Image: Hotel the Vine
Courtesy of Hotel the Vine
Hotel the Vine's rooftop pool has 360-degree views of Portugal's island of Madeira.
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updated 9/14/2010 9:38:28 AM ET 2010-09-14T13:38:28

If you think a pool is merely a place to practice your backstroke, you're kind of missing the point.

Take a group of scantily clad bodies, a hot and steamy day, and a watering hole for some frolicking, and swimming should be the last thing on your mind. Now move the scene to a rooftop — completely exposed yet totally private at the same time — and it becomes an altogether more sexy and decadent proposition.

Whether it's a playful pool that's perfect for a weekend of full-on partying (we're looking at you, Axel Hotel) or a luxurious setting for sophisticated lounging, as at the London West Hollywood, these are the ideal rooftop hot spots to watch the sunset, have a drink and, oh, what the hell, slip off your clothes for a midnight dip.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore
The rooftop garden at the new Marina Bay Sands Hotel, perched atop three towers 660 feet above Singapore and totaling more than 15,000 square feet, has the feel of a paradise that's off-limits to mere mortals. (Although, for $20, non-guests can visit the observation deck.) As if the sheer magnitude of the place weren't intoxicating enough, the 500-foot-long guests-only infinity pool — one of the largest urban pools in the world at that height — feels equally endless, and a little dangerous, too. Add to that an international crowd of beautiful people lounging on white daybeds beneath swaying palm trees, and the whole place takes on a floating-in-the-heavens kind of sex appeal that makes you want to strip and drift through the water in your birthday suit. There are also rooftop bars and restaurants, in case, you know, the gods get hungry.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel
10 Bayfront Avenue
Singapore
Tel: 65 6688 8888

London West Hollywood, Los Angeles, Calif.
The London West Hollywood's rooftop has the sexiest pool in a city of rooftop pools. Sure, there are some rooms here, there may even be a restaurant and a lobby, but no one cares. You come here to lie provocatively on a poolside chaise, seduce a movie producer, and get discovered. Or barring that, you come to have a caipirinha, take in a hazy view of Los Angeles, and enjoy walking barefoot on a rooftop lawn (although, this being Hollywood, it may look the part but is not real grass). Just be sure to come back in the evening — the mood lighting comes on, the canopies glow, and the schmoozing really begins.

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London West Hollywood
1020 N. San Vicente Boulevard
West Hollywood, California
Tel: 310 854 1111

Hotel the Vine, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
This small, 79-room design hotel on the Portuguese island of Madeira is an homage to all things wine-related. But look past the corny name, the grape-purple lounge chairs, and the vinotherapy spa treatments. The real reason to come here is on the roof. The pool has 360-degree views of the island, a Plexiglas barrier between you and any hair-ruffling breezes, and groovy round daybeds that are perfect for reclining in tandem. And after a few hours of gazing — at the city, at each other, at the stranger across the pool — a vinotherapy massage and the bubbling hot tub won't sound so corny after all.

Hotel the Vine
27 Rua dos Aranhas
Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
Tel: 351 291 009 000

Gansevoort Park Avenue, New York City
From the people who brought a whole new meaning to the meat market district of New York City, a new outpost (due to open August 2010). The Gansevoort's new 249-room hotel will bring some much-needed sex appeal to a business-heavy stretch of lower Park Avenue, not to mention a good excuse to "work late." Naturally, a Gansevoort could hardly call itself a Gansevoort without a rooftop pool. This one is a decent size, for this city at least (40 by 16 feet); it's heated; and one quarter of it is indoors, so you'll have an opportunity to strip down to your skivvies year-round. And since it will undoubtedly attract a lot of attention — most likely from gorgeous, tan, fit people who have their facialist on speed dial — the bar spans three levels at the top of this 20-floor hotel. In other words, you may not be "working" late after all.

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Gansevoort Park Avenue
420 Park Avenue S.
New York, New York
Tel: 212 317 2900

Axel Hotel, Barcelona, Spain
If washboard abs and hairless chests are your thing, then the rooftop pool at the Axel in Barcelona is your kind of place. The 105-room hotel, which reopened in May 2010 after a swanky renovation, is a big hit with the gay community and pretty much anyone who can appreciate the decadence of sunbathing in the middle of a gorgeous European city. What the pool lacks in size, it makes up for in location (in Barcelona's beautiful Eixample neighborhood) and a cool, color-block design. The pool has a wooden deck, some well-tended greenery, and one very groovy bar that, curiously, guarantees the "most attractive cocktails in Barcelona." (We hear they taste pretty good, too.) Probably best to refrain from too many laps by day, so as to reserve your energy for when the poolside action really gets going, once the bar opens at midnight.

Axel Hotel
33 Aribau
Barcelona, Spain
Tel: 34 93 323 93 93

Four Seasons Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
When the Four Seasons Hong Kong's architects designed the place, some romantic had the inspired idea to install underwater speakers in the rooftop pool as an accompaniment to any sub-aqua flirtations. (Forget for a moment that you can't be down there long enough to appreciate more than a few bars of a song before you risk drowning.) For all intents and purposes, this is a pool built for romance: infinity edges, endless views of Victoria Harbor, and at your feet, a panoramic cityscape of Hong Kong. This isn't a honeymoon destination so much as the kind of place where two world travelers may pass in the night, perhaps make their way up to the rooftop, gaze out at the evening skyline, and discover what only a few have dared to dream: Barry White sounds even better underwater.

Four Seasons Hong Kong
8 Finance Street
Hong Kong, China
Tel: 852 3196 8888

La Passion Hotel, Cartagena, Colombia
With its vibrantly colored houses, famously spicy food, and bougainvillea dripping over everything, Cartagena is pretty hot and steamy to begin with. And right in the center of all the action is the conspicuously named La Passion hotel. This eight-room property has the air of a palazzo owned by a very rich Colombian relative. And he has one absurdly sexy pool on his roof. Sure, it comes with all the amenities you'd hope to find (bar, whirlpool tub, canopy daybeds with billowing white sheets), but it has one other alluring feature: total privacy. You can look out on all the other brightly colored houses in the old city and virtually none of them can look back, which means you can take a daytime skinny-dip if you so choose — but be polite and invite your fellow guests, too, of course.

La Passion Hotel
35–81 Calle Estanco del Tabaco
Cartagena, Colombia
Tel: 575 664 8605

Video: Designer hotels are new travel trend

  1. Transcript of: Designer hotels are new travel trend

    AL ROKER reporting: This morning on TODAY'S TRAVEL , designer hotels. Several top fashion houses from Diesel to Betsey Johnson have turned their artistic eye to a larger

    canvas these days: Whole hotels. Many of them are offering reasonable rates. Nilou Motamed is the features editor at Travel Leisure magazine. Nilou , good to see you again.

    Ms. NILOU MOTAMED: Good to see you, Al .

    ROKER: So is this a real trend that's becoming popular?

    Ms. MOTAMED: It actually is a huge trend. In fact, the latest fashion accessory for designers is to have their own hotel . And it kind of makes sense, I mean, fashion is all about fantasy and drama...

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: ...and hotels these days are all about bigger and better. And so how better for a fashion designer to show the 360 vision of their brand than to do a hotel ?

    ROKER: To do a whole hotel . And of course it's Fashion Week here in New York .

    Ms. MOTAMED: It is. So this is perfectly timed.

    ROKER: So you must be all-twitter right now. I know that, I know that. OK. So let's start off with the Pelican Hotel in Miami , Florida , created by the clothing company Diesel .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Now Diesel is a very cool Italian-based kind of jean and casual wear company, and they were actually very ahead of the curve with Miami .

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: They came in in the '90s and saw this low-slung '40s motel and they saw the potential and they turned it into a very cool destination on Ocean Drive .

    ROKER: And it's reasonable.

    Ms. MOTAMED: Oh, my gosh, it's under $200, which is great, and even lower during low season, which is right now.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: And the rooms are so funny, they're all themed differently. One of them is called Me Tarzan You Vain , so you don't know whether that's a translation thing from Italian...

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: ...or whether they just were being clever, and I think they were being clever, they're definitely tongue-in-cheek. And the cafe there is very, very cool, definitely a place to see a lot of -- a lot of beautiful people walking down Ocean Drive .

    ROKER: All right. Now we're going to -- out to the West Coast , the Parker Palm Springs , Palm Springs , California , designed by Jonathan Adler . He was kind of ahead of the curve, 2004 .

    Ms. MOTAMED: He was ahead of the curve in terms of doing a new thing with interiors, he does these gorgeous ceramics, people love his work. And so he decided to go to the old Merv Griffin resort, now that really takes you back.

    ROKER: Ooh .

    Ms. MOTAMED: And it needed -- it needed an update. But what's great about Palm Springs is it has all this history, it has that Rat Pack glamour.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: So he added a little touch of the mod '60s, a little bit of the feel-good '70s, and turned this into a great destination hotel and spa. They have wonderful -- three swimming pools, one of them which is all-salt water. They have clay tennis courts, they have croquet, they have petanque, so it feels a little old world.

    ROKER: Petanque! I like the sound of that.

    Ms. MOTAMED: You like that, right? And again, under $300 a night to stay there, and you can get better deals even than that.

    ROKER: Let's go across the -- across the pond to Edinburgh , Scotland , the Missoni Hotel . I'm guessing it was designed by Missoni .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Honestly, you're -- nothing -- you can't pass anything by you, you're too good. So Missoni is known for bright poppy colors, lots of great textiles and texture, and Rosita Missoni , who is the designer, the head designer, she's taken all of those influences and put into their first hotel , which is in Edinburgh .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Now this is on royal -- the royal mile there, so it's a kind of an interesting clash with kind of an Italian brand that's coming to Scotland .

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: But it works perfectly. And what's great about this hotel , if you book a month in advance, which is I think a reasonable amount of time to plan your trip...

    ROKER: Not bad.

    Ms. MOTAMED: ...ahead, you get 25 percent off their rates.

    ROKER: Nice deal. Let's go to Ireland , the G Hotel in Galway , designed by a hatmaker?

    Ms. MOTAMED: Designed -- yes, in fact, designed by not only just a hatmaker, the hatmaker to Lady Gaga .

    ROKER: Oh.

    Ms. MOTAMED: We saw a lot of her at the VMAs .

    ROKER: Wow.

    Ms. MOTAMED: To Sarah Jessica Parker , to Madonna .

    ROKER: 'I -- I'd like a hat in meat, please.' What -- how do you pronounce his name?

    Ms. MOTAMED: Philip Treacy.

    ROKER: Ah. OK.

    Ms. MOTAMED: And he's a very famous Irish hatmaker and he -- Galway , as you know, is a beautiful part of western Ireland . And so there's a nice combination -- again, it's a contrast, this very modern hotel , it feels like " Alice in Wonderland " in the middle of this very charming town where there are great pubs and lots of places to have fish and chips and cozy stuff to eat. So I think it's a -- it's a good one. And again, the price is very reasonable.

    ROKER: Two hundred and sixteen a night.

    Ms. MOTAMED: Honestly, these prices are cheaper than they would be to get any of the clothes from these designers. So...

    ROKER: So you don't have to get dressed, just stay in the hotel .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Just get under the sheets.

    ROKER: Finally, we're going to finish up here in New York City . The Plaza Hotel , Betsey Johnson . This is the -- this is the grand one here, this is...

    Ms. MOTAMED: This is the opulent, this is the OTT .

    ROKER: ...this is a personal suite designed by Betsey Johnson .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Now this is a suite -- not only is it designed by Betsey Johnson , but the theme is Eloise .

    ROKER: Ah.

    Ms. MOTAMED: Now Eloise is everyone's darling.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: The six-year-old precocious who lived at the Plaza . And all little girls want to stay in an Eloise suite and this one is one that they would never want to leave because of the -- of all the incredible attention to detail, the hot pink. There's actually a neon sign above the bed that says " Eloise ." And you get lots of goodies if you stay in this room, including a monogrammed bathrobe, a $100 credit down at the Eloise store down in the Plaza . Now if you can't stay at the suite because a little bit pricey, there is an Eloise tee at the Palm Court , which all little girls love and is a fun thing for anyone who's coming in to town with their kids to do.

    ROKER: You know who else who loves it?

    Ms. MOTAMED: Who?

    ROKER: Our director, Joe Michaels .

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