All hotels have been designed by someone, of course, but there’s a big difference between those where the owners actually hired a cutting-edge architect or Montblanc pencil-wielding design team and those who simply went to the local flea-market for furniture that looks ‘rustic’.
In the quest for your hard-earned travel money, hotels are trying every trick in the book to lure you in, and amazing design can often win over capricious punters who are looking for something “wow”.
We’re not vouching for the air-con, the staff, the size of the bathtubs or whether or not the lift doesn’t rattle, but we can say these hotels will have you Instagramming your holiday stories till your homebound jet screeches to a halt on the local runway.
Il Sereno, Lake Como, Italy
Most things around Lake Como look old (with the possible exception of George Clooney), but award-winning designer Patricia Urquiola went off on a bit of a tangent when she dreamed up this lakeside hotel which rises up from the shoreline like the world’s best-looking multi-storey car park. That, of course, is under-selling what amounts to a pretty stunning piece of architecture – a building that Bloomberg reckoned was Europe’s most luxurious new hotel. Grab the 2,000 sq-ft penthouse suite if you can, obviously.
Alila Yangshuo, Guilin, China
Lesser writers would be unable to resist the myriad “sweet” puns this eye-catching hotel affords, given that it used to be an actual sugar mill, but that would be profligate when we have just 100 words and need to mention things like the jaw-dropping, tooth-like mountains in the distance, the lush interiors created by China’s acclaimed Horizontal Space Design, and the Alila’s incredible underground spa, accessed by a huge, spiral stairway which looks like it was made from enough concrete to resurface the M25. Long sentence, that, but grammatically – spot on.
What To Instagram: Forget swimming, that industrial-looking pool is for standing in front of while you get a shot of the old sugar mill.
Proper Hotel, San Francisco, USA
So this is what happens when you’ve got deep pockets and a desire to transform a 100-odd year old flatiron building in the centre of San Francisco. Interior designer Kelly Wearstler – who has more than half a million followers on Instagram – has taken her cues from early Modernist, Cubist and Secessionist eras to create a warm, colourful and inviting space topped off with a rooftop bar which brings the feel of a European terrace to the Californian coast. Still: Proper Hotel? Weird name, right?
What To Instagram: The huge lobby, which looks like the kind of place where a modern-day Phileas Fogg would plot his next geopolitically-challenging adventure.
Hotel Oderberger, Berlin, Germany
For almost 90 years the public swimming baths in the northern Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg were the spots for locals to rock up to and pee in communal waters; then it was closed in 1986 until 2012, when the architects moved in with some seriously ambitious plans. The result is a luxurious 70-bed hotel built around the restored pool and something of a heritage-conscious aesthetic that has been livened up with contemporary touches. A bugger of a place for a dip, though, no?
What To Instagram: Aim for a moody shot featuring yourself lurking in a stone archway in the historic pool hall.
Pumphouse Point, Lake St Clair, Tasmania
Continuing with the watery theme, this recently-converted former pumphouse is one of three architecturally-arresting buildings that make up Pumphouse Point on the edge of Lake St Clair. The pumphouse itself puts you 900ft out in the middle of the lake, while the shorehouse takes fear of drowning out of the equation with rooms in an old hydro substation.
However, the newly-built ‘The Retreat’, hidden away in the trees, is our favourite: it’s a glass-cornered wooden cube with a thousand little architectural touches and a larder brimming with local craft beers – just the thing for loosening you up to work on the local accent. They love that down there.
What To Instagram: The slightly eerie long view down the pier to the pumphouse; all the more atmospheric on a dull day.
Nimb Hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark
It’s not only Disney that does fantasy, Nimb Hotel in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens looks like something from 1,001 Arabian Nights from the outside; inside there are 38 beautifully-designed rooms, all unique, with the biggest at 2,500 sq ft. If you’re paying top whack you get butler service, ask Jeeves to whiz up to the cracking little rooftop pool for you, laden with Pimms and armbands.
What To Instagram: The old multi-tiered cake platter / afternoon tea / open fire combo in the bar is a popular, genteel option.
Hanging Gardens of Bali, Ubud, Bali
What’s your definition of a ‘design hotel’? If it’s the same as ours, it’ll be loose enough for you to accept that the perfect digs for a stay in the jungle weren’t knocked up by industrialists from Berlin but by 700 local craftsmen using local materials. The 44 villas that make up this Bali resort are all stunningly lovely and have their own infinity pools, but all eyes are drawn to the main, multi-level pool that juts out into the jungle. Because the hotel is built into a hillside, there are funiculars to move you around, which is lazy, but cool.
What To Instagram: You need to be perched on the end of the top infinity pool trying to look cool while secretly terrified about falling off.
Ha(a)ïtza, Pyla-sur-Mer, France
The Dune du Pilat near Arcachon, an hour from Bordeaux, is well worth the 10-minute climb up its sandy steps: the 360-degree view from the top offers about 100 miles of pine forest, the lovely bay of Arcachon and the Atlantic Ocean, too.
And that’s why Philippe Starck stepped in to this corner of Aquitaine to breathe new life into a historic Basque hotel near the dune (he has another one – The Co(o)rniche – even nearer). As with most things Starck, there’s lots to look at, including a pool with a retractable roof, and just being here will up your cool quotient at least 23 per cent.
What To Instagram: It’s the cakes. The hotel’s patisserie has a never-ending supply of tempting treats in the oven and guests like snapping them, nestled in their palm like a baby starling.
Kazerne, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
“Just nipping off to Eindhoven for the weekend,” is not a sentence that trips off many a tongue – though, to be fair, the city is a fast-rising tech hub – but a stylish new hotel at the Kazerne arts complex could put this place right on the map. Just opened, it has eight rooms, suites and lofts, each peppered with pieces made by local designers and housed in a building that was once a military police barracks. Book the Penthouse Loft and you get an art installation by Dutch artists The Idiots, whose self-deprecating name belies their Hirst-like creative approach to dead animals.
What To Instagram: You get temporary admission to Kazerne’s members club while you stay, so grab a shot of yourself nodding thoughtfully alongside one of the designers who worked on your room.
Rosewood Hong Kong
Opening in March 2019, this is as much a skyscraper as it is a hotel, rising almost 900ft into the skies in the newly-created art and design-hotbed Victoria Dockside on Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. It was created by Kohn Pederson Fox Associates, who also just happened to design Lotte World Tower in Seoul – the world’s fifth tallest building – and they very reasonably decided that none of the 322, Tony Chi-designed luxurious bedrooms would be smaller than 570 sq ft. Nice, but no match for the 10,000-sq ft Harbour House suite which has its own sky terrace and endless opportunities for lording it around with your dressing gown half open.
What To Instagram: Position your camera/photographer at your toes, and the money shot features you, holding your room key, with the tower looming up behind you.