When a hotel is a destination in itself
To travel from one destination to another is certainly adventurous but to be able to catch a glimpse of the past along the way, that’s a different kind of story…
During my trips, I sometimes have the chance to stay in historic hotels where time travel seems possible. For more than a hundred years, the opulent Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul and the majestic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City have been fully operational five-star hotels that have witnessed historic events and kept untold secrets within their walls.
As two evolutionary time capsules, Pera Palace Hotel and Fairmont Le Château Frontenac have succeeded in preserving their rich history while evolving with time and keeping up with modern days. Each of these legendary hotels boats a perfect location and maintains exquisite hospitality standards but most importantly, they shaped history in a way or another.
When I decided to write a post about historic hotels that I have visited, little did I know that I will make a serendipitous discovery along the way. It turned out that these two historic hotels had a lot more in common than just being historic.
In a time when airplanes and televisions hadn’t been invented and landline phones didn’t exist the way we know it, two different hotels on two different continents were being built the exact same year, for the exact same reason.
Let me walk you through each hotel and you will see the striking similarities for yourselves.
Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul
When we decided to visit Istanbul in Turkey, our friend suggested that we stay in Pera Palace Hotel and for that we are extremely grateful. Little did we know that the minute we would step in it we would be transported to another time dimension where multiple interesting events and historic meetings took place. Immediately, the concierge filled us in on exciting information and took us on a hotel tour. Pera Palace was no ordinary hotel.
With a beautiful architecture on the outside and an elegant art nouveau décor on the inside, the singularity of Pera Palace lies in its glorious past and prestigious clientele. In a time when rail travel was trending in Europe, luxurious hotels emerged to accommodate the wealthy European travelers who led a lavish lifestyle. The revolutionary Orient Express was the first direct train from Paris to Constantinople (Istanbul today). This glamourous and dreamy train made a last stop in Istanbul and so, a marvelous hotel had to be built to cater to the high standards of the Orient Express and its passengers.
In 1892, the construction of Pera Palace Hotel started. Made as magnificent as an Ottoman Palace, the outstanding hotel was the first building in Istanbul to be powered by electricity (apart from Ottoman Palaces) and was the first hotel to introduce an electric elevator. Today, the vintage wooden and metallic elevator is still preserved and kept in its original place.
Pera Palace Hotel and the Orient Express became almost interdependent. So, when Agatha Christie stayed in the hotel in 1934 and wrote her famous novel “Murder on the Orient Express” from her room 411, she made the connection between the train and the hotel eternal. The novel has been adapted into films multiple times. The first movie was directed by Sidney Lumet in 1974 and featured great Hollywood actors such as Ingrid Bergman and Sean Connery. As for the latest movie version “Murder on the Orient Express”, it was directed by Kenneth Branagh and released in 2017 with A-List Hollywood actors including Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Josh Gad.
Today, room 411 at Pera Palace Hotel is dedicated to Agatha Christie and is visited by fans and travelers.
Another room of utmost importance, particularly to the Turkish people, is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s. Between 1915 and 1917, the exceptional Turkish field marshal Mustafa Kemal Pasha stayed frequently at Pera Palace Hotel where he had important meetings and made history changing decisions. After World War I, he abolished the Ottoman Empire and founded the Republic of Turkey, becoming the First President of Turkey. Room 101 at Pera Palace Hotel, the room of the man who changed Turkish history, had been converted into a museum in his honor where his personal belongings, books, newspapers and magazines are displayed.
If you don’t plan on visiting Istanbul soon but would like to see the special rooms for yourselves, Netflix got you covered with its Turkish time travel historical drama series “Midnight at the Pera Palace”. Get a virtual hotel tour from the comfort of your home while enjoying the plot of this intriguing series starring the Turkish actress Hazal Kaya.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, Quebec City
When we traveled to Canada to visit my sister and her family who live in Montreal, one of the magnificent areas we discovered was Quebec City, the capital city of Quebec. This particularly charming city captivated us instantly, making us fall in love with it at first sight.
The design of the city’s buildings based on French Renaissance architecture contrasts with the vibrant modern shops and cafes, creating a unique characteristic to Quebec City. This inviting and enchanting city is also naturally splendid with breathtaking waterfalls and beautiful mountains.
Quebec City’s renowned and most photographed landmark is none other than the majestic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. Dominating the city’s skyline, Fairmont’s jewel boasts a strategic location; not only does it sit on the Saint Lawrence River but it is also located between the Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and the Basse-Ville (Lower Town). Fairmont Le Château Frontenac stands at the edge of the Upper Town along with the famous Dufferin Terrace, and underneath it the charming Rue du Petit-Champlain spreads out with its cobblestone streets, lovely cafes and cozy shops.
Just like Pera Palace Hotel was built to cater to the needs of the privileged passengers of Orient Express, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway company whose rail network was expanding at that time. The marvelous design of the hotel, known as châteauesque, replicates the French Renaissance architecture of the monumental châteaux. Many VIPs visited or stayed in this spectacular hotel like Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, French President Charles de Gaulle and the legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock. The latter shot parts of his classic thriller “I Confess” in Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in 1953.
Two highly secret military conferences were held at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac during World War II. In August 1943, the First Quebec Conference codenamed “Quadrant” was held by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King who planned the invasion of Normandy. Whereas in September 1944, in the Second Quebec Conference codenamed “Octagon”, the discussion of President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill revolved around war and postwar strategies.
Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac has eight executive suites named after the heads of state and government that have visited the hotel, such as the Churchill Suite and the Roosevelt Suite as well the Charles de Gaulle Suite and the Elizabeth II Suite. Also, Celine Dion’s fans would be pleased to know that there is a Heritage Suite named after the internationally acclaimed Canadian singer.