How To Choose A Truly Unique Boutique Hotel
The Joy of the Boutique Hotel
I love to travel, and when I go somewhere new, I prefer to stay in a place that reflects my actual location, not some generic Hilton or Marriott, Sofitel or Sheraton. We’re talking a timber-ceilinged room in Paris with dormer windows overlooking the Seine or a Balinese guesthouse outfitted in local textiles and crafts and with a private terrace overlooking rice paddies where I am served breakfast every morning (for only $15, no less!).
The thing is, it is hard to find distinctive, independent boutique hotels in far-flung locales — especially boutique hotels worth a visit. These hotels are small; they are local; they are independent. Boutique hotels don’t have multi-million-dollar marketing budgets and a centralized global booking system like Starwood has, pushing all its hotel brands — W, Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, etc.— from a single portal.
Independent hotels also lack the predictability or reliability of the global brands, for good or ill. Some local boutique hotels are amazing; they can immerse you in a local culture or convey a sense of place or offer unparalleled unique experiences. Other boutique hotels are dumps. At least with Sheraton and the global brand name hotels you know what standard or quality to expect in your hotel, the room, the public spaces and even the amenities.
The Internet is Your Friend
The Internet makes it easier to find a boutique hotel anywhere in the world, and it also can help you suss out if a hotel that catches your fancy is any good. The thing is, just as with boutique hotels in general, it hard to know if the review is any good or has any actual use for you.
Sure, you can go to review sites like Trip Advisor, Hotels.com, or even Kayak and Orbitz to read user reviews, but you have no way of knowing if the reviewer has stayed at the hotel, if they are like you at all and thus have similar needs or tastes, if the reviewer has an ax to grind or a friend to promote. And smaller hotels have fewer guests as a rule, so since only a small subset of travelers even bothers to write reviews, there simply may not be much information out there on a given boutique hotel.
In short, great as review sites are, and they are helpful, they aren’t the best place to find a unique boutique hotel in any city.
Happily, there are plenty of websites out there dedicated to helping travelers find the best boutique hotels, luxury hotels, design hotels, hip hotels, exclusive villas, resorts or spas.
Many boutique hotels are also luxury hotels, but there are boutique hotels available for any budget.
Here is a list of some of the best search sites to find the best quality boutique hotels in the world. Most offer the lowest listed price, but it’s always best to book directly on a hotel’s website since they will match the lowest listed room rate and more of the money you pay actually goes to the hotel rather than a third-party booking agency.
Websites that Specialize in Boutique Hotel Search
Tablet Hotels: This website specializes in boutique hotels globally. You can search according to very specific criteria to find the right independent hotel for you. It also has a great last minute boutique hotel deal finder tab on the site. All the hotels are independently reviewed by people known to Tablet, so there are standards here.
Luxique: This British website specializes in independent luxury hotel properties around the world. It also independently vets the hotels and the reviews.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith: This boutique hotel-finding website began as a place for couples to find charming indie hotels, though it now has a travel with kids filter and also is available to solo travelers. There are a variety of profiles to focus your search (safari, urban, honeymoon, wedding venues, etc.), and there’s a paid membership option for users who want special perks or discounts. Independently reviewed properties.
Quikbook: This site also specializes in indie and boutique deals, with more of a focus on deals. The interface is less classy and streamlined than most of these others; read: It doesn't look that nice.
Chic Retreats: A specialist in boutique a luxury villas, this site also has a section for budget boutique hotels for those travelers who want a unique experience but do not want to blow their budgets on a hotel room. You can filter your search by country or specific amenity, and this site has a paid membership option for those who want insider discounts.
Chic and Basic: For now, this site only features boutique properties in Spain and Holland, but it plans to grow and add other European destinations.
Great Hotels of the World: More of a marketing and centralized booking service for independent hotels, this website nevertheless can help users find independent, quality hotels wherever they may travel.