I know a guy who belongs to a hotel rewards program not so much for the room upgrades and the free nights, but because when he wakes in the middle of the night to stumble to the bathroom, he knows the way. Whether he’s in Manhattan or Peoria, Illinois, the room layouts at this to-remain unnamed chain are identical. It’s familiar. It’s just like home.
I, on the other hand, travel because I long to step out of my comfort zone. I want a new experience, a change of scenery. I want to be inspired.
Which is why I recently fell in love with Destination Hotels, a collection of boutique hotels as diverse as the regions and states in which they’re located. Sure, you get rewards, but that’s beside the point.
Booking one of Destination’s 40 properties is a guaranteed portal into what makes your vacation destination unique. Local food, local architecture and local culture are all on stunning display with each property being deeply-rooted in its place.
Who cares if you can find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Instead, it’s an invitation to leap out of the sea of sameness, to wake up, to start living.
On a recent trip to Virginia and Washington D.C., I was lucky enough to sample three Destination properties. Each was as different as Cinderella and her step-sisters.
I started in Richmond, Virginia, whose revitalized neighborhoods, historic townhouses, and “Give me liberty!” pedigree earned it a spot on Inc. magazine’s 2015 list of best places to start a business. I stayed at Quirk Hotel, a brand new art hotel, in Broad Street’s emerging arts district. It debuted in September (The first guest was Daniel Radcliffe, who was in town filming the indie flick, Imperium), fashioned from the 1916 J.B. Mosby and Co. dry goods store.
Opened by the owners of Quirk Gallery, the hotel has an artist in residence (I took an art class with her), an on-site gallery and light, airy rooms with custom beds made from the original building’s salvaged floor joists, pink ice buckets and artwork from local artists. No two rooms are the same.
There’s a chef’s garden for the vegetables and herbs served in the hotel’s Maple and Pine restaurant and the lobby espresso bar, made from reclaimed pine beams, serves a special custom blend beneath a giant canvas of ocean waves made from used coffee cup lids.
Next stop was Lansdowne Resort in the heart of D.C. wine country. Set on 500 acres and bordering the Potomac River, this AAA four-diamond hotel has three golf courses, a 12-000-foot spa and four restaurants. But that’s not what makes it unique. Lansdowne is home to a million honeybees. You’ve heard of Burt’s Bees? Lansdowne has Britt’s Bees. Beekeeper Britt Thomas, president of Loudoun Beekeeper Association, produces a yearly average of 250 pounds of honey that the resort uses for special dishes like Stonewall Tavern’s honey habanero ribs and signature drinks like Honey Brew, a Prohibition-style cocktail with lavender-infused Lansdowne honey, lemon juice, and wheat beer.
The resort offers regular wine tours of Loudoun County’s 45 wineries and 20 craft breweries. The rooms, in fact, are being renovated to reflect the proud wine and food tradition of northern Virginia with such touches as cork chairs and libraries chock-full of local wine and foodie books.
Last stop on my tour of Destination Hotel properties was Embassy Row Hotel, a D.C. landmark that just got a sassy new facelift. Both its rooftop bar and Station Kitchen & Cocktails, popular hangouts for D.C. hipsters, serves up artisanal drinks, small plates, and an alluring history that started in 1970 when a zoning exemption allowed the nine-story modern structure to be built among two- and three-story Victorian townhouses and mansions.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, 86-year-old daughter of Teddy Roosevelt who lived next door, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. The hotel’s notoriety only grew two years later when a thief made off with $10,000 worth of jewelry from Jeanette Rockefeller, heir to the Rockefeller family fortune.
Whether sitting in the suspended swing chairs or posing in front of Colette Miller’s angel wings painted on the hotel facade, I could imagine earlier days when the hotel hosted Prince Philip and Estee Lauder and Oliver North soon after he was fired from the National Security Council for orchestrating arms sales to support the Contras in Nicaragua.
No wonder the hotel has made the plot line of many a bestseller including Delta Force and Rick Moody’s new book, Hotels of North America.
Today, Embassy Row is what they call an “adult playground,” with foosball and ping pong tables, colorful graffiti, and classes in making your own Rock and Rye, a citrusy cordial invented many years ago by saloon bartenders to smooth out the bite of America’s first whisky.
So three properties, one collection, as different as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. I can’t wait to visit the rest.