I consider myself an expert on finding interesting, well-located hotels that don’t cost too much, on finding a lot of “bang for the buck.” I found most of them before the existence of www.tripadvisor.com, which is the main site I use to find and select new lodgings now.
The only drawback to my recommendations is that, as soon as I stay there, they seem to get discovered and their prices start going up. Over the years, inflation adds in, as well. In Paris, there was a great locally-owned Best Western boutique hotel on the left bank. You could see the towers of Notre Dame from the bedroom window. It’s still a Best Western, but it has become part of their “upscale” program called Premier and is no longer $120 a night. The Palais Jamai in Morocco, described below, is now a Sofitel and no longer the $150 I recall paying. As soon as I find a great bargain in New York City, the prices start rising, so I have to find a new place.
I should also mention that I am not among the “I want my upscale shampoo or else” crowd. I don’t think I have ever stayed in a “hip” hotel. Some of my picks may have the fancy bathrobe in the closet or the in-room Jacuzzi, but all I require is a decent, clean room, and a unique experience. Being pampered is not high on my list. Having an interesting view is. I consider a great location at an affordable price all the pampering I need.
Nevertheless, the hotels listed here are unique and/or historical. No matter what their price, you are sure to have a unique experience. Let me start with my three favorite overseas hotels – in Bali, Morocco, and Argentina. In the future I will discuss more hotels, including some of my faves in the USA.
Bali, part of Indonesia, is one of the most unique places on earth. The small island – you can probably drive all the way around it in a long day – has thousands of temples, a combination of Indonesian traditions with Hinduism. Some temples are placed on mountain tops; others alongside reflecting lakes; yet others out in the ocean. Balinese Gamelan music (Gamelan is Indonesian for orchestra) is one of the most enchanting musics in the world. Art, carving, sculpture, dance, ceremony, and unique culture are everywhere. The people are great. The food can be delicious. Tourism is a key part of their economy, yet they are able to maintain their culture. The island is covered in lush rice terraces. Everything is green. No wonder Bali is a favored retreat of movie and rock stars, Australian surfers, and just about everyone else. (For more about Indonesia, read my post: http://hooversworld.com/archives/3068.
One of the men who made modern Bali was a European guy named Walter Spies, who encouraged their art and music culture in the 1930s. He lived in a house in the tiny settlement of Campuhan (or Tjampuhan) at the edge of the art village of Ubud, in central Bali. Later he decided to move even further away from town, and his former home became a hotel, the Tjampuhan. I have stayed there twice, and it is an amazing place. Each room is in its own building, or is shared with one or two other rooms. They are all placed on a hillside, with a roaring river at the bottom of the ravine. Rice terraces are everywhere. The lobby is a hilltop building without walls (like many Balinese buildings, given the year round heat). After checking in, you follow a trail down to your room. Each room has an open porch, and the staff place fresh flowers there daily. There is a beautiful pool along with spa services. It’s an easy walk or taxi ride into the buzzing little town of Ubud with its temples and art galleries. There are a zillion places to stay in and around Ubud, my favorite place in Bali. They range from very cheap to outrageous. But right in the middle of the range is my fave, the Tjampuhan Hotel (http://www.hoteltjampuhan.com/ppc/?gclid=CLC2ydPs_p0CFUpK2god7wthpw). According to the current website, rates start at $65 a night.
Fes, Morocco (Fez in English) is one of the world’s great cities. The new Fes dates from about the 13th century. The old Fes, the medina or marketplace, dates from about 400 years earlier. It is a living, breathing medieval marketplace, with pedestrian-only streets (well, a few donkeys for freight). The streets are filled with olives in one area, brass the next, clothes the next, carpets the next. Fes is the traditional home of Moroccan crafts and culture. The travel books warn you not to wander around alone because you will never find your way out of the maze (although I did!). Fes is perhaps the most exotic location I have ever visited. It has been several years since I was there, yet my memories are as vivid as yesterday. More tourists make it to Marrakech, also a fabulous city, but there are a lot more cars so it is not the walkers’ paradise that Fes is. And not as mysterious. In Fes, side alleys run every which direction, ducking under buildings and around corners – a very big “avenue” might be 10 feet wide! When I visited, the only major hotel in the old quarter was the Palais Jamai. While there are more choices today, this hotel still reigns supreme. It has gardens, views out over the city, and great food. It is now part of the French Sofitel chain. To get a glimpse, see http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-2141-sofitel-fes-palais-jamai/index.shtml.
Third in my international triumvirate is in yet another distant part of the world – Iguazu Falls, Argentina. Iguazu is one of the world’s great waterfalls, much taller and wider than Niagara. The roar and sight of this huge complex is staggering. Of all the places I have been in my life (49 states and 41 nations), none matched the feeling Iguazu gave me, the sense that “I have seen it all now. I can die and go to heaven.” The falls are on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and each side has a big national park and a hotel. The area is loaded with wildlife of all types, especially butterflies. I’d like to go back just to hang out on the trails. During the daytime, it seems like every school kid in Latin America is visiting the falls. But, if you stay in one of the two adjacent hotels, in the morning before they arrive and in the evening after they leave you have the falls to yourselves. You can literally walk right through the falls, and get soaked if you want. (You can also take a boat out almost to the middle of the falls and fly over the falls in a helicopter, which is a real treat.) Of the two hotels, the one with the best views – from every room – and good access to the falls, along with great food, is the Sheraton on the Argentine side: http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1152. You can fly into the airport on either side and tour around the falls and nearby cities at will. Make sure and explore both countries’ attractions.
I have other great hotels to tell you about, both inside the US and outside. But those three should be enough to whet your appetite, even if you are just an armchair traveler! Just looking at the images on their websites should get your exploratory juices flowing.