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Summer 2007 | Hotels We Love: Hotels With a Past

Summer 2007 | Hotels We Love: Hotels With a Past

Perhaps you're fed up with the sameness of cookie-cutter hotels. Maybe you've had enough mornings of waking up, unable to tell if you're in San Francisco or Singapore. Maybe you just want to stay somewhere different, somewhere with some history, some character, a past.

A pristine new hotel, unencumbered by memories, is not for all of us. Those who like a little intrigue with their room service can choose from some spectacular destinations among Spain's Paradores ( and Portugal's Pousadas (, historic palaces, Gothic castles and 15th-century monks' cells, which have gone through a marvelous metamorphosis and emerged as luxurious lodges and hotels. In Scotland, England and Wales, historic homes, castles, moat houses, and cottages are available to rent by the night through The Landmark Trust (

Read on for some accommodations with personality that we are particularly partial to: a cell at a former convent in San Juan or, for those with a taste for dungeons and chains, the old house of corrections in Oxford, England. Horde your weekend, and your memories, at banks-turned-palaces of pampering in Berlin, Germany and Provincetown. Learn lessons in hospitality by going back to school in Portland, Oregon and get your life back on track at Nashville, Tennessee's old train depot.

Hotel de Rome, Berlin, Germany
Behrenstrasse 37; +49-30-460-6090; from EUR420
Just an elegant stroll's distance from the Opera House, the former headquarters of the Dresdner Bank looks across Bebelplatz to the grand, broad boulevard, Unter Den Linden. Alongside the grand Humboldt University and minutes from Museuminsel, Alexanderplatz and the Brandenburg Gate, the ultra-luxurious Hotel de Rome has a perfect location. Bold black, red and white décor in the lobby creates a dramatic entrance for your stay. Accommodations have high ceilings and masculine colors, with some dramatic quarters created out of the wood-paneled former directors' offices and boardrooms. In the former bank vaults, a sparkling pool beckons, with gold mosaic shimmering on walls and pillars. It's small but the perfect place to luxuriate and imagine all the treasures that have been stored here. Up till the 1930s, Berlin's society ladies would come and collect their jewelry from their vault, adorn themselves, then sashay across Bebelplatz to the opera, bringing it safely back once the final curtain had fallen.

Fairbanks Inn, Provincetown, Massachusetts
90 Bradford St; 800/324-7265;; from $89
A predominantly lesbian clientele frequents this exceptional, lovingly restored and maintained 200-year-old Captain's house, which was also once home to a bank. You can bank on falling in love with its romantic and historic atmosphere. The choice of authentic period furnishings and modern accents are exquisite (the broad floorboards were formerly the decks of a ship).

Malmaison, Oxford, England
3 Oxford Castle, New Road; +44-186-526-8400; from £130
It's no punishment to be sent to Oxford's Malmaison, a 50-room property constructed from what started life as a medieval prison in 1230. Previous guests have included such nefarious characters as murderers, dissidents and enemies of the state. The central three-tier prison corridor remains, as do some original iron doors, but prison gruel has been replaced by tastier fare. The quirky Malmaison chain, a British version of Kimpton Hotels, has kept two cells as they were when the prison released all its involuntary guests in 1996.

El Convento, San Juan, Puerto Rico
100 Cristo St; 787-723-9020; from $250
Gay-friendly El Convento is a magnificent, multistory 17th-century convent transformed into a modern boutique hotel. Old San Juan's most decadent destination, El Convento was built in 1651 for the Carmelite Sisters, who used a warren of underground tunnels to go about their devout duties. While it's the hotel's 250-year stint as a convent that gets most press, the building also saw duty as a dance hall and a flophouse during a brief fall from grace. Terracotta tiles, a tapas bar, and mahogany beams make for an atmospheric stay.

McMenamin's Kennedy School, Portland, Oregon
5736 N.E. 33rd Ave., 503-249-3983; from $111
Blackboards, bookcases, and kids' coat hooks in rooms take you back in the 35 rooms of this North Portland inn. A hotel since 1997, The Kennedy School survived 65 years educating Portland's young. Now guests can watch a second-run movie over a beer in the old school hall, have a cigar in the Detention Bar, or snack on salads and tasty burgers in the former cafeteria or in the delightful courtyard outside. As for the teachers' lounge, it's now home to a hot tub.

Wyndham Union Station, Nashville, Tennessee
1001 Broadway; 615-726-1001; from $119
Wyndham's 125-room Union Station hotel is a perfect laid-back escape for those without a timetable to keep. The last train left in the 1970s and this fine Victorian Gothic Revival Station in downtown Nashville switched tracks in the 1980s. The station's vaulted lobby, with its 65-foot high ceilings, marble floors, gold leaf mirrors, stained glass, and sculptures, has been joined by flat-screen TVs, WiFi, and luxurious linens.

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