Portugal’s Douro Valley offers discerning bucket listers more than just fine wines. Explore ancient vineyards on misty terraces, stroll through historic towns, dine like royalty and stay in hotels ranging from modern fortresses to 17th century villas. I’ve long said Portugal is the best deal going in Western Europe: all the cobblestone without the price of Italy, France or Spain. Portuguese wines offer great value, and so is the country itself. Below are some images from my visit to tick this one off The Great Global Bucket List:
Jumbo Stay, Sweden
The next time a friend tells you how they were bumped to first class and could stretch out on a reclining seat, tell them about the night you slept inside a 747 on a double bed, with an en-suite bathroom! What’s more, it was in the cockpit, with a flatscreen TV, and view of Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport. Couples might want to consider the private, double Black Box suite at the back of the plane. The 29 rooms on board this converted jumbo jet might not actually fly anywhere, but your one night in a “most unusual hotel” story will certainly have wings.
Desert Cave Hotel, Australia
One sleeps very well in a cave hotel. Possibly because our DNA remembers the thousands of years humanity evolved inside dark caverns, or more likely because it’s quiet, cool, and somewhat impregnable. Located in what is known as the opal capital of the world, Desert Cave is a memorable outback experience. Extreme heat and dust storms make these spacious underground luxury rooms a respite from the world above. There’s also an underground bar, shops, opal interpretation centre, and a history of “dugout” living in the area. Go on, cave into the temptation. See Also: Aydinli Cave House Hotel, Turkey
Giraffe Manor, Kenya
Breakfast on the patio, a bright sunny morning outside of Nairobi. You’re excited to be heading to Masai Mara or one of the other game parks that put Kenya on the safari bucket list. You know you’ll soon get close enough to the animals to put away the zoom lens. As you sip your tea, the large head of a Rothschild giraffe pokes its head through the window, and gives you a lick with its cucumber-sized tongue. Yes, that just happened, as it does every morning at Giraffe Manor, a 10-room luxury hotel located inside a giraffe reserve. The herds love popping their heads in at breakfast or tea, helping themselves to a snack, and giving you the wildest breakfast of your life. Photo: Giraffe Manor
V8 Hotel, Germany
There’s nothing cool about sleeping in your car. Unless that car is a vintage Mercedes, racing VW Beetle or cherry-red Cadillac, converted into a double bed in Stuttgart’s classic car themed hotel. The 10 theme rooms celebrate all facets of the automobile. The Gas Station room lets you sleep in Herbie, the Drive-In room lulls you to sleep with painted stars and soft yellow headlights. Too chintzy? Book the Scrapyard Room, where your bed-car needs a fresh coat of paint (although the hood does hold a large flat-screen TV.) All the rooms look like the dreams of a 12-year-old boy came true, and will therefore appeal to men of all ages. Photo: V8 Hotel
Aux Vieux Panier, Marseille
Small, independent boutique hotels are popular for a very good reason – they provide a different experience from cookie-cutter hotel chains. It doesn’t get any more different than this hotel slash art gallery. Located in Marseille’s historical La Panier district, the five rooms have been turned over to artists to run amok. And amok they have run. One room has hanging columns of wood over the bed. Another was designed to “extract poetry and absurdity.” Each room has an artist statement, incorporating painting, architecture and sculpture. All designed to give you something to think about, and talk about, for years to come. Photo: Aux Vieux Panier
See also: Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel has a similar concept, with 37 unique, artist-designed rooms.
Finca Bellavista, Costa Rica
What makes Finca Bellavista stand-out from other treehouse hotels is its location – both remote and yet surprisingly accessible too. Located off the Pan American Highway in Costa Rica, you enter a world where guests stay in multi-platform treehouses high in the jungle canopy, ziplining to the main lodge for dinner, and surrounded by the sounds and colour of rainforest. The privately owned, eco-friendly treehouses are rented out to overnight guests, giving each a homely atmosphere. Shower on the outdoor platform, high in the treetops, and breathe that rich jungle air. Ah….your own private Pandora.
See also: Free Spirit Spheres on Vancouver Island, where you can fall asleep gently swaying in the trees. Photo: Robin Esrock
Mine Suite, Sweden
Advice for those that found the sandstone cave hotel in Australia too exposed: go deep. The Sala Silver Mine offers guided tours inside and around a former silver mine. At night, descend 155m to the legendary Mine Suite. Left alone (with an intercom to contact an attendant aboveground) the heated double room is so isolated and quiet that an alien invasion wouldn’t interrupt your sleep. All alone, deep beneath the ground, the silence is immaculate. It’s enough to forgive the 50 metre walk to the closest toilet, although at this depth, one should be grateful there is one to begin with.
If darkness gives you the creeps, match it with a haunted prison cell. After a century of (mis)use, the old Nicolas Street Gaol was closed in the 1970’s due to inhumane living conditions. It opened shortly after as a budget hostel. There are 4 beds to a dorm in the same vaulted cells murderers and thieves once scratched their names in the walls. Evening tours of the former Death Row, isolation cells and ghostly haunts doth not a peaceful night make. Even if your face is as white as the sheets, it’s an experience you won’t forget. See also: The Liberty Hotel in Boston, a former prison, this hotel is far more luxurious.
Crazy House, Vietnam
A local architect felt inspired by Gaudi, Dali, Disney, Sesame Street, Tim Burton, fairy tales, nightmares, monsters, angels, demons, and whatever else can explain the wildest hotel this side of Fantasia. Built as a personal expression, the loopy buildings were opened as a guesthouse to help with heaps of debt. 9 of the rooms are located in three treehouses, the honeymoon suite in the Spider-Web Garden. Like many visitors, you might stay a few nights to experience more than one room, but like the ice hotel, rooms are open to the public for daily tours. Some guests love the creativity, others find it kitsch beyond sanity. As for your dreams…well, they can’t be any weirder than the rooms themselves.
Ice Hotel, Quebec
There are cool hotels, cold hotels, and just plain freezing hotels. Quebec’s Hotel de Glace may look like a winter wonderland, but spending the night is a matter of survival. Guests are provided with Arctic sleeping bags, instructed how to use them, and warmed up before bedtime in hot tubs and saunas. You enter your artist-designed ice chamber with nothing but your jammies, boots and winter jacket. It’s an even -5C in the rooms, and much colder outside. Public bathrooms are located in the heated public area.. A night in the quiet ice hotel is a night bundled up with just your face exposed. Don’t think about sleeping in – if the light doesn’t wake you up, you’ll be asked to leave before the day visitors arrive in the morning.