Eight Hotels for Overcoming Writer’s Block

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.

Photo by Noreen Perrin

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.)

Photo courtesy of Sofitel Santa Clara

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.


  1. Erik at the Hotel Metropol
    September 24, 2011, 11:33 am

    I just posted a new spot on my web site’s travel forum about the Hotel Metropol in Russia. In its prime, the Metropol was frequently visited by Leo Tolstoy, who purportedly wrote some early “War and Peace” notes there. Shaw and Brecht also visited often.

    Pasternak didn’t write “Dr. Zhivago” at the hotel, but some of the scenes in David Lean’s movie based on the novel were filmed there. In decline until the Soviet thaw, the hotel has been faithfully and beautifully restored to its former Art Nouveau elegance. I think it qualifies for a spot on your list.

  2. The Turkish Life
    July 24, 2011, 8:29 am

    Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” was inspired by her stays in Istanbul’s Pera Palace Hotel, recently reopened after a high-end renovation.

    Ernest Hemingway stayed at the nearby Büyük Londra while covering Turkish politics in 1922 for the Toronto Daily Star. The hotel retains some down-at-the heels charm, especially in its quirky lobby bar.


  3. RyanInColombia
    July 19, 2011, 12:08 pm

    The Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena is a stunning hotel, and would cure anyone’s writer’s block even without the GGM backstory. It truly is a beautiful place, one of the best hotels I’ve ever been in.


    Ps sorry if this posts twice, I posted and it didn’t show…

  4. RyanInColombia
    July 19, 2011, 10:34 am

    The Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena is amazing even without the back story. Truly one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve seen in my life, and in a beautiful location.


  5. Alicia Kan
    July 18, 2011, 6:42 pm

    Surely the Somerset Maugham suite at the Bangkok Oriental merits a place in the top 10?
    Having contracted malaria before arriving in Siam in 1923, Maugham was very nearly kicked out of the Oriental. He rallied enough to write a story that appeared in his book, The Gentleman in the Parlour.

  6. Clint Rowley
    July 18, 2011, 5:23 pm

    These look like excellent hotels for clearing your head. I think it would be great to create your own rental get away. Make a nice bed and breakfast out of a property and you could earn some extra income.