Like the rest of the world, our office is abuzz with talk of Wes Anderson’s newest flick, The Grand Budapest Hotel. And sure, it may be mostly water cooler chatter, but we consider it research too — after all, it is about a grand hotel… one that may have seen some grander times. But even in its heyday, the Grand Budapest Hotel just can’t stack up to some of the gorgeous historic hotels that we’ve stayed in — from Irish castles to stately Southern mansions. Check out a dozen stunning stays that are far grander than the Grand Budapest Hotel (with the requisite storied history, to boot).
Originally built in the 15th century by the Morosini family, this beautiful palazzo — right on the Grand Canal — was purchased by the Sagredos (a family of noble blood) in the 1700s, which is how the hotel got its name. Besides luxurious rooms and a lovely terrace, the Ca’Sagredo Hotel features original frescoes and sculptures from the 17th and 18th centuries.
More a charming manor than an imposing castle, this gorgeous building dates to the 18th century and sits on a 450-acre country estate that embodies the sort of wild country beauty that Connemara is famous for. Past owners have included the O’Flaherty clan (the 16th century “Pirate Queen,” Grace O’Malley, married into the clan and was one of its more noteworthy members); Richard Martin (a member of Parliament nicknamed Humanity Dick for founding the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals); and the Indian Maharaja, Ranji, who bought the estate in 1922. With just 40 rooms, Ballynahinch has an intimate, boutique feel with homey features such as wood-burning fireplaces and four-poster beds.
Commissioned by a millionaire railroad financier in 1882, the New York Palace was one of the largest and most iconic buildings of its time — and remains so today, with the addition of a 55-story hotel complex attached to the original edifice. Rooms are thoroughly modern and luxe, but many historic architectural details that make the hotel particularly beautiful — including Tiffany glass windows, gilded crown moldings, and massive antique chandeliers — remain.
The 618-room Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is a grand and ornate Quebec City landmark. It’s housed in a 19th century castle, which was used as a stopover destination for Canadian Pacific Railway riders, and is full of ornate design features such as a grand double staircase, wood paneling, coffered ceilings, and chandeliers. Many rooms have fantastic views of the river that runs past.
Formerly the palace of an Ottoman Sultan, the Ciragan Palace Kempinski is the grand dame of Istanbul. It wows guests at every turn, from the sprawling, manicured grounds, to the heated infinity pool right on the Bosphorus, to the refined suites. So many celebrities have stayed at the hotel that it has a wall of fame off of the lobby with photos of all the notable past guests. To name just a handful: Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, John F. Kennedy Jr., Sophia Loren, Robert De Niro, Silvio Berlusconi, Kofi Annan, and U2.
Over the years, additions — such as a lovely courtyard pool, a gourmet restaurant, and a large fitness center — have turned this historic mansion into a thriving luxury hotel. Originally built by a cotton baron in 1908 to resemble an Italian Renaissance villa, the Rosewood Mansion caters to well-heeled leisure and business travelers who enjoy the uptown location’s tranquil vibe.
Just south of the center of Florence, the Villa Cora was built as a private residence in the late 1860s by Baron Oppenheim, a German financier, in honor of his wife. After the couple abandoned the villa (amid an amorous scandal, no less), numerous elite — including an Empress — called the mansion home before it was restored as a hotel in 2010. With a unique heated outdoor pool and a subterranean spa, the special property is a good spot for both relaxation and sightseeing.
Built in the 1920s as the second-largest private residence in the United States, Oheka Castle boasts grand ballrooms and meeting spaces that have hosted lavish parties attended by heads of state and celebrities. Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Cameron Diaz, Demi Moore, Justin Timberlake, and Jay-Z have all been spotted here, and Joe Jonas — of Jonas Brothers fame — got hitched at the hotel in 2009. The hotel features 32 individually-decorated rooms, and is surrounded by 23 acres of gorgeous, manicured gardens.
The former First Lady built this gorgeous property — originally used as a school — in memory of her husband, the French president Adolphe Thiers, in 1892, and today the Saint James is the only hotel-chateau in Paris. With a sweeping private entrance surrounded by green lawns and an impressive fountain, the upscale Saint James is located in the wealthy 16th arrondissement. The 48 rooms and suites are decorated in plush luxurious fabrics, but the common areas are even more impressive — especially the black and white grand staircase on the main floor.
This beautiful centuries-old mansion — less than a 10-minute walk from the Trevi Fountain — maintains much of its historic charm, from the cozy library to the private gardens, from the many antiques to the original fireplaces. Despite its small size, the hotel goes above and beyond with the amenities, offering a gym, spa, lovely outdoor garden, excellent free breakfast, and free Wi-Fi.
As any true castle hotel should, Ashford Castle has a rich history. The Anglo-Norman de Burgo family first built a castle here in 1228, and then lost it after being defeated by the O’Connors in the 16th century. The castle passed hands many more times over the following centuries and the building went through a number of incarnations — receiving the addition of a French-style chateau in 1715 and two Victorian wings in 1852 — before evolving into the hotel it is today. Ashford Castle embodies the fantasy of the Irish castle hotel, featuring a massive historic stone facade, complete with towers and turrets; gorgeous, manicured grounds; a stunning setting on a huge lake; and common spaces that are truly grand, with rich wood paneling, chandeliers, and antique furniture.
This 17th-century palazzo, originally inhabited by one of the most prestigious noble families in Venice, is a quiet retreat from the chaotic heart of the city. The grand lobby and hallways are filled with striking Venetian portraits, lots of marble, frescoes, and big chandeliers, and the preserved hidden garden is rare for a Venice hotel; it enchants with expansive lawns, a white canopied area with lounge chairs (where breakfast is served in warm weather), and meandering pathways surrounded by greenery.
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