Basic B&Bs or straightforward five-star luxury may be alright for some, but often a vacation is made all the more special by staying in an entirely unique hotel. Luckily we’ve profiled some of the most unusual, unique and quirky hotels and accommodation from across the globe, including Sweden’s iconic ICEHOTEL and Giraffe Manor in Kenya, where guests can expect a visit from a legendarily tall ruminant or two. Even better, they’re all bookable with Culture Trip.
In the world’s first salt hotel, on the shores of the world’s largest salt flat, standard rooms are saline igloos and even some of the furniture is made of salt; the starkness softened by crimson cloth and wooden walkways. Outside, the Salar de Uyuni is a blinding-white desert with flamingos, rocky outcrops and cacti-spiked islands, formed from a dried-up prehistoric lake. There’s a pool and a spa that offers exfoliating treatments with salt (and quinoa) and the Tika Palace restaurant, serving gourmet Bolivian cooking and high-altitude wines.
Architect Frank Gehry, best known for Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum and a whole host of other iconic buildings, created this contemporary chateau in 2006. Among the ancient walls of medieval Elciego and the wine-growing wooded hills of Rioja, this luxurious retreat on one of the region’s oldest wineries is designed to give wide views over the neighbouring vineyards. It seems to float 9m (30ft) over the ground on three huge columns, the rippling titanium canopies in gold and pink playing on the wine-related imagery. Gehry’s characteristic inventiveness continues through the cavernous interior with wonky maple wood walls and zigzag windows. With red loungers by the pool, a Merlot wrap at the spa and a free tour of the barrel-stacked cellar, this place is a wine-lover’s dream.
The tall metal cylinders next to Little River’s railway station look just like the ones farmers use to store grain and silage, but climb the curving steel stairways and you’ll find custom-fitted kitchenettes and stylish circular bedrooms. There’s even a balcony for views across the rolling local landscape. The hotel makes a virtue of the area’s lack of globally notable attractions, promoting the tranquil surroundings as ideal for a mindful retreat and a base for exploring the Banks Peninsula. The nearest restaurant is a 10-minute drive, but you can order gourmet takeaways or a SiloFeast platter with champagne to tide you over.
Wildlife encloses these floating, solar-powered sheds, thatched huts, stilted lodges and safari tents on the grassy, sheep-nibbled shore of the Ponteil pond. These come with kitchens and outdoor terraces and some have fishing boats available. Eat grilled Poitou lamb, marinated seasonal veg and creamy farmhouse Tomme de Savoie cheese in the floating barbecue cabin or bream with lemon and brioche perdue on the waterside quay of the marina restaurant.
Spot leopards, elephants, bears and crocodiles near these earth-coloured lodges that look a little bit like giant turtles. The cocoon tents have a steampunk vibe with portholes in the stitched canvas walls, teak, leather, repurposed metal as well as copper bathtubs and four-posters. A huge wave-edged pool winds between the bamboo ceilinged bar and dining room, where traditional Sri Lankan rice and spicy seafood are artistically recreated. Or you can order an open-air feast with cocktails to watch the sun melt over the sand dunes into the glowing Indian Ocean.
A plate-glass picture window looks straight out across a long wooden jetty in the tranquil Fjord of Last Hope to the distant snowy mountains. Inside a concrete ceiling contrasts with the bedroom’s polished wood and a plump sofa. The settlement of Puerto Bories grew up around a 1915 cold storage plant that has become this luxurious 21st-century resort. Black and white photos link the building with its industrial past. The high-ceilinged, brick-walled restaurant uses fresh Patagonian ingredients, like king crab or guanaco, while a fire in the centuries-old blacksmith’s forge takes care of lamb steaks and local veggies.
The windswept Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, is a wilderness of craggy volcanic rocks, natural hot springs and aromatic shrubs. Among the Unesco-listed vineyards are the characteristic white-washed domes known locally as dammusi. Some of these ancient, vaulted buildings, made from volcanic rock, have become the suites of the Sikelia, which has hosted stars like Madonna and Cate Blanchett in the past. Individually furnished, with contemporary art on the walls, the rooms have a muted simplicity in keeping with the monastic architecture and wild landscapes. In the Themà restaurant, chef Diego Battaglia fuses Sicilian and African traditions with aplomb.
The 19th-century San Pedro bullfighting arena has provided some spectacular architecture for this upscale hotel in downtown Zacatecas. Thankfully, the building’s bullfighting days are long gone and hospitality has charged into the ring instead with a brick-vaulted candlelit bar, striking Mexican artworks and Jacuzzis in some of the suites. There are arches, columns and fountains; the old bullring is now a peaceful courtyard, backed by the city’s towering aqueduct and the leafy neighbouring park, full of sandstone monuments and delicate mimosa trees.
If you took dozens of traditional Dutch houses and stacked them up 40m (131ft) high like giant blocks of lego, it would look something like this. With their wavy gables, carved white eaves, dormer windows and green painted barge-boards, each façade represents a different type of local cottage; the one blue house is inspired by a picture Claude Monet painted here in 1871. The rooms inside have one big Zaandam-themed statement picture: a wall-sized vintage advert or black and white photo. Have a swim in the pool, tuck into sea bass and strawberries in the restaurant, then cross the road to the railway station and you can be in Amsterdam by train in just 12 minutes.
Cosy, minimalist cabins look out at the water while a rooftop bar and generous communal area serves scrambled tofu, cinder toffee brownies or sustainable cocktails. The fact that it’s floating on a London dock with cable car pods swinging 90m (295ft) overhead is not the most remarkable thing about this ethically-principled hotel. Founder Marten Dresen renovated a derelict sea-going platform to generate money for schools in Guatemala and training for local unemployed people and has always insisted good business should be about human potential.
On one of the remote, rainless beaches of the Skeleton Coast Park, littered with whale bones and rusting cables, ten chalets in the sand dunes are made to look like wrecked boats. Each comes complete with a wood-burning stove to keep off the desert chill and a viewing deck to watch the rolling fog and crashing surf. On sunnier days when the gales are just a stiff sea breeze, the hotel offers lunch outdoors on the wave-washed sands where you can sip sparkling rosé surrounded by one of the strangest landscapes on earth.
To get up close and personal with nature, it’s hard to beat this adults-only retreat with its outdoor magnesium pool and views of the Koonyum Range and the Pacific Ocean. A rough track winds up through fragrant eucalyptus trees to three westward-facing, birdsong-ringed detached pavilions, each a light-filled cube of minimalist wood and glass. They come with binoculars plus guides to the star-studded night sky and local walking trails. Look out for the local black cockatoos with their comical crests and colourful tail bands. Breakfast features home-blended coffee, fresh seasonal fruit and veg and griddled sourdough.
This is an updated version of an article originally by Helen Armitage.