By Charles Kulander
The greatest hotels–those places that summon up the culture, history, and character of a destination–are the modern equivalent of a muse, inspiring writers and guests alike to look at the world from a new perspective. Whether you’re writing a postcard or the Great American Novel, here are eight hotels with a proven track record when it comes to jump-starting the imagination.
Strater Hotel: Durango, Colorado
Louis L’Amour wrote many of his Sackett novels in Room 222 ($219-$279), inspired by the honky-tonk noise of the Diamond Belle saloon rising up through the floorboards (a “noise issue” since remedied with soundproofing.) The saloon still has plenty of the same rollicking Wild West energy, not to mention a redemptive Sunday Gospel Brunch.
Mabel Dodge Luhan House: Taos, New Mexico
This adobe pueblo-styled retreat–once home to the Gertrude Stein of New Mexico–has hosted plenty of literati: Willa Cather, Robinson Jeffers, Aldous Huxley, and most notably, D.H. Lawrence, who was inspired to paint the windows of the bathroom next to Tony’s Bedroom ($125). Fill the soaking tub, and you can bathe in the writer’s mystic presence.
Eastern & Oriental Hotel: Penang, Malaysia
Noel Coward, Herman Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, and Somerset Maugham have all hung their pith helmets at the Pearl of the Orient. Its four mahogany Writer Suites ($380) make you want to pull out the old Royal manual typewriter, clack out a literary masterpiece, and ship it off on a steamer to your publisher in London. Afterward, retire to Farquhar’s Bar for a well-deserved gin and tonic.
Hotel Chelsea: New York, New York
The “Last Outpost of Bohemia,” this 127-year-old Midtown muse has a guest list that reads like a library shelf: Leonard Cohen, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, even Mark Twain. Yet it’s best known for the two Dylans: Thomas, who fell into a fatal coma in Room 205 after downing 18 whiskies, and Bob Zimmerman, who later stayed in the same room in homage to the man whose name he adopted. ($159-$262.)
Hotel Ambos Mundos: Havana, Cuba
Hemingway wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls in Room 511, now a shrine for Papa fanatics. His Remington typewriter and hand-written notes lay on the desk in the top-floor room he chose for its view of old Havana. Not much has changed here since the 1940s, when Papa declared this hotel “a good place to write,” which he did from 1932 to 1939. (US$63 to $162.)
Sofitel Santa Clara: Cartagena, Colombia
Young journalist Gabriel García Márquez reported the uncovering of a crypt at this hotel–once a 17th-century convent–where “a stream of living hair the intense color of copper spilled out…attached to the skull of a young girl,” inspiring him to write his 1995 novella, Of Love and Other Demons. Order a mojito at the El Coro bar to steel your nerves, then ask the barkeep to show you the crypt. ($382-$473.)
Hotel Baron: Aleppo, Syria
This, the oldest hotel in Syria, will have you spinning your own tales of intrigue.The peripatetic Agatha Christie wrote the beginning of “Murder on the Orient Express” in the Room 203, and T.E. Lawrence recouped in Room 202, a noisy, worn room overlooking the street, though evidently he left in haste. His unpaid bill is now on permanent display in the lounge. (From $45.)
Sofitel Metropole: Hanoi, Vietnam
The creaky 1901 classic–original hardwood floors abound–identifies with Graham Greene, who stayed here amidst the Cold War intrigue of 1951. His portrait hangs in the bar, where you can order his favorite cocktail (gin, dry vermouth, and cassis), before retiring to the Graham Greene Suite ($594), where he labored over his masterpiece, The Quiet American.
Charles Kulander is a contributing editor for National Geographic Traveler. His story about Barbados appeared in the Jan-Feb issue of the magazine.