Editor’s view: weird and wonderful hotels

Good Hotel Guide editor Adam Raphael looks at some of the more unusual hotels in the Guide.


What makes an enjoyable hotel visit? If you believe the polls, three out of every four guests prefer to stay somewhere out of the ordinary. The attractions of the unusual are undeniable. That must explain the success of the Swedish Icehotel 200km north of the Arctic Circle, where guests have in the past been offered the choice of sleeping at in a frozen London Underground train carriage or a replica of Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory.

The hotel, rebuilt each winter from 30,000 tons of snow and 100,000 tons of ice taken from the nearby Torne River, has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. It opens again on December 11th. It doesn’t come cheap. A simple snow room where you sleep at a temperature of -5 degrees centigrade costs £200 a night. On top of that you will need to pay for a three-and-half hour’s flight from London to Kiruna, a 20-minute bus ride from the hotel. Snow shoes, woolly hats, etc are provided free.


Nearer home, the Old Railway Station, Petworth, West Sussex is a B&B, which is deservedly popular with readers of the Guide. Offering a genuine whiff of Victoriana, four restored Pullman carriages are parked on a disused railway line alongside a renovated station office where you are given a breakfast after spending the night in the Pullman. The old railway carriages are surprisingly comfortable. Each is divided into two rooms with a separate entrance. Some even have a bath. In fine weather, drinks are served on the platform. Recommended, and not just for train nuts. From £90 to £240 per room.
The Guide used to present one of its coveted César awards each year to a wacky hotel though we were so nervous about causing offence that we used feeble euphemisms such as ‘utterly enjoyable mild eccentricity.’ This year I am glad to say we are bringing back a simple ‘eccentric’ César award which will be announced to coincide with the Guide’s launch on Oct 5th. I am not allowed to disclose the winner but there are several promising contestants.


The Witchery by the Castle in Edinburgh in two 16th and 17th century buildings has candlelit rooms, secret nooks and crannies and sumptuous Gothic-style accommodation with antique velvet drapes and gold-laced brocade. As a theatrical experience it is hard to beat. A bottle of champagne greets guests on arrival, and in the morning a breakfast hamper is delivered to the rooms. Per room B&B £325–£395. Dinner £55.


The Zanzibar International in St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex, owned by Irish hotelier, Max O’Rourke, has bedrooms styled after the countries and continents he has visited during a much travelled life. A five-storey Victorian town house at the posh end of Hastings, this small seaside hotel has a splendidly quirky feel. The showers are so high-tech that they require a doctorate to operate. But if and when you succeed, they boom ‘Welcome’ and ‘Good-bye’ at appropriate moments. Per room B&B from £115, D,B&B from £184.

Belle Tout Lighthouse, near Eastbourne, has fantastic views. A decommissioned lighthouse on the chalk cliffs of Beachy Head, it has been turned into a B&B by the owner, David Shaw, who has given it a pleasing’ interior in sympathy with the building. Three bedrooms on the lowest floor face the sea. Two larger rooms look out on the South Downs; a quirky Keeper’s Loft in the tower has a mezzanine loft bed reached by the original fixed ladder. Per room B&B from £145.