Ten Top Hotels

In our travels throughout the world, we have generally chosen hotels for their charm and character in preference to the modern steel and glass palaces, passing up the Hiltons and the Sheratons in favor of historic castles, monasteries and inns. Our top ten list includes selections from six continents:

1. Cala di Volpe. (Emerald Coast, SARDENIA). While vacationing on Sardenia in 1966, we happened upon what appeared to be a charming, little fishing village on the Emerald Coast of the island. On closer inspection, we discovered that the village was, in fact, a newly opened resort, built by the Aga Khan to resemble a local village with its towers, terraces and porticoes blending beautifully into the natural landscape of the bay. Having stumbled into the "Lair of the Fox", we couldn’t resist staying the night and were treated to the most elegant dining and lodging experience we’ve ever had. The children still remember having their room service dinner brought to them by uniformed and white-gloved waiters and served to them on a linen-covered table complete with candles and silver plate covers.

2. Hotel Monasterio. (Cusco, PERU). This hotel occupies a sixteenth century monastery, constructed on the foundations of an Inca palace. It was converted into a luxury hotel in 1995. As much a museum as a hotel, it has an opulent gilded chapel, a magnificent art collection and beautiful courtyards and is uniquely equipped to pipe oxygen into the guest rooms to combat altitude (11,200 feet) sickness.

3. Villa d’Este. (Lake Como, ITALY). A former 16th century palace, the Villa d’Este is located on a twenty-five acre park on the sparkling shores of Lake Como, nestled at the base of the Italian Alps. The décor and the appointments retain much of the elegance of the bygone era of its early history.

4. El Claustro. (Antigua, GUATAMALA). This small hotel was a 16th century cloister, which has been converted into a private residence. Built in the classic Spanish style, the seven guest rooms are arranged around a central courtyard, each room with a fire place, tile floors, beamed ceiling and filled with antiques. Walking through the massive wooden doors into the peaceful courtyard with its fountain, lush garden and bougainvillea-draped walls was like stepping into another world.

5. The Mason’s Arms. (Branscombe, ENGLAND) The Mason’s Arms Inn was established around 1360 as an inn for traveling smugglers along the remote Devon coastline. It retains its thatched roof, beamed ceilings and magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. Visiting Branscombe is like driving through a time tunnel into an earlier century.

6. Larsen’s Tented Camp (Samburu Reserve, KENYA) Located on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River, which is home to crocodiles and hippos and lined by a jungle full of lions, leopards and elephants, the tented camp was remarkably comfortable. The tents were ten by thirty feet and included a hot shower, sink/vanity and flush toilets and even terry cloth shower robes. Dinners were served under a spreading Marula tree using fine china and crystal glasses. From our tent porch, we were treated to the sight of a dozen elephants watering on the opposite bank of the river at sunset.

7. Schloss Itter (Tyrol, AUSTRIA). In our travels through Europe in the 60’s, our favorite travel guides was a book called "Castle Hotels of Europe". One of their recommendations was the Itter Castle located in the Tyrolean Alps near the town of Hopfgarten.  Built in the 13th century, this fascinating castle-hotel was complete with a moat and a draw bridge.

8. Parador Gil Blas (Santillana, SPAIN). To preserve their national heritage and encourage tourism, the Spanish government has converted scores of castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings into luxury hotels. We stayed in several including the parador at Santillana del Mar, a town which dates back to the 8th century. This old ancestral home was decorated with paintings, based on the famed cave paintings of the nearby Altamira caves.

9. Hanayabessho (near Ueda, JAPAN). Visiting Jill during her year in Japan, we joined her for a night in a traditional Japanese inn, called a ryokan. The guest rooms were equipped with tatami floor mats, sliding paper-screen doors and small tables on which the breakfast of fish and rice was served. Located at a natural hot spring, it had several mixed and same-sex hot spring baths which were an experience not to be missed

10. Museum Hotel (Cappadocia, TURKEY).   Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is one of the more spectacular landscapes on the face of the earth.  Centuries of wind and water erosion have sculpted volcanic rock into a surrealistic vista of multi-colored cones, spires and" fairy chimneys".  Ancient inhabitants of the area dug subterranean towns into the rock formations to seek shelter from passing marauders. The Museum Hotel, carved from on of the ancient dwellings, gave the sense of living in a luxury cave with all of the amenities you would expect in a first class hotel.

Plus a couple more . . .

11. Royal Angkor. (Siem Reap, CAMBODIA). It was a pleasant surprise to find this luxury five-star hotel in the dusty little town of Siam Reap near the magnificent ruins of Angkor Wat. Built by the government to attract foreign tourism to the newly opened site, the hotel is set in beautifully landscaped gardens and is complete with a swimming pool and five excellent restaurants. After long, hot hours of touring the ruins, the hotel provided an oasis of tranquility at the end of the day.

12. Hotel Excelsior. (Naples, ITALY). My business responsibilities took me to Naples scores of times over my thirty years of involvement with the 3M plant in nearby Caserta. Nothing made my visits more enjoyable than the chance to stay at the Hotel Excelsior. Built at the turn of last century, it is furnished in the style and ambiance of the Belle époque and is located on the seaside promenade of colorful Naples. It was always a thrill to throw open the shutters in the morning and look out over the stunning Bay of Naples arching from Vesuvius to Sorrento with the fabled Isle of Capri in the distance.

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