International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
If five-star hotels are a bit too mainstream for you, perhaps you should check out China's first carbon neutral hotel instead. URBN uses recyclable materials and low-energy products wherever possible, but it also calculates its complete carbon footprint – including staff commutes and delivery journeys – then offsets it by donating money to environmentally-friendly projects. If that does not impress you, the rooms surely will. They are beautifully designed with low furniture and sunken living areas exuding space. Bathtubs are located in the bedroom rather than in the bathroom, and the grey slate tiling gives the place an urban vibe.
With no website, no sign and hidden away down a small alleyway, The Nine is about as exclusive as it gets. Walk-in guests will be turned away, so you must phone ahead (86-21-6471-9950). Once booked, scout around for an alleyway marked Lane 355, off West Jianguo Road in the French Concession area of the city. Walk to the end of the alley, turn left and ring the bell by the large wooden gateway marked only with the number 9. Inside you will find a small, tranquil garden housing an old European-style villa with antique tables, unusual statues and six delicious double rooms, all different and all decorated exquisitely. Do not expect hotel facilities – there is no restaurant, spa or gym – but what you will get is bags of character, bundles of charm and an experience shared with just a lucky few.
Cheap and cheerful hotels
Le Tour Traveller's Rest, housed in a former towel factory, is Shanghai's best youth hostel and leaves most of the city's budget accommodation hanging out to dry. To get there, you have to pass a row of splendid shikumen (traditional stone-gate houses) , and the old-Shanghai textures continue once inside, with red-brick interior walls and reproduced stone gateways above doorways to rooms which are simple, but smart. The communal areas are filled with fun: table tennis here, a pool table there, and there is a fine rooftop bar which doubles as the hostel's restaurant.
Youth hostels do not come much more charming than the Koala Garden House. Even the lobby – which doubles as a chic wi-fi cafe – is a joy to be in, with high ceilings and brightly painted walls. But it is the rooms, all slightly different, that really stand out. Admittedly on the cosy side, they are beautifully decorated with cute furniture, flower-patterned wallpaper and gathered-up curtains, and all come with a wall-mounted flat-screen TV and a funky little bathroom. The two best rooms have private balconies overlooking the quaint, pedestrianised tourist strip of Duolun Road.