Do you like your hotels with character? Does staying in a converted jail or an old hospital building give you a thrill like no other? Come on over to the UK, because you’re going to love Malmaison. Their 13 hotels dotted across major English and Scottish cities all have their own quirks – in fact the only thing that’s uniform across the brand are the mega-sized toiletries that you’re encouraged to take home, and the excellent deals (spend £75 in the restaurant and get a room for £25 is a regular Sunday night thing). Sister chain Hotel du Vin is slightly posher but arguably not as fun.
TOP PICK: Malmaison Oxford, in the city’s old jail – you’ll be staying in the old cells. Rates from £89 ($150).
SPAIN: ROOM MATE
Ignore the dodgy marketing schtik (each hotel has a human name and asks “do you want to sleep with me tonight?”), because Room Mate is a superb collection of 11 hotels in Spain, plus a few others dotted around the world from Buenos Aires to Istanbul. Each one has its own character, but comfort and pizzazz come as standard, as do breakfast, free WiFi and staff who actually seem to want to help out.
TOP PICK: Room Mate Mario, the cheapest property in Madrid has worryingly low rates, but don’t worry – it’s actually (in our opinion) nicer than Laura, its more expensive neighbor. From €59 ($79).
The name sounds uber-chainy, but Starhotels is actually a family business, based in Florence since 1980. They’re a high caliber collection of four and five star properties: 20 in Italy, plus two in London, one in New York and one in Paris. Expect crisp, boutique-style rooms – no Italian-style heavy drapes or satin walls here.
TOP PICK: E.c.ho Milan is modern, stylish, one of the city’s first eco hotels – and keeps out of the obscene rates battle that Milan’s lux hotels are constantly engaged in. From €141 ($189).
You probably already know about the Dutch capsule hotel chain, but CitizenM deserve a place on this list because they're so much better than other capsule hotels, they take design seriously and rates stay low. Currently they have six hotels in Europe (London, Paris, Rotterdam, Glasgow, and two in Amsterdam) but (hopefully) the only way is up for these guys, who are genuinely reinventing budget travel.
TOP PICK: CitizenM Paris – it may be at Charles de Gaulle airport, but its astonishing rates make it a brilliant choice for a well-connected citybreak, too. Rooms from €67 ($90).
TURKEY: HOUSE HOTELS
The only problem with House Hotels is that they’re limited to Istanbul. Other than that, they’re flawless: four completely different properties scattered throughout the city, offering a totally different style, atmosphere and experience in each. Istanbul is possibly the European capital of independent hotels, but this is one time you should consider a chain in this city.
TOP PICK: House Hotel Bosphorus – just 26 rooms in an Ottoman mansion right on the shore of the Bosphorus. A little far out of town, but you won’t go into town with these views. From €157 ($210).
ALL OVER: MÖVENPICK
Mövenpick is the red-headed stepchild of the hotel chain world – they always seem to slip your mind when planning a trip. Which is a shame, because the Swiss-based, Northern Europe-heavy company is light years away from its boring businessy reputation. Mövenpick resorts are all quiet luxury and understated style, and even the city digs are a cut above other global chains. Most importantly, they have own-brand ice cream.
TOP PICK: The Dead Sea resort in Jordan is particularly lush, resort-wise. Hamburg for a city hotel – in a converted water tower, set in its own park, it’s the most interesting hotel in Hamburg. From €157 ($210).