Add these Historic lodgings to your Bucket List…
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not just a prop built for a movie set, it’s one of the oldest hotels in the world. The Ravla Khempur, an exotic old hotel in India (dating back to 1628), debuted in the hit movie and in its sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Both British movies depicted the hotel as a place where unsatisfied Baby Boomers came to find a new life.
Not so oddly, the Ravla Khempur has had a 40 percent rise in reservations since the movies came out. However, the hotel isn’t the only exotic old hotel in India. There are dozens. And History wonk that I am, that got me thinking about exotic old hotels…and specifically, the oldest hotels in the world.
- Add these Historic lodgings to your Bucket List…
- 1. Nishiyama OnsenKeiunkan – Yamanashi, Japan
- 2. Zum Roten Bären – Freiburg, Germany
- 3. Orso Grigio – San Candido, Italy (currently)
- 4. Goldener Adler (Golden Eagle) – Innsbruck, Austria
- 5. Hotel Balzac, Paris, France
- 6. Hotel Ritz Paris, Paris, France
- 7. The Shelbourne Hotel – Dublin, IrelandOpened: 1824
- 8. Waldorf Astoria New York – New York, NY
- 9. Fleischer’s Hotel – Voss, Norway
- 10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Hotel Gellert, Budapest, Hungary
The most common definition of exotic is: “of foreign origin and nature; strikingly excitingly, or mysteriously different.” All are subjective terms depending on where you live and what you consider exciting or mysteriously different. So, allowing my history nerdiness free rein, I focused on ten of the oldest hotels in the world.
These are my favorites. Not only are they some of the oldest hotels in the world and fit the description of exotic, but each also boasts a bit of fascinating history. That should make any intrepid traveler want to add a few of these grand old hotels to the bucket list.
1. Nishiyama OnsenKeiunkan – Yamanashi, Japan
According to the Guinness Book of World Records the Nishiyama OnsenKeiunkan is not just one of the oldest hotels in the world, it is the oldest hotel in the world. It is also the world’s oldest continuously-operating business. The hotel opened 1,083 years before the United States Constitution was signed and, amazingly, has been owned by the same family for 52 generations. According to Travel & Leisure, the accommodations have been made to satisfy the modern traveler, combining both age-old Japanese customs and sleek, contemporary design.
Imagine spending a few nights In this ryokan, (traditional Japanese inn) where you could view the countryside while a chef prepares your meal using fresh, seasonal ingredients, and then soaking in the same hot springs (four outdoor baths and two indoor) where real-life samurais and celebrities bathed, including Japan’s first shogun, and the forty-sixth emperor, Kouken.
2. Zum Roten Bären – Freiburg, Germany
Opened: prior to 1120
The Zum Roten Baren is said to be one of the oldest hotels in Europe, if not the oldest. The name loosely translates to “the red bear.” The long line of owners over the centuries can be traced back to the Bienger family in 1311. This ancient hotel once belonged to France, and the current owner, Wolf Eschger, is the 51st to take ownership.
It’s difficult to date the building since the foundations predate the foundation of the city in 1120. That makes it the oldest building in Freiburg, a city in Beden-Wurttemberg, on the western edge of the Black Forest, straddling the Dreisam River. The historic hotel couldn’t be better located in the heart of the Old Town, near the Freiburg Cathedral and the Swabian gate. Other popular tourist attractions in this university town are also nearby.
Along with extraordinary scenic beauty, you’ll find local hospitality and a storied history having lived through the Black Plague, witch hunts and revolutions, the Thirty Year’s War, WWI, WWII and dozens of renovations. Original artwork and architecture can still be found in the basement.
Opened: 1300 in Austria
One hotel in two countries? Yes. Before it was in Italy, this ancient hotel in the Dolomites was in Austria and opened as Grauer Bär (gray bear) in 1300. The name was changed to the Italian spelling when the province was annexed after WWI. Originally built to house merchants and noblemen who flocked to the then famous market town of Ronzone, the hotel served a short stint as a military hospital during WWI.
4. Goldener Adler (Golden Eagle) – Innsbruck, Austria
Austria has its share of historic hotels that could rank with the oldest hotels worldwide. I’ve picked the “Goldener” because…it’s mega old and because its alive with the sound of… yes, music. It’s true. The Von Trapps have stayed here. So has Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and pretty much every Austrian king and nobleman from Joseph II to Ludwig I of Bavaria. This Golden Eagle has been updated for the modern traveler, but its history is visible in its architecture, thick walls, timber ceilings, and stained glass.
5. Hotel Balzac, Paris, France
Opened early 19th century
Okay, the historic Hotel Balzac isn’t at the top of the oldest hotels in Europe list, but it is one if the oldest hotels in Paris. And any hotel that features large collections of books is going to win my knuckle bump. Make it an old swanky hotel in Paris and I’m there. Built in the early 19th century by banker Nicolas Beaujon, the Hotel Balzac earned much esteem for its exotic –and romantic– Parisian style.
After Beaujon’s death and changing hands a few times, the hotel became a salon for epicureans and champagne aficionados. Subsequently purchased in 1846 by Honore de Balzac, one of the founders of realist literature and author of over 100 novels and plays. Balzac’s legacy lives on in the hotel’s impressive collections of books, scenes from his works and lithographs of the author.
Another thumbs up… the hotel hosts a restaurant that’s famous for its contemporary French cuisine…and it’s only minutes away from the Arc de Triomphe.
6. Hotel Ritz Paris, Paris, France
We’re still looking at the oldest hotels in Paris with the legendary Hotel Ritz Paris. The hotel reopened in June 2016 after a major 4-year multimillion-dollar renovation. Founded by the Swiss hotelier, César Ritz, in collaboration with the chef Auguste Escoffier, the Hotel Ritz was among the first hotels in Europe to provide a bathroom en suite, a telephone, and electricity for each room.
The hotel quickly set the standard for luxury with royalty, politicians, writers, film stars and singers and was headquarters for Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway and Ingrid Bergman. Look for the hotel in several classic movies like “Funny Face,” “Love in the Afternoon” and “How to Steal a Million,” and check out its lavish belle epoque decor and crystal chandeliers.
Like most grand old hotels, the Ritz Paris has a storied history. During World War II, the hotel was taken over by the occupying Germans and served as the local headquarters of the Luftwaffe. After the death of Ritz’s son Charles in 1976, the remaining Ritz family sold it to Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed in 1979. In 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales and Al-Fayed’s son, Dodi, dined in the Imperial Suite before their fatal car crash.
The Ritz Paris is near the Tuileries gardens and was once declared “the most romantic hotel in the world” by Sophia Loren.
7. The Shelbourne Hotel – Dublin, IrelandOpened: 1824
In the heart of Dublin on St. Stephen’s Green, the lavish Shelbourne Hotel is Ireland’s oldest and most historic hotel. Currently owned by Marriott International, the Shelbourne was founded in 1824 by Martin Burke, a native of Tipperary, when he acquired three adjoining townhouses overlooking Dublin‘s St. Stephen’s Green. By 1866 after it changed hands to new owners the Shelbourne was re-built by Irish Victorian architect John McCurdy.
The new edifice took 10 months to complete and was considered as majestic as any of great hotels in London or Paris. The studio of M. M. Barbezet of Paris cast the four external statues, two Nubian Princesses and their shackled slave girls that stand guard at the entrance of the hotel. (hmm, they must be inside)
In the early 1900s, Alois Hitler, Jr., the elder half-brother of Adolf Hitler, worked in the hotel while in Dublin. In 1916, the hotel was taken over during the Easter Rebellion and occupied by 40 British troops under Captain Andrews. Their objective was to counter the Irish Citizen Army and Volunteer forces.
The Shelbourne is also the historic location for the drafting of the first Constitution of Ireland. In 1922, the Irish Constitution was drawn up in Room 112 (now known as the Constitution Room).
All that colorful history aside, the Shelbourne is purported to be the grandest and most beautiful hotel in Dublin. With its Renaissance-style facade, ornate crystal chandeliers, marble pillars and sumptuous decor, I can see why. (still wondering about those Nubian Princesses though.) The next time I’m in Ireland I will check it out.
8. Waldorf Astoria New York – New York, NY
Opened: 1893 and 1931
The Waldorf salad originated here…as well as the concept of 24-hour room service—something for which I’m eternally grateful. I debated whether to include the hotel since it’s currently closed until December 31, 2020 for renovation and because it was razed once and rebuilt. But it’s the Waldorf Astoria. And I’ve stayed at this luxury hotel, so I have to include it.
While the Waldorf may not be on my top ten list of the oldest hotels in the world, it is one of the oldest hotels in NYC and certainly fits the historic icon list.The Waldorf-Astoria originated as two hotels, built side-by-side on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan by feuding relatives. But in 1929 the two hotels were razed to make way for the Empire State Building. The current Waldorf Astoria New York, was completed on Park Avenue in 1931.
From the beginning, the Waldorf Astoria gained an international reputation for lavish dinner parties and galas. Often the parties were political and business conferences and fundraising schemes involving the rich and famous. After World War II, the hotel played a major role in world politics and the Cold War, housing the controversial World Peace Conference of March 1949, at which Stalinism was widely denounced.
This Art Deco landmark was the world’s tallest hotel from 1931 until 1963, when it was outsized by Moscow’s Hotel Ukraina. Still an icon of glamour and luxury, the Waldorf Astoria has hosted every U.S. president from Hoover to Obama and is considered one of the world’s most prestigious and best known hotels.
It even features a “secret” train platform beneath the hotel that was used by high-security VIP guests such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (It’s no longer operational.) Although this iconic hotel can’t lay claim to the tallest hotel title anymore, it’s still one of the oldest hotels and a registered New York landmark.
9. Fleischer’s Hotel – Voss, Norway
Opened: 1864 and 1888
At the turn of the century, Kings, Kaisers, Emperors, and notable guests from far and wide frequented the Fleischer Hotel. It first opened in 1864, but aA fire in 1888 destroyed the original buildings causing Fredrik Fleischer and his wife Magdalene to rebuild. They hired well-known architect Peter Andreas Blix to rebuild as it stands today with its distinctive Swiss-style spires and balconies.
Again, like many of the oldest hotels in Europe during World War II, Fleischer’s Hotel was occupied by the Germans. But it was one of the few buildings in Voss, Norway, that wasn’t devastated by bombs. Over the years this grand old hotel has seen expansion and redecoration, including a new wing, a swimming pool, restaurants, bar, and updated guestrooms. Still run by the Fleischer family, the hotel is a charter member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2011.
10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Unlike The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the Grand Budapest Hotel from the movie of the same name is not one of the oldest hotels worldwide. In fact, it is not a hotel at all. What you see in the movie was filmed on a German studio set and in a department store. However, Budapest does have its share of grand old hotels, and since this destination is next on my travel list, I must include one of them.
Hotel Gellert, Budapest, Hungary
The Hotel Gellert, built on the right bank of the Danube River between 1916 and 1918, is one of the oldest hotels in town. This Art Nouveau style hotel, boasts high-domed ceilings and an ornate tiled Turkish steam bath and spa. It sits at the foot of Gellert Hill next to the Szabadsag Bridge on the banks of the Danube in the Buda district. The hotel was renovated in 1962 and in 1973, and the spa, swimming pool and plaza is said to be one of the most beautiful spas in Budapest. The Hotel Gellert has been dubbed “the first lady of Hungarian tourism.”
Famous for its thermal baths, the Gellert has been home to many prominent figures, including American presidents and European royalty. The hotel’s Art Nouveau style and elegant ambiance harks back to a bygone age, and although it wasn’t used in the movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, the Gellert has been featured in other Hollywood films.
The hotel is said to be the perfect base for exploring Budapest’s beautiful bridges and Pest’s Great Market Hall and shopping streets. We plan to find out soon and will report back!