As much as we love new, hip boutique hotels, there's something to be said for the grandes dames of the world: Raffles Singapore, The Plaza in New York, or the Ritz Paris. Trips to these cities wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of these renowned hotels. Even if you haven't booked a stay, they need to be seen; at the very least, make sure to order a drink at one of their storied bars. And what exactly makes a hotel legendary? It’s a mix of the hotel’s history, architecture, and famous guests—and a whiff of scandal doesn’t hurt, either. Here’s our look at 15 of the world’s most legendary hotels.
By Christina Valhouli
The Ritz Paris
The Ritz Paris is arguably the best-known hotel in Paris, thanks to its over-the-top décor and famous guests. Marcel Proust and Coco Chanel both lived here, and Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn filmed scenes for Love in the Afternoon at the Ritz. Ernest Hemingway famously declared the hotel bar liberated from the Nazis at the end of WWII, and today the Bar Hemingway is named in his honor. As Hemingway once wrote, “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz.” The hotel is currently closed for renovations until early 2015.
Insider Tip: The Ritz Paris has made cameo appearances in many novels, including Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love in the James Bond series; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Paris Guide
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc
WHERE: Cap d'Antibes, France
It’s hard to imagine a more glamorous hotel in the south of France than the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc. Located in the Cap d'Antibes, this hotel has hosted the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Marlene Dietrich, as well as Marc Chagall, who spent days sketching on the beach. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were frequent guests, and the hotel makes an appearance in Tender is the Night (renamed the Hôtel des Étrangers). The Hôtel du Cap was famous for only accepting cash and wire transfers until 2006, and it's the place to stay during the Cannes International Film Festival.
Insider Tip: The hotel underwent a $67 million renovation in 2011; adding televisions to the guest rooms was one of the biggest changes made.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's The French Riviera Guide
This Italianate-style country home was built in the 1600s for the second Duke of Buckingham, and it has hosted presidents, royals, and celebrities ever since. At one point Cliveden House was owned by William Waldorf Astor, who was one of America’s richest men at the time. Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill were frequent guests here, but the hotel is arguably best known as the place as the site of the 1961 Profumo scandal, which helped topple the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's government.
Insider Tip: In 1961, Britain’s Conservative Secretary of State for War John Profumo began an affair with 19-year-old Christine Keeler while staying at Cliveden House. She was the rumored mistress of a Russian spy, and their affair brought down the government.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's The Thames Valley Guide
WHERE: Los Angeles
This legendary West Hollywood hotel was an immediate hit when it opened in 1929. Howard Hughes holed up in one of the Chateau Marmont's many bungalows, Judy Garland was known to play the lobby piano, and Marilyn Monroe was also a frequent guest. Although the hotel gets plenty of attention for celebrities misbehaving here, it has served as inspiration and a home away from home for many artists and writers, including Sofia Coppola and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Los Angeles Guide
WHERE: Marrakesh, Morocco
The undisputed grande dame of Marrakesh is La Mamounia. Since it opened in the 1920s, the hotel has played host to statesmen including Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin. Alfred Hitchcock used it as the backdrop for his 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Apart from its celebrity guest list, La Mamounia is famed for its opulent architecture and landscaping. The hotel reopened its doors in 2009 following a three-year, $180 million renovation.
Insider Tip: If you can’t make it to the hotel, pick up a copy of Laure Verchere’s coffee-table book La Mamounia for a close look at the hotel's craftsmanship and design.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Marrakesh Guide
The Beverly Hills Hotel
WHERE: Los Angeles
This pink palace, otherwise known as The Beverly Hills Hotel, has long been a favorite among Hollywood stars both old and new. In 1956, Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall filmed Designing Woman by its pool. The Polo Lounge was a favorite drinking haunt for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of their Rat Pack. Today, it remains one of the top places in town to see and be seen.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the hotel’s Fountain Coffee Room, which has a curved soda fountain counter and iconic banana leaf wallpaper.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Los Angeles Guide
WHERE: New York City
New York City's The Plaza is one of few hotels in the world that's known equally for its fictional and real guests. The hotel, of course, is the imaginary home of Eloise from the children's book series, but it has long attracted the power elite and Hollywood celebrities. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald famously jumped in its fountain, and the writer Truman Capote hosted his legendary masquerade Black and White Ball here.
Insider Tip: Can’t get enough of Eloise? Book a night in the Betsey Johnson-designed Eloise suite, which features pink-and-white striped walls and zebra-striped flooring, as well as plenty of Eloise-themed toys and DVDs.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's New York City Guide
No trip to Singapore would be complete without a visit to Raffles, even if all you do is sip a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar—the drink was invented here. The hotel, which looks like an enormous wedding cake, was a favorite of W. Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling. According to legend, Singapore’s last surviving tiger snuck into the hotel before being chased (and shot) in the Bar & Billiard Room.
Insider Tip: The Singapore Sling was created at the turn of the 20th century by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. It's a mix of gin, Cherry Heering, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime, bitters, grenadine, and Bénédictine—served shaken and garnished with a cherry and a slice of pineapple.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Singapore Guide
Claridge’s is arguably as well known for its Art Deco décor as its royal clientele. The kings of Greece, Norway, and Yugoslavia stayed here for the duration of WWII. At the request of Winston Churchill, suite 212 was declared Yugoslavian territory so that heir Crown Prince Alexander II could be born on his own country's soil. The hotel was popular with Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, as well as the Queen Mother. Kate Moss famously celebrated her 30th birthday here.
Insider Tip: In the late 1920s, Claridge’s commissioned Art Deco architect Basil Ionides to redesign the restaurant and several suites. His engraved glass screens are still in the restaurant today.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's London Guide
WHERE: Oracabessa Bay, Jamaica
Ian Fleming first came to Jamaica during WWII, when he was sent by the Navy to investigate U-Boat activities in the Caribbean. When the war ended, he built his dream house there and named it GoldenEye. This is also where Fleming first wrote about James Bond. Today his home is a luxury hotel, and guests can see the desk where Fleming penned his Bond book.
Insider Tip: Guests looking for total privacy—and to act out their Bond fantasies—can rent the Fleming Villa, which comes with its own beach, pool, and staff.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Jamaica Guide
Baur Au Lac
WHERE: Zürich, Switzerland
The Baur au Lac is, without a doubt, the grande dame of Zürich. Opened in 1844, it was a favorite of Austria's Empress Elisabeth. Richard Wagner premiered the first act of his Die Walküre opera here, and the Nobel Peace Prize was dreamed up at the hotel. Today the Baur au Lac still attracts a well-heeled clientele. Overlooking Zürich Lake and with a private garden, it offers guests a big dose of privacy and tranquility in the heart of the city.
Insider Tip: Baur au Lac is located steps away from Zürich’s most famous shopping street, the Bahnhofstrasse.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Zürich Guide
Built in the 1930s, The Imperial was one of the legendary “Four Maidens of the East,” which also included The Strand Hotel in Rangoon, Raffles Hotel in Singapore and The Great Eastern & The Oriental in Calcutta. Today the hotel is a blend of Art Deco, Victorian, and colonial styles, but architecture aside, it holds a key place in India’s history. Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and Lord Mountbatten met at The Imperial to discuss the partition of India for the creation of Pakistan.
Insider Tip: The hotel has an impressive collection of art and antiques that showcase India’s colonial history.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Delhi Guide
San Ysidro Ranch
WHERE: Santa Barbara, California
The San Ysidro Ranch is one of the most beautiful hotels in central California. The ranch is set in 500 acres lined with olive trees and lavender, all in the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains. John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned here, and the ranch is known for being a discreet hideaway for the rich and famous. Winston Churchill, Audrey Hepburn, and Oprah Winfrey have all been guests.
Insider Tip: To follow in the Kennedys' footsteps, book the Kennedy Cottage where John and Jackie honeymooned. The 2,000-square-foot cottage is decorated with antiques and has a large deck.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Santa Barbara and the Central Coast Guide
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
WHERE: Hanoi, Vietnam
The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is one of the most famous hotels in Southeast Asia. Built in 1901, it has hosted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Joan Baez, who stayed here during the Christmas bombings of 1972. Graham Greene wrote part of his anti-war novel The Quiet American here, and W. Somerset Maugham worked on The Gentleman in the Parlour here—today, there is a suite named for him.
Insider Tip: The in-house bartender concocted a drink inspired by Joan Baez. It combines the flavors found in the traditional Vietnamese pho, such as coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, and chili—and it's “dropped like a bomb” into a cup.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Vietnam Guide
WHERE: Cernobbio, Italy
Set on 25 acres along the shores of Lake Como, the Villa d’Este is one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe. Originally built in the 16th century as a grand summer home for a cardinal, it transitioned to a hotel in 1873. The formal gardens are exquisite—don’t miss the lakeside “floating” pool.
Insider Tip: The best way to get around Lake Como is by water taxi, which can be hailed directly from the hotel’s pier.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Milan, Lombardy, and The Lakes Guide