Top 10 Unique Hotels

by  ShermansTravel Editorial Staff | Oct 23, 2006
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Thailand
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Thailand / Photo courtesy of the property

No need to settle for a boring, featureless hotel room on your next trip – traveling can be as much about where you stay as the places you go! There’s a hotel out there to satisfy most every curiosity – whether you’re into marine life, wildlife, or Eskimo life – but we’ve narrowed the choices down to ten stand-out properties ranging from low-cost to luxe. So say goodbye to so-so lodging and catch your zzz’s in one of our favorite unique hotels. Pick from a 1950s freighter jet, a former prison cell, a treetop lodge, a onetime royal haunt, and more.

Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle

Jungle living has gone civilized, not to mention luxurious, in this compound of 15 posh tents lying on the banks of the Ruak River by the Thailand-Laos-Myanmar border (a.k.a. the Golden Triangle). Set on stilts amid verdant brush and bamboo, and connected by elevated walkways, each individual 581-square-foot canvas-covered shelter is equipped with a large wood deck, plush pillow-top mattress, polished-teak floor, huge copper bath, and outdoor rain shower. The setting overlooks the river, jungle treetops, and the mountains and includes a rock-lined pool, whirlpool, and open-air spa. And the best resort perk? You can ride and train an elephant with the help of professional mahouts.

Ice Hotel

If you still harbor a childhood fantasy of camping out in your own snow fort, head to the Ice Hotel, just outside Quebec City. Comprised of 500 tons of ice and 15,000 tons of snow, this innovative hotel (open every winter, weather permitting, from January–April) includes 36 artistically designed rooms, the N’Ice Club, Ice Lounge, two art galleries, and even a wedding chapel, all made of solid H2O. While you may have to remain bundled up throughout your stay (though fireplaces, warm sleeping bags on fleece-sheeted and wool-blanketed beds, and heated washrooms are provided), this may well be the coolest place in North America. For an even more authentic experience, head to the original Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden.


You’ll be begging the staff to lock you up at this award-winning boutique hotel in Oxford, England. Occupying a converted prison, this up-and-comer blends the penitentiary’s finer architectural details (think Victorian iron-bound doors, slot windows, and exposed brick) with modern-day amenities, from contemporary rooms overlooking the old cell block to a trendy brasserie – occupying the former solitary confinement area – and posh lounge in the space historically used for prisoner visitations. With digs this plush and a staff this attentive, the only crime you can be accused of committing is one of overindulgence.

Quinta Real Zacatecas

Olé! Head south of the border and spice things up with a stay at the Quinta Real Zacatecas, a beautifully restored and totally authentic bullfighting ring-cum-hotel. Built in the 19th-century in Zacatecas, Mexico, this property hasn’t seen a corrida since 1975 – today the action is centered around the buzz of guests enjoying the stepped levels, graceful arches, elegant shops, a sophisticated restaurant, and a cellar bar that formerly served as the bulls’ corral – all alongside a 18th-century aqueduct. You won’t be sleeping with the bulls here, mind you, as this hotel is upscale, featuring well-appointed guestrooms decorated in classic colonial style, complete with antiques and artwork (and the odd jacuzzi), set around the old arena’s plaza.

Taprobane Island

If seclusion and romance is what you crave, it doesn’t get much better than a fabled Palladian-style mansion set on a 2.5-acre island. Built by a count in the 1920s and visited by kings, queens, and aristocrats, this dream vacation home can today be rented by anyone seeking a fairly-tale experience. Reachable only by wading through the shallow waters of Weligama Bay, just off the Sri Lankan coast, the octagonal-shaped villa boasts five en-suite bedrooms, shaded terraces and verandahs overlooking the Indian Ocean, tropical gardens, and a dazzling infinity pool. In a far-off corner of the world (with only the Indian Ocean between it and the South Pole), Taprobane Island offers timeless luxury, staff at your beck and call, and the chance to make a fantasy vacation a reality.

The Lighthouse

Set on the Welsh cliffs of Great Orme Country Park, with a dramatic 360-foot plummet to the sea below, this castle-like maritime beacon dates from 1862 – and served as a lighthouse until 1985. Its three distinguished rooms are, not surprisingly, blessed with stellar sea views, and evocative, seaworthy names like the Principal Keeper's Suite, the Telegraph Room, and the Lamp Room. Inside, traditional Victorian interiors, original pitch pine shutters, antique furnishings, and historical journals and photos combine to create an atmospheric hideaway. But, should you tire of the solitude, the town of Llandudno, with its pubs, restaurants, and shops, is just two miles away.

Utter Inn

Would-be mermaids and mermen rejoice: The Utter Inn, a one-room hotel lying three meters below the surface of Lake Mälaren, about an hour west of Stockholm, Sweden will have you sleeping with the fishes. Reachable only via inflatable boat, the basic room (which consists of twin beds, a table, and panoramic underwater views of the lake) lies in the depths beneath a floating red house, and overnighting here is tantamount to spending a night in an aquarium. Should you need to surface for air, you can paddle across to a nearby uninhabited island and spend the day sunbathing, fishing, and swimming.

Wigwam Motel

For the ultimate in kitsch on Route 66, bed down in a concrete (no buffalo skin here) teepee at the WigWam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. The 15 cozy wigwams offer clean and basic accommodations – granted in somewhat lumpy beds – that are worth sleeping in for bragging rights alone. Several vintage classic cars dot the parking lot, adding to the allure of this slice of Americana; while you can’t take them out for a spin, your own set of wheels will easily transport you to several nearby attractions off historic Route 66, like an enormous meteor crater, Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert, and the adjacent Navajo and Hopi reservations.

Wild Canopy Reserve

Want your next holiday to really swing? Branch out at our favorite arboreal dwelling, the gorgeous Wild Canopy Reserve in southern India, and get a bird-eye's view of elephants, leopards, and even tigers roaming the deciduous forest below. Tucked away high in the treetops – at more than 41 feet above ground – you’ll be well placed to admire the majestic wildlife gather ‘round the watering hole. Happily, you needn’t forego your own watering hole for the experience; these rustic tree house accommodations are indeed equipped with toilets and running water – there’s even an outdoor jacuzzi on the grounds that’s a perfect spot to relax between trekking and safari outings.

Woodlyn Park

If you’re looking for truly off-the-wall accommodations, look no further than Woodlyn Park, in Waitomo, New Zealand, where three different motels – a 1950s freighter plane (said to be one of the last Allied planes to leave Vietnam); a 1950s rail car that sleeps six; and a hobbit motel (allegedly the world’s first) – dot the landscape of a working farm a few minutes from the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. You can choose to sleep in the plane’s cockpit or tail, the train itself, or the circular-windowed rooms of the hobbit hotel. Woodlyn Park itself is also the beneficiary of some renown, given it hosts the Kiwi Culture Show, a unique New Zealand attraction involving sheep shearing and interaction with native animals.

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