When booking a hotel, most people don’t consider the framework of the building itself. Many choose hotels based on convenience or cost. Centrally located? Wonderful. Cheaper than an Airbnb? Splendid. For some, minimalism is fine—the hotel is secondary to the trip. But other travelers want more from their hotel—to surround themselves in total luxury in a space unlike any other. Sound like you? If you have a penchant for unique architecture, design hotels are destinations unto themselves.
Most hotels spring up in whatever real estate is available. A select number of properties, however, play off their surroundings. What makes these design hotels architectural marvels differ from one to the next. It could be significant because of the architect who designed it, historical distinction, or even because the building itself is unique (if it’s a building at all).
Below are eight design hotels worth the trip.
Spectacular Design Hotels That Are Architectural Marvels
1. Hotel Marqués de Riscal
La Rioja, Spain
At the center of the Rioja Alavesa wine region in Álava, Spain, is this avant-garde masterpiece by Frank O. Gehry—one of the few modern architects the average person knows by name. Hotel Marqués de Riscal is just 15 years old, contrasted against surrounding structures 10 times its age (and that’s nothing compared to the 1,200-year-old La Rioja wine industry). Gehry calls the hotel “a marvelous creature, with its hair flying in all directions, launching itself over the vineyards.” He also designed the interiors of all 43 rooms and suites, made even more luxurious by the onsite Vinotherapie Caudalie spa, and a Michelin-starred fine dining. (May we suggest the Rioja?)
2. Museum Hotel
Cappadocia is famous for its Bronze Age-era cave hotels, carved into the rocks among the horizon’s stalagmite-like “fairy chimneys.” Your stay in any hotel is second to the sunrise hot air balloon adventure that most visitors seek out—though a luxury cave hotel with views of the horizon (and all those air balloons) might just rival it. Museum Hotel is a modernized cave dwelling boasting antiques from the Ottoman, Seljuk, Roman, and Hittite periods, giving it a “living museum” concept. And of course, no two of its 30 rooms and suites are alike, since uniformity was not something the original architects prioritized when chipping away at stone. Design hotels aren’t always about the manmade, after all.
3. Felsenhotel La Claustra
La Claustra is not for the claustrophobic—nor anyone who values a cell phone signal. It is, in fact, a “bunker hotel,” fashioned from an artillery bunker that’s built into the rocks 1.25 miles high into the Swiss Alps. And although it’s not most people’s idea of luxury, the location and silence are a welcome respite. If you’re worried about the other most important amenity (since connection with the outside world is off the table), rest assured you’ll have hot and cold spring water from five different Alps springs. The strange underground ambience makes for a head-clearing escape for many conferences, retreats, and creative escapes. There are 17 bedrooms across 54,000 sq. feet, which can accommodate up to 60 guests for private events.
4. InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland, Songjiang
Thirty miles outside of Shanghai city center is Wonderland, opened in 2018 into a rock quarry. What’s notable about this InterContinental resort hotel is its two underwater suites, which swap out the stunning quarry views and submerge visitors inside a lively aquarium. The onsite eatery Mr. Fisher pulls the same stunt, surrounding guests with schools of fishes.
5. Fontainebleau Hotel
Miami Beach, Florida
Oftentimes, hotels are iconic for the era they represent. This is the case for oceanfront Fontainebleau in Miami (22 acres of oceanfront, to be exact). Its prominence on the coast is at Copacabana levels, thanks to architect Morris Lapidus’s towering curvature design. The 565-room luxury resort has been a nightlife staple since its opening in the 1950s, and has even been seen in a number of TV shows and films, most notably the James Bond film, Goldfinger. A 2008 renovation cost upwards of $1 billion, the same year the building was put on the National Register of Historic Places. To many, it’s the most important architectural structure in Florida, and cracked the top 100 on the 2007 American Institute of Architecture’s list “America’s Favorite Architecture” at No.93.
6. Petroff Palace
From the curtains to the wall sconces, every detail at the Romantic Neogothic Petroff Palace is stately—as it should be, since the facility was erected at the order of Catherine the Great to celebrate victory over the Ottoman Empire in the 18th-century Russian-Turkish war. She wanted its 16-meter dome to resemble that of Istanbul’s (then Constantinople’s) Hagia Sofia. Don’t miss seeing it, in the hotel’s Round Hall. Napoleon once occupied the palace while surrounding Moscow burned, and Petroff also played host to Alexander II immediately before his crowning. Now, it’s a stunning boutique hotel with 43 keys, and one of the world’s most storied properties.
7. Nhow Rotterdam
Rotterdam is one of the world’s architecture capitals, and the quirkiest one at that. (It’s a short train ride from Amsterdam, equidistant to the Schiphol Airport.) A stroll through the city center is a feast for the eyes, thanks to its appreciation for cheekiness. One of Rotterdam’s most iconic structures is the riverfront De Rotterdam, with its off-center trio of towers designed by Rem Koolhaas. The architect did all of the interior detailing at Nhow Rotterdam hotel, too, which takes up 23 stories in the easternmost tower. This hotel is a bucket list treat for the architecture junkies above all else, but it’s an easy, accessible 4-star pick for any visitors.
8. Hotel Le Corbusier
Speaking of architectural bucket lists: This 3-star hotel is found inside the otherwise residential “radiant city” (‘Cité Radieuse’) in Marseille. Hotel Le Corbusier combines colorful elements characteristic of Le Corbusier, the famed architect and urban planner whose various Unité d’habitation projects aimed to solve urban crowding with high-rise, community-based structural design. You can experience what life is like for the many residents who still occupy the space, with its pop-color balconies overlooking the sea to one side, and green foliage to the other.
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