George Bernard Shaw might have a point about progress – but how do you move into the modern age if you’re the guardian of an important historic building?
Historic Hotels of Europe members occupy some of the world’s most evocative palaces, castles and homes. The challenge is to conserve the fabric of the old, while making them relevant for modern guests to relish.
We’ve hand-picked some of those we think have struck the perfect balance between past and present.
Historic buildings that have stood firm against urban developers face stiff competition from slick new builds – but we believe these hotels stand head and shoulders above the newcomers.
Hotel Kraft, Basel, Switzerland
Hermann Hesse wrote his novel Der Steppenwolf here – and there’s plenty of inspiration in the Rhine and city views outside. But the interiors are something special too. While the hotel exterior has been maintained in traditional style, the rooms are modern and stylish, featuring Vitra Design furniture and contemporary touches. The pared-back rooms rub shoulders elegantly with original features such as tiled floors and rich, weathered wood.
Marktgasse Hotel, Zurich, Switzerland
This means exposed columns, playful frescoes and nostalgic lattice windows play host to 39 atmospheric rooms fitted with design classics and timeless parquet flooring. The redesign has created a more casual, updated feel – but without sacrificing anything in the way of quality.
Hotel Hviezdoslav, Slovakia
Slovakia’s High Tatras attract many visitors and if you’re looking for a small hotel with a big heart, you can’t go wrong with the Hotel Hviezdoslav. It’s in the middle of historic royal town Kežmarok and has been created from four interconnected 17th century houses, just a few steps from the castle.
Outside the city, the threats to historic buildings are different. Fading fortunes and political upheaval have seen many important buildings disappear. These wonderful examples have not just survived but reinvented themselves for the modern era.
Pechy Castle, Slovakia
Today it’s owned by interior designer and architecture journalist Klara Szakall von Losoncz, so it’s no wonder the place is a knockout. No detail has been neglected: Klara has used local stone and larch wood, combining them with French and English textiles and throwing in antique and contemporary furniture and art. Precious crystal chandeliers contrast with rough stone walls to create a unique interior that’s a true update of the old hunting lodge of days gone by.
Chateau Gbel’any, Slovakia
Travelling west, you’ll find another gracious park residence in Chateau Gbel’any. The 18th century baroque chateau was falling into disrepair until extensive reconstruction works transformed this crumbling mansion into a modern luxury hotel.
The building itself has been allowed to star in this sympathetic renovation: the interiors achieve their luxe feel through pared-back design, focusing on excellence in every detail.
Hotel Mikulášska chata Jasná, Slovakia
The perfect blend of design and place, Hotel Mikulášska chata Jasná sits amid pine trees and mountains in Slovakia’s biggest ski resort.
While the exterior is the same classic Tatra chalet architecture as in bygone days, today’s interior is a minimal haven full of simple, elegant furniture created from the very trees that surround it.
Twr y Felin Hotel, St Davids, Wales
What you see today is a faithful recreation of the original form – but with a breathtaking, reimagined interior. Hotel owner Keith Griffiths is chairman of Aedas, the fifth largest architectural company in the world, so it’s no surprise that this is a hotel with a difference.
Furniture is by former furniture designer of the year Channels and the walls are the perfect backdrop for original artwork commissioned specifically for the hotel.
Hammet House, Cardigan, Wales
The most recent saw owner Philippa Gale strip out much adornment, to allow the Georgian features to shine in a modern and playful way. She introduced fresh, clean lines and the best design from the past 50 years. A muted and restful colour palette is brightened by pops of colour from furniture such as Egg chairs and Artifort sofas. Very much a personal project by Philippa, Hammet House has already built a firm following of fans.
Albergo Monte Verità, Ascona, Switzerland
The Albergo Monte Verità lies in an area that has attracted people seeking an ‘alternative’ life for more than 100 years. They renamed Monte Monescia the ‘Mount of Truth’, ate a vegetarian diet, worked the land and bathed naked outdoors.
The community’s reputation grew until it was attracting thinkers, writers, poets and artists from all corners of the globe. Although the original settlers built humble timber huts, more substantial buildings sprang up over the years, including this one, constructed in the Bauhaus style by Emil Fahrekamp in 1927. Renovated in 2008, it retains a characteristically quirky feel, incorporating influences from Japan, the local area, as well as original Bauhaus furniture.