“There’s a small hotel, with a wishing well, I wish that we were there together…” In 1936, the
renowned songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart wrote those words in a song entitled “There’s
A Small Hotel.” One claim has it that the inspiration for the song came from Rodger’s stay at the
El Encanto in Santa Barbara. Sadly, the aforementioned wishing well was replaced by a floral
fountain in the 1950s.
Fast-forwarding to the year 2022, small under-the-radar hotels are still a great getaway choice.
Today’s small hotels exude all the charm and class of the old-world Grande Dames with the
added comfort and amenities of the 21st century. However, what you won’t find in a fine small
hotel is the impersonal service, glitz, crowds, or noise you’ll find in some mega hostelries. Check
out these small hotels for a possible place on your go-to list.
BELMOND EL ENCANTO: The El Encanto of Rodgers and Hart‘s song fame was established
during the early 1900s as the El Encanto Hotel. This historic (1915) estate, tucked away on ten
lush acres with glittering Pacific views, has had many renovations and owners in its century-plus
lifetime. Orient-Express Hotels, the last owner, changed its name to Belmond El Encanto in
Perched high in the hills above the red tile roofs of Santa Barbara, the hotel is the place where
carriage trade from the East Coast mingled with the likes of Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and
Hedy Lamarr who motored up from Los Angeles to escape the rigors of stardom during the
Golden Age of Hollywood. It is the place where Gatsby-clad couples sipped champagne around
a wisteria-ringed lily pond and the place where my husband and I celebrated two of our
HOTEL LORD BYRON: Once a patrician villa, this small 5-Star hotel is close to the
bustling Eternal City’s main attractions. The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are within 15
minutes walking distance from the hotel. The hotel lends the opportunity to relax in a most
placid private environment in the exclusive Parioli quarter of Rome. This charming 1930s Art
Deco-style hotel radiates warmth and intimacy.
The exclusive Lord Byron provides the best of both worlds. It is a few steps from Rome’s
luxurious Villa Borghese Gardens, and a stroll in the park from Piazza di Spagna.
VILLA ST. MICHELE: In the Italian hill town Fiesole, monk-ey business ascends to new
heights at this 15th century monastery-turned-hotel, where guests sleep in luxurious rooms that
were once monk’s cells. With its Michelangelo-designed facade, this elegantly austere hostelry
offers much more than a room with a view. The cloistered elegance of this converted Franciscan
monastery offers one of the most luxurious small hotels in the world. The reception area, once
the chapel of the monastery, is resplendent with its crystal chandelier, raised marble altar and
two ancient Persian carpets that, in reality, are strategically placed to conceal the tombs of
twelve members of the Davanzati family. Precariously perched on a secluded Fiesole hillside,
Villa San Michele gives a drop-dead view of the rooftops and steeples of Florence, Italy.
HOTEL LE SAINT-PAUL: This charming 16th century hostelry, wedged between other
medieval buildings in the heart of the tiny village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France has served as
a hospital, a church, a clandestine meeting place, and a private home, in its former lives.
Located fifteen minutes from the Nice airport, between Cannes and Monaco, the 4-star Le
Saint-Paul is perched in the sky of the Cote d’ Azur. It is an enchanting spot at the foot of the
ramparts of St. Paul De Vence. (Be advised: Don’t try to drive within the winding, narrow walls of
the town. It’s Stressville.)
Enjoy a Le Saint-Paul Restaurant lunch on the hotel’s flower-decked terrace sheltered by the
ramparts of Saint-Paul. The chef will propose a delectable lunch, laced with decidedly
Mediterranean flavors. After lunch, stroll around the streets of this tiny village that was loved and
cherished by 19th and 20th century artists such as Chagall, Matisse and Picasso. Be sure to
visit Fondation Maeght, a museum that features the works of some of the biggest names in
20th-century European sculpture, including Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, and Joan
CHÂTEAU LA CHENEVIÈRE: An elegant hideaway set in the Normandy France
countryside, Château La Chenevière is a gracious 18th-century château surrounded by
attractive gardens and parkland. It is located close to historic Bayeux and Normandy Beach on
the austere northern coast of France. Now a five-star hotel, this refined 17th century manor
house, in an exquisite park-like setting, was fully restored in 1988. There are 29 rooms in
Chateau La Chenevière, each uniquely designed with a hint of Hollywood glamour. Deluxe
executive rooms come with theatrical open-sided marble bathrooms. Guests also enjoy a
heated outdoor pool, tennis court, inviting bar and gastronomic cuisine reflecting the flavors of
NIMB HOTEL: Hans Christian Anderson could not have imagined what would await him if
he traveled back to his ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen’ in 2009. With deep pockets, he
might have been lucky enough to snare one of the 13 rooms in this Moorish-style, palatial
accommodation known as the Nimb Hotel. One enters the Nimb across the street from the
Central Railway Station. Step out the opposite side, and you’ll find yourself in that Danish
fairyland known as Tivoli Gardens.
From the comfort of your room, with its open fire and huge bathroom with freestanding tub, you
can look out on Tivoli Gardens where some 270 million people have strolled since its founding in
1843. However, don’t worry about the noise factor from Tivoli Gardens. Aglow with tiny lights on
its white marble façade, the Nimb Hotel has airport-standard triple-glazed windows. The Nimb’s
Restaurant Herman might well be Copenhagen’s most elegant (and most expensive) eatery.
MERRION HOTEL: Opened in October 1997, Dublin Ireland’s magnificent Merrion Hotel
was created within four lovingly restored 18th Century terrace houses opposite the seat of the
Irish Government on Upper Merrion Street.
In fall and winter, the air in the gracious Drawing Room is filled with the scent of woodsmoke
and flowers. Log fires crackle and sunbeams shine upon Belgian tapestries, French chandeliers
and priceless Irish paintings. In spring and summer, the terrace is alive with ducks swimming to
the music of water splashing on the pebbles in the garden pools.
The scent of lilac and jasmine in the air drifts through the open windows of the Michelin 2-star
Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, the most renowned kitchen in Ireland. For what might well be
Dublin’s best Fish and Chips, skip the pubs and head for The Cellar Bar in the basement of The
Merrion Hotel. After hundreds of years of darkness and silence, the rough stone walls of Lord
Mornington’s wine vault have come to life in the hotel’s Cellar Bar. The bar’s arches echo with
ripples of warm laughter, and the amiable staff will “pull a proper pint” and teach you the
difference between Guinness Stout and Smithwick Ale, an Irish red ale-style beer… the most
consumed ale in Ireland.
When downing that proper pint, just say “Sláinte!” (Cheers!)
Janet Steinberg, winner of 55-travel writing awards, resides in Cincinnati but calls the world her
PHOTO CREDITS: Janet Steinberg