WHY STAY SOMEWHERE ORDINARY?
It was almost midnight at the palace where we were staying. The ancient wooden floors creaked with each step as we slowly navigated our way through the dim halls and centuries-old parlors. It was the perfect setting for a ghostly photo shoot. The room we had booked was even grander than the opulent chateau’s common spaces. The bed wasn’t just king-size, it was made for a king. It was the kind of room that can make you happy even when you’re lying in bed planning your next travel day; the kind of place that begs for a photo shoot or an after party for your groupies. You’re not going to get that at the Hilton.
It’s human nature to just book the nicest/easiest hotel you can afford or just try to find a convenient stay near the airport/train station/cruise terminal. If you recognize the brand name of the hotel you might even be more likely to book. That’s what most of us do. Keep it simple.
Book, sleep, repeat.
However, if you consider that you’ll spend a third (or at least a fourth) of your day in your hotel room, getting creative and looking for unique stays can add an entirely new dimension to your adventures. Just changing hotels even when you’re staying in the same city can add a little spice to your trip.
This particular night I was staying at the Chateau d’ Etoges, a 17th century palace with a long history of royal owners and guests in the Champagne region of France. For €130/night I had a royal chamber with elegant paintings, palatial wall coverings and carpet that looked like it had been lifted from Versailles. Also included in the price was a champagne breakfast with a made to order charcuterie plate, fruit and freshly baked pastries. The palace was surrounded by a moat, had free parking and beautiful gardens to stroll around and think royal kingly thoughts. A palace for less than what I’d spend for a three star hotel in Paris? It wasn’t a difficult choice. Castle stays are often quite affordable and a great option when traveling through Europe. Using key words such as castle, palace, chateau, fortress can yield lots of interesting choices on Google or search apps like booking.com
The night before my castle stay, I had been traveling in Amsterdam and decided to do an overnight in Hoorn, Holland. This small town 40 minutes north of Amsterdam is full of boats and ships in a beautiful calm canal. A boat stay isn’t difficult to find. Airbnb has a category for unique spaces and we found a cabin in Hoorn for less than half the price of a regular hotel. The owners of the boat are able to accommodate up to six guests on their spacious craft. On previous trips I’ve stayed on a barge in Reims, a 110 year old yacht in Amsterdam, several “botels”, and I find myself always looking for a unique night in the water. There’s boats all over the world, so there’s possibilities in Asia, Africa and Australia if you do a little research. I loved my boat stay in Hoorn.
Airbnb also has searchable unique categories including treehouses, caves, igloos, earth houses, campers and windmills. Yes, windmills.
No stay in Holland would be truly authentic without a visit to a windmill. Spending the night in one takes your Dutch-cred to a new level. This was my second stay at a working mill and I found the perfect one about 30 minutes north of Amsterdam. This particular windmill is a working tourist attraction that receives a fair share of guests visiting just to see how a mill operates and learn about its history. It even has a little coffee shop that serves apple pie and cakes. We stayed in the building next to the mill that had a little more living space and served as a haven for the windmill operator during lightning storms. We were given a key so we could explore the mill and follow its trap doors and ladders to the top level. The rooms were fitted with furniture and decor to fit the time period so visitors could have an authentic experience. We had the place to ourselves. The only thing missing was our wooden shoes.
So, boats, palaces, and windmills. What other cool places can one stay?
On a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur I spent a few days at a “container hotel”. The rooms were created from repurposed shipping containers stacked on top of each other. Alternative spaces had been built using giant recycled drainage pipes. Inside, the quarters were small, but well thought out with a chic modern design. The entire hotel complex was a great photo op and such a nice change from staying at a cookie cutter chain. Container hotels are becoming a popular option in cities around the world.
In the Azores islands I found a 400-year old fortress that had been converted into a modern hotel that integrated so well with the ancient walls, it was nearly invisible. An amazing stay above the town of Angro de Heroismo with prices comparable to its less exciting competitors in the city below. In the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, Australia, the sun is so hot that there are underground hotel options. The Cappadocia area in central Turkey has hotels carved into the bizarre rock formations that dot the area.I recently stayed in an RV park in Taos that was created using vintage airstream campers from the 60s and 70s. In Tombstone I stayed in the “brothel” of a a fake western town movie set. The Florida keys have an underwater hotel that you have to scuba dive to get into. Ahhhh… so many choices.
Hotels seen in tv shows or movies are interesting choices. Places where celebrities or famous people once lived are another. You can stay in an apartment where Elvis once lived. The Van Zant’s (of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame) childhood home is on VRBO. You can rent a hotel room at the place where Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Goliath lives. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, how about the crystal meth motel from Breaking Bad? Looking for a higher end choice? You can get a room and hang out at the Tokyo hotel/bar where Lost in Translation was filmed.
So next time you’re getting ready to hit the road, do yourself a favor and look for a place you’ll remember instead of just a place that has a bed.