The world’s greatest ‘grande dame’ hotels, from Rome to Rio (2023)

What exactly defines a grande dame hotel? And given that grandes dames are mostly old – well over 100 years in many cases – can such places still appeal in today’s shifting, fast-paced world?

Grandes dames, wherever they are found worldwide, are hotels whose walls have stories to tell and secrets to keep. They are historic, full of dignity and a sense of importance; reassuring, privileged bastions of good living that represent permanence, unruffled by the world outside. Such worthiness can mean some grandes dames have become somewhat staid and dull over the years, but the best of them also contrive to be glamorous and exciting, with famous faces never far away.

The vast majority of grande dame hotels date back to between the late-19th century and the 1920s. Having quickly established themselves as the most majestic, polished and luxurious in town, they then generally coasted along for decades. No longer: in this 21st century, often with wealthy new owners at the helm, many have undergone massive, top-to-toe refurbishments, including the addition of facilities that appeal to today’s guests: spas, rooftop pools, hip bars, chef-led restaurants and so on – in order to remain relevant and therefore to survive for yet more decades to come. It is no easy business, updating a grande dame, and in doing so some great establishments have lost their dignity and their original appeal, becoming just another glitzy address, constantly chasing the latest fad.

Ever since I started travelling as a teenager, Ihave made a point of at least visiting grande dame hotels, just as I would a museum or a sight in the city I was exploring. The world’s great hotels make one feel special: comforted and protected; excited and alive to possibility. Arriving in New York and knowing no one, I once made my way to the Plaza just to see what might happen; nothing happened but it was still a thrill to be there.

Here are 30 grande dame hotels that have succeeded in striking a balance between past glory and contemporary appeal.

Asia and Australasia

Raffles, Singapore

The doyenne of colonial grande dame hotels, Raffles was opened by the Sarkies brothers in 1887 as a 10-bedroom hotel and quickly became a refuge for the wealthy, the famous and the cultured. In 2017 it closed for a two-year renovation, which has happily left its ambience intact but added a feeling of freshness throughout, with brilliantly executed bedrooms. In the tiered white lobby, a fabulous statement chandelier draws the eye, while the clubby Writers Bar recalls the famous authors who have stayed. The historic Long Bar is the home of the Singapore Sling, the cocktail first created here in 1915.

Stay:Doubles from £592 (00 65 6337 1886;

Imperial Hotel, Tokyo

This hotel with an extraordinary history illustrates how it is often the spirit of a place, rather than the fabric, thatcounts. The Imperial opened in 1890 but has been rebuilt several times since – including in 1923, by Frank Lloyd Wright, who created a hybrid of Japanese and Western architecture. Today’s Imperial, with close ties to Japan’s royalfamily, confidently retains its history, grandeur and impeccable service. Currently housed in two towers, it is old-school luxurious, full of marble, sparkling chandeliers, huge flower arrangements, and sweeping staircases. It is vast, too, with more than 900guest rooms, 14 restaurants and two shopping malls. And it is changing yet again:in a few years’ time it will undergo a total reconstruction, to be completed in 2036.

Stay:Doubles from £377 (00 81 3 3504 1111;

Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

The combination of riverfront setting, elegance and rich literary history makesfor an intoxicating stay at this superb hotel. Opened in 1876 and a cultural institution ever since, it has neverlooked or felt better than today. The River Wing, which includes the majority of the public rooms and bedrooms, was the subject of major refurbishment three years ago, while the formerly unremarkable streets around the hotel have become the Creative District, populated by independent shops, restaurants and galleries. You may, though, prefer to stay put, relaxing beside the large central swimming poolor in the delightful teak wood spa,reached by boat across the Chao Phraya river.

Doubles from £361 (00 90 252 311 1888;

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, Vietnam

Set in the heart of Hanoi’s 19th-century French quarter, just paces from the Opera House, this is a gorgeous belle époque and neo-classical heritage hotel, with whirring ceiling fans, darkwood, a wonderful Parisian-style terrace café and the most gracious ofservice from staff wearing traditional white silk ao dai tunics. Not to be missedare the daily tours of the hotel’s US wartime bomb shelter, uncovered by chance during renovations to the Bamboo Bar in 2011 and used by Jane Fonda and Joan Baez.

Stay:Doubles from £181 (00 84 24 3826 6919;

The Peninsula, Hong Kong

Another iconic hotel of Asia, known for its fleet of green Rolls-Royces on the forecourt and its flock of page boys. The Peninsula is glitzy, decadent and always buzzing, with plenty of arresting modern elements, such as the bronze Fu dog by pop artist Jim Dine and the fabulous indoor pool and spa. More traditional are the well-loved afternoon tea served in the lobby and the jazz band that plays each night in Gaddi’s French restaurant.

Stay:Doubles from £485 (00 852 2920 2888;

The Strand Yangon, Myanmar

Of all the colonial grande dame hotels to have undergone intensive modernisation and refurbishment, the Strand has perhaps most successfully retained its former style and atmosphere. There is no bling, no kitsch, no vulgar sense of astage set: chandeliers glitter; ceiling fans whir; rattan chairs and antique lacquered furniture abound; and traditional Burmese music, live not piped, fills the air in the splendid lobby and adjoining Strand Café, famed for the Strand High Tea. Founded in 1901, the hotel has an equally authentic cruise boat that plies the Ayeyarwady river.

Stay:Doubles from £302 (00 951243377;

Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai

Arriving alone and short of funds in Mumbai as a young traveller and finding the city too confusing to penetrate, I remember seeking refuge in this waterfront palace, India’s first luxury hotel, and managing to make one lassi last all afternoon. The ornate and grandiose evocation of a Rajput palace has aspecial place in the heart of Mumbai’s citizens, with weddings and celebrations galore, while visitors can choose between classic Heritage rooms or more modern Tower rooms.

Stay:Doubles from £93 (00 91 22 66665 3366;

The Imperial, New Delhi

Perfectly placed for visiting both the iconic government buildings of Lutyens’ Delhi and the teeming lanes of Old Delhi, the Imperial remains aprivileged haven and a serene time-warp. If you crave nostalgia, old-fashioned elegance, antique furniture, slowly rotating ceiling fans and photographs from the hotel’s past, look no further. With four restaurants, a spa and a huge pool set in seven acres of grounds, the Imperial remains a place of rare calm and distinction, not just in India, but the world.

Stay:Doubles from £250 (00 81 3 3504;

The Windsor, Melbourne

Australia’s oldest and only remaining Victorian grande dame hotel is currently celebrating its 140th year, having been built by shipping magnate George Nipper and designedby notable architect Charles Webb in 1883. Then, it was called the Grand, but in 1923 after a visit from the Duke of Windsor, it was renamed. Opposite Parliament House, the hotelhas attracted politicians, film stars and cricketers (the Cricketers Bar features an outstanding collection of memorabilia). The hotel’s remarkable cantilevered Grand Staircase rises75ft above the lobby to the skylight, while the stately dining room,One Eleven, is the setting for the longest continual afternoon tea service in Australia.

Stay:Doubles from £135 (00 61 3 9633 6000;

King David, Jerusalem

Opened in 1930, this is the grande dame of Israeli hotels, surveying the Old City and surrounded by lush grounds, including a swimming pool and tennis courts. Step inside and you will find the ceilings, columns and wallsin the busy and dramatic lobby decorated in “ancient Mesopotamia” geometrics. Rooms, with antique writing desks, are spacious and sleek; those overlooking the Old City are particularly sought after. All grande dame hotels have an impressive list ofpast guests, but the King David stands out, numbering King George V, Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor and a slew of American presidents among many other world leaders andcelebrities.

Stay:Doubles from £456 (00 972 2 620 8888;

North America

The Plaza, New York

“Nothing unimportant ever happens at the Plaza,” so it is said – and of all the grandes dames in the world, it is perhaps hardest to imagine a single dull moment in this illustrious French château of a hotel, thrillingly positioned on Fifth Avenue and Central Park South. Just to walk past is exciting; to walk in recalls Hollywood films set at the Plaza, from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally and Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. It drips with glamour and possibility and there is nothing more romantic during a winter stay than taking a horse and carriage into the snow-covered park and then back to the Plaza for tea or cocktails in the Palm Court or Champagne Bar.

Stay:Doubles from £572 (001 212 759 3000;

The St Regis, Washington DC

Classy is the word that comes to mind at this fairly small but perfectly formed US capital grande dame, whose doors first opened in 1926. Surveyed by agilded and coffered ceiling, the gorgeous lobby – more drawing room than entrance hall – sets the tone for a hotel that has sheltered dozens of heads of state and stands just two blocks from the White House. Among the delicate, immaculate bedrooms, the Presidential Suite, the size of a house and swaddled in luxury, takes the breath away.

Stay:Doubles from £260 (001 202 638 2626;

South America

Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro

Built in 1922 in the style of the Carlton in Cannes and Negresco in Nice, this legendary address (also now a Belmond) has hosted a dazzling array of stars, eversince its role in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ 1933 film, Flying Down to Rio. Though nowadays the hotel is onthe wrong beach (ie not Ipanema orLeblon), it maintains its dignity andserenity with classic, confident andunpretentious interiors, typified bythe first-floor gallery, where two discreet rows of black and white photographs recall its many famous guests. Each bedroom is different, with more than a whiff of 1920s art deco in thedesign of both the furniture andbathrooms. The showpiece of thehotel is thefabulous 25-metre pool that stretches invitingly between its two restaurants, Pergula and Cipriani.

Stay: Doubles from £339 (00 55 21 2548 7070;

Alvear Palace, Buenos Aires

Opened in 1932 to accommodate the growing number of European visitors to Argentina’s capital, this landmark hotel in the heart of the stately, tree-lined Recoleta district has a decidedly European – and palatial – air. Among its features are walls decorated in gold leaf, crystal chandeliers, plush carpets and silk hangings, while white-gloved waiters proffer gold-edged tea cups in the exquisite and much loved L’Orangerie restaurant. If the style is ornate, and not a little old fashioned, there is modernity too: at sunset, head for the 11th-floor roof bar, or go for a swim in the indoor pool, heated with sustainable energy.

Stay:Doubles from £474 (00 54114808 2100;


La Mamounia, Marrakech

When it reopened in 2009 after athree-year renovation, this storied address – a favourite of Winston Churchill, who adopted it as his winterhome – revealed a dramatic newlook. Whether you warm to the unashamed boldness of French designer Jacques Garcia’s classic yet darkly theatrical interiors or not, it isthe 20 acres of impeccable gardens, the huge curvaceous swimming pool and the gorgeous spa that are the hotel’s most captivating assets. The location, too, is unbeatable: just outside the medina and opposite the Koutoubia minaret, close to the Djemaa el-Fna yet cushioned from thehubbub by its princely gardens, magically lit atnight.

Stay: Doubles from £528 (00 212 524 388600;

Mount Nelson, Cape Town

At the foot of Table Mountain, announced by a palm tree-lined driveandset in beautiful gardens (pristine lawns, flowerbeds, two outdoor pools,tennis courts) and yet in the heart of the city, Mount Nelson was opened in 1899, the first hotel inSouthAfrica to offer hotand cold running water and described as “even better than its London counterparts”. A Belmond hotel these days, it attractsafaithful clientele who just wouldn’t stay anywhere else, and wholove to stroll through Company Gardens across the road toward thebustling city centre. Rooms, including garden-cottage suites, are airy and sophisticated.

Stay:Doubles from £546 (00 27 21 483 1000;


Claridges, London

Ever since it was run by Mr and Mrs Claridge in the 1850s, Claridge’s has had a cachet, but its status as a grande dame was sealed when it was bought and rebuilt in 1897 by Richard D’Oyly Carte, the theatrical impresario. Closely associated with the British aristocracy and the Royal family, the hotel has many tales to tell, especially during the Second World War. Now, though, it is simply London’s pre-eminent address, as glamorous as it is stately, its art deco front hall perhaps the most spectacular of any hotel lobby in the world. Constantly keeping pace with the changing times, it has just opened a spa, a secrethaven three floors below ground.

Stay: Doubles from £750 (020 7629 8860;

The Savoy, London

Step into the marbled Edwardian front hall and the feeling is one of reassuring tradition mixed with bold and lavish statement, reinforced by the winter garden gazebo beyond in the Thames Foyer – the heart of the hotel, where afternoon tea is served. Each part of the Savoy has its own atmosphere, from the louche American Bar, the oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain, to the theatrical Beaufort Bar, and from the splendid original Red Lift or “Ascending Room” to the majestic sweep down to the River Restaurant. With its age-defying air of glamour, the Savoy remains outstanding among London’s grande dame hotels, and its restaurants, including the classic Grill and the intimate Restaurant 1890, all now run by Gordon Ramsay, are superb.

Stay: Doubles from £680 (020 7836 4343;

Cliveden House, Berkshire

This National Trust property dates back to the late 17th century and is set among 376 verdant acres on the banks of the Thames in Berkshire. It was formerly the family home of the Astors and was designed by architect Charles Barry, best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament in the mid-19th century. The gorgeous outdoor pool was where the Profumo affair started, while priceless tapestries and suits of armour from the 18thcentury line the darkly dramatic, red-toned Great Hall. Despite the building’s size, there are only 48 characterful rooms, so even at capacity it doesn’t feel crowded. Grounds include a maze and water garden which are a huge attraction (especially for those travelling with children). The Long Garden features eccentric topiary and spectacular beds of purple verbena, while the magnificent tree-lined parterre is one of the largest in Europe, at four acres.The opulent Dining Room offers innovative pairings such as 28-day aged beef fillet with razor clams, savoy cabbage and dill. There is also the Astor Grill, for more informal dishes such as burgers.

Stay: Doubles from £495 (01628 668561;

Le Bristol, Paris

Le Bristol has only ever been owned by two families (the German Oetkers since 1978) and is distinguished by long-serving front desk charmer Jean-Marie Burlet; the loveliest hotel garden in Paris, reimagined by Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd; the most relaxing three-Michelin-star restaurant, Epicure, where chef Eric Fréchon has created a temple of French gastronomy for more than 20 years; the rooftop “ocean liner” pool; and the resident Burmese cat, Socrate, whose jewelled bow-tie collar is by Maison Goyard. “Pinch that,” says Burlet, “and you’ll have enough money to stay here for days.” As for the bedrooms, they are light, elegant and huge for Paris.

Stay: Doubles from £1,653 (00 33 1 53 43 43 00;

Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes

F Scott Fitzgerald immortalised it as the Hôtel des Etrangers in Tender is the Night; Marc Chagall made sketches in one of its beachside cabanas; the Kennedy family spent the summer here in 1938 when John was 21; Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton conducted an affair and honeymooned here. Other guests included Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, the Windsors, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle. The Eden Roc, restored more than a decade ago by the Oetker family, offers languid, retro glamour in amagical setting: a mid-19th-century mansion secreted in 22 acres of pine groves. It remains, as Fitzgerald wrote, “a summer resort of notable and fashionable people”.

Stay: Doubles from £703 (00 33 4 93 61 39 01;

Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Just to stand in Place du Casino quickens the pulse. But to be a guest at this hotel (with legendary casino) – that is areal treat, especially after a five-year, multi-million-pound renovation punctuated by two beautiful new rooftop suites, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III. In the lobby stands abronze equestrian statue of Louis XIV. The shiny right knee of the horse is testament to the thousands of hands that have rubbed it for luck at the tables. Alain Ducasse’s three-Michelin-star Le Louis XV, the American Bar andthe top-floor Grill are all populated by couture-clad guests whose luck is plainly in.

Stay: Doubles from £695 (00 377 98 06 30 00;

Hassler, Rome

Few grande dame hotels are still privately owned. The Hassler, set theatrically above the Spanish Steps, is one. Roberto Wirth, who died in June 2022, considered it his passion, family heritage and home. It was his commitment, dedication and personal touch that made the Hassler stand out. Now the reins have passed to his children, twins Veruschka and Roberto Jr, who, like their father, will ensure that thehotel’s delightful old-world elegance remains, however up-to-date thehotel becomes. Michelin-starred rooftop restaurant Imàgo has been beautifully refurbished, and the Palm Court, serving food all day, is an oasis of tranquillity.

Stay: Doubles from £1,027 (00 39 06 699340;

The Gritti Palace, Venice

As Somerset Maugham said, there are few greater pleasures than taking adrink on the Gritti’s terrace at sunset, with the Salute church opposite bathedin evening light. Before bed, he advised, glance at the portrait of 16th-century Doge Andrea Gritti who, after a tumultuous life, spent his last years here in peace. This Venetian gothic palace became a hotel in the late 19th century; a 2013 revamp restored its hundreds of precious paintings and artefacts and added an intimate spa. Some rooms are quite small, but for unbeatable romance, book the heavenly Hemingway Suite, with windows on two sides, overlooking the Grand Canal. The American author made the Gritti his Venice home in the late 1940s. He had very good taste.

Stay: Doubles from £1,249 (00 39 041 794611;

Hotel Sacher, Vienna

The hotel is better known for its torte (the 1832 recipe remains a closely guarded secret) than even for its parade of illustrious guests, including Queen Elizabeth. If you love belle époque excess, then you will love the Sacher, dripping with velvets, damasks, period antiques and sparkling chandeliers. And if you like characters, you will warm to the eccentric late owner Anna Sacher, never without her French bulldogs andcigars. After her death in 1930, the Gürtler family bought the hotel and still run it today. The bedrooms are richly decorated yet light, and the staff are unfailingly courteous.

Stay: Doubles from £468 (00 43 1 514560;

Amstel, Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s grande dame, which opened in 1867, had lost its sparkle but has now been restored to its former glory and regal appearance and sits under the InterContinental umbrella. Nothing has been overlooked: even the eight lions, which once stood sentinel on the roof, have been expertly carved anew. This landmark building on the River Amstel has never looked better, with its gracious white marble and stucco lobby, beautiful chandeliers and 79 large, prettily decorated bedrooms. Best of all, the hotel has a feeling of homeliness amid the grandeur.

Stay: Doubles from £400 (00 31 20 622 6060;

Hotel d'Angleterre, Copenhagen

A Copenhagen landmark that has been brought bang up to date thanks to amodern makeover. Hotel d’Angleterre has an excellent location at the heart of the city, a Michelin-starred restaurant and a ritzy guest list that ranges from rock stars to royalty. Its ballroom has hosted major events for the past couple of centuries and thousands flock here every year to watch the Christmas lights being switched on.

Stay: Doubles from £558 (00 45 33 12 00 95;

Reid’s Palace, Madeira

On the edge of Funchal, overlooking the ocean, you enter a particular world at Reid’s. The palace was built by Scotsman William Reid in 1891 and immediately attracted a parade of European royalty and English aristocracy. Many guests have returned with almost religious devotion for decades. Since 1996, under what is now the Belmond group, it has gracefully extended its appeal to all ages, without losing its genteel flavour. It is only when you reach the oldest part of the hotel – the elegant lounge, glitzy cocktail bar, Michelin-starred restaurant, William, and pool terrace, like the deck of a ship – that you will feel its innate glamour. From there, you can spy the sea-level sun decks and tidal pool, reached by lift or steps. If you want to walk Madeira’s renowned levadas, it will be arranged, and afternoon tea can taken on the black and white marble terrace.

Stay:Doubles from £368 (00351 291 717171;

The Phoenicia Malta, Valletta

Malta’s best-known hotel has an attractively simple layout – its elegant Palm Court leading through original glass doors to thePhoenix restaurant and its lovely elevated terrace overlooking lushgardens. The hotel was built in thelate 1930s by Lord Strickland, 1st Baron Strickland and fourth prime minister of Malta, and refurbished in 2017. Two wings house the 137 bedrooms and suites, many with balconies. There is a clubby cocktail bar – its walls are decorated with photographs of past guests including Nöel Coward and Winston Churchill – and an art deco ballroom where Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip used to enjoy dancing when they lived in Malta in the 1950s. A dreamy infinity pool overlooks the harbour, while the recently constructed spa is a place of calm sophistication.

Stay:Doubles from £196 (00356 2291 1023;

Ashford Castle, County Mayo, Ireland

The first thing to know about Ashford Castle is that most of the staff have been here for many years – there have only been three general managers since 1939. The castle was built more than 800 years ago when Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness bought the estates and it maintains much of its original charm. It pays to explore every inch of Ashford Castle; from Hideaway Cottage on the Lough, to the 16th-century wine cellars. Whether you are in the snooker room, living it up in the GeorgeV Dining Room, or strolling the grounds, you are never far from being treated like royalty – President Reagan once stayed here, as did John Lennon and Brad Pitt. And there is plenty to do, from trout fishing with the resident ghillie and hawk-flying in the falconry school to riding and a sumptuous spa.

Stay:Doubles from £646 (00 353 94 954 6003;

Additional entries by Nick Hammond and Telegraph Travel experts

Which do you consider to be the most iconic hotel in the world? Do you have any additions for our list? Please join the conversation in the comments below


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