Home Away From Home: Europe’s Charming Boutique Hotels

Cindy Kaufman

Travel, whether for business or pleasure, is a gift.

Travel removes you from what your muscle memory knows so well and forces your brain to make new calculations. All your senses go to work, bringing new information that changes what you think about, how you view the world, and who you might be tomorrow. You hear new languages, see new smiles, eat new food, and forge new relationships – particularly with yourself.

Port House Antwerp by Zaha Hadid

The Port House in Antwerp, Belgium by Zaha Hadid

I am especially grateful when I get to travel for pleasure; I don’t think there’s anything that compares. When I travel, my foremost intention is to see new cities, immerse myself in new cultures, and have new experiences. Yet while my excitement comes from those experiences, one of my true delights is the discovery of my temporary home while I’m away. Without a doubt, perhaps the moment I anticipate most is waving the card key over the door lock, and opening a hotel room door for the very first time. The discovery of a new hotel guest room – my home for the next 48 hours or so – never ceases to delight. I get giddy every single time.

Hotel Design Matters

A key reason for my delight is that moment of being enveloped by an unfamiliar design, because design matters. The smaller journey that I experience inside the confines of a hotel is just as important to me as the larger journey out in the world.

Design is important because it not only shapes how I move, live and sleep in that space, but it’s also the result of the ideas that some individual, or group of people, thoughtfully crafted in order for me to have just such an experience. They made it their life’s work to create a beautiful, comfortable, and thoughtful interior, and designed all the details so I would have that exact experience while I lay my head there. It’s such an intimate relationship that I have with that designer – who I’ll never even know – but it makes me feel connected to a place and a time in a way that causes the entire trip to feel that much stickier.

Moments of Biophilia

On a recent trip to Europe, each time I opened a new hotel door, I gasped.

A recurring theme from city to city included the conspicuous use of biophilic design elements. Specifically, a great deal of wood: wood that had grown refined and soft from years of human touch, and wood that was raw and roughhewn. There was sophistication in this raw wood – at once both historic and modern – which made me feel grounded and connected to that place. The authenticity was palpable.

Another thoughtful touch that surprised me? The inclusion of fresh flowers everywhere – not only in public spaces, but in guest rooms as well. I can’t recall a time where I found so many fresh flowers in my guest room. Little else feels that special and personal to me, and it created an intimate connection to the hotel and its staff. How often in my day-to-day life do strangers bring me flowers? Not frequently enough, I realized.

I’ll let these photos do the rest of the talking; they will say more than I possibly can. I hope they will create the real context around these memorable design experiences.

Swiss Night in Zurich, Switzerland

The first night we stayed at Swiss Night by Fassbind, in Zurich, Switzerland. This unique little find was tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood in Zurich, just off the beaten path. Quirky and whimsical, this charming boutique hotel greeted me with a smile on its face and a Swiss chocolate bar. It must have known I was coming.

Swiss Night, Zurich, Switzerland

Unique Post Hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland

My next stop was the Unique Post Hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland. The experience was exactly what I hoped for, and still managed to surpass all my expectations. This warm and cozy boutique hotel sat at the foot of the Matterhorn and felt like my own private cabin in the Alps.

Unique Post Hotel, Zermatt, Switzerland

After being greeted with champagne at the reception desk and warmly whisked up to my snug, understated room, I declared that I never wanted to leave. Raw wood and stone lined the walls, a cowhide covered the floor, and the windows were always open to the fresh Alpine air.

1898 The Post in Gent, Belgium

But leave Zermatt we did. Who knew my biggest thrill was next to come?

1898 The Post, in Gent, Belgium: Located in an historic post office on a main platz, converted into the loveliest and most painstakingly detailed boutique hotel, this was the favorite of all stops on my journey. The rooms were a spectacular dark teal the color of night, and I felt as though I had found a precious stone in a river.

1898 The Post, Gent, Belgium

Gent was also a jewel of a town, and this hotel could not have been a more perfect complement to our time there. The lobby lounge was inviting and warm and the cocktails were neat. This is a hotel I would visit again and again.

The Pand Hotel in Bruges, Belgium

Our final stop was Bruges, Belgium, where we spent a few wonderful nights at The Pand Hotel. Sweet and more delicate than the 1898, this tiny boutique hotel had guest rooms that felt familiar (like your grandmother’s house) and a breakfast room that included a warm kitchen wall where our eggs were cooked at the hot stove. Every day, all the spaces were filled with fresh flowers, roaring fire, and friendly smiling faces.

The Pand Hotel, Bruges, Belgium

I’m not always this lucky when traveling. Trust me when I tell you that I’ve had experiences that I’d not care to repeat. But, you can’t deny the wondrous transformation that happens when you open your eyes, your mind and your heart to so many new experiences. We build human connections one moment at a time, and that’s why I leave home in the first place.

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