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?

Elegant Shelter: Hotel Memories

English: Banff Springs Hotel Deutsch: Das Fair...The Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada.
Image via Wikipedia

Loved this recent piece in The New York Times travel section of hotel memories. Here’s a snippet:

“… In hotels, secular miracles are routinely made to occur. The quotidian extravagances (costly, it’s true) built into life at a decent hotel are not likely part of most people’s daily existence. We dutifully make our beds and wash our dishes and clean our own tubs.

In hotels, however, we are only temporary citizens. And while I tip religiously and make efforts to leave my room in a decent state of order, I know that the smudge on the wall, the faulty plumbing, the nuisance of ownership belong to someone else. I bring my own baggage but leave the usual problems behind. At a hotel, the messy remnants of dinner can be guiltlessly pushed into a corridor.”

The essay is long and lively, with specific reminiscences of a life often spent in rooms far away from home.

It made me think of the many hotels I’ve visited. Here are some of my own favorites:

The Admiral’s Inn, English Bay, Antigua. How to forget the night, when I was perhaps seven or eight, I awoke to an odd flickering outside our second-floor windows? Fire! I woke up my mother to discover a sofa on the veranda below was alight. I returned to the hotel 20+ years later, still an elegant respite. Built in 1788, it offers historic intimate elegance, my favorite combination in a hotel.

– The Ritz, Paris. I wish! The closest I’ve gotten to staying there, and it was extraordinarily lovely, was their dark, cozy bar where Jose and I ate mini hamburgers and drank costly cocktails and watched very wealthy, languid young guests taking it all for granted. A black, round cocktail napkin, the name in gold, is framed in our kitchen as a happy souvenir of a fun evening.

— The Four Seasons, Toronto. This was the very first of what would become a legendary world-spanning chain of hotels, then founder Issy Sharp’s radical, bold move to taking a motel on a seedy Toronto street and transforming it into an urban oasis. I had my 10th. birthday party at the pool there. Heaven!

The Taos Inn, Taos, NM. This funky place is in one of my favorite towns. Founded in 1936, the hotel has small rooms with lots of character around a lovely central courtyard.

The Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta. I spent one of the happiest weeks ever here, in March 2011, alone. This gorgeous property, built in 1888 and nestled in the Rockies, blends history, warmth, style and elegance. I can’t wait to go back.

The Sylvia, Vancouver. It celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012. Named for the daughter of the man who developed the Sylvia, the hotel, for a while, was used as residential housing — and my paternal grandmother lived there for a while. Right on the beach, with simple, bright rooms, it’s an affordable place to settle in with views of mountains and the ocean. I’ve stayed twice and loved it both times.

I’ve stayed at The Algonquin, built in 1902 on West 44th St. in New York City, a few times; another of a great hotel’s charms is its consistency. The Algonquin (shriek) is about to undergo a four-month renovation…and what on earth will its new corporate owners do to it? It’s already been renovated within the past decade and there are traditionalists like me and many others who choose a hotel because we like it the way it is. Mess with our memories and expectations at your peril!

Do you have a favorite hotel (and story?)

Vacations-Gone-Wrong: When The Hotel Is Great — But Not The Guests

New Yorker Hotel building from below
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t plan to blog about Tyler Brule every day, but his column in today’s FT is too delicious to miss — the subtle art of making sure your hotel guests are up to snuff:

Hoteliers spend a lot of time working on both the software and hardware to make for the perfect stay – at least, the best ones do. Newspapers and magazines devote countless column inches in their travel pages covering these developments at various hotels featuring the latest spa with yet another interpretation of a hot-stone treatment (how much room is there for innovation when it comes to lining up warm stones along a guest’s spine?), groundbreaking showers that reverse the ageing process and communications technology so smart you can order room service via Wi-Fi just by blinking the number of the item on the menu. Happy customers will spread the word by talking up the food, the service and the breathtaking views.

Rarely, however, is there much discussion about the most important and uncontrollable element of all – the guests themselves. For all the websites devoted to peer reviews and all the guidebooks that make bookshop shelves sag, there’s little space given to the types of people that a certain hotel attracts or repels.

It’s controversial territory to start ranking hotels by the quality of the guests but then that’s also part of the fun. I’m convinced that if I launched a series of guidebooks and accompanying website to support this idea there’d be no shortage of special interest groups lobbying for its closure because it would be seen as ageist, sexist, racist, anti-silicone, anti-Botox, homophobic and toddler-intolerant. It would also be highly readable and before long would be available in over 16 languages.

If a hotel can get all the basics right, then all that’s left to ensure that you return season after season are the quality of guests you’ll be lying next to by the sea, perusing the breakfast buffet with at 8am and gently smiling at when you share the lift. But how does a good general manager attract the right crowd?

I think about this often, because we’ve returned five times since 2001 to a small, quiet resort south of Montreal, Hovey Manor, partly because we’ve never once spent time around people there we wanted to flee.

How undemocratic! What snottiness!

You betcha.

After all the time I spend/endure dealing with New Yorkers’ monumental egos, braying cellphone conversations, dodging them as they race down the sidewalk staring into their PDAS expecting you, peon, to move, the last thing I can possibly cope with on vacation is….more of the same. I once flew all the way to bloody Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and ended up in a hotel that was full of the same sort of people I spend energy avoiding at home. Never again.

Hovey Manor manages to be elegant but not stuffy, warm and welcoming but not clingy, cosy but not schmaltzy. We always find there a few interesting, fun companions — the former ballet dancer with red hair to her waist, a judge and her psychologist husband, the Grand Prix fans on their way to Montreal.

And, sorry, no kids. I don’t know if they are not allowed, but the only non-adult I’ve ever seen was a boy of perhaps 15, perfectly-behaved. It’s not — thank God — a place where caps are worn at the table or cellphones are welcome everywhere. However silly it sounds, and I love it, one dresses for dinner.

A vacation is a precious time to relax and recharge. So, no, I don’t want to watch you play tonsil hockey with your 30-years-younger gal pal. Nor do I want to hear your music leaking from your earbuds or have to fight over the pool-side chairs. I really don’t want to deal with shrieking little children.

So I tend to choose smaller, European-style inns or boutique hotels.

Yet, as a traveler who oscillates happily between luxury and penury, I’ll be at the Vancouver youth hostel for two nights this summer, $38 a night for a room that might have 16 others in it. As someone who shared space for many years at camp and boarding school, it’s not a big deal — unless they snore.

Have you had a vacation ruined — or made wonderful — by the people at your hotel?