Daring to be different: top 10 weirdest hotels

Many a jaded frequent traveller has been known to remark that after a while, the world's large hotels all seem the same - only the views from the windows change.

But some hostelries dare to be different.

The international travel company TripAdvisor recently published its Top Ten "Weird Hotels," which includes one set up in Turkish caves and others in a converted Victorian prison in England, in Thai rice barges and inside a 9m-tall wooden dog (with a toilet shaped like a fire hydrant) in the United States.

Australia failed to make the list, despite such icons as the 250m-long Gagudju Crocodile Hotel at Jabiru in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, and the underground Desert Cave Hotel at the sun-scorched opal-mining town of Coober Pedy in South Australia.

(Photos: Check out some of the world's weirdest and most wonderful hotels)

Here are TripAdvisors' Top Ten weirdies, with background summaries from other sources:

1. Gamisaru Cave Hotel, Ayvla Village, Cappadocia, Turkey.

Set in a restored 1,000-year-old Byzantine monastic retreat built into a cliff over a stream, the 25-room "troglodyte" hotel combines marble bathrooms and other modern facilities with what has been called "a spiritual feel."

Remains of frescoes hundreds of years old can be seen at a nearby dirt-floored church, and the Middle Anatolian area has hundreds of volcanic pillars from which people carved homes.

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It's certainly photogenic - from the Gamisaru's terrace near sundown, a lone shepherdess may be seen leading her flock.

2. Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa, Dubai.

Lying amid 25 square kilometres of classical desert landscape a 45-minute drive from ultramodern Dubai City, this resort was designed to reflect a Bedouin Arab encampment.

Guest areas are decorated with desert artefacts and antiquities, while each of the 30 sumptuous suites has its own chilled pool.

There are views of the distant Hajar Mountains which can be visited as one of the diversions for guests among which are camel- and horse-riding, 4WD trips over sand dunes, falconry, archery and nature walks.

Local fauna include wandering gazelles and scimitar-horned Arabian oryx.

3. Silken Puerta America, Madrid, Spain.

This unique hotel in central Madrid was co-designed by 18 renowned international architects, among them Ushida Finlay, Zha Hadid, Arata Isozai, Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel and Jon Pawson.

An architectural showcase, here are 342 rooms over 12 floors, each of the latter designed in different materials, colours and shapes.

For instance, the decor for Floor 2 was inspired by the works of the late Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida (a friend of Foster), while Floor 7 features curved walls and a circular bed, with everything coloured red or black.

From the hotel, guests enjoy panoramic views of the city and of mountains on the horizon.

4. Hotel de Glace, Quebec, Canada.

Here is one of a number of seasonal winter hotels around the northern hemisphere which are made entirely (and annually) from ice.

Located in the village of Ste (Ste) Catherine de la Jacques Cartier, 35km from Quebec City, the hotel offers 34 suites and rooms and will hold its tenth season from January 4 to April 4 in 2010,

There's an ice cafe, a ice wedding chapel and an ice bar - with drinks served in the bar in glasses also carved from ice - while in the ice-walled bedrooms guests snuggle down in sleeping bags on beds of ice.

Rebuilding the hotel takes five weeks, 500 tons of ice and 15,000 tons of snow.

For non-overnighters, public tours are available daily from 10am costing $C16 ($A18.25) for adults, $C14 ($A16) concession and $C8 ($A9.10) for children.

5. Malmaison Oxford Castle, England

The castle in historic Oxford dates back to 1071 AD and was used as a prison from Victorian times until it closed in 1996; two basement cells with iron bars and 7.5cm-thick wooden doors remain.

Guests can lock themselves in for fun or just for the experience and photo opportunities, and are released "on good behaviour."

The Malmaison boutique hotel chain took over the prison and now offers 94 lavishly-furnished rooms, some of them converted from sets of three of the old cells.

The extensive renovations were assisted by a 3.5 million Stg ($A7.15 million) grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The castle has been described as "Oxford mixing the historic with the modern." .

6. Tea Factory, Sri Lanka

Here is another example of a historic building being converted into an appealing hotel, on a 25 acre (10.12 acre hectares) estate at an altitude of 2,200m in the misty mountains of the Nuwara Eliya region of Sri Lanka.

It maintains the ambience of the long-gone colonial era - tea-growing and packing began here in the days of the British Raj in the 1800s.

The hotel's restaurant is in the old sifting and grading room, and the bar used to be the packing room.

The four-star, 57-room hotel is run on a "green" philosophy, with energy-efficient lighting and power cut-off switches, plus quality protection and noise control

Guests can visit surrounding tea plantations, the mountains and their waterfalls, a wildlife sanctuary and a national park, trekking or travelling by horseback or bicycle.

7. Huvafen Fushi, Maldive Islands

Voted last year to be the world's best beach resort by Harpers Bazaar Travel Guide, Huvafen Fushi is on North Male atoll in these Indian Ocean islands.

What the luxurious Huvafen Fushi and other plus premises are doing in a list of the world's Top Ten Weird Hotels, can only be explained by TripAdvisor - the resort is described on its own website as "a magnificently sensual escape with paradise," and it's not much of an exaggeration.

After a 30-minute speedboat ride from Male International Airport, guests are met by their own "thakuru" (butler) and escorted to one of the 43 bungalows and pavilions with their own courtyards plunge-pools, waterfall showers.and decks with day-beds dining tables and chairs.

Activities include big-game fishing and more relaxed "sunset fishing," diving and other water sports from its pristine lagoon beach.

8. Imperial Boat House Hotel, Koh Sumui, Thailand

Staying aboard an old rice barge may not be everyone's idea of five-star comfort but the 34 teakwood vessels (on dry land) that give this resort its name have been transformed into luxurious suites.

The Imperial also offers another 134 suites in eight low-rise accommodation wings.

It's right on Cheong Mon Beach and close to several others on an island of coconuts and forested hills.

Apart from two swimming pools and various water sports, the island has photogenic waterfalls and rock formations - and a massive seated Buddha.

9. Ariau Jungle Towers, Brazil

A boat trip through the Amazonian rainforests must be the ambition of many a traveller, and 60km northwest of Manaus, capital of Brazil's vast Amazonas state, are the extraordinary Ariau Jungle Towers.

The region's largest eco-friendly resort comprises eight towers with 268 rooms, built at treetop height on the banks of the Rio Negro, with more than 8km of elevated catwalks.

Conde Nast Traveler (Traveler) magazine listed it as one of "25 extraordinary places worth that extra mile".

The magazine summed up: "Imagine an hotel built among Amazon treetops with catwalks leading 21.4m up from a circular dining room of polished tropical woods, a bar like an eagle's nest, a honeymoon suite 30.5m up a mahogany tree - and friendly monkeys, macaws, sloths and parrots scampering and dangling all over the place."

Again, not weird, but wonderful.

10. Dog Bark Park Inn, Idaho, USA

If you ever happen to be on Highway 95 in north-central Idaho, the sun is setting and you need somewhere to stay the night, look out for a wooden beagle nearly 10m tall near the little Idaho town of Cottonwood (population 924).

Inside "the world's biggest beagle" (named Sweet Willy) are two connecting rooms, one with a queen-size bed, plus stairs to a loft where two futon mattresses are available.

A bathroom lies - where else? - under Sweet Willy's rear-end - while outside is a restroom aptly disguised as a 3.5m-high fire hydrant!

Chainsaw artists Dennis and Frances Conkin, whose carvings of dogs and other animals decorate the rooms and are sold in their shop nearby, created Sweet Willy as a B&B guesthouse in 2003 to attract more business than did their 3.8m-tall beagle pup named Toby, which stood outside their store.

And it worked.

(Photos: Check out some of the world's weirdest and most wonderful hotels)

For a wealth of information and reviews on these resorts and hotels, just "google" their names on your computer.

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