For travellers that revel in architectural opulence and old-fashioned service, colonial hotels represent a superior place to stay. There are some that everyone has heard of – Raffles in Singapore, Hong Kong’s Peninsula, and the Taj in Mumbai to name but three – but there are plenty of others across the world, home to some of the best colonial architecture still preserved.
1. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, Thailand. Opened in 1876.
One of Bangkok’s oldest establishments, the Mandarin Oriental is a modern hotel that has managed to maintain an architectural link with its colonial past. The Author’s Wing, the only part of the building left from the 19th century, reflects the golden roll-call of writers that have lodged here, including Conrad, Maugham, and Greene. Royalty too have been frequent guests, right back to 1891 with the visit of the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. A slow swim in the riverside pool is easily the best way to enjoy this fast-paced city.
2. Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. Opened in 1885.
Lying at the heart of Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage site, this hotel was closed between 1996 and 2001 for major renovations. The colonial charm has not been destroyed though – wifi aside, there is not an overindulgence in mod-cons – and the design detail is as good as it would have been a hundred years ago. From the whispering gallery to the black-and-white tiled Victorian bathrooms, there is a lot to recommend. The E&O was the first endeavour of the famous Sarkies brothers, who established a chain of luxury hotels across Asia, including the Raffles in Singapore.
3. Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai, China. Opened in 1929.
Originally known as the Cathay Hotel, this grand old dame was the pre-War destination of choice for every well-to-do visitor to Shanghai, like the writer Sir Noel Coward, who spent two weeks here writing his play Private Lives whilst recuperating from the flu. Today, shimmering from recent refurbishment, the hotel is still a magnate for the great and good. The gigantic yet tasteful Art Deco rooms, the iconic Jazz Bar, and the sky-lit swimming pool all serve to make this the best hotel on the Bund. Just don’t expect to have it all to yourself.
4. Sofitel Hanoi Metropole, Hanoi, Vietnam. Opened in 1901.
The only colonial hotel in Hanoi, the French-built Metropole is a distinct feature in the city. Restored to its former impressive self after years of neglect, the main building still sports its trademark green shutters and brilliant white façade, and the rooms maintain their graceful high ceilings and hardwood floors. The hotel is divided between the Metropole Wing and the Opera wing; the latter, although relatively new, has been built in keeping with the overall colonial design. Regular visitors book rooms overlooking the central garden and pool, which although small, provides a warm oasis away from the busy streets outside.
5. Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. Opened in 1899.
The triumphal arch at the head of the driveway is a distinct indication of the splendour of this old hotel. It could be the unblemished views of Table Mountain, the gardens, or the pink-hued walls that make the institution so unique. A haunt of a young Winston Churchill when he was reporting on the Boer War, the hotel – or Old Nellie, as it is affectionately known – retains its original, oozing charm. With champagne before dinner as standard, no wonder the hotel is a favoured destination of glamorous globetrotters.
6. Galle Face Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Opened in 1864
Reportedly the oldest hotel east of Suez, the Galle Face remains the place to stay in Colombo. Everyone who is everyone has been here, from Prince Philip to Yuri Gagarin. They come in the main to enjoy a drink or two on the chequered terrace that overlooks the palm-fronted beach. The red roofs and white colonnades are as much as a Sri Lankan institution as the hotel’s most famous landmark, a doorman named K.C. Kuttan who first started working here in 1942 under the British Raj.
7. Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Opened in 1932.
Starting life as one of five luxury establishments opened across French Indochina, the Grand Hotel was built 8km from the famous Angkor Wat ruins to accommodate a new influx of foreign visitors to the area. In spite of decades of turmoil that left the building in ruins, the hotel today preserves its colonial character, with original style lifts and exquisitely designed gardens. In 2011 the hotel hosted one of the world’s most unusual Christmas trees, made from red and white Cambodian silk lotus blossoms, designed by former Yves Saint Laurent trainee Eric Raisana.
8. The Strand, Rangoon, Burma. Opened in 1901.
Enjoying a cool drink under the beating fans of the Strand’s hotel bar sends the traveller straight back to the days of yore. Another Sarkies Brothers creation, the hotel is now restored to full glory after years of war damage and neglect. Grand rooms with high ceilings and polished teakwood floors make many a guest feel they have been mistakenly upgraded, as does the presence of a butler on each level. There may not be the gardens or pool of the nearby Governors Residence hotel, but for sheer grace and style the Strand is unrivalled.
hotel 9. Victoria Falls Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Built in 1904.
The Vic Falls is perhaps the best example of Edwardian architecture anywhere outside of Britain. Twenty years ago this hotel would have been on anyone’s recommended list of hotels, but has sadly fallen from favour given Zimbabwe’s recent troubles. Yet its sumptuousness remains, albeit a touch tired around the edges. With an unparalleled view of the most impressive waterfall in Africa, the hotel has both its quirks – like the resident warthogs that snuffle across the lawns – and its indulgences.
10. Hotel Sofitel Winter Palace, Luxor, Egypt. Opened in 1886.
Curvaceous stairs, walnut-inlaid rooms and terraces overlooking the Nile make the Winter Palace the perfect compliment to the desert tombs of Luxor. The Winter Palace was built in typical British colonial style, with a sweeping drive and furniture reminiscent of an English country house. The hotel was made famous as the place where Howard Carter first announced the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. The novelist Agatha Christie was another visitor, perhaps drawn here to enjoy the peaceful luxury that still awaits the global array of guests.
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