Hotels that are holiday highlights
Take your pick: Lindsay Lohan in the flesh – or Mary Queen of Scots' ghost?
Hotels, mostly historic, which are holiday highlights themselves rather than just plain-vanilla places to sleep are increasingly popular.
They use their uniqueness to win custom in a highly competitive niche.
Favourites of the famous, these hotels make much of being super-discreet.
For instance, at Melbourne's Hotel Windsor, chief executive officer and general manager David Perry explains a strict policy of not confirming VIP guests' presence until after departure.
"Often they require anonymity from paparazzi," he says. "We've had political leaders who prefer that their presence is kept discreet. our four-story hotel has no less than six roof-to- basement staircases, many of these secret in nature."
These stairs lead to nondescript exits. Guests come and go discreetly.
"Two staircases, in particular, have over the past 127 years seen most peculiar comings and goings," he smiles enigmatically, disclosing no more.
"If only stairs could talk."
Security aides check hotels in advance to ensure they meet requirements.
Sydney's InterContinental is, for example, sometimes chosen over rivals for visiting political leaders – because security features include private parking-garage-to-suite lifts.
However, these hotels depend mostly on non-famous guests – who are able to indulge in celebrity-spotting or wallow in colourful histories.
Many countries have at least one such hotel. Here are a few random examples:
Every Prime Minister and many visiting leaders have stayed at the Hotel Windsor in Melbourne. Hollywood luminaries? Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and Gregory Peck checked in as, more recently, did Meryl Streep and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Aside from people-watching, guests investigate mysterious nooks and crannies – often preferring the imposing staircase to lifts.
Similarly oozing history is Melbourne's Grand – part of Accor's M Gallery collection – occupying the former Victorian railway headquarters. Painstakingly restored, its corridors are wide enough to accommodate a locomotive.
England's oldest, the Old Bell is in much-visited Malmesbury in the Cotswolds. Now 790 years old, it's a little-known 33-room gem (book well in advance).
The Talbot at Oundle, Northamptonshire, was rebuilt in 1636 from stone ruins of nearby Fotheringhay Castle.
Consequently, locals swear the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots, imprisoned and executed at the castle, haunts the hotel.
Scotland's Gleneagles, the ultimate in country-house stylishness, opens onto three golf courses and was the venue for a G8 summit of world leaders as well as hosting Commonwealth government heads.
Restored and now in the Raffles chain, Le Royal was a journalists' hang-out famous from the Killing Fields (though a Thai hotel doubled for Le Royal in the film). it was targeted when the xenophobic Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh.
Atop Rome's Spanish Steps, the 125 year-old Hassler is close to many top attractions. Stars often check in. past guests include Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lopez and Clint Eastwood.
Cusco's Hotel Monasterio is described as "magical".
Built in 1592 as a Jesuit monastery, it became a luxury hotel 15 years ago.
Brisbane travel agent Elizabeth Wallace, owner of Itineraries Travel Consultants, a Travelscene American Express affiliate, calls it a "treat".
"It's … a must for anyone visiting Cusco," she adds, describing it as "the ideal starting-point for Manchu Picchu ruins experiences".
Monks' soft chanting is piped through public areas but the city centre is incongruously only a short walk away. Top-drawer celebrities have stayed.
The Mount Nelson, beneath Cape Town's Table Mountain, is arguably Africa's best hotel. Some guests assume it was named after Nelson Mandela – but it wasn't. Built in 1899, it was intended as suitable lodging for the well-heeled aboard ocean liners arriving from Britain. Famous guests have included crime writer Agatha Christie, former President Nelson Mandela and a host of Hollywood stars.
Colombo's Galle Face is where Arthur C Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey) wrote one of his later books. Creaking corridors lead to gigantic antique-filled ocean-view rooms. Aside from royalty and celebrities, guests have included astronaut Yuri Gagarin and Japan's Emperor Hirohito.
Many celebrities visiting Sri Lanka stay; others arrive for sunset cocktails at the hottest venue in town.
In a city awash with glitzy hotels, Bangkok's Royal (with its oldest section built in 1936) is comfy rather than trendy – and very near major attractions. not for Hollywood celebrities, it's played a pivotal role in Thai political history: corpses of students shot during a 1993 uprising were stored in the lobby. Several Red Shirt protest leaders stayed this year.
Istanbul's glorious Pera Palace, reopened after refurbishment, is no longer a secret agents' haunt (or so we're told). top spy Kim Philby was a regular in the Orient Bar. other espionage practitioners maintained more discreet profiles. former guests encompass Alfred Hitchcock, Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway and Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I.
Several origins are given for the word "lobbyist". one of these has Ulysses S Grant, 18th president of the United States, regularly relaxing over drinks in the Willard's lobby. People promoting policies approached him there. He hated these intrusions, calling such supplicants "lobbyists".
Now the Willard InterContinental, the Pennsylvania Avenue hotel is handy for Washington, DC, attractions and remains a place to spot the politically influential.
"People congregated in the lobby to assail politicians," says Adrienne Witteman, managing director of Sydney's Trendsetter Travel.
Less cerebral but even more popular is Sunset Boulevard's Chateau Marmont, a hang-out for numerous celebrities including Lindsay Lohan (a long-term guest until, if gossip reports are accurate, she was asked to leave for being too demanding).
Blues Brothers star John Belushi died 28 years ago from a drug overdose in Bungalow 3. the bar remains one of Hollywood's best locations for eyeballing celebrities.
The Metropole – now the Sofitel Legend Metropole – opened in 1901 but remains Hanoi's top hotel with authors Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham among former guests. Greene penned part of the Quiet American here.
Many years later, actor Michael Caine stayed at the Metropole while filming a movie remake of Greene's novel. the book and film are set mostly in Saigon.
Among famous past guests: Jordan's Queen Noor, former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali and many showbiz celebrities.
Australia: www.thehotelwindsor.com.au; www.grandhotelmelbourne.com.au
Britain: www.oldbellhotel.co.uk; www.thetalbot-oundle.com; www.gleneagles.com
South Africa: www.mountnelson.co.za
Sri Lanka: www.gallefacehotel.com
Thailand: www.hotels2thailand.com (no dedicated hotel website)
United States: www.washington.intercontinental.com ; www.chateaumarmont.com