Tag Archives: Historic Hotels of America

Favorite Family Winter Holiday Places, Where Life-Long Memories are Made

Horse-drawn sleigh ride across a field at the Mountain Top Inn& Resort in the Vermont countryside is like a Currier & Ives painting come to life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed  by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com866.384.1944)

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s, is set on a private 70-acre island on Lake George © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)

Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character!  The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).

We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).

A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.  

Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays

Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.

Park City’s historic Main Street. The Hyatt Centric provides a free shuttle into the town each evening © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)

The intoxicating view at Park City Mountain, Utah, which after being combined with The Canyons, is now the biggest ski area in the US © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its  own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).

Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter).  It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.

The Bobsled Experience: Lake Placid is the only area in the Northeast where you can experience bobsled, luge and skeleton. You get to “slide” with a professional driver and pusher © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)

Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com);  Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.

Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites 

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is an intimate ocean retreat, luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent, situated on seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools,  it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).

One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if  Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.”  Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool).  (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the  Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).

Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)

More Holiday Travel Ideas

Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.

Visit Harry Potter at Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit  ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).

Taking a trail ride at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, reservations@pineridgeduderanch.com, www.pineridgeduderanch.com.

Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

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Top 25 Most Haunted Historic Hotels for 2017 Named by Historic Hotels of America

 

Jekyll Island Club Resort, Jekyll Island, Georgia, has a rumored bellman with a cap and suit like the ones seen in 1920s movies, a far different look from actual bellmen who greet you at this historic hotel today. © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A not-surprising number of Historic Hotels of America’s 300 members are reported to have some spirited guests who continue to roam the halls of these legendary places long after they should have checked out. These ghosts represent all ages, males and females, hired help to wealthy patrons, numerous professions, and others suffering from broken hearts to broken fortunes. If you are interested in a stay in a historic hotel with a paranormal twist, here is the Historic Hotels of America Top 25 Most Haunted Historic Hotels for 2017 along with some of America’s best hotel ghost stories:

Concord’s Colonial Inn (1716) Concord, Massachusetts
Due to the hotel’s age and role in the Revolutionary War, the Inn has been rumored to have a few resident ghosts. Many wounded patriot soldiers were taken to Concord’s Colonial Inn, which served as a hospital during the war. The most famous and sought-out spooky guestroom is 424. The room was once the operating room of Dr. James Minot, who had a practice in the inn during the Revolutionary War. Many guests who’ve spent the night in the infamously haunted room have reported some strange activity.

Admiral Fell Inn (1770) Baltimore, Maryland
The Admiral Fell Inn is no stranger to ghost stories. Guests have often reported seeing floating sailors and disappearing butlers knocking on their doors. A hotel manager is also said to have heard a loud party after the hotel was evacuated during a hurricane. This comes as no surprise as parts of the building dates back to the 1770s when it was a theater and boarding house where seamen, immigrants and “ladies of the night” would pass through.

The Red Lion Inn (1773) Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Ghostly rumors continue to swirl at the inn which has seen the likes of many paranormal investigators and mediums. The fourth floor, in particular, has been said to have the most activity. Both cleaning staff and guests have claimed to see a “ghostly young girl carrying flowers” and “a man in a top hat.” It has been said that guests have awoken to the feeling of someone standing over them at the foot of the bed. Cold spots, unexplained knocks, and electrical disturbances have all been reported. Guestroom 301 is also known to be a haunted hot spot.

Hanover Inn Dartmouth (1780) Hanover, New Hampshire
Dartmouth College ghost stories include the tale of nine fraternity brothers who perished in 1934. More than one Dartmouth student has come face to face with a room that isn’t there and a party of those young men and their dates. Ghosts may also haunt Baker Library, Panarchy and the Inn.

Omni Parker House, Boston (1855) Boston, Massachusetts
This hotel was opened by Harvey Parker and he was involved with the operations of the building until his death in 1884. Over the years, many guests have reported seeing him inquiring about their stay—a true “spirited” hotelier even after his death.

The Sagamore (1883) Bolton Landing, New York
The Sagamore has its own American ghost story. Opened in 1883 as a playground resort for summer residents of Millionaire’s Row, this rambling historic hotel sits on a 6 million-acre state park is rumored to accommodate a ghost or two. Stories persist of the ghost of a silver-haired woman wearing a blue polka-dot dress descending from the second floor to the Trillium, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant.

1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa (1886) Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Many people know of the most of famous “guests who check out but never leave” at the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa. They include Michael, the Irish stonemason who helped build the hotel in 1885; Theodora, a patient of Baker’s Cancer Curing Hospital in the late 1930s; and “the lady in the Victorian nightgown”, who likes to stand at the foot of the bed in Room 3500 and stare at guests while they sleep. These are only three of the dozens upon dozens of spirits that guests and visitors have reported encountering in this historic hotel in the Ozark Mountains.

Hotel Monteleone (1886) New Orleans, Louisiana
A maid, known as “Mrs. Clean” reputedly haunts the hotel. Paranormal researchers once asked why she stayed, and the maid, whose mother, grandmother and great-grandmother also worked at the hotel, said she was picking up after housekeeping to ensure high standards.

Jekyll Island Club Resort (1886) Jekyll Island, Georgia
This hotel has a rumored bellman with a cap and suit like the ones we see in movies of the 1920s, a far different look from actual bellmen who greet you at this historic hotel today. This bellman, from post WWI days, is very particular about delivering freshly pressed suits to bridegrooms. He has been seen, mostly on the second floor of the club building, knocking gently on a guest room door and announcing his purpose. Many guests, who had not ordered these services, have inquired about the mysterious bellman.

Green Park Inn (1891) Blowing Rock, North Carolina
This 1891 hotel also keeps a “Ghost Log” in the lobby for its guests to peruse (and add to when they have their own encounters to share). Pay attention to notes regarding Room 318, where Laura Green died. Laura was the daughter of the inn’s founding family and she was jilted at the altar. Reports are that she and her would be groom continue to be seen on the third floor.

The Pfister Hotel (1893) Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Countless visiting athletes and celebrities have seen hauntings by the ghost of this hotel’s original owner. It is rumored that Charles Pfister still roams the halls to ensure that his guests are well taken care of at his century-old “Grand Hotel of the West.”

Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa (1901) Honolulu, Hawaii
On February 28, 1905, the untimely death of Jane Stanford, co-founder of Stanford University, made headlines everywhere. Stanford, who was vacationing in Hawaii following a strychnine poisoning attempt on her life, died in her room at the Moana. There have been reports that the ghost of Stanford still frequents the hotel, whose beautiful ocean vistas brought her short-lived peace. Guests and hotel staff have said that they’ve seen her walking at night trying to find her room.

Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods (1902) New Hampshire
Known affectionately by staff members as “the princess”, Caroline Foster, was a long-time inhabitant of the hotel. Princess Caroline Foster’s ties to the resort go back to its inception when her husband, railroad tycoon Joseph Stickney, built the grand resort in 1902. Incorporating special accommodations for his wife, construction of the resort included an indoor swimming pool and a private dining room for Caroline known today as the “Princess Room.” A prominent figure at the resort since its opening, many guests who have visited continue to report sightings of the regal Caroline. Visions of an elegant woman in Victorian dress are often spotted in the hallways of the hotel, there are light taps on doors when no one is outside and items suddenly disappear and then reappear in the exact place they were lost. But perhaps the most common sighting of the beloved Caroline is in room 314, where guests report seeing the vision of the woman sitting at the edge of their bed.

The Seelbach Hilton Louisville (1905) Louisville, Kentucky
Legend says two lovers were to be married at the hotel in 1907, but the groom met an untimely death on his way to the wedding. His then distraught bride threw herself down the elevator shaft, falling fell ten stories to her death. The bride is said to continue to haunt the halls of this historic hotel.

Boone Tavern Hotel of Bera College (1909) Berea, Kentucky
The historic Boone Tavern Hotel attracts ghosts hunters by the score with its three-day ghost hunts, and some guests report seeing the apparition of a young boy in their photographs. In the hotel basement, the voice of a boy named Timmy can sometimes be heard.

The Stanley (1909) Estes Park, Colorado
The inspiration for Stephen King’s book, “The Shining,” The Stanley has lots of haunting appeal, especially when guests tour the creepy underground tunnel that runs beneath the hotel. But that’s not the hotel’s most haunting aspect. The hotel’s original owner, F.O. Stanley is known to haunt the hotel. He and his wife have been seen dressed in formal attire on the main staircase and in other public areas, and Flora’s piano occasionally echoes in the ballroom.

The Omni Grove Park Inn (1913) Asheville, North Carolina
For nearly half a century there has been the belief that there is a ghost who roams the hallways of the main inn. She is referred to as the Pink Lady because of the flowing pink gown she wears. It is believed that this young woman was a guest in room 545 in the 1920s and that she either jumped or was pushed to her death in the Palm Court, five floors below. No records exist that support any of these claims but it may have been hushed up to avoid negative publicity. Reports of her sightings still occur, some say they just see a pink mist, others a full apparition of a young long-haired beauty in a pink gown.

La Fonda (1922) Santa Fe, New Mexico
Shot to death in 1867 in the hotel lobby, John P. Slough, Chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, is said to have never left. Meanwhile, a distraught salesman, who jumped into the hotel well after losing a card game, has been seen emerging from the fountain by visitors and guests alike.

The Emily Morgan San Antonio – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel (1924) San Antonio, Texas
This hotel, known as “the official hotel of the Alamo” has known to have ghosts haunt the halls. At one time, the hotel housed a medical facility, which had a morgue and a psychiatric ward on site. Reports of unexplained noises, apparitions, and the feeling of being touched have been reported by guests. The floors with the most paranormal activity that have been reported are the seventh, ninth, eleventh and twelfth floors.

Francis Marion Hotel (1924) Charleston, South Carolina
In the early 1930s, New Yorker Ned Cohen was visiting his Southern lady friend in Charleston. Whatever happened was never clear, but he was found face down, body smashed in the middle of King Street facing toward the old Citadel’s parade grounds. Today, visitors hear eerie and unexplained sounds at night, all too familiar to the bell staff and room attendants walking the halls. Sounds of rustling silk drapes, rattling windows, and an unexplained vision of a man questioning either himself or the witness. Some see the image in shirt sleeves, others just feel his presence throughout the hotel.

Hawthorne Hotel (1925) Salem, Massachusetts
The city of Salem is notorious for the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and is prone to hauntings and spirits of its own. The hotel has ghost stories of its own, mostly attributed to the sea captains who were returning to their gathering place. In particular, rooms 621 and 325 have had reports of lights turning off and on and a general uneasy feeling throughout the rooms.

The Hollywood Roosevelt (1927) Hollywood, California
This historic hotel is haunted by multitudes of ghosts including the most famous, Marilyn Monroe. She has been said to haunt the full length mirror that was once in her suite. Room 928 is believed to be haunted by the restless spirit of Montgomery Cliff, the film and stage actor best known in the film Red River in 1948.

Lord Baltimore Hotel (1928) Baltimore, Maryland
Guests and staff alike numerous times have seen a little girl, wearing a long, cream-colored dress and black, shiny shoes, running by the open doorway, bouncing a red ball before her. There have been many times when guests have asked, “Little girl, are you lost?” and the hallway has been completely empty.

The Don CeSar (1928) St. Pete Beach, Florida
Thomas Rowe met his beloved Lucinda in the 1890s when Rowe was studying in Europe. Lucinda’s parents forbade the relationship and the forlorn Rowe returned to America. For years his letters to her were returned unopened. In 1925, Rowe built the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa. The lobby of the hotel included a replica of the courtyard and fountain where Rowe and Lucinda used to meet. Although the fountain no longer exists, employees at the Don CeSar tell tales of seeing a couple who suddenly appear walking hand-in-hand in the hotel and then disappearing.

Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC (1930) Washington, DC
During the Shoreham’s early years, three people died unexpectedly in suite 870. At that time the apartment was occupied by one of the hotel’s owners, Henry Doherty. Juliette Brown, the family’s housekeeper dropped dead mysteriously one night at 4 am. Doherty’s daughter and wife also perished mysteriously in the same suite. During its vacancy there were claims of mysterious noises, doors slamming shut and furniture moving—many of which happened around 4 am, the time of Juliette’s death.

“The best guest comment a hotelier likes to hear is we don’t want to leave or we can’t wait to come back,” said Lawrence Horwitz, Executive Director, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. “At many historic hotels across the USA, hoteliers have told us that they have former guests that never left and these ghosts are visible only to some guests, most frequently at night, and even more frequently during the fall and winter. Or, as I understand, they checked in and never checked out.”

Historic Hotels of America® is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating historic hotels which have faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated historic hotels. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance.

Great Experiences & Tours

Historic Hotels of America also offer organized tours designed around history, and heritage.

Great Experiences & Tours™ by Historic Hotels of America offers educational and engaging tours operated by the National Trust Tours to promote enriching experiences and explore the rich cultures of the world, focusing on the art and architecture that has shaped each community. For over forty years, National Trust Tours has been offering inspiring programs that uncover the traditions and unique elements of each culture through thoughtfully-planned expeditions, stimulating lectures and guidance led by expert historians and naturalists, and engaging discourse with the local communities. Select from a variety of Great Experiences & Tours and enjoy a trip of a lifetime.

Special Offer! Mention Historic Hotels of America when booking your tour and receive three $100 gift certificates, each good toward a $100 refund when you book through HistoricHotels.org and stay for at least two-nights at a Historic Hotels of America hotel.*

Reservations:  To book a journey, contact HHA’s tour VIP desk, 202-772-8000 or emailing scalhoun@historichotels.org.

For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

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Historic Inn at Saratoga Captures Sense of Place, Gracious Victorian Style

The Inn at Saratoga, Saratoga Springs’ oldest continuously operating hotel, dating from 1843, offers Victorian gracious style and a sense of place © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Saratoga Springs, one of America’s first tourist towns, has been drawing visitors since the 14th century when Native Americans discovered the mineral springs which still draw visitors today. But it is also where formal horse racing began, and over the years, has also developed an amazingly rich cultural menu of offerings, especially in summer, when its Performing Arts Center is home to the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. It is fitting that among its key attractions are the National Museum of Dance (who knew there was such a thing?) as well as the National Racing Museum (fascinating), historic racetrack, lively live-music venues, stunning boutiques (you know a top-notch town by its olive oil shop and haberdashery).

It doesn’t take long, as you walk among the giant painted horses and ballet shoes to recognize this unbelievably charming town is a combination of Louisville, Kentucky and Lenox, Massachusetts, with a touch of a spa-wellness destination thrown in. And totally enchanting.

But walking around and taking in the breathtaking Victorian architecture, you also realize that Saratoga Springs has had its ups-and-downs. Indeed, the celebrated historic Racetrack even closed down in 1896 because of financial hardship, and historic markers on Broadway point to whole historic streets that were torn down in the 1960s until a preservation movement took root.

This makes you appreciate all the more the work underway ($30 million worth) on the historic Adelphi Hotel, where the colorful Irish-born prize-fighter, horse-racing impresario, gambling entrepreneur , New York State Senator and Tammany Hall enforcer John Morrissey, a regular of the hotel, died in 1878.

You get to live Saratoga Springs’ history at the Inn at Saratoga, which has basically “seen” it all. Built around 1843, it is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Saratoga Springs, and its own history mirrors that of the village.

The Inn at Saratoga, which dates from 1843, puts you into the city’s story © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Anyone who appreciates as I do how a historic hotel is like a direct line to a place – putting you on the inside track rather than being an outsider merely passing through – seeks out historic hotels wherever possible. They have presence, and give you a sense of place.

These historic hotels immerse you into the collective memory and heritage of a place – like being inserted into the scene of the village as it might have been 150 years ago. They are so much more than brick and mortar – they have personality, character, even soul (not for nothing that many also harbor a ghost or two).

It is also about providing the gracious hospitality we associate with times past – the personal attention, the tranquil pace, a quiet calm.

So, coming to Saratoga Springs, I do what I always do when I plan a trip: seek out Historic Hotels of America website (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946), a membership program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation with nearly 290 historic hotels that have faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place and architectural integrity. I discover the Inn at Saratoga, which turns out to be the oldest continuously operating inn in Saratoga Springs, dating back to 1843.

Over the years, the inn’s fortunes have had its ups and downs along with the city (now decidedly up in its fortunes)  and, like the city and hospitality industry, has gone through many incarnations – a physician tapped Saratoga Springs’ legendary mineral waters for his patients and operated the inn as an early version of a spa hotel; a Cuban owner had a travel pipeline for visitors from Cuba; a rabbi catered to Jewish vacationers escaping New York City’s oppressive summers.

Fortunately, it is now in the loving hands of the Israel family, who acquired the inn in 2003, and who bring a deep appreciation for historic preservation and their role as stewards.

Indeed, when you experience such places, you cannot take their existence for granted – rather, they are to be celebrated as survivors against long odds – surviving wrecking balls, economic and natural disasters, and new owners’ predilections to go “modern.”

Owners of these historic properties take on their stewardship with a sense of obligation and humility, recognizing they are links in a chain, without which, these places will simply cease to exist.

The Israel family, who are active in Preservation Society for Saratoga Springs, has spent considerable resources removing the “modern” that previous owners had installed, and restoring the hotel’s period features and charm, while providing the amenities that guests crave today, including spacious bathrooms, in-room coffee maker, flat-screen TV, voicemail, dataports, complimentary wired and wireless high-speed Internet access and such.  As they say it is “the perfect marriage of past and present.”

Painting along three sides of the inn’s elevator depicts Saratoga Springs of 150 years ago © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I joke about the hotel having an elevator (which has an exquisite pastel painting of Saratoga Springs as it might have been 150 years ago that spreads across three sides) and the receptionist says, this place didn’t even have running water in 1843. But to install the elevator, Liz Israel, who has the role of General Manager, tells me, the previous owners removed a formal staircase.

The inn once had around 100 rooms, more than twice the number, 42 rooms and suites, as today – because traditional hostelries had tiny rooms with a washbasin and guests shared a bathroom.

Best of the past and present: four-poster bed and period furnishings create the atmosphere in the guest room at the Inn at Saratoga; modern amenities including spacious bathroom, TV and WiFi heighten the guest experience © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Big band music plays in the hallway as I make my way to my room (you can’t hear it when you are in the room) but you use a modern key-card to enter. It is pure pleasure to sink into a four-poster bed so high you need a step ladder, and of course a spacious modern bathroom. Each room is different and appointed with period furnishings.

Robert Israel, a tax attorney who first came to Saratoga Springs in the 1960s when it was in decline (and property was cheap) bought the hotel in 2003, has meticulously gone about acquiring period furnishings at auction – a stunning bookcase that adorns the dining room; wood paneling that as a young man in his 20s, he salvaged from a hotel in Newburgh that he kept for 40 years before finding just the right place, in the inn’s lobby; the side board we take our coffee cup from for breakfast came from the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. The walls are graced with stunning oil paintings (purchased at auction) as well as prints that Israel collected from the Grand Union Hall, which when it was built, was the largest in the world (it burned down). He acquired a shuttered railway ticket cottage which he reassembled and repurposed in the inn’s garden to serve as a bar for special events. The ballroom has an intricately “carved” fireplace which came  from a movie set. And the dining room has a specially made red velvet banquette that captures the Victorian ambiance perfectly.

Inn at Saratoga is justifiably proud of the full breakfast served buffet style in the tradition of a bed-and-breakfast inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One feature of the Inn at Saratoga is the complimentary full buffet breakfast that is included – a lavish affair that reminds you more of a bed-and-breakfast inn where the host seeks to really out do themselves with memorable meals. One breakfast consisted of delectable scrambled eggs seasoned with herbs, served on a fresh croissant, along with bacon, potatoes, selections of fresh fruit, cereals, bagels, pastries and muffins, perfectly delectable coffee, served on beautiful china.

Liz Israel was 18 years old when her father bought the property. She grew up waiting tables, handling the reception desk, and went on to get a degree in hospitality management in Ireland, where she worked at the Shelburne Hotel in Dublin before returning to the Inn at Saratoga with her Irish husband.

Liz takes me on a walking tour of the hotel, recognizing how much I appreciate the restoration.

Once an open porch, The Tavern bar has big picture windows that overlook the street bustle on Broadway, Saratoga Springs’ main street, and where there is live music five nights a week, Wednesday through Saturday.

The inn’s original lobby is repurposed for a dining and lounge space; the couch is an Israel family heirloom © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Primo’s Restaurant, where you enjoy breakfast and which serves dinner, is a Victorian confection. Liz says that they lifted up the carpet and removed a cement layer to expose the original hardwood floors.

There is a beautiful ballroom that opens to a garden where a tent has been erected for a wedding reception; there is also an old railroad ticket cottage that Israel acquired and repurposed for a bar.

The inn has a few vintage Roadmaster bikes available for guests’ use (two hours at a time). Guests also enjoy complimentary access to Victoria Swimming Pool located in Saratoga Spa State Park and the nearby YMCA. Complimentary parking in its on-site lot is a significant amenity as well. (The inn offers a spa package with the historic Roosevelt Baths & Spa in the park.)

The Inn at Saratoga offers a gracious setting © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition to the hotel, there is a separate Brownell Cottage (which was purchased along with the hotel) which features four luxurious suites, accommodating up to four people depending on the suite. Beautifully appointed, the cottage offers an array of modern amenities: whirlpool tub, heated bathroom floors, steam shower with multi-head massage shower, authentic Franklin Stove fireplaces, cable TV, coffee/tea maker, speaker phones with data port, voice mail and in-room safes and free high-speed wireless Internet.

The Inn at Saratoga is an ideal venue for wedding or family function or meeting because of its scale, the charming ambiance, and facilities.

Inn Follows Fortunes of Saratoga Springs

I love the back story to the inn: it was built as a large boarding house in 1843 by Isaac Hall, a carpenter from New Hampshire, 11 years after the railroad provided easy access to Saratoga’s spa for tourists.

In 1846, Hall sold the property to Thomas Smith of Virginia, who turned over the management to Dr. Richard L. Allen, who, like other physicians of the time, operated boarding houses to treat “chronic cases” – an early version of a health spa. That lasted until 1853, when the property was sold to Hervey P. Hall (Dr. Allen remained in Saratoga Springs and published a popular guide for health seekers in Saratoga).

The hotel passed through three other owners until 1865 when it was acquired by Benjamin V. Frasier, brother-in-law of Thomas Marvin, the proprietor of the huge United States Hotel (largest hotel at the time). “The wealth created by the Civil War and the pent-up demand for pleasure created the greatest boom Saratoga had ever seen.”

It isn’t a coincidence that organized horse racing, brought by casino operator and future congressman, the prize-fighter John Morrissey, had begun in Saratoga Springs.

Frasier significantly expanded the hotel, building the three-story wing in 1866 and added a brick veneer, and re-named the hotel Everett House.

The historic Inn at Saratoga pays tribute to Saratoga Springs’ horse-racing tradition with one of the painted horses © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Frasier gave up the hotel in 1875 (the same year as the first Kentucky Derby was run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky) and it was sold to Nathaniel Waterbury, a prominent Saratogan, who made improvements but quickly  went into foreclosure. The US was in the midst of a major economic Depression. The property was purchased at an 1878 sheriff’s sale by Thomas Marvin’s daughters, Mary Louise Sackett and Virginia Perry. By 1882, they had leased it to Primo M. Suarez, who catered to Cuban vacationers for 35 years; he rebuilt the front of the hotel in 1887 in the High Victorian style that was fashionable at the time.

After World War I, Saratoga’s old clientele was slipping away; and instead of two-week sojourns, auto touring was the newest fad. But there was a growing audience of Jewish New Yorkers who sought to escape the city’s summer heat and could afford a country retreat. In 1919, Nathaniel Heller took over Everett House and by the 1924 season, renamed it Hotel Brenner, operated by Rabbi Charles Brenner and his extended family. That continued until 1973 when the hotel was purchased by Dom Nardelli of Saratoga Springs who “updated” the facility and renamed it the Coachman Motor Inn.

That was a fairly dark time for Saratoga Springs, when many of its historic buildings were taken down. A historic preservation movement took hold in the 1980s, and when Nardelli put the hotel on the market in 1987, it was sold to four businessmen who sought to recreate the graciousness of a Victorian hotel.

In 2003, the hotel was acquired by the current owners, Robert Israel of Franklin Square Associates, a historic preservation professional who has sought to restore the hotel’s historic quality and enhance the guest experience.

Liz tells me her father uses the inn as an excuse to shadow auctions and indulge his passion for antiques.

The Inn at Saratoga offers several package options, including:

GirlFriends Getaway Package, featuring dinner, wine, mineral baths and massage treatments at the historic Roosevelt Baths & Spa in Saratoga Spring State Park.

(The Roosevelt Baths & Spa Saratoga Springs opened in 1935 largely because at the impetus of President Franklin Roosevelt who wanted to develop the mineral baths at Saratoga Springs as well as Warm Springs, Virginia. Today, the Roosevelt Baths & Spa offers 42 original treatment rooms and a complete menu of services, including mineral baths, massages, facials, scrubs and body wraps, and a full-service salon.)

The inn’s Victorian Romance Package features a deluxe guest room or suite accommodations, a rose, chilled bottle of Champagne delivered to the room, plus morning buffet breakfast and gourmet 3 course dinner for two at The Inn at Saratoga’s Restaurant. Upgrade to a suite for the ultimate experience, most Brownell Cottage suites have a whirlpool tub, heated bathroom floors, steam showers and a Franklin stove fireplace.

The Israel family also owns another boutique hotel, in St. Thomas in the Caribbean.

The Inn at Saratoga is near most of Saratoga Springs’ attractions, such as the National Museum of Dance and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is summer home to the New York City Ballet © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Centrally located, The Inn at Saratoga is conveniently near center of the village and its attractions including Congress Park, Skidmore College, Saratoga Performing Arts Center (summer home of the New York City Ballet), the famous Saratoga Thorough-bred Racetrack, the Saratoga Harness Track, the Saratoga National Museum of Dance, the National Museum of Racing, and the Saratoga Spa State Park.

On the Friday night that I am in town, I can choose from seeing the New York City Ballet, see a polo match or a live folk performance at Café Lina, among many other options.

Besides the nearby attractions of Saratoga Springs (see story), The Inn at Saratoga is well situated to year-round attractions, including Lake George (half hour); Gore Mountain (hour), and the Revolutionary War-era Saratoga National Historical Park (20 minutes).

The Inn at Saratoga, 231 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, 518-583-1890, 800-274-3573, theinnatsaratoga.com. 

See next: Exploring Saratoga Springs 

____________________

 

© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Historic Hotels 2016 Awards of Excellence Winners Announced

The famous duck walk at The Peabody Memphis. Doug Browne of The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee was honored as the 2016 Historic Hotelier of the Year.
The famous duck walk at The Peabody Memphis. Doug Browne of The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee was honored as the 2016 Historic Hotelier of the Year.

Washington, DC –Mission Inn Hotel & Spa of Riverside, California,  the Palace Hotel  and the Inn at the Presidio of of San Francisco and La Fonda on the Plaza of Santa Fe, were among the historic hotels honored with 2016 Awards of Excellence by Historic Hotels of America® and Historic Hotels Worldwide® . The Mayflower Hotel of Washington DC was awarded the best City Center historic hotel, and the Omni Homestead Resort of Hot Springs, Virginia was named best historic resort.

Honors were given in multiple categories ranging from Hotelier of the Year and Hotel Historian of the Year to Best Historic Resort, Historic Hotelier of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, and others, at a ceremony and gala at The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort (1927) in Honolulu, Hawaii on Thursday, November 3.

Each year, these Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence honor, encourage, and recognize the most exemplary historic hotels, hoteliers, and leadership practices. The Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence are presented to historic hotels and hoteliers demonstrating innovative leadership, stewardship, and contribution to furthering the recognition, preservation, and celebration of these preeminent historic hotels and their histories.

From more than 200 nominees, the following Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide hotels and hoteliers were honored with these prestigious annual awards for 2016:

Best Small Historic Inn/Hotel (Under 75 Guestrooms)
• Inn at the Presidio (1903) San Francisco, California

Best Historic Hotel (76-200 Guestrooms)
• La Fonda on the Plaza™ (1922) Santa Fe, New Mexico
Best Historic Hotel (201-400 Guestrooms)
• Mission Inn Hotel & Spa (1876) Riverside, California

Best Historic Hotel (Over 400 Guestrooms)
• Palace Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel (1875) San Francisco, California

Best City Center Historic Hotel
• The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection (1925) Washington, DC

Best Historic Resort
• The Omni Homestead Resort (1766) Hot Springs, Virginia

Historic Hotels of America New Member of the Year
• White Stallion Ranch (1900) Tucson, Arizona

Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel
• The Jefferson, Washington, DC (1923) Washington, DC

Historic Hotels of America Sustainability Champion
• The Boar’s Head (1834) Charlottesville, Virginia
2016 Historic Hotels of America Hotel Historian of the Year Award
• Lora Gallagher at the Hilton Hawaiian Village® Waikiki Beach Resort (1955) Honolulu, Hawaii

2016 Historic Hotelier of the Year
• Doug Browne at The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee

 

Best Historic Restaurant in Conjunction with a Historic Hotel
• Circa 1886 at Wentworth Mansion (1886) Charleston, South Carolina

Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year
• The Genzlinger Family at The Settlers Inn at Bingham Park (1927) Hawley, Pennsylvania

Historic Hotels of America Ambassador of the Year (Quarter Century Service)
• Ken Price at the Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel (1871) Chicago, Illinois

2016 Historian of the Year Award
• Jamie Ford, New York Times Best-Selling Author

 

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Europe
• Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern (1845) Lucerne, Switzerland
Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Asia/Pacific
• Hotel New Grand (1927) Yokohama, Japan

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in the Americas
• Hacienda Xcanatún (1789) Merida, Mexico

2016 Lifetime Achievement Award
• Takamasa Osano and Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts, LP

“We are proud to congratulate the 2016 Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence winners,” said Lawrence Horwitz, Executive Director of Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. “These historic hotels and hoteliers represent the pinnacle in historic hotels and their achievements. Their dedicated stewardship and innovative leadership helps ensure that these legendary historic hotels and their wonderful histories will continued to be enjoyed by future generations of travelers.”

Award recipients are selected from nominees received from historic hotels, historic preservation supporters, prior award recipients, and leadership from Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. As official programs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide provide the recognition to travelers, civic leaders, and the global cultural, heritage, and historic travel market that member hotels are among the finest historic hotels across America and around the world. The Historic Hotels Annual Awards of Excellence program recognizes the pinnacle of this distinct group of nominees in a range of categories.

Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels. Historic Hotels of America was founded in 1989 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation with 32 charter members. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 295 historic hotels. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, please visit HistoricHotels.org.

Historic Hotels Worldwide is a prestigious collection of historic treasures, including historic hotels, castles, chateaus, palaces, academies, haciendas, villas, monasteries, and other historic lodging spanning more than ten centuries. Historic Hotels Worldwide recognizes authentic cultural treasures that demonstrate historic preservation and their inspired architecture, cultural traditions, and authentic cuisine. Historic Hotels Worldwide is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (United States of America). HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com allows travelers to book their next getaway from more than 3,000 historic and cultural experiences, and view special offers at participating historic hotels from 30 countries. To be nominated and selected to be featured on this supplemental marketing program website, a historic hotel must be at least 75 years old; utilize historic accommodations; serve as the former home or be located on the grounds of the former home of famous persons or significant location for an event in history; be located in or within walking distance to a historic district, historically significant landmark, place of historic event, or a historic city center; be recognized by a local preservation organization or national trust; and display historic memorabilia, artwork, photography, and other examples of its historic significance. To be selected in the United States for inclusion in Historic Hotels Worldwide, a hotel must meet the above criteria plus be a member of Historic Hotels of America. For more information, please visit HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com.

Click here to see the Historic Hotels of America video. To receive special offers, including the monthly enewsletter, Discover & Explore, which includes hotel specials, offers and historic fun facts, click here. View the Historic Hotels of America 2016 Annual Directory ebook or download the free app on iTunesAmazonGoogle play, and the Windows Store.

See also:

Historic Hotels of America to Select 2016 Awards of Excellence Winners from Among Finalists

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Two Nights, One Day in Pittsburgh: Historic Omni William Penn Hotel Connects to City’s Proud Heritage

The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Palm Court of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(I have come to Pittsburgh to join the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn three-day, 120-mile bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage. I only have two nights and one full day in the city, so I focus on what is uniquely Pittsburgh’s heritage. This is fifth in the series.) 

My purpose for this all-too-brief visit to Pittsburgh is to immerse myself in the city’s proud heritage at the epicenter of the nation’s founding, settlement, industrialization and emergence as a world power, but a heritage that came at a terrible cost to its environment. The city has undertaken a fantastic revitalization, emerging from grey to green, and becoming one of America’s most liveable cities.

And so for my two-nights stay, I seek out the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – a member of Historic Hotels of America – which celebrated its centennial in 2016 the same year as the city celebrated its bicentennial, and is so much a part of Pittsburgh’s story.

I love wandering around, immersing myself in the taking in the ambiance, admiring its stunning architectural features and Art Deco-style appointments, and, as if these walls could talk, hearing its stories as if whispered in my ear. There are historic displays, photos, artifacts and artwork in various places that convey the story. Indeed, in its award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916, there is an enormous mural that pays homage to the city’s history depicting “The Taking of Fort Pitt”.

"The Taking of Fort Pitt" mural hangs in The Omni William Penn Hotel’s award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916 © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
“The Taking of Fort Pitt” mural hangs in The Omni William Penn Hotel’s award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916 © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whenever I travel, I first seek out members of Historic Hotels of America, a collection of properties. Historic hotels are so much more than mere structures. They embody the heritage and history and sense of place, and are also very much creations of their builders. Owners take on the role of steward, with a responsibility of passing it along to the next.

This is true of The William Penn, whose history parallels that of the city and the nation, as I learn from a wonderful pamphlet, “A Grand Dame Named William Penn,” by Marianne Lee.

Stunning decoration in the Omni William Penn Hotel’s interior. Built by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, when it was first opened, in 1916, it was hailed as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation” © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stunning decoration in the Omni William Penn Hotel’s interior. Built by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, when it was first opened, in 1916, it was hailed as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation” © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The William Penn Hotel was the last building venture of Henry Clay Frick, one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest industrialists. Frick envisioned the William Penn as Pittsburgh’s showplace, and it was designed by renowned architects Benno Janssen, and Franklin Abbott to rival the great hotels of Europe in Old World style but with what was then the state-of-the-art, sophisticated, 20th century technology. Guests were dazzled by such modern amenities including iced drinking water on top, “certified” lighting, electrically operated clocks, a telephone in every room connected to a master switchboard with 30 operators at the ready, and a private bathroom in an age when most Americans still used outdoor privies and most hotels offered only shared facilities.

Built at a cost of $6 million, when it opened, newspapers proclaimed The William Penn as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation.” Its first night featured the annual Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce Gala, the largest gala in city history up to that time, which was hosted by US Secretary of State Philander Knox.

When the hotel was first built, it had 1,000 guestrooms (interesting to contemplate since it only has 597 today), and an elegant two-tier Grand Ballroom on the 17th floor. In 1928, the hotel was acquired by the Eppley Hotel Company and Eugene Eppley, a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches figure, financed a major expansion, the Grant Street Annex. That added 600 more guestrooms as well as the hotel’s crowning jewel, the Urban Room, designed by Joseph Urban, when it was finished in 1929. With this addition, The William Penn became the largest hotel between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and the major convention facility for Pittsburgh.

But Eppley, who was the vanguard of a new breed of professional hotelier who saw his patrons not as customers but as guests, lost control of the hotel in the Great Depression, and new owners brought in the Statler Hotels company to manage it 1940-1951. Eppley briefly regained control, but over the years, this Grand Dame was held by Sheraton, then a group of local investors, then Alcoa, which invested $20 million in a substantial renovation, and finally Omni Hotels & Resorts, in 2001.

A photo of Lawrence Welk recalls the bandleader’s connection to the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – his famous bubble machine was invented by the hotel’s engineer  © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A photo of Lawrence Welk recalls the bandleader’s connection to the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – his famous bubble machine was invented by the hotel’s engineer © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout its storied past and many owners, The Omni William Penn Hotel has hosted many of the 20th century’s movers, shakers and celebrities.  A young bandleader named Lawrence Welk, who would later gain fame for his television show, performed in the hotel’s ballrooms; the hotel’s  engineers actually devised Welk’s iconic bubble machine – a connection commemorated by naming a ballroom for him, and in large photographic murals.

In 1934, a young vocalist named Dolores DeFina accepted a marriage proposal at The William Penn from the inimitable Bob Hope. The hotel remains celebrated as a wedding venue (including being named to the “Best of Weddings 2009” list by The Knot ).

A popular campaign spot as well as for presidential appearances, The Omni William Penn Hotel has received every president since Theodore Roosevelt (who visited in 1917 to attend a Moose Convention), including John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, as now, The William Penn combines every modern amenity with timeless elegance: 597 beautifully appointed guestrooms including 38 suites, 52,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and five dining venues including its fine dining room, The Terrace Room, the Palm Court, a pub-style Tap Room, Starbucks Coffee Café, The Speakeasy (in 1920s tradition tucked beneath the hotel lobby), plus 24-hour room service. The hotel boasts two self-contained conference centers, a 24-hour fitness center, beauty salon, gift shop, and a jewelry store.

There is every amenity, nicety and graciousness, beginning with fresh apples at reception and a concierge available to help with every situation. My room is outfitted with plush robe, refrigerator, bottled water, coffee maker, big screen TV, hair dryer, ironing board/iron, safe, WiFi (free if you enroll in Omni Hotels loyalty program).

I take advantage of the opportunity to order two beverages (at no charge) plus other items at modest cost for the morning ($3 for an English muffin; $3 for a toasted bagel with cream cheese, $2.75 for a muffin, $3.75 for Greek yogurt, etc.), especially when I have to leave at 5:15 am to get to the start of my Rails-to-Trails biking trip on the Great Allegheny Passage. You tell them a 15-minute window when you want it to be delivered, and sure enough, it arrives right on time. So does my car, waiting for me when I depart.

The Omni William Penn Hotel marked its centennial in 2016 the same year as Pittsburgh’s bicentennial. Located downtown, it is walking distance to many of the city’s attractions © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Omni William Penn Hotel marked its centennial in 2016 the same year as Pittsburgh’s bicentennial. Located downtown, it is walking distance to many of the city’s attractions © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel is smack in the middle of the city, walking distance to all the downtown attractions, restaurants, cultural and financial center. Here’s a recap of my Day in Pittsburgh Walking Tour: Omni William Penn Hotel, Monongahela Incline, Duquesne Incline, Point State Park, Fort Pitt Museum, National Aviary, Andy Warhol Museum, Heinz History Center, Strip District. But one full day in Pittsburgh is simply not enough.

Omni William Penn Pittsburgh, 530 William Penn Place, Pittsburgh PA 15219, 412-281-7100, omnihotels.com/Pittsburgh. 

Historic Hotels of America

Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels. Historic Hotels of America was founded in 1989 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation with 32 charter members. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 290 historic hotels. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org, 800-678-8946. 

Visit Pittsburgh

For all the right reasons, Pittsburgh is a sensational travel destination no matter what season or weather, whether it is business, academia or leisure pursuits that bring you into the city. I can’t wait to come back.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.com, www.visitpittsburgh.com.

See also:

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Point State Park Proves Highlight of Walking Tour

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum is at Center of Revitalized City

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Strip District Exemplifies City’s Past, Future

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

Pittsburgh’s skyline and rivers, as seen from Grandview Avenue at the Duquesne Incline © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Pittsburgh’s skyline and rivers, as seen from Grandview Avenue at the Duquesne Incline © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pittsburgh was at the crossroads, commanding a literal pivotal position in the struggle for control of New World colonies by France and England – the Keystone of the Frontier. George Washington surveyed from a point now known as Mount Washington and picked the location for what became known as Fort Pitt, for who controlled this confluence of the rivers, would control the Colonial empire. Meriwether Lewis embarked on his historic westward Lewis & Clark Expedition from Pittsburgh.

The city grew and prospered and was blighted under the control of Industrial titans like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick whose steel mills controlled almost one-third of US output that built America’s infrastructure and turned the nation into an economic world power.

Most of those steel mills, the coal mines, the rail lines, the glass factories are shuttered, and the city went through a dismal time. But today, the city has been reborn.

One of the best reasons to visit Pittsburgh is to see how a city reclaims itself, how it can rise like a phoenix quite literally from ashes and turn itself into a city that embraces and nurtures its people.

The most fascinating discovery about Pittsburgh is how a city built for commerce and industry, built upon steel and machines, has become such a walkable, bikeable, liveable place – from grey to green.

Biking across one of Pittsburgh’s 445 bridges (more than any city in the world) © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Biking across one of Pittsburgh’s 445 bridges (more than any city in the world) © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You still see coal on barges on the river, railroads carrying freight on the bank below Mount Washington, the skyscrapers housing US Steel Corporation and the United Steelworkers Union, but you can actually see the city from Grandview Avenue, where once, the smokestacks would billow such thick particulates as to choke the city.

There is such richness in culture and heritage that abounds here, but the best reason to visit is to feel the vibe.

Old juxtaposed with new in Pittsburgh’s downtown © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Old juxtaposed with new in Pittsburgh’s downtown © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You feel it as you walk about, going from neighborhood to neighborhood, taking in the stunning juxtaposition of centuries-old architecture against modern structures. Pittsburgh is becoming an example of a “best of both worlds”, though old and new doesn’t necessarily mesh seamlessly, but rather with an exciting creative tension.

I have come to Pittsburgh to join the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn three-day, 120-mile bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage – a trail reclaimed from a former rail line that was used to carry the coal from the mines to the steel mills. It is the foremost example of the transition of an economy and the society that it supports. But I only have one full day, so I want my time to be as productive as possible.

And as authentic as possible, so I choose the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – a member of Historic Hotels of America – which celebrated its centennial in 2016 the same year as the city celebrated its bicentennial.

I start with the hotel’s concierge to get some ideas of how to organize my day in order to pack enough highlights that give me a real sense of this place – the things that are unique to the city.

She, in fact, epitomizes the story of Pittsburgh:

You see, her father worked in those steel mills of Andrew Carnegie and Frick, suffering the intense heat of a firey hell. There used to be steel mills lining the riverfront. She remembers how the pollution in the city was so thick, that you could not see the city below Grandview Avenue on Mount Washington ridge where I will be heading soon to take in the view. Her father died at an early age.

Today, the city’s main industries include academia, robotics, banking and finance and his daughter is now a concierge in a luxury hotel.

Entrance to the Omni William Penn Hotel, which celebrated its centennial in 2016, the same year as Pittsburgh’s bicentennial © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Entrance to the Omni William Penn Hotel, which celebrated its centennial in 2016, the same year as Pittsburgh’s bicentennial © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At its bicentennial in 2016, Pittsburgh boasted a population of 305,704; 2781 acres of city parks; 300 downtown restaurants; 31 skyscrapers; 90 neighborhoods; 24 miles of riverfront trails; 500 bicycle rentals through 50 stations of Pittsburgh  Bike Share (download app); 445 bridges (more than any city in the world) across three rivers.

Several Pittsburgh’s unique attractions are associated with people that I had not realized were native sons: August Wilson, Andy Warhol. Indeed, the special history of Pittsburgh is preserved in the institutions associated with the Senator John Heinz History Center (yes, the ketchup company family), as I discover.

She loads me up with handy lists and maps, and draws a route for me, and I am on my way.

Walk with me…

Old reflected in new in Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Old reflected in new in Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Around the Omni William Penn Hotel, a complete renaissance is still underway: modern skyscrapers in glass and steel reflect back on restored brick Victorians – not exactly a seamless melding of past and present, nor is history accurately reflected.

I head toward the Southfield Street Bridge, a jewel of a steel bridge with a walking/biking lane, that takes me over the Monongahela River, where on the shore, a lovely indoor Station Square mall has developed around what would have been a factory, and there is a lovely bike path. Across the street, is the entrance to the Monongahela Incline, a funicular that takes you up to the Grandview Avenue, aptly named for the grand view of the city from its heights, on Mount Washington, named for George Washington who surveyed the area from this place, choosing the location at the Point below for a fort.

The Monongahela Incline originally opened in 1870 (refurbished in 2015) and is the nation’s oldest cable car operation © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Monongahela Incline originally opened in 1870 (refurbished in 2015) and is the nation’s oldest cable car operation © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is one of two remaining of the original 19 that used to run.

The Monongahela Incline originally opened in 1870 (refurbished in 2015) and is the nation’s oldest cable car operation. Its 35-degree grade makes it the steepest incline in the US; it travels the 635-foot length at 6 mph. It is operated by the Port Authority (so your bus pass works). Though the ride takes but a few minutes, it is so much fun. (portauthority.org).

The story of Pittsburgh is encapsulated from Mount Washington, named for George Washington who as a young man surveyed the area from this perch to choose a location for a fort. You gaze down at the expanse from viewing perches – how the rivers merge together, the skyscrapers and landscape. There are fascinating historical markers along Grandview Avenue that tell the story of steel and the critical role Pittsburgh played in the industrialization of the United States and its emergence, really, as a world economic power, and ultimately, “the Greening of Pittsburgh.”

Historical markers along Grandview Avenue make it easy to visualize Pittsburgh’s past © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Historical markers along Grandview Avenue make it easy to visualize Pittsburgh’s past © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mount Washington was once called Coal Hill, the spot where the nation’s coal industry was born around 1760.  “Here the Pittsburgh coal bed was mined to supply Fort Pitt. This was eventually to be judged the most valuable individual mineral deposit in the U.S.”

Another marker: “With its steel mills belching fire and smoke, Boston writer James Parton described the city as ‘hell with the lid off.’ Streetlights were often needed in the middle of the day to combat the haze of industrial smoke and grime. As recently as the late 1940s, visitors to Grandview Avenue had to strain to see the skyline through the haze.” Today, despite the clouds casting a grey pallor, I can still see the striking skyscape, and follow the outline of the rivers a long distance.

I stroll the avenue toward the next incline, the Duquesne, passing lovely Victorian homes and a library.

Riding down the Duquesne Incline © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Riding down the Duquesne Incline © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Duquesne Incline opened in 1877 – it has quite an interesting display of historical photos and artifacts. It is operated by the Society for the Preservation of Duquesne Heights Incline. It travels the 793 length at a speed of 6 mph, bringing me back down to the riverfront and I walk across the Fort Pitt Bridge down into Point State Park.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.com, www.visitpittsburgh.com. 

Next: Pittsburgh Walking Tour Continues to Fort Pitt Museum

____________________

© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Historic Hotels of America to Select 2016 Awards of Excellence Winners from Among Finalists

Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928), the famous “Pink Lady” of  St. Pete Beach, Florida, is a finalist for Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928), the famous “Pink Lady” of St. Pete Beach, Florida, is a finalist for Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Historic Hotels of America® and Historic Hotels Worldwide®  will be announcing winners of the 2016 Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence at a Gala Dinner at The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort (1927) in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 3.  These Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence recognize and celebrate the finest historic hotels and hoteliers across the nation and around the world.

Award recipients are selected from nominees received from historic hotels, historic preservation supporters, prior award recipients, and leadership from Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. As official programs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide provide the recognition to travelers, civic leaders, and the global cultural, heritage, and historic travel market that member hotels are among the finest historic hotels across America and around the world. The Historic Hotels Annual Awards of Excellence program recognizes the pinnacle of this distinct group of nominees in a range of categories.

From over 200 nominations, the awards committee evaluated, and after careful consideration selected the following 2016 award nominee finalists:

Historic Hotels of America New Member of the Year

  • Woodstock Inn & Resort (1793) Woodstock, Vermont
  • The Inn at Diamond Cove (1890) Portland, Maine
  • The Redbury New York (1903) New York, New York
  • XV Beacon (1903) Boston, Massachusetts
  • Hotel Warner (1930) West Chester, Pennsylvania

Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel

  • Hotel Monteleone (1886) New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Grand Hotel (1887) Mackinac Island, Michigan
  • The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco (1907) San Francisco, California
  • The Jefferson, Washington, DC (1923) Washington, DC
  • The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort (1927) Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928) St. Pete Beach, Florida
Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928), St. Pete Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928), St. Pete Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sustainability Champion

  • Hanover Inn Dartmouth (1780) Hanover, New Hampshire
  • The Boar’s Head (1834) Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa (1847) Point Clear, Alabama
  • The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC
  • Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins (1903) Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Hilton Chicago (1927) Chicago, Illinois

Best Small Historic Inn/Hotel (Under 75 Guestrooms)

  • Concord’s Colonial Inn (1716) Concord, Massachusetts
  • Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn (1766) Rhinebeck, New York
  • Inn at the Presidio (1776) San Francisco, California
  • Inn at Leola Village, Est. 1867 (1867) Leola, Pennsylvania
  • The Chanler at Cliff Walk (1873) Newport, Rhode Island
  • The Wort Hotel (1941) Jackson, Wyoming

Best Historic Hotel (75-200 Guestrooms)

  • The Otesaga Hotel and Cooper Inn (1909) Cooperstown, New York
  • The Hermitage Hotel (1910) Nashville, Tennessee
  • Hotel Blackhawk, Autograph Collection (1915) Davenport, Iowa
  • Historic Hotel Bethlehem (1922) Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • La Fonda on the Plaza™ (1922) Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Hawthorne Hotel (1925) Salem, Massachusetts
Hermitage Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee, a historic hotel
The Hermitage Hotel (1910) Nashville, Tennessee, is nominated for Best Historic Hotel (75-200 guestrooms) © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best Historic Hotel (201-400 Guestrooms)

  • The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC
  • The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa (1876) Riverside, California
  • The Plaza (1907) New York, New York
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Downtown (1912) Portland, Oregon
  • Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center (1927) Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • The Edgewater (1948) Madison, Wisconsin
The lobby of The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC, from which the term “lobbyist” derived © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The lobby of The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC, from which the term “lobbyist” derived © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best Historic Hotel (Over 400 Guestrooms)

  • Palace Hotel (1875) San Francisco, California
  • Hotel Monteleone (1886) New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa (1901) Honolulu, Hawaii
  • The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco (1907) San Francisco, California
  • The Drake Hotel (1920) Chicago, Illinois
  • Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza (1931) Cincinnati, Ohio

Best City Center Historic Hotel

  • The Pfister Hotel (1893) Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square (1893) San Francisco, California
  • Le Pavillon Hotel (1907) New Orleans, Louisana
  • The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection (1925) Washington, DC
  • Boston Park Plaza (1927) Boston, Massachusetts
  • Hilton Chicago (1927) Chicago, Illinois

Best Historic Resort

  • The Omni Homestead Resort (1766) Hot Springs, Virginia
  • Keswick Hall (1912) Charlottesville, Virginia
  • The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Spring, Colorado
  • The American Club (1918) Kohler, Wisconsin
  • Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (1923) Ojai, California
  • The Hotel Hershey® (1933) Hershey, Pennsylvania

Hotel Historian of the Year

  • Susan Wilson at the Omni Parker House, Boston (1855) Boston, Massachusetts
  • Tom Vickstrom at The Hermitage Hotel (1910) Nashville, Tennessee
  • Tina Malasics at The Gasparilla Inn & Club (1913) Boca Grande, Florida
  • Beth Davis at The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Spring, Colorado
  • Teresa Porter at the Benbow Historic Inn (1926) Garberville, California
  • Lora Gallagher at the Hilton Hawaiian Village® Waikiki Beach Resort (1955) Honolulu, Hawaii

Best Historic Restaurant in Conjunction with a Historic Hotel

  • Chez Philippe at The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee
  • The Spiced Pear at The Chanler at Cliff Walk (1873) Newport, Rhode Island
  • Circa 1886 at Wentworth Mansion (1886) Charleston, South Carolina
  • Woods Restaurant at Grand Hotel (1887) Mackinac Island, Michigan
  • Penrose Room at The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • The Wisconsin Room at The American Club (1918) Kohler, Wisconsin

Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year

  • The Widman Family at Wentworth Mansion (1886) in Charleston, South Carolina
  • The Monteleone Family at Hotel Monteleone (1886) New Orleans, Louisiana
  • The Smiley Family at Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York
  • The Kohler Family at The American Club (1918) Kohler, Wisconsin
  • The Melius Family at OHEKA CASTLE (1919) Huntington, New York
  • The Genzlinger Family at The Settlers Inn at Bingham Park (1927) Hawley, Pennsylvania
Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York, still owned and managed by the Smiley Family, is a finalist for Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York, still owned and managed by the Smiley Family, is a finalist for Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ambassador of the Year (Quarter Century Service)

  • Shirley St. Peter at the Hanover Inn Dartmouth (1780) Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Steve Blum at The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC
  • Doug Weatherford at The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee
  • Ken Price at The Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel (1871) Chicago, Illinois
  • Anna Alba at The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Linda Shoe at The Hotel Viking (1926) Newport, Rhode Island

Historic Hotelier of the Year

  • Terry Haney at the Inn at the Presidio (1776) San Francisco, California
  • Doug Browne at The Peabody Memphis (1861) Memphis, Tennessee
  • Randy Howat at the Inns of Distinction, LLC (1867) Pennsylvania
  • Duane and Kelly Roberts at The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa (1876) Riverside, California
  • Kathy Faulk at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington DC (1930) Washington, DC
  • Jim Waldrop at The Wort Hotel (1941) Jackson, Wyoming

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Europe

  • NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi (1212) Amalfi, Italy
  • Bernini Palace Hotel (15th Century) Florence, Italy
  • Pulitzer Amsterdam (17th Century) Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Antica Dimora Suites (1820) Crete, Greece
  • Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern (1845) Lucerne, Switzerland
  • Ciragan Palace Kempinski (1867) Istanbul, Turkey

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Asia/Pacific

  • Fort Seengh Sagar (1670) Rajasthan, India
  • Alsisar Haveli (1892) Jaipur, India
  • Hotel New Grand (1927) Yokohama, Japan
  • Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi (1901) Hanoi, Vietnam
  • The Fullerton Hotel Singapore (1928) Singapore
  • Mansion Hotel (1932) Shanghai, China

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in the Americas

  • Alfiz Hotel (17th Century) Cartagena, Colombia
  • Hacienda Xcanatún (1789) Merida, Mexico
  • Quinta Real Puebla (1893) Puebla, Mexico
  • Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (1893) Québec City, Canada
  • The Omni King Edward Hotel (1903) Toronto, Canada
  • Alvear Palace Hotel (1932) Buenos Aires, Argentina

 Historic Hotels of America

Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating historic hotels, was founded in 1989 with 32 charter members and today has more than 290 historic hotel members. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

Historic Hotels Worldwide

Historic Hotels Worldwide®, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation,  is a prestigious collection of historic treasures, including historic hotels, castles, chateaus, palaces, academies, haciendas, villas, monasteries, and other historic lodging spanning more than ten centuries. Historic Hotels Worldwide recognizes authentic cultural treasures that demonstrate historic preservation and their inspired architecture, cultural traditions, and authentic cuisine. HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com allows travelers to book their next getaway from more than 3,000 historic and cultural experiences, and view special offers at participating historic hotels from 30 countries. To be nominated and selected to be featured on this supplemental marketing program website, historic lodging must be at least 75 years old; utilize historic accommodations; serve as the former home or be located on the grounds of the former home of famous persons or significant location for an event in history; be located in or within walking distance to a historic district, historically significant landmark, place of historic event, or a historic city center; be recognized by a local preservation organization or national trust; and display historic memorabilia, artwork, photography, and other examples of its historic significance. To be selected in the United States for inclusion in Historic Hotels Worldwide, a hotel must meet the above criteria plus be a member of Historic Hotels of America. For more information, visit HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com.

Click here to see the Historic Hotels of America video. To receive special offers, including the monthly enewsletter,Discover & Explore, which includes hotel specials, offers and historic fun facts, click here. View the Historic Hotels of America 2016 Annual Directory ebook or download the free app on iTunesAmazonGoogle play, and the Windows Store.

 

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Basin Harbor Club Marks 130 years as Luxury Summer Retreat on Lake Champlain, Vermont

 

Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years, offers a mixture of activity and tranquility © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years, offers a mixture of activity and tranquility © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

We come to the Basin Harbor Club by driving down a four-mile Vermont country road lined with classically picturesque farms. As we enter the grounds, we are overcome by the breath-taking beauty of the landscape and the surprising realization of just how enormous this place is – spanning 700 acres along Lake Champlain, with its own harbor and marina and beaches. Basin Harbor Club is more of a vacation village, a compound, than a mere resort.

Then there is the absolute sense of peace and serenity that rushes over us when we enter our very own cottage, Sunny Pines, which bears the date 1938 etched in stone, set in the woods on a cliff, from which we can gaze out over Lake Champlain from the balcony and through the French windows from the living room. A master bedroom and second room on the first floor, and a spiral staircase down to another sprawling room with two queen beds. Perfect for our multi-generational family.

Basin Harbor Club has been greeting guests for 130 years. A seasonal resort open from May through October, Basin Harbor Club offers 77 individual cottages and another 47 guest rooms in a gracious manor house – accommodations for about 350 people at one time.

Sunny Pines, one of 77 unique cottages at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sunny Pines, one of 77 unique cottages at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Each of the 77 cottages are different – built in the 1920s and 1930s according to the specifications provided by the original families who were invited to Basin Harbor Club by the Beach family and came back each summer to escape city heat.  In those early days, the first cottages were rustic – the equivalent of today’s glamping – wood with canvas roofs on a concrete slab. But today, the cottages are luxurious, each with its own history and sense of style, exuding grace and charm, most have fireplaces and decks or screened porches and are equipped with complimentary WiFi; refrigerators and coffeemakers (just don’t look for a TV).

I must confess that I had always imagined Basin Harbor Club, which is a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946), as more rustic – more like a camp than a resort village. Instead, Basin Harbor Club manifests gentility, refinement, class, yet it is relaxed, casual, comfortable and completely unstuffy. You instantly feel you belong here. For the precious time you are at Basin Harbor, you feel less like a guest and more like you are at your summer home. All the activities they offer may make you feel you are in an adult camp, but the service, facilities, dining experiences make you feel like a country squire.

Guests, many who come year after year, generation after generation, are treated to a first class experience from top to bottom – from the exquisite, immaculately maintained grounds, to the impeccable service, to the top quality equipment and facilities.

I can’t list all the instances where we were greeted so warmly – like Ryan Baker who helps us get sunfish and kayaks into the water and sets us up with bikes, and Jamie McCatherin who leads us on a 2-mile hike on the opposite shore in the Adirondack State Park, Glenn Spence of Vermont who greets us warmly as we are deciding what to take from the buffet for breakfast; and the fellow working to ready the pool who runs to the front desk when I  ask what time the Escape cruise departs.

The cheery attitude starts with Bob Beach who I chance to meet not long after we arrive, as I explore the property. He is walking along to the marina with his two golden retrievers and engages in pleasant conversation. I find him again chatting with my kids playing shuffleboard. Later he tells me this is one of the ways he constantly gauges what might need adjustment, improvement or what services to add.

It is hard to imagine anything that should be added – everything you could want for a vacation retreat is already here.

In addition to the big things – a wonderful, walkable 18-hole, par-72 golf course that is sufficiently challenging but not frustrating, where you actually feel good about your game after your round (“It’s one of the most enjoyable courses in the state,” Herb Kessel, a regular, tells me. “You don’t get beaten up. It’s one of my favorite courses in Vermont.”); driving range (PGA instructor as well as electric carts available); outdoor lap pool heated to a perfect temperature; tennis courts; a marina with kayaks, canoes, sunfishes, paddleboards, waterskiing and tubing; diving board and two trampolines in the lake; plus bikes (top quality mountain and hybrid), and the Escape which takes people out on hour-long narrated cruises as well as special sunset cruises for groups) – there are also the pleasant diversions you happen upon, such as disc golf, badminton, croquet, ping pong. And while there isn’t an elaborate full-service spa, there are massage services available.

And that’s not even half of it. Basin Harbor spans 700 acres along the shores of Lake Champlain – one of the largest lakes in the country, which, because of where Basin Harbor is positioned, only a ½ miles across at this point, utterly stunning views of the Adirondack State Park on the New York Side. Just as you come to the entrance, you see the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, founded by Bob Beach and is a substantial and important museum, with among other things, a perfect working replica of the 1776 gunboat Philadelphia (the original, razed from where it was sunk in Lake Champlain, is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC).

Basin Harbor even has its own air strip – people come in their private planes just for lunch or a round of golf, and one family used to fly in their DC-10. (New England Aero Club has a fly-in with 200 planes and do aerial acrobatics.)

Hiking along the shore of Lake Champlain at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hiking along the shore of Lake Champlain at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The resort abuts Button Bay State Park, adding a whole other dimension to the stay. You can connect with hiking trails or bike into the park (though you are supposed to go in through the entrance off the Basin Harbor Road and pay the entrance fee). Bob Beach suggests going there (about 2 miles from the resort) for the sunset.

The hiking along the lake is utterly gorgeous – especially when the weather turns stormy and we watch the rain descend from clouds at first far away, over the Adirondacks to the east and Green Mountains to the north, and then closer and closer until we are caught in quite a deluge. No matter. It is tremendous fun. We find the gravel road from the Nature Center, and soon are on a scenic country road made all the more dramatic because of the breaks in the rolling clouds, the brilliant colors of the wet grass and soil, the blue mountains in the distance. Once out on the Basin Harbor Road, there are classic looking farms making the scenes even more picturesque.

Basin Harbor Club offers a guided hike on the New York State side of Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack State Park © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club offers a guided hike on the New York State side of Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack State Park © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You can be even more ambitious: kayaking 1 1/2 miles across Lake Champlain to the New York State side where Basin Harbor owns a tiny portion of the Adirondack State Park, where you can beach the kayak while you hike to a wonderful rocky promontory (locals jump into the water from here, about 75 feet up, but it is really dangerous). Or, you can take advantage of the guided hike Basin Harbor offers, where they take you over by motorboat and you hike two miles through the woods to another cove (hiking a small spur to an overlook from which you can peer into an eagle’s nest).

As for biking, you can do a four-mile loop from Basin Harbor, or go out to the Champlain Bikeway – really a designated portion on the road (Basin Harbor has excellent hybrid and mountain bikes for rent).

Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain offers tranquil places just to be together © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain offers tranquil places just to be together © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Basin Harbor Club offers all of these wonderful activities and amusements, but what it is best at is simply offering the space, ambiance, not to mention time just to be together. There are quaint sitting areas positioned to take advantage of the best views –with colorful Adirondack chairs, including some giant ones that make you feel like a small child, and child-sized ones. There are gorgeous gardens and colorful, whimsical mobile art all around that makes you smile, makes you feel peaceful, and places where you can light a campfire.

Space, ambiance and time are a powerful formula for forging bonds of family and friendship. Many Basin Harbor guests are regulars who return year after year, same week, same cottage each year.

In fact, this September, a couple who met at Basin Harbor Club as 10 year olds – one family from Massachusetts and the other from New Jersey – and came back the same week each year, then came back as counselors and became engaged here last July 4, will be married here.

Weddings here are idyllic –the setting is absolute exquisite on a vast lawn with views of Lake Champlain, lovely gardens (there’s always an indoor site in case the weather doesn’t cooperate). A wedding coordinator is available who can arrange for florist, photographer and such, as well as organize special activities – like bringing the bride and groom into the wedding on vintage Chris Craft boats, the rehearsal dinner followed by a hayride and bonfire (a sample itinerary is on the website), and arrange such novel activities as hot air ballooning or even sky diving.. “Our wedding planner assists with all the wedding details, whether it’s a traditional ceremony, elopement or our shotgun wedding.”

The facilities, the space, the setting and activities make Basin Harbor ideal for multigenerational family getaways, reunions, executive retreats, team-building programs (they can arrange for a ropes course), for incentive programs and corporate meetings, and especially think tanks. Self-contained with lots of activities so never bored, but also not distracted. As much or as little, as busy or as lazy as you like. Indeed, Basin Harbor strikes you as an adult summer camp, but actually, children have their own camp.

Children’s Programs 

Lots of resorts say they have a “kids camp” but here at Basin Harbor, it quite literally is a camp – each of five age groups has its own bunkhouse or headquarters. The 3-5s have the larger playhouse and playground; the 9-12s (preteens) have a building away from the other siblings (near the Red Mill Restaurant). Teenagers have their own “den” but because they tend to be “unpredictable”, Basin Harbor hosts a mocktail reception on Sunday when counselors meet so the teens can plan their own activities for the week together – kayaking, hiking and such.

Kids Camp is available for five different age groups, from 9:30am-1:30pm and/or 5:00-9:00pm (so there is also time for families to be together). The program runs daily from mid-June through Labor Day and on select weekends in spring and fall. Activities include arts and crafts, fishing, sports, games and educational hikes. The program is included for guests on the FAP (Full American meal plan) and the MAP (breakfast and dinner plan).

Activities Galore 

Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In classic resort style, there are all sorts of organized activities – bird-watching, geocaching, a ga-ga ball pit, night golf, barn dances, narrated lake cruises, art classes, wellness classes, property tours, history talks, dogs walks, and so much more.

Jamie McCatherin, whose title is Entertainment Ambassador, hosts guided hikes, special events, brewery tours, pool parties, arts and crafts programs and such.

“We tell the activities director not to take it personally if people don’t participate,” Beach says. That’s because there are so many things to do, to explore, to discover.”

Beach calls it “Active tranquility – do as much as you want to do. We offer a lot to do. It doesn’t matter if people don’t show up.”

Choices for Dining 

Basin Harbor is a classic resort where most guests still take advantage of a meal plan (MAP, which is breakfast and dinner, FAP, which is breakfast, lunch and dinner, or bed-and-breakfast). Led by Executive Chef Christian Kruse, the formal dining experience in the lakeside Main Dining Room has been enjoyed by generations.

During the summer months, the tradition of jacket and tie is maintained for gentleman over the age of 12. Outdoor dinners are enjoyed three times weekly and the Red Mill Restaurant offers casual, bistro style dining overlooking the grass airstrip.

Nearby Vergennes also offers several charming restaurants, cafes and eateries, including Antidote, Black Sheep Bistro and 3 Squares Café.

Five Generations of Beach Family History

Basin Harbor Club is celebrating its 130th anniversary this season – a mind-boggling reality. That puts Basin Harbor Club at the very beginning of tourism in America, coinciding with a rising middle class born of the Industrial Revolution and rise of American cities.

At a time when Gilded Age monied elites had their cottages in Newport and Bar Harbor, their “camps” in the Adirondacks and Cape Cod and private retreats on Jekyll Island, the first and second generation at Basin Harbor pioneered a new sort of tourism that catered to the rising middle class.

Bob Beach is the 4th generation host at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bob Beach is the 4th generation host at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The 4th and 5th generations run the Basin Harbor Club now –Bob Beach and sister Pennie Beech and her daughter, Sarah Morris, who is the director of sales. They can be seen about. During the course of our all-too brief stay, I meet Bob with his 2 golden retrievers, his wife and daughter. Indeed, some 120 of the 240 employees at Basin Harbor live on the grounds.

I sit down with Bob Beach who tells me the history of Basin Harbor Club, which is also his family history:

Basin Harbor was a working farm when Beach’s great great aunt Ardelia Beach purchased it in 1886. She began offering rooms to city folk looking to get away and experience farm work in exchange for food. Her nephew, Allen Penfield Beach, came to work in the 1920s and eventually took over. While attending the University of Vermont he implemented changes, including giving up farming altogether and transforming the property into a full service resort with stables, golf course, airstrip and cottages built from guest sketches.

The history of tourism is also manifested in Basin Harbor’s golf course: in 1916, Basin Harbor had 3 holes of golf on what was a sheep meadow; then in 1927, they built a nine-hole course; in 1955, they added the back nine. The course, 6,500 yards long, was redesigned by famed designer Jeffrey Cornish. Now, a new superintendent has been making changes to make Basin Harbor a “noteworthy” golf destination. Part of this involves making the course faster – making the greens putt at 11 mph (“people like fast greens”) and cutting the fairways to less than 3/8 inch for faster play. There are practice greens, PGA certified instructors and electric carts are available. The BHC Golf Program is ideal for all levels of play. Daily clinics are open to men, women and junior golfers.

Bob Beach speaks of the challenge of being 4th and 5th generation hosts, maintaining a 130-year old institution. “Travelers are different today. Each generation brings new things. We have never been opposed to making changes, but we don’t make changes just for the sake of change. We have a certain tradition we continue. It’s a sense of stewardship.”

There is history all around: one of the larger stone buildings was the oldest operating inn on Lake Champlain when Ardela bought her farm; and in a small garden just below the shuffleboard courts, there is a stone marker, ”Site of Naval Shipyard, 1804-1812. Erected 1938”

Beach tells me of a shipwreck right in the cove, and once a week (on Monday), the hour-long narrated cruise on the Escape, turns into an expedition, using a ROV camera to view the wreck.

Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

That afternoon, we get to take the 1 ¼ hour narrated cruise on the Escape (daily at 2:30 pm) is not only really interesting but also wonderfully scenic, as we come close to the dramatic stone cliffs on the New York State side where the captain points out an eagles nest and where an eagle is sitting in a tree, pass small private islands, see the vast Swift Gilded-Age mansion and 450-acre estate, and get a view of the gunboat Philadelphia II docked at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The views are breathtaking.

Lake Champlain, we learn, is the largest lake in the US after the Finger Lakes and played an important role in colonial times, Revolutionary War period, and economic development of the region. Great steamships used to ply the waters, and even before the Erie Canal, a 60-mile long canal was built in 1823 to connect the Lake with the Hudson River, which created a waterway extending up to Canada.

Pet-Friendly: Basin Harbor Club is also the most pet-friendly place you can imagine. I meet a man walking his cat who comes every year – the cat is particular – it wants to stay in the room they had the year before.

For a daily fee of $15 per dog, BHC offers a resort vacation for your pets with activities and amenities including: biscuits made in Vermont, games of Pick Up Mitts, hundreds of acres available for playing and Fanny’s Beach — their own swimming area.  

Seasonal Events: Rocktoberfest (Bacon & Beer Festival), Festival of Fidos, Barbeque Bonanza, American Girl Teas, Harborween; and regular daily programming also offers guests a wide variety of entertainment.

Meeting Space: Over 9,000 square feet of meeting space provides an ideal setting for traditional board meetings, as well as multi-day retreats featuring activities like lake cruises and lobster bakes, team building, golf tournaments and banquets. You can arrange a small party or reserve the entire resort, with lakeside parties, beach bonfires and cocktail cruises. 

Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

So much to do! In addition to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum right at Basin Harbor Club, nearby attractions include: Dar John Strong Mansion Museum; Crown Point State Historic Site; Fort Ticonderoga; Mount Defiance; Carillion Cruises; Mount Independence State Historic Site; Chimney Point State Historic Site. Other sightseeing attractions: the Shelburne Museum, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. Basin Harbor also has created biking routes; wine & beer routes; local cheeses; and historic drives 

Access: Set on the shores of Lake Champlain, surrounding a private harbor, the resort is just 45-minutes from Burlington International (BTV), Vermont’s largest commercial airport. BTV serves major commuter airlines, with connections from most cities in the Northeast. The resort is also accessible by private aircraft — Basin Harbor’s own 3,200-foot grass airstrip is one of the best in New England — as well as by boat. Greyhound and Megabus lines serve the Vergennes/Burlington area; transportation to Basin Harbor is available at a nominal fee. Basin Harbor Club is five hours from New York City metro; and 2 ½ hours from the Albany area.

Basin Harbor is a place you don’t want to leave and can’t wait to return.

Basin Harbor Club, 4800 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, VT 06490, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com

See next: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin  and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Grand, Historic Loews Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach’s Famed ‘Pink Lady’, is Classic Beach Resort

Loews Don CeSar (the "Pink Lady") in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”) in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

In urgent need of some R&R? Cure it with a two-night/three day stay at Loews Don CeSar, not just a grand historic hotel, but a true beach resort with all the amenities and activities for a luxurious, pampered stay. Better yet, for a complete vacation, plan a seven-day stay and balance out days relaxing on white-powder sand beach and lounging around glorious pools, spa treatments and yoga, with visits to the myriad cultural and scenic attractions close by, in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa.

From the moment you cross the threshold, walk down the stairs into the lobby, a feeling of peace and tranquility sweeps over you.

The Don Cesar has been welcoming guests since 1927. But as in so many of these grand historic hotels, they are living links to the past, and are in essence timeless.

Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It may seem cliché, but you step through the lobby and you are in the world of those who came before: F. Scott Fitzgerald (remembered with a nightly Fitzgerald Reception at the fine dining restaurant, when you can experience a cocktail and a nibble), Clarence Darrow, Lou Gehrig, even Al Capone.

You feel their presence. But the hotel has a unique personality, a character of its own – you can’t help but think of the stories these walls hold.

The Don CeSar exudes casual elegance and Southern Charm – ceiling fans, a beautiful courtyard garden that leads to the pool area and beyond, the white-sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico. Elegant, yet casual (not stuffy or stiff), comfortable, welcoming, and one of the most beautiful hotels anywhere.

Gracious, That’s the word to describe the experience.

Wendy Hessinger leads "Yoga on the Beach" © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Wendy Hessinger leads “Yoga on the Beach” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A classic beach resort with activities offered throughout the day. Checking in, I am given an “Activities” schedule with a long list, day by day, of activities, all included in the $25/day resort fee: Yoga on the beach (9am), kayaking and paddleboarding (8-10 am), aqua fitness, sunset yoga, daily history tour of the hotel, Sea Life tour, Kidding Around Yoga, Kidz Kraze, Restorative Yoga, Star Gazers (that’s just Monday’s Schedule). The activity schedule changes through the week: Body Toning Tuesday, Legs, Bums and Tums; Noodling Around (Kid and Parent Aqua Fitness), Zumba, Beach Yoga Sunset; Drive in Movie on the weekend.

There are activities for the children as well: included in the resort fee is a half-day at Camp CeSar activities program. There are also aqua fitness programs for kids and families, educational talks. Kids Night Out are also available Friday and Saturday nights (6-10 pm).

Some special activities are offered by reservation and for a fee, such as Culinary Kids, Pint Size Picasso, and Waterside Music Makers.

There is a free shuttle service (available 9-5) that takes you into downtown St. Petersburg (here’s where you can easily balance the beach with the extraordinary cultural attractions of St. Petersburg).

The concierge can arrange for golf or tennis at the nearby Isla del Sol country club.

Of course, there is the beach with the most beautiful white-powder sand, the texture of talc, and two pools, heated to a perfect temperature.

Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The pool area is gorgeous – with lush tropical gardens, tall palm trees sheltering, opening up to the beach and Gulf beyond.

It is frankly hard to pull yourself away from the pool – two actually, both heated, both large enough for lap swimming. My favorite of the two is set off a little, tends to be quieter, and situated with the most magnificent view (I just get this wonderful feng shui feeling here). It is one of the prettiest pools anywhere, with the Pink Palace as a backdrop on one side, and palm trees and the Gulf on the other side.

There is iced, fruited water available and even magazines at the pool – plush robes in your room to wear to the pool.

This is in every way pampered luxury –you are quite literally fawned over by a genuinely friendly and helpful staff.

There is a game area with billiards, ping pong tables, chess, and other games – under shelter in case of a rain shower, you can still be outside.

Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are a variety of shops to take care of immediate needs – a small general/convenience store, an Ice Cream shop (actually where the original entrance to the hotel was located, which still has the original flooring) where you can also get a bagel, muffin or cereal for breakfast, lovely clothes shops and sports stuff in case you forgot something.

In the evening, there is nightly live music in the lobby lounge/bar, laid out to be extremely comfortable and casual. (We are told that the Don CeSar has a signature drink, Old Smokey: take old cigar box and barrel-aged bourbon that spends two weeks behind the bar; then hose in cherry wood smoke, let it sit so the Bourbon is infused with cherry smoke, then the open box and chill with a snowball ice cube.)

After being awed watching the sunset from the beach, I stroll into the Maritana Grille for the Gatsby Reception. The bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger and a nibble (seared pork belly with maple and sherry vinegrette).  The Harvey Walbanger is a classic cocktail consisting of Vodka Galliano, orange juice that goes back to the 1950s; concocted by Donato “Duke” Antone who owned Duke’s Backwatch Bar in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. Duke, who also invented the Rusty Nail and the White Russian, named it after a surfer named Tom Harvey.

The fine-dining restaurant – a beautiful seaside motif with large fish aquarium – has a varied American menu. On this evening, it was featuring  Venison, Long Island Duckling, Snapper, and offered a wine tasting menu ($65, $95 with wine pairing).

A Grand Hotel With History

A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Don CeSar was a founding member of Historic Hotels of America in 1989, which began with just 32 members and now has 260 members in 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (HistoricHotels.org).

HHA hotels are invariably my favorite places to stay anywhere I go. They tend to manifest the charm and high standard of hospitality (an old fashioned sensibility and refinement) of bygone days, as well as a deep connection and sense of place. Each of the HHA members has its unique personality and character.

The Don CeSar was awarded HHA’s “Historic Hotel of the Year” in 2015 in the 201-400 room category

This largely reflects the acquisition and management of the Don since 2003 by Loews Hotels, which owns the Don with Prudential Insurance. The new owners invested millions in renovations and new facilities – opening the stunning 11,000 square foot Spa Oceania in 2008, the only beachfront luxury spa on the Gold Coast of Florida. Multi-million dollar investments included the meeting spaces, the Maritana Grille, its fine-dining restaurant, the Lobby, Lobby Bar and Sea Porch restaurant, and guestroom redesign.

The sense of responsibility to care for these entities is powerful – you can’t rest on laurels or prior reputation and the fact of the matter is that age does take its toll, as does the need to cater to new generations of guests. There is the constant push-pull of progress and preservation. As is the protectiveness of patrons. When they renovated the lobby, changing out dark wood colors and carpets and bronze-and-crystal chandeliers for a white wood paneling reminiscent of Southern plantation-style cool elegance, light floors, brighter colors and modern blue-and-clear glass chandeliers people were up in arms that they were disposing of “history” – except that the bronze chandeliers only dated back to the 1986 renovation.

“People were upset because they felt they were discarding history,” said Jeffrey Abbaticchio, Director of Public Relations. “We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

It exposes the special challenge of caretaking for a historic hotel, especially one that means that much and has been so much a part of a local community.

That is the balance that modern hoteliers have to strike but there is the clear recognition of their responsibility as caretakers and their respect for these unique entities.

“We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

Historic hotels like The Don CeSar typically have their tales of survival – dramatic snatches from the wrecking ball (indeed, the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, which opened in 1927, also became a VA hospital and has a similar tale of being saved just moments from being demolished, in 1972).

This is the case of the Don CeSar – long known locally as “The Don” and “The Pink Palace.” It surprised me to learn how in its 80 year history, it only spent about half of that as a hotel, and from the beginning, struggled to survive – the Great Depression, World War II, economic recessions.

You speak of these kinds of properties as “The” – as in “The Don” – and as if they are people, with their own biography, rather than structures or institutions. They have personality and character. Unique. Authentic. They are closely connected to their community, which in fact, rallied to “Save the Don” from the wrecking ball in the 1970s, after being shuttered and closed for four years, a blight on the neighborhood.

The Don’s struggles began not long after coming into being, the fruition of a dream of its founder, Thomas Rowe, I learn from Susan Quinn, a long-time concierge at The Don CeSar who conducts history tours of the hotel.

Born in Boston in 1872 and orphaned at age 4, Rowe was sent to live with grandparents in Ireland, returning to the United States to become a real estate speculator in Florida, during the early boom of the 1920-6 years. Partnering with a local attorney, Walter Fuller, e turned a $21,000 investment into $1,050,000, and then sought to fulfill a longtime dream in building a lavish hotel.

Tthe Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He patterned his “Pink Lady” (as “The Don” continues to be known) after the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach, styled as a kind of Mediterranean palace. An opera lover, he named the Don CeSar after a character in one of his favorite operas, “Maritana,” written by a Scottsman (today, its fine-dining restaurant is named the Maritana Grill). He planned for construction costs to be $450,000, but instead, the hotel cost $1.2 million to build – wiping out his resources, so that he had to mortgage to raise the $250,000 needed to furnish the property so it could open.

He devised an ingenious system though, because he had spent $100,000 to buy 80 acres surrounding the hotel, and turned to developing small Mediterranean-style homes on property just south – you could buy the lot for $5000 and build the house on it for $5000 more.

A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He opened The Don CeSar in 1928, immediately drawing an “A” List of celebrities and important people: F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda (today, the Maritana offers a 5:30 pm Fitzgerald Reception, featuring a cocktail and nibble), famed attorney Clarence Darrow, baseball great Lou Gehrig and Al Capone.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Rowe devised an ingenious method of staying afloat: he offered for the home owners who had taken mortgages from him to cash out at a fraction of the amount owed in order to accumulate the cash he needed to make it through the Depression. And another thing: when the hotel would otherwise be low-occupancy in spring, he leased it out to the New York Yankees for spring training, at $8/day including breakfast.

Rowe, who came to St. Petersburg for his health and to speculate when he was in his 40s, lived in the hotel (his wife, a university-educated woman, stayed in Virginia, because she didn’t want to live in a backwater). In May 1940, he suffered a heart attack and insisted on staying in the hotel. Legend has it he intended to will the hotel to his employees, and he wrote a new will, but it was not witnessed, so his wife inherited the property. She appointed her lawyer to take charge of the corporation, who brought in his own management team. Then Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, and World War II hit.

Instead of the hotel’s 300 rooms being totally occupied for the season, all but 100 room reservations canceled, and the government went after her for taxes stemming from her husband’s refinancing scheme. Her attorney sought to negotiate a deal with the Navy to take the Don CeSar for officer’s housing, but the Army wanted it for a hospital, and used eminent domain to take it over, purchasing the building for the assessed value of $450,000. The army disposed of everything, even the hotel register with its famous signatures. The property later became an Air Force Convalescent Center (actually becoming a model for dealing with the condition now known as PTSD), and then a Veterans Administration regional office, from 1945 to 1969.

By 1969, the VA abandoned the hotel – set up a chain-link fence around and a guard – and it deteriorated terribly, a blight on the community.

In 1971, local residents and former employees formed a “Save the Don” committee to prevent the hotel from being demolished. June Hurley Young, realizing that locals had never known the Don as a fine hotel, wrote an article that was finally published in a paper under the headline, “Pink Elephant or Sleeping Beauty”. It  came to the attention of  William Bowman, a Flying Tiger during war, who was building new hotels in the area. He purchased the decrepit property in 1972, just two weeks before the hotel had a date with the wrecking ball.

“It cost $3.5 million to fix up –he  replaced every window, waterproofed, added air conditioning so the hotel could stay open year round,” Owen said.

The Don CeSar reopened on November 24, 1973. The following year, the Pink Palace was admitted to the National Register of Historic American Places.

1973 was the year of the Oil Embargo and a recession. It wasn’t long before the Don CeSar was foreclosed but continued to operate. It changed hands several times until in 2000, it was taken over by Prudential Insurance.

Finally, in 2003, the Don CeSar became a Loews Hotel, which owns 15% and manages the luxury property, and brought it up to the standards of today’s luxury travelers.

(Both Rowe and Bowman are honored in a display case that has their picture and their history with the hotel. A new eatery, the Rowe Bar, is an indoor/outdoor bar which will serve different Juleps, different nonalcoholic “-ades” (lemonade, etc), communal bowls of cocktails, have fire pits and overlook the sand dune.

Don CeSar has 277 rooms. They may be a tad smaller than we have become accustomed to (because people didn’t come to a resort to spend time in their hotel room), but have every amenity imaginable – plus robes, mini-bar, Keurig coffee maker, safe, ironing board, a flashlight, lush mattress and bed linens, flat screen TV and free WiFi, even the shampoo has the perfect scent.

The Don CeSar is pet-friendly and offers pet menus (Bow Wow beef; Chow chow mein),  pet room service and pet massage, in room.

The Don CeSar now has a second property, the Loews Beachhouse Suites, located just about a quarter mile up from the Don CeSar (finishing up a renovation by mid-February), which is also a pink building on the beach. A free shuttle van is offered between the two Loews properties, so Beachhouse guests have the use of the Don CeSar’s facilities.

An Idyllic Place for Destination Weddings 

The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The ambiance, services and facilities at the Don CeSar are so magical, it is no wonder how popular the luxury resort has been for destination weddings. The hotel hosts some 425 wedding-related events a year, and accommodates weddings as large as 300. There are four people on staff just to help coordinate destination weddings, and an event company, Cheers, on call to handle elaborate events.

The planners can organize everything from releasing doves to special transportation.

“What’s popular lately are Indian weddings – people arrive by horse, do henna. We just hired an executive chef from India (most recently he was at The Breakers) so we can provide authentic Indian food,” Jeff said.

The fifth floor, with its enormous picture windows that look out to St. Petersburg and down the St. Pete Beach coast, and which once was a massive open dining room that could sit 1400 at a time for dinner, has been turned into a series of meeting and function rooms ideal for weddings, conferences and events (38,000 square feet of function space). Indeed, during our stay there were wedding and conferences underway.

A Complete Vacation 

Each morning of my stay, I go down to the beach for 9 am beach yoga with Wendy Hessinger, and then aqua fitness which Wendy also conducts (an interesting routine using noodles). She also conducts sunset yoga on some days.

But there is so much going on in the area to round out your stay: take advantage of the free ride into St. Petersburg (about 20 minutes)  which goes to the Sundial, a centrally located entertainment center with movies, excellent restaurants, and walkable to just about anything you want to get to (or you can hop on the Downtown Looper trolley, to take around the downtown)  and enjoy an enormous selection of cultural attractions  (Dali Museum, Chihuly Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg Museum of History, Florida Holocaust Museum, emerging arts districts, among the highlights. They are currently rebuilding the famous Pier, which is due to reopen in 2018.)

Or just hop a delightful trolley-style bus to Passa-Grill, a tiny charming village with a block-long “downtown” at Historic 8th Street ” (truly “Old Florida”) where the locals go to the beach, fish, look out to see dolphins and manatees, watch the sunset and hang out at waterside watering holes like the Paradise Grill. At Passa-Grill you can go out for deep sea fishing or take a tour boat to Shell Island. Or continue on to Fort de Soto where you can visit a Civil War-era fort.

Another popular activity is taking a sailing cruise to see dolphins or the sunset cruise. The Don CeSar has an arrangement with Dolphin Landings which offers two-hour cruises.

Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of "Dolphin Tale" with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don Cesar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of “Dolphin Tale” with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just about 30 minutes away to the north, in Clearwater Beach (you can take the trolley bus to get there, switching at 75th Avenue). For shopping, go to John’s Pass (150 shops and restaurants in a small area), reached by the trolley bus, midway between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach.

Or plan a day trip to the Ringling Museum and historic mansion in Sarasota nearby.

Busch Gardens Tampa theme park (one of the best zoos with great roller coasters and entertainment) is less than an hour away (The Don CeSar has a partnership with Busch Gardens and offers a package that includes tickets, but you need a car or the hotel can arrange transportation).

Another idea is to split your stay between a beach holiday here at the Don CeSar and a theme park holiday in Orlando, staying at the Loews Portofino at Universal Orlando, another favorite hotel (which manages to create a resort atmosphere in Universal Studios theme park with sensational pool that creates a beach effect).

(For more vacation planning information, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater: 8200 Bryan Dairy Road, Suite 200, Largo, FL 33777, 727-464-7200, 877-352-3224 www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.) 

But frankly, it is hard to pull yourself away from the Don CeSar

The St. Pete beach is absolutely magnificent – and one thing I notice is that the buildings are set well back from the beach and are low level for the most part, not blocking – peaceful. One day as I walk, I come upon a beach-volleyball regional tournament.

A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don Cesar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don CeSar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The beach is also the place to go for the sunset – get out there 20 minutes before because you would be amazed at how fast the most brilliant colors come and go as the sun seems to dash to the horizon, seeming to melt into a slot just beyond the water’s edge.

The Loews Don CeSar is ideal for couples, gal getaways, destination weddings, honeymoons, family getaways, family reunions, any special occasion, pre-baby getaway, or just about any excuse to have a holiday.

Loews Don CeSar Hotel, 3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, Florida, 33706, 727-360-1881, reservations, 800-282-1116, www.loewshotels.com/don-CeSar.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com , www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

The Colony Hotel, Delray Beach: Delightful, delicious, de-lovely

Built in 1926, The Colony Hotel is still one of the most important historic landmarks in Delray Beach and served as the model for redevelopment for this most charming seaside city © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Built in 1926, The Colony Hotel is still one of the most important historic landmarks in Delray Beach and served as the model for redevelopment for this most charming seaside city © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin

The highest compliment that can be paid about a hotel is that you don’t want to leave, and if you have to, you want to return as soon as possible. That’s the way I feel about The Colony Hotel in Delray Beach, Florida.

Lots of places in Florida claim to manifest the true “Old Florida.” But Delray Beach is the real thing. And it turns out that the charm, the character, the feeling you get in this most pleasant of seaside cities is due largely to The Colony Hotel, which has graced the streetscape since 1926.

You drive along Atlantic Avenue from I-95 for just about a mile and all of a sudden, the road narrows to a single lane, and like the low buildings that line the lane in early 20th century South Florida-Mediterranean style, with palm trees shading the road, you feel yourself suddenly transported into “Old Florida.” You are in a small beachside village, a bustle on the charming streets, people strolling about pretty shops with awnings or perhaps walking toward the drawbridge over the Intercoastal to the prettiest white sand beach on Florida’s east coast.

But before you get to the drawbridge, you see it, the prettiest confection of all: The Colony Hotel.

Lucky us, this is where we will stay during our all-too-brief visit to Delray Beach, “The Most Fun Small Town in the USA!”

Cross the threshold and you feel as if you have been suddenly transformed into wearing white linen and a straw hat.

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.

You feel you can hear Cole Porter.

In fact, the background music is from the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The colors that wash over you are succulent Florida tropical fruits, sherbet colors – raspberry, mango, strawberry, lime, lemon. White lattice and white wicker furniture grace the lobby in lovely sitting areas with colorful pillows.

Ceiling fans are overhead, which would set a rhythm to the afternoon, though they are still today; instead, a fire is going in the fireplace. People are lounging on white wicker loveseats decorated with colorful cushions, and milling about the lobby.

The Colony Hotel dates from 1926 – it was the first hotel in Delray Beach and the family that owns the hotel have been meticulous about retaining its original architectural features and considerable charms. And somehow, creating an atmosphere that harkens back.

The lobby of Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The lobby of Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

One of the special appeals of a historic hotel (and every one of the Historic Hotels of America members) is their connection to place and the people who passed through, their special character and personality, the stories. At The Colony Hotel, I don’t as much picture who might have been strolling about the lobby way back when, but that time is erased, as if the past is present.

You are transported. Your pace slows, your heart races a bit, a feeling of pure joy sweeps over you. There is such a cheerful, comforting feeling here.

One of the most charming aspects it the original Otis elevator – it was the popular brand back then – and not even an elevator you operate yourself, but which has to be operated by the staff (we mostly use the stairs). There is also the original telephone switchboard.

The lobby has the original 1926 Ficks Reed wicker furniture and cushions, covered with Designers Guild Osborne & Little fabric.

Sunlight dances in from the original wood skylights.

There are the original terrazzo floors in the lobby and red oak flooring in the Music and Dining Rooms (utterly exquisite for special events, and is where there are daily yoga classes offered).

The front porch – really an outdoor bar and lounge – has the original Cuban-style 1926 tile floor; the steps decorated with lush potted plants. Elevated above the sidewalk, it is sheer delight to sit and linger and watch the street activity a few steps below, and where on Friday night, a musician, playing sax and singing to popular favorites, has the whole place rocking and dancing.

There are exotic orchids and bright fabrics throughout the hotel – really, the visual effect is breathtaking.

The hotel has free WiFi throughout so it is that much more interesting to see the original wood desks where you can easily imagine guests writing their postcards home (there is also a computer tucked in a corner there).

The Colony Hotel was originally designed and built in 1926 as the Alterep Hotel by Martin Luther Hampton, an associate of Addison Mizner. Mizner was the famous American resort architect whose Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival style became the signature style of South Florida (and who was the visionary behind the development of neighboring Boca Raton).

In the midst of the Great Depression, the hotel was acquired in 1935 by George Boughton and his father, Charles, and renamed The Colony Hotel.

The Colony Hotel was open for the traditional three-month Florida winter season, January 10 to April 5. George’s wife, Agnes, had a dress shop in one of the hotel storefronts and his aunt Florence had a gift shop in another (there are shops there, still). During the summer, they would work in northern seasonal resorts (today, the family owns The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine, a half mile from Walker Point, George Bush’s home).

George fought in World War II as a lieutenant commander in the US Navy, and owned and operated The Colony Hotel until his death in 1986. In 1994, George and Agnes’ daughter, Jestena took over the operation of both the Delray Beach and Kennebunkport Colony hotels, and turned the Delray Beach Hotel into a year-round resort in 2000. In 2003, another family member Hilary Roche joined the operation as Director Sales, Marketing & Environmental Programs for the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club.

The Colony Hotel is still one of the most important historic landmarks in Delray Beach – indeed, its Mediterranean Revival architecture served as the model for the Delray Beach Downtown Master Plan for new development and sets a delightful, warm and welcoming tone for this most charming city.

The Colony Hotel offers 70 historically renovated guest rooms including Queen and King one-bedrooms plus eight two-bedroom units. Each is uniquely appointed. They feature original furniture, tropical fabrics and bright colors, hardwood floors, Florida works of art.

What is not original, though, are the “Simply Dreamy Beds” – wonderfully comfortable, with organic cotton sheets and white all cotton matelasse bedspreads.

Each bedroom features modern amenities – flat panel TV, air conditioner, remote control cable TV, clock radio, blow dryer, iron and board, dual speaker phones with voicemail, dataport and complimentary high-speed wireless internet access.

We are taken up to our room in the original Otis elevator – the concierge has to operate it.

Our room, 233, is a superior king – spacious, with a beautifully done bathroom (I am delighted to be handed an actual key with the room number etched in). We have an air conditioner but we so prefer the ceiling fan.

A complimentary breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, cold and hot cereals, fresh fruits, selection of whole-grain breads, and coffee) is served buffet-style from 7 to 10 am in the Skylight lobby, where newspapers are provided for our reading pleasure.

There is an absolutely wonderful lobby bar, where you can easily imagine Hemingway or some other important literary figure holding court.

Colony’s Private Beach Club

Colony Hotel's private beach at Delray Beach. The historic hotel offers a true escape into the best of seaside "Old Florida" © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Colony Hotel’s private beach at Delray Beach. The historic hotel offers a true escape into the best of seaside “Old Florida” © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

One of the truly unique and splendid features of The Colony Hotel is that it is so much more than a hotel: it offers its guests access to its private oceanfront Colony Cabana Club, located 2 miles from the hotel – lushly landscaped with Florida native plants, sea grapes, coconut palms and beach grass. A new million-dollar, saltwater, 25-meter pool was just added this season. There is also a freshwater plunge pool that is cool in summer and warmer in winter.

Here, too, the Colony colors that so cheer and delight at the hotel abound – decoratively colored beach cabanas with sitting areas, tables, chairs and umbrellas. Hand-painted tiles by a local artist decorate the pool, pavers made with recycled glass and Florida shells, couches, a clamshell fountain and delightful secluded sitting areas under trees, complete the stunning scene.

Then there is the 250 feet of private beach – the prettiest beach on Florida’s east coast, I would say. Not only is the sand white and fine, but there are no high rises or buildings of any kind that intrude, only grassy dunes.

Idle away your time here, The Colony Cabana Club serves outdoor grilled specialties and salads for lunch each day.

The Colony Cabana Club also has changing rooms, showers, towels and parking (complimentary for hotel guests and club members).

The Colony provides a free shuttle service from the hotel five times during the day, from 10:45 am-5 pm (roughly every 1 1/2 hours).

We are delighted to learn that The Colony is a green hotel – the owners donate a dollar for each room night sold to the local environmental organization, and also supports local historic and cultural heritage.

It reflects in the overall atmosphere of the place – a kind of feng shui that sets in.

(I can imagine that the Colony Kennebunkport is equally marvelous. This is a 1914 resort, a recognizable landmark overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Kennebunk River and its own private beach, that offers heated saltwater pool, 18 hole putting green, shuffleboard, bicycle rentals, Sunday afternoon tea, social entertainment and high speed wireless internet, two ocean view restaurants, pet-friendly and Maine’s first “environmentally responsible hotel.”

Both of The Colony Hotels are members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org).

Both are also green hotels. The owners donate a dollar for each room night sold to the local environmental organization, and also supports local historic and cultural heritage – and culture, heritage and nature abound around the Colony.

You can play tennis at the Tennis Stadium, a short walk from the hotel and the concierge can arrange for golf.

My delight in being at The Colony Hotel increases exponentially as I realize all that this historic hotel offers so much more – in fact, it is more of a resort hotel than a hotel: free parking for one thing-not a little thing either in this popular magnet of a beach town, quite deserving of its label, “The Most Fun Small Town in the USA!”

I didn’t want to leave the Delray Colony and I can’t wait to return.

Daily rates from May 1-November 23 start at $99, two-bedrooms from $169; winter season rates (Nov. 23-April 30) start at $149, and two-bedroom units are from $225. The Colony Hotel s family and pet-friendly.

Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, 525 East Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, FL 33483, 800-552-2363 or 561-276-4123, booking@thecolonyhotel.com, www.thecolonyhotel.com.

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© 2015 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubinwww.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures. See our newest travel site at www.tidbitts.com/karen-rubin/where-in-the-world.