Who hasn’t toured one of Europe’s beautiful palaces and fantasized about actually sleeping in one of them? In some places, you actually can!
In India’s northern state of Rajasthan, palaces are so common that quite a few have become hotels. And in Europe, there are castles and palaces that have been repurposed as accommodations.
This use of beautiful old residences as hotels is nothing new, but as hotels grow increasingly competitive in the race to offer the most unique hospitality experience, many brands are upping the ante and transforming unexpected historical structures into luxury accommodations. These buildings have stories, and hotels that want to truly honor these buildings need to spend years, if not decades, on their restoration. In these unique properties, architecture and historical preservation intersect, creating not only a new kind of experience but a kind of living museum as well.
Here are some of our favorite historic hotels where you can step back in time.
TAJ LAKE PALACE, India (pictured above)
The Taj Lake Palace is one of the most classic historic hotels in the world. Located in the palace-rich area of Rajasthan, in Udaipur in northern India this hotel is probably most famous for being featured in the James Bond film Octopussy. However, nothing compares to the stunning experience of seeing it in real life. Seemingly levitating over the serene waters of Lake Pichola, this stunning white marble structure is an incredible sight to see.
It was once the home of the young Maharana Jagat Singh II, who was known as a bit of a romantic and built the palace as a place to frolic in peace. Under the ownership of Taj it still feels like it must have in those days, as the hotel group still carries out traditional formalities once enjoyed by the royal family. Guests are driven to the hotel in vintage cars, transferred to a boat, and greeted with a shower of rose petals upon arrival. The hotel even employs historians who will walk guests around the beautiful palace.
It doesn’t get much more stunning than these views, where you get the full experience of seeing nothing but sea outside the elegant palace’s windows.
THE FOUR SEASONS SULTANAHMET, Istanbul, Turkey
The Four Seasons has two incredible historic properties in Istanbul. Both look like palaces, but only one of them actually was one. The Four Seasons located in thriving Sultanahmet was actually once a prison. It’s hard to imagine it was ever a punishment to stay here, considering the vivid yellow architecture, marble pillars, and soaring arched hallways and luxe amenities that abound.
Known as Sultanahmet Prison, it was constructed in 1918 and offers a stunning example of Turkish neoclassical architecture. It’s located in one of the city’s most prime positions, as it was built to be conveniently located near the city’s courthouse. Some of the country’s most famous political figures spent time behind bars here.
The Four Seasons Sultanahmet has all the luxuries one would expect from the Canadian hotel brand, with stately rooms and five-star amenities, but its greatest asset is its incredible location. You almost never have to leave the building—from a seat in the A’YA rooftop lounge, you get epic views of both the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
This offering from the exquisite Aman chain of hotels is a true pioneer. Amanyangyun is not only the reworking of a historic structure, but is the revival of an entire historic village.
The small village of Fuzhou is nestled in the lushly forested and historic Jiangxi Province. In 2002, the town was under threat from the construction of a new reservoir, but a Shanghai philanthropist stepped in, importing the entire village to Shanghai including 50 Ming and Qing dynasty villas and 10,000 of the region’s local trees. Each villa was then reassembled by hand in a laborious restoration project that took more than a decade.
The hotel is set in the relocated camphor forest and offers most of its accommodations in the Ming Suites arranged in courtyards. Ornate grey stone surrounds the exteriors, while beautiful natural woods make up the interiors. Those wanting the utmost luxury can book an ancient villa, a luxuriant private structure with a serene interior courtyard and pool.
ADARE MANOR, Ireland
Being Ireland, this gorgeous old manor house isn’t Downton Abbey, but it certainly comes close in terms of opulence. It’s a bit more gothic than the famous TV manor house, and possibly more stunning. A wander into the Gallery, a 132-foot long, 26.5-foot high expanse inspired by the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, should have you convinced.
The nearly 200-year-old Adare Manor was built by the second Earl of Dunraven and his wife, Lady Caroline Wyndham. It has been lovingly restored, with each of its gargoyles and parapets worked on by local stone masons who specialize in the regional limestone, which has glimmers of red and purple in its coloring. There are 840 acres of manicured gardens to explore, a golf course, and a spa. The rooms are resplendent with marble bathrooms, goose-down bedding, Aqua di Parma amenities, and splendid views over the gardens.
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