Florence

Many hotels were not born as hotels. Some first served as prisons, or hat factories, or even lemon distilleries. And some had, shall we say, loftier first lives — as the residences (often, the second, third, or fourth homes) of royalty. That’s right. We’ve stayed at hotels — from the Amalfi Coast to the Irish countryside – that were once the official residences of royals, but have since shed their former titles to serve the lowlier, “ill-bred” set like us. But fortunately, we’ve still been given the royal treatment at each. Check out these eight gorgeous hotels that kings, queens, and counts once called home.

Hotel Palazzo Murat, Amalfi Coast

palazzo murat

Unlike most hotels in the cliffside town of Positano that require a steep walk to reach the beach and town center, the Palazzo Murat is located smack in the town center’s pedestrian zone. It dates back to the 17th century, and for a while it was the extravagant summer home of Napoleon’s brother-in-law and King of Naples, Gioacchino Murat. Its historic opulence is evidenced by intricately cut stone doors and window frames, refurbished tile mosaics, and wooden furniture. With a pristine pool and some nice freebies, Palazzo Murat is ideal for travelers who want to stay in historic lodgings in the heart of the action — but it lacks the gorgeous ocean views of nearby cliffside hotels.

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A hotel has “made it” when it’s honored as a Relais & Chateaux property. After all, established in 1954 in France (mais bien sur?!), this exclusive association is made up of just about 500 hotels and restaurants, combined, that introduce guests “to a deeper, truer understanding of the Art of Living.” Or, in much simpler Oyster terms, they show guests a darn good time by providing gorgeous rooms, luxurious facilities and amenities, and top-notch service. We’ve been lucky enough to have stayed in quite a few of these R&C properties (don’t get too jealous — as hotel experts, we also have to stay in spots like this), and here bring you the real creme de la creme of the best of the best.

1. Saint James Paris

St James

It makes sense to start in grand Paris, non? With a sweeping private entrance surrounded by green lawns and an impressive fountain, the upscale Saint James is a rare find in Paris — in fact, the 19th century manor is considered the only chateau-hotel in the city. It’s fitting that the hotel is located in the wealthy 16th arrondissement (and yes, valet parking is included). The 48 rooms and suites are large by Paris standards, and decorated in plush luxurious fabrics. But the common areas are more impressive — especially the black and white grand staircase on the main floor. The terrace is a beautiful spot for lunch on a nice summer day. And there’s also a small fitness center, a spa, and a gourmet restaurant. The rates here are steep, but guests who want to experience luxury in Paris (and can afford it) should give the Saint James a look.

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Sometimes, the journey is about the destination. Because the destination is so special, your whole travel experience is wrapped up inside it. We’ve traveled the world and have been to some pretty special spots. From a western dude ranch to a Florentine palazzo to an African canoe excursion, these 11 trips offer a far richer experience than your typical overnight stay.

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The beauty of reading a good book is that it transports you to a whole different world — without ever costing you a penny. Whether James Joyce guides you through Dublin or Hemingway fixes you a drink from his home in Key West, literature opens pathways to other dimensions that never require a passport. But sometimes the imagination needs a dose of reality to fully grasp the whole picture. Other times, an author’s words so imbue a reader’s mind, he or she cannot help but pack up bags to experience the same sights, sounds, and smells that gave birth to a favorite novel. Poets, novelists, and playwrights give us a little bit of their world on every page — and now it’s our chance to take a bit more for ourselves. The best destinations for book lovers are enumerable: Every person has a favorite author, and every author has a different world view. But there are some spots around the globe that possess just a bit more of a literary spark than others. So pack your bags — and your favorite paperback — because we’re going on a trip perfect for any bookworm.

1. Dublin, Ireland 

dublin

The Irish have a reputation for storytelling, and with good reason. A UNESCO City of Literature, Dublin the home of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and countless other prominent literary figures — and you can visit several of their homes during your visit. At Trinity College, visitors can take a look at one of the most famous books in the world, The Book of Kells, dating back to 800 A.D. And, once night comes, be sure to take part in the Literary Pub Crawl that takes you to some of the city’s best pubs with an acting troupe in tow portraying some of your favorite scenes from Irish literature. The James Joyce Museum, the Dublin Writers Museum, the Chester Beatty Library, and the Long Room at Trinity College are among other popular literary sites.

Stay: Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa

The Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa is located about half an hour northwest of Dublin’s city center. The historic property — an 18th-century castle turned Georgian house, turned convent, turned hotel — sits on beautiful green grounds, making it a popular spot for weddings and events. The location allows visitors to see more of the country that inspired Ireland’s great writers, and with a library, restaurant, three bars, and several golf courses nearby, there is plenty to keep guests entertained. Read More »

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This post originally appeared on Yahoo! Travel

Staying in a hotel is exciting in and of itself; there’s something deliciously indulgent about staying in a room that’s totally different from your one at home… and it doesn’t hurt that it gets cleaned for you. But while the sole purpose of many hotels is nonetheless the crash pad amid sight-seeing and exploring new destinations, others are destinations unto themselves — that deserve some time on your sight-seeing agenda. From our many travels around the globe, we’ve picked out a dozen of the most beautiful hotels ever — all of which are housed in stunning historic castles or palaces. The following twelve spots are, quite literally, fit for a king.

1. Hotel Alhambra Palace, Granada

alhambra-001

The 126-room Hotel Alhambra Palace merits the adjective “grand” — the impressive building is more than a century old and, originally commissioned by King Alfonso XIII, once housed a hospital during the Spanish Civil War. A hotel since 1942, this property is a short quarter-mile away from the Alhambra (the palace and fortress complex dating back to the 11th century) up a steep hill. The lobby has keyhole archways and geometric textiles based on Moorish patterns, and the hotel exudes historic charm throughout.

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Europe is home to some of the world’s most luxurious properties. From exclusive boutiques to expansive castles, these hotels know how to cater to the rich and famous — if not royalty, itself. Now, you may not own a tiara, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least dream of laying your head to rest at one of these penultimate establishments. And if you decide to do more than dream, please be sure to pack us in your suitcase: It would be worth it to get back inside these 12 uber-luxurious properties.

1. Conservatorium Hotel, Amsterdam 

amsterdam

The Conservatorium Hotel delivers a true five-pearl experience in Amsterdam‘s residential Museum Quarter. It’s housed in a 100-year-old former bank building, and the hotel’s warm, modern design melds seamlessly with the structure: The stunning atrium lobby, for example, is industrial-chic, featuring wood, brick, and glass. The rooms are decorated in earthy neutrals and every detail was considered, from the placement of the electrical outlets to the reading lights by the bed to the high-tech controls for the lighting and blinds. The big, modern fitness center, stylish indoor pool, and lovely spa, all located below ground, are highlights. It’s a premier choice for luxury travelers willing to trade a central location for added space and quiet. Read More »

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A spa day is a relatively romantic endeavor on its own, but move that spa day to Europe and it’s nearly guaranteed to spark some l’amour. Our expert hotel investigators have been busily traveling through Europe visiting tons of hotels, and along the way they’ve found a handful with some pretty epic spas. From sexy, cavernous lounges to state-of-the-art treatment rooms, these eight hotels are home to eight of the most romantic spas across the pond. And best of all, they’re NEW on Oyster! Take a grand tour…

Aquapetra Resort

Aquapetra Resort & Spa, Tuscany

This charming luxury resort, housed in the updated remains of a formerly abandoned 19th-century village, is set amid olive groves and cypress trees in the rolling hills just outside the spa town of Telese. The entire property combines rustic charm with modern comforts, and this includes the sexy, adults-only spa. In an old barn, where the original stone and wood materials have been painstakingly maintained, the spa overlooks an outdoor pool. Guests can receive signature treatments and then relax in the facilities, which consist of treatment rooms, a lounge, whirlpools, a steam room, a sauna, and therapy showers.

 

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It’s hard to resist the complex flavors and rich history that comes with drinking a glass of vino. And heck, it’s hard to resist sipping on wine even without all that history…but it is noteworthy: In a process dating back to 6000 BC (well before the Romans epitomized the drink across the Mediterranean), the transformation from crushed grapes to delectable alcoholic beverage has been an important part of the human tradition for reasons celebratory, religious, or just plain appetizing.

From the Greek Isles to Australia’s Yarra Valley, from Chardonnay to Shiraz, some variation of the grape stuff can be found the world over. And for the discerning traveler looking to explore a region’s gustatory offerings, many wineries await with open arms to offer tours of their operation and — most importantly — samples of their best vintages. Picturesque backdrops set the scene across the globe for a truly delicious (and perhaps tipsy) experience. So whether you’re a wine aficionado or an eager wino student, pack your bags and make sure to bring a corkscrew, because these far flung locales have just the bottle of wine for you.

1. Napa Valley, California

napa

Napa Valley — home to some of the most charming cities in the U.S. — is also one of the world’s best wine-growing regions, with hundreds of wineries sprawling across the rolling hills. Wineries can occasionally feel a little touristy (it’s not uncommon to see a tour bus parked outside), but perhaps that’s inevitable in one of the world’s top wine-tasting destinations. The valley is actually divided into fourteen sub-regions, each suited to a particular grape, so you can map your tour based on your wine preferences.

Where to Stay: If you’re daydreaming of a luxury stay in the heart of wine country — complete with impressive views, rustic-luxe charm, and lavish  amenities — you can’t do much better than the Harvest Inn. Each guest receives a bottle of wine upon arrival, and many rooms overlook the neighboring vineyards of St. Helena.  Read More »

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View from the Pool Terrace at the Grand Hotel Minerva, FlorenceIf asked to picture a postcard version of Florence, the views from the Grand Hotel Minerva are most likely what would come to mind. The lovely rooftop pool and terrace offer up some of the most picturesque views in the city, and many rooms have balconies offering similarly excellent outlooks (most balconies have great views of the Santa Maria Novella Plaza, and those on higher floors have spectacular views of Florence’s skyline). All rooms and suites are spacious, with high ceilings and elegant furniture, and bathrooms are modern (if a little tight). The hotel’s central location, high-end restaurant, and regal historic ambiance make it easy to justify the splurge. Read More »

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Ever dreamed of being king or queen of a castle? Lord or lady of the manor? Well, you’re not the only one — and plenty of hotels around the world can make that dream come true. We scouted out nine luxury hotels that were formerly the elaborate private homes of blue bloods, aristocrats, and royals, from an Irish castle to a Gatsby-era Gold Coast mansion. Feelin’ fancy? Then check these out.

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Ireland

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Ireland

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Ireland

This charming stone manor house dates to the 18th century and the 450-acre country estate embodies the sort of wild country beauty that Connemara is famous for. Past owners of the lands 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. Read More »

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