15 bizarre, but amazing, hotels
Whether it's balanced on the rim of a volcano or made of crystallized salt, the right hotel can provide you with a good year's worth of bragging material.
The best part is you don't need to raid the kids' college fund to find some exotic, out-there rooms.
1. The Balancing Barn, England
Find a little balance in this precariously perched hotel. It was built by Living Architecture, the brainchild of Swiss philosophical writer Alain de Botton who wrote "The Architecture of Happiness."
The group created a series of homes in the United Kingdom based on high-quality, modern architecture and de Botton's work on the connection between environment, architecture and happiness.
The Balancing Barn in Suffolk, on the edge of a nature reserve, sleeps eight people. Clad in silver tiles and with large windows giving great views, it has also won a series of travel and design awards.
Living Architecture has also just launched its sixth property: a boat-shaped room where you can spend the night, perched on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's South Bank.
Cost: From US$38.90 per person.
2. The Mountain Retreat Inn, China
With views of the peaceful Yulong River near Yangshuo in Guanxi province, the Mountain Retreat Inn has been named a top hotel by TripAdvisor and The Telegraph.
It's all very eco friendly, with sustainable local bamboo used for furnishings where possible, but it's the mountain scenery that makes this one for the scrapbook. The dramatic karst peaks along the nearby Li River are a big tourist draw, while the hotel itself has comfortable, simple rooms.
Cost: A single room from US$62.
+86 773 8777 091; www.yangshuomountainretreat.com
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3. Wild Brown Bear Hotel, Finland
It's the surroundings here that are the attraction rather than the hotel -- but you can't trek through the forests of eastern Finland's Karelia region, over spongy carpets of moss and blueberries and under birch and pine canopies, without feeling as if you're walking through a fairy tale.
The Wild Brown Bear Hotel is a great base for getting close to Finland's natural side, and from here you can arrange an overnight stay in a hide looking out for wild brown bears and wolverines (a photographer's hide is also available).
Other activities in the area include kayaking around peaceful lakes, cycling and enjoying the great Finnish outdoors.
Cost: A one-night stay in the bear-watching hide starts from US$213 per person.
+358 (0)40 5469 008; http://wildbrownbear.fi
4. Hotel Saratoga, Cuba
If you're in Cuba chances are you will pass through Havana, and there is no cooler place to stay than the Hotel Saratoga.
Its rooftop pool has some of the best views in town and goes some way to offsetting the traffic noise and hustle of the Paseo del Prado. It features on the Guardian's list of top 10 hotels in Havana and is considered one of the better bolt-holes in town. But avoid the food if you can.
Cost: Deluxe patio rooms start from US$238.
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5. Houshi Ryokan, Japan
For an authentic, and Zen-like, Japanese night, try a ryokan. These inns offer simple tatami-matted rooms with futons, traditional Japanese food and communal hot water spas.
The Houshi Ryokan in Hokuriku, Ishikawa, north-west of Tokyo, is one of the oldest ryokans in Japan. It's been managed by the same family for 46 generations and has been in business for more than 1,300 years.
Its elegant sukiya-style rooms are designed according to Japanese architectural ideals and the ryokan's legendary hot spring, or onsen, is reputed to have curative properties. Local dishes are served for breakfast and dinner.
Cost: Guest rooms start from US$91 per night.
6. Akköy Evleri Cave Hotel, Turkey
Get in touch with your inner caveman with an overnight stay in this rock-cut hotel in Cappadocia. Built near the historical village of Akköy near Ürgüp, the family-run Akköy Evleri hosts five boutique rooms built inside former cave houses.
There are plenty of other good cave hotels in the region, but the friendly management, good food and views make this place special. Use it as a base to explore the surrounding area -- including the underground cities at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, the nightlife and architecture of Ürgüp or the nearby Byzantine caves.
Cost: Prices range from US$106-284 for a room.
+90 384 352 4704; http://akkoyevleri.com/
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7. Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Tanzania
If it's a view of Tanzania's northern savanna from the rim of a volcanic caldera that you're after, this is the hotel for you.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to 40,000 Maasai semi-nomadic pastoralists as well as a high density of wild animals -- time it right and you might glimpse migrating wildebeest, zebra or gazelles.
The hotel's suites are inspired by Maasai manyattai, but have a cosy colonial feel. Game drives are the main activity, so there is plenty of time for admiring the spectacular views over the ancient caldera.
Cost: US$720 per person per night.
+44 (0) 20 7471 8780 (England) or +1 866 356 469 (United States) www.ngorongorocrater.com/
8. La Résidence Phou Vao, Laos
One of the best hotels in Laos' old royal capital of Luang Prabang, this white-walled colonial mansion nestles amid a forest of palm trees on a hill a short way outside the country's second biggest city, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Furnished with a monastic combination of dark woods and simple white cotton wafting across doorways, it's a Zen-like base to explore the surrounding stupas, observe Buddhist monks collecting their alms each morning and feel at one with nature.
Cost: Double rooms from US$260.
+856 71 212 194; www.residencephouvao.com/web/plua/la_residence_phou_vao.jsp
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9. Adrère Amellal eco lodge, Egypt
The Adrère Amellal eco lodge lives in harmony with its fragile Saharan environment and allows its guests to experience the freedom and beauty of the unspoilt desert too.
With no electricity, no Internet and no phone signal, you'll soon be appreciating the sunrise over the sand dunes, discovering the ancient Siwa way of life and learning how local artisans and herders are surviving in this parched landscape.
It's all built using traditional techniques -- part rock-hewn and part kershef (mud and rock salt) -- and the lodge's restaurant serves quality local vegetarian and meat dishes. Don't forget to dip your toes in the Roman springs. The lodge is a 10-hour drive (about 750 kilometers) from Cairo, it's not easy to get to, but is well worth it.
Cost: US$500 per night
+20(2) 2736 7879; www.adrereamellal.net
10. Palacio de Sal, Bolivia
If you can't stand bland, try the Palacio de Sal, with walls, floors, beds and chairs made entirely of white rock salt.
Set on the eastern shore of the Great Salar de Uyuni, a vast expanse of white salt 3,650 meters above sea level, it's also great for stargazing at night and watching sunset colors reflect off the salt lake.
You can try your hand at a bit of trick photography -- like this intrepid traveler who appears to be relieving himself of his travel companions: http://www.travelblog.org/Photos/3291609.
The hotel also has a spa and salty golf course. Not recommended for slugs.
Cost: Rooms start at US$100 for a single.
+591 2 6229512; www.palaciodesal.com.bo
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11. Albergo Il Monastero, Italy
The small island of Ischia is sometimes overlooked by tourists who flock instead to the crowded Amalfi coast or neighbouring Capri during summer months.
For a more relaxed view of the gulf of Naples, this hotel -- an ex-convent -- has a simple Mediterranean cloistered feel.
It's part of the 16th-century Aragonese Castle, which stands on a picturesque outcrop of rock connected to the main island by a bridge. Ischia is popular for its thermal hot springs and volcanic mud treatments. This hotel also offers wellness massage packages to visitors staying two nights or more.
Cost: Rooms start at US$142 but watch out for discounts on the website.
+39 081 992435; www.albergoilmonastero.it
12. Alila Ubud, Indonesia
This hotel's wow factor has to be its infinity pool that seems to merge with green rice terraces and the luxuriant foothills of central Bali.
Take a dip in this pool and you'll feel like you're swimming with the native Balinese birds and macaques.
Certified by Green Globe, the hotel is eco friendly and offers four-star quality and services, including cool, contemporary design and an on-site restaurant specializing in local cuisine.
Cost: Rooms start from US$148
+62 361 975 963; www.alilahotels.com/ubud
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13. Great Orme Lighthouse, Wales
This old lighthouse, built in 1862 and in full use as a warning to ships until 1985, certainly has a room with a view -- a 180-degree view over the cliffs of north Wales and the Irish Sea.
Don't expect luxury, but do expect a very warm welcome from the hostess Fiona and an insight into the history of this living monument.
Cost: US$129 per person per night.
+44 (0)1492 876819; www.lighthouse-llandudno.co.uk/
14. Riad L’Ayel d’Essaouira, Morocco
This renovated traditional Moroccan house in the heart of Essaouira's old quarter has four beautifully designed Berber-style rooms.
Colorful ceramic tiles and traditional tadlakt-coated walls blur the indoor and outdoor spaces, while detailed attention to carved-wood furnishings and silky fabrics make this small riad a Moroccan visual feast.
It's also listed as one of Essaouira's best luxury hotels by professional travel writers on the Travel Intelligence website, but comes in well below the average price of four and five-star hotels in the city.
Cost: From US$71 per room.
+212 5 24 47 58 62 28; www.riadlayel.com
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15. The Oberoi Udaivilas, India
Your big chance to live like a Mughal Emperor -- at least for one night.
The Oberoi Udaivilas at Udaipur is built in the style of a traditional Indian palace, with gold-leaf domes and sand-colored walls reflected in the waters of Lake Pichola and the hotel's pools.
Voted the best resort in Asia by Travel + Leisure's 2011 readers’ poll, the hotel's marble interiors and hand-painted frescoes will make you feel every inch a Rajah.
The setting at the heart of the old Mewar kingdom combines historical atmosphere with the Oberoi group's high standards. The city's network of lakes and the backdrop of the Aravalli Hills are a spectacular setting.
Cost: From Rs35,000 (US$760).
+91 294 2433300; www.oberoihotels.com
Article first published September 2011, updated March 2012.