11 HISTORICAL HIDDEN GEMS

Travel back in time without a DeLorean

  

 

  

If you spent the past year binge-watching period pieces on Netflix like us, you’ll fall in love with these revitalized relics tucked away in various corners of the world. From medieval to Victorian, these properties have been given a second life and are entertaining curious guests once again. You don’t need high marks in history to learn a thing or two about the souls who once walked these halls. The hosts will fill you in on the houses' past, present and future. Not to worry, each place has electricity and running water along with other modern appliances from this day and age, but you’ll find yourself spending time unplugged from WiFi and in tune with nature among friendly people who also wanted to escape the 21st century.


You don’t need a royal title to stay in this Downton Abbey-​esque palace in Poland. It was rediscovered in 2015 by two antique enthusiasts from Canada who took it upon themselves to revive the ruined classic beauty after nearly 20 years of vacancy. A bit of backstory – the baroque palace was built in the 18th century and the von Haugwitz family lived here until the beginning of the 19th century. Then it was used as a primary school and after the fall of communism, it was passed around from owner to owner until it was salvaged by Marcin, a history teacher and lover of all things old. Fast forward several years of clearing away debris and rubble, and guests are now invited to stay in four rooms with king-sized beds and zero TV sets but with plenty of books. You’ll notice several elements which were purchased that fit in with the baroque interiors: stoves from Germany, antique furniture, and even tiles taken from the garbage in Saxony. Sit for hours in the common room where the fire never goes out in the fireplace, romantic music plays in the background, and unique elements on the walls catch your eye. We should also mention that as a guest of this palace, you'll become a part of its history by supporting the revitalization which is still ongoing.

“An absolutely unique place with a truly historical atmosphere. The host takes great care to ensure that every detail in the palace is as authentic as possible. When it comes to historical buildings, authenticity is the most important value, but also the most difficult to extract. In Piszkowice, this authenticity is achieved and deserves praise. ”

Slowhop's review: This palace is still a work in progress and isn’t baby-proofed which is why adults are invited with children ages 10 and up. Besides, you’ll be much more relaxed knowing you don’t have to worry about tots running into unfinished corners.

(Photos: Pałac na Wzgórzu)

Yes, this hotel is run by Dr Julian Godlee and his wife Carolyn, but it’s no average mom-and-pop bed and breakfast. For starters, the property is a historical windmill that dates back to the early 18th century and is revered as a landmark on the North Norfolk Coast. But even if history doesn’t interest you, perhaps you’d like to spend your holiday with a view of the English seaside, the Cley Bird Sanctuary, and the surrounding salt marshes across to Blakeney Point. Bet you’ve never stayed in a room that was once used to store grain, in a storeroom from where the sacks of flour were loaded into wagons, or in an old cart shed. But don’t worry, you probably wouldn’t have guessed the former functions of these rooms if we didn’t tell you. Today, they’re all renovated and furnished in a period country-cosy style with large comfortable beds and rustic touches. Instead of slinging sacks of flour, you toss throw pillows around. Fun fact: this windmill was featured in the 1949 film Conspirator, starring Elizabeth Taylor, and also appeared in the television series Ruth Rendell Mysteries. For breakfast, you can expect a full English breakfast, kippers, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. After that hearty start, walk down to the village and stop by the shops, pubs and eateries (lunch at the famous Cley Smokehouse is a must).

“Bird watchers nationwide know Cley Windmill as a landmark. Sheer luxury in romantic, natural surroundings – the sound of the wind through the reeds and geese flying over; the smell of bacon and the taste of good local produce; a warm room full of character; a comfortable bed; friendly, helpful staff… What more could one wish for?”

Slowhop's review: If you’re searching for an intimate country style wedding, this windmill doubles as a ceremony space. You’ll have to whittle down your guest list down to 22 but you can say your vows in the round sitting room followed by champagne and canapés in the dining room.

(Photos: Cley Windmill)

Built in the 19th century, Marrero’s may not be the oldest property on this list, but it is located in the United States which still has a fairly young history. The restored Victorian mansion situated on the southernmost point in the US was built in 1889 by Francisco Marrero, a prominent cigar maker. Apparently, he built it for his young wife and she loved it throughout her life...and beyond. Not to spook you, but some say she’s still the gracious host who oversees the bed and breakfast at night. Besides the potential ghost encounter, guests praise this place for its location and proximity to restaurants, shops, art galleries, pubs, beaches, water sports, sunset cruises and diving trips. The mansion is located in the middle of Old Town, but don’t worry about hearing rowdy partygoers spilling out of bars – the building is nestled in a quiet residential area. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, hang out on the private verandas, in the garden or by the heated saltwater pool. Just don’t miss the daily ‘Happy Hour’ with snacks and beer/wine.

“Can't go wrong with this wonderful guest house. Quiet and relaxing, yet close to all the essential things to do in Key West. The house itself has a beautiful historic feel and look.”

Slowhop's review: This historic mansion is over 130 years old and is still standing strong, but keep an eye out for hurricane advisories. Locals call Key West the “cone of uncertainty” because hurricanes may or may not hit this tip of Florida. Best to avoid coming during hurricane season if you don’t want to risk having to cancel your trip.

(Photos: Marrero’s Guest Mansion)

Fancy a French breakfast in bed? Or you can take your buttermilk pancakes and strong coffee out in the garden under the walnut tree. If you’re in need of a romantic mini-break, find delicious respite in a charming 200-year-old country house with honey-coloured stone and blue shutters. Recently converted into a bed and breakfast in 2017, this place is filled with artwork and furniture collected on the owners’ travels around the world. Each of the guest rooms are individually designed with various themes ranging from 50s glamour, peaceful garden and traveler. Psst...we hear the large ‘Gypsy Queen’ room has a stunning Portuguese iron bed, a large bathtub and great views of the garden and vineyards. The hosts moved to the Bordeaux region from Brighton after Rob left his job as a cheesemonger, selling cheese to Michelin chefs and Lora sold her business. Now they run this B&B surrounded by vineyards and sunflower fields and invite guests to visit the little spa on-site and take a dip in the pool or wood-fired hot tub. You can’t leave without checking out their natural and organic wine cave for a tasting. Pick a bottle you like and enjoy a glass down by the pink lily-filled Koi Karp pond in the garden.

“Rob and Lora welcomed us with generous, warm hospitality. We were given a lovely cosy room decorated, as the rest of this lovely house, in a gently bohemian manner. We were treated to a fantastic breakfast in front of the wood-burner. When we next return to this part of "slow" France we will definitely be staying here and for more than one night!”

Slowhop's review: Of course we’re drawn to the historic guesthouse, but perhaps the main attraction is actually the enchanting garden. The rich soil sustains mature trees such as apple, plum, pear, apricot, cherry, fig, pomegranate, sharon fruit and walnut.

(Photos: Manoir Laurette)

Trust us on this one. On a gloomy day, just one look at this crumbly old palace covered in vines might make you hop back in the car and drive away, but give it a chance. We promise there aren’t any ghosts inside (that we know of). Tucked away in Lower Silesia, Rząsiny Palace dates all the way back to the 15th century and survived the passage of time despite Poland’s tumultuous history. Here’s what we know – it was built in 1451 by Ramphold von Talkenberg, during World War II, it was used by the Luftwaffe research institute and it was visited by Lieutenant Branse who became famous for creating a new variety of potato. Even if you’re not interested in plant propagation, you should visit this palace because Małgosia has been painstakingly renovating its beautiful Baroque and Renaissance interior. When it first fell into her possession in 2007, she spent years conducting historical and archaeological research there so now she’s a walking encyclopedia of the history of this place – be sure to test her knowledge. As an architect who runs her own design studio in Wrocław, Małgosia used her eye for detail to incorporate a rustic style with minimalist decorations and period elements inside the palace. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the two renovated apartments, a museum that holds memorabilia of previous residents, heavy steel doors, an impressive fireplace, paintings of airplanes on the walls and a mysterious wine cellar. In the summer, guests can wander out into the 3 ha of greenery, take a dip in the swimming pool and enjoy an evening feast with roasted lamb and draft beer.

“A place with character – full of fascinating nooks and crannies, beautifully situated in the country, is a testimony to the great passion and determination of the owner who brought this beautiful palace back to life. This is not a place for those who crave the luxury and comforts of five-star hotels – but that’s a good thing! It’s just one of the reasons why this place will stay in your memory for a long time.”

Slowhop's review: This palace wasn’t built in a day and renovating it will take even longer. Małgosia bravely took on this life-long project which requires careful work and a boatload of money. Just something to keep in mind!

(Photos: Rząsiny Palace)

You don’t have to be an ornithologist to appreciate the majestic birds that glide by: eagles, storks, vultures and kites. Perched on the side of a medieval hilltop village with less than 30 inhabitants is a rural hotel that has breathtaking views of the Caparreta Nature Reserve in northern Spain. You and your other half can spend a romantic getaway in this adults-only ‘heredad’ (estate) which consists of a restored farmhouse, stable, and winery. As soon as you step into your bedroom and drop your luggage, we’re willing to bet the first thing you’ll do is check out the soaring valley views from your balcony or immense window. The organic soaps and chocolates are a nice touch. Once the initial awe subsides, see if you can point out the materials that were recovered from demolition such as stones, beams and native wood from loading docks, Arabic tiles, mud floors, old brick and lime mortar walls with natural dyes. In the morning, head to the dining room overlooking the gorge for a breakfast rich in calories: local cheeses, hams and fresh pastries. We’re fairly confident your taste buds will be satisfied – Ramon and his partner Patxi moved here from San Sebastian, the culinary capital of Spain. If you’re hunting for history or wildlife insights, they can tell you the secrets of the old kingdom of Navarre and where to spot a vulture’s nest.

“This place was simply perfect. From fluffy towels, ecological soaps, surrounding grapes, sentent rooms, amazing views, comfortable bed, silence at night. Patxi and his partner know how to pamper their guests! The service was exceptionally good. Breakfast and dinner were cherry picked and delicious. This wonderful and luxurious castle on a hill in a medieval town is definitely worth a visit!”

Slowhop's review: If you want breathtaking views of the nature reserve, be sure to double check which room you book because one out of nine of the rooms has no view – its small window looks onto a rock side.

(Photos: Heredad Beragu Hotel)

If Machu Picchu is on your post-pandemic bucket list, plan a stop at the first boutique hotel in Cusco, the capital of the vast Inca Empire, some six hundred years ago. This 16th-century manor house is located in the traditional Plaza de las Nazarenas, surrounded by vibrant, cobblestoned streets. Add your name to the guestbook which once included illustrious guests such as Spanish Conquistador Diego de Almagro and ‘Libertador’ Simón Bolívar. You’ll be comfortable sleeping in suites with chimneys, heated floors and extra-large bathtubs in marble bathrooms. Forget about tacky wall decor, these halls are decorated with colonial furniture, Pre-Columbian textiles and original murals. But don’t worry, you won’t find ‘Do not touch’ signs here. Yes, colonial antiques are a part of the decor, but you can feel comfortable here while still respecting Peru’s Inca past. We hear the service is top-notch so don’t hesitate to practice your Spanish and ask them to light a fire, draw a bubble bath or schedule a coca leaf reading by a local shaman. Oh, and oxygen is listed under ‘included services’. Inkaterra stands on the training grounds for an elite army of Incas and today it can be your base camp for discovering the city’s busy local markets, visiting the various valleys and villages in the area or planning your next adventures in Peru.

“The hotel and courtyards are beautiful and the rooms are very well furnished. It feels at times like you are sleeping in a museum given all the art and sculptures throughout the hotel. If you are in Cusco and are looking for a place to stay, look no further than the Inkaterra. You will not be disappointed.”

Slowhop's review: Consider requesting a room that doesn't overlook the street if silence is important to you. Previous guests highly recommend staying in the suites facing the hotel’s central courtyard which is perfect for reading, yoga and outdoor dining.

(Photos: Inkaterra La Casona)

As much as we love the intoxicating sights, sounds and scents of Marrakech’s densely packed medina, step away from the medieval city which dates back to the Berber Empire and enter a quiet little oasis. This boutique hotel was recently renovated by a team of local artists under the direction of interior designer Willem Smit and while it embodies the intricate Moroccan style, the interiors serve as a respite from the chaotic city outside its doors. Eleven individually decorated rooms with en-suite bathrooms are located around two patios, two pools, a library, spa and roof terrace with a bar. But that itemized list of the floor plan doesn’t do this place justice. Everything from the beautiful titled mosaics, the intricate Moroccan woodwork and ambient lighting from metal lanterns create a calming atmosphere. Before retreating to your comfortable bedroom, sip a Moroccan mint tea in the courtyard, watch the desert sun go down on the terrace and enjoy a feast that consists of classic tajine (stew) with couscous and a healthy assortment of colorful salads. If you want a quiet night in, ask Khaoula to show you to the hammam (traditional bath) and treat yourself to traditional Moroccan treatments, natural oils and massages. Of course, if you’re drawn to the energetic pulse of this mystical city, abandon these quiet halls and get lost in the maze-like alleys of the medina where souks (marketplaces) sell everything from textiles, pottery and jewelry. No need to leave a crumb trail, if you keep hitting dead ends or can’t find your way out, just look for the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque, a symbol of the city and is visible for miles.

“Beautiful place full of peace and tranquillity in bustling Marrakech. Tastefully decorated, understated with beautiful touches. Perfect spot if you want something a bit more niche, tasteful and out of the main hub.”

Slowhop's review: Moroccan nights can get quite chilly during the winter months and although some rooms have fireplaces and heaters, it might not be enough for you. Pack warm clothes or plan a trip in the spring/summer for maximum comfort.

(Photos: Riad Les Yeux Bleus)

Intimate weddings are optimal for some couples, pandemic or not, which is why we’re recommending Casa Felix in España as the perfect place to tie the knot. Originally a fortified village, parts of the traditional Catalan Masia date back to the 13th century. Before it was renovated into a rental, it was originally a wine house and production only stopped in 2002. The house has undergone a rustic-chic restoration, although you can still expect to find some uneven levels, stone steps and lots of stairs. Luckily, the best parts of the house were conserved and you’ll still find solid terracotta tiled floors, exposed wooden beams and thick stone walls. Perhaps this place should come with a floor plan and map because you can get lost among the 21 en-suite bedrooms which can sleep up to 50 guests and it’s located on 38 hectares of land on the edge of the village of Olivella and the Garraf Natural Park. Now imagine your nuptials taking place in the ceremony garden with palm trees on one side and a historic stone wall on the other, the aisle facing a lush hillside. After two become one, up to 70 guests take their places at the event room for dinner and then dance until dawn in the fully equipped dance area. We wouldn’t be surprised if a few guests continue the festivities long enough to greet the new day and admire the morning views of the vineyards by the pool.

“Beautiful villa! We celebrated our wedding with friends and family a few weeks ago. Photos don’t do this place justice. Every one of our guests raved about how amazing the villa was. Jane is such a lovely host and was always willing to answer any questions.”

Slowhop's review: No need to make your wedding invite ‘Adults Only’. There’s plenty of ways to keep the kiddos out of the way on your special day including a children’s attic, smaller pool, and game room with table football and table tennis.

(Photos: Casa Felix)

At the end of the world, in a place that would be one of the doors to hell according to Greek mythology, you’ll find paradise instead. Just a few kilometres from Cape Tainaron at the southernmost geographical point of mainland Greece and also the southernmost point of mainland Europe, you can stay in a 19th century tower fit for Odysseus. Spend your days re-reading epic poems or gazing out at the wide horizon from the infinity hydrotherapy pool and let your worries sail away with the wind. This restored stone tower is an example of defensive architecture and during times of conflict, it served to control and repel hostile attacks. Lucky for you, we’re in a time of peace and prosperity so three rooms with views of the Taygetos mountain and the sea are at your disposal. Due to its historical value, the tower had to be preserved so the walls are bare and the furnishings are minimal, but the host jazzed up the place with works of art created by sculptor Nikos Karalis. If you’re traveling with offspring, book the master suite in the top level of the tower which has a double bed and a second double in the loft. The Cape may have been home to Hades, the God of the Underworld, but when you try Chef George Samoilis’s delectable Mediterranean-style beef “tataki” and orzo pasta with sweet wine, you’ll feel like you’re dining like Zeus on Mount Olympus.

“This tower is the absolute secluded destination, offering romantic peace and quiet. The views are magnificent and the service spoils you all day long. Everything we tasted exceeded expectations and upscaled the overall experience!”

Slowhop's review: To get to this remote paradise from Kalamata International Airport, rent a car and take the route along the coastline with its winding lanes along picturesque villages. It’s a 2.5-hour drive (125km), but it’s worth it.

(Photos: Tainaron Blue Retreat)

No need to forfeit the romantic holiday of your dreams because you have small children. In the green heart of Italy, there is a medieval village perched on a hill, overlooking the valley, with a church inaugurated by the Pope built around a castle that dates back to the 13th century. In 2019, a family of three arrived among the fields full of yellow lentil plants, red poppy fields, blue lakes, rivers and streams in Umbria. After experiencing travel with a little one firsthand, Albert and Inger decided to create a place where exceptional style meets comfortable functionality. Their toddler daughter Robin approves. They made sure it’s a place where adults can relax but it’s also fun and safe for children. You have a variety of spaces to choose from on the property and you can build a Tetris shape of rooms to fit your needs. From double rooms, family suites to holiday apartments, this number of options is too long to list here, but you can be sure of one thing, the walls are thick so don’t worry that wailing will wake your neighbours. Tire out your tots on the 20 hectares of private land, in the garden around the house or in the outdoor swimming pool. You can help pick the fruits and vegetables for the dishes of the day or just leave it to the kids while you enjoy soaking up the Italian sun on the lounge beds or sipping a drink at the bar.

"Lovely, unique and beautiful new hotel in Umbria. The staff is very kind and helpful and the food is delicious. Our room and beds were great. The owner has created a unique Italian experience like no other in the region. A must stay when you plan to visit Umbria. ”

Slowhop's review: Follow an old Umbrian tradition and go on a truffle hunt with a guide and his dogs. You’ll find black truffles in this region of Italy which is fittingly called the ‘king of the table’ or the ‘black diamond’ in Umbria.

(Photos: Borgo Castello Panicaglia)