There are few better ways to get a feel for a new place than by staying in its most notable accommodation. The places where history meets hospitality and you can feel the stories coming out of the walls.
The establishments below are widely touted as the oldest continually running hotels in their respective continents, meaning they’ve had hundreds of years to perfect the art of tucking in bed sheets just right and stocking the perfect minibar. Who wouldn’t want to stay in the same room as Napoleon and Dickens?
Recognised by the Guinness World Records as the oldest hotel in the world, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan spa inn in Hayakawa Japan was founded in AD705 and, 52 generations later, is still being run by the same family. The inn was founded by Fujiwara Mahito, the son of the Emperor’s aid, and frequented by notable samurai and military commanders. The Japanese cement their place as the hospitality experts with eight of the top ten places on the oldest list. To put 1,300 years ago in perspective, that’s when Charlemagne became the Holy Roman Emperor, Vikings began raiding the coast of Europe and classical Maya civilisation started its decline.
Although there are a number of establishments contending for the title of Africa’s oldest accommodation, the Houw Hoek Inn in South Africa claims to date from the late 18th century – making it 1,100 years Japan’s junior. Located on the site of a hitching spot where travellers would rest before crossing the Houw Hoek mountains, this hotel came to be when a local farmer, inundated by traveller requests for a night’s shelter, started converting his 1779 farm buildings into lodgings. Just a few years before the hotel was built, Captain Cook arrived in Cape Town on the HMS Resolution. 20 years later, the British had colonised the Cape.
With hotels often opening and closing, changing hands and being repurposed, it’s frequently difficult to pinpoint the starting dates of these accommodations. One that’s certainly high up on the North America list though is the Auberge Le Saint-Gabriel; an historic inn located in the old quarter of Montreal, Canada. Built by a French soldier in 1688 and receiving a liquor license in 1754, the hotel prides itself as the oldest ‘auberge’ on the continent. While the hotel was being built in the mid-18th century, the British and the French were busy fighting the Seven Years War, with skirmishes spilling over to their North American territories.
As one might expect on a continent that’s seen its fair share of change and upheaval, the oldest hotels in Europe don’t quite match their Japanese counterparts in age – but they do outstrip the other continents. It was argued for a long time that the Hotel Drei Könige in Basel, Switzerland, (with a list of guests that includes Napoleon, Voltaire, and Charles Dickens), dated from 1026. However, it was later revealed that the first official mention of it comes from 1681. Instead the status has now passed to the Zum Roten Bären in Freiburg, Germany. A former private mansion built in 1120 (predating the founding of the town itself), the first written documentation of its guest house dates back to 1311. Its operation continues today, thanks to it having been spared the destruction wreaked upon so many other historic buildings during World War II.
While we like to think of the Outback itself as the oldest accommodation in Australia, the first actual specialist pub and hotel buildings come from the early 1800s, when serious exploration of the vast wilderness beyond New South Wales began. While the Woolpack Inn in Parramatta – the country’s second oldest town, and now a suburb of Sydney – dates from 1796, the hotel was moved across the street to a new site in 1895. If judged according to continuous operation from the same location, it’s actually the Bush Inn in New Norfolk, Tasmania, that wins the award. Built around 1815 and licensed in 1825, the inn will celebrate its double centenary this year.
It’s difficult to find long-running historic hotels in Central and South America due largely to buildings continually being repurposed. One of the very few to stand out though is the Hotel Imperial in Veracruz, Mexico. Claiming to have uninterrupted service since 1793, the building has been declared a historical monument.
As a vast, extreme ice desert wasteland that was only first set foot upon in the 1820s, it’s unsurprising that there are no permanent hotels or lodges on the Antarctic continent. Visitors stay on their ships or occasionally use tents for shelter during land expeditions. However, if you happened to be a scientist who’s dedicated your working life to research, you could possibly get a chance to stay in Mawson Station: with a construction date of 1954, it’s the oldest continually occupied station on the continent.