Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Great Hotels Are Like Great Art - Know What You're Looking At!

My favorite professor in architecture school was on a mission. Both in the studio and in his favorite class - History and Mystery - his obsession was a long and arduous journey to impart knowledge to his students. As a former student of the founder of The International Style - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, he insisted his young charges leave his classroom and studio with as much knowledge of the aesthetics, structure, and meaning of great architecture, art, and other artistic accomplishments, great and small, as he could impart. Many people are fond of the statement - I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like. Statements like that, in the presence of Professor Gettle, would get you a stern reprimand and an intense lecture on the nuances of Renaissance painters versus Cubism or the reasons for the fluted grooves in Greek columns, which are many and beyond the scope of this post.
Determining the coolness factor or the aesthetic worthiness of a small hotel and its surroundings requires much the same level of "knowledge" about what you are looking at and looking for in a place that can take your vagabonding to the next level. It's similar to comparing a Frank Lloyd Wright house to one designed by a lesser talent. By combining the notions presented throughout this blog with your own timely travel research, you will develop an appreciation of all the factors that make a place worthy of your time and money. Ultimately, the goal is to develop the knowledge and experience to ensure you know what you are looking at. If you believe, as any aesthetic vagabond believes, that architecture and design, when done well, can actually make your travels, indeed your life, better, then read on. Otherwise, skip the esoteric lingo and check out the latest "deal" from Kayak or As someone once said when asked why he would spend $1,000 on a new suit as opposed to $200, he replied - Because I look much better in a $1,000 suit.
But Wait - It's Not Always About The Money

The focus of this blog has slowly transitioned, over many years, into an obsessive search for great hotels or other unique places to sleep that don't require a second mortgage to pay the rent. If you stay at The Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, for the princely sum of $3,500 to $4,800 per night, everything, and I do mean everything, better be otherworldly, or there will be trouble. Just sayin'.
If you have unlimited funds, you will always have the perceived best at your disposal. Expensive hotels, especially "resort" hotels, spend an inordinate amount of time and money on services that a true vagabond doesn't need. You really don't need your luggage hauled to your room with the mandatory explanation of how the television works or where the hair dryer is. A hotel we stayed in a while back in Jacksonville Beach, of all places, did not have a coffee maker in the room or ice makers on the floor, requiring you to call room service to have those rather pedestrian conveniences delivered to your room with the expectation of a tip for each delivery. All part of the "total service" hotel experience - tedious!
Finding a great hotel at a great price is not always easy. It depends on where you are headed and what you are looking for. It's easy in Europe, the UK being the one exception. Italy, France, Spain, Greece et al have scores of great places at great prices. And it's harder in the good ole USA. If you do a lot of homework, you can find reasonably priced hotels in parts of California, the Northwest, and the East Coast. Florida? Fugetaboutit, unless you go to Miami. And why would anyone do that on purpose? Boutique hotels are, indeed, rare in the Sunshine State. When planning a trip, you should include a few places where you would never tell your in-laws what you spent because they would try to have you committed. As my old roomie used to say - What's a few hundred dollars in a lifetime? As in life, travel is about balance, right?
Many factors go into the creation of a great hotel. Today, I am going where no other travel blogger has gone before. I am taking the plunge. I am waxing eloquent. I am going out on a limb. I am barking up the big tree. I am going to give my favorite nomads a short version of the unadulterated, unfettered, unabashed, and extremely opinionated checklist to use when searching for the perfect place to R & R like a true Nomad.

My List

i-escape - This hotel website is my favorite place to find great hotels with reasonable prices. They even have some great reasonably-priced hotels listed in California. They only list 15 hotels in the USA. They list 157 hotels in Italy, 165 in Spain, 124 in Greece, and 173 in the United Kingdom. One unique, castle-turned-boutique hotel in Tuscany we stayed in a few years ago is $154 per night in today's high-priced world - Castello di Tornano.

AIRBNB  - A close No. 2 for sites to find amazing places to lay your head after an eight-hour day trip. They list thousands of homes, apartments, condos, and villas in America and Europe. If you're planning on visiting the West Coast of the USA, this site will be of immense help.

Mr & Mrs Smith Boutique Hotels - Another great site to find reasonably priced boutique hotels. Some as low as $50 per night. 

VRBO - This site is decent, but, IMHO, not as good as AIRBNB. But it does have many places to lodge. 

Tablet Hotels - A bit more expensive, but every hotel on any of their lists will be high-end and they do have places that are reasonably priced, mostly in Europe.

Aesthetics DO Matter
A well-designed hotel, like a beautiful woman, gives one pause to smile. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In hotels, less so. One of the discussions we have around here fairly regularly is the attempt to answer the modern architect's lament - Why do Americans embrace the McMansion model of residential design, as opposed to the beautiful, simple, and elegant "modern" residential designs that were immensely popular in the fifties and sixties but gave way to the faux estatelettes that litter suburbia today. Whether it's a sleek modern, minimalist design or a repurposed prison built in the fourteenth century that is now an elegant twenty-room boutique, the design of the place makes a difference.
Size Really DOES Matter

If anyone within the sound of this blog has ever stayed in a mega hotel and thought it worthy of their hard-earned cash, by all means, please let me know. Nothing is more tedious than a thousand-room hotel that is overstaffed and overpriced to respond to your every need. You become a bit player in a kind of Groundhog Day of valets,  room service with average food, and lobbies full of hundreds of people thinking they have found the best of the best. The smaller, the better in my book. You get more real personal service because the people serving you are usually the owners who have invested their money and their lives in running their little part of paradise. Only in environs like the AIRBNB featured in the photo above will you truly appreciate the pleasure of sleeping in a special small place - Joshua Tree Olive Farm -Serene Farm Retreat - Spa. Cool romantic place with a hot tub in the middle of the desert. I recommend going in late Fall as it's very hot in the summer. Honesty always - we have not stayed there, but the reviews are all five-star.
And Speaking of Food
Food is the WD-40, if you will, of travel. We all agree you have to have a great place to sleep, but, without great food, you will eventually become a creaky, cranky vagabond. If you are staying in an urban hotel, the food choices are usually many. You should always check with the owners of your hotel for the best spots. Many boutique hotels are located in places far away from the madding crowd. This fact usually requires that food be served on-site. Dining on rabbit at Castello de Tornano, in the heart of Tuscany, was both a culinary and sensory delight that we still talk about. The fact that it was served in the former great hall of a vintage castle built in 1110 didn't hurt.
You Need Stuff To Do Too

OK, you've slept well. You've eaten well. And you have money to burn because you didn't spend the ridiculous sums and you didn't pay all the fees and tips associated with a big fat resort. No, if you followed all the Do's and Don'ts of finding the perfect little place, you ended up in an intimate boutique with a view to die for at a price you can brag about. But after the sleeping and the eating, a vagabond needs something to do. That's where the local environs of a hotel come into play. And personal preference becomes critical. If you happen to be one who lives for the urban delights of Paris, then, an isolated former hayloft turned country chic suite to die for in the middle of nowhere probably isn't your first choice. But, if communing with cows and rural artifacts is your thing, then say hello to the country life.
Recently, on our annual anniversary trip to a small five-unit boutique, Wild Springs Guest Habitat, in the even smaller town of Port Orford, Oregon, we enjoyed the wild beauty and isolation of the Pacific, as well as world-class art galleries and edgy art exhibits. All in a community with no more than three traffic lights. If you do your homework, you can have your travel cake and eat it too.

At The End Of The Day

When it's all said and done, the perfect vagabond hotel comprises those attributes that take you to a different time and place that feels right. Everyone is looking for God's Country. If you are passionate about travel and do your due diligence while planning your dream vacation, you will find your little piece of heaven on earth. In the city, in the country, by the sea, or in the desert. Travel changes you in ways you never expected. And it goes a lot better when you are in a place that meets your aesthetic, emotional, and cultural needs. So, happy hunting. Great travel requires inspiration and an unwillingness to settle. But when you sit with the ones you love and raise that glass of local vintage, under the big tree overlooking the big sea, you will know that it was worth it.

I hope 2024 takes you to places you never knew existed. Remember, the yellow brick road had a lot of curves in it, not to mention the interesting characters along the way.
See You Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Travel Quote of The Week - “The major advantage of domestic travel is that, with a few exceptions such as Miami, most domestic locations are conveniently situated right here in the United States.” – Dave Barry
Video Artist of The Week - Here's a very unique group of artists/singers I recently discovered performing their take on a great song written by Ben E. King in 1962 - STAND BY ME by Music Travel Love.

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