x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Top 10: historic hotels that have retained their traditions and grace

Each with an impressive past, these illustrious hotels have seen many changes over the decades but still evoke their place and time in history.

The Galle Face Hotel, Sri Lanka.
The Galle Face Hotel, Sri Lanka.

1 The Galle Face Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Despite the claim that it's not what it once was, this hotel remains a special place to stay. Opened in 1884, the Galle Face is a masterpiece of Victorian architecture. Unlike many other colonial hotels in the region, it has not undergone extensive renovations. Only the Regency Wing has been restored, and a spa was added in 2004. The result is a delightful authenticity throughout much of the hotel. The large, teak-floored rooms with ceiling fans and the broad veranda overlooking the sea evoke a different era. The hotel has its own living history in the form of a famously long-serving employee: Kottarapattu Chatthu Kuttan is 91 years old and has worked at the hotel since 1938.

Double rooms at the Galle Face Hotel (www.gallefacehotel.com; 00 94 11 254 1010) cost from19,638 Sri Lankan rupees (Dh547) per night, including taxes.

 

2 Hotel La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco

Morocco's most famous hotel has hosted many illustrious residents since it was converted from a palace in 1923. Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt, Yves Saint Laurent and Alfred Hitchcock have stayed here. Famous people continue to flock to La Mamounia, but this place is about much more than its celebrity denizens. Despite numerous refurbishments - the latest in 2006 by Jacques Garcia took three years to complete - the hotel retains the grace of an earlier, more romantic era of travel. While preserving the facade and art deco lobbies, the overhaul has introduced exquisite tiling and a spa. The gardens, dating back to the 18th century, offer a sense of the hotel's immutable tradition.

Double rooms at Hotel La Mamounia (www.mamounia.com; 00 212 524 388 600) cost from 4,612 Moroccan dirhams (Dh1,940) per night, including taxes.

 

3 Hotel Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, Egypt

The hotel sits on a hump of granite overlooking the Nile in Egypt's southernmost town. Its name refers to the view: the river surges by, narrowed and quickened by Elephantine Island opposite. In fact, the river may be the fastest-moving feature in this languorous place. Every element - from the marble paving to the Gelid air conditioning - is devoted to the pursuit of idleness. Opened in 1899, the hotel retains its Victorian poise despite recent renovations. The crime novelist Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile (1937) while staying here. You can book Christie's suite - the balcony has views over the river.

Double rooms at Hotel Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan (www.sofitel.com; 00 20 97 231 6000) cost from 2,843 Egyptian pounds (Dh1,727), including taxes.

 

4 Raffles Hotel, Singapore

This landmark from the colonial era is almost as famous as the city in which it stands. It opened in 1887 as a 10-room hotel in an old bungalow on the banks of a river. The hotel expanded and the waters slowly faded from view as the city's builders began to reclaim land. By the 1920s, Raffles had become the "finest ballroom in the East", with guests including Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad. Surviving the Great Depression and the Second World War, the hotel hobbled on for much of the century with its grandeur much diminished. In 1989, a multi-million dollar project did much to restore the hotel and its reputation to its heyday. The hotel's sumptuous rooms, complete with whirling ceiling fans and polished teak floors, are simply splendid.

Double rooms at Raffles Hotel (www.raffles.com/singapore; 00 65 6337 1886) cost from S$632 (Dh1,829) per night.

 

5 Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc, Cap d'Antibes, France

Scroll down the index of celebrity guests listed on the website for a sense of the illustriousness of this hotel. E for Eastwood, Edwards and Evangelista; T for Tautou, Taylor, Travolta and Truffaut - you get the idea. This cliff-top villa, built in 1870, is where the royalty of cinema stay during the Cannes film festival every May. Yet this place is not just for stars and the star-struck. The building, itself beautiful, sits in nine hectares of pine woods and rose gardens fringed by the waters of the Mediterranean. The swimming pool, hewn out of the cliffside, has delightful views over the sea. F Scott Fitzgerald used the hotel as the inspiration for Hôtel des Etranger, the paragon of luxurious living, in his novel Tender is the Night (1934).

Double rooms at Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc (www.hotel-du-cap-eden-roc.com; 00 33 4 93 61 39 01) cost from€353 (Dh1,637) per night.

 

6 Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

This is one of the few hotels in the world that truly deserve to be called breathtaking. Built between 1928 and 1943 as part of a monumental famine-relief programme by Maharaja Umaid Singh, it has 347 rooms, making it one of the biggest private residences ever built. It was designed by the British architect Henry Lanchester in a blend of Indian and art deco styles, with ornate towers inspired by Rajput tradition. In 1971, part of the palace became a luxury hotel with 64 rooms and suites. Guests can wander around the private museum's collection of armour, art and taxidermic animals or gaze at the 32-metre-high central dome, apparently built without using cement.

Double rooms at Umaid Bhawan Palace (www.tajhotels.com; 00 91 291 2510101) cost from 27,862 Indian rupees (Dh1,846) per night.

 

7 Alvear Palace, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The city's most elegant hotel lies, appropriately enough, at the heart of Recoleta, the most elegant district. Alvear Palace opened in 1932, but it is decorated in French Empire, Louis XV and Louis XVI styles. The ceilings are high, the chairs are beautifully upholstered, the marble floors glimmer and the fabric patterns swirl as if competing for attention. At times it is reminiscent of rooms at the Palace of Versailles. This unusual combination of old-fashioned European style with a dash of South American chic is an undeniable attraction. The spa has marble floors and trompe l'oeil paintings. The restaurant, La Bourgogne, is a bit lighter and contemporary. The food on its menu is some of the best in city, with faultless service by white-gloved butlers who are attentive without being overbearing.

Double rooms at Alvear Palace (www.alvearpalace.com; 00 54 11 4804 7777) cost from2,685 Argentine pesos (Dh2,200) per night.

 

8 Cliveden House, Berkshire, England

This Italianate mansion on the banks of the Thames is one of England's finest country houses. Everything about it is set up for pomp and splendour. The vast, three-storey building sits in 150 hectares of manicured gardens. The drive truly deserves to be called a drive. The famous Astor family, who bought the house in 1893, gave it to the National Trust in the 1940s. They lived in it until the 1960s and the National Trust now leases it for use as a hotel. As a result, the spirit and authenticity of the place has been maintained. There's no hint of theme-park sham here: genuine antiques, plush interiors, oak-panelled ceilings; all much as it was when the Astors left. Outside there's a clock tower, magnificent terraces, a parterre (ornamental flower beds) and a high maze made from two-metre-high yew trees.

Double rooms at Cliveden House (www.clivedenhouse.co.uk; 00 44 1628 668561) cost from£207 (Dh1,195) per night, including breakfast.

 

9 Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan, US

Cars are banned on Mackinac Island; horse carriages and bicycles are used instead, making the place peaceful and anachronistic. The hotel itself lives up to its name. Opened in 1887, each of the Grand's 385 rooms is decorated in various styles ranging from exhilarating to eccentric. The hotel is said to have the longest porch in the world (a little more than 200 metres long) and it takes nearly two million litres of water to fill the vast swimming pool. Notable guests over the years have included five US presidents, as well as actors and singers, from Robert De Niro to Madonna. Grand Hotel is a summer-only resort; this year the season runs until October 29.

Double rooms at Grand Hotel (www.grandhotel.com; 00 1 906 847 3331) cost from US$254 (Dh933) per person, per night.

 

10 Hotel Danieli, Venice, Italy

Venice has been a top tourist destination for more than 300 years since it became a stop on the Grand Tour. It bristles with five-star and boutique hotels run by international brands and created by international designers, but somehow they miss the point. In contrast, Hotel Danieli is full of character and quite unique. Housed in a palazzo that dates back to the 14th century, it is a truly venerable place that counts Proust, Dickens and Wagner among its former guests. Located a few paces away from important sites such as St Mark's Square and the Bridge of Sighs, the hotel has a roof terrace with wide views over the lagoon. The lobby, formed from the enclosed courtyard of the palace, is ornate and lavish. The hotel has 223 large and luxurious rooms that are decorated with everything from gilt moulding to etched mirror frames.

Double rooms at Hotel Danieli (www.danielihotelvenice.com; 00 39 041 522 6480) costs from €368 (Dh1,707) per night.