4 Hotels Once Home to Something Else
What do a convent, a sugar plantation and two prisons have in common? They’re all waiting for you to check in.luxury hotels.
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A stay at the Parador de León San Marcos is sort of like being cast in your personal production of Night at the Museum. Built in the 16th century, San Marcos was once a convent accustomed to hosting those in need of a peaceful respite, and many of the original details, especially the hand-carved façade, have been preserved or only slightly altered.
Located in the town of León, throughout the centuries it evolved as a mini-city, housing livestock, prisoners, clerics, servants and also functioned as a storehouse with wine cellars and gardens. It is truly one of the most awe-inspiring hotels on the continent. Around every corner is an artifact or an architectural detail not to be missed. And to describe the beauty of León with its stained-glass windows and jaw-dropping sunsets we borrow the words of one of its residents: “Its beauty will leave no visitor indifferent.”
History buffs will want to note that everything at San Marcos wasn’t always wine and roses, however. The structure was also used as a concentration camp during the Spanish Civil War. We think this only lends perspective and makes us happy that San Marcos still exists, reminding us to count our blessings every day.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Liberty Hotel in Boston was built in 1851 and was originally the Charles Street Jail. Architects designed the structure after a consultation with Rev. Louis Dwight, a humanitarian who championed prison reform. Consequently, it was constructed in the form of a cross with an atrium, an octagonal rotunda and it was flooded with natural light.
It ceased to exist as a prison in 1990, and after extensive renovations it reopened in 2007 as the Liberty Hotel, a 300-room luxury hotel. It retains much of the historic structure including catwalks, the exterior façade and the breathtaking rotunda. As you dine at the hotel’s restaurant, Clink, or sip a tasty beverage amongst the fabulous at Alibi, rations of gruel and solitary confinement will probably be the last things on your mind.
When it was Charles Street jail, many notorious “guests” checked in including former Boston mayor and later governor James Michael Curley, Malcolm X, and Sacco and Vanzetti. Rumor has it the hotel is haunted; one thing we can assure is that the thread count has increased.
The impossibly hip Malmaison Oxford Hotel is located in Oxford, England, near several colleges and other boutique hotels in an area that is fast becoming one of the hotter spots to hang in the U.K. Like a lot of structures that weren’t destroyed by war or progress, the Oxford has quite the storied past.
Dating back as far as the 13th century, the Oxford was originally a “motte and bailey castle.” (Don’t worry; we didn’t know what it was either.) The motte is a big mound of earth with a large guarded fortress on top of it, independent of the actual castle, sort of a medieval gated entrance with hot oil and swords. The bailey was a secure courtyard protected by a large trench and a bluff, staffed with archaic doormen, if you will.
After housing royalty and then soldiers, much of Oxford Castle was destroyed in England’s Civil War, but the motte stood strong. Not wanting a perfectly good motte go to waste, in 1870 they built a Victorian prison around it, which operated until it closed in 1996.
It then became the grand Oxford Hotel. The motte and St. George’s Tower, which has a crypt, still exist and are listed as “Schedule Monuments” and many of the original details are still in intact. For the full prison effect, ask for a room in the A Wing, which have the original cell doors and iron bars on the windows. If that sounds too confining, the other 60 or so rooms are airy and bright.
So if sleeping on a property that was once a sugar plantation sounds a little, er, sweeter than a former prison, we’ve got the ticket. Located on St. Lucia sand as fine as the product it once produced is a first-class resort called Sugar Beach. The Viceroy property comprises traditional hotel rooms (only 11) and standalone one- and two-bedroom villas and beachfront bungalows.
Nestled on 100 acres of rainforest in the town of Soufrière, the property boasts a rich history of prosperity when the region was known more for agriculture than tourism. The west coast town has seen its fair share of notable residents such as the Empress of France Joséphine de Beauharnais, who spent childhood days there. St. Lucia’s first Premier George Charles called it home and Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit in 1966.
Today, Soufrière is more dependent on tourism rather than agriculture. The Pitons are just south of the town, and there are several attractions in the area. There are also several other estates in the area that are still in existence such as Soufrière Estate, Fond Doux Estate and Rabot Estate, and the town is definitely worth exploring, though we think you'll find plenty of reasons to never step a bare foot off the sugary white sand. We know, we had you at Viceroy.