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I used to consider all Marriott Hotels bland and unvaried: seemed like every guest room at every property was decorated in the same flyover state decor of green carpet, rose and green floral bedspreads and matching wallpaper, with brass accents adding to the despair. However in the past half-decade or so, as the company has added some sophisticated brands (Edition, Bulgari) and invested in making its JW line more exciting, my impression of the chain has moved from staid to sexy. I especially love the Marriott Autograph Collection Hotels.

From the Marriott website:

The Autograph Collection is a remarkable group of upper upscale and luxury independent hotels. These iconic properties are located in dynamic gateway cities and preferred destinations worldwide. Each one is unique, one of a kind with its own distinct perspective.

For the true individualist who shuns the predictability of chains, Autograph Collection takes the guesswork out of finding independent, high-personality destination hotels that reflect the adventurous spirit and uncompromising originality of the guests who seek them out.

The Autograph Collection Guest Profile: The Individualist

  • Prefers to find their own way and forge their own paths
  • Shuns convention, rejects the familiar, seeks the road less traveled and the choice less obvious
  • Searches for original experiences that add to their lifelong narrative and sense of adventure
  • Views the hotel as the focal point of the journey; what they see along the way is an added bonus

This is me! As a hotel afficionado and marketing professional I’m very impressed with how Marriott has positioned their Autograph Collection.


I lost my Marriott Autograph Collection virginity to the Santo Mauro in Madrid in 1998 (it probably wasn’t an Autograph Collection property back then). I had endured four weeks in Salamanca and Barcelona at a language school, and although I acquired zero Spanish skills (I learned only four words: cerveza, baño, bolso and zapatos)  I managed to contract a toenail fungus from the shower of the crappy (unheated) student apartment in which I stayed.

After weeks of listening to me complain, my boyfriend instructed me to dump my remaining classes, retreat to Madrid, and hunker down at the Santo Mauro, his treat. I was in heaven.

Presently, when in Minneapolis I stay at the dramatic The Hotel Minneapolis, a Marriott Autograph collection property. The stunning lobby belies the fact that walk-in rates can sometimes dip as low as $109.

Hotel Minneapolis Elevator Bank

And when I visit Detroit (monthly) I stay only at The Henry, a charming Autograph Collection hotel in Dearborn. The rack rate is typically $239, sometimes I pay only $189 with my AAA membership, and corporate rates drop go a mere $129.

The Henry Autograph Collection Lobby


I stayed at the St. Ermin’s Hotel, the Marriott’s Autograph Collection property in London, my last trip to the city. On a scale of one to five stars , I rate the St. Ermin’s Hotel in London at 4.5 stars: I was quite happy spending four days there.


  • Dramatic, recessed entrance

St Ermins Hotel Entrance

  • I was able to book four consecutive nights with Marriott Points less than one month prior to my stay (145K Points)
  • The location is fabulous (next to St. James Park, an easy walk to Westminster Abbey, London Eye, Houses of Parliament)
  • The hotel is convenient: many restaurants and shops are located nearby and the Underground station is a block away
  • Gorgeous, stunning lobby. I’m a sucker for the white on white wedding cake look and dramatic staircase. As with the other Marriott Autograph Collection hotels I’ve visited, the the designers of St. Ermin’s lobby took risks

St. Ermin's Hotel Lobby from Above

St. Ermin's Hotel Lobby

  • Complimentary baked sweets awaited me in my room
  • All the promised Platinum amenities (free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast, bottle of wine, etc.) were fulfilled
  • Controllable room temperature and good shower pressure
  • The inclusive cold breakfast buffet is only ok, but I ordered hot items off the menu and was not charged
  • Speedy wi-fi connection
  • Newspaper delivery


  • Small rooms (I received an upgrade and still had to tuck my suitcase underneath the desk). I became less sensitive to the fact the longer I stayed
  • Thin walls. This was an issue only one of the four nights
  • Mediocre cold breakfast buffet

The St. Ermin’s, Marriott Autograph Collection exceeds four stars. However, despite the amazing public space decor, the property just barely misses that certain je ne sais pas quality of five star hotels.

But I’d happily stay here again in a minute.

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Llama Taxi ($30 and 90 minutes from Cusco) drops me off at the Tambo del Inka, a Starwood Luxury Collection resort in the small town of Urubamba.

After 20 years of traveling for work and pleasure, I’ve stayed at at a lot of properties. I am a hotel slut, hopping from one to the next, racking up points. But this time it’s different. With the Tambo del Inka, it’s The Real Thing.



  • Urubamba, perfectly situated for exploring Peru’s Sacred Valley

Outside Unawatuna in Sacred Valley


  • Three nights for only $150 plus 12,000 Starpoints
  • Inexpensive meals (dinner with wine: $30-$40; breakfast: $10)


  • Security guard and gate at the entrance
  • Coca tea (for mitigating altitude sickness) always available
  • High-tech exercise room (not that I plan on using it after a day climbing up and down Machu Picchu)


  • Seated check-in
  • Truffles, weather report and sudoku puzzles at turn-down
  • 24-hour, personable concierge service
  • Clothing folded
  • Personal butlers!


  • Walk-in closets with full-length, lit mirrors
  • Textured paints and fibrous, funky wallpaper
  • Recessed lighting
  • Fresh flowers
  • Heavenly beds

Tambo del Inka Guestroom Sacred Valley Peru

  • One-touch lighting
  • Gorgeous views from oversized windows
  • Two iPod docks (one connected to speakers)
  • A leather headboard that matches the leather stools at the vanity
  • Electronic Do Not Disturb


  • Separation between the toilet, vanity and shower
  • Stone surfaces
  • High-end bath products
  • Bedspread-sized towels

Tambo del Inka bathroom


  • Travel agency onsite
  • Complimentary business center services
  • A plethora of body treatments, manual therapies and skin care services offered in the spa
  • Surreal indoor/outdoor swimming pool
  • This is HUGE: only the Tambo del Inka offers a private train stop to Machu Picchu. HUGE

Tambo del Inka Swimming Pool


  • Tall, lofted ceilings designed by Berardo Fort-Brescia
  • Stunning fuschia, hot pink and orange decor incorporating works by Peruvian artisans. Lots of stone and wood


  • Chilled wine glasses
  • Bacon eggs benedict
  • Fresh, organic, local ingredients
  • Crisp Chilean sauvignon blanc
  • Overhead heaters on the deck

Tambo del Inka Dining Room


  • Mammoth stone fireplace
  • Spectacular, round rug custom-made for the Tambo del Inka

Tambo del Inka Lobby


And the Number One reason I love the Tambo del Inka:

  • Kleenex and toilet paper imprinted with the Tambo del Inka logo! Using print-free tissue will never be the same ….
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It’s about time the Midwest’s quirky, progessive, edgy city of Madison got the quirky, progressive, edgy hotel it deserves, HotelRED.

The Midwest gets a bad rap. Sure, sometimes we folks pull-up our pleated jeans a little too high. Heck yeah, they may hit mid-ankle. You betcha we wear them with glaring white tennis shoes. I find this behavior endearing (to a point). But what you need to know is that bastions of coolness exist in these here flyover states. You just need to know where to look.

Look to Madison. It was always voted the biggest party school when I was in college, and since then Money magazine has declared it the best place to live in the U.S. Built on a lake. Home to Garbage (the alt band). Backdrop to the movie Back to School. Birthplace of The Onion (America’s Finest News Source).


I’m the first to bitch about what hotels do wrong, so it’s time to address what hotels do right. I’ve stayed at HotelRED twice for work, but both times it felt more like a staycation.

Location: HotelRED is close to the hospitals and within vomiting distance of the stadium, but inconvenient if you’re visiting Capitol Square.

Directions: Clear-cut. Interactive Google Maps application on the website.

Parking: Free, covered, attached.

Service: The front desk reception is friendly and fast: one clerk gave me a shuttle ride to my restaurant.

Decor: The best part! Industrial and boutique, with whimsical touches here and there (red candy, artichoke lamps, etc.) and contemporary furniture.

Restaurant: Open and inviting. Outdoor dining available. Breakfast is limited, but dinner is decent (it has improved since my first stay).

Sleeping Room: Request a room facing the street (they’re larger). I could have lived in mine. More spacious than average, with high ceilings and a deck. The glossy concrete floor and minimalist style feels very clean. Oh, and the shower…worth the price of the stay right here.

Did I mention the shower at HotelRED? Plus, Aveda products.

And, the bed: cloud-like. Cocaine-like. I damn-near blew-off my business meeting just to continue lying in it.

HotelRED Guestroom Madison

Free wi-fi.

Fitness center: Unfortunately, none. But you have access to a nearby gym.


If you are quirky, progressive and edgy you will adore Madison (not your boring Midwest town) and you will adore HotelRED (not your boring chain hotel).

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