As European Heritage Days are celebrated across Europe, Relais & Châteaux already boasts many magnificent properties that are an integral part of their country’s history and culture. Take your pick from a riad, palazzo or a converted factory or Atlantic fort.
Château de la Treyne, Dordogne, France
Perched on limestone cliffs above the Dordogne – home to over a thousand châteaux – the sturdy stone walls were built during the reign of Louis X111 after an earlier 14th-century fortification was destroyed during the Wars of Religion. Close to the UNESCO listed prehistoric cave paintings of the Vézère Valley, the hotel’s rich history is reflected in its period antiques, guest rooms occupying the château’s former chapel and tower and the dining room’s magnificent coffered wood ceiling.
Castle Hill Inn, Rhode Island, USA
As Newport emerged as a prominent Rhode Island seaport, the wealthy celebrated their success by building multi-roomed Victorian mansions, ironically called ‘cottages’. Castle Hill, with its splendid views of Narragansett Bay, was the gracious turreted summer house of noted Harvard University marine biologist, Alexander Agassiz. It still contains some of his Chinese and Japanese art and furnishings alongside hardwood floors and panelling, fireplaces, antique writing tables and a spectacular turret suite bathroom reached by wood spiral stairs.
Riad Fès, Fes, Morocco
Tucked into Fez’s UNESCO listed medina, this glorious example of Hispanic-Moorish architecture spreads across three riads; its heart built in 1900 when blossoming trade links saw European influences mingle with traditional Moroccan culture. With beautiful zellige tiles, exquisite stucco work, columns and arches, it interlinks a series of serene courtyards, patios and fountains. Supper on the rooftop dining terrace is served with a sunset over Fez’s copper-hatted minarets while the orange-scented, lantern-lit Andalusian courtyard is now a hip city hangout.
English Country House
Hambleton Hall, Rutland, UK
Designed in the classic old English style with magnificent bay windows and chimneys, projecting gables and first floor tiles, Hambleton Hall was built in 1881 as a hunting lodge in the heart of the midland shires by brewery tycoon William Marshall. It later became a society hotspot with guests including the playwright Noel Coward, and now, as a country house hotel overlooking Rutland Water, the heritage listed property still displays many features from its Victorian hunting heyday including ornate fireplaces and plasterwork.
Palazzo Seneca, Norcia, Italy
With ancient oak and terracotta floors, vaulted ceilings and a striking fireplace bearing an ancestral crest, this 16th-century palazzo was built by the Seneca family from nearby Piedivalle, an Umbrian town famed for its talented wood carvers. The hotel proudly continues this tradition, highlighting the region’s craftsmanship, both historic and contemporary, with spiral bed posts and headboards hewn by Umbrian artisans, leather goods worked by masters from the Marche and antique closets and writing desks once owned by the Senecas.
Croatian City Palace
Lešić Dimitri Palace, Korčula Island, Croatia
Surrounded by the medieval stone walls and houses of Korčula’s old town – once a major eastern Adriatic settlement – this prestigious urban palace was created in the early 18th century when the aristocratic Lešić family fused together six neighbouring properties. Sensitively restored, it still fits perfectly into the city’s original fishbone-shaped street plan, with original features including stone floors and basins, ornamental masonry and gnarled beams. Its Silk Road themed decor also nods to Korčula’s past as the home of Marco Polo.
Hotel Schloss Dürnstein, Wachau Valley, Austria
Sitting on a rocky spur between mountain and river, among the orchards, vineyards and monastries of the UNESCO listed Wachau Cultural Landscape, this early 17th-century Renaissance castle is one several muscular fortifications along a fabulously romantic stretch of the Danube. Overlooked by the ruins of Dürnstein’s medieval castle, the ‘new castle’ – home to the river’s most beautiful dining terrace – was hosting Emperor Leopold 1 when he received joyous news of Vienna’s liberation from the besieging Ottoman army in 1683.
Indian Colonial House
The Malabar House, Fort Cochin, India
Purchased by a Dutch expat in 1755, this Keralan colonial villa’s tasteful rooms cluster around a languorous courtyard of frangipani trees in the historic heart of Fort Cochin opposite St Francis Church – India’s oldest European church. Subsequently owned by spice and tea traders, bankers (and also the town’s British headquarters) its white walls, arches and red-tiled roof now host a heritage hotel with eye-catching artworks and fabrics, antique beds and five suites with private roof gardens.
Fortaleza do Guincho, Cascais, Portugal
Alchemized from a buff-coloured 17th-century fort – built on the dramatic Atlantic cliffs near Cabo de Roca on the orders of King João 1V – this elegant hotel stands guard close to the UNESCO listed Cultural Landscape of Sintra. Canons either side of the entrance nod to Fortaleza do Guincho ‘s defensive roots, while its age and heritage are also reflected in the ground floor’s small stone windows alongside its polished tile floors, antiques and vaulted brick ceilings.
A Quinta da Auga Hotel & Spa, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Perhaps the greatest factory of pre-industrial Galicia, this late 18th-century mill once supplied paper to university scholars and cathedral clerics in UNESCO-listed Santiago de Compostela. Its sensitive restoration and transformation into a tranquil hotel retains tantalising evidence of its former life with open stone walls, sloping beamed ceilings and, in the lush riverside grounds, the canal that once powered the mill’s wheel. Oak floors and antiques now mix with contemporary pieces including works by modern Galician artists.