A home away from home: some favorite hotels

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m not the sort of person who insists on staying in a hotel. I’ve camped, stayed in hostels, even slept in my car one night. We often stay with friends when visiting Ontario or D.C.

hOtEL kaRUppASWamY...
hOtEL kaRUppASWamY… (Photo credit: poonomo)

But ooooooh, I do love a lovely hotel, and we often plan a vacation around fab hotel(s); when we spent three weeks touring Mexico in May 2005, we went this route, and found nothing but pleasure.

The very best hotels have a quality that welcomes you, makes you feel like it’s home for a little while and leaves you aching to return. For me, it’s almost never a mass-market chain.

I really prefer places with history, quirk, elegance and/or character. And, when the wallet can stretch that far, some serious luxury.

Hôtel Ritz Paris
Hôtel Ritz Paris. We didn’t stay there but we did have a drink at the bar! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a short list of some worldwide favorites:

Xara Palace, Mdina, Malta

For those of you old enough to know her name, British actress Julie Christie is one of the best and most enduring, whether as Lara in Dr. Zhivago or the dementia-suffering wife in Away From Her. As I signed the guest register in this elegant hotel, a 17th century former palace, her signature was above mine. Swoon! (She was then filming in Malta with Brad Pitt.)

I spent only a few days in Malta, and chose the Xara Palace for its history and location. It was much more affordable than anything at that level might have been in Paris or London or a major city. The views across the dusty plains were terrific and the narrow alleys leading to the hotel romantic and exotic.

Le Germain, Montreal

Oddly, it is housed in the shell of what was once an office building. Steps off the central shopping street, Sherbrooke, the lobby has a huge, glass fireplace — few sights are as alluring on a frigid February evening! Great location.


The Monte Vista, Flagstaff, Arizona

Tired after a day’s driving in heat and sunlight, I wandered in, simply wanting a drink at their comfortably crowded bar, and immediately loved the historic feel of the place, built in 1926-27. A single room was $81, (summer of 2013), a quick, easy, snap decision.

My room was tiny, with a wrought-iron bed, arched windows and a deep original bathtub.

The bar was a lot of fun, with a local cabbie downing his first Bloody Mary at 6:40 a.m., a perfectly coiffed German woman in her outdoor jacket, and two guys smelling of patchouli. That’s my kind of place.

The Intercontinental, Yorkville, Toronto, Canada

Not cheap! But we’ve stayed here a few times and have never been disappointed. I love the perfect midtown location, across from the Royal Ontario Museum and my alma mater’s handsome campus, University of Toronto. I love the crisp neutrals of the rooms — beige, black, tan, cream and white. I like how small and intimate it is. Best shopping is only a block away, too.

The Reina Victoria, Ronda, Spain

I stayed there in 1980 — and it was renovated in 2012. I still remember the statue of the German poet Rilke in their garden and the spectacular views. I chose to visit Ronda based on the mention of the hotel in the NYT travel section.

Hotel Majestic, Tunis

I have never stayed in so large a room…perhaps 300 square feet — plus a long interior hallway leading to a large bathroom. Room service brought me coffee and rolls every morning, (June 2002) for $28 a night.

Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta

Go! Just go.

I adored my week here, holed up in a small, pretty room by myself in March 2010. The hotel was built in 1888 to resemble a Scottish castle. It has lobby ambassadors — handsome young men in kilts! — and quiet stone hallways and spiral staircases and stained glass windows and a heated outdoor pool in which you can soak while watching the sun set over the Rockies. What’s not to love?

Hotel Sylvia, Vancouver

This little hotel sits directly opposite English Beach. My paternal grandmother lived there for a while. Ivy-covered, it has terrific views in every direction. Not fancy, but historic, opened in 1912 and named for its creator’s daughter.

The Admiral’s Inn, Antigua

I’ve stayed there twice, once as a very young girl, with my mother and once with a husband. I can’t forget waking up, on my first visit, seeing flames outside our second-floor window, as a patio sofa was burning below us. Built in 1788, it has elegant Georgian proportions in a gorgeous setting.

Las Mariposas, Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico

We loved our casita here, set among 18 acres. Hummingbirds, great good, horseback riding and the town of Patzcuaro nearby.

Manoir Hovey, North Hatley, Quebec

Save up your pennies and go!

We’ve stayed here five times since 2001 — desperate to flee New York a month or so after 9/11 — and have loved every single visit. We have been here in the frigid depths of winter, skittering down the icy driveway from our cabin to the dining room, and in fall when I went canoeing and saw a beaver. The dining room has a huge fireplace and windows overlooking the garden and lake. Once a private home, Hovey Manor is both intimate and upscale without pretension or stuffiness. The food is spectacular, the setting perfect and, if you get bored, Montreal is a 90-minute drive north.

Here are several tree house hotels — from $85 to $1,499 a night.

And — boooooo! — one major midtown New York City hotel has decided to stop offering room service.

Jose and I are addicted to room service. What a luxury to eat in your jammies, or in bed or at your leisure. (Just like home!)

Blissed out, at the Intercontinental Yorkville, Toronto.


What are some of the hotels you’ve enjoyed?

45 thoughts on “A home away from home: some favorite hotels

  1. I haven’t stayed in any of those. My favorites include the Ciragan Palace in Istanbul, the Four Seasons in Florence, Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, Monastero Santa Rosa on the Amalfi Coast, L’Hotel in Paris, and the Draycott in London.

  2. Love the blissed out photo. I can see why. I have not had those kind of wonderful experiences, unless it was the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. I could certainly write a blog about the worst places to stay.

  3. What a great photo!! I’m with you on hotels.There’s nothing better than room service and having other people make your bed, lol. I also love hotel bars, and strange as it may sound, even some MOTELS. One of my favorites is in Twentynine Palms near Joshua Tree. http://www.29palmsinn.com/ No room service but a lovely organic restaurant by the pool with live music played while you eat, an outdoor private jacuzzi, a large garden you can walk through, and amazing desert vistas. Kaz and I stayed in a one-room adobe bungalow with private patio and it felt like the most romantic place ever.

      1. We’ll add it to the list of things to check out next time you’re out this way. Your post inspired me to make a reservation there for July 4th. 🙂 They allow pets too!

  4. Hotel de la Vallee in Paris. A 2 minute walk from Les Halles metro station, well under 100 Euros a night, absolutely perfect. Up a rickety flight of stairs to the main desk, then another flight to the 14 rooms. Not for anyone looking for a mint on their pillow, or someone who minds just a bidet in the room and shared shower down the hall.Clean, charming, and – oh so Paris. We liked watching businessmen visit the sex shop across the street in late afternoon, or rolling back at 3 AM and buying a Brie and Tomato baguette from the street vendor stationed under the front door.

  5. I’ve enjoyed a fair few couches and even the luxury of a room of my own when staying with various friends. That’s the extent of my “hotel” experience.

    I love that photo so much. Blissed out indeed!

  6. Katey Lee

    Caitlin – So glad to know the Reina Victoria is still there. Lovely old place in magical Ronda. Do I remember correctly that one can see Gibraltar (on a clear day)? Kate

  7. I’ve always been the kind of person who is more utilitarian about my lodging when traveling, but after reading this post I think I need to change my traveling philosophy. (Also, Julie Christie!)

    1. I hear you. Sometimes I’m happy to be super-cheap on lodging and spend on meals/experiences instead. But oh, sometimes a beautiful room/place is so worth it. The Xara Place was simply lovely and not nearly as $$$$ as it would have been in a major city.

      If you’re ever willing to splurge, check out the members of the Relais & Chateaux chain — which only allows membership to selected indie places. We live (!) next door to one, and just go up there for a drink at the bar or a meal once a year or so.


  8. Room Service 🙂 Wonderful. One of my favourite places is actually not that far away…The Elora Mill Inn. The best rooms are the ones facing the falls…with the big thick old stone walls and 3 feet thick window sills. Included with the price of the room is this fabulous continental breakfast of fresh croissants, fruit and other fresh baked pastries, served right to your door. The restaurant serves the best Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding this side of the Atlantic.

  9. Love this list, Caitlin! Great inspiration. For a domestic choice, I can heartily endorse an every-wish-granted, butlered suite at Falling Rock, Nemacolin Woodlands.

    Internationally, I have to concur with Melanie, the Kempinski Ciragan Palace in Istanbul is an incredible visual feast for the eyes. Over many visits to Istanbul, both business and pleasure, I have spent nights in small pensions and large hotels. But, for me, none can compare to the intimate Four Seasons at Sultanahmet! For a former Turkish prison, this one has history and luxurious charm today. The rooftop terrace has spectacular views in all directions- then again, maybe it was being in love!

    1. Thanks! Love your suggestion…Have you been to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville? For New Year’s of 1995, my then-beau and I drove from NY (!) and had a great time.


      My Istanbul experience was a shared room with two truckers (!) I’d traveled with from Perpignan for a story. We stayed at the Harem Otel. My oh my. I got the WORST allergy attack of my entire life from the dust/mold of looking at rugs all day in the Bazzaar and thought — they’d left — I’d die alone in my room there. The manager took me to a pharmacy and they figured out what was wrong. Terrifying.

      1. I see another trip to Asheville in our future! How did we miss this one? I appreciate the tip!

        I feel for you having such a dire experience in Istanbul- when I read your mention of this earlier, I somehow missed the ‘two’ truckers part! But, you know, I would rather carry a colorful memory like that as opposed to a group bus tour with no individuality. A separate story all its own is the amazing things you can get at the local pharma/aptek/chemists around the world when you need them… Glad you lived to tell the tale!

    1. Thanks!

      What a cool memory. I suspect the being 21 and in love colors just about every memory for the better! But youth hostels can be so interesting. The one in Ottawa, Canada is a former prison. So weird!

  10. themodernidiot

    The Chambers in Minneapolis. In the arts district and centered around art. The place is full of cool and funky work. And the rain shower head. Worth every penny.

  11. What a fun blog. I am so glad I found it! Thank you , too, for stopping by and liking a couple of my posts. Do come again soon and often…..namaste.. Anne
    One of my favorite hotels is in Winslow , AZ of the Eagles’ Song and the hotel is La Posada…and there is a fantastic chef!

  12. While in New York, I enjoyed the Dream Hotel – which is sort of cool with all its blue accent lighting, dark hallways (sort of an hip concept), and comfortable bedding that all have a duvet mattress top. Then on the more classic side, The Benjamin was nice. Especially since we were there during the US Open and there were quite a few tennis players staying there as well.

  13. Years ago, spent time on occasion at an old hippie hangout, a ghost town near Telluride, CO, with a hot springs. We knocked back a few at the often deserted bar where it’s said that Butch Cassidy carved his name into the wood and floated on our backs as we gazed up at a limitless sky punctuated with billions of stars. Recently, I was assigned an article on Dunton Hot Springs as it exists today–completely renovated and upscale with prices that mean I won’t be floating anywhere near there anytime soon. But for those who can afford it, it’s quite the place: http://duntonhotsprings.com/

  14. I’m enjoying your post and all the follow-up comments. I have been called “bitch” many times because I refuse to be walked on, by both men and women. I respect their opinions and let them get on with it, but I don’t want them shoving their opinion/lifestyle down my throat simply because I’m female, and now one who is over 60.

  15. these sound amazing caitlin, and i love your descriptions of them all. i especially am drawn to the ones you described in banff and tunis. great post –

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