Historic Hideaways

by Sandra Ramani

We love a hotel with a good backstory, and those with lots of stories to tell. At historic properties, these tales are revealed in many ways, from the original architectural flourishes, the insight of dedicated staff members, and the long-standing traditions to the antics of high-profile guests who’ve checked in over the years. Here, we take a look behind five historic hotels around the world, and reveal some of their latest developments.

The Sagamore

The Story In the 19th-century, the shores of Lake George in the Adirondack mountains were lined with the summer mansions of wealthy East Coasters—so much so that a part of the area was dubbed “Millionaire’s Row.” In 1883, some of these millionaires teamed up with a noted hotelier to buy Green Island, which juts out into the scenic lake, and built the stately Sagamore Resort

Now a designated National Historic Landmark, the 70-acre property has served as a regular vacation spot for generations of families, who enjoy hiking, boating, swimming, and lawn games in the summer and carnivals, bonfires, and access to nearby skiing in the winter. Add to that multiple dining and drinking options and accommodations that range from rooms in the historic main house to lakeside condos, and you’ve got the idyllic all-in-one retreat.

The Latest While the kids are jumping in the pools or playing in the rec center, adults can head to the recently redone Spa and Salon for some targeted R&R. After soaking in the hydrotherapy circuit, retreat to one of the 14 treatment rooms for a reiki energy session, reflexology, or a signature body ritual. 

Raffles Singapore

The Story When it originally opened in 1887, Raffles Singapore sat on a serene strip of beachfront, billing its proximity to “healthy sea air” as one of its perks. Over the years, as land reclamation work has taken place around it, the elegant hotel is now in the heart of downtown—but has managed to remain an oasis among the skyscrapers around it. 

Stretching a full city block around, and featuring tropical gardens, an outdoor pool, a retail arcade, and 10 restaurants and bars, the designated historic landmark is still every bit the city resort that has drawn guests from Rudyard Kipling and Elizabeth Taylor to the cast of Crazy Rich Asians.

The Latest As the flagship of the Raffles brand, the hotel has long prided itself on being ahead of the curve. It was the first hotel in Singapore to have electric lights, French chefs, and butler service, for example. So when things were starting to feel a little tired, the place closed down for a two-year complete renovation—from which it just emerged this past August. 

Now, everything is new, from the 115 suites re-done by noted design studio Champalimaud and the restaurants from celebrated international chefs like Alain Ducasse and Anne-Sophie Pic to the Raffles Spa, a seven-room sanctuary with vitality pools and targeted treatments. Two-hour services like The Traveler’s Interlude—with full-body dry brushing, deep tissue massage, and pressure-point face treatment—help ease away jet-lag.

The Shelbourne

The Story Perched overlooking Dublin’s famous St. Stephen’s Green park, The Shelbourne Hotel has for over 200 years served as the city’s “living room,” a gathering place everyone from politicians and socialites to families enjoying the legendary afternoon tea. Along the way, it’s also witnessed a lot of history. In 1922, it was the site of the drafting of the Irish Constitution, a copy of which can be viewed in the hotel’s museum. 

Following a multi-year top-to-toe renovation, the landmark is now greeting guests with a sophisticated new look and a host of new offerings, including revamped suites named for famous past guests, like Princess Grace.

The Latest In the elegant Lord Mayor’s Lounge, the iconic Afternoon Tea service now comes in modern-day options like vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, so all guests can enjoy the traditional ritual. Meanwhile, over in the multi-level spa, find in the indoor pool and thermal circuit, nourishing treatments using holistic ingredients, and a regal relaxation lounge with views of the park.

Blantyre

The Story Once dubbed “the Switzerland of America,” the Berkshires have long served as an idyllic retreat destination for writers, musicians and wealthy city folk who built grand estates tucked away among the dense woodlands. One notable example of the latter included Robert Peterson, who in 1902 constructed a Tudor-style mansion—complete with turrets and gargoyles—in the middle of his 220 acres, which also featured a carriage house, stables and vast gardens. Once the setting of many a Gilded Age party, Blantyre is now an intimate Relais & Chateaux hotel with an award-winning restaurant, dedicated Champagne lounge, and lots of on-site activities, from hiking and tennis to just relaxing around the fireplaces in the parlor, glass of port in hand.

The Latest Set in what was once the estate’s greenhouse, and surrounded by gardens and an outdoor swimming pool, the spa recently launched treatments using nature-based Hungarian line Omorovicza, which features mineral-rich thermal waters and ingredients sourced from around the world. Enjoy a scrub performed with fair-trade cane sugar, a wrap with snow algae, spirulina, and hibiscus flower extracts, facials with antioxidant-filled Australian berries, and massages with botanical oils—then relax with some tea in the lovely, greenhouse-inspired lounge. 

Hotel Eden

The Story From kings and queens to icons like filmmaker Federico Fellini, Rome’s Hotel Eden has hosted them all over the last 130 years. It all started in 1889, when hotelier Francesco Nistelweck and his wife, Berta Hassler, turned a three-story residence in the upscale Ludovisi district into what became the city’s most state-of-the-art hotel, offering things like electricity, elevators, heating, and running water (all included with rooms that, at today’s prices, ran about 20 cents.) Over the decades, the place has evolved and been updated; the now-famous panoramic rooftop terrace was added in the 1960’s, for example, and a complete renovation was revealed in 2017.

The Latest Following the recent renovation—which saw the addition of the chic Eden Spa—the hotel is this year honoring its 130th anniversary with some fun offerings. At the rooftop Il Giardino Bar, sip a cocktail originally created for Constantine II of Greece (the ingredients were previously kept secret), or head to the Michelin-starred La Terrazza restaurant to enjoy an octopus and celery dish made from a recipe that was rediscovered in the hotel archives. In honor of a book by Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio that celebrated the senses—and was released the year Hotel Eden opened—the Spa has introduced a special “130-minutes of pleasure” face and body ritual that incorporates rose and jasmine essential oils and the scent of fig. 

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