Remnants of a bygone world, these colonial memorials are places of nostalgic luxury where century-old traditions are preserved with meticulous care. Their Victorian flavour is reminiscent of Agatha Christie stories (actually, the famous writer stayed in some of them herself).
Most of old colonial hotels are as unaffordable for the average traveller as they were a hundred years ago, but this apparent shortcoming is compensated for by their opulence, charm, rich history and a long list of famous guests. Get to know some of the most celebrated hotels in the world…
Galle Face Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Opened in 1864
Facing the Indian Ocean, this very personal and unique hotel has been hailed as a masterpiece of Victorian architecture. Some of its guests have said that staying at Galle Face is alone a sufficient reason for visiting Sri Lanka.
What is more, staying at Galle Face is affordable. You can enjoy the dramatic sunsets over the Indian Ocean from its black-and-white chequerboard terrace and know that famous guests, such as Richard Nixon, Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Neru, Emperor Hirohito, Roger Moore, Yuri Gagarin have probably done the same.
The hotel has its own ‘landmark’ – a world-famous doorman, eight-eight-year-old Kuttan, proudly bearing the title of the most faithful employee in hotel industry. He has served Galle Face for 66 years since the days of the British Raj.
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, Thailand
Opened in 1876
One of the oldest hotels in Asia, the famed Mandarin Oriental (formerly Oriental) is not cheap, but it certainly lives up to its reputation of superb service and opulent luxury. With a ratio of three staff per one guest, the hotel aims to make every visitor feel like royalty.
The famous guests include almost everyone who comes to mind – politicians, royalty, designers, celebrities such as Graham Greene, Sophia Loren, Alfred Hitchkock… Joseph Conrad did not stay at the hotel, but he was a frequent visitor to the bar.
In 1888, he arrived in Bangkok to take over the command of a ship whose previous captain died at sea, and spent many an evening swapping stories of far-off places in the bar of the Oriental. A few years later he would settle in England and take up writing full-time.
Raffles Hotel, Singapore
Opened in 1887
In 1886, the Armenian Sarkies brothers took over a harbour-facing building known as the Beach House. In December 1887, the new hotel opened and was named after the founder of the British colony in Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles.
Rudyard Kipling, who arrived in the same year, noted that the food was excellent but the rooms were bad. It seems the hotel has improved a great deal since then and has a guest list that looks like an edition of Who’s Who. Charlie Chaplin, Ginger Rogers, William Golding, Elizabeth Taylor and David Bowie have all stayed there.
One of Raffles‘ legendary, even if not overtly famous guests, was a certain Dutch archaeologist, Professor Callenfels, who drank up to three bottles of gin for breakfast alone and once ate every dish on the hotel’s menu. He then proceeded to do it all over again, only backwards.
Rumoured to be the place of mass suicide of 300 Japanese soldiers in the end of the Japanese occupation of Singapore in 1945 – in fact, only one such suicide has been proven – this famed hotel withstood wars, crises and disasters gracefully and is now a celebrated national monument.
Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Opened in 1885
The Eastern Hotel in Penang – now a UNESCO world heritage site – was the first enterprise of the Sarkies brothers. Renamed Eastern & Oriental after a few years, it became commonly known as the E&O.
This hotel is one of the earliest major historic buildings still standing in Georgetown and is a charming legacy of Malaysia’s colonial past. Many of the historic features have been retained up to the present day, including the somewhat moody antique elevator and classic black-and-white tiled Victorian bathrooms.
E&O has welcomed celebrities such as Noel Coward, Herman Hesse, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.
Pera Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
Opened in 1892, will reopen in April 2010
The grand and opulent Pera Palace was built for the use of passengers coming from Paris to Istanbul on the Orient Express. It is located in a cosmopolitan quarter of Istanbul on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn and Bosphorus, a place of symbolic significance, where the East meets the West.
Pera Palace been frequented by politicians, writers and artists. The guest list includes name such as Mata Hari, Greta Garbo, Ernest Hemingway and Valeri Giscard d’Estaing.
The hotel had a very special place in the life of Agatha Christie. She stayed there many times between 1926 and 1932, and also wrote one of her best-known stories, Orient Express, in the hotel.
Winter Palace, Luxor, Egypt
Opened in 1886
Winter Palace, built in a typical British colonial style, soon became famous for its New Year’s Eve celebrations with masked costume balls. Taking part in hotel celebrations became a symbol of status and recognition. It was said to be the ultimate privilege to have one’s yacht moored along the quayside opposite the Winter Palace.
Agatha Christie is once again on the list of famous visitors, and it might have been here she got inspiration for her many stories set in Egypt.
It was on the notice board at Winter Palace that Howard Carter first announced the discovery of the tomb of Tutankamon in 1922. The famous Egyptologist frequented the hotel until his death.
Oberoi Grand, Kolkata, India
Opened in 1890
One of the oldest hotels in India, this colonial mansion is a haven of privacy, peace and old world charm in the hectic and exhausting city of contrasts that Kolkata is.
Boasting celebrity guests such as Melinda Gates, Ricky Martin and the Queen of Bhutan, Oberoi Grand used to be the favourite destination of princely Indians and local and international celebrities alike.
It is still one of the best hotels in India and perhaps the best hotel in Kolkata, a city is rich in top of the range hotels. The grand dining room offers different international buffet every night of the week as well as an exquisite Sunday lunch buffet, popular with locals and tourists alike
Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa
Opened in 1899
Mount Nelson Hotel was the fruit of the imagination and determination of shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie. The first visitors were the European high society travellers and the nouveau riche who partied and celebrated at the wake of Anglo-Boer war that broke out in the end of 1899. A young Winston Churchill was then a regular guest as a newspaper correspondent reporting on the war.
Since these troubled days, the walls of Nellie, as it is affectionately known, have survived three wars and many changes of government. They have welcomed the rich, the famous and the royal. Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and more recently Charlize Theron, Robbie Williams, Bono and Oprah have all stayed at Mount Nelson.
This white mansion boasts breathtaking views of the Table Mountain, and is striking in its colonial grandeur that South Africa is so famous for. Mount Nelson still serves high tea in the afternoon and champagne before dinner.
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Additional photo credit: Pera Palace Hotel by Inga Kastrone