The Most Unusual Hotels To Stay In Before You Die

Keemala embraces a Thai cultural philosophy and brings it to life through distinctive design
Keemala embraces a Thai cultural philosophy and brings it to life through distinctive design | Courtesy of Keemala, Thailand / Expedia
Phoebe Taplin

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.

1. Treehotel

Boutique Hotel, Treehouse

Treehotel Sweden
Courtesy of Treehotel Sweden / Expedia

A tall, sloping pine forest in Sweden’s most northerly county is the setting for this extraordinary collection of rooms, designed by various architects and hanging 4 to 10m (13 to 33ft) above the ground. Walk five minutes through the trees from the Guesthouse restaurant and reach your room via a ramp or bridge. Some are camouflaged, like the forest-reflecting Mirrorcube and the stick-shrouded Bird’s Nest. Others, like the 1970’s sci-fi movie-style UFO with its electric stairway, deliberately contrast the surroundings. With spectacular views of the wide Lule River and occasionally the northern lights, this is a great place to get close to nature.

2. Hotel Palacio de Sal, Bolivia

Hotel

Hotel Palacio de Sal, Bolivia
Courtesy of Hotel Palacio de Sal, Bolivia / Expedia

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.

3. Hotel Marqués de Riscal, Spain

Spa Hotel, Hotel

Hotel Marqués de Riscal, Spain
Courtesy of Hotel Marqués de Riscal, Spain / Expedia

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.

4. Icehotel, Sweden

Ice Hotel, Hotel

Icehotel, Sweden
Courtesy of Icehotel / Expedia
Built from new ice and snow each November as the neighbouring Torne River freezes in Sweden’s vast Norrbotten county, the winter section of this spectacular palace becomes water again in the summer. Nearly half the rooms are uniquely hand-carved by artists into different shapes each year: dancers, dragons or fairy-lit tree trunks are sculpted out of ice to decorate the frozen bedrooms. Keep warm in the freeze with thermal layers and sleeping bags or head next door for a sauna in the heated service building. In 2016, Icehotel 365 was added to house year-round suites and an exhibition detailing the hotel’s history. There’s also an ice bar, serving bubbles in handmade ice glasses and drinks on the rocks, while the food favours Swedish classics like reindeer, lingonberries and Arctic char.

5. SiloStay, New Zealand

Hotel

SiloStay, New Zealand 3
Courtesy of SiloStay, New Zealand / Expedia

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.

6. Village Flottant de Pressac, France

Lodge

Village Flottant de Pressac
Courtesy of Village Flottant de Pressac

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.

7. Arctic TreeHouse Hotel, Finland

Hotel, Treehouse

Arctic TreeHouse Hotel, Finland
Courtesy of Arctic TreeHouse Hotel / Expedia
Lapland is Finland’s largest and most northerly province; a place where the climate is cold and Christmas-style fir trees grow everywhere. Deep in the forests on the edge of Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi, this 2016 hotel channels the area’s global associations with Santa Claus as well as deeper layers of local culture. Close to the Arctic Circle and sensitive to its fragile ecosystems, the architects built sustainable glass-walled cabins into the hillside, bringing visitors into contact with the trees outside and the super-starry skies above. The snowflake-shaped restaurant serves wild mushrooms, salted moose and fish from Lake Inari, followed by birch leaf crème brûlée with cloudberries and moss.

8. Wild Coast Tented Lodge, Sri Lanka

Boutique Hotel, Eco-Lodge, Luxury

Wild Coast Tented Lodge Sri Lanka
Courtesy of Wild Coast Tented Lodge, Sri Lanka / Expedia

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.

9. The Singular Patagonia, Chile

Hotel

The Singular Patagonia, Chile
Courtesy of The Singular Patagonia / Expedia

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.

10. Sikelia Luxury Retreat, Pantelleria

Luxury

Sikelia Luxury Retreat, Pantelleria
Courtesy of Sikelia Luxury Retreat / Expedia

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.

11. Keemala, Thailand

Resort, Treehouse

Keemala Thailand
Courtesy of Keemala, Thailand / Expedia
Every villa has a pool at this palm and bougainvillea-decked rainforest resort at the foot of the wooded Kamala hills. They come in various guises, looking like thatched cottages, elegant tents, glowing tree houses or artsy birds’ nests. The different house styles are inspired by tales of ancient silk road clans. From a distance, it looks like Tolkein’s woodland realm of Lothlorien and the whole place has an air of fantasy, whether you go for raindrop therapy at the spa or tropical cocktails at the pool-side bar.

12. Quinta Real Zacatecas, Mexico

Boutique Hotel

Quinta Real Zacatecas, Mexico
Courtesy of Quinta Real Zacatecas / Expedia

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.

13. Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam, Holland

Hotel

Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam, Holland
Courtesy of Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam / Expedia

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.

14. Good Hotel London, UK

Boutique Hotel, Hotel

Good Hotel London, UK
Courtesy of Good Hotel / Expedia

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.

15. Shipwreck Lodge, Namibia

Luxury

Shipwreck Lodge Namibia
Courtesy of Shipwreck Lodge / Expedia

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.

16. Blackbird Byron, Australia

Boutique Hotel

Blackbird Byron, Australia
Courtesy of Blackbird Byron / Expedia

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.

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