Around the World in 80 Hotels/1
Afternoon Tea at the Mena House, Cairo, Egypt
In 30 years the author of these lines has researched the history of about 500 of The Most Famous Hotels in the World, and has written over 50 history books about them.
Wherever you go, try to stay at the most famous hotel, even if you can only afford the smallest room!' (Aristotle Onassis, a Greek who rose to become one of the world's most wealthiest men)
A journey around the world took Jules Verne's novel character Phileas Fogg 80 days, but it can also take you to 80 different hotels. Speed is only a
virtue if you are racing. Many believe that your far-travelled Louis
Vuitton luggage set or your Palladium and Centurion Cards are the
standard-bearers, but trust me: time is the true sign of wealth.
PART 1: ENGLAND — SCOTTLAND
My journey follows the list of The Most Famous Hotels in the World. I start in London, the city, where in 1986 – simultaneously with Singapore – this organisation was founded.
I have lived at The Savoy, researching the history of London, digging into the archives of the hotel and writing – together with my friend Andy Williamson, the English historian – the book The Savoy London. Susan Scott, the hotel's archivist, opened the archives and we spent days and nights in it, before we — after weeks of research — returned the keys.
The hotel was opened in 1889 by theatre impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, the man behind the Gilbert&Sullivan operettas. D'Oyly Carte, a man with extensive experience of staging operettas, knew that he needed a star for the leading part in this hotel. So he engaged a young hotelier on the rise, somebody who had shown his talents in various hotels on the continent. His name was César Ritz. He became the Savoy’s first general manager, who understood that a grand hotel is a perfect opportunity to stage this play called “Grand Hotel”.
The Savoy London's archives reveal some of the guest history cards of its famous patrons. Actress Marlene Dietrich, expected 12 pink roses and a bottle of Dom Perignon upon arrival.
The other thing he was aware of was that fine food is the second most important thing. And, that London wasn’t the cradle of fine food. Hundreds of Britons left the island every year starving for the cuisine of France and the rest of the continent (well, it wasn't only for the food. Let’s call it ‘cultural diversion’). Lead by the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, who had little to do as his mother, Queen Victoria, had no intention to give up her post until she died after 63 years of reign, the landed gentry and its entourage spent more time on vacation in spas abroad than on their own island. They went to locations that had the three characters B, A and D as part of their name. There was Wiesbaden, Bad Homburg, Baden Baden. Here he had met again César Ritz (‘Your Royal Highness remembers me? I had the pleasure of lighting your cigar at the Troi Frères Provençaux at the World Exhibition in Vienna?” The prince nodded friendly. No, he had no reminiscence about this little Swiss chap who spoke English remarkably well. But from now on he would remember him).
So Ritz lured Auguste Escoffier to London; the chef who established the modern restaurant kitchen as we know it today. Escoffier came, cooked and conquered Britain. But he refused to learn English: ‘If I learn to speak as they do, I will start cooking as they do,” he said.
The book was described as: In the summer of 1889 – the days of Gilbert and Sullivan, the heroes of English operetta – The Savoy opened its doors. It was the creation of theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte. He engaged the young César Ritz to run the hotel who in turn brought in Auguste Escoffier – the ‘Emperor of all chefs’. The Prince of Wales said 'Where Ritz goes, I go.' In 1898, Ritz and Escoffier had to go. After a century of confusion behind the fall from grace of this celebrated hotelier and his faithful chef this book discloses the sober facts.
Enrico Caruso sang at The Savoy, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde and Dame Nellie Melba of Pêche Melba fame (created at The Savoy) – made it their London residence. Hollywood arrived. The American Bar became the watering hole of prohibition refugees. Every Prime Minister chose The Savoy as a refuge of privacy (Sir Winston Churchill founded ‘The Other Club’ at The Savoy, which still meets here). This book talks about the people who created this legend. The personalities who make The Savoy one of the most successful and famous hotels in the world. The stars of yesteryear parade through these pages where they meet the names of today. From Chaplin to Pavarotti, from James Bond to Harry Potter – this is the place to be seen, to party, or to hide away. The choice is yours.
When I cross a street in Mayfair, Knightsbridge and in the West End, it is most likely that I stand in front of one of The Most Famous Hotels in the World. In London we list 17 out of 20 hotels of England, among them The Dorchester, Claridges, Berkely, Connaught, Hyde Park, Ritz, the privately owned The Goring, the city’s oldest The Browns Hotel (1837), and more recently, the London Hilton on Park Lane, which turned 50 in 2013 (50 = one of the benchmarks of being considered by the jury of The Most Famous Hotels in the World).
Not only ancient hotels have history, but more modern ones too: Overlooking Hyde Park, London Hilton on Park Lane stands tall but never
still (courtesy Michael Shepherd). In 1963, when it opened its doors, the London Hilton was a
novelty, a sensation, a scandal perhaps, but certainly a temptation.
The hotel revolutionised British hospitality. A suite on its upper floors became the most sought-after accommodation in the city on the River Thames. Today snapshots from its rooftop restaurant are shared on social networks round the clock, and no visit to London is complete without having been to Trader Vic’s. Moreover, for generations of young hoteliers the world over, London Hilton on Park Lane served as a training ground.
This book takes you from the first idea for the hotel to the first visit of Her Majesty, The Queen, from the Hilton’s early days as the centre of 1960s Swinging London to its recent role as the headquarters of the Olympic Games. Three hundred photographs illustrate the progress of the hotel on Park Lane, from a luxurious skyscraper, filled with modern novelties, to one of the most famous hotels in the world.
I boarded the Royal Scotsman, a superb little luxury train with overnight compartments and a restaurant car. It took me into the capital of Scotland. Edinburgh boasts two railway hotels; one, The Caledonian, which became my home for some while when I wrote its history. In fact, it was the Scottish author Roddey Martine who wrote most of it, while I enjoyed Edinburgh. I went out to explore the hidden layers of the ancient city, strolled through the streets and parks and finally fell in love with a Reverend, a certain Robert Walker, Skating on Duddingston Loch. He is better known as The Skating Minister, and it is an oil painting by Sir Henry Raeburn in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. The gallery is in a park ideally situated between The Caledonian and the other grand hotel of the Scottish capital, The Balmoral. We also list, of course, all the legendary golf hotels of the rest of Scotland.
The Caledonian — the book:
By the end of the 19th century, Scotland had become the land of artists and poets, engineers and inventors. The Caledonian Railway had brought a new pace of life to the capital South of the Firth of Forth. In 1903 Princes Street Station was to become the base for a grand hotel. The Caledonian Hotel helped to consolidate Scotland’s position on the international stage by heralding a new era of luxury and travel in Scotland.
‘Of course this is a book about the Caledonian Hotel, but it is also a social study and a well cut synopsis of the history of Edinburgh.’
Its most famous patrons, its managers, the staff of yesterday and today: in this book they all parade proudly through the pages and tell their stories, which, like many raindrops swelling to a stream, come together to form the story of The Caley, as this wonderful old hotel is affectionately known.
Read more in Around the world in 80 hotels —
2. PART: FRANCE — GERMANY — SWITZERLAND — AUSTRIA
* Andreas Augustin is a writer and traveler, who is the president of The Most Famous Hotels in the World, an organisation founded to safeguard the history and cultural heritage of all legendary hotels around the world.
Hotels are listed independently, following the strict regulations of The Most Famous Hotels in the World. They were chosen by the honorable jury, regardless of their geographical location, their political environment and their commercial success.