They’re not just a pretty face—many of the world’s luxury hotels and resorts also boast fascinating and sometimes strange histories. Here are some of our favorites.
1. 21C Lousville, Kentucky
In a former life, the 21c was a tobacco and bourbon warehouse. Its decor pays homage to it rugged past, with reclaimed floors and exposed brickwork and timber trusses. The hotel now doubles as a contemporary art museum, with over 9,000 square feet of exhibition space.
2. Four Seasons Hotel, Florence
This Florence property currently features two Renaissance structures—a sixteenth-century convent that was once home to a Pope and order of nuns, and a fifteenth-century palazzo home to five centuries of Florentine nobility and a Viceroy of Egypt (who sold it when his harem was barred from moving in).
3. Parador Santiago De Compostela, Santiago
Located by the Catedral de Santiago, the Parador was originally built as a hostel and hospital for pilgrims by the Catholic Monarchs in 1499.
4. Villa San Michele, Fiesole
A former monastery, the Villa San Michele features a fifteenth-century facade that was designed by Michelangelo.
5. Four Seasons Gresham Palace, Budapest
Unlike the other hotels—which were former monasteries, mansions, and palaces—this one was formerly home to an insurance company. The Gresham Life Insurance Company occupied the building for almost a century.
6. Twin Farms, Barnard, Vermont
This hotel used to be the farmhouse of Nobel Prize-winning writer Sinclair Lewis, and was built in the 1700s.
7. Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
This palace was built in 1835 for the Queen’s favorite handmaiden. It was later used as a royal guesthouse and hunting lodge.
8. Mandarin Oriental, Prague
This sprawling Renaissance and Baroque property was a monastery back in the 14th century.
9. Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Istanbul
Once a Turkish prison, this mustard-yellow hotel surrounds a landscaped courtyard garden—formerly the exercise yard. The hotel retains hints of its past, including an inmate’s inscription on a marble pillar. Watchtowers house the elevators.
10. Bushmans Kloof, Clanwilliam, South Africa
This safari camp was formerly a 170-year-old farmstead, and is still home to more than 130 tribal rock art sites.