It’s an addiction: I just love to travel. Whether it’s backpacking, splurging on a rural poolside retreat, or chilling in a hip Airbnb in some obscure town, there’s something about being on the road with fresh new sights and sounds and a myriad of cool restaurants to hunt out and indulge in. I’ve been lucky enough to visit 58 countries in six continents and have stayed in over 200 places, be it hot-as-hell 26-bed dorms in Malaysia, open-air camping on top of sand dunes in the heart of India’s Thar Desert, luxurious five-star hotels designed by top interior creatives, or cute Airbnbs across the globe.
But it’s artistically designed hotels that are my weakness, and that feeling when I’m left alone in the room for the first time feels me with pure joy. It’s the shadows and sunbeams streaming through polished glass, tightly tucked bedsheets without a single crease, fresh flowers in Art Deco vases, local art punctuating walls, and the heady scents—it's paradise. And while I’m yet to visit the real-life White Lotus hotel and haven’t visited many of the countries so well known for their impressive lodgings, and wow-factor bedrooms —the Maldives, Ecuador (case in point: Mashpi Lodge), Japan et al—the following list is a tight curation of hotels I consider the absolute best in the world right now. Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of all-inclusive resorts, chain hotels, and huge behemoths, so my recommendations for the most part sit in the boutique/arty realm (with one incredible exception), but that certainly doesn’t mean they’re not polished to sheer perfection.
Menorca Experimental, Menorca, Spain
At the bottom of a sun-scorched track, punctuated on either side by huge hay bales in the depths of the dream-like Menorcan countryside sits Menorca Experimental, an ancient finca-turned arty retreat surrounded by silvery-leaved olive trees and that unmistakable hum of cicadas. The hotel had been open less than a year when I first checked in, in the summer of 2020, and my budget allowed just a one-night stay (the rest of my island escape was spent in cheaper places). But Menorca Experimental was already proving itself to be one of the highlights of the Balearic Islands for a variety of delightful reasons, one being its interiors designed by the extremely talented Dorothee Meilichzon whose signature style runs throughout the 43 bedrooms and communal spaces. The clean lines and muted tones that Dorothee is known for are made for Instagram, while the hand-woven blankets that cover each bed are so pleasing to the eye, I wanted to take one home with me.
Outdoor areas are sublime, too—I spent hours in a blissful haze by the translucent pool surrounded by pale-peach loungers, retro sun canopies, and blush-pink towels stacked neatly in wicker baskets. But that’s not all: The finca is also home to a bewitching restaurant where home-cooked dishes are whipped up each night, many using produce from the hotel’s own garden.
Aguas Claras, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Aguas Claras, hidden away on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, is a place so special I couldn’t help but extend my stay soon after I settled in. After initially booking for four nights, I bumped up to six when I realized I’d stumbled upon *actual* heaven. Hidden amongst banana and palm trees that house a collection of slow-moving sloths and energetic capuchin monkeys, Aguas Claras is cycling distance from the small town of Puerto Viejo and a stone's throw from some of the most exquisite beaches leading all the way to the Panama border. Bedrooms are simply decorated with statement headboards—I got an acrylic rainbow—but it’s the outdoor bathrooms that really impress. Washstands are decked out with organic Kio products that smell like ylang-ylang and cacao, and while using them in my outdoor rainfall shower on my very first morning I spotted scarlet macaws flying overhead.
There’s just one pool right in front of the hotel’s restaurant and bar, and a semi-private rugged beach is a short stroll through lush rainforest. Yoga classes are often complementary too, and mine took place on a wooden deck called Casa Gandhi. The cutest touch to my solo stay in Puerto Viejo, however, the excitement of getting back to my room each evening and knowing a glass bowl of homemade baked treats—from banana bread to coconut truffles—would be waiting for me inside. Aside from the capital city of San Jose and mesmerizing Monteverde, I didn’t have too much more time to explore the rest of the country once my blissful seven days at Aguas Claras were up, but if you do have time, browse our weekend guide to Las Catalinas. Magical scenery awaits.
Pereh, Golan Heights, Israel
On the two-hour hypnotic journey from Haifa to the Golan Heights, the local bus I was sitting on passed endless stubby olive trees, bent into whimsical shapes by the wind. Still, it was the glimpse of the Sea of Galilee far off in the distance that really made it special. The nearer I drew to Pereh, the more magical the landscape became, until I was dropped in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wildflower meadows, and fruit trees hanging heavy with mangos, oranges, and thick-skinned lemons. A pebbled path led me to the open reception area with wide open windows, and for miles around all I could see was countryside.
Macramé is one of the main themes throughout Pereh’s bedrooms and communal spaces, with thoughtful detailing in rooms and gorgeous parasols providing dappled shade around outdoor areas. And like many of my favorite hotels, this one also features a lot of original art by local artists. Bedrooms are large and airy, filled with coffee table books, simple sculptures, and well-stocked minibars, and mine even had its own terrace with a hammock and separate seating area. I fell head over heels in love with Pereh’s outdoor pool and then after nightfall and a few icy cocktails, the nearby late-opening jacuzzi provided even more allurement to an already enchanting adventure.
Stamba, Tbilisi, Georgia
When it comes to redesigned spaces, Tbilisi’s Stamba is highly impressive. The brutalist building on Merab Kostava Street was previously a publishing house, and the metal runners that once took newspapers and pamphlets to be printed still remain, hanging throughout the industrial structure. Centering around a leafy courtyard complete with a defunct electrical pylon (brought in just for show), the 64 bedrooms are expansive and well-designed, with gorgeous antique parquet flooring, extremely high ceilings, and unique works of art by local Georgian artists.
In my bedroom, I found neat touches like record players, intriguing books, and cut-glass cocktail kits, while the hotel’s very own workspace D Block has interiors that seem like Mad Men on acid. Stamba also plays host to a very Wes Anderson-style café complete with mint green and pale pink decor, elaborate chandeliers, and vases of fresh daisies on each and every table. But there’s also a chocolaterie where chocolates are made daily and left in rooms for guests, a funky outdoor amphitheater, and amazing micro "space farms" where the hotel grows its very own leafy greens, edible flowers, and miniature vegetables. This place really does have style and substance.
Hotel Plantación Jardin, Colombia
Colombia is undoubtedly one of the best winter vacation destinations, which is why I headed there in 2022 to escape the relentless rain of London. After a whirlwind tour of Shakira’s hometown, days spent dancing at the Barranquilla carnival, a cute pitstop in Cartagena, and various nights out in Bogota and Medellin, I finally wanted to slow down and relax among nature. And so I headed to Jardin—a place where cowboys meet after work, pink bananas grow wild, and the town's square vibrates with a deep sense of community each and every afternoon.
I almost don't want to write about the hotel I stayed in—it's such a unique place—but in a list of the best hotels in the world, it wouldn’t be right not to include this little slice of utopia. With just nine rooms, Hotel Plantación is a true eco-venture, and their pledge to be more sustainable and kind to the planet runs through the very bones of the place. Water is solar-heated, the restaurant is plant-based, rainwater is used for the toilets, and local communities are fully-supported, but like Costa Rica’s Aguas Claras, it’s the little touches here that really make a stay exceptional. Each afternoon when returning to my room after exploring, I’d find a handwoven wicker basket filled with fresh herbal teas, a cafetière with locally grown coffee, and a small jar of panela (unrefined whole cane sugar). Fresh local fruits welcomed me on arrival, and gifted natural beauty products were packed safely into my backpack as I left - never underestimate the small touches that really help fill hearts with pure joy.
The Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem, Palestine
I’d always been curious about Banksy’s hotel in Bethlehem, and vividly remember looking at photos of it and Israel’s partition wall many years before I actually made the pilgrimage to the artist’s hotel-cum-political statement. The building, just mere meters from Banksy’s very own angels mural that’s sprayed directly onto the partition wall alongside hundreds of other pieces of artwork is a riot of wit, satire, and contemplation.
As soon as I entered The Walled Off Hotel, I was overwhelmed on every level as the hotel’s chintzy decor mingled with Banksy’s trademark art. In the lounge, just beyond the reception, there’s a piano that plays by itself, secret doors to navigate, and even a curated museum detailing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The rooms, of which there are just seven, as well as a handful of military-style dorm bunks, each have a theme and have been designed by either Banksy themselves or fellow artists Sami Musa, and Dominique Petrin. I chose the Banksy scenic suite for my one night in Bethlehem and was met with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked directly onto the partition wall along with a tongue-in-cheek telescope and a lot of original Banksy art. The room had a kind of old-English theme and was filled with antique dark-wood furniture and relics of the British Royal Family, plus stacks of old books. After a locally guided walk through neighborhoods close to the partition wall, it’s hard to comprehend the current political landscape but the Walled Off hotel goes someway towards addressing the cause.
Can Bordoy Grand House & Garden, Mallorca, Spain
Shortly after my stay at Can Bordoy Grand House & Garden, it was named one of the most romantic hotels in the world, providing the ideal romantic weekend getaway. However, my stay certainly didn’t culminate in a fairytale ending, as I was actually stood up in this very hotel. Yes, really! But even a good ghosting in the world’s most romantic hotel didn’t dampen my stay, because Can Bordoy is a delight from check-in to check-out, even if you’re traveling (unintentionally) solo.
You might have gathered by now, but impressive bathrooms and bathtubs are my hotel room weakness and I adore an indulgent bath on vacation, so I was happy to see upon arrival that Can Bordoy brought their bathroom A-game with homemade bath salts and Diptyque products in a bathroom as big as an average London apartment. And the impressiveness didn’t stop there, my room—decked out in earthy-toned fabrics and art-deco light fittings—featured all the usual mod cons of a great five-star hotel but also low-level sensory lighting and the ability to alter the firmness of the mattress by remote control, plus did I mention there’s a glass-bottomed rooftop pool?!
The Vintage Lisbon, Portugal
Lisboa is one of the coolest cities for a fun trip with your best friend, which is why I headed there immediately after the last COVID-19 lockdown finally ended. This time—my second trip to Portugal’s aesthetically pleasing capital—I swapped budget Airbnb accommodation in Bairro Alto for The Vintage Lisbon, a chic hotel with the most captivating rooms. Situated just moments away from the city's botanical garden and some of the best seafood restaurants in Lisbon, settling into my bold cobalt room was pure joy, made even more enjoyable by the complimentary gin and tonics waiting on the in-room retro drinks trolly. The 56 rooms are divided by color palettes: some terracotta, some cobalt blue, and the rest sage green, while all are united with velvet and leather headboards, creative lighting, and colorful modern art. There’s also an underground pool, a compact yet serene spa, and a plant-filled roof terrace.
The Lost Poet, London, UK
Our Instagram guide to London ticks off all the must-visits in the town I’ve called home for the past 17 years, but when it comes to a city staycation, there’s only one hotel I love to book into and that’s Portobello’s The Lost Poet. With just four bedrooms this is the smallest hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in, and each room has its own unique design ethos. My room, named The Salon, had a dusky pink theme with pops of neon, a floral chaise longue, and windows looking directly onto Portobello Road, but I slept soundly in the huge bed with not a peep of noise drifting in from outside. A tiny bar area had been thoughtfully created to maximize space, while the bathroom impressed with the most whimsical wallpaper by Costanza Theodoli-Braschi, organic Evolve products, and a marble-topped washstand. Breakfast consisted of Ottolenghi pastries and preserves—the perfect excuse to eat in bed and begin a wholesome weekend in style.
Elix, part of Mar-Bella Collection, Perdika, Greece
There’s a reason Elix is the only all-inclusive resort listed on this list, and that’s because it definitely doesn’t feel like one. Hidden away in the countryside of mainland Greece, surrounded by pine trees overlooking the magnificent Karavostasi beach, it’s pure relaxation, but in a sophisticated, dream-like way. For the most part, I’ve always avoided resorts as I adore heading out to local restaurants when I’m away—and until I visited Elix had never encountered a good all-inclusive food selection—but since a few of my close friends have had children, they’ve extolled the benefits of finding a good resort-style hotel to take the pain out of traveling. Elix is the sort of hotel that takes care of everything, so it’s absolutely perfect for people who are exhausted, burnt out, or simply in need of a uber-relaxing break. Rooms are incredibly impressive with huge glass sliding doors that allow the endless sunshine to wake you up naturally each day, and many are blessed with a private pool overlooking the stunning coastline below. Guests are encouraged to flit between the three restaurants and indulge in Greek and Italian delights, or linger on the beach where beaming staff are on hand to cater to your every need, from iced-coffees, unlimited ice cream or a cheeky spritz, in-between dips in the cyan sea.
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Lydia is a travel writer and editor, based mostly in London. Her work has been published in print and online for the likes of Harper's Bazaar, ELLE, Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, Town&Country, BBC Good Food, Oh magazine, MailOnline, and woman&home.
A solo trip to Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico aged 19 kickstarted her travel addiction and she's since gone on to explore parts of 58 countries, returning to many often. Solo travel is her specialty, and she's happiest when hunting out great food while wearing flip-flops, preferably somewhere hot. Her award-nominated blog Lydia Travels documents artistic intimate hotels and brilliant restaurants across the globe.
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