Amazing places to stay
Some people see the places they stay on their travels as simply somewhere to keep their bag and lay their head at night, far more occupied by what they can discover outside their four walls. While we don’t necessarily disagree with this, there is something undeniably exciting about staying somewhere memorable. So many hotels and heritage properties have a history to discover (if only the walls could talk) or a campsite might reveal a stunning view once the sun rises. For us, the accommodation can be as much of an experience as any other part of the adventure. From palaces to desert lodges, these are some of our absolute favourite places to stay.
Khaplu Palace, Pakistan
As the converted home of a former ruler of this mountain hideaway, Khaplu Palace is one of the most beautiful and evocative fort conversions I’ve stayed at. With its Ladakhi Buddhist influence, perched spectacularly at the highest point in the Khaplu valley – offering stunning views of the Karakoram range – it appears like a film set from some medieval Asian epic. Lovingly restored by the Aga Khan Foundation and now owned by the Serena chain of hotels, it has a collection of stunning bedrooms and suites, a restaurant that serves delicious local cuisine and staff that are charming and ever-helpful. And to have all this in such a remote place is truly magical.
Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, India
As the favourite royal palace of the late sixth Nizam of Hyderabad – purportedly the fifth wealthiest man of all time – the Falaknuma Palace is undoubtedly the most spectacular royal abode I have ever had the pleasure of staying at. Sitting on a hill above this fascinating city and shaped like a giant scorpion, the vast 19th-century construction has sweeping marble staircases, 60 rooms, 22 halls, fine art, bar and full-size snooker room and the largest dining table in the world, capable of seating 101 people. Restored by the Taj hotel group, and run on a 60-year lease from the Nizam’s decedent’s, it is today one of the finest royal hotels in India, if not the world, and offers the perfect calm after a busy day exploring the crazy town below.
Haveli Dharampura, Delhi, India
As I navigated the narrow alleyways of Chandni Chowk, narrowly avoiding falling water balloons, I had no idea of the historic grandeur nestled behind the heavy wooden doors of the inconspicuous sandstone entrance. Beyond the small reception, the four-storied, restored 19th-century haveli rose up from a quaint marble courtyard. The beauty was truly in the details, as every Mughal-style arched colonnade, door and balcony were superbly accentuated with warm, glowing spotlights.
One of the best things about the haveli is the restaurant, Lakhori. I was thoroughly spoilt. The food was amazing (and never stopped coming) and the cocktails were also unique and delicious. Even though I was by myself, the staff were so attentive, kind and knowledgeable, it was like I was catching up with friends over a shared love of food. The rooftop area was also a bonus with spectacular views over Old Delhi, with flocks of trained pigeons swooping across the skyline. You can peep the nearby Red Fort and the Jama Masjid mosque from there, too.
Ger camp outside of Khairkhan, Mongolia
Perhaps one of the simplest ger camps we stayed at in Mongolia, it really felt the most remote, which is saying something considering most places in Mongolia are incredibly remote. There were perhaps only 10 gers in total that were traditional and cosy, and we were the only guests there. But what really stole the show was the view. The steppe just rolled on before us, barely interrupted, as if there was no end to it. Behind us were protective, rocky hills.
When the sun started setting, the gigantic expanse of the sky became streaked with swathes of colour, which gradually blended into each other; light blues, oranges, pinks. Then the blues got deeper and darker until, finally, millions of stars sparkled over our heads. You could see constellations and shooting stars with such clarity, you didn’t want to peel your eyes away for fear of missing something magic. We told stories by candlelight and the silence all around us was oddly comforting. I slept so well, I didn’t even hear the herd of passing camels in the night.
The Abbasi Hotel, Isfahan, Iran
I love the Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan. The building is a 300-year-old caravanserai and has a traditional Persian courtyard garden, with fountains and water-lined avenues. It’s the most historic hotel in Isfahan and is where the Shah used to stay when he was in town. The Old Wing is the place to stay, compared to the somewhat characterless new wing, but either way, its location and history make it one of the best places to stay in Iran.
The Orient Star, Khiva, Uzbekistan
One of the very few hotels within Khiva’s ancient city walls, the Orient Star oozes history, being a former madrassah. A two-storey building surrounding a central courtyard, the rooms are simple with the exception of their stunningly carved wooden doors. The hotel is not without its faults - some of the winding corridors and staircases are an adventure in themselves – but for history and location, the Orient Star is hard to beat.
Kwessi Dunes Lodge, Namibia.
Set in the rich red dunes of the Namibrand Reserve, close to the better know Sossusvlei dunes, this new lodge is the perfect place for thrill-seekers and unwinders alike. Relax by the shady swimming pool watching the oryx move to and from the local watering hole in their hundreds or set out for some dune bashing on the quad bikes. The real highlight for me was that every chalet has an attached ‘stargazer room’ which is essentially an open-air bed you can admire the fabulous stars from as you fall asleep without being disturbed by light pollution (The NamibRand is Africa’s first designated International Dark Sky Reserve meaning it’s one of the least light-polluted areas in the world). For that real once in a lifetime experience, you can take a breath-taking hot air balloon flight over the neighbouring Sossusvlei dunes.
Hotel El Convento in León, Nicaragua
Across Latin America, travelers will find convents, monasteries and other historic buildings of faith converted to lodging. Many are stunning, but few have the simple elegance and brave design of El Convento in the colonial Spanish city of León located in northwest Nicaragua. Filled with Nicaragua and Peruvian colonial antiques (carved out of Nicaraguan hardwoods and collected and shipped back by the owners) the rooms of El Convento are not breathtaking by any means. Calm, sensible, save a few modern luxuries, you could almost feel yourself a Franciscan nun in 1650 sleeping there.
What makes the ground-up restoration of this mid-city oasis so special is what it does not do. It ignores the fact it is a hotel. The majority of its precious real estate? A contemplative garden. The swimming pool, lobby and restaurants are nearly afterthoughts pushed out to tiny side patios and rooms. What brings an overwhelming sense of peace and well being to all that visit El Convento is its symmetrical garden, right in the middle of everything. The rest of the hotel is its satellite, with four corridors of rooms running around its square sides. This simple, elegant design, fairly ho-hum in photographs, is a marvel in person. It slams on the brakes from the rat race of life, demanding us to stop and gaze. It soothes the soul.
Nihi, Sumba, Indonesia
Nihi is the most exceptional property that's set in a stunning island landscape where the jungle literally meets the ocean. Out of all the places I could go for my honeymoon, this was top of the list. The private villa's exceptional staff and one of the best surf breaks in the World (not that I stood up on it) make this a truly one-off destination. For families, there is a local horse breed that you can ride and a fantastic chocolate making class. This is an amazing property and once there, you will never want to leave.
The Arkan Han, Bulgaria
The Arkan Han is a boutique hotel found at the bottom of a stunning valley in southern Bulgaria very near to the impressive Trigrad Gorge and the so-called Devil’s Throat Cave. Everything about the place is enchanting – from the location and the views to the food and the traditional and homely décor, this was my absolute favourite place to stay in the whole of Bulgaria.