Quarter Finalists: Claire Wrathall straddles land and sea in five hotels that operate their own boats...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2012
Turkey Sumahan on the Water, Istanbul
As a trainee architect, the daughter of the Turkish-American owners of Sumahan drew up plans to convert their old Ottoman raki distillery into a 20-room hotel. The result is contemporary and cosy: most rooms have wood-burning stoves or open fires. It is perched on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, in the village of Cengelkoy, with stupendous views across the water from every room (binoculars are provided). Since it’s a long trek into the parts of the city most visitors want to see, the hotel operates a smart motor launch, which shuttles for no charge, morning and evening, to and from the Kabatas quay in Beyoglu on the European shore.
Doubles from €195, room only; sumahan.com
Croatia Villa Dubrovnik
A kilometre or so south of the medieval walled Old City, Villa Dubrovnik is a long, low Modernist building cantilevered out of a cliff overlooking the Adriatic. It was overhauled in 2010, and now every room has a large balcony with a view towards the city or to Lokrum—a wooded island that contains the world’s smallest sea, the Mrtvo More (Dead Sea). There is a lift that takes guests down to a man-made beach, or to the hotel’s handsome Venetian motoscafo (water taxi), which makes 11 daily complimentary round trips across the bay to the Old Harbour.
Doubles from €150, room only; villa-dubrovnik.hr
Italy Palazzina Grassi, Venice
Philippe Starck’s verging-on-surreal transformation of a 16th-century palace on the Grand Canal is a lesson on how to merge the contemporary with classic Venetian style. There are expanses of decorative bevelled mirrors, Murano chandeliers, and mask motifs on the lampshades redolent of Carnevale. The result is eccentric, romantic and glamorous—especially if you arrive from the airport in the hotel’s mahogany motor boat, built in 1962 in the Celli boatyard on Sant’Elena island in the lagoon.
Doubles from €385, room only; palazzinagrassi.it
Russia Grand Hotel Europe, St Petersburg
Built on 101 islands and crosshatched by canals, St Petersburg is as watery as Venice. Since 2009 Orient-Express’s Grand Hotel Europe on Nevsky Prospekt has kept an elegant €180,000 speedboat, Katarina. It is moored by the nearby Anichkov bridge on the Fontanka river, and available for guests to charter in order to explore the city’s web of waterways. It’s also the fastest way to travel to the imperial palace complex at Peterhof on the Gulf of Finland, which is otherwise at least an hour away by metro or road.
Doubles from 11,682 roubles (£246); boat charter from 7,000 roubles an hour);
Vietnam An Lam Saigon River, Ho Chi Minh City
This small resort hotel, which opened last winter, is set in tropical gardens on the banks of the muddy Saigon river on the edge of the city. Most of its 15 rooms and villas have river views and some have their own pools, though there’s also a large main pool, as well as a spa. If that speaks of sloth, the hotel is an equally good base from which to explore Ho Chi Minh City, thanks to its powerboat, which whisks guests to the Bach Dang pier in the heart of District 1 in just 15 minutes.
Doubles from $300 including breakfast; epikurean.ws
Claire Wrathall writes about travel for the Financial Times and the Guardian, and blogs at Arbitrix.net
Illustration Neil Gower