Personality, budget-friendly luxury on Lonely Planet’s first top hotels list

Christy Karras
Compass

With its diverse first-ever list of the world’s top places to stay, Lonely Planet has a message for travelers: You don’t need to pay a lot to enjoy a memorable experience.

The winners are as varied as they are over the top. The number one property on the UK-based travel publisher’s 10 “most extraordinary places to stay” list is Mihir Garh, in the vast Thar Desert near Jodhpur, India. The turreted buff-colored building with crenellated square towers looks, in Lonely Planet’s words, “like an enormous sandcastle.”

Of course, special doesn’t always come cheap; a suite at Mihir Garh costs about $400 US a night (including meals), while others go for $350 to $600 or even higher. But the top hotels are not all opulent getaways for the wealthy; some on the “most extraordinary” list go for less than $150 a night.

Tom Hall, editor of Lonelyplanet.com, said value for money was as important as any other factor in evaluating the properties. “We wanted the places we mentioned to be, in the main, accessible to most travelers,” Hall told Yahoo Travel.

For those seeking even cheaper options, Lonely Planet also came up with a list of 10 budget properties, all of which cost less than $100 a night. The “best value” list includes a number of hostels, where travelers stay in dorm-style rooms, often with shared bathrooms and kitchens. They’re not as private as a traditional hotel room but encourage travelers to mingle.

“If anybody hasn’t stayed in a hostel for 15 or 20 years, I’d recommend they give it another try,” said Hall, who sometimes stays in hostels with his own family. “Lots of budget options have upped their games.” That means everything from adding private rooms for couples and families to adding bars, restaurants or rooftop decks.

A third list has 10 eco-friendly places to stay, including gems like Bulungula Lodge in South Africa, where travelers sleep in traditional thatched-roof huts and mix with locals near Nelson Mandela’s hometown. And then there are the whimsical “Earthships” outside Taos, N.M., made with recycled material including glass bottles and used tires.

Cheap and green are important to the publisher’s readership, which has always ranged from nearly-broke backpackers to well-heeled retirees.

The lodging choices are based on nominations from Lonely Planet writers and editors around the world, who have compiled more than 80,000 hotel listings total. A small group of experts whittled the finalists down to the top 10 in each category. “Unlike other lists, Lonely Planet’s World’s Best Hotels aren’t necessarily the most popular hotels with travelers,” Lonely Planet said in a press release, calling its picks “a carefully curated list of 30 extraordinary and unique places to stay around the globe.”

Personality and attention to detail factor heavily in the rankings, which largely eschew chain hotels in favor of independent properties with passionate owners. The winners seem to have one overriding factor in common: the ability to give guests a memorable experience. “There’s something that’s fun and distinctive about them that (travelers) can go home and tell their friends and family about,” Hall said, noting that this reflects a general industry trend toward creating accommodations that are experiences in and of themselves.

At Free Spirit Spheres on Canada’s Vancouver Island, for example, guests stay in round pods that hang from trees. Other tree lovers could try the Gibbon Experience Treehouse, high up in a forest in Laos. There’s a cave hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey and a medieval-tower B&B in Bologna, Italy.

Of course, luxury and comfort are always appreciated. “Wildlife is best viewed from an outdoor hot tub,” Lonely Planet contributor Anita Isalska wrote in a review of Cradle Mountain Lodge in Tasmania, Australia. “Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be exhausted by long hikes in the national park and even I enjoyed Cradle Mountain’s dramatic weather. But the thrill of spotting echidnas and pademelons from the silky waters of a private hot tub is hard to forget.”