Luxe Hotels With a Rich History Are Opening Across Europe
There are two versions of the luxury hotel creation myth: the perfectly formed structure that rises without precedent, compelling one to bow down before its immaculate, ahistorical highness (Aman resorts, I’m looking at you), or the place “with a past” (as was once said of intriguing women of a certain age). Striking instances of the latter are opening this summer all over Europe.
The Astir Palace
The Astir Palace in Athens.
The , on its own island-like promontory in the fancy Athens suburb of Vouliagmeni, is reemerging as the first Four Seasons resort in Greece. Opened in 1958 by the Greek government to develop tourism after the devastation of World War II, the Astir had it all: the best “organized” beaches in Attica, two hotels, secluded bungalows amid aromatic pine trees, and a marina (this being megayacht territory). It attracted wealthy Greeks (Christina Onassis, for one, learned to water-ski here), but also heads of state, movie stars, artists, dancers, musicians. The marina is being enlarged, and there will be 13 new luxury villas and a sports park. You can take your family to Athens without being in Athens all day long; the Astir Palace is just 15 miles from the city. And the resort flaunts what no other in the world can: the ruins of a small, 6th-century temple to Apollo near one beach.
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In Paris in 1910, the board of Le Bon Marche, the world’s first department store, built a hotel, the Lutetia (after Paris’s ancient Roman name), directly across the street from the store. Location, location, location: not on the Right Bank, where the city’s Belle Epoque “palace hotels” are, but on the Left, where those kings of commerce figured their wealthy suppliers and the cre?me de la cre?me of their customers would like a convenient retreat after their mercantile exertions. The fashionable Art Deco edifice was a hit. A who’s who of notables (among them Picasso, Matisse, Josephine Baker, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce, who wrote part of Ulysses here) either resided at or frequented the Lutetia.
But as always in 20th- century Europe, glamour mixed with grit. The hotel was the headquarters of the Abwehr (German counterespionage); after liberation it was a repatriation center for POWs and concentration camp survivors. The Taittinger family owned it for a while, but only now, as part of the new Set Hotels group, is it about to become again what its founders imagined: Paris’s sole Left Bank “palace,” with luxe and spacious rooms and suites in the sexiest part of the city.
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Warsaw’s Europejski, steps from the Royal Castle and the city’s Old Town, has great bones too. Designed by Polish-Italian architect Henryk Marconi in a Neo-Renaissance style, it opened in 1857 as one of the most luxurious hotels in the Russian Empire (of which Warsaw was then part) and the most popular social venue among the city’s cultural and intellectual circles. Celebrated artists (Jozef Chelmonski, Stanislaw Witkiewicz) had studios in the hotel; glamorous New Year’s parties were held in the ballroom. The Europejski housed German officers during WWII and was severely damaged during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Later reconstructed and variously repurposed, it has been closed since 2005 for a makeover meant to turn it into a showcase of Polish hospitality, cuisine, and culture. Interior design elements have all been commissioned from local artisans. The walls will display a private collection of 400 works of 20th- and 21st-century Polish art, one of the largest of its kind open to the public. It will be only the third European hotel (after Raffles Istanbul and Paris’s Royal Monceau) managed by the storied Raffles brand—it’s okay to have great expectations.
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Borgo Santo Pietro
Borgo Santo Pietro's 1930s-style yacht.
Privately restored from the ruins of an ancient hamlet amid muddy Tuscan fields, the Borgo Santo Pietro in Chiusdino is now a 20-room manor with unapologetically antique, chandeliered decor (TVs are hidden behind paintings). It is centered on a 13th-century villa, with 13 acres of formal gardens that supply its four restaurants (including the Michelin-starred Meo Modo) surrounded by 220 more acres— misty Tuscan hills roll in every direction. You can cocoon, or you can explore Florence and Siena—or, a half-hour walk away, the 13th-century abbey of San Galgano and its striking roofless church (it had something to do with bandits). Or the Mediterranean coast, 40 minutes away by car, where you’ll find the Borgo Santo Pietro’s latest addition, a 1930s-style five-cabin yacht, the Satori, which has a wine cellar and chefs who produce the resort’s exquisite gastronomy three times a day during four-day excursions. The silverware onboard, by the way, was used by the Italian navy in the 1920s—there’s historicity for you, regarding something quite new under the Tuscan sun.
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This story appears in the March 2018 issue of Town & Country.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.