3 favourite hotels and what made them memorable

Herdade do Touril, Portugal - one of my favourite hotels


I’d have trouble counting the number of different hotels I’ve stayed in, but I would guess the total is somewhere around 700, give or take a hundred or so. Most have been entirely forgettable: a bed for the night, a room along a dreary corridor, a passport handed over for copying, a credit card swiped for the extras. Would you like help with your bags? Did you take anything from the minibar? Breakfast between 7 and 10. A repetitive, comforting if monotonous drill.

Yet among that mass of uniform mediocrity a few places stand out; places where I would stay again without a moment’s hesitation if I was back in the neighbourhood. Here are three of my favourite hotels that spring to mind instantly:


Casa Ollin, Oaxaca, Mexico

We arrived in Oaxaca at 8am after a horrible overnight 11 hour bus journey. Far too early to check in, but we hoped the guest house would at least allow us to drop off our bags. As soon as we explained our early arrival we were invited into the dining room and offered coffee and a full breakfast (on the house). While we ate our room was prepared for us and by 9.30 we had our key and were able to unpack and wash. The room was simple, clean and bright, while the owners were only too willing to offer help when asked but otherwise kept a low profile, allowing us to feel at home in their home.

Tierra de Leyendas, Ushuaia, Argentina

We booked this guest house on the strength of its Tripadvisor rating (by no means a foolproof strategy) back in early 2007. Run by a young couple who had been travellers and wanted to welcome people as they would want to be welcomed, I still remember the little touches that made this place different. No filling out the registration forms at the desk; instead we were given the key immediately and then were able to complete the formalities with glass of complimentary wine in hand when we were ready to do so. Again, very helpful without any intrusion. The large comfortable room and magnificent views across the Beagle Channel helped a lot in making this a memorable stay.

Herdade do Touril, Zambujeira do Mar, Portugal

I hesitate to include this as we were hosted for our stay, but I am convinced that our experience would have been the same regardless of the nature of our visit. The room was comfortable and the setting a short walk from the coast perfect, but what made this place stand out again was the service. From the warm welcome to the help with arranging reservations at local restaurants, the owners and their staff were only too willing to help. It was a place where you could easily relax and where requests were dealt with (and remembered) without any feeling of intrusion.


What do these places have in common? In each one the most memorable aspect of our stay was the service. Not the door opening, bag carrying, valet parking kind of service, but the genuine willingness to make people feel at home and the awareness that it’s all about the guests, not about them. All are relatively small properties (with no more than a dozen or so rooms) and in each case it is the owners of the hotel/guest house that are the face of the business.

Some might argue that it’s only business owners who can display that passion for service, that insight into treating a guest in the way they would wish to be treated if they were visiting; but I’m not convinced. Great service, for me at least, requires the ability to put yourself in your guests’ shoes and offer them the service that you yourself would appreciate. And that’s the tough bit, because each of us has a different view on what we would class as great service. I’m glad I don’t run a hotel.

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7 Responses to “3 favourite hotels and what made them memorable”

  1. I agree completely about service being the main ingredient, and not the bag carrying kind of service.

    I stayed in the Asara Hotel and Wine Estate in South Africa’s Stellenbosch last saturday and arrived feeling unwell. The lovely people there allowed me to check in early, light a big fire for me, made me hot tea and couldn’t do enough… That’s the service that makes a good hotel GREAT!

    October 2, 2012 at 11:38 am
    • thanks Brendan – that sounds like extraordinary service. Hope you’re feeling better now

      October 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm
  2. Thanks for this post Andy,
    Completely agree with what you have said. It is always the people who will make or break your experience. Great people give rise to far happier memories, they’re positive, friendly, helpful and there if you need them.
    Customer Care at its best :-) I’d stay in any of the three you mention as a personal recommendation from someone you trust is like gold dust!

    October 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm
    • Thanks for the kind words Lynne – it’s all about the people as you say, yet so many businesses just don’t get it. Like you, I’d take the recommendations of trusted friends ahead of any Tripadvisor reviews

      October 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm
  3. Late to this again, but again a worthy subject. I think the intangible but necessary ingredient in most instances that creates “memorability” is the presence of emotional investment in a property. How that comes about may vary – it could be a background that gives it history, and which the present operators/owners nurture and ensure is a central quality of its present character, or it could be owner/operator’s own awareness and connection to the history and cultural legacy of the property’s location, and how a hotel can continue to reflect all that. Examples from my own area of the world which I cover and have written about in the past include: mgallery Nicolas de Ovando, in the historic Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, which originally was the residence of the brother of Christopher Columbus and who served as the island’s first governor. Nowadays it retains its interior aura of seclusion thanks to massive wall depths and an interior courtyard design lovingly preserved and enhanced by the current hoteliers. Another such that comes to mind for similar reasons is the Hotel El Convento in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was once a Carmelite convent but also has transformed itself under the genius of recent hoteliers into a historic but vibrant reflection of the colonial experience of its neighborhood. There are others I could cite, but in each case there’s always the presence of people who are passionate about the wider story of an area, a country, a neighborhood, an island, or a past and see a way to convey all that in the living present of a place that welcomes strangers and tells them something of all that history,

    October 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm
    • Thanks again Hal. So many hotels/guest houses are historic buildings with a great story to tell and some owners are more passionate/capable than others of sharing that history with their guests. And as you say it’s not just the buildings – you can reflect the traditions and culture of the surrounding area within your design and provide guests with something more memorable than a standard box-room hotel experience. Those hoteliers who get it are the ones I think we’ll keep talking about.

      October 16, 2012 at 9:18 am
  4. An excellent topic but very difficult to choose. Like @Brendan says above, its all about the personal service and even this can depend on who you deal with on a given day. However, the really great hotels do their best to hold onto great staff that will go the extra mile for clients.
    My personal favourite was a small hotel in Bangkok, who looked after me while i was sick, they even rearranged my flights to allow me to recover.

    January 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm