The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
ASIA & AUSTRALASIA
The doyenne of colonial grande dame hotels, Raffles was opened by the Sarkies brothers in 1887 as a 10-bedroom hotel and quickly became a refuge for the wealthy, the famous and the cultured. In 2017 it closed for a two-year renovation, which has happily left its ambience intact but added a feeling of freshness throughout, with brilliantly executed bedrooms. In the tiered white lobby, a fabulous statement chandelier draws the eye, while the clubby Writers Bar recalls the famous authors who have stayed. The historic Long Bar is the home of the Singapore Sling, the cocktail first created here in 1915. Doubles from £592 (00 65 6337 1886; raffles.com/singapore)
This hotel with an extraordinary history illustrates how it is often the spirit of a place, rather than the fabric, that counts. The Imperial opened in 1890 but has been rebuilt several times since – including in 1923, by Frank Lloyd Wright, who created a hybrid of Japanese and Western architecture. Today’s Imperial, with close ties to Japan’s royal family, confidently retains its history, grandeur and impeccable service. Currently housed in two towers, it is old-school luxurious, full of marble, sparkling chandeliers, huge flower arrangements, and sweeping staircases. It is vast, too, with more than 900 guest rooms, 14 restaurants and two shopping malls. And it is changing yet again: in a few years’ time it will undergo a total reconstruction, to be completed in 2036.
Doubles from £377 (00 81 3 3504 1111; imperialhotel.co.jp)
The combination of riverfront setting, elegance and rich literary history makes for an intoxicating stay at this superb hotel. Opened in 1876 and a cultural institution ever since, it has never looked or felt better than today. The River Wing, which includes the majority of the public rooms and bedrooms, was the subject of major refurbishment three years ago, while the formerly unremarkable streets around the hotel have become the Creative District, populated by independent shops, restaurants and galleries. You may, though, prefer to stay put, relaxing
beside the large central swimming pool or in the delightful teak wood spa, reached by boat across the Chao Phraya river.
Doubles from £361 (00 90 252 311 1888; mandarinoriental.com/bangkok)
SOFITEL LEGEND METROPOLE HANOI VIETNAM
Set in the heart of Hanoi’s 19th-century French quarter, just paces from the Opera House, this is a gorgeous belle époque and neo-classical heritage hotel, with whirring ceiling fans, dark wood, a wonderful Parisian-style terrace café and the most gracious of service from staff wearing traditional white silk ao dai tunics. Not to be missed are the daily tours of the hotel’s US wartime bomb shelter, uncovered by chance during renovations to the Bamboo Bar in 2011 and used by Jane Fonda and Joan Baez.
Doubles from £181 (00 84 24 3826 6919; sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.com)
Another iconic hotel of Asia, known for its fleet of green Rolls-Royces on the forecourt and its flock of page boys. The Peninsula is glitzy, decadent and always buzzing, with plenty of arresting modern elements, such as the bronze Fu dog by pop artist Jim Dine and the fabulous indoor pool and spa. More traditional are the well-loved afternoon tea served in the lobby and the jazz band that plays each night in Gaddi’s French restaurant. Doubles from £485 (00 852 2920 2888; peninsula.com)
THE STRAND YANGON MYANMAR
Of all the colonial grande dame hotels to have undergone intensive modernisation and refurbishment, the Strand has perhaps most successfully retained its former style and atmosphere. There is no bling, no kitsch, no vulgar sense of a stage set: chandeliers glitter; ceiling
fans whir; rattan chairs and antique lacquered furniture abound; and traditional Burmese music, live not piped, fills the air in the splendid lobby and adjoining Strand Café, famed for the Strand High Tea. Founded in 1901, the hotel has an equally authentic cruise boat that plies the Ayeyarwady river. Doubles from £302 (00 951243377; hotelthestrand.com)
TAJ MAHAL PALACE
Arriving alone and short of funds in Mumbai as a young traveller and finding the city too confusing to penetrate, I remember seeking refuge in this waterfront palace, India’s first luxury hotel, and managing to make one lassi last all afternoon. The ornate and grandiose evocation of a Rajput palace has a special place in the heart of Mumbai’s citizens, with weddings and celebrations galore, while visitors can choose between classic Heritage rooms or more modern Tower rooms.
Doubles from £93 (00 91 22 66665 3366; tajhotels.com)
Perfectly placed for visiting both the iconic government buildings of Lutyens’ Delhi and the teeming lanes of Old Delhi, the Imperial remains a privileged haven and a serene timewarp. If you crave nostalgia, old-fashioned elegance, antique furniture, slowly rotating ceiling fans and photographs from the hotel’s past, look no further. With four restaurants, a spa and a huge pool set in seven acres of grounds, the Imperial remains a place of rare calm and distinction, not just in India, but the world.
Doubles from £250 (00 81 3 3504; theimperialindia.com)
Australia’s oldest and only remaining Victorian grande dame hotel is currently celebrating its 140th year, having been built by shipping magnate George Nipper and designed by notable architect Charles Webb in 1883. Then, it was called the Grand, but in 1923 after a visit from the Duke of Windsor, it was renamed. Opposite Parliament House, the hotel has attracted politicians, film stars and cricketers (the Cricketers Bar features an outstanding collection of memorabilia). The dining room, One Eleven, is the setting for the longest continual afternoon tea service in Australia. Doubles from £135 (00 61 3 9633 6000; thehotelwindsor.com.au)
Opened in 1930, this is the grande dame of Israeli hotels, surveying the Old City and surrounded by lush grounds, including a swimming pool and tennis courts. Step inside and you will find the ceilings, columns and walls in the busy and dramatic lobby decorated in “ancient Mesopotamia” geometrics. Rooms, with antique writing desks, are spacious and sleek; those overlooking the Old City are particularly sought after. All grande dame hotels have an impressive list of past guests, but the King David stands out, numbering King George V, Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor and a slew of American presidents among many other world leaders and celebrities.
Doubles from £456 (00 972 2 620 8888; danhotels.com)