We scoured the globe to find the best new hotels out there. Making our list is harder than you think.
Each of these independent properties has to meet a strict criteria to even be considered: they must have a unique story; their design sense must speak to the local culture instead of being generic and corporate; and they must (no exceptions!) be available for under $150 per night.
You'll hear the owners' stories. You'll find urban retreats in some of the planet's most expensive cities. You'll take in unobstructed ocean views from your private balcony. You'll commune with nature. Bottom line--you'll never want to leave.
• Joshua Tree, California
Hicksville Trailer Palace owner Morgan Higby Night isn't the first creative type to find inspiration in the rugged, lunar landscape of Joshua Tree National Park (see also: Gram Parsons, U2). But the Los Angeles-based writer and producer (Shortbus, Talking About Sex) has certainly taken his artists retreat there to an audaciously kitschy level.
"I was already going out to Joshua Tree two to three days a week to write my latest screenplay,"Higby Night says. "It made me think that maybe other artists in L.A. also needed a place to get away to work."
Higby Night installed 10 vintage trailers, a solar-heated saltwater pool, and an archery and BB gun range on his two-acre desert plot last April. Each unit has a distinct design scheme and amenities: a jukebox filled with punk tunes, a TV stocked with horror (and only horror) movies, and bunk beds that, for an extra $50 a day, can be tucked away to make room for a film editing suite. And guests don't have to worry about curious day-trippers traipsing the grounds: Directions are only given out to folks with confirmed reservations. hicksville.com, from $75.
• Jensen Beach, Florida
Let the scenesters have South Beach. The eight-room Inn at Tilton Place, two hours to the north in Jensen Beach, swaps crowded pool decks and velvet-rope nightclubs for quiet coves and evening wine tastings on the front porch. The whole place is steeped in Florida history. A local fisherman built the white clapboard house in the early 1900s and gave it to his daughter as a wedding present; today, her great-granddaughter, Katie Wacha, runs the place. There's a wall of black-and-white photos in the foyer documenting the generations of Tiltons who've inhabited the house. Still, the best new tradition at the inn is Wacha's own: seasonal, three-course breakfasts, featuring beyond-the-basics dishes like red pears with rosemary sugar and basil hollandaise Benedict.
innattiltonplace.com, from $109.
• Stanley, Idaho
When Kelli Kerns, Tim Cron, and Becky Cron (Kerns's sister) purchased the Sawtooth Hotel in Stanley (population: 100) in 2004, they had modernizing on the brain. Over the course of the family's three-year restoration project, they added rooftop solar panels, installed a commercial kitchen for their popular ground-floor restaurant, and upgraded the nine guest rooms with new baths and fresh furnishings. The best part? You're not hit over the head with any of the upgrades. The 70-year-old log-cabin landmark still has all the rustic, small-town charm you'd expect: 100-year-old skiing gear mounted on the walls, a carved wooden moose grinning in the lobby, and the dining room's views of the jagged, snowcapped Sawtooth Mountains--just as impressive as they were in 1931 when the original Sawtooth opened.
sawtoothhotel.com, from $70.
• New Orleans, Louisiana
Like many French Quarter spots, the Hotel Le Marais, steps away from Bourbon Street, greets guests with plenty of flash: The lobby is all bright colors, mirrored tiles, and party music. But enter one of its 64 renovated guest rooms, and the tone shifts. The mostly neutral decor subtly references the city --eggplant throw pillows, photos of Louisiana landscapes--without playing to cliches. Some rooms even have wrought-iron balconies overlooking the internal brick courtyard (and its heated saltwater plunge pool) lit with both old-fashioned gas lamps and neon purple lights. hotellemarais.com, from $110.
• St. Paul, Minnesota
Hotel 340, housed in the former headquarters of the St. Paul Athletic Club, is no ordinary YMCA. The 12-story English-renaissance building has served as a downtown clubhouse for St. Paul's upper crust since 1917; today, the carefully restored structure is home to the hotel (on the top three floors), plus the University Club of St. Paul, a chichi lobby bar, and, of course, an all-new 60,000-square-foot fitness center (free for guests). The building's entrance is downright grand, with its 20-foot-high coffered ceiling, marble columns, and huge fireplace. The hotel's 17 rooms all have cherry hardwood floors; mahogany headboards; marble showers; and skyline, courtyard, or river views. The 40 suites (from $129) add fully stocked kitchenettes and steam showers or whirlpools.
hotel340.com, from $99.
• Brooklyn, New York
Imagine having a looped-in, laid-back New York friend who simply hands over the keys to his apartment. That's the appeal of 3B, a four-room B&B in downtown Brooklyn opened this year by a creative collective of entrepreneurs who happen to live downstairs. The three private rooms and one 4-bed dormitory share an approachable, subtly retro aesthetic--an Eames-style rocker here, a wicker headboard there--and 3B's position on the top floor of a corner building means the whole place gets great light. And while the communal spirit also extends to the bathrooms--there are two, shared among the rooms--3B's private two-bedroom suite, at $160 a night, could still be the juiciest family value in the Big Apple.
3bbrooklyn.com, doubles from $125.
• San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio may be a mere stone's throw from the Mexican border, but at the city's Hotel Havana, it's always been about Cuba. When a grocer opened the riverside hotel in 1914, the Mediterranean-revival architecture proved a dead ringer for the colonial Caribbean capital, and the name Hotel Havana stuck. Now, famed West Texas lawyer-turned-hotelier Liz Lambert--who reinvigorated the Texas lodging scene with Marfa's El Cosmico and Austin's Hotel Saint Cecilia--has brought her hip-meets-retro trademark to the space. Her 27-room reincarnation harks back to the island's prerevolutionary 1950s glory days. Original pine floors and wrought-iron beds are paired with accents such as pastel SMEG fridges, vintage radios, and framed graphic prints. Mexico gets its due at Ocho, the on-site restaurant where chefs Larry McGuire and Lou Lambert (Liz's brother) bring classic Mexican flavors to their pan-Latin menu of small plates and artisan cocktails.
havanasanantonio.com, from $115.
• Montreal, Canada
Don't be fooled by the facade of the Hôtel Chez Swann. The outside may be classic Tudor, but inside you'll find whimsical design touches that have become a signature of Montreal's boutique-hotel scene. The vibe of Chez Swann is high-minded (the moniker is an allusion to Proust; the art is decidedly contemporary), and the 23 rooms have a dramatic boudoir look: Venetian chairs covered in jewel-tone velvet, heavy burgundy draperies, upholstered headboards. The downtown location puts you close to the nightlife and shopping along rue Ste.-Catherine. Plus, it's just a short metro ride to Old Montreal.
hotelchezswann.com, from $140.
• Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Even if you're not a morning person, you'll want to set your alarm at the Hotel Rocamar. The 32-room property sits mere feet from the Caribbean on a four-mile-long island off the Yucatan Peninsula, and every day dawns with a gorgeous sunrise over the sea. A breakfast of coffee, toast, and tropical fruit arrives soon after on a wooden tray. The rooms themselves are stark yet cheery--mostly white with bright yellow curtains--but you'll probably spend most of your time parked on your private balcony. Each one has its own hammock, from which you can search for the pelicans and frigate birds soaring on the wind. There is one catch: You'll have to walk a whole five minutes if you want to stretch out on the nearby Playa Norte white-sand beach.
rocamar-hotel.com, from $65.
• Mexico City, Mexico
Vibrant, hectic, overcrowded Mexico City has been called many things, but "eco-friendly" has never been one of them--until now. Alan Vargas Favero and Diego Le Provost have opened what they believe is the capital's first fully green B&B: the eight-room El Patio 77. Almost as impressive is how the owners have integrated green amenities into an arty, colonial space. Tucked somewhere beyond the wrought-iron gate and stone courtyard are a sizeable collection of rooftop solar panels and rainwater filtration systems. Chances are you'll never notice them amid El Patio's colorful tenango embroidery from Hidalgo and pottery from Chihuahua.
elpatio77.com, from $70.
• Pilsley, England
The 300-year-old Devonshire Arms at Pilsley, a traditional pub with a few guest rooms upstairs, has stayed true to its roots even as the world around it has changed. Located three hours north of London near the Chatsworth Estate and farm, the hotel was recently redecorated by none other than the Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Heywood-Lonsdale, with furnishings more blue blood than barnyard. Think silver Italian desk lamps, floral curtains made from Osborne & Little fabrics, and framed antique paintings taken from the estate's collection. Even breakfast staples get the royal treatment: Chef Alan Hill serves free-range eggs from a local farm and extra-thick-cut bacon, cured on-site. devonshire pilsley.co.uk, from $144.
• Berlin, Germany
Design hotels are a dime a dozen in Berlin, but most still charge a premium for that polish. Newcomer Sir F.K. Savigny, in the west Berlin Charlottenburg neighborhood, has all the same trappings as the swankiest spots (an aristocratic name, oversize black-and-white photos, a stylish wine bar), but at a bargain price. Service is key here--there's a 24-hour concierge, and pets are welcome. Even families will find something to love: The 44-room hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the Berlin Zoological Garden, opened in 1844, and a mile from the 509-acre Tiergarten, one of the city's largest parks, laced with 25 miles of walking trails.
hotel-sirsavigny.de, from $127.
• Amsterdam, Netherlands
A city like Amsterdam gets saddled with its share of clich's, so why not just embrace them? Cocomama's first-time hoteliers Anika Jacobs and Lotje Horvers have decked out their hotel-hostel hybrid (four rooms with en suite baths, four dorm-like rooms) with ample bits of Dutch kitsch. Each of the eight rooms includes decor that speaks directly to a stereotypical image of the Netherlands: a Warhol print of Queen Beatrix, blue-and-white Delftware comforters, windmill-shaped birdhouses on the walls. There's even a Red Light District Room, complete with gold-framed escort ads (written in Dutch), leopard-print pillows, and plush red drapes. Amsterdam's very own district of ill repute may be 20 minutes away by foot, but Cocomama has a seedy past of her very own: This building once housed the city's most notorious brothel.
cocomama.nl, from $108.
• Madeira island, Portugal
Set on a beach overlooking the Atlantic in the fishing village of Ponta do Sol, the Hotel da Vila always seems bathed in sunlight. There's a good reason for that: The town is thought to sit on the single sunniest point on the island of Madeira, 527 miles off the Portuguese coast. Inside the hotel's 16 bright white rooms, Lisbon designer Duarte Caldeira has outfitted the space with a mix of rustic and modern materials: traditional blue azulejo tiles, wood and stone reclaimed from the surrounding forests, and transparent plastic headboard cushions stuffed with wheat straw. The year-old building is a sister property to the luxe Estalagem da Ponta do Sol, a four-minute walk away. The two hotels share a clean, white aesthetic, and as a da Vila guest, you still get full use of the Estalagem's infinity pool, gym, sauna, and spa-without having to pay the same hefty price tag.
pontadosol.com, from $71.
The 29-room Wanderlust Hotel in Singapore's Little India served as a schoolhouse in the 1920s, and it can still teach you a thing or two--this time, about the cutting edge of interior design. Each of the four floors has been handed over to a different local design firm, yielding a slew of wildly themed spaces. The second-floor rooms each focus on a color related to a pop song: The all-yellow room, for example, has a customized yellow submarine neon sign. Other rooms take inspiration from science fiction (a cubist rocket sculpture with stuffed aliens) and tree houses (a ceiling covered with fake foliage). You might not know whether to crash in your room or treat it like a crash course in contemporary art.
wanderlusthotel.com, from $150.
• Kampot, Cambodia
After sustaining heavy damage in the 1978 fighting between the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge, the historic French colonial port of Kampot became a ghost town. Today, locals like Sophal and Keo Prom, who run La Java Bleue, are helping to bring it back to life. With an eye to retaining the historic detail, Sophal restored the spacious, three-story Chinese building by hand. The three guest rooms are decorated with artifacts evocative of Kampot's multicultural past: 19th-century postcards of Cambodia in the Khmer Room, a vintage Air France poster in the French Room, and red silk lanterns in the Chinese Room, which also has a private terrace. In the street-level, open-air lounge, guests can linger with gin and tonics and order a classic Khmer or French dish (fish amok or grilled fish with ratatouille, which Keo prepares) while an antique phonograph plays old records.
lajavableue-kampot.fr, from $35.
• Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The 252 may look like just another pretty space, with its silk linens and infinity pool surrounded by shaded loungers and potted palms. But the 19-room hotel, which opened in the capital city last year, is as much about doing good as looking good. The Swiss-expat owner Stephane Combre, who moved to Phnom Penh in 2009, was inspired to start his community-minded hotel after working as a photographer for Toutes à l'école, a nonprofit devoted to educating Cambodian girls. Now, he hires reading and writing tutors for his employees (in both English and Khmer), provides job-training courses for the front-desk and kitchen staff, and connects guests with volunteer opportunities in area orphanages. Even those contemporary Cambodian design elements do their part to support the community: The silk cushions, woven rattan lamps, and hand-stitched throws are all from the Tendance Khmere line, made exclusively by local craftspeople in designer Flavien Lambert's Phnom Penh workshop.
the-252.com, from $45.
• Goa, India
Known for its international party scene, Goa has its share of generic beach resorts to cater to the pleasure-seeking hordes. Travelers more interested in privacy than partying would do well to detour inland to Siolim House, a seven-room retreat 15 minutes from the beach that recalls a more refined time. Built in 1673 as a manor house for the governor of Macao, Siolim's mixture of Goan and Portuguese architecture shows in the building's colonnaded interior courtyard and shutters made from paneled wood and mother-of-pearl. The guest rooms also exude an old-fashioned elegance, with teak furnishings and period details like patterned-tile floors, lime-plastered walls, hand-painted silk wallpaper, and heavy beamed ceilings with fans. Owner Varun Sood first restored Siolim to use as his private vacation home, and he still stays here when he visits.
siolimhouse.com, from $80.
• Goa, India
When India's maharajas went on turn-of-the-century hunting expeditions, they did it in style, erecting opulent safari tents at every stop. That's the inspiration behind Amarya Shamiyana, a four-room encampment set in a grove of coconut palms on north Goa's tranquil Ashvem Beach. Open and airy, the 700-square-foot tents have 20-foot ceilings and sit atop cool concrete footings. But this hardly qualifies as roughing it: French owners Alexandre Lieury and Mathieu Chanard have supplied each tent with air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, and en suite rain showers surrounded by wood decking. There's an outdoor lounge with low sofas and metallic beanbag chairs, and each tent is splashed with a different color: The damask murals behind the beds are pink in one, blue in another. For the most secluded option, go for the gold.
amaryagroup.com/amaryashamiyana.php, from $122. Note: The hotel is closed during the monsoon season, May 1-Nov. 15.
• Vientiane, Laos
With its striking Buddhist temples and fading French-colonial mansions, Laos's riverside capital prides itself on being a tranquil alternative to other Southeast Asian hubs. Inside the year-old Salana Boutique Hotel, this calmer sensibility prevails. You'll find a fresh take on traditional Asian design--intricate Laotian weavings, bamboo lamps, polished hardwood floors. Just one block from the mighty Mekong, the 41-room hotel butts directly up against Wat Inpeng, a lavish 16th-century temple with a red roof, carved frescoes, and a topiary garden. Talk about peaceful: All the rooms along the back of the hotel look out on the temple.
salanaboutique.com, from $90.
• Penang, Malaysia
With its Indian, Chinese, and ethnic Malay influences, Malaysia sits at the cultural crossroads of Southeast Asia. So it's no wonder that the Hotel Penaga draws so heavily on this rich confluence. Architect Hijjas Kasturi and his environmentalist wife, Angela, spent three years renovating the three art deco buildings that constitute the hotel, using found materials from across the region in the 45 rooms. Granite slabs in the garden came to the country as ballast on early 20th-century Chinese trading ships. Flooring incorporates Indonesian pressed tiles. Rugs are either Chinese cowhide, Indian sisal, Turkish patchwork kilims, or bamboo mats from eastern Malaysia. And much of the timber used was salvaged from demolished colonial buildings on the peninsula. The Kasturis also run an artist retreat near Kuala Lumpur, so you can expect to see original pieces created by both well-known and emerging artists hanging all over the Penaga's walls.
hotelpenaga.com, from $134.
• Bangkok, Thailand
Located in the heart of Bangkok's bustling central business district, Wow Bangkok's most surprising feature may be its serenity. Despite the exclamatory name, the property exudes a calm and mellow vibe, thanks in part to its location, hidden away in a five-story town house on a quiet side street. Each of the seven rooms is decorated by a local artist to reflect a unique part of Thai mythology: The Sawan ("heaven") Room is done up in pale blues and curlicue cloud motifs, while the Yak Room includes a fiery orange, red, and gold mural that climbs up the wall and onto the ceiling. Guests also have access to lounge chairs on the rooftop deck. With all this tranquility, you may actually forget that the city's eclectic restaurants and high-end shopping center are just around the corner. wowbangkokhotel.com, from $58.
• Khao Yai, Thailand
At Ndol Villas, a water view doesn't cost extra: Each of the 15 rooms at this year-old jungle retreat faces a running stream. Ndol lies only 94 miles outside of Bangkok, but with its Zen-like features --the sound of rushing water, orchids sprouting from tropical gardens, a lagoon-like swimming pool framed by towering trees--it might as well be in another universe. The relaxing vibe extends to Ndol's century-old teakwood villas, which have been restored and filled with antiques from across Asia, including giant Buddhas from Thailand and carved dragon heads from China. ndolvillas.com, from $117.
CENTRAL & SOUTH AMERICA
• San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
You don't have to be a surfer to dig Casa de Olas, but it helps. Set atop a cliff overlooking the fishing village of San Juan del Sur, the hotel, whose name aptly translates to "house of waves," affords Pacific Ocean views, free shuttle service to local beaches, and proximity to some of Nicaragua's best breaks. Opened this year by Australian expats Fred and Carla Batty, the seven-room spot (which also has a dorm that sleeps eight) throws in a free breakfast--ancakes, eggs, bacon, and tropical fruit grown on-site--to fuel your surfing adventures. Need a rest from the waves? Grab a cocktail made from local, award-winning Flor de Caña a rum at the thatch-roof Freddy's Bar and sip it by the 40-foot-long infinity pool. Or you could always just hang out with Buzz, the casa's resident monkey.
casa-de-olas.com, dorms $20, doubles $69.
• Colonia Valdense, Uruguay
La Vigna began life in 1880 when a family of Italian immigrants opened the Renaissance revival-style estate and winery in Uruguay's fertile southwest corner. More than a century later, Argentine owners Agustin Battellini (a former architect) and his wife, Lucila Provvidente (a former psychologist), have maintained the five-room B&B's rustic charms: milk pails on the walls, llama-wool bedding, furniture made from repurposed sheep pens. They also grow their own organic peaches, watermelon, and figs, which show up in their homemade jams and liqueurs. Ducks, goats, and sheep roam freely--until, well, let's just say that the hotel makes its own lamb pizza, as well as pecorino cheese, served in La Vigna's on-site bistro. Sound tempting? Thankfully, both breakfast and dinner are complimentary at La Vigna. In between meals, there are exercise options, too: In the afternoon, you can borrow a mountain bike (free) and cruise the surrounding countryside.
lavigna.com.uy, from $150.
• Johannesburg, South Africa
Johannesburg was founded in 1886, and that's where the hotel 12 Decades begins, too. Each of its 12 guest rooms is dedicated to a successive 10-year span in the city's evolution, with themed designs by 12 South African creative teams. Furniture stars Dokter and Misses, for example, filled the 1916-1926 room with their angular, Bauhaus-inspired pieces, while T-shirt designers Love Jozi went graphic in their 1946-1956 room: The toilet bowl is stamped with the names of racist apartheid laws. The year-old hotel is an ideal jumping-off point for exploring the Maboneng
Precinct, a regeneration project that also includes the Arts on Main gallery complex and a handful of low-key restaurants and cafes.
12decadeshotel.co.za, from $113.
SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: