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By Howard Shapiro

4/27/2009 (5 years ago)

McClatchy Newspapers (www.mctdirect.com)

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT) - Some specialty hotels become the focal point of a vacation because of their unique qualities. Here are four odd European hideaways (including a former jail) that fit that description. What's more, they're perfect in springtime, when the weather's warming and tourists have yet to swarm to Europe.

Highlights

By Howard Shapiro

McClatchy Newspapers (www.mctdirect.com)

4/27/2009 (5 years ago)

Published in Travel


_Italy

Atop a hill in a 14th-century village named Torrita dedi Siena _ just a few minutes' ride from the charming town of Siena in Tuscany _ sits Residenza D'Arte. Once a splendid sprawl of a house, then abandoned, it's now an art gallery-hotel, rich with fireplaces, old stone walls, and rooms with panoramas.

The management hooks up with the community for everything from massage therapy to painting and cooking classes, cultural tours in Tuscany, wine tours, horseback riding, and mountain-bike trips. Or you can just relax _ and shop, if the feeling's right, 45 minutes away at an Italian outlet center that houses Gucci, Fendi and others for enough of a discount to make the euro bearable. Now, in low season, junior rooms at the hotel run about $190 per night; superior rooms are about $250 and a suite, $330.

Residenza D'Arte, Poggio Madonna dell'Olivo, 53049, Torrita di Siena, Italy, 011-39-338-481-4384, www.residenzadarte.com/borgo(underscore)eng.html.

_Netherlands

In the harbor at the docks of Harlingen _ a town full of interesting hotels, about a 75-minute ride from Amsterdam _ sits Harlingen Lighthouse, last used to guide ships 11 years ago, when alterations to the harbor rendered it unnecessary. It's now a luxury hotel for two people at a time (staying together), an aerie about 80 steps up, where three floors of round-walled living space serve as accommodations.

The lantern room, on the highest level, opens onto a balcony; binoculars are provided, but guests say there's plenty to see without them. The folks who own the lighthouse also own hotels in a crane and a lifeboat. The lighthouse runs about $445 per night.

Harlingen Lighthouse, Havenweg 1, Harlingen, the Netherlands, 011-31-517-414-410, www.vuurtoren-harlingen.nl/eng/index1.html.

_France

Once a Roman fortress carved from rock on a mountainside, Le Prince Noir in the south of France is now a rarefied B&B. In Les Baux-de-Provence, a tiny village of Provence about a half-hour drive from Arles, the converted fortress comprises three accommodations _ a double-bed room (about $125 per night), a family suite (about $285), and a small apartment with a private terrace (about $340). Guests like the breakfasts, panoramic views and general comfort. There's a two-night minimum stay.

Le Prince Noir, Rue de Lorme, 13520 Les Baux-de-Provence, France, 011-33-6-2007-8267, www.leprincenoir.com.

_Sweden

The last convict left Stockholm's Crown Prison in 1975, and 14 years later, the jail became Långholmen Hotel. The early-19th-century building, on the city's seventh-largest island, has 89 single and 13 double cells _ yes, cells (with private doors) _ each with its own shower.

It also has an atrium, a 24-hour cafeteria in the old prison entrance, an adjoining full restaurant and museum, free Internet, parking within the prison walls, and jogging paths outside for a little prison rec. "A captivating experience," says the management, which promises to give you your own key. Singles run about $135 per conviction _ er, night; doubles, $195.

Långholmen Hotel, Långholmsmuren 20, 10272, Stockholm, 011-468-720-8500, www.langholmen.com/En/Hotel/AboutHotel.aspx.

___

© 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer.



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