Pulling up stakes and traveling the world is the stuff of hump day fantasies for most of us, but interior designer Stacie Flinner and her hubby David are literally living the dream. The duo traversed the globe (South African safari one moment, sakura in Japan the next) for a year, all the while chronicling each adventure in stunning snaps and interiors for days. So where should the rest of us go? Stacie is sharing her insider insights as our new travel contributor, and we’re all ears! First up, historic hotels around the world you just HAVE to see.
1. Hotel Palacio Nazarenas in Cusco, Peru
Built on the foundation of an ancient Incan palace, Belmond’s Palacio Nazarenas was first the private residence of conquistador Mancio Serra de Leguizamon, then a Jesuit school, then a convent. Our room was originally the Mother Superior’s bed chamber, and boasts a hand-painted ceiling dating from the 17th century, and a tiny balcony with views over the rooftops of Cusco. The property’s stunning whitewashed walls, trimmed in blue, circle an ancient courtyard with a fountain and Incan water channels carrying water away from the fountain. Incan stonework can be found throughout the property, and the staff is eager to point out the difference between the smooth masonry of Incan stoneworkers and the rough cut blocks from later construction. Every hall is a museum to the property’s history, revealing Spanish Colonial frescos and gilt paintings adorning the walls of the Our Lady of the Assumption Chapel. And all that is just inside the walls of the hotel! Once you pass through the property’s front doors all the ancient wonders of Cusco are at your feet.
2. The Hotel Metropole in Hanoi Vietnam
Today, the Hotel Metropole’s pristine white facade and green shutters bear few marks of its conflicted history. Opened in 1901, the Metropole is one of South East Asia’s best colonial era oil hotels and welcomed many ambassadors, actors (Charlie Chaplin honeymooned there in 1936) and authors including Graham Greene who stayed at the Metropole while writing his novel, “The Quiet American.” During the war years, the hotel slid into disarray, and had a massive bomb shelter for hiding guests during air strikes—a space beneath the pool bar that guests can still tour today. Restored in partnership with the Pullman hotel group in the 90’s, The Metropole is once again the place to stay in Hanoi, with beds dressed in Vietnamese silks, the poolside bamboo bar serving up nostalgic cocktails, and an opulent seafood brunch that is not to be missed!
3. The Rajbarai Bawali in Calcutta, India
The Rajbari Bawali is a grand estate 2 hours outside of Kolkata that has only recently been brought back to the former glory it enjoyed when the Zamindars of Bengal (India’s landed gentry) hosted grand parties in its halls. The 250-year-old property is filled with antiques and artifacts from its golden age, as well as more contemporary crafts handmade by the residents of the surrounding villages. The Rajbari partners with the local community to provide professional training and opportunities previously unattainable in this tiny corner of rural Bengal. We loved lazy mornings spent out in the garden, sipping chai and watching for monitor lizards who have been known to roam the grounds, and long lunches savoring the many dishes that comprise a traditional Thali lunch.
4. La Mirande in Avignon, France
In the shadow of Avignon’s Papal Palace, La Mirande stands as the former 14th century Cardinal’s residence. The now-hotel is an education in three centuries of French decorative arts. The co-owner, Martin Stein, lovingly decorated each of the 27 rooms himself, creating a hotel that is simultaneously sophisticated and unstudied. It’s worth examining each space’s custom wallpaper, commissioned by Stien from France’s oldest family-owned wallpaper companies. Modern conveniences are well disguised, such as televisions concealed within a gilt-framed mirror. The garden is filled with citrus trees and serves as the perfect place to take breakfast before touring the Papal Palace or a day of shopping for antiques in the neighboring town of Isle-sur-la-sorge. Although La Mirande’s overall effect is aristocratic, you can experience a special Downtown Abbey-style dinner in the former servants’ kitchen downstairs, while classic French fare is served in the elegant dining room on the main floor.
5. Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Not exactly a hotel, Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is an opportunity to spend a night in a museum, as each Pullman-style train car has carefully preserved its original design— often from the 1920s or 30s. There are few places that can so completely transport their guests to another time and place, but traveling between Venice and London aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express does precisely that, requiring guests to dress the part and adhere to a strict dress code that includes black tie at dinner. Guests who decide not to comply are asked to eat dinner in their cabin. Three unique dining cars bear original works by notable designers such as Rene Lalique, while the smartly dressed staff swish around pouring champagne and serving Chef Bodigal’s famous lobster brunch. The cabins are snug but smartly designed with lots of cubbies and hooks to stash your things, a water basin for brushing your teeth and getting ready for dinner (the WC is communal and down the hall), and each cabin’s plush banquette sofas are transformed into cozy bunk beds while guests are at dinner. There’s no better way to take in the beauty of the Alps and French countryside than aboard the Orient Express!
Huge thank you to Stacie for sharing her insider info, and visit her website for more inspiring travel tips!