To celebrate European Heritage Days, take a grand tour of European Heritage by way of six historic Four Seasons properties.
Want to sit in the historic ballroom where the League of Nations first assembled? Visit the estate where Henry VIII first set eyes on Catherine of Aragon? Or swim in a Côte d’Azur pool designed by an Italian spy? If you’re a lover of history and a guest of Four Seasons, there’s no need to leave these Four Seasons landmark properties to do so.
The magnificent Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat was built in 1908 at the tip of the isolated Cap Ferrat peninsula in southeastern France. At the time, it was seen as incomplete by many, so it was immediately given additional amenities like a dining loggia and a large central rotunda designed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel, who spent his winters in neighbouring Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
In the years leading up to World War II, the property was frequented by Russian dukes; European princes, lords and baronets; prominent financiers; artists and writers like Jean Cocteau and Somerset Maugham; Hollywood stars; industry leaders; and heads of state. But none of them provided the property its most interesting story.
Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel
That came from a simple Italian bricklayer, who surprised hotel management in 1939 by engineering and building the Hotel’s structurally complex waterfront pool in one day. Years later, during Italian occupation of the Côte d’Azur, the bricklayer again showed up at the Hotel, this time in a dashing military uniform and said to the manager, “Nice to see the pool held up.” Turns out he was as an Italian spy who used the Hotel’s prominent clients as a source of intelligence. The Club Dauphin pool is still a gem among the Hotel’s many amenities and is accessed via a private glass funicular.
Convents turned hotels are a dime a dozen these days, but few can boast as rich and textured a history as Florence’s timeless Palazzo Scala Della Gherardesca. It was built during the golden age of Florence at the dawn of the Renaissance, and converted to a Four Seasons hotel in 2008. The estate, later the Suor Maria Riparatrice convent, was commissioned in 1473 by the humanitarian scribe Bartolomeo Scala, who also happened to be the chancellor to Florence’s legendary Lorenzo the Magnificent, the head of the influential Medici family long known for their patronage of the arts.
Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
The leafy palazzo was later home to Cardinal Alessandro de’ Medici, who reigned as Pope Leo XI for a mere month in 1605 before he died suddenly, earning him the nickname Papa Lampo (“The Lightning Pope”). The frescos that adorn the property’s walls are by the Renaissance painters Giovanni Stradano and Baldassarre Franceschini.
Dogmersfield Park is the name of the estate on which this 18th-century Georgian Manor sits, but its origins date back to 1086 and the Domesday Book, a survey of England commissioned by King William the Conqueror. The book describes “Doccemere feld, by the lake where the water lilies grow,” as a placid and peaceful place.
Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire
400 years after this description was penned, the bucolic field would play a pivotal role in the tumultuous Tudor history as the place where Catherine of Aragon met two of her future husbands—first Arthur, Prince of Wales, then, after Arthur died of “sweating disease,” his younger brother Henry the VIII, who was five years her junior.
Henry VIII, of course, went on to marry five other wives, throwing the Tudor dynasty into a tailspin that would eventually undo it. Guests who want to imagine the royal liaisons in more detail can still explore the 23 acres (9.3 hectares) of English Heritage gardens and more than 500 acres (200 hectares) of tamed parkland to help reconstruct the past.
The celebrity guests at this century-old, neoclassical property have included artists and political figures like communist leader Mihri Belli, novelist Orhan Kemal, and dissident poet Nâzım Hikmet. And they all have one thing in common: They never checked in. At least not willingly.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
The charming property in the heart of Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district was once the infamous Turkish prison Sultanahmet Cezaevi; the courtyard is the prison’s old exercise yard. Today, the accommodations are much more grand, but guests can still visit the corridors upstairs to see a few of the prison’s original support columns, which are marked by graffiti and the etchings of former inmates.
This neoclassical palace was designed by French architect Auguste de Montferrand in 1817 for Princess Cleopatra Lobanova-Rostovskaya and her husband, Prince A.Y. Lobanov-Rostovsky, an aide-de-camp to Tsar Alexander I. It was to be an elite apartment house offering imperial tenants the appointments of royal life with modern comfort and convenience. But the gleeful zeitgeist of Napoleonic defeat of early 19th century Russia wouldn’t last long, and the property was only occupied for seven years before it became a state ministry under the new regime of Tsar Nicholas I.
Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg
The Lion Palace would have to wait another 191 years before it would be visited by distinguished guests again. But Alexander Pushkin paid homage to it in his famous 1833 poem The Bronze Horseman, noting the sentry marble lions, which still stand guard in front of the mansion today.
The magnificent neoclassical Hotel des Bergues, built in 1834 and now a historic Swiss landmark, occupies a prominent position in the heart of Geneva on the shores of Lac Léman. The Hotel’s Salle des Nations ballroom boasts soaring ceilings and is festooned with crystal chandeliers and gigantic gilt mirrors; it remains a popular event space with visiting dignitaries today.
Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva
But in 1920 it was the site of the first assembly of the League of Nations, predecessor to the United Nations. The Hotel became the unofficial headquarters of the French delegation chaired by Prime Minister Aristide Briand; the son of innkeepers was rumoured to have been impressed by the meticulous 1917 renovations of the Hotel. Historians claim that Briand’s many meetings at the Salle des Nations had a greater influence on international relations than the formal sessions held in the Palais des Nations. Briand would receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926, and the property became a Four Seasons hotel in 2005.
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