The best places I've ever stayed

Everyone always wants to know the worst. They want the shock-horror stories of bedbugs and cockroaches and thieves and mould.

But the truth is, most accommodation around the world really isn't that bad – and with the benefit of legions of other travellers posting reviews online there's no excuse for ending up somewhere terrible.

Most places you stay, from the backpacker to the fancy, are pretty unremarkable. They pass by as mere places to lay your head. They're not bad, they're not great – they're just there.

But there are exceptions. You'll occasionally luck onto a hostel or campsite or hotel that will stick in your mind as being truly amazing, worthy of the trip alone. These are mine.

(And yes, I realise they don't all fit the strict "backpacker" classification – I've tried to go with the cheaper places I've enjoyed, but a couple border on the once-in-a-lifetime. You won't regret the expense though.)

Red Tree House, Mexico City, Mexico

Anyone who's going anywhere near Mexico, I tell them to go to the Red Tree House. I'm not sure what it is about the place – the super-friendly hosts, the free wine and snacks in the evenings, the amazing breakfasts, the clean rooms, the Labrador named Abril – but it's the best experience I've had anywhere in the world. It's almost worth going to "the DF" for this place alone.

Bounty Island, Fiji

Bounty Island is not fancy – it's basic. And it has a tacky name. And its staff work on island time. But for those who want a cheap, pared-back stay in the stereotypical version of paradise you'd do well to find better. Beachside bungalows? Check. Palm trees? Check. Bar on the sand? Check. Huge Fijian guys sitting around in loud shirts drinking kava? Check. And all without that schoolies vibe you get on some island hostels.


Casa del Mundo, Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

You can only get there by boat, which just adds to the romance. Casa del Mundo is a Spanish-colonial-style house set on the steep shores of Lake Atitlan, with views over the water to three towering volcanoes on the other side. Meals are eaten family-style around a big table. Days are spent hiking through the hills, swimming in the lake or lazing around on chairs taking in the views. I'd go back there tomorrow.

Riad Louna, Fez, Morocco

I had a booking in Fez, but it fell through, leaving me at the mercy of the pre-pubescent touts who flood the medina each afternoon in search of clueless, disorganised prey. So I took a punt, rounded a few corners, went down an alley and knocked on the big wooden door at Riad Louna. Inside I found one of those perfect little Moroccan oases, a huge old building with tiled-mosaic walls around a central courtyard, and rooms with huge high ceilings and four-poster beds. And a shower! It's the little things...

Palmwag Lodge, Palmwag, Namibia

Like Bounty Island, this isn't on here for its spectacular facilities – it's here for the location. Palmwag is in north-western Namibia, which is also known as The Middle Of Nowhere. The campsite has warm showers (first in a few days for most visitors), tap beer (first in a few weeks for most visitors), and a local elephant nicknamed Sebastian who roams the riverbed next door feeding on the greenery. Wake up in the morning and you're staring into his beady eyes. It's one of those can't-believe-I'm-really-here places.

The Peninsula, Beijing, China

I decided to splash out on the Peninsula. I was travelling with my girlfriend on the Trans-Mongolian, and figured that after six days without a shower a little luxury would be money well spent. And it really was awesome – the sort of brownie-points collector that every boyfriend hopes for (there's a TV in the bathroom!). Trouble is, when I booked, the room was going to cost $200. Expensive you might say, but worth it. By the time we arrived, however, the exchange rate had altered dramatically, and one night at the Peninsula wound up costing me $400. I checked into a hostel the next day.

Camping Alba d'Oro, Venice, Italy

If you read the reviews online, you'll see that most people consider Camping Alba d'Oro to be a raging pile of crap. And I understand what they mean; it's really not the nicest. But there's just something about the place. I used to work for a tour company that stayed at Alba d'Oro, and the reason it makes my list is because I've had some of the best nights of my life at its overcrowded, overpriced, backpacker-filled bar. On every tour, whether it was drunken hook-ups or broken limbs, you always knew that something would happen at Alba d'Oro.

Phinda Game Reserve, South Africa

You might not be able to afford to go to Phinda right now, but trust me: start saving. If you've ever had misty-eyed fantasies of African safari adventure, this is how you want to do it. It's a private game reserve, so when you're buzzing around in an open-topped Jeep looking for the Big Five, you're essentially doing it alone. Only with your own guide, and tracker. Plus the accommodation is, let's say, a small step up from Alba d'Oro.

Where's the best place you've ever stayed?