To hotel or B&B, that is the question?

Camping in Wadi Rum, the sun begins to settle.  Jordan

As a less experienced traveller, I always used to favour hotels. I felt they were somehow a more reliable ‘bet’, safer and ‘supportive’ of travellers. However, I am delighted to say I have had my eyes truly opened by our ravel experiences and, give the choice, would opt for a B&B or locally owned and run accommodation most times now. Here’s my top 5 B&Bs which have been responsible for this mind shift.

1. Mao Er Hutong, Beijing, China.
A gem of a B&B in old Beijing. The Mao Er Hutong B&B is an amazing place. Staying here on the first leg of our holiday served to set a standard for the entire china trip. In all we stayed 5 nights out of a month’s trip and this was one of the highlights. The B&B is so quiet and serene, the breakfasts are amazing, the beds extremely comfortable and the suite made us feel right at home in Beijing.

The accommodation is traditional Chinese, and focused around a peaceful and pretty courtyard. You’re asked to observe custom and remove shoes upon entry, opting instead for their Chinese slippers.

The rooms are immaculately presented and are dressed in traditionally styled Chinese furniture and materials, including silk embroidered throws and drapes, dark wooden day beds and we also had a very large four poster bed which was extremely comfortable. The windows are dressed with wooden blinds and the bathroom is western style.

Location wise you could not ask for more. The location next to a renovated Hutong is perfect. On your doorstep are some of the most comfortable bars and restaurants (try ‘Reef’ for great cheap martinis and the Korean restaurant for the most amazing hotpot and fried beef). HooHai Lake is right on your doorstep too – which makes for a great night / day out.

We took a trip to the Jinshanling section of the wall via the hotel (their uncle drove us there) and it was the most amazing part of the holiday. (Please see separate blog post about our experience of walking the Great Wall of China).

Each morning the hosts offer a traditional Chinese breakfast with green tea (although coffee and western style tea is available if you’d prefer). The sweet dumpling and seaseme coated marinated carrots were scrumptious, I could not get enough of them!. Most days the hosts offer new breakfast delights which are eaten alongside other guests at a tiny table in the homely kitchen of the B&B. It’s a lovely way to get to know your fellow guests, pick up some hints and tips abut places to visit, and a great way to interact with your hosts.

Our hosts were also very generous in acting as recipients for our train tickets (purchased in advance and sent to their address in advance of our arrival). They also provided us with internet access to allow us to reconfirm flights and accommodation, and provided us with a lift to beijing train station late at night.

The first night we arrived we had stayed in the Holiday Inn, which was lovely, but nothing compared to the delights of Mao Er. I would whole heatedly recommend this B&B for anyone who wants more China from their trip and less westernisation 🙂

Take our word for it – this place is amazing! We booked through BB-China.com and paid about £60 a night for a suite

2. The Orchard House, Rothbury, England
A must do! My husband booked it as surprise weekend away for me. It is one of the best – if not the best – places I have stayed in. The attention to detail and little extras that the owners throw in make it a million miles away from any hotel experience. It’s a beautiful place but very relaxed and informal. You feel at ease to come and go but also know that you can call upon Graham should you need him.

Upon arrival, we were met by Graham, and immediately offered a refreshment and refreshing towel in his drawing room before being shown to our room. The rooms are delightfully appointed, with sherry and baklava as welcome gifts. The bathroom has all modcons and comes equipped with a bath menu which offers a choice of bat salts, bath pillows, rubber ducks, lotions and potions for the ultimate night in. There are dvd players, flat screen tvs and an honesty bar and dvd library for your perusal. In a quiet little place like Rothbury the owners have rightfully cottoned on to the fact that a lot of couples might use this location as a peaceful weekend hideaway. Therefore, to complement the bath menu, they offer a ‘night in package’ featuring complementary popcorn and icecream and choice of movies! After fish and chips on the village green (from the nearby chipshop) we sampled many treats from the bath menu and settled in with a movie and icecream. Bliss!

Each night, when you return to your room, the owners place a new teddy bear on your bed – if the room is occupied, the bear will ‘ wait’ outside with sweet treats ready for you the next day. If you are as much a bear lover as I, this was such a nice addition to the stay.

You can choose what time you wish to have breakfast in the morning, and the owners run a personal wake up service, where they will bring tea and coffee to your room (to the end of your bed!) to gently aid your wake up and ‘spoil you’ whist your breakfast is prepared downstairs in the lovely light breakfast room.

The breakfast is to die for! I have honestly never eaten so much at breakfast – it was amazing. choices of: muesli, traditional porridge, fruit, cooked breakfasts, breads and toasts, preserves – most of it home made from scratch or sourced locally.

Suffice to say you will not be disappointed!

3. Cafe Cultura, Quito, Ecuador
We stayed at Cafe Cultura for 5 nights in 2006 inbetween trips to the Galapagos, Cloud Forests and the Amazon and we loved it!

It’s so different from the anonymous mainstream hotels – every room is different and I’d recommend you try as many different rooms as you can whilst you are there. It offers a fantastic escape from the bustling world you that left at home and the city outside your widow. Places like this are the reason people go on holiday!

Room 10 we stayed in twice. it’s located on the ground floor of the building off what feels llike a traditional village alleyway. It has a lovely small conservatory which is sheltered from the sun and is a cool and refreshing place to sit and enjoy a drink in the evening. The bathroom is small and narrow, but adorned with extremely high ceilings and has a and fabulous bath and steam / power shower which is just what you need on those early morning wake ups! We also had a lovely cast iron fireplace in the bedroom which the staff will light for you whilst you are having dinner / out and about. It’s essential for the colder nights, and provides a nice romantic atmosphere to boot! Fresh flowers, fruit and drinking water are refreshed / provided daily.

Room 1 – the honeymoon suite, was a large romantic space painted in dark moody purples and maroons. The bathroom was simply stunning – it was larger than our entire ship cabin in the Galapagos(!) and featured painted walls, a four poster bed, fresh flowers and a huge conservatory bathroom with views out to the city and across to the volcanic mountain peeks of Ecuador. A centrepiece of the bathroom is the huge opaque stained glass window which reflects across the lobby of the hotel as the sunrises and sets.

Room 2 was also lovley. It does not have a fireplace, but remained one of our favourite rooms due to the fact that it had a large bedroom and bathroom, and a separate living room – a lovely calm space with hand painted hummingbirds flying across the walls. Elevated on the first floor, the rooms spreads across the breadth of the building and is said to be the most haunted of all rooms- though we had no troubles at all!

I’d recommend you look at their website to view all the rooms before you book – it’ll be a difficult decision which one to choose so book early to get the one you want.

The reservation desk are helpful – they helped us out prior to our arrival with a range of restaurant bookings, transfers and gave good advice for what to see and do locally and further afield.

The night staff were also very helpful and responsive when my husband wasn’t too well, which was great support.

The library is the real star of the hotel. Situated to the left of reception, it is a lovely retreat where you can melt into the leather sofas with a bottle of wine and watch the flames of the fires flicker in front of you whilst reading up on other travellers trips in ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ book which has become somewhat of an institution for travellers visiting Cafe Culture – we found it immensely helpful.

If you do stay there be sure to check out the gifts on sale at reception. We picked up some stunning recycled blue/ green glass wine goblets and a lovely hand painted plate for a very reasonable price, alongside a very high quality photobook depicting key scenes from Ecuador.

I only wish every city in the world had a Café Cultura!

4. Lodge on the Loch, Onich, Scotland
Technically, I could be ‘cheating’ on this one as it describes itself as a hotel – however I doth protest. To me its a grander B&B and has personalised service standards which I have come to expect only from B&Bs.

Our weekend at Lodge of the Loch was a surprise booked by my husband for our first wedding anniversary. We stayed in the Nova Scotia room and had plenty opportunity to enjoy its panoramic views over the loch from our bay widow and the whirlpool bath. It was an incredibly restful and scenic location, one where we lost ourselves for the weekend and happily so. One of the highlights of our stay was the food and service. We felt comfortable dressing for dinner in cocktail dress and kilt, and were welcomed for pre-dinner drinks in the grand reception space.

Dinner was a perfect balance of formality and comfort. Sitting in the bay window we were treated to views of a pinking sky over the loch whilst we dined on an incredible 4 course menu and fine wine. Breakfast was an equally sumptuous affair with heart warming traditional scots porridge, cooked breakfast to order and the option of a wee glass of bubbly to set you on your way for the day.

It is worth highlighting we stayed at the lodge back in 2003, and have not returned since the ownership has changed.

5. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Whilst spending a week in Jordan we had the privilege of over-nighting in Wadi Rum in a Bedouin tent with local guides / locals. It was an incredible experience.

Arriving at the camp after an afternoon exploring the sand dunes and vistas of Wadi Rum, my husband and I immediately left the ‘security’ of the camp. Informing the guides we were ‘off to explore’, we enjoyed the last few hours daylight as we explored the rocks, hills and desert surrounding our camp. Sitting alone on a wee mound of sand, there was nothing but us, the setting sun and the skeletons of sun scorched trees for miles and miles. A lone beetle trotted by, and in the fading light we made sand drawings and took pictures of the desert turning pink in the sun’s wake.

As the sun dropped below the horizon and darkness quickly descended, we navigated our way back to camp by the light of our mobile phone screen. We arrived back just in time for dinner and drinks. Warm, sweet Jordan tea was handed out in clay mugs and a warming casserole was plated up fro the cauldron over the roaring fire. We sat and ate in the light of the fire and stars, and listened to the local Arabic tales and songs of the Bedouin as their voices drifted over the night key.

Finding it hard to keep my eyes open past 10pm, and chilled by the cold of the evening desert, we retired to our ‘accommodation’ – a foam mat, a silken blanket, a three sided Bedouin tent and the desert floor, and fell instantly asleep to the sounds of muffled voices and flames crackling.

We woke shortly after dawn and the sun began to heat the ground and air and felt instantly refreshed after a fantastic night’s sleep. Shaking the sand out of my socks and hair, I donned my hat, cast off my layers and headed out into the warm morning to be greeted by hot sweet tea and bread. We had breakfast watching the sun peak over the surrounding sandstone hills. Mug of tea in one hand and bread clasped tightly in another, it was a simple existence and we loved it. We headed off, smiles widening, to ride camels through the desert to get back to our car to continue our journey through this amazing land.

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