Old Is Gold: Unique Hotel Stays Around The World For History Buffs

From Malaysia to Austria, and even all the way at the bottom of the world in New Zealand, myriad unique stays around the world’s so rich in history that it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. (Left: Image by Tengku Zai. Right: Image by Xin Xin Lee.)

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As appealing as checking into a glitzy, shiny, and brand spanking new hotel can be, with its fancy trimmings and luxury fittings, sometimes, you ought to give an older building a chance. As can be seen with these properties — most of which were built well over a century ago — old is gold.

Oh, if only these walls could talk. Steeped in history and heritage, and now restored to modern standards, a stay at these hotels is as close as we’ll get to listen to each building’s stories.

Schloss Leopoldskron — Salzburg, Austria

Who checked in: Tengku Zai, Editor

Looking at the photos above, that iconic lakeside gate is unmistakable — and yes, it’s the gate of The Sound of Music fame (although they filmed a replica). Standing proud along the idyllic lakefront of Leopoldskroner Weiher since 1736, the Schloss Leopoldskron has much more going for it than this mere gate that became a hallmark of the 1965 musical.

Besides acquiring Hollywood fame, Schloss Leopoldskron is a place of respite for intellectuals. Every year since 1947, this castle-turned-hotel has been home to the Salzburg Global Seminar. Even the fashion world is familiar with Schloss Leopoldskron, as the late and great Karl Lagerfeld chose to hold the Chanel Metiers d’Art Show at the palace in 2014.

But peek at the former palace’s interiors, and you’ll realise why this cosy hotel is so famous — it’s a stunning architectural feat of the Rococo period. Sup within the grandeur of the property’s great Dining Hall, or perhaps get lost within the pages of a book within its jaw-dropping two-storey library. You can also choose to dine in the absolutely gorgeous Venetian room — a space so beautiful that a studio mock-up of it was built to film the ballroom scene of The Sound of Music. Finally, there’s also taking in the intricacies of the China Room inspired by the art of the Far East.

I’d implore anyone who’s had a chance to visit Salzburg to spend at least a night here. Schloss Leopoldskron is as much a homage to European finery and history as it is a functional hotel. One can even liken it to staying in a museum, for being as gilded in history as much as its walls and art are dripping in gold. But why spend the night instead of just visiting? Well, because it’s entirely off-limits unless you’re an in-house guest. Especially the gate.

As a huge plus for us, the Schloss Leopoldskron once had a resident cat named Merlin (who sadly passed in March 2019). She was the sweetest fur ball and curled up to spend the night with us and is worthy of mention for how happy she made us during our stay.

Address: Leopoldskronstraße 56-58, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
Phone: +43 662 839830

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Rumah Tiang 16 — Lenggong, Malaysia

Who checked in: Xin Xin Lee, Head of Design

If you’d like to experience staying in a traditional Malay house on stilts that are so steeped in the richness of our country’s history, then look no further than Rumah Tiang 16. Situated in Lenggong Valley of Perak, this cosy accommodation’s surrounding area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

But more on the house itself.

The 40+-year-old wooden house is decorated with old items that were used in eras gone, such as candleholders, clocks, tiffins, hot water flasks, and even fans in their previous incarnations that we don’t often see anymore. Being a quaint kampung stay, Rumah Tiang 16 also has a turkey and a few pet chickens that act as a natural alarm clock in the morning.

Our two nights here made us feel like we were travelling back in time, from the host greeting us with a traditional Malay welcome ritual and a poem, having traditional Malay food in a hut, visiting the grave of the famous Perak man, and trying our hand at weaving. Suffice it to say, you’ll not be short of traditional and historical experiences.

Address: Jalan Hj Md Nor, Kg Kubang Jambu, 33400 Lenggong, Perak, Malaysia
Phone: +6019-336 8807

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Larnach Castle — Dunedin, New Zealand

Who checked in: Tengku Zai, Editor

What makes Larnach Castle so special is that it’s New Zealand’s only castle. First built in 1871, Larnach Castle was once a magnificent residence that was eventually sadly left to lie in ruin after tragedy struck the Larnach family. Fast forward to today, it’s once again a family place. A family-owned and restored piece of history, the Barker family procured the castle in 1967 when it was near ruins. Since then, Larnach Castle has become a symbol of love and renewal, having transformed into one of Dunedin’s premier landmarks.

Functioning as both a museum and a hotel, one of the biggest impressions that’ll be left on you during your visit here is the immaculate landscaping of Larnach’s spacious garden. Being an in-house guest will automatically allow you access to the entire property, something that’s otherwise usually ticketed.

Located just 20 minutes from Dunedin City, there are several accommodations to choose from should you wish to check in here. There are the Stable Stays, which are the most budget-friendly accommodation on the property set within a 140-year-old Category 1 historic building. And yes, it’s where the horses were once kept; you won’t wake up with one next to you. Your next option is the Lodge Rooms, located on the castle’s seaward side, offering spectacular views of the Otago Harbour and Peninsula.

Luckily, we got to set up camp at the Art Deco-inspired Camp Estate, just 500 metres from the castle itself. This glamorous stone manor is a relatively new building and an extension of Larnach Castle. Fitted with suites and all the trappings of a luxury stay, I thoroughly enjoyed the creature comforts of the on-site bar and electric fireplace. There are only five suites in this manor, and while Larnach boasts her absolutely gorgeous gardens, exploring Camp Estate’s sprawling higher grounds rewarded us with sweeping vistas of Otago and the entire castle estate. Oh, and breakfast was sublime!

Address: 145 Camp Road, Larnach Castle, Dunedin 9077, New Zealand
Phone: +64 3 476 1616

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Cheong Fatt Tze — Penang, Malaysia

Who checked in: Cassandra Khoo, Intern

An architectural heritage gem in the heart of George Town is Cheong Fatt Tze — also known as The Blue Mansion. Still standing proudly at over 130 years old, it functions as both a boutique hotel and homage to decades past.

Come, and you’ll be greeted by an expansive and ornately decorated chic hallway as you step foot into Cheong Fatt Tze. An intricately gilded Chinese screen adorns the end passage of the hallway, while the patterned tiled floors and embellished mahogany furniture instantaneously transport you into a sphere of Old World charm.

Stand in the famed centre courtyard and watch as daily life would unfold around it in the 20th century. An integral part of feng shui, natural sunlight is incorporated into all architectural aspects of the mansion, making your stay a bright and open one.

There’s a myriad of spacious and exclusive rooms to choose from — the Han Suites, Tang Collection, Liang Collection, and the Ming Collection are all housed with unique furniture inspired by the dynasties they are named after.

But even if you decide not to stay the night, drop by to marvel at the elegant corridors of the mansion and soak in the sultry ambience of Indigo and The Bar. A few hours spent here will reward you with discovering a wealth of secrets through the history of the Blue Mansion.

Address: 14 Leith Street, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
Phone: +604-262 0006

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The Rookery — London, England

Who checked in: Tercia Goh, Head of Brand Strategy

From London slum to London glam.

My train from Paris arrived in the late hours of a moonless night, and the only light that lit the heavy wooden entrance of The Rookery in a quiet corner of Peter’s Lane was an old Victorian lamp post. Its deceiving exterior of grills on window sills added to the mystery and notoriety of this once villainous landmark, known for its crime and poverty in the 1700s. After all, The name ‘Rookery’ originated from the similarities of city slum and the nesting habits of the rook, a bird in the crow family. ‘Rookeries’ were a reference to the vilest of London slums.

While The Rookery has come a long way from its rough past, it’s said to be one of London’s best-kept secrets, thanks to its history and heritage, which remains very much intact — like a time capsule plucked out of a period drama.

When I stepped through the entrance, I was greeted by 18th-century carved oak interiors, moody sepia lighting, ornate marble statues, chandeliers, lavishly embroidered curtains, and leather chesterfield lounge chairs. So, the first word that came into my mind was “grandeur.”

There are several libraries with fireplaces around the cosy establishment; a small garden with candles at night is perfect for enjoying a drink from one of its two well-stocked 24/7 self-serving honesty bars. By day, the garden makes for a quaint breakfast nook (if you opt-out of breakfast in bed) or a reading sanctuary during tea time.

As for the rooms, it’s Bridgerton vibes for days in any of the 33 chambers. Each bedroom and suite is named after a personality from the building and neighbourhood. From a tradesman to a houseboy and a prostitute, every room has a story of its own, with varying antique decor and layout, which makes a repeat visit an anticipation rather than a repetition. The free-standing clawfoot bathtub added to the splendour.

While this hotel may seem like it’s from a faraway land, it’s merely a short ride from King’s Cross St Pancras, a stone’s throw from laneway bars and clubs, not to mention Smithfield Meat Market, where some of the top chefs in London’s most exclusive restaurants gather for the best local and imported meats. So, if you’re seeking a historical hotel in London, look no further! The Rookery is a reverie.

Address: 12 Peter’s Ln, Cowcross St, London EC1M 6DS, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 20 7336 0931

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*All images by Tengku Zai, Xin Xin Lee, Cassandra Khoo, and Tercia Goh respectively.

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Going by the nickname Kuzai, the Kelantan native has spent 15 years in the wonderful world of publishing, formerly managing the beauty sections of glossies including ELLE and Harper’s BAZAAR. Now, Kuzai is the Editor of Zafigo. The wannabe runner is also mom to a feisty toddler, suffers from constant wanderlust, and really just works to eat, travel, and shop.