When you’re traveling, one way to learn more about a destination is to immerse yourself in its culture and history. Contributing writers Angela Fairhurst and Natalie Compagno discovered eight properties around the world that are located in historic buildings or feature unique elements from the past.
Casas del XVI in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the New World and its colonial section of the city lures history lovers with its charm and vibrancy. Casas del XVI is at the heart of this quarter, leading the preservation-and-restoration trend with care and attention to detail. This area is home to the first cathedral, hospital, customs house, and university in the Americas, all of which date back to Christopher Columbus’ arrival on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. The hotel is made up of individual homes, or casas, dating back to the 16th century, thus the name. When you enter the property, you can feel the history through the art and architecture of the buildings. There are three historic homes that have been melded into the property – Casa Macoris, Casa Del Arbol, and Casa De Los Mapas, which was inspired by replicas of vintage maps portraying Hispaniola during that time period.
The hotel architecture and design transports you to the early colonial days, but you still have access to modern services and amenities. The charismatic and talented Patricia Reid decorated the interior of each house according to a theme relating to Dominican culture and the Spanish imperial empire. There is an interesting mix of ancient artifacts, street art, and handcrafted furniture. It’s a “boutique” museum housed inside an original colonial structure that was preserved and restored. The lush dining courtyards, hidden swimming pools, and libraries that feature rum tasting are a few of the perks we enjoyed most during our stay.
Castello di Casole — A Timbers Resort in Siena, Italy
Castello di Casole — A Timbers Resort is a restored Italian castle-turned-boutique-hotel on a 4,200-acre country estate in Tuscany. The castle dates back to the year 998 AD, when it was known as Querceto Manor and often hosted Siena’s political exiles until it fell into decline in the 15th century. Owned and reconstructed during the 19th and 20th centuries by the Bargagli family of Siena, the castle and its surrounding property returned to prominence as a leading agricultural producer. In 2005, Timbers Resorts acquired the estate and restored all of the buildings utilizing traditional construction methods and authentic materials, and updated the property to include modern conveniences. Today, the estate includes 41 hotel suites, the Bargagli Penthouse, the Farmhouses, the Tuscan Hotel Villas, a game preserve, 88 acres of vineyards, and 13 acres of olive groves.
Casa Gangotena in Quito, Ecuador
The history of Casa Gangotena dates back to the time of the Incan Empire. Set in a newly-restored historic mansion overlooking Plaza San Francisco, the three-story boutique hotel has 31 rooms. Each room includes contemporary design, antiques, modern technologies, and quintessential comforts. Tastefully designed, the hotel’s interiors feature Art Nouveau and contemporary touches combined with original Neoclassical architecture.
According to the early Spanish chroniclers, in the 15th century the Plaza San Francisco featured several Inca temples, one of them situated at the site of the present house. In 1978, Quito was declared the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage Site city, and some say the largest and best preserved Historic Center in the Americas. A few years later, Casa Gangotena was included in the city’s cultural heritage inventory. Our advice? Have dinner in the dining room, where you can try Ecuadorian dishes. Then visit the terrace on the third floor, where you can check out the view of Quito’s Old Town.
Ballyfin Demesne in Ballyfin, Ireland
Ballyfin Demesne is a five-star country house hotel set on 614 acres of parkland in the heart of Ireland at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The home’s original residents include the family of the Duke of Wellington and the Cootes. After an extensive eight-year restoration, the historic estate reopened in May 2011. The private grounds feature a 28-acre lake, ancient woods, follies, and grottoes. You’ll also find a medieval-style tower built in the 1860s with a walled garden and formal borders, a restored Edwardian rock garden, and kitchen gardens. The property has 20 individually designed rooms, which are decorated with Irish art and antiques. The original family art was procured from all over Europe and was overseen by art historians.
Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colorado
Built in the heart of downtown Aspen, Colorado, the Hotel Jerome‘s history parallels Aspen’s. The Hotel Jerome was conceived during the height of Colorado’s silver boom in 1889 as the vision of Jerome B. Wheeler. Its intention was to emulate the great European hotels of the time and was designed to be an example of hospitality for its day. As a matter of odd—and now perhaps humorous—fact, the Jerome had the only bathroom in town that was open to the public. It also had the only elevator in town, and was one of the first buildings west of the Mississippi to have full electric lighting. During the 1950s, the hotel became a popular watering hole for writers and screen stars, including Gary Cooper, Lana Turner, and John Wayne. After recent renovations, the hotel combines design and artistic elements from its original historical period with modern elements.
Hilton Chicago in Chicago, Illinois
Overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan is the Hilton Chicago, a member of the Historic Hotels of America. It may be a modern Hilton, but the property houses a fascinating piece of history in the Normandie Lounge. The S.S. Normandie was originally a French cruise liner that was converted and used by the U.S. Army during World War II. After it caught fire in the New York harbor in 1945, the remaining parts were sold to the hotel in an auction. Some of the elements from the ship include chandeliers, custom mahogany panels, seating, and built-in bars.
Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, Louisiana
The Hotel Monteleone is located in the heart of the French Quarter and its history is both haunted (by the friendly ghost Maurice Begere) and historic. The on-site Carousel Bar & Lounge is a destination in and of itself for the Merry-Go-Round inside (it moves!) and the unbeatable Pimm’s Cup. The Hotel’s Carousel Bar is considered the only ride you need to be over 21 to ride. The Vieux Caree Cocktail was invented here, which is made with benedictine, rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, and Angostura Bitters, along with the local and famous Peychaud’s Bitters.
Mixologists flock here for the cocktail history, but Hotel Monteleone has literary history as well. Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner have stayed, drank, and been inspired in and by the hotel. In fact, the Hotel Monteleone is one of three American hotels designated as a Literary Landmark. The bar has a rich musical story as numerous musicians have entertained guests with live performances since its opening. Oddly enough, the hotel actually turned down the opportunity to have the Beatles stay back in 1964.
Aria Hotel Budapest in Budapest, Hungary
A newbie that has an old soul, Aria Hotel Budapest attracts guests with a passion for music while celebrating its first anniversary this summer. The 1870s building, which was reimagined with attention to detail by Budapest master designer Zoltan Varro, captures a blend of classic and contemporary styles. The vision incorporates history—a Hungarian Palace—with the fluid tempo of music. Each of the four wings is dedicated to one of four major genres of music: Classical, Opera, Contemporary, and Jazz. Each room and suite feature caricatures by internationally acclaimed artist Joseph Blecha to celebrate the world’s greatest musical legends such as Maria Callas, Count Basie, Bob Dylan, James Brown, and Hungary’s own Franz Liszt.
The seven-story Neo-classical façade was painstakingly rebuilt in limestone to replicate the initial architecture and designed to look exactly as the original architect intended. A cornerstone of the hotel is the Neoclassical spiral staircase, which was, interestingly enough, converted from an old bank. Located steps from St. Stephen’s Basilica, Aria Hotel Budapest is juxtaposed between the new artistically minded youth and classical tourists who appreciate its dedication to history.