I've stayed in many super posh hotels over the years, and my fair share of those that were not some, but I appreciated the effort that goes into the running of a good hotel. Like so much in travel, a lot is down to your mood and expectation, but from a trendy steel tower in Doha to a run down guest house once used by T.E Lawrence, here are some of my favourite (and least favourite) hotels.

Working as a travel journalist, I'm often hosted by travel companies or hotels. It doesn't stop me being critical, but in the interest of openness I'll mention when a stay was complimentary.


 
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FAVOURITE HOTELS
The Peninsula Hong Kong at 90...
posted by Richard Green on 14/02/2018

The hotel has a fleet of Rolls Royce's in its unique 'Peninsula Green'. Photo Peninsula Hotels

A bit of history: affectionately known as the ‘Pen’, The Peninsula is Hong Kong’s oldest and grandest hotel, and this year sees its 90th anniversary. The famous white-suited pageboy’s opened the doors to its first paying guests in 1928 - when immediately it attracted that most colonial of epithets, being hailed as the finest hotel east of Suez.

As well as the colonial upper crust - remember that Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997 - early guests included politicians, tycoons and movie stars, and it quickly became the local elite’s swagger sanctuary of choice.

The Pen in splendid isolation back in the 20s, when visitors made straight for Hong Kong Island rather than Kowloon 

Right from the beginning, the history of the Hong Kong and the Pen were intertwined. In the 20’s it was the Pen that hosted the colony’s most glitzy tea dances, in 1941 it lent a room for Hong Kong’s formal surrender to the Japanese, and in the 70’s a fleet of exclusive ‘Peninsula Green’ Roll’s Royce’s arrived to transfer guests to and from the airport in style. Then with pre-handover chutzpah, a 28-story extension was added in 1994.  

Afternoon tea in the lobby is a Hong Kong institution. Photos Peninsula Hotels

First impressions: The glass door closed behind me and shushed the city’s cacophony: I’d entered the lobby. I’m a sucker for pukka colonial and this was it. The vast hall contained cream stuccoed columns, lacquered tables and potted ferns, while the air buzzed with conversation and the comforting tinkle of teaspoons on china, and up on the balcony, an enthusiastic quartet were playing ‘Fly me to the Moon’. It felt sumptuous and utterly imperturbable - the sort of place where the band might play Stormy Weather in a raging typhoon.  

Away from the grand pedigree of the original building, the design of the new tower echoes the shapes and colours well, and houses a large Romanesque pool and sun terrace, along with a spa and gym, all immaculately maintained.  

The rooms are larger than I had expected – even a standard is almost 500 square feet. The décor is classic, but fresh feeling, in a blend of traditional European styles with Orient nods, like the table lamps and wall hangings. The million dollar view of the Hong Kong Skyline found me flopping-on-the-bed in delight as soon as the bellman withdrew. 

A suite complete with telescope, and a deluxe room. Photos Peninsula Hotels

How's the service? As well as the quirky ‘Shoe Box’, which enables staff to collect and deliver shoes and papers without opening the door, there are plenty of modern gizmo’s too - a DVD player, free ISDN ports, and bathroom TV, plus a bedside console that closes curtains, displays the outside temperature or activates the ‘do not disturb’ sign.

Amidst all of this richness and technology, I smiled broadly on noticing that sewing kit in the bathroom already had every needle pre-threaded. now I'm no stranger to hotel room fruit bowls, but as I had been upgraded to a suite, this one was a doozy - an explosion of unfamiliar colours and shapes that came with a booklet to explain its exotic contents.   

They say that the staff to guest ratio is a whopping 3:1, and while the service is unshowy, there’s always someone on hand when needed. They appear to take a genuine pride in their work, and a third of the Pen’s people have been employed for over ten years.

The Peninsula's pool. Photo Peninsula Hotels

Every exchange I had with the staff was a pleasure; from the effortless check-in, the pool attendant rushing over to assist with a wind-blown umbrella, and the urbane concierge who rose to my sense of humour uncannily. I’d spoken to him in the day in order to try for an impossible table that evening. He succeeded. I’d transformed myself into showroom condition as I headed out for the meal and I went over to thank him. His deliberate double take, and "my don't you scrub up well'  was flattering and funny. 

And at the end of my stay, the Pen glided me to the airport in a big green Rolls, where Bellman was waiting to escort me to the correct check-in desk. His 'oh hard luck sir' look when I explained I was departing in economy was a picture.  

Wining and dining: if you like good food in refined surroundings, then a trip to Hong Kong will probably include a plate full at the Pen. For French gourmet cuisine there’s Gaddi’s; for Chinese, Spring Moon; for Japanese, Imasa; for Mediterranean, The Verandah; and for Swiss, Chesa. Also there’s Afternoon Tea (180) in the Lobby, which is exquisitely presented.     

And then there’s Felix; at the top of the tower, this futuristic frolic by Philippe Stark is proof that the Pen is taking frivolity seriously too. The views are breathtaking, framed fantastically by the crisp ‘iceberg’ style of the interior. It’s a stylish yet fun Pacific Rim restaurant/bar/club, with some remarkable urinals in the world. Here gents can enjoy a panoramic pee, facing floor to ceiling glass overlooking the harbour. 

The Felix restaurant. Photo Peninsula Hotels

The only disappointment was the American Bar, where I was ushered prior to a meal at Felix. It's a raised platform to the right of the entrance with over-clever curves and submarine-on-silent-running gloom, and on the night I was there far too busy to be comfortable. It's true that there's no view in 'The Bar' off the lobby, but it's traditional and wood-panelled, and while it's not quite the case that Clark Gable invented the Screwdriver here, it is where in 1959 the Gone With the Wind actor asked Johnny Chung (still a member of staff to this day) for a cocktail made from Vodka and fresh orange juice. 

Despite all the high-rise contenders, the Pen retains its lustre. The service is slick, the details refined, and the new tower and technology have kept the Pen at the forefront. 

90th anniversary celebrations: event are still unfolding, but the Pen plans to reintroduce a couple of afternoon tea dances, on April 15th and September 16th. Combining afternoon tea with a live band and ballroom dancing was all the rage in the Pen's early days. 


 
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FAVOURITE HOTELS
Surfing, Horse riding, rafting, golf and sailing: five of the best sporty hotels...
posted by Richard Green on 21/05/2017
 

Surfing in the Maldives

The Six Senses Laamu in the southern Maldives you can mix luxury lounging with some serious surfing - and you’ll likely have the breaks all to yourself. There are four wave breaks within five minutes of the resort, including the gloriously consistent Yin Yang - a reef break that produces hollow barrels for experienced surfers and safe deep-water walls for beginners.

International Surf Day at the Six Senses Laamu. Photo Six Senses Laamu

One-on-one tuition is on hand if you are a novice or want to hone your style. An International Surfing Day is held around the summer solstice, with competitions, celebrations of surf culture and a Lobster Barbecue. The surf season is April-October, www.sixsenses.com/Laamu

Horse Riding in the USA

Discover the great outdoors on horseback at the superlative Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana. There are vast tracts of wildflower meadows, high-country lakes and grassy ridges to explore, plus more than 50 horses to choose from, and a tremendously experienced crew of wranglers.

The gorgeous rolling countryside around the Rock at Ranch Creek. Photo Rock at Ranch Creek

The riding lessons for children and adults. And for a day out of the saddle, the resort has a four-mile stretch of private creek with some of the best fly fishing in the state. The Ranch at Rock Creek

Adrenaline on Bali

Bali is best known as an idyllic relaxation and pampering island, which the COMO Shamhala Estate – just outside Ubud - caters for magnificently. But the island has a wilder side too, with volcanoes, jungles, canyons and some raging surf.

Rafting on the Ayung River. Photo Como Shambla Hotel 

So the estate has devised a devilish programme of activities to test guest’s strength, endurance, and appetite for adrenaline. It means mountain biking to the rim of a 1,700m high volcano, hiking through three jungle gorges, canyoning over rocks and through vegetation and waterfalls, surfing the big breakers of the Bali Sea, and diving on exquisite reefs. Como Shambla Estate

Sailing off Antigua

Balmy temperatures, strong breezes and an inveterate yachting culture have made Antigua the sailing capital of the Caribbean. And there’s no better place to learn the ropes of a 40ft yacht than at the discreet and exclusive Carlisle Bay hotel.

From dinghies to privte yacht charters, Carlisle Bay is the place to sail. Photo Carlise Bay

Its ‘Ondeck’ three-day sailing courses run from picturesque Falmouth Harbour, just a 15-minute drive away. You’ll cover all you need to know about yachtsmanship, with plenty of time at the helm, and a RYA Start Yachting certificate at the end. The courses are suitable for adults and children aged 11 or over. Carlisle Bay

Golf in Sicily

The crisp-lined modernism of the Verdura Golf & Spa Resort is the ideal base at which to pep up your game of tennis. It’s set in an inspiring 230 hectares of little-visited southwestern Sicily and provides top notch private coaching using six floodlit clay courts.

A shot on the 16th hole. Photo Verdura Resort

And away from the courts you’ll discover an arrestingly minimalist spa, 60m infinity pool, four outdoor Thalassotherapy pools, two Kyle Phillips–designed 18-hole championship golf courses, and nearby is the charming town of Sciacca and the ancient ruins of Agrigento. Verdura Golf & Spa Resort


 
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FAVOURITE HOTELS
Snowshoeing in Vermont, and a stay at the sublime Twin Farms luxury lodge...
posted by Richard Green on 07/05/2017
 

An Autumnal view of the Twin Farms lake, 'pub' and main building. Photo Twin Farms

Three days of snow-shoeing in subzero temperatures through wintry Vermont, followed by a stay at the superluxurious Twin Farms.

THE PAIN...
It was midday, I was about to trek into the forest and the mercury was pinned to a breathtaking -22C. With night-time and wind-chill factored in, -52C was forecast, and incessant weather advisories urged keeping all pets and relatives indoors. I was well prepared, though, with a tin of Fisherman’s Friends, a biography of Shackleton, appropriate clothing and Brent, my local guide.

While Brent locked up his 4WD and I tried some manoeuvring in the shoes, two snow-mobiles appeared. One of the riders removed his helmet and said in a drawl: “Hi, fella, you one of the rescue party out lookin’ for those two guys missin’ on the mountain?” “No,” I said, “I’m a tourist from the UK trying out snowshoeing for the first time. Would you like a Fisherman’s Friend?” But before I could open the lid, they had sped away, shaking their heads.

Snowshoeing and cross country skiing by the lodge. Photo Twin Farms

Unlike clown boots and flippers (the other comedy footwear greats), snowshoes have evolved: no longer tied-on tennis rackets, they’re ultralight and fiercely cramponned. That said, it still feels like your feet are fixed to tea trays. Surprisingly soon, though, I was striding out quite comfortably.

The only sounds were the swish-tharumph of our footsteps and the eerie crack of frozen trees being snapped by gusts of wind. But it was the extreme cold that screamed the loudest. A cold so brutal that it gave me ice-cream headaches, and smacked my ears like I’d been Tango’d by a giant sorbet. Snowshoes let you tramp off trail over any terrain, but they’re not swift, and after what seemed like an ice age, we’d only made five miles. Eventually, we reached the cosy- looking hut, but were soon sapped of exertion’s warmth in the ferocious cold. A frying pan of snow on top of the log-fuelled stove took 45 minutes just to melt, and all that for a boil-in-the-bag spaghetti the texture of regurgitated baby food. I “slept” fully clothed, cocooned in a sleeping bag and blankets, and was disturbed through the night by crying coyotes and longing dreams of Christmas jumpers past.

The sumptuously comfortable 'Log Cabin', one of 11 themed cottages. Photos Twin Farms

THE GAIN...
It was a 20-minute drive from snowshoes to no shoes, and within minutes of entering my chalet, I was bathrobed and barefoot. It was the most super-sumptuous interior I’ve ever seen — a delightful balance of furnishings, art and lighting, with an oversized log fire already lit. And everything, from hearth rug to bath tap, as warm as a New England muffin.

Typical bathtub and fine-bathing accessories. Photo Twin Farms

Gliding into the giant tub of hot water through cliffs of foam, I immersed myself in the ultimate bathe. As the Bose boomed out the soul-soaring soundtrack from The Mission, I traced spirals in the air with my hand-blown Simon Pearce goblet of vintage port, periodically popping morsels of Vermont cheddar into my mouth.

Relais & Chateaux assure only exquisite cuisine. Photo Twin Farms

The view of the sun-streaked, snowy forest perfectly capped the sublime sensation. I’d been out there, in the grip of nature’s frozen vice, and as the aches dissolved, I had the urge to repeat my survival mantra one last time. I plucked up the rubber duck and asked: “Would you like a Fisherman’s Friend?” Twin Farms is a revelation — the 11 cottages and four rooms are each exquisitely themed, the food and wines are outstanding, and the staff are there for your every need (when I went ice-skating on the pond, a bonfire was lit and a tray of piping-hot chocolate and cookies magically appeared).

The miracle hot chocolate man. Photo Twin Farms

I wondered how deep the snow would need to be before I was stranded here for another night, or two or three ...

Perhaps the most comfy bed I've ever slept in, in the 'Log Cabin'. Photo Twin Farms

I travelled as a guest of British Airways and Twin Farms

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Reasons to be cheerful: The 20 rooms are spaced out across several old farm buildings - the main one dating from 1795 - and ten cottages, themselves in 300 acres of meadows, forest, and ponds.

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You can't always get what you want: Twin Farms doesn’t come cheap, from £790 for a suite, or from £1,220 for a cottage, but does include three gourmet meals per day (and wines from the 26,000 bottle cellar), an open public bar, games room, fitness centre, spa treatments, and Japanese-style Furo.

puzzle

How to fit Twin Farms into a trip: the wonderful Winvian is 145 miles southwest of Boston, in sleepy northern Connecticut. Fifteen architects were let loose on 18 cottages, which range from elegant to extraordinary – including a restored 1968 Sikorsky Sea King helicopter, or huge Stone Cottage with a Flintstone inspired fireplace, or a Beaver Lodge with a stick-and-twig dam effect hanging over the bed. If on a budget you can hunker down for a lot less at Blueberry Hill Inn - a lovely timber framed mansion in the Green Mountain National Forest with a sunny conservatory and cosy doubles from £79. Or in north Vermont is the luxurious Stowe Mountain Lodge, with doubles from £139.

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Getting there: Twin Farms is 140 miles northwest of Boston near the little town of Woodstock, Vermont. Boston Logan Airport handled 33 million passengers in 2015 and has flights across the USA, and to Canada, Mexico and Europe. Flights to London are operated by British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. Air France flies from Paris, Lufthansa from Frankfurt and Munich, Swiss International from Zurich, and Alitalia from Rome. JetBlue, Southwest and Spirit fly to many domestic destinations.

weather

When to go:

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More information: see Twin Farms, and for more information on the state see  For more Visit Vermont.

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Visa and safety: Always check your government's travel advice before booking, and check that your travel insurance is valid in this country. See here for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice


 
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FAVOURITE HOTELS
Escape those chains. Five fabulous family run hotels...
posted by Richard Green on 11/04/2017
 

Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel, Amalfi

This refined heritage property makes the most of its impressive cliff top setting with a breathtaking cascade of terraces and infinity pool. The 20 rooms are furnished with Italian antiques and the spa uses exclusively developed products from the oldest pharmacy in Florence. Bianca Sharma is the owner - she first saw the former monastery by chance in 1999 while boating in the area on a family holiday. It was abandoned, but little altered since the 17th century - Bianca says it looked like ‘stone emerging from stone’. She has a home nearby and splits her year between Amalfi and the USA, and her son is heavily involved in the running of the hotel.    Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel

What's it all about, Amalfi? Seductive step terracing at the Monastero Santa Rosa. Photo Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel

Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, Australia

A sinew of suites straddles the dunes overlooking the ocean, with no landfall south till Antarctica. It’s a super lux property that uses a bold fusion of glass, wood and stone in its design, and as with the 21 sea-facing suites, the Great Room lounge bar is a masterpiece of simplicity and style. The hotel is one of three in the Baillie Lodges group that was created by Australian couple James and Hayley Baillie. They were drawn to this site by the unspoilt coastline, prolific wildlife and array of local organic produce. The couple has fond memories of holidaying on Kangaroo Island with their four boys – all under 13 – and visit the lodge regularly. Southern Ocean Lodge

The lodge rooms have superb ocean views. Photo Southern Ocean Lodge

Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

Facing the shallow waters of dazzling Paje Beach is the Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas. The 11 seclusive villas are decorated in creams and white, with light wood furniture. A meandering wood decked pathway connecting them to the fine dining restaurant and rooftop bar. It’s the dream come true of Polish kite surfing fanatic Andre Niznik, who fell for Paje Beach and set up a pro kite surfing school, and then opened the lodge in 2014. The whole family are involved: Andre runs the business, his partner is the interior designer, while daughter Natalia (19) assists in the running, son Yan (26) looks after the kite school and IT, and when not studying Alex (19) is a kite surfing instructor. White Sand Villas

One of the family two-bedroom villas, as seen from a palm tree. Photo Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

The Goring, London

Distinguished as London’s only luxury hotel that is still owned and run by the family that built it, the Goring is a charmingly eccentric property. Cute sheep-shaped footstools are in every room, cuddle toy sheep are on the beds, and staff wear ties with a sheep insignia too for starters. Its 69 rooms are decorated in elegant English style, there’s a crochet lawn at the rear, and the restaurant is renowned for beautifully prepared English classics. Jeremy Goring is the current owner - his great-grandfather opened the place in 1910 when he realised his dream of creating the world’s first hotel with a bathroom in every bedroom. The Goring’s recent refurbishment is subtle enough for Jeremy to comment that his ‘Great grandpa would still recognise the place’. The Goring

The very recognisable front entrance of Belgravia's Goring Hotel. Photo The Goring Hotel


 
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FAVOURITE HOTELS
Five of the best home away from home hotels...
posted by Richard Green on 02/04/2017
 

The lake and the 'pub', with the main building behind. Photo Twin Farms

Twin Farms, Vermont. Tucked away in a pocket of rural Vermont is the gorgeous home away from home idyll of Twin Farms. Centred around a 1795-built farmhouse, the 300 acres of rolling countryside is home to nine rooms and 11 cottages, an outstanding restaurant, a clubhouse with a games room and bar, a spa and a boating lake. All rooms have fireplaces and are richly and romantically decorated, and the cottages are extremely private and cosy. Staff are discreet to the point of invisibility, yet anticipate guest’s every needs. Ice-skate on the lake and a tray of hot chocolate and cookies might magically appear. www.twinfarms.com

From the dining area through to the garden. Photo Tas Hotel

Tas Otel, Alacati, Cesme Peninsula, Turkey. Alacati is perhaps the most fashionable village in Turkey; a glorious restored village with rustic-chic boutiques and restaurants and beautiful old stone houses. Zeynap and her staff are on hand with a warm welcome at the Tas Otel, and serve home made preserves at breakfast and cakes for afternoon teas. The lounge has a large fireplace and sagging sofas, and the six rooms – plus a stone cottage behind two palm trees – are bright and airy, with white walls, wooden floors, and blue window shutters. Behind there’s a high-walled garden with a vine-shaded breakfast terrace overlooking a sparkling swimming pool. www.tasotel.com

Dining area at the estancia. Photo House of Jasmins

House of Jasmins, Salta, Northwest Argentina. Its adobe walls are swathed in jasmine, its roofs are terracotta tiled, and colonnaded terraces provide shade and shelter from the summer sun. The Andes Mountains rise in the distance behind the House of Jasmins, and the colonial city of Salta is 20-minutes drive away. It’s a family run 14-room estancia and a haven of homely tranquility. Built 120 years ago, the patina is authentic, and today it’s augmented with white curtains, indigenous art and rugs, and occasional cowhides. It sits in 247 acres of land, has a super swimming pool, a spa and an excellent restaurant called La Table that has a cosy interior and a graceful canvas roofed terrace. www.houseofjasmines.com

The sea views from the decking and pool area. Photo Cape View Clifton

Cape View Clifton, Cape Town, South Africa. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from the heights above trendy Clifton, the Cape View Clifton is an intimate five-suite guesthouse that is clean-lined and contemporary. All nine rooms and suites have a comfy lounge area and kitchen, private balconies, Jacuzzis, and terrific views – out to sea, across to the rugged peaks of the Twelve Apostles and the swanky seaside suburbs of Clifton and Camps Bay. It’s a seaside bolt-hole that feels like a private home – one with exquisite taste, knockout views, a swimming pool, large decked areas, private terraces, and a laid-back honesty bar. www.capeviewclifton.co.za

The lodge and gardens. Photo Loch Nes Lodge

Loch Ness Lodge, Scotland. The Loch Ness Lodge is a stylish and secluded retreat that emphasizes highland hospitality. Its seven large rooms are decorated in contemporary country house chic style, with muted lichen, russet, stone and heather influenced tones, refined furnishings, and enveloping beds with goose-down duvets. The elegant drawing rooms are ideal for reading a book in, and the breakfast area is filled with antique furniture. After some hiking, castle touring, fishing or golf, it’s delightful to return to a dram on the garden terrace in summer or by the fire in winter. www.loch-ness-lodge.com


 
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FAVOURITE HOTELS
Lisbon has some of the best budget accommodation in Europe - its Living Lounge is hostelling refined for the wheelie bag generation...
posted by Richard Green on 23/03/2017
 

A Chez Long, suspended table and art; the Living Lounge is not your average hostel. Photo HostelWorld

Lisbon always places well in the annual Hoscars - awards voted for by more than 1m users of the booking website Hostelworld.com - and I went to check out a former winner in the “best character” category.

I know, I know: anyone above a certain age will be thinking plywood furniture, chores, lockouts and nights without sleep. But then the Living Lounge really isn’t like any hostel you’ve seen before. For starters, the designer lounge area had a vintage barber’s chair and chaise longue, both reupholstered in snazzy red fabric. Towards the rear of the room a couple of thirtysomethings were playing chess at a tabletop suspended from the ceiling. Light streamed through the windows; jazz wafted from the speakers; and a 1950s sideboard held a carafe of port on a silver tray.

Free port? In a hostel? Isn’t that a recipe for semi-naked drinking games for the few and sleep deprivation for the many? Not here. It's true that when I checked in there was a knot of young people drinking beer in the bar area, but the mood was more beau monde than vagabond. And one especially striking guy in a white shirt and designer jeans even raised his bottle in salutation.

Looking from the dining table to the reception area at the Living Lounge. Photo HostelWorld

I looked into the spotless communal kitchen, the smart Internet lounge and the funky, fake-turfed sitting room upstairs, but found no backpacks. Where were the dreadlocked travel junkies in Thai fishermen’s trousers and batik ponchos that had peppered my own earlier backpacking days?

Clearly the hostel set had smartened themselves up alongside the new generation of crackingly modern and trendy hostels.

The warm welcome and smart surroundings would knock spots off a lot of pricey hotels, but a dorm room is a dorm room, however smartly you tart it up. Like at most hostels these days though, you can rise above that. Here for example there are 10 twin rooms, costing just €56 a night, B&B.

Mine was bright, fun and, like all the rooms, dedicated to an aspect of Portuguese culture — in my case, the poet Fernando Pessoa. His quotes were painted on the walls, one of his trademark black trilbies hung from coat hooks made of umbrella handles and a see-through wastepaper-basket lamp shade, full of shredded paper, diffused the light and made a wry comment on his workaday office life.

Living Lounge is not the only winning hostel in Lisbon, although it is my favourite, and I've visited a good few. But importantly, the others charge about the same rates and are similarly smart, cosy and friendly.

One of the Living Lounge's 10 private rooms. Photo HostelWorld

Like Living Lounge, they are all located right in the middle of town, can organise fado evenings or pub crawls, and dispense tips and advice with genuine enthusiasm.

If, however, you really can’t face the fraternal feel of the hostels — and shame on you — then Lisbon is awash with good-value hotel rooms. The Trivago index, which measures the average price of double rooms by city, has Lisbon as the cheapest capital in western Europe, at £90 a night; by comparison, Amsterdam's average is £131, Copenhagen's £149, and London’s is £155 (as at November 2016) .

And you don’t have to do dingy to get a good deal in Lisbon. Even a double at the supersmart boutique hotels of the Heritage group can be had from €143. And if you simply can’t be without your Four Seasons, then Lisbon’s is the cheapest in Europe (that I can find), still up at €540 a night — it’s €1,190 in Paris.

Lisbon's Old Belem Lighthouse, Discoveries Monument, and '25 de Abril Bridge'. Photo My Bathroom Wall

So much for sleeping. You are unlikely to break the bank eating out here, either. Lisbon is a frugal foodie’s Shangri-la (though the glam Asian chain is yet to open a property here themselves). Even the city’s speciality is just 80p a go. Okay, so it is only a custard tart. Grab a paper tube containing several of them from the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem (Rua de Belem 84), sit out by the River Tagus and polish it off while still warm, all crispy pastry and topped with cinnamon— a divine little treat.

Back at the Living Lounge, I ate a three-course dinner with wine for €10, downed several €1 bottles of local beer, said goodnight to the gang and went to bed. On the opposite wall were the words of Fernando Pessoa, embossed in red enamel: “I know not what tomorrow will bring.” True enough. But, whenever I wake up in Lisbon, at least I know I’ll be able to afford it.

I travelled as a guest of Hostelworld

Getting there: Lisbon airport handled 20 million passengers in 2015, with direct connections across Europe, North and South America. Cities served by national carrier TAP include Boston, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Manchester, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Stockholm and Toronto. Plus Emirates flies to Dubai, British Airways flies to London Heathrow, Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, and as from July 2017, Capital Airlines to Beijing.

Where to stay: other great Lisbon hostels include the Travellers House, Rossio (Calçada do Carmo 6), Living Lounge and Lisbon Lounge, and Lisboa Central. All can be booked through Hostelworld; or try Hostel Bookers

Further information: see Visit Lisbon


 
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FAVOURITE HOTELS
Ceiling fans, verandas, tea in the afternoon and G&T's allways. The world's best colonial era hotels...
posted by Richard Green on 24/01/2017
 

Green Hotel, Mysore, India

This lovely hotel was built in the 1920s as the Chittaranjan Palace on the outskirts of the city for the maharaja of Mysore's three daughters. It later became a film studio and is now it's a ravishingly cute small hotel, with 31 quirkily decorated rooms and all profits going to local charities.

The lawns and plantins at the Green Hotel. Photo Green Hotel

It's the perfect place to relax and play a board game - perhaps by the croquet lawn, sitting under a ceiling fan on the ivy-clad veranda, or in a nook by stained-glass windows. The little restaurant in the garden does superb south Indian specialities too, from about £2. They key to a really successful stay here is to make sure and book yourself into the original building for its pukka patina. See Green Hotel

Pasanggrahan Royal Guest House: Phillipsburg, St Martin

The small Caribbean island of St Martin is one of the world's nicest anomalies: a happy holiday island shared by two countries. Half is French and half is Dutch, and each has a slice of the excellent beaches and superb restaurants, though the Dutch side sees more than its fair share of development.

The modest entrance to the oldest hotel on the island, the Pasanggrahan Royal Guest House. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Yet tucked away under some shady trees off the main street in the Dutch part's little capital of Phillipsburg, is the delightful Pasanggrahan Royal Guest House. It was built in 1905 as the residence of the Dutch governor, and has used the 'Royal' moniker since Queen Beatrix stayed here on her Caribbean tour. 'Pasanggrahan' means 'guest house' in Indonesian.

The cute antique-filled lounge area. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The main street of Phillipsburg is Front Street; a narrow road busy with cruise passengers. There are some pretty plasterboard houses, but mainly it's duty free shops and bars. It's easy to miss the Passanggharan as it's set back from the road and veiled by trees.

Climb the wooden steps, cross the veranda, and the lounge room cum lobby is a cool space open to the street on one side and the beach on the other. There's no cliché row of clocks telling the time in Tokyo or Washington here. But as the tropical torpor is infectious, who cares? The cosy room has wishbone-backed chairs, antique dressers, and a delightfully incongruous painting of Queen Beatrix, in all her formal finery.

The shaded beach-facing side of the hotel. Photo My Bathroom Wall

On the beach side, wooden tables spill onto the sand under a veranda, shaded by almond trees. This is where breakfast is served, as well as excellent seafood specials in the evenings.

Janet opens the tiny bar at 6pm, and from then 'til late is on hand for a hearty chuckle. It's smaller than a one-car garage, with bright red and white cushioned stools, but it opens onto the sea facing veranda and the hotel's shaded beech restaurant. Now that's my kind of mini bar. It's named after the once devoted regular, Sydney Greenstreet - the portly actor who played Senior Ferrari in Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon's 'The Fat Man', who came here to cavort with his coterie in the 1940's.

The cosy old bijou bar. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Most rooms are in a side wing, renovated after the hurricane Luis hit the island in 1995. They are large, with four-poster beds, air con, and a good-sized balcony overlooking the beach. Hibiscus flowers grow across the trellis. Most atmospheric by far though, is the Queen's suit above the main house, with wooden floors, and antique furniture.

The suite and veranda used by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Photo My Bathroom Wall

See Passanggrahan Royal Guest House

Foreign Correspondants' Club, Phmon Penh, Cambodia

The art deco-style residence of the former French governor has been reinvented as a boutique hotel-cum-hip nightspot. The mansion's makeover includes 31 cutting-edge rooms - the beige and cream calm that you'd expect - plus bold contemporary art, a spa and a beautiful black-tiled swimming pool perfect for dusting off after a day at Angkor's temples.

The best colonial bar in town always has a good craic. Photo Foreign Correspondant's Club

Whether you stay here or not, you have to drop by in the evening, when the large pond is lit by candles and the ceiling fans are at full tilt. You can grab a steak, play on the black billiard table, watch the sky darken over a cocktail, or salute the many skittering geckos with a cold bottle of Angkor beer. See the FCC Phmon Penh

The Windsor, Cairo

When the chaos and cacophony of Cairo get too much, it's time to head back to the Windsor Hotel for a nightcap in it's famous 'Barrel Bar', where the chairs are crafted from old beer barrels and the walls hang with sepia prints and peeling paintings of Old Cairo.

If you approach the Windsor by walking along the busy Sharia Alfi Bey street, you might be disappointed. The ground floor is now a mess of falafel shops and travel agents, and its five stories of dark brickwork above them don't give much away either. But arrive from via the wonderful little Arab Street that runs parallel to it, with men smoking shesha pipes and playing round-the-clock backgammon, and the entrance is surrounded by potted plants and is very inviting.

The Windsor Hotel's entrance and famous Barrel Bar. Photo Windsor Hotel

The building originally housed a Turkish bath for Royal Cairenes, which was requisitioned as an officers club by the British. After that it was remodelled as an annex hotel to the legendary Shepherds Hotel, which was gutted by rioters in the 1952 anti colonial uprising.

The smoke-faded décor of the lobby is perked up by randomly placed Spider Plants, a peg and hole telephone exchange, and an antique cage lift. Curious dot the corridors, like a sewing machine and drinks cabinet, as well as some once-stylish airline posters from the 1960's. The rooms are large, with a hotchpotch of antique furniture, etchings depicting far-flung scenes of empire, like the Delhi Durbar of 1911, and heavily worn, though clean bathrooms.

The gloriously fusty Barrel Bar. Photo Windsor Hotel

The only thing you can't be sure of is whether the brutishly beautiful cage lift will ever stop flush with a floor, and just how long it'll take before the hot water feeds through antique plumbing. Everything else, from the perfect boiled egg at breakfast, to the super friendly staff, is a given. Michael Palin stayed here and featured the Windsor's eccentricities on his 'Around the World in 80 days'. See Windsor Hotel

Emerson & Green, Zanzibar

Wandering care free down the narrow alleyways of the Zanzibari capital, Stone Town, is the highlight of any stay on the island. It may be just a few miles off the coast of Africa, but thanks to a long history as an Arab trading post, the town's atmosphere is pure Arabian Nights. You'll be delightfully lost in its maze of streets before you can say Ali Baba.

The rooftop cilling area and restaurant are hard to leave. Photo Emerson on Hurumzi

Any local will help you back to the the Emerson on Hurumzi (formerly the Emerson & Green) though, which paradoxically stands out from the surrounding plain-walled buildings, once you are close enough that is. This impressive peach-coloured mansion was formerly known as Hurumzi House, and was once the residence of Tharia Thopan, a kingpin in the Swahili Empire. It's still the second tallest building in town, runner up only to the Sultan's grand ceremonial palace, fitted with the island's first electric light bulbs and known as the House of Wonders. In the 1880's Hurumzi House was used by the British colonisers as a place to pay off Arab traders to sell their slaves, and since 1991, it's been the much-loved project of Messrs Emerson & Green.

Lattice-worked wood screens line the small reception, which leads off to the Kidude Café, with its chessboard floor tiles and Arab lanterns. There are impossibly narrow and steep stairs leading up to the 10 romantically decked out rooms, all with four poster beds and stone baths. Each has it's own quirk, so choosing the one you'd prefer can be difficult. Do you fancy the Keep Suite's private rooftop turret, the North Room's large bath that's part open to the night's sky, or the Pavilion Suite's intimate veranda?

Whichever room you take, breakfast up in the Tower Top restaurant is a special treat, with floor seating on cushions and rugs, and great views out over the red rooftops onto the ocean. It's the most popular sundowner spot in town, so be sure to book for evening meals. See Emeron on Hurumzi

Old Cataract, Egypt

On the banks of the Nile, south of Aswan, where big, grey boulders emerge from the water and give Elephantine Island its name, is the Old Cataract Hotel. Built in 1899, it immediately became a post cruise haven for all well-heeled travellers to Egypt. Agatha Christie was a guest on numerous occasions, writing her Death on the Nile whodunit here and setting several key scenes in and around the hotel.

Then - as now - the summer temperatures soared into the 100s, and Aswan remains famous for its energy-sapping bustle, but inside the jealously guarded Cataract you can find an oasis of shade and sophistication. It was slobbing by the pool here that I first tried an ice cold glass of Karkadeh - the rosehip infusion popular in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

Night time at the pool in front of the Sofital Old Cataract. Photo Sofitel

The Moorish dining hall is fantastically atmospheric, and the sunset views over the Nile are unbeatable, either while smoking a shesha or sipping a cocktail. The hotel reopened after a controversial renovation in 2011 and has lost its historic patina. The terraces are undoubtedly stunning, but the decor and design - though impressive - as about as far from the faded charm of the hotel's earlier incarnation as you could imagine. See Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan

One more thing...spare a thought for the wonderful Baron Hotel, Aleppo, Syria

When I visited a little before the current conflict, there was no better spot - after climbing the ramparts of Aleppo's magnificent citadel and strolling through its covered souk - for a recuperative G&T than the bar of the Baron Hotel.

An ancient BOAC poster gracing the staircase of the Baron Hotel, Aleppo. Photo Flickr/Claudio Borgognoni

The Baron was built in 1911 by the current owner's grandfather, partly for Orient-Express passengers, who at that time would have been pushing on to Baghdad by train.

The old settees sag from the seats of Charles Lindbergh, Yuri Gagarin, Charles de Gaulle, Theodore Roosevelt and many more. Gamal Abdel Nasser gave a speech here in 1958, and King Faisal even proclaimed Syrian independence from a balcony. And I know it sounds like a bit like the old faithful 'oldest pub in England' boast - as I've drank in at last three of them, but it almost goes without saying that the most ubiquitous of literary guests, Agatha Christie, started penning Murder on the Orient Express here too.

But it's Lawrence of Arabia, with his casual attitude towards settling a tab, who gets pole position in the roll call of fame: his unpaid drinks bill was framed above the bar.

The historic bar of the Baron Hotel, where TE Lawrence last left witout paying. Photo Flickr/Claudio Borgognoni

The hotel had clanky plumbing and creaky corridors, but was an absolute treat. Of course it's no longer open, and it seems to have been lightly damage on the roof from incoming shellfire, but it does at least appear to be still standing.

Shuttered windows and antique fittings come as standard in the rooms of the Baron, Aleppo. Photo Flickr/Pietro Ferreira

There are no placques or fancy suites named after them, but the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk stayed in Room 201, King Faisal I of Iraq and Syria stayed in Room 215, Agatha Christie was in 2013, and the room that I stayed in when I was last there, 202, was used by Lawrence. 


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  • "The aeroplane has unveiled for us the true face of the earth"
    Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer, poet and aviator