Shiny and new has a certain charm (hey, I’m from Las Vegas, epicenter of shiny and new). But sometimes I like hotels that come with a little baggage. Love of history can be such a personal thing, but I swooned for the stories behind this particular bunch. So pack your suitcase and join me on a historical trip around the world, with stops at my favorite “hotels with history.”
Hotel del Coronado, San Diego (above)
The Coronado is seeped in so much history that it has a full-time historian on staff. The 126-year-old San Diego icon has hosted such luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, royalty from around the world and nearly every US president. Famed Wizard of Oz authorL. Frank Baum wrote several books while living at his favorite hotel for months at a time and is said to have based his Emerald City on its whimsical seaside design. As you would imagine, a hotel of this longitude has many ghost stories – and boasts many less spooky milestones, such as the first electrically-lit Christmas tree.
Abano Grand Hotel, Abano Terme, Italy
Relax into the thermal spring water and mud baths that Roman emperors trusted for healing in ancient times, in Abano Terme, Italy, the oldest thermal spa destination in Europe. The only five-star resort there, the Abano Grand creates bespoke spa retreats for the ultimate in pampering, including four thermal pools with ancient healing water from underground springs, plus a medically sanctioned spa mud farm. Modern additions include underwater fitness equipment and a spa built for romance.
Union Station Hotel, Nashville
Say “I do” in the timeless setting of a southern train station from 1900. The Gothic design and history from railroading’s glory years at the Union Station Hotel scream romance. The Richardson Romanesque-era boutique hotel (it opened as a hotel in 1986) still features the original train boards behind the front desk, plus original stained-glass windows and impressive barrel-vaulted ceilings. Once the epitome of glamour, Mae West passed through, as well as gangster Al Capone, on his way to the penitentiary. The station was so over the top that it once housed two alligator ponds on site.
Baur au Lac, Zurich
Family owned for six generations, Baur au Lac has been a home-away-from-home for countless European royalty. Hotelier Johannes Baur opened the lakefront hideaway in 1844 for noble guests needing discreet lodgings and soon graduated to high-level royalty, including the Russian czarina, King Ludwig I of Bavaria and the Austrian Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” – who was accompanied by two princes and an entourage of 60. In modern times, many high-ranking English royal family have secluded themselves there, as well as an Egyptian khedive, the King of Sweden, the Emperor of Ethiopia, and the Queen of Norway. In the 1950s, it was fashionable to attend runway shows and afternoon dances in the hotel’s Petit Palais. Bold-faced names who have recently graced the property: Henry Kissinger, King Edward VIII, Margaret Thatcher, Ghandi and Prince Ranier III.
Casa Palopo, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Soak in the beauty of Lake Atitlan, home to 12 indigenous Mayan towns that haven’t changed their way of life in hundreds of years. A quiet retreat with only nine bedrooms,Casa Palopo prides itself in full cultural immersion, from the activities around the lake’s three volcanoes, to the indigenous Latin American artwork and Mayan artifacts that hang on brightly colored stucco walls, representative of the country’s colorful textiles. You’ll sleep well, too–at night, guests receive traditional worry dolls, which take away your worries while you dream.
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, WV
War buffs, take note: The Greenbrier’s role in the Civil War was so significant that guests flock to the daily tours of its bunker, which remained a state secret for three decades. The hotel has, in some capacity, welcomed guests for more than 200 years, although it grew in popularity in the 1830s after a new mountain road allowed for stagecoaches. (Within the next 22 years, five US presidents had paid a visit.) Railroad tracks reached The Greenbrier (not yet named The Greenbrier) in 1869, and for a century almost all guests arrived by train. In 1913, the hotel as we know it today opened, with its stunning golf course debuting the next year. In the 1940s, the State Department leased the hotel to house German and Japanese diplomats following Pearl Harbor, later purchasing the whole thing to use as a hospital for a few years until the war passed, and the hotel again fell under private ownership.
Il Salviatino, Fiesole, Italy
Il Salviatino still serves sumptuous family-style Tuscan dinners once a week — an homage to its history as a social gathering spot for Florence’s wealthiest families. Before that, the breathtaking 15th century villa was built as a modest country farmhouse. Still decorated with 16th century frescoes and ancient mosaics, the five-star resort offers views of both the cityscape of Florence and the rolling green hills of Tuscany.
High Line Hotel, New York City
As if Christmas in Manhattan wasn’t romantic enough! The High Line Hotel sits on the site of the original Chelsea estate, owned by writer Clement Clark Moore, who penned “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” based on the chimney and fireplace that you can still see today in the refectory. These days, the oldest operating seminary in the US sets the stage for this new boutique hotel in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood with the main building of the hotel that dates back to 1895, and its magnificent Gothic Hoffman Hall all the way back to 1899.
Ashford Castle, County Mayo, Ireland
Celebrities have taken a particular liking to the spectacular castle since it opened as a hotel in 1939 — including Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Prince Edward, Edward Kennedy, King George “V,” Tony Blair, U2, Rod Stewart, John Travolta, Bob Hope, Brad Pitt and Barbra Streisand. Pierce Brosnan even chose the sprawling estate for his wedding to Keely Shaye Smith in 2001. Built as a monastery in 1228, the castle was later purchased in 1852 by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, of the brewing dynasty, to be used as the family’s country estate. Currently undergoing a $150 million renovation, the renowned castle-to-the-stars will reopen in spring 2015.
Nothing says “glamour” like the famous Versailles gardens of One and Only’s Ocean Club. It all began when a successful Swedish industrialist fell in love with Paradise Island in 1939 while taking his yacht for a spin on a world cruise. The pristine tropical island was still mainly undeveloped, save for a few entertainment clubs. He built his extravagant estate and started a garden modeled after Versailles, christening the whole affair Shangri-La. In the 1960s, the Bahamian mansion was turned into a hotel, and boasted a premiere with an A-list guest list of William Randolph Hearst, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Benny Goodman and Burl Ives. Film geeks will recognize the island from James Bond films Thunderball and Casino Royale, and, most recently, The Wolf Of Wall Street.