The best luxury hotels with history
With original features and idiosyncratic charm, these historic buildings reborn as hotels are tapping into their unique heritage
Here are some of the world’s most beautiful hotels that have given a new lease of life to historical structures.
The former prison: The Liberty Hotel, Boston
When the inmates at the Charles Street Jail in Boston revolted over unfit conditions in 1973, little did they know their cells would become part of the 298-room, four-star Liberty Hotel. The restoration team carefully transformed the jail, using architect Gridley James Fox Bryant’s original drawings from 1851, in a bid to adhere to his creative vision. From the jail’s beautifully preserved atrium to the wrought-iron bars on the windows and doors in the hotel’s aptly named Clink restaurant and Alibi bar, The Liberty is a place steeped in historical charm and character without a rebellion in sight.
The former bullfighting ring: Quinta Real Zacatecas, Mexico
In 1989, Ricardo and Roberto Elias Pessah saved the famous San Pedro bullfighting ring in Mexico from demolition by preserving the character of the site in an award-winning restoration. The result was a multi-suite luxury hotel celebrating the rich and colourful history of the 19th-century structure that saw some of Mexico's most popular matadors take on the bulls. The hotel's three-tier La Plaza restaurant has views of the garden, an aqueduct and the bullring, while the Botarel bar is housed in the former bullpen, where animals were held prior to being released into the ring.
The former Underground station: The Wellesley, London
The decadent Art Deco-style townhouse in London's Knightsbridge wasn't always the 36-bed boutique hotel it is today. The building began life as Hyde Park Corner underground station before becoming Pizza on the Park, a popular jazz and cabaret venue. Named after the first Duke of Wellington, Sir Arthur Wellesley, whose statue once stood atop the nearby Wellington Arch, the hotel also pays tribute to the building's 1920s heritage and strong links to music, with geometric design and an intimate jazz lounge.
The former bakery: Hotel du Petit Moulin, Paris
This eclectic four-star boutique hotel in the Le Marais district of Paris used to be the French capital's first bakery, as the name (which translates to "small mill") suggests. Even Victor Hugo was said to pass by for a baguette every now and then. Retaining the original shop frontage (it's protected by the French Ministry of Culture) the hotel oozes vintage character and charm. Each room, created by fashion designer Christian Lacroix, has its own unique personality and reflects the spirit of Le Marais.
The former courthouse: Courthouse Hotel, London
Now a five-star contemporary design hotel in the heart of Soho, Courthouse Hotel was once the Great Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court. Witnessing the trials of Oscar Wilde, Keith Richards, John Lennon and Johnny Rotten, many of the original features of the Grade II-listed building still remain. The Silk restaurant serves Asian cuisine in a classic courthouse setting, while the original prison cell blocks can be found in the bar as luxury VIP rooms for up to six guests. The group has also recently opened a second outpost in the former Old Street Magistrates' Court in Shoreditch. Original elements of the former courthouse remain, including refurbished cells with reinforced metal doors, where the Krays were held while awaiting trial. The theme continues with a handcuffed image of the Mona Lisa in the bar.
The former brewery: B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa, Zurich
Once the largest brewery in Switzerland, this 51-room and nine-suite hotel provides a stark contrast between the old and the new. The Hurlimann brewery closed its doors in 1996 after 130 years in production but its presence can still be felt in the antique vaulted cellars, now housing the hotel's luxury spa, and in the grand wine library, where opulent chandeliers made from original Hurlimann beer bottles illuminate an impressive 30,000 books.
The Emperor’s villa: Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, Sorrento
Legend has it that the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria was built on the foundations of the Roman Emperor Augustus’s villa. It was founded by the Fiorentino family in 1834 and is one of the most stylish places to stay in Sorrento. Loved by Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill, the hotel boasts beautiful gardens, an outdoor pool and breathtaking views of the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius from its terrace. It even has an art deco lift through the cliff to the fishing port below.