ON hotels and pillows

We’ve all sat around home or in the office browsing through hotel sites trying to make the emotional choice at a fair and reasonable price. The trip you have in front of you can generate mixed emotions. We want to get away for the everyday demands and chores but along with this, comes the uncertainty of what the trip has in store. The old saying that “as long as the pillow is good” doesn’t cut it anymore. I have never actually been invited to try a hotel pillow before accepting to stay. So, what will determine which hotel you will choose when planning your trip? Is it location, number of stars, appearance or the loyalty awards you will receive when choosing the group? Could it be the story you want to tell when you get home? One thing for sure is even though not everyone will admit to it, we all feel a little anxious and alone when away from home, so we make emotional choices and justify them with rational arguments. Most hoteliers look for ways to get your attention in the wide strokes while you are likely to find what you need in the simple and small solutions close to you.


You often read in interviews in the in-flight magazines with travelers about their favorite hotels. They mention one and give all sorts of reasons. Personally, I can’t say one particular hotel because I have had so many nice and warm experiences. Like the friendly receptionist at Morgans, NY who gave me a couch to rest on while fighting a migraine attack and waiting for my room to be ready. Then there is the good service at Greenwich Hotel with complimentary soft drinks and water in the mini bar. These are small yet important gestures that can win even the pickiest guest over. By showing the guest that you care and understand the soft details, you can convince even the choosiest one.

Feel the personality and look for your peers

Always pay attention to what fits with your personality when looking for a hotel. If you want to experience an intimate boutique hotel you can’t expect the latest gym or longest pool. Be curious about the history behind your choice by letting the staff tell you about it. This will add depth to your experience. You can tell you’ve made the right choice when you see that the personalities of the fellow guests go hand in hand with yours. The boutique hotel strives to give you a warm, tasteful and cozy feeling, which is the opposite of the design hotel that could be perceived by some as cold and unwelcoming. When choosing to design you have to accept someone else’s taste and expression. Don’t expect warmth and coziness because if someone has done the right thing here, you have to find your place inside their concept.

I once stayed at a newly built hotel and was met by a staff wearing cheap t-shirts when suddenly the elevator door opened, and a group of grey suits and briefcases emerged. These totally wrong signals put a dent in my experience and I never went back. There is less democracy and freedom in the design solution than in a boutique hotel so accept that and go with the flow. So, when choosing a hotel check out what your peers are recommending.

No star in the world will save you

Don’t look for the stars when choosing. The value of stars depends entirely where you are in the world. A four star in Thailand is easily a very good five in Europe. A three star in Italy can be better than a four in the US. A good insight is that a very good three-star hotel is always much better than a mediocre five star. If you aren’t status driven and you dislike waiting you should not go for the big five-star solution. These usually entail lines for the elevators as well as check-in and check-out. This even goes for breakfast when you are hungry and often in a hurry to a meeting. Fewer stars is more laid back and personable. The chance of being seen here is much greater than in the mega hotel where both guests and staff become anonymous ants.

Demand to be seen and acknowledged

Nobody should put up with being invisible when entering a hotel. It is the responsibility of the staff to see you and give you the attention you deserve. It’s often enough with a wink of the eye to add to your patience. When this happens, you as a guest will have gained leverage over the staff. Use it with care and you will probably be rewarded. But, whatever you do, don’t fall in the trap of “I’m an experienced traveler and I know best”. Then you may end up having a lousy stay and nothing can you save you here. I once got plowed over by one of those busy guys with the argument that he was an international businessman checking in. He was rude to the staff that tried their best to accommodate him and I took a step back and waited patiently. This got me a suite while he got a standard room. I ended up having a great three-day stay and he complained loudly every day. Hotel staff members are people and they can make you laugh or cry depending on how they perceive you.

Here are some hotels I strongly recommend. It is a short list

Aonagi in Matsuyama, Japan

The place is situated on a mountainside and designed by Tadao Ando, a self-taught architect. The restaurant is as great as the hotel. It needs no other words to describe it except for the staff that is as friendly as the place is beautiful. https://www.setouchi-aonagi.com

The Windsor in Hokkaido

Positioned on the top of a ridge with the Pacific on one side and the beautiful Lake Toya on the other, this place is something unique. Just the glass wall in the lobby, overlooking a golf course that in winter becomes a ski slope is something special. https://www.windsor-hotels.co.jp/en/

The Explore Hotel in Patagonia, Chile

Located at the center of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia and declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This is a place that should be on everyone’s bucket list. When you leave, you really feel like you’ve been somewhere extraordinary, and you can’t stop talking about your experience. https://www.explora.com/patagonia-hotel/hotel-and-services/

The Four Seasons in Guangzhou, China

I know it is a hotel chain but if you get a room on the 100th floor, please get up in the middle of the night just to experience the enveloping view. Their Beijing duck is also something else. https://www.fourseasons.com/guangzhou/

Commune by the Great Wall

I’m a sucker for the great wall. One of my most cherished experiences is walking the wall far away from the touristy vendors and just watch it disappear on the horizon. This place was designed by 12 architects and staying here you feel embraced by nature. http://commune.sohochina.com

Jade Screen Tower Hotel in Huangshan, China

Known for the 60,000 steps you have to climb to get there. You can choose the cable car if you are lazy but, in any case, you will be rewarded when you arrive. This is a unique place that offers trekking or just serenity and contemplation. If you can, do take the steps. (website)

The Public Hotel New York City, USA

Ian Shrager again. He started my favorite Morgans years ago, but it has been turned into condos. Here, the intention is affordable luxury. Situated just behind the Whole Foods store on East Houston in the lower Eastside you will be close to everything downtown. https://www.publichotels.com

Atelier sul Mare in Messina, Italy

Typical Italian when culture becomes design, here you live, sleep and breath art by the Tirranian Sea. Every rooms and the restaurant are full of art is in itself a piece of art. A short stay here is like spending a week at one of the museums of modern art of the world. Interesting and typical Italian in its expression. http://www.ateliersulmare.com/it/

Locanda dell’Amorosa, Sinalunga, Italy

This place is an estate from the 1400’s turned into a hotel in the Val di Chiana. If you walk up one of the hills of the property, you can see, on a clear day, the Duomo in Florence. Here you are embraced by the Tuscany grapes and olives. https://www.amorosa.it/en/