Stephanie Holmes checks into McMenamins Old St Francis School in Bend, Oregon.
Location: Downtown Bend, an outdoorsy town in Central Oregon's high desert, surrounded by the Blue, Ochoco and Cascade Mountains. It's about half an hour's drive to Mt Bachelor, where there is great powder snow for mountain adventures.
Getting there: I'd been roadtripping through Eastern and Central Oregon, so made it to Bend from Pendleton, about a five-hour drive away. To get there from Portland is a much easier, 2.5-hour drive, with shuttle transfers now available. Or you can fly in to Redmond airport, about 20 minutes from downtown Bend.
First impressions: This is one of those hotels you will tell your friends about. It's a historic old Catholic school, lovingly refurbished, with some cheeky additions. The walls are lined with artworks, live music posters and eclectic vintage light fittings.
Hotel history: Opened in 1936, the school was founded by Father Luke Sheehan, a parish priest who came to Oregon from Ireland, and would trek hundreds of miles on horseback or on foot to meet with his parishioners. In 2000, the school relocated, and the downtown property was taken over by McMenamins, which has a tradition of taking historic buildings and transforming them into eclectic, highly sought-after accommodation.
Check-in experience: The lobby is cosy and full of curios and historic photos, so there's plenty to look at if you have to wait for someone to become available. We were checked in quickly, and given a map of the complex and all the features to look out for.
Room: On the ground floor of the Art House Building, one of three accommodation buildings. It felt more like a log cabin than an old schoolroom, with walls, doors, furniture and ceiling of lovely polished timber. Windows looked out to the houses across the street so curtains needed to be fully closed for complete privacy. The headboard featured a painting by a local artist — you can find different works in each room.
Bed: It was a pretty soft mattress, with sheets and fleece blankets rather than a duvet, but was warm and snuggly, even when it was minus 6C outside.
Bathroom: Basic and small, but functional.
Toiletries: McMenamins' own shampoo, conditioner, soap and body lotion.
Facilities: There are five bars on the property, one with a restaurant serving hearty pub food. The Fireside Bar has games including shuffleboard and billiards. Outside, O'Kanes has an Irish-pub feel, with multiple fire pits in the courtyard which proved popular every night. There's a movie theatre, screening classic and new release movies, and live music most nights. Although it was out of service during our visit, the hotel has a soaking pool inspired by Turkish bath houses. It has stained-glass windows, fountains, spouting lions, murals on all walls, and hundreds of custom-made, hand-glazed tiles lining the pool. The tiles are a tribute to St Francis.
Wi-fi: Free, with login required on first use. It was fast and reliable enough to stream Netflix.
What else in the neighbourhood? The hotel is within walking distance of downtown Bend's fantastic bars, cafes, breweries, restaurants and shopping.
Noise: My room was next to the staircase so there was quite a bit of foot traffic until late in the evening, plus some creaky floorboards above. Ask for a room on the top floor if you're a light sleeper.
Need to know: The hotel complex is full of hidden secrets. Look out for four blue lights positioned in the corridors of the accommodation wings — they indicate there's a secret room somewhere nearby. Push on the walls to find the secret entrances. On the top floor of the Art House wing, there's a secret in the Broom Closet… walk through the hidden door and you'll find yourself in a prohibition-style speakeasy, serving excellent cocktails, McMenamins beers and wines.
Perfect for: A fun, unusual stay in a building with plenty of history and character.