the leafy grounds of the Pink Flamingo on March morning. It was beautiful here. A private, tropical oasis, nice pool, flowers everywhere, and it seemed as though all the colours of the rainbow had been given to a painter to splash liberally everywhere. Vero and I were shown Villa 2 by the friendly German owner, which showcased very good interior design and landscaping. Behind the big wooden gates there was a hammock, a big brick bath, tables and chairs, and a gothic 3 pronged pole of candles. Inside, a kitchen, a huge sofa with multi-coloured cushions, a huge bed with red carpet at the foot, red curtains draped everywhere, and a nice shower. Wooden shutters opened up or shut out the outside world. It was lush, rich, homely, all oranges, reds, and deep pinks. It’s hard not to be smitten, really.
21 Estancia San Francisco, Merida, Venezuala
Last but not least is this gem of a hotel. An amazing place, with ‘rooms’ that are actually small houses with 3 floors and a log fire, and wonderful views of delicious green mountains greet you as you wake, and the air is fresh and cool and full of promise. It’s the perfect retreat, in the perfect place. Lovely.