Hotel History and Culture

the plazaPeople often associate New York City with constant expansion and, to a large part, it’s true. In the past decade, the city’s skyline has become more and more crowded with high-rise hotels, quickly expanding upward in order to accommodate the urban metropolis’s continuous stream of visitors. Yet while New York’s hotel capacity is projected to grow to 100,000 rooms by the end of this year (up from 73,000 tallied in 2006), it is still significantly below the stats from 50 years ago. Back in 1964, The New York Times reported that the city boasted about 125,000 hotel rooms. Although specific research into the cause of the decline since then is pending, the newspaper suggests that the demolition of single-room-occupancy hotels, as well as conversion of luxury hotels rooms — at grande dames such as The Plaza — into condominiums, may be behind it. Still, it appears that, fifty years later, New York City hotel rooms are once again solidly on the rise. [The New York Times]

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Welcome to the ultra-luxe Four Seasons The Biltmore. One of the most iconic properties in Santa Barbara, this beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival resort was built in 1927 and has attracted the likes of JFK and Jackie O, the Kardashian clan, and even several film crews — with stars like Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman in tow. It sits on 22 pristine acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the sprawling grounds are home to gorgeous pools, elegant restaurants, and beautiful gardens.

A stay at this Four Seasons is like stepping into an earlier, more civilized time — but with all the modern conveniences guests crave. The spacious grounds (crisscrossed by winding pathways) convey privacy, and the terra-cotta terraces, ornate and colorful tile work, and high-beamed ceilings give the large public spaces a cozy feel. Active visitors will find lots to do both on and off the grounds, including tennis, swimming, yoga, croquet, biking, and stand-up paddle boarding. The spa offers Santa Barbara and Four Seasons-themed treatments, including grapeseed and red wine-infused body scrubs and wraps. The Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, on Butterfly Beach, includes an Olympic pool, steam rooms, saunas, and a hefty dose of retro glamour, free of charge to all guests except those staying in Superior or Deluxe rooms.

All this have your attention? When we visited the property we took tons of professional pics, so take a breathtaking photo tour of The Biltmore after the jump.

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Europe is home to plenty of gorgeous grande dames; large, stately hotels that are both iconic and sometimes imposing, with high-ceilinged entryways, sweeping staircases, tons of rooms, and large, bustling restaurants that attract tourists and locals, as well as hotel guests. Spots like these are certainly worth a visit, but there’s something to be said for the boutique hotel experience. Fewer rooms (and therefore fewer guests) often mean more attentive service, a more tranquil vibe, and ultimately a more authentic European stay. We just got back from another tour of Europe, and this time we made sure to seek out the continent’s hidden gems. We ventured down little alleyways and walked along winding cobblestone streets to find 10 charming boutiques in Paris, Venice, Rome, Madrid, and Barcelona — and now on Oyster!

1. Ca’Riccio, Venice

Ca'Riccio

A six-room bed and breakfast in quaint, quiet Cannaregio, Ca’Riccio is a bright, homey pick filled with fresh-cut flowers and a variety of attractive art on the walls. Rooms are cozy and clean with wrought iron headboards, Murano glass lamps, and minibars. A free continental breakfast is served in a charming breakfast room and Wi-Fi is free, but there is no elevator. Its offers wonderful value considering its level of charm, and it’s within walking distance of the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square.

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One of the richest cities in the world (as far as history goes), Venice is home to hundreds of beautiful historic palazzos — and luckily for visitors, not only have the majority of them been lovingly — and painstakingly — restored, but many have been converted into gorgeous luxury hotels. Here are a handful of our favorites, brimming with antiques, history (storied pasts included), and vintage touches.

Aqua Palace Hotel

aqua palace

A 24-room restored palazzo in the heart of Venice, Aqua Palace Hotel dates back to the 1500s when one of Venice’s wealthiest families called the canal-side mansion home. It is conveniently located halfway between the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square, and soft lighting, elegant chandeliers, and classic Venetian architecture give this boutique a peaceful, romantic atmosphere. Many original elements — such as wooden furniture and the balconies with sweeping views — remain.

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We just got back from an amazinggg trip to Venice. Of course we had been before, but this time felt particularly special as we ambled along the canals and stepped into the little shops and markets we love. And another thing that set this trip apart from all others is that we visited tons of hotels that we had never been to before! From massive historic palazzos to charming Venetian boutiques, we visited a total of 21 hot hotels — quadrupling our Venice coverage — that you can now explore on the site! These new spots should be more than enough to satiate your Venice-loving palate, but don’t fret if you’re still salivating… We have plans to head back to Venice soon to bring you even more expert photographs and reviews of the city’s many hotels.

Boscolo Venezia, Autograph Collection

Boscolo

A luxurious, 72-room converted palazzo in the northern edge of Venice, Boscolo Venezia Autograph Collection is a quiet retreat from the chaotic heart of the city. The rare, private garden and spa with hot tub, sauna, and steam room are highlights. Rooms have classic decor and Venetian portraits, but upgrading to a Junior Suite gets guests more space and style — these rooms have high ceilings and intricate crown molding. The hotel’s location is far from Venice’s main attractions, but it does offer free water taxi service to St. Mark’s Square and Murano.

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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).

1. Ca’Sagredo Hotel, Venice

Ca'Sagredo

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.

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We have seen some beautiful sites during our travels around the world. But don’t take our word for it (although you should; we are experts) — many of our favorite places are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which means they are “places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.” And there you have it — spots that make this list are absolutely stunning. To date, there are 911 sites on the list and we have seen a ton of them. But to make things a tad more manageable, we’ve parred it down to 9 sites that you’ve just got to see. And if you can make it to all 911, then by all means go for it!

1. Statue of Liberty, New York City

statue of liberty

We’re starting local — for us, at least. A beacon of hope for travelers to New York City since it was dedicated in 1886, the Statue of the Liberty is one of the most-recognized and beloved National Monuments in the United States. Visitors can walk to the top for sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline from the statue’s crown, and many visit Ellis Island at the same time to round out their historical and cultural trip.

Where to Stay: The Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park

As expected of the luxury brand, this Ritz property boasts gorgeous rooms, top-notch service, and a long list of amenities. Some rooms feature views of the Statue of Liberty.

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Europe is a popular destination year-round, and it becomes all the more popular as the temperatures rise and students and families opt to travel abroad during their spring and summer vacations. Those who have an extended amount of time off (and, of course, the cash to afford it) can visit numerous cities during one trip, but others with limited time and funds must decide upon one location — which can be a tricky feat. So we’ve come up with an expert guide for how to spend six months in Europe; whether you can take half a year and explore a handful of cities, or you have just a weekend in which to get away, we’ll tell you the best European destination for each month — starting right now with February!

February in Venice

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Venice’s Carnival is one of the most famous festivals in the world, and every February locals and tourists crowd the streets of the city to let loose before Lent begins. This year the celebration kicks off on February 15th and runs for two and a half weeks; parades, contests, special exhibits, and ceremonies take place along the Grand Canal.

Where to Stay: Hotel Al Sole

This boutique hotel may have simple — verging on bland — rooms, but canal views, a charming courtyard, and a great location — the hotel is housed in a 15th-century mansion within walking distance of numerous sights — make Hotel Al Sole a solid pick.

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This year, thanks to an aptly-timed Presidents’ Day, Valentine lovers get a long weekend to celebrate romance — and the two holidays aren’t as unrelated as one might expect. Some of our fearless leaders have been decidedly romantic, and quite often their romantic rendezvous have taken place at some of the country’s most romantic hotels. Whether they are treating the First Lady (or their other lady loves) to a relaxing vacation, or pining for their loved one from a hotel suite for one, these presidents sure know a thing or two about l’amour. This Valentine’s weekend, you might consider booking a hotel with the presidential seal of approval.

San Ysdiro Ranch, a Ty Warner Property, Santa Barbara 

San Ysidro

The Presidential Couple: John and Jackie Kennedy 

Back in 1953, the former president and his new bride paid just $27 to spend a night at this luxurious resort as they traveled from Acapulco up the Californian coast. Nowadays, that same suite — renamed the Kennedy Cottage after the couple — goes for thousands of dollars per night. Read More »

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The Red InnThe Red Inn in Cape Cod may not be where the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving, but the Mayflower’s first landfall was at the beach directly in front of the hotel. Today, the luxurious inn, built in 1805, is a local hot spot, thanks to its extremely popular restaurant. The Thanksgiving meal it is serving is probably quite a bit more decadent than what the Pilgrims enjoyed; the menu features items such as lobster corn chowder, savory vegetable bread pudding, and braised pork shank. If we could pick a hotel to stay at this Thanksgiving, this would be at the top of our list. Read More »

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