The best historic luxury hotels
If mere comfort alone doesn't cut it, here are six gorgeous hotels with prestigious pasts
Beyond the more predictable features of a luxury hotel - spacious rooms, haute cuisine and a state-of-the-art spa - one facet often overlooked by travellers is the hotel's significance in history, be it as a former cultural centre at which the elites of a bygone era would congregate or as a piece of unique or groundbreaking architecture and design. Knowing that you are staying in a room once occupied by a great artist or enjoying an on-site restaurant that was the favourite of a European monarch adds an extra layer of prestige to any hotel stay.
So if comfort alone simply won't cut it and you need some cultural pedigree to go with your night's sleep, here are six luxury hotels with some remarkable history within their walls.
A storied past at Pulitzer Amsterdam
Located in one of the Dutch capital’s most chic neighbourhoods, the iconic Pulitzer Amsterdam is comprised of 25 interlinked canal houses dating back to the 17th Century. Founded by Peter Pulitzer (the grandson of Pulitzer Prize founder Joseph Pulitzer) in 1960, the hotel is steeped in history and underwent a complete redesign in 2016, spearheaded by Jacu Strauss. Drawing inspiration from Amsterdam’s rich past, the reinvention of the Pulitzer saw Strauss blend historical elements with classic beauty and contemporary style with 225 incredible guestrooms and suites, each boasting an eclectic mix of finishes and designs.
The hotel is also home to four completely unique Collector’s Suites inspired by the types of people who would have once lived and worked in these buildings throughout the years such as the eccentric book lover, a music composer, art devotee or antique collector. Each room within the hotel also has a plaque in-room detailing the history of the particular canal house in which it sits.
Presidential class at Riggs Washington DC
Occupying a prominent corner within the capital’s thriving Penn Quarter neighbourhood, Riggs Washington DC sits within a historic building once home to Riggs National Bank (known as the “Bank of Presidents”). The 181-room property features playful nods to the building’s rich past throughout, while preserving and restoring much of the original design features including the original barrel-vaulted lobby, Corinthian columns and ornate ceilings. Each of the hotel’s guestrooms are home to a minibar modelled on the traditional steel bank safe, while there are four specialty First Lady Suites each inspired by the eccentricities of a select few Presidents’ unsung better halves and the Riggs Suite which sits in the original bank boardroom.
Riggs also brings something new and unexpected to the city’s food and drinks scene with all-occasion restaurant Café Riggs and subterranean cocktail bar, Silver Lyan, from internationally acclaimed bartender, Ryan Chetiyawardana (Mr Lyan). Riggs Washington DC respects the building’s storied history, while establishing itself as a new kind of hospitality offering.
Golden age glamour at Hotel Excelsior Venice Lido Resort
Hotel Excelsior Venice Lido Resort hosted the first ever Venice Film Festival in 1932 and has ever since been the official venue of this world-famous event (as well as the Biennale Art and Architecture exhibitions). The hotel is an oasis of glamour, comfort and history that sits on the Venice beachfront just a brief boat road into the pulsating heart of Venice. A hotel that has become synonymous with Hollywood, in recent years it has hosted red-carpet stars including the likes of Johnny Depp, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.
The hotel’s long standing association with glitz and glamour actually dates back to 1908. Initially born from a desire to create the most luxurious hotel in the world, the hotel is the brainchild of visionary entrepreneur Nicolò Spada and renowned architect Giovanni Sardi who transformed the Venice Lido into a must-stay destination for rich and famous personalities. It rapidly became a haven for the elite, film stars and royalty and those who visit today will see why. The building itself was once a Venetian Palace and evidently features elaborate Moorish architecture with its stunning domes and skylights.
Retrace the steps of the aristocracy at The Langley, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Buckinghamshire
The Langley, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Buckinghamshire is surrounded by history – 140 acres of it to be precise. The Grade II listed mansion itself was once the home and hunting grounds of Charles Spencer, the third Duke of Marlborough who brought Langley Park back in the eighteenth century. Surrounded by lush manicured gardens, guests can borrow a pair of Aigle wellington boots and explore the great grounds originally designed by one of Britain’s most famous landscape architects; Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.
Not only were the hotel paths once trodden by aristocracy, they also played a vital role in both world wars. During the first, Langley Park became a training unit for King Edward’s Horse; a cavalry unit of the British Army and later used as a hospital and recuperation centre for officers returning from the front. During the second, it became the south-east regional headquarters of the Home Guard and in 1944 stationed Polish troops for training in preparation for D-Day. Fast forward to 2021 and this historic hotel has recently been renovated and transformed into a majestic countryside icon just 40 minutes from central London yet feels a world away.
A perfect symphony Grand Universe Lucca, Autograph Collection
Tuscany’s newly opened Grand Universe Lucca, Autograph Collection is a historical beacon in the city of Lucca, at the foot of the Apuan Alps. Known as the city of 101 churches, encapsulated by an intact sixteenth-century medieval wall, Lucca is dotted with cathedrals and towers and the hotel is a perfect destination for those looking to discover the rich history of this unique city. Standing gracefully overlooking Piazza del Giglio and Piazza Napoleone, Grand Universe Lucca has evolved through the millenniums, from a glassblower's atelier in Roman times, to a majestic palazzo during the Renaissance, turning into a monumental hotel in the mid-18th century.
Blending different eras of history, the property was previously a Palazzo of the Paoli family during the Renaissance, before being transformed into a unique hotel in 1857. It famously became a destination for hosting poets, philosophers and artists from around the world. One of Italy’s finest opera composers; Giacomo Puccini was in fact born in Lucca and a regular visitor of the original hotel. Today, his influence is seen throughout Grand Universe Lucca with music being one of its inherent pillars, from a Suite named the ‘Puccini Suite’ to the hotel’s dedicated Symphony Lounge. Here music enthusiasts can have a piece of music created by the hotel’s very own in-house composer, based on each guests personality.
Step back to the Roaring Twenties at The Wellesley, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Knightsbridge
An iconic 1920s building located in the heart of Knightsbridge, The Wellesley, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Knightsbridge, began its storied life as Hyde Park Corner underground station. Designed by world-renowned architect, Lesley Green, the station’s ox-blood tiled façade remains as part of the hotel’s exterior today. The Wellesley is also the former home of the infamous jazz and cabaret venue, Pizza on the Park, which was beloved by music fans in the capital and around the world. For three decades the venue hosted intimate, live music shows with jazz greats such as Jamie Cullen and Amy Winehouse.
Transformed into an opulent five-star hotel in 2012, The Wellesley pays homage to its past, blending deco grandeur with contemporary, boutique luxury. Geometric lines, lavish crystal chandeliers and stunning marble flooring nod to the influences of the era, and art deco themed suites are playfully named after 1920s music and film stars, such as Louis Armstrong and Ivor Novello. For a tipple, the exclusive Crystal Bar brings the decadence of the roaring 20s vividly to life, with walls adorned with impressive selections of whisky, cognac and Armagnac collections.