Though it was significantly more difficult to travel in the past, people still moved around, be it for trade, leisure or pilgrimages. And they needed a safe place, a decent meal and a warm bed. Some of these places made it through history’s turbulent affairs, and still offer lodgings and meals, though without skipping on modern comforts.
Plan your next trip with a night in one of these historic hotels and get the chance to experience nurtured history in action.
Hotel Balzac – Paris, France
Packed with history dating back to the early 19th century, Hotel Balzac could just as well be taken directly from a novel.
The building was commissioned by a French banker as a private residence. After the banker’s death, the property changed hands a couple of times, and in the process became one of Paris’ most popular salons. The most famous resident was, without a doubt, the French novelist Honoré de Balzac, who lived here until his death in 1850. The property became a hotel in 1875.
After a recent refurbishment, it still captures the original 19th century splendor. The 13 suites and 56 rooms are decorated in a neoclassical style combined with rich colors – think luscious burgundies, rose taupe and bold blues. The hotel is also home to the three Michelin stars Pierre Gagnaire Restaurant.
Nearest airport: Paris Orly Airport, 24km
Hōshi Ryokan – Komatsu, Japan
Operating for almost 1,300 years, Hōshi Ryokan is one of the oldest hotels in the world. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that catered to travelers along Japan’s roads. The ryokan usually featured rooms with tatami mats and communal baths.
Located on Sea of Japan coast, the hotel opened its doors in 718 and since then it’s been managed by the same family for 46 generations. Legend has it that the founder, a Buddhist monk, received a message from a god to uncover a hot spring in the nearby village. Once he located the hot spring, the monk found a local to help him build a spa around it, and thus a dynasty of innkeepers was born.
Currently, the hotel can house up to 450 guests. The hot spring is still one of the biggest draws – allegedly the water has healing properties.
Nearest airpot: Komatsu Airport, 14km
Zum Roten Bären – Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
On the western edge of the Black Forest, in the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, you’ll find Zum Roten Bären (To the Red Bear), a hotel with a history going back to the 12th century.
Situated in the old part of the city, the hotel is run by the 51st ‘bear’ innkeeper. Throughout its history, innkeepers had to face various political and social changes: foreign sieges, the rise and fall of guilds, transition from one ruler to the other, and the many diseases that plagued the Middle Ages.
Though partly destroyed during World War Two, the building maintains a historical façade with the original coat of arms against a pink background.
Nearest airport: EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, 76km
Omni Parker House – Boston, MA, USA
The story of Omni Parker House is a classic rags to riches tale. In 1825 a young man by the name of Harvey Parker arrived in Boston. Hotels did not yet exist in the US: travelers stayed in taverns – simple affairs, mostly frequented by men. Harvey had no money, so he took a job as a coachman. With his savings he bought a restaurant, and after years of running it successfully, he purchased the property that would become the current Omni Parker House. Originally called Parker House Hotel, it opened its doors in 1855.
Throughout time, this hotel has hosted important politicians, writers and actors. Charles Dickens gave his first American reading here. John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for congress from here. The hotel even penned the Boston Cream Pie, the official dessert of Massachusetts.
Today, the hotel houses 551 rooms and suites and three restaurants.
Nearest airport: Boston Logan International Airport, 5.5km
The Olde Bell – Hurley, United Kingdom
The Olde Bell, located in the English countryside just an hour’s drive from London, is not your standard accommodation. Founded in 1135, the hotel is made up of various historic buildings, functioning like a village. The main inn is reserved for overnight guests and locals, while the adjacent buildings cater to private gatherings.
They love al fresco dining here: enjoy a roast in the Summer Kitchen, take a picnic basket to the orchard or savor a glass of white wine in the wild gardens. No countryside holiday is complete without a walk: explore the Kitchen Gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables or take a stroll on a pretty stretch of the Thames just a 10-minute walk away.
Due to its proximity to Pinewood Studios, celebrities are not a rare sight here, and it has even been used as a filming location.
Nearest airport: London Heathrow Airport, 30km
Hotel Interlaken – Interlaken, Switzerland
Located on a plain between two lakes and surrounded by mountains, Interlaken is a Swiss holiday resort that became popular in the 1800s and attracted notable artists, composers and writers. Two of them, English poet Lord Byron and German composer Felix Mendelsohn, visited Interlaken and left their mark on one of the town’s oldest hotels, Hotel Interlaken.
Originally a cloister, Hotel Interlaken was first mentioned as a guesthouse in 1323. It went through a complex renovation in 1491, when it received its coat of arms, still visible on the façade.
More recent renovations have brought this hotel to elevated standards, while preserving the original look.
Nearest airport: Bern Airport, 51km
Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah – Istanbul, Turkey
Step into a world of old timey opulence. The Pera Palace Hotel opened its doors in 1892 and was built to cater to the rich European travelers of the Orient Express. The architect took inspiration from Parisian architecture, but added a few local touches, so that guests immediately felt at home while simultaneously discovering an entirely new world.
Though the hotel went through a major restoration in 2010, most of the original designs were kept. In extension to the lobby, the Kubbeli Saloon Tea Lounge is a tableau of the Belle Époque era: shades of burgundy, black and gold create a regal effect. Look up and marvel at the ceiling featuring six small domes.
Throughout its existence, many personalities have guested the Pera Palace, among others novelist Agatha Christie. Allegedly she wrote her most famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express, during a stay here.
Nearest airport: Istanbul Atatürk Airport, 20km
Fleischer’s Hotel – Voss, Norway
A Swiss style construction in Norwegian wonderland Voss, Fleischer’s Hotel is a family-run hotel that has hosted kings, queens and princes throughout its history.
With the money earned from selling the Voss Church that had been a part of the family property, the founder, Fredrik Lyth Ørum Fleischer, opened the doors to the hotel in 1864. A focus on hospitality paired with a location featuring snow-capped mountains, lush forests and scenic lakes, Fleischer’s Hotel quickly became a popular place for both aristocrats and ordinary travelers.
Today, after various refurbishments, the hotel has 110 rooms, two restaurants, a bar, a summer terrace and various wellness facilities.
Nearest airport: Bergen Airport, 100km
Belmond Grand Hotel Europe – Saint Petersburg, Russia
Right in the heart of metropolis Saint Petersburg lies the famed Belmond Grand Hotel Europe.
Originally erected as three individual buildings, the hotel opened its doors in 1830 after Italian architect Carlo Rossi beautifully united the buildings under one elegant façade. The hotel went through various renovation phases, and even served as an orphanage and a hospital during war periods.
Today, the spacious interior is designed in Art Nouveau style and houses three restaurants, one café and a bar. Indulgent dining is key here: you can go for fusion Asian cuisine, caviar and champagne dining, or just unwind with an afternoon tea and chocolates manufactured at the hotel’s own chocolate factory.
The Belmond has seen its fair share of famous guests, and they chose to honor a few of them. There are 10 historic suites, each dedicated to a personality who regularly stayed at the hotel, such as The Dostoevsky Suite, The Romanov Suite or The Pavarotti Suite.
Nearest airport: Pulkovo Airport Saint Petersburg, 20km
Parador de Santiago (Hostal dos Reis Católicos) – Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Parador de Santiago – or Hostal dos Reis Católicos – sits at the very end of the famous pilgrimage trail of Santiago de Compostela.
In the late 15th century, Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel went on the pilgrimage trail and, upon completion, decided to improve the infrastructure. And so, in 1499, the Hostal opened its doors to all pilgrims, as a place of recovery after completing the pilgrimage. It came complete with doctors, nurses and priests, and all services were free of charge. Today the Hostal is a five-star affair.
The building has an imposing Plateresque façade facing the bustling Obradoiro Square, while the interior tells a tale of Spanish Renaissance and Baroque: vaulted ceilings, antique furniture, and 17th and 18th century original artwork.
In keeping with a long tradition, the first 10 pilgrims to cross the threshold of the Parador each day are given a free lunch.
Nearest airport: Santiago de Compostela Airport, 14km
Nørre Vissing Kro – Skanderborg, Denmark
The Danish kro inns date back to the 13th century, when a royal decree instituted that there should be a roadside inn every 40km. Many still exist today, and are often found in isolated areas, making them the perfect retreat for a countryside holiday.
Painted in bright blue, Nørre Vissing Kro lies hidden between hills and small forests on the east coast of Jutland. Opened in 1801, this kro quickly earned a royal privilege, a special distinction offered by the king. After a recent renovation, the kro combines elements of the past with modern Danish interiors. The garden room, coated in nuances of lavender, offers views of the fields, while the crackle sounds coming from the fireplace create an atmosphere of calm.
The biggest draw here is the restaurant, headed by chef Morten Mygind, who delicately crafts his fusion dishes from fresh locally-sourced ingredients.
Nearest airport: Aarhus Airport, 69km