Top Ten Colonial-Era Hotels

Posted on March 15, 2013


In a fast changing world of shabby-chic boutique hotels, large-scale corporate giants, world-wide luxury chains and heritage home-stays,  there remains a rare breed: the colonial-era Hotel. Normally found in the East and/or in hot humid climes, majestic in scale with a tendency for white exteriors, often fringed with palms or surrounded by clipped green lawns, colonial-era hotels often straddle a eclectic blend of of styles that normally includes Art Deco, Neoclassic, Baroque and Gothic Revival. The ‘high colonial’ era fell between the 1880s and 1910, and many of the world’s most famous colonial-era hotels were constructed during this period to allow travellers from the West to experience similar levels of comfort found at home. Unfashionable in the post-war years of independence and nationhood, the colonial-era hotel came back into fashion in the 1990s when enough time had passed to see these building as important monuments of history, rather than a reminder of unhappier times. Today these hotels attract a diverse crowd of retirees nostalgic for a ‘golden era’, history and architecture devotees and those who simply love luxury.

The list below is a compilation of colonial-era properties that have stood the test of time and remain as striking today as they did in their day.

1. The Imperial, New Delhi

An integral part of Lutyen’s blueprint for New Delhi ordered by the new Imperial ruler King Emperor George V in 1911, The Imperial was a hub for mover’s and shaker’s in India’s new capital. It was at The Imperial in the 1930s that Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi met to discuss the partition of India and Pakistan. With its perfect green lawn and majestic combination of Victorian, Art Deco and Old Colonial architecture, The Imperial still manages to exude an authentic sense of old-world charm in one of India’s modern and fast-moving cities.

The Imperial, Delhi

2. The Metropole, Hanoi

Considered the best hotel in Vietnam on its opening in 1901, The Metropole still channels five star Indochine-chic like no other hotel in the region. Located just steps from the Opera House in Hanoi’s French Quarter, this grand dame has lost none of its colonial-era charm due to a tasteful and top-knotch 4 year refurbishment which came to a close in 2009. Today The Metropole’s gleaming white facade, bottle-green shutters, roof-top gardens and Parisian style ‘terrasse’ continue to attract the finest crowd; as the eponymous top suites inform you, the hotel’s former clientele included everyone from Graham Greene and Charlie Chaplin to Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac.

The Metropole, Hanoi

3. Raffles, Singapore

A Singapore institution in its own right, Raffles is one of the world’s most famous hotels. Named after Singapore’s modern founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, and built by the  Sarkies brothers in 1887 (who are also behind Asia’s other historic greats, The Strand and The Eastern & Oriental) no other hotel so successfully continues to conjure the ‘golden’ age of Empire. Raffles is another property renowned for its literary associations; Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling and Alfred Hitchcock all drank at the hotel’s ‘Long Bar’, perhaps indulging on the hotel’s iconic ‘Singapore Sling’ cocktail. Raffles’s glamour appears to be in do danger of fading; the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge were guests at the hotel on recent tour of Asia.

Raffles, Singapore

4. The Fullerton, Singapore

Although not a hotel when it opened, The Fullerton is one of Singapore’s grandest examples of colonial architecture. Built to commemorate 100 years of the modern state of Singapore, planning began in 1919 to create the largest building the city had ever seen. The Fullerton opened several years later in 1929 on the site of Fort Fullerton peninsula. A prime example of neoclassical colonial architecture, inspired by The Parthenon in Athens, The Fullerton’s grand porticos and classical columns quickly made it the symbol of Singapore. Its official use included housing the General Post Office, The Singapore Club and the Chamber of Commerce in addition to a lighthouse on the roof which guided ships entering the city’s harbour.

The Fullerton, Singapore

5. Amangalla, Galle

Nestled amongst the ramparts of Galle’s historic Dutch fort, a UNESCO heritage site, Amangalla is now a prized member of the elite Aman group of hotels. Like the fort itself, the oldest parts of the building date from the 17th century and hosted both Dutch and British forces throughout Galle’s tumultuous colonial history. This elegant and understated building only began life as a hotel a little later; the New Oriental Hotel opened its doors in 1865 and only closed them well over one hundred years later. Now sleek and sexy, with lashings of magnificent colonial charm, Amangalla is the perfect place to explore Galle Fort’s winding web of narrow lanes and charming historic buildings. Hugely faithful to Dutch colonial interiors, at Amangalla you’ll find 300 year old polished jack-wood floors, whirring ceiling fans, high vaulted ceilings, vintage prints and beautiful four poster beds.

Amangalla, Galle

6. The Eastern & Oriental, Penang

The original Sarkies Brother creation (see Raffles and The Strand), The Eastern & Oriental, or The E&O as it is better known, was actually the combination of two hotels, The Eastern and The Oriental. Brought together in 1885, the hotel was such a success that the brothers continued on to Singapore where the rest, as they say, is history. Located in George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Penang – one of the first British trading posts in the East – The E&O boasts a beautiful white façade framed by tropical palms. In its hey-day the hotel boasted the world’s longest sea-front lawn, coming in at just over 840 feet. Once described as the ‘premier hotel East of Suez’, the hotel attracted a glamorous British crowd; Rudyard Kipling, Douglas Fairbanks, Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham all stayed.

 The E&O, Penang

7. The Strand, Yangon

The third Sarkies brothers creation, The Strand opened to much excitement in Yangon in 1901. Facing the Yangon River, this mansion-like property, like the brother’s other hotels, quickly became one of the most famous hotels in Asia. Occupied by the Japanese during the occupation and then badly maintained, The Strand was brought back from the dead by a group of hoteliers including Adrian Zecha, founder of Aman hotels, and reopened in 1993. Unlike other colonial-era hotels, The Strand remained true to its heritage; you won’t find a swimming pool or additional ‘new block.’


8. La Residence, Hue

As the name suggests, in a former lifetime La Residence was the home of the French colonial governor in Hue. Situated on the banks of the fabled Perfume River, La Residence overlooks the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Imperial Citadel, formerly a ‘forbidden city’ run by the ruling Nguyen dynasty. A beautiful example of the ‘Streamline Moderne’ school of Art Deco architecture popular in the 1930s, today La Residence is a striking boutique hotel.

La Residence, Hue

9. Schoone Oordt Country House, Swellendam

Colonial-era properties found in South Africa demonstrate a very different style to those in Asia. Both the hotels on this list were not built as hotels; both were in fact private residences. Schoone Oordt Country House, found in South Africa’s Garden Route and Winelands began its life in 1748, but the majority of the building today dates from 1853. First a school and then a private residence to a string of different owners, Schoone Oordt evolved over time into the beautiful structure it is today complete with its Georgian facade and filigree-laced Victorian verandah. Pronounced a national monument in 1983, Schoone Oordt is now a lovingly-restored family-run boutique hotel.

Schoone Oordt, South Africa Y

10. Hawksmoor House Hotel, Stellenbosch

Located in the Cape Winelands, overlooking the spectacular Table Mountain, Hawksmoor House is a wonderfully restored Cape Dutch country house. A stay will transport you back in time to South Africa’s past when vast vineyards and estates were run by the Dutch settlers. Although now a contemporary boutique hotel on the inside, Hawksmoor House’s exterior remains as it was in the 18th century with dark green shutters, thatched roof and facade modelled on a gabled Dutch town house.

HawksmoorDo you love colonial-era hotels and/or have you visited any of these properties? I’d love to hear what you thought about them.