Agoda.com, Asia’s leading hotel booking site and part of Nasdaq-listed Priceline Group (Nasdaq:PCLN), has put together a list of some of Asia’s most stately, grand and historic hotels.
These properties have gone to great lengths to cater to travelers who want their vacation experience to reflect a more elegant, genteel time.
Today’s high tech traveler often craves a constant flow of information streaming in from the latest gadgets in every corner. Indeed, a recent study published by Agoda.com highlighted ways in which hotels are using high-tech devices and cutting-edge technology to kick the hotel experience up a notch. However, we’re also fans of those hotels that reflect travel as it once was– with large quiet gardens, ornate furniture and antique decoration – when the hotel itself was the destination.
These hotels often played important historical roles, hosting kings, generals, politician or religious figures at pivotal times. Sometimes, the hotels themselves were the focus of events that changed the way we look at the world and whose repercussions are still being felt today.
Below are six of Agoda.com’s favorite historic hotels in Asia/Australia. While these properties have been upgraded to cater to the 21st century traveler, they still retain the color, charm and spirit of their unique history and the time in which they were built.
The Westin Chosun, Seoul, South Korea, 5*
The original Chosun Hotel was built in its current location in 1914 and decked out in all things western – ornate living and dining rooms in the style of 18th century England, imported Irish linen, German silverware and crystal chandeliers from New York. As the only western-style hotel in Korea for much of its early years, it hosted visiting dignitaries such as US President Herbert Hoover in 1915 and Japanese Crown Prince (later Emperor) Hirohito in 1925. After weathering the storms of WWII and the Korean War, President Park Jung-hee decided that the hotel should be a flagship property for South Korea’s newly energized economy, and a rechristening in 1969 brought the hotel back into the international spotlight. In 1981, a complete renovation expanded and upgraded the entire property, and ongoing investments in rooms and facilities have maintained the hotel’s reputation and historical significance.
One noteworthy aspect of the hotel is the presence of Hwanggung-U, the Temple of Heaven, on its lush and expansive grounds. The ornate structure was built in 1899 as a companion to Wongu-dan, an altar where Korea’s then-Emperor Gwangmu made religious offerings. Wongu-dan was destroyed during Japanese annexation in 1913, but Hwanggung-U remains. Along with this important piece of history just outside its doors, the hotel offers a fully-equipped athletic club, pool and sauna, plus spacious rooms and a prime location next to some of Seoul’s most well-trafficked train stations.
Nadesar Palace, Varanasi, India, 5*
In an ancient country Varanasi is an ancient city, and the Nadesar Palace retains the palpable sense of mystery, grandeur and cultural weight that the city is known for. Indeed, Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – with settlements dating back over 3,000 years and boasting over 20,000 temples, it’s often called the spiritual center of India.
Fittingly, Nadesar Palace reflects all of these disparate themes. The hotel’s early history is largely circumstantial, but it’s likely that the original building was in place as far back as the 1830’s. In 1889 – after refurbishment by noted scholar, translator and city planner James Prinsep – the building became home to the then-ruler of Varanasi, Maharaja Prabhu Narain Singh. Later, after being turned into a hotel, the first noteworthy guests were the Prince and Princess of Wales, who later became King George V and Queen Mary of England. Since then the hotel has played host to celebrities, royalty and politicians, from King Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, to the Dalai Lama.
Today, works of art from the Maharaja’s personal collection adorn the walls while refurbished furniture and antique decorations in each of its 10 suites faithfully recreate an earlier era. The hotel grounds are an attraction in themselves – acres of mango orchards and fields of marigold and jasmine are a perfect location for breakfast, afternoon tea, or a poolside barbecue.
Hotel New Grand, Yokohama, Japan, 4.5*
Yokohama’s Hotel New Grand isn’t the oldest hotel on the list, but it and the area that it occupies have played an important role in the development of Japan for hundreds of years. It was here that Commodore Matthew Perry came ashore in 1853, ending over 200 years of self-imposed isolation and opening Japan up to the global economy, not to mention the full power of cultural influence from abroad. Japan adapted very quickly to this new reality and the country soon became a major economic player. During this period of growth, in 1927, the Hotel New Grand opened.
Miraculously, it was one of the only buildings that survived the intense bombing raids during WWII, and was thus used as a base by legendary US General Douglas MacArthur who, coincidentally, stayed there as a boy, as well as on his honeymoon several years earlier. In the years before and since, the hotel has hosted notable names such as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Babe Ruth.
The hotel continued to act as one of Yokohama’s top hotels well into the 20th century, offering rooms such as the MacArthur Suite, which remains almost unchanged since the General stayed there, and others with special historical significance. By the late 1980’s, expansion was needed so in 1991 the hotel’s new tower wing opened, adding 202 suites to the 49 in the original building. Today, the combination provides both classical and modern rooms with great views over Yokohama, which remains one of Japan’s major port cities and most important commercial hubs.
Hotel Majapahit, Indonesia, 5*
By the turn of the 20th century, Indonesia had already played a major role in the battle for regional and global influence for hundreds of years. By the early 1900s, after many disputes and conflicts, the Dutch had a firm foothold and conditions were ripe for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit to take advantage of a growing economy and increasing trade. In 1910, Lucas Martin Sarkies’ 7-year old son laid the first stone in the building, which was named the Oranje Hotel. For the next thirty years, several expansions and renovations ensured high visibility in the rapidly developing region, with everyone from European royalty to Hollywood movie stars attending gala events there. Under Japanese occupation during WWII, it was renamed Hotel Yamato and used as a temporary prison camp for Dutch women and children. In the political and social turbulence of the ensuing decades it was alternately known as Hotel Merdeka, L.M.S Hotel, and finally, in 1969, Hotel Majapahit, named after the most enduring kingdom of ancient Indonesia.
Through all of this the hotel has stood almost defiantly, offering superb accommodation amid gorgeous gardens and fascinating culture. Winner of an architectural preservation award and named as an Indonesian Heritage Landmark in 1996, guests today can enjoy a luxurious spa, several superb restaurant choices, and sumptuous accommodation in 143 rooms, including the Executive Suite, Garden Terrace and Majapahit Suite.
Goodwood Park Hotel, Singapore, 5*
There are plenty of stately old properties in Singapore, and the Goodwood Hotel is one of the most interesting. It was originally called the Teutonia Club – named after the ancient Germanic tribe that battled the Roman Republic – and was built in 1899 to serve as an exclusive clubhouse for the German community in Singapore at the time. In 1918 it was bought by three brothers and renamed Goodwood Hall, where it served the local community as an entertainment establishment, most notably hosting Anna Pavlova, widely considered to be one of the best ballet dancers in history and a global superstar at the time. It officially became a hotel in 1929, hosting several high profile guests such as the Duke of Windsor, and in 1941 – when Japan occupied the island – was used as a residence for high-ranking Japanese officers. In a unique twist, the hotel was used as a war crimes court to try some of those same officers after the war ended in 1945. In the decades since, the hotel has remained at the forefront of Singapore’s classic accommodation offerings with such notable firsts as having the country’s first hotel swimming pool – an outrageous luxury at the time – and the first air-conditioned wine cellar. In 1989 the hotel was named as a national monument by the Singapore National Heritage Board.
Currently the hotel offers guests 233 rooms across four unique wings, and in 2005 upgraded its lobby with every modern amenity. Several on-site restaurants offer almost everything from traditional Asian delicacies to English afternoon tea and pastries, not to mention a rotating list of specials for the many festivals and celebrations that come around due to Singapore’s famously multicultural population.
Mansion Hotel & Spa at Werribee Park, Australia 5*
About 35km outside of Melbourne sits the Mansion Hotel & Spa at Werribee Park, an iconic structure that dates back to a time when Melbourne was the richest city in the world and by far the biggest in Australia due to the Victorian Gold Rush. It was in 1874 that two Scottish brothers – ranchers Thomas and Andrew Chirnside – built Werribee Park Mansion as a base from which to run their growing empire. The family lived happily for many years, but when Andrew’s two sons assumed management after the death of their father, family rivalries led to bitter lawsuits and pieces of the property were slowly sold off. Eventually, the mansion was sold to the Catholic Church in 1922, and the wing that now houses the Mansion Hotel was constructed to accommodate the property’s new identity as the Corpus Christi College, until it was eventually sold to the Victoria State Government in 1973.
Today, the main building is a museum but the Mansion Hotel & Spa lives on as one of the finest places to stay in the region. Many of the features from the seminary have been retained, including the library and beautiful stained glass windows. A first-rate spa and swimming pool complete the ambiance, but the best parts are located throughout the mansion grounds, which cover 25 acres and have been used for countless weddings, graduations and television & movie shoots. They include the Victoria State Rose Garden, Heritage Orchard, Open Zoo, Equestrian Centre and Shadowfax Winery. The Mansion Hotel has also won a major award for heritage architecture.
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