Of course, paintings and posters hang in most hotels. But they're mostly afterthoughts: bland prints or reproductions that do little more than cover blank walls. In art hotels, the paintings, sculpture, installations and photographs are original, and often for sale. Moreover, the art is at least an equal, and sometimes senior, partner to the lodging.

At the Hotel des Arts in San Francisco, for instance, the developers took a rundown boardinghouse and gave a motley mix of artists an unrestricted mission to make over the guest rooms. The result has the feel of a high-energy gallery that offers overnight accommodations.

While art hotels in Europe are often pricey, their North American counterparts usually offer good value. At the Hotel des Arts, for example, doubles start at $99 on weekends, a bargain for a prime downtown location in San Francisco.

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