The more unusual a hotel, the more fun for kids and Europe is a fertile hunting ground for novel and often quite insane places to stay the night.
Loop Head Lightkeeper’s House
Stunning 360° cliff-edge views of the spectacular rugged west coast with its seabirds, wildflowers and Atlantic surf populated by seals are what you get from this 19th-century lighthouse cottage in County Clare. Sleeping five, it’s beautiful, dramatic and remote (there’s no mains water supply; Kilabha village, with a post office, shop and pub, is 5km away).
There are several other lightkeeper’s houses offered by the Irish Landmark Trust, plus an octagonal lighthouse (with 109 steps up the kitchen!), an old schoolhouse, and a medieval towerhouse,
French châteaux don’t come much more atmospheric than this property sleeping up to 10 in the Pas-de-Calais, a short drive from the northern ferry ports of France, with its focal points being an open fireplace and vast floor-to-ceiling windows in the double-height main living room; a mezzanine dining room with a long table like something out of a movie set; and a pool table and library. In summer you can dine on the terrace in front of the château, or enjoy a picnic in the five acres of gardens, which include a small lake.
Stylish boutique hotels of the kind Paris is so good at are wasted on kids, so bring them to stay in one of these three wild and very cheesy apartments in the fleamarket district La Porte de Clignancourt. In Le Loft (for up to 5), kids can sleep in a Citroen 2CV; Le Studio (for 3) takes the moon as inspiration and is largely silver; L’Appart (up to 5) has rooms so blindingly pink you’ll need to sleep in sunglasses, plus a Haribo boy full of sweets.
Moulin de la Salmonière
Sleeping 15-22, this restored watermill in the Morbihan region of southern Brittany comes complete with a turning millwheel. There’s an indoor pool, sauna and billiards room, and the large grounds include lawns, two small lakes and a stream with private fishing. Family-friendly sandy beaches and resorts are within a 25min drive.
Le Prince Noir
At the other end of the taste spectrum, this wonderful and utterly unique cave-like former artist’s dwelling in Les Baux de Provence in the South of France offers B&B in three rooms for up to 5. The views over the ruined medieval castle and surrounds define the word ‘breathtaking’.
One of the wackiest, most wonderful hotels on the planet according to many of its visitors, La Balade des Gnomes near Durbuy offers you the chance to sleep in a Trojan Horse (fully armed if you feel like it), try out a troll’s home complete with running stream and goldfish, hover above the lunar landscape in a UFO or sleep on a lake with a mermaid. It has been built from local materials and aims to offer an imaginative retreat to nature rather than a luxurious night’s kip. It’s not expensive and located next door to the owner’s very nice restaurant (conveniently) and is (in my opinion) a unique, eccentric, eco triumph.
Cuevas Pedro Antonio De Alarcón
These prehistoric troglodyte caves near Grenada have been done up beautifully and feature all mod-cons, including Jacuzzis in some. They differ in size for different sizes of families. The site has an outdoor pool, and restaurant and a laundry.
Controversy Tram Hotel
This zany B&B accommodation in an old train compartment or trams (one a ‘little family tram’ specially designed for parents with young kids) is just 40km but a world away from Amsterdam. Farm animals complete the surreal feel.
Jumbo Stay Hostel
Just 15 minutes away from Arlanda airport near Stockholm, this is an airport hostel par excellence – it’s actually set inside a jumbo jet, where you’ll find 27 quirky but cool rooms, most with three beds and flat screen TVs showing (should you desire) flight departure times. The prize suite is the deluxe one in the cockpit, perfect for two older kids; another option is the family rooms with four bunks.
Advertising itself as ‘Sweden’s most primitive hotel’, Kolarbyn 2hrs from Stockholm offers small, grass-clad forest huts set deep in the forest where you can spend your days taking moose safaris or wolf-howling trips (minimum ages 15 and 12 respectively), or an a Troll Family Adventure including a forest hike and fairytales by the fire.
This stunning contemporary hotel is set in deep forest an hours drive away from the nearest airport (Kallax) where you can be picked up by snowmobile in winter. The tree houses have all been designed by leading Nordic architects and include a mirrored cube, ‘the Dragonfly’, the Birds Nest, the UFO and others. When you are not floating above the trees in your birds nest, you can eat at the restaurant, kayak down the river, go on a husky ride or explore the woods with your overwhelmed kids. The tree houses are high off the ground, so maybe not for the smaller children, but an amazing experience for older ones. The UFO accommodates a family of 5 in two separate bedrooms.
Open Nov–April each year, this amazing, other-worldly, beautiful and – of course – freezing cold place at Kemi by the Gulf of Bothnia turns into the Lumi Linna (Snow Castle). Rooms, some with up to five beds, have thick sleeping bags. Kids are VIPs here: there’s a busy program of events, a snow tube slide and a merry-go-round.
Kakslauttanen Hotel and Igloo Village
Situated in Finnish Lapland, this place offers the choice of log cabins for up to 10 people or snow or futuristic glass igloos for up to 5. There are husky, reindeer and snowmobile trips, the Aurora Borealis (if you’re lucky), plus the all-year-round Santa’s Resort.
Propeller Island City Lodge
A ‘museum to spend the night’ or ‘habitable work of art’, this inventive place in central Berlin is a great place to bring teens. Rooms, in which everything has been made and nothing bought, include a cell (complete with in-room loo) and a coffin room (you sleep in them). Room 42, the biggest, has a double bed plus two cages on stilts – perfect for kids!
Atelier Sul Mare
Another ‘art hotel’, the Atelier takes itself a bit more seriously than Propeller Island, but it’s a great place to bring older kids, who will appreciate its quirky beauty and its location right by the beach in a delightful part of Sicily.
Rogner-Bad Blumau Hotel and Spa
Another art hotel, this fantastic rainbow-coloured spa near Graz in the south-east looks like Gaudi-meets-Disney on acid. Children are very welcome, with special rates and apartments with kitchenettes for up to 4, plus kids’ swimming courses.
Almost too good to be true, this 16th-century ancestral home of Count Tibor Kalnoky, who returned to Transylvania after his family’s exile to run cottages for guests, is also an ecological retreat supported by Prince Charles, who owns one of the cottages. It’s in a beautiful area at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, and guests are brought to the estate by horse and cart. See Andrew Eames’ feature on a family stay at Kalnoky Castle.
This ramshackle but rather special place in Olympos on the Mediterranean coast is a mass of charming treehouses, bungalows, dorm rooms and a campsite, with two bars and a seafood restaurant and snack bar. It is much loved, with a charismatic owner and a friendly backpacker vibe.
- Great Green Places in Europe (allengeorgina.wordpress.com)