Great Hotels that Used to Be Something Else Entirely

Some hotels haven’t always been spots for weary travelers to conduct business, be pampered or simply lay down their heads. Here are a few amazing places to stay that used to be everything from prisons to monasteries.

Hostal San MarcosThe magnificent Parador de León San Marcos, a former 16th-century monastery in Leon, Spain, has lovely paintings, carvings and tapestries in public areas. You can enjoy a stay at the parador during our 2014 program “In the Footsteps of St. James: El Camino de Santiago.”

Hotel Monasterio by Genvis LociIn Cusco, Peru, the elegant Hotel Monasterio was originally built in 1595. “Hotel Monasterio sits on the site of Inca Amaru Qhala’s palace,” explains the hotel’s website. “Three years later, the Spanish took it over and founded the Seminary of San Antonio Abad.” Remodeled as a hotel in 1965, it has a beautiful courtyard. A stay at this stunning hotel is part of our 2014 South American Highlights program.

Instead of pilgrims and seminarians, some hotels once housed prisoners. The luxurious Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul’s old city is “housed in a century-old neoclassical Turkish prison.” The hotel is located a short stroll from major sites including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

Another establishment that used to be a jail is The Långholmen Hotel in Sweden. The hotel assures us that: “Today, you are met by a modern hotel with newly renovated ‘cells’ (2008) with daring design solutions and free access to wireless broadband.” The hotel also has a museum, From Crime to Chains, which offers insight in to Långholmen’s past.

Lake Palace at nightIn contrast, many great hotels around the world used to be palaces. The Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur was once the summer home of Maharana Jagat Singh II, 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar. Located in the middle of Lake Pichola, this distinctive hotel has mosaics, a lovely courtyard, richly colored frescoes and ornately carved furniture. Fun fact: the James Bond film Octopussy was filmed on the premises.

Near Udaipur, magical Devi Garh is a stunning former fortress. This heritage hotel “was the royal residence of the rulers of Delwara principality, from the middle of the 18th century until the mid-20th century.” Today this all-suites property is also a wellness destination: travelers can relax at the spa or experience yoga on the rooftop.

The Umaaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur was built between 1928 and 1943 for the grandfather of the present Maharaja. Designed by Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester, the building is a blend of Eastern and Western architectural influences. According to the hotel’s website: “Its majestic 105-foot-high cupola is influenced by the Renaissance, while the towers draw inspiration from Rajput tradition.”

Another fabulous palace hotel in India is the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. Built in 1835 for the queen’s favorite handmaiden Kesar Badaran, the mansion was later refurbished as a royal guesthouse and hunting lodge. According to the hotel’s website, “Rambagh remained the home of Jaipur’s Royalty until 1957, when it was first converted into an upscale hotel.”

Of course, hotels outside of India were also once homes to royalty.

Ciragan Palace Kempinski ExteriorIstanbul’s fabulous Ciragan Palace on the Bosporus, now a five-star hotel that is part of the Kempinski chain, is a former Ottoman palace. Designed by Armenian palace architect Nigoğayos Balyan, the building was destroyed by a fire in 1910 and served as a football stadium before a Japanese company bought and restored it in 1989. It was renovated again in 2007. The hotel’s lavish Sultan’s suite was featured in a CNN story on the world’s most expensive hotel suites.

Hotel Lost Seises SevilleHotel Los Seises in Seville was once the palace of the Archbishop of Spain. According to the hotel’s website, “As part of a refurbished sixteenth-century palace, the hotel’s rooms contain wonderful museum pieces, Roman mosaics, Renaissance paneling, Arab décor, tiles, paving and columns.” It also has a lovely terrace with a swimming pool and stunning views of the Cathedral and La Giralda.

Not interested in sleeping like a royal? Several historic hotels have also served as government buildings, hospitals and more.

The Hotel im Wasserturm  in Cologne, Germany, was once Europe’s largest watertower. As the hotel’s website explains: “the 140-year-old listed brickwork building is now presented with truly exceptional interior design of classic modernity. Partly destroyed during World War II, rebuilt in the early 90s and configured in three rings by British engineer John Moore — the Wasserturm is a journey through time and local history.”

In England, the London Marriott County Hall occupies the building that used to be the home to the city’s government. Some rooms have views of iconic sites such as Big Ben, the Thames and the London Eye.

The Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan, Iran, was built about 300 years ago as a caravansary. King Soltan Hossein attributed the complex of buildings to his mother, which is why it was called “the school and caravansary of Madar-shah” (which means “king’s mother”). Today the hotel is known for its splendid décor and lovely central garden.

Hostal dos Reis Católicos, located at the Plaza do Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela, was formerly a hospital. The hotel, which dates back to 1499, is considered one of the oldest in the world and once provided shelter to pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago. The parador is another place where our travelers will stay during the 2014 “Camino de Santiago” trip.

Are there any other hotels that you would add to this list?

2 thoughts on “Great Hotels that Used to Be Something Else Entirely

  1. Dont’ forget the Rocco Forte Hotel de Rome in Berlin. It used to be a bank — in fact I swam in what was once the vault!

  2. Pingback: Travel with Us to the World’s Best Hotels | Discover the World with Academic Arrangements Abroad

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