Checking into a government-owned national monument isn’t usually on the cards when I travel, but the Hotel Nacional de Cuba was worth making an exception for. Its nuclear bunker, neatly cut into clipped lawns in front of the building, is a reminder of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Just a few yards away are antique cannons, and inside there was once a casino created by the Mafia. You couldn’t make it up.
The list of previous guests at the Nacional is embarrassingly vast, with their names and photos covering the walls of the Hall of Fame Bar; Winston Churchill, Rita Hayworth, Simone de Beauvoir and the Backstreet Boys are among those who have walked through the doors. Now it was my turn to follow them.
There are no four star hotels in Valletta. This is somewhat surprising, given that the city is Malta’s capital, and it’s due to be dubbed the Capital of Culture in 2018. Instead, visitors to Valletta can choose between two, three or five star properties, which range from tiny guesthouses to sprawling complexes with dramatic views.
All I knew when I planned a recent family holiday to Malta were our rough requirements for accommodation: close to the city centre, with good reviews, free Wi-Fi, and a secure place to leave luggage before or after our stay.
Picking a hotel in London isn’t an easy task, even in the Internet age, but when I was nudged in the direction of the Mercure London Bridge, I soon stopped dithering; it has a four star rating and comes recommended by Expedia, Hotels.com and Booking.com. I recently checked in for a one night stay, armed with my camera and notebook to report back to you.
If you’ve never heard of the brand before, here’s a quick primer. There are over 700 Mercure properties around the world, often with unique selling points, including the Ink Hotel in Amsterdam (part of the MGallery Collection), based in a former Dutch newspaper office. Closer to home, Hythe in Kent has the Imperial, a sprawling Victorian house complete with a spa and golf course. London has several different hotels under the brand, from Kensington to Greenwich, and a Hyde Park branch will open in October 2015.
Set just a stone’s throw from the exclusive shopping street of Avenue Louise, The Hotel Brussels takes its cue from its stylish surroundings and creates something that never goes out of fashion. I saw this for myself when I took the short walk from the Louise Metro station to the complex, passing Versace, Chanel and Jimmy Choo stores in the process. Stepping inside the building, my jaw began to drop as I took in the seriously chic decor – dark panelling, thick grey carpet and elevators sealed by gold doors. Definitely a classic.
Who fancies a trip to the fictional state of Zubrowka, across several decades? You’ll need to bring an enthusiasm for stealing priceless paintings, an appetite for Mendl’s cakes (think pimped up Laduree macarons and you’re half way there) and an eyeliner pencil to draw on a false moustache like the lobby boy in the very best hotel Zubrowka has to offer. Oh, and a rich old lady clad in Fendi and Prada, if you know any.
No, I haven’t gone completely mad: I’m talking about Wes Anderson’s brilliant new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is an unashamedly quirky tale of tourism, family ties, money, murder and prison etiquette. I fell in love with the film at a recent screening, and I wanted to share some of its best travel-related talking points in more detail.
The experts at Mr & Mrs Smith call it a ‘sparkling boho hangout’, and who am I to disagree? Mykonos’ San Giorgio Hotel is a luxurious Design Hotel tucked between two beaches, one of which is called Paradise… say no more. Only there’s so much more to rave about at this property! I’ll be finding out what there is to love about it, narrowing down why you should visit.
The amenities to write home about include a chauffeur service to take you to island hotspots, a beachside viewing platform and a pool surrounded by hammocks – perfect for lazing under the sun. Beyond the hotel itself, you’ll get the chance to discover the island’s history through its famous sights, such as its windmills and Venetian waterfront. Ready to really relax and release your inner bohemian? Let’s go…
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.