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Top 5 historical hotels you need to experience

There is something about staying in a place which is riddled with a very rich past. It feels like you are writing a page in a history book, but with all the modern trimmings one enjoys in the 21st century. Some of these historical hotels however are taking it to another level. Let me take you to a few of my favorites. Belmond Mount Nelson, Cape Town The “Nellie” as locals like to call the pink hotel that’s located in the city center of Cape Town, celebrated its 120th birthday earlier this year. It used to be the only luxury hotel in the city where the wealthy visitors could enjoy the same standards as in the finest hotels in London. These days you have countless luxury options for staying in Cape Town, though none of them have the allure and history the Mount Nelson has. The pink colour came in 1918 as a sign of peace to mark the end of World War 1. Today, it’s still very proud to wear that colour and ever since Belmond took over the hotel, it shines even brighter. They refurbished the hotel completely to meet all the modern day standards, and then some. The perfectly manicured gardens surrounding the hotel make it the ideal place to stay as it avoids having any noise from the city for the guests. Waking up and hearing the birds sing is tough to find in a metropolis like Cape Town. Besides the wonderful guest rooms and suites, the culinary aspect is equally important. The Lord Nelson restaurant doesn’t only serve you delicious food, it also takes you back in time as it is located in one of the most amazing rooms in the city, with wooden paneling, botanical tapestries, pressed ceiling and crystal chandeliers. The fact that you are seated in first-class chairs coming from the Union-Castle Line ships just adds to the overall experience. And for those who really want something special, the Nellie offers The Chef’s Table. It’s a hidden dining space located within the massive kitchen of the hotel, where the chef will prepare your menu right in front of your eyes. Just another example that the hotel uses its 120 years of experience to leave even the most well-traveled guests speechless. The Ritz, Paris Paris is covered with historical buildings, and in one of them you can find the famous Ritz hotel. Located on the exclusive Place Vendôme in the 1st arrondissement, just a stone throw away from the famous Louvre Museum, you can’t get any closer to all the sights the city of lights has to offer. The hotel was founded in 1898 behind a façade of an 18th century town house. It quickly gained fame with the rich and famous as it was one of the first hotels in Europe to offer luxuries like electricity, en-suite bathrooms and a telephone in each room. Today, many of its suites have been named in honor of the famous guests who stayed here like Charlie Chaplin, Maria Callas, Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway. A stay in Paris wouldn’t be complete without enjoying some of the culinary delights the French have to offer. And for those who are on the hunt to taste to Michelin star quality food, you’ll be glad to know that the Ritz has Nicolas Sale in the kitchen of their L’Espadon restaurant, which has been awarded 2 Michelin stars. It’s safe to say your taste buds will enjoy their stay in this hotel as much as you. And if you are looking for the best way to wind down after a hectic day in the city or a delicious meal, it’s with some pampering at the Ritz Club Paris. This private club is more than just a place to enjoy a wonderful massage, it’s a place to escape the whole world around you. From the beautiful pool to the amazing design of the whole facility, it oozes luxury, relaxation and pure class. Sofitel Legend Metropole, Hanoi Most of us go to Asia to find all these modern luxury retreats and city hotels, but back in the days there were already a few amazing hotels of which some stood the test of times in order for us to still enjoy them today. One of the most glorious ones is the Sofitel Legend Metropole in Hanoi. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the opening was done by the French in 1901 seen the history they have with Vietnam. Through the years it kept its allure, even during the American air raids in the 60’s, for which the hotel constructed a bomb shelter to keep their guests safe. These days the hotel is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy all its opulence. Besides the beautiful rooms, and the inviting heated swimming pool, there are a few hidden gems to be found in the hotel, of which my favorites must be the L’epicerie du Metropole (one of the shops which is located inside the hotel and where you can find all kinds of yummy stuff, both local and imported), Le Spa du Metropole (easily one of the best in the city) and the Club lounge. The latter is only for club metropole guests, but it will make your stay at this property even more remarkable, with express check-in, great food options (don’t miss out on the truffle omelet during breakfast and the high tea in the afternoon) and some of the best cocktails being served in the evening. The Sofitel Legend Metropole has been chosen among the 100 best hotels in the world on several occasions, and it clearly isn’t looking at leaving that party soon. Intercontinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu, Marseille The Mediterranean Sea is home to some of the most important historic harbours and cities in southern Europe. One of those is Marseille, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to find a luxurious hotel located inside a palatial 18th-century hospital (with part of the building dating back to the 12th century) which overlooks a large part of the city’s old port. The hospital was christened the Hotel Dieu by Napoleon III, who’s the nephew of the famous Napoleon I (yes, the one who went to Waterloo and returned empty handed) and who was the first president of France. Fast forward to the 21st century and Intercontinental used the beautiful façade of the building to hide one of the most luxurious hotels in their portfolio. The 194 rooms and suites have all the amenities you could wish for. But why stay in your room when you can spend your time in the Clarins spa? Or enjoy a nice glass of wine on the terrace where you can enjoy the views over the old city. Of course, it wouldn’t be a top class hotel in France, without a Michelin star restaurant on site. The Alcyone restaurant does deliver some of the most mouthwatering dishes and the venue itself is stunning with views over the old port, and an interior that matches the creative artwork which chef Lionel Levy and his team produce. And while most of us would avoid bringing our kids to a place like this, the hotel will go all out to make sure the little ones have the best time with goodie bags, treasure hunts, special kids menus… I personally took my kids there twice and they loved it; also thanks to the staff which are wonderful with children. The Gritti Palace, Venice Being one of the most famous historical cities in the world, Venice holds many gems and the Gritti Palace certainly is one of the shining diamonds on the Venetian crown. Being built in 1475 it certainly has the age to be added into this list, though there is much more than just age which justifies its spot. Firstly there’s the location. Sitting alongside the Grand Canal, opposite the Salute Church, there is no better place to soak up the Venetian atmosphere while sipping a negroni on the terrace which overlooks this glorious spectacle. Secondly there is the fact that it’s now part of the Marriott Luxury Collection, and they injected 50 million usd into the property in order to give it a massive makeover which brought the whole palace back to the 21st century while still keeping as much as possible of the original features. And lastly, the sheer opulence of it all. Think Murano chandeliers, Rubelli fabrics, painted ceilings, antique details in every corner of the rooms, suites and public spaces. Nothing is too much to take your mind off the present and take it back to the time when Venice was one of the most flourishing cities in the world. On top of this all, the hotel offers its guests the opportunity to learn more about the famous Italian cuisine through the Gritti Epicurean school. A place where guests can discover what the local cuisine is all about, how to prepare it and even go to the markets to find those fresh produce. Staying in this palazzo is an experience which will certainly be remembered for a very long time. Have you stayed in one of these? Or would you add other historical hotels to the list? Would love to hear all about it.

Kristof Eyckmans

Kristof Eyckmans is a travel writer from Antwerp, Belgium. He’s been living all across the globe and while he loves wildlife and nature, he can still enjoy a good urban jungle.

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    1. Will do my best in the future :)

      Meanwhile, I agree that the Plaza also deserves some credit. I still remember my first visit in the 90’s when I was a teenager and we went for a brunch in the oak room. The opulence of the food and the room was a good indication of what you could expect when staying at the hotel. And those views over Central Park are just the cherry on the cake.

    1. Thanks Gaby. I do believe Belmond is a brand that guards the values and history of many hotels (and trains) so it is a given to be included in this list.
      It isn’t easy to pick just one with (besides Mount Nelson) properties like Villa Margherita, Copacabana Palace or the Grand Hotel Europe to name a few. You see, being a travel writer isn’t always a walk in the park :)

  1. For those of us who watched the last American choppers desperately fleeing from Saigon in 1975 (please correct me if my Vietnamese history is awry) at the time it was unthinkable that we would ever be visiting Vietnam for leisure. Back then it seemed indeed that Vietnam was just another domino in the fashionable Domino Theory.

    Consequently, the chance to stay at the Sofitel Legend Metropole, a luxury hotel in the then capital of North Vietnam, is quite unbelievable for my generation. When I do finally make it to Hanoi that historic hotel will undoubtedly be my first choice.

    1. Great choice and you’ll enjoy every minute. I agree that history sometimes makes us believe that some areas in the world will never be looked upon from our own eyes, but Vietnam is just one example which proves us otherwise.

  2. I love your list! I am intrigued by the Metropol in Hanoi. One of my favorite historical hotels is Petroff Palace in Moscow, built by Catherine the Great. It’s so much more than just a place to stay. Also the Palacio Estoril near Lisbon. Fabulous!

    1. Glad you like it. It’s indeed undeniable that the Petroff Palace has some amazing history, though I do feel the experience there isn’t at the same level as the ones mentioned above. Nonetheless a great place to enjoy and lots of history to be discovered in and around the hotel.

  3. I guess staying in any of these hotels would feel like a dream come true for many. Places like Venice or Paris are amazing on their own, but staying in style would make the trip even more worth it. I’ll add some on my dream to-do list for sure!

  4. A perfect compilation!!! I guess no journey, vacation or trip feels complete without a visit to a heritage site, monument or place. And I believe, these historical hotels too (and hundreds of more which is beyond the scope of the article to cover) play an indispensable role by providing their guests a sneak peak into the traditions, lifestyle, values and habits of people belonging from a different era. Some where or the other, they reflect their cultural practices, religious beliefs, political views and military accomplishments of those people- a much-needed exposure as well as lesson for the present generation.

  5. So glad to find the Intercontinental Marseille in your list. My family and I stayed their last summer and absolutely loved it. It’s such an impressive and stately retreat. The location couldn’t be better either, right in between the old port and the amazingly colorful Le Panier district. Can’t wait to try out your other suggestions, starting with the Belmond Mount Nelson.

    1. I also enjoyed my stays at the Intercontinental Marseille, hence why I added it to my list. And I’m sure you are going to love the Belmond Mount Nelson too as it has a lot of similarities though in a complete different setting.

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