Searching for a historic hotel in Europe?

By Gery de Pierpont

Get inspired with intoHistory!

More and more travellers and holidaymakers are looking for accommodation with character rather than the run-of-the-mill facilities offered by the large hotel chains – unusual architecture, themed décor, a personal welcome, local cuisine, and handmade antique furniture. To this end, historic hotels in particular are making their mark among the discerning public. Immutable, they have stood the test of time; the quality of their buildings and their beauty of style are inimitable. Above all their old stones have tales to tell. Every room holds memories of the personalities and the successive generations who have lived in them; and many’s the time when their mysteries will take you on a real journey into the past.


The wonderful (neo-)Gothic rooms of Hotel Saint-Merry in Paris © Hôtel St-Merry

The historic hotel – living in history

So what does it take for a building to one day become a ‘historic hotel’? Surely any old building – let’s say one that is two generations old – is already part of history? Yet it is a bit like music – it is not enough for a tune to be old for it to be considered a classic piece. There is a certain natural selection – essentially a socio-cultural one – that takes place over the years.

Buildings with inferior construction that are likely to deteriorate on their own, are out of the running – edifices without soul end up being destroyed or renovated – those that no longer fulfill a need are made over. Conversely, there are certain buildings – be it for their beautiful proportions, or décor of outstanding artistry – that are universally held to embody the true spirit of an age.

Dwellings that were destined to become valuable because an entrepreneur saw their economic potential, or institutions were to assume their symbolic worth, were carefully maintained and their grounds preserved to enhance their value. It was at first, a tacit recognition, and then a collective affirmation within a community that conferred on an old building its heritage status. District communities appropriate the property, or anyway its picture, to be used on postcards, to promote sightseeing tours, and to post on their municipal websites. The best of these preserved buildings could one day, even become officially listed to be safeguarded as heritage properties.


Dragsholm Castle, beautiful historic hotel on the Danish Coast (Odsherred) dates back to the Middle Ages © Dragsholm Slot

There are historic hotels, and historic hotels …

‘Historic hotel’ – is an unregulated label that can be broadly interpreted. No doubt what first springs to mind are those old established hotels that flourished at the end of the 18th century – from relatively modest to imposing grand hotels and palaces, not forgetting, of course, the country inns, pensions, staging inns, and other accommodation for travellers, which existed long before the modern concept of ‘hotel’.

In this hotel, Napoleon spent one of his last nights before being sent in exile to Elba © Afchine Davoudi

In this hotel, Napoleon had lunch a few days only before abdicating © Afchine Davoudi

Many places have become ‘historic’ because a famous person has stayed there or because it has been the scene of a memorable event. Country dwellings often played host to a sovereign, a famous man of letters, or a distinguished figure on a diplomatic mission. And there are also those houses, which served as inspiration to artists, composers and writers, which have been made over into unusual ‘historic lodgings’.

Other kinds of old buildings have also been converted for tourist accommodation: centuries-old farmhouses, chateaux, schools, manor houses, monasteries, factories and even churches have become exceptional, much sought-after ‘historic hotels’ or ‘historic B&Bs’.


The former de Sélys Longchamps mansion house in Liege (Belgium), 16th c. exceptional heritage, has been converted into a five-star hotel

To be – but above all – to remain, a historic hotel . . .

It goes without saying that the more a dwelling has preserved its genuinely historical elements in their original state, the easier it is for it to carry you back in time. In fact, it is the old construction materials, the ornamental details and archaeological vestiges that are the keepers of the memories to be told.

Vintage bathrooms are not really adapted to current customers' needs ... © Erddig Castle (UK) BEV Norton

Vintage bathrooms are not really adapted to modern customers’ needs … © Erddig Castle (UK) BEV Norton

Unfortunately, these historical settings are often unsound, badly insulated and barely habitable. Very few meet the standards of comfort and security required by the hotel industry. To keep their clientele, their owners have been obliged to renovate floors, ceilings, plasterwork, doors, windows and stairways, to say nothing of the installation of lighting, heating, sanitation and furniture. These transformations (or amputations) effected over generations, have alas, progressively deprived the buildings of those components that constituted the unique nature of their heritage. Certain historical buildings have been adulterated to the point of losing all vestiges of their past, except for a few façade stones or old bits of wall here and there, which have been ‘framed’ like pictures in a museum. These heritage fragments uprooted from their original function, are difficult to place; a great deal of imagination is required to give the impression that one is staying in a building from another era – gone forever is the ‘physical’ connection with the past.

Among the many historic hotels that are shown on the internet you will certainly find a few properties with their soul still intact and of such stirring authenticity that they will literally suck you into their past because their developers have struck exactly the right note between ancient and modern.

Some of these renovations give pride of place to contemporary design, which creates a challenging dialogue between confronting styles, and yet – when it is in good taste – is more likely to act as a foil to sublimate the historical relevance of it surroundings.


Fontevraud L’Hotel, the former ‘Abbaye Royale’ on the Loire River (France) has been refurbished by two renowned designers © Fontevraud L’Hôtel

Sadly, you will also find a number of period buildings that have been deprived of this breath of humanity; whose renovations have so entirely effaced their idiosyncrasies and character, they no longer have the power to excite the senses.

Escape into the past with intoHistory!

If you dream of spending some real nights in the past, find your inspiration on the pages of our site intoHistory, which is dedicated to historic accommodation. You will discover a wide range of dwellings in Europe that will take you back to another era – historic hotels, country inns and cottages, or Bed and Breakfast in places that are redolent of ages past. Our search criteria will help you choose the sojourn of your dreams from the dozens of historical places that we have already listed, and we will be adding hundreds more in the months to come. And if you are looking for a themed holiday rather than a precise destination, I hope you will find your heart’s desire on this page.

Herberge im Kleegarten_Heldra_Wanfried

Herberge im Kleegarten in Wanfried (Hesse – Germany) truly reflects the lifestyle of the last centuries … An escape into the past!

All you need do is take a gentle tour of any of our historic properties and be inspired by the books, the films and pieces of music we have chosen to set the mood.

Enjoy a holiday that is out of the ordinary – and immerse yourself in the past!


Brigitte Neuray


Bonjour Géry, félicitations pour ton site : superbe et vraiment c’est une excellente piste de travail…
Tu as toujours été plein d’idées, mais ici, chapeau, je te souhaite un plein succès !
Je vais d’ailleurs transmettre ton message à tous mes contacts et les inviter à rêver…
En tout cas, je vais m’inscrire à ta newsletter, cela me permettra de visionner régulièrement de beaux bâtiments et d’envisager, qui sait, une petite escapade.

I think this site is great!
Totally our thing!

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Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort