What is a boutique hotel?

The word ‘boutique’ may conjure up images of exclusive, fashionable clothing stores that sell designer names and vintage pieces. However, the word can also be applied to smaller independent hotels (and spas!) that offer a bespoke guest experience and which are located in upmarket areas. These hotels tend to attract guests who are looking for something extra special, such as personalised service and a chic ambience. In this guide, we take a closer look at boutique hotels and suggest a few of our favourites.

Difference between a 'standard' hotel and a boutique hotel

Boutique hotels are generally characterised by their compact size, with some quite similar in nature to upscale B&Bs, offering as few as 10 guestrooms. However, anything up to about 100 rooms can still be considered boutique. Alternatively, it’s not uncommon for non-boutique hotels to feature hundreds, even thousands, of guestrooms. At the time of writing, the largest hotel in the world was the First World Hotel & Plaza in Malaysia with no less than 7,351 rooms! The Royal National Hotel in London takes the UK’s top slot with 1,630 rooms.

Boutique properties are also usually independent hotels. This means they are not part of a chain, such as Hilton or Radisson. However, there are exceptions to this, with several ‘boutique-only’ chains. One example is Hyatt-owned Alila, which operates several overseas boutique hotels. A UK-based example is the Artist Residence hotel group, which features characterful properties in London, Brighton, Oxford and Cornwall.

Because of their limited size, boutique hotels can focus more on delivering a bespoke guest experience. There may be less choice on-site, in terms of the number of bars, restaurants and range of amenities, but what is available will be first-class. Indeed, as they only serve a limited number of guests at any one time, boutique hotels rely on repeat business and excellent word-of-mouth, which means they aim to impress. From luxurious toiletries and in-room coffeemakers to high-quality furnishings and individual décor, the best boutique hotels go the extra mile to ensure you return time and time again.

When it comes to location, boutique hotels are often found in the heart of the city, close to the attractions and nightlife, making them ideal for a swanky weekend away! Again, there are exceptions, with boutique hotels found in some stunning country and coastal locations.

Boutique properties generally feature smart lobby and communal areas, as well as ‘destination’ drinking and dining spaces that attract a discerning clientele. They are the ‘in’ places to be seen and a magnet for people searching for a fashionably intimate hospitality experience.

It goes without saying that the level of service at boutique hotels extends to the spa. Again, the compact size ensures personal attention and a more secluded and exclusive ambience in which to relax.

What can you expect at a boutique hotel?

So, what are the kinds of services, amenities and experiences you can look forward to at a boutique hotel? While the whole point of a boutique property is exclusivity and individuality, here are just a few things you might find:

Historic buildings: Many boutique hotels are housed in listed buildings that have been given a contemporary makeover while retaining their period charm. Along with a rich history, the uniqueness of these buildings translates to the hotel’s accommodation and communal spaces. An example is The Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh, which used to function as a working publishing house.

Cool bars and trendy cafés: One feature of many boutique hotels is versatile, fashionable and welcoming areas in which to enjoy a drink or bite to eat. From AA rosette-awarded restaurants to all-day coffee shops and upscale bars with awesome cocktails, boutique hotels take their food & drink seriously! An example is The Cow Hollow Hotel in central Manchester, which features a chic and well-stocked cocktail bar, with complimentary trays of Prosecco & antipasti.

One-of-a-kind interiors: Along with individual exteriors, boutique hotels often feature meticulous interior design in the rooms and the communal areas. From traditional elegance to clean modernism, boutique properties are bold and distinctive. An example is The Roseate Reading (see below), which features an opulent interior that includes a chandelier with 86,000 Italian glass beads, and luxury rooms with original artwork and other bespoke touches.

Quirky features: Boutique hotels are (or should be) true originals, offering guests something that simply can’t be found elsewhere. Indeed, with so many chain hotels located all over the country and the world offering a uniform hospitality experience, boutique hotels must find ways to stand out from the crowd. An example is The Old Railway Station in West Sussex, which is housed in a converted 1892 train station, with eight rooms that have been converted from Pullman railway carriages.

SpaSeekers boutique-style hotels and spas

If you’re ready to sample the ‘boutique’ experience for yourself, here are just a few of our favourite boutique luxury spa hotels:

Bristol Harbour Hotel & Spa, Bristol: Located in the heart of the vibrant southwest city, this luxury boutique hotel is housed in a stunning Grade II listed building. Inside, you’ll find a chic contemporary feel and a wonderful spa, with facilities that include a heated swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool and sauna. Book now.

Roseate House London, Paddington, Greater London: Boasting a prime location near to Paddington train station and lovely Hyde Park, this fine boutique hotel extends across three restored 19th-century townhouses. The hotel promises both charm and luxury, while the upmarket Aheli Spa offers a haven in the heart of the capital. Book now.

The Roseate Reading, Reading, Berkshire: This superb stately townhouse hotel, another in the Roseate group, promises a stay to remember, blending historical detail with bespoke design. Located in the city centre, across the road from peaceful Forbury Gardens, this stylish boutique property provides elegance, hospitality and a chic Aheli Spa. Book now.

St Michaels Resort, Falmouth, Cornwall: As we noted, not all boutique hotels are city centre-based. This wonderful spa hotel enjoys a prime coastal position close to stunning Gyllyngvase Beach. The town of Falmouth is also a short stroll away. We offer a range of luxurious spa day packages at this venue, so you can enjoy a treatment and the superb hydrothermal facilities. Book now.

Minster Mill, Witney, Oxfordshire: This is a lovely rural boutique property with a picture perfect exterior, located on the banks of the River Windrush and set in 65 peaceful acres. The hotel offers three AA rosette dining and a relaxed ambience. Retreat to The Garden Spa to enjoy pampering treatments and facilities that include a plunge pool, rock sauna and aroma steam room. Book now.

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