Continental Hotels In The Nineteenth Century

While it would not be practical to attempt to mention all Continental hotels, outside of those in Switzerland, which may be regarded as historic, a few of the hostelries which have some sort of historic atmosphere may be considered in this chapter. Although it has been asserted that the Swiss hotelkeeper of the nineteenth century invented the resort hotel in Europe, that statement, of course, is true only in a broad and general sense. Nevertheless the Swiss hotelkeeper was among the first who did not wait for the ordinary wayfarer, but, having built his house amid nature’s finest backgrounds, let the world know that Switzerland was a land for the vacationist, and then every kind of modern transportation that had been invented was introduced, and where it had not been invented it was devised and installed. Naturally, it first attracted the royal and noble families of Europe, and, of course, the American tourist was not many years behind them.

Many of the Continental hotels mentioned here are very modern establishments, having been modernized within the last quarter-century or so, and are very much within the class of the latest hostelries. Nevertheless they are described here under the nineteenth century because that is the period in which their stories really begin, although some of them are structures which date even earlier than the preceding century.

At Dives-Sur-Mer, France, the Hostellerie Guillaume le Conquerant, of which mention was made in an earlier chapter, is one of the type which, while undoubtedly ancient, has so firm a connection with the nineteenth century that it may be mentioned here a little more fully. In a letter from the present proprietor, M. L. Remoir, he states that the inn has been in his family since the end of the sixteenth century, and that he was born there: He also adds that an old charter of the times shows the property to have been in existence when William the Conqueror left for his conquest of England, in the year 1066. His grandfather was postmaster there when his inn was a posting house on the great post road from Brittany to Rouen. There is a tradition that when William the Conqueror re-turned to Normandy, after his conquest of England, he gave to the Monk Lanfranc, first Abbe of the Abbey, the revenues on the saltpits adjacent and on the property of the manor. These revenues continued until stopped by the French Revolution, at the end of the eighteenth century. It appears that the present structure dates from the fifteenth century, the original building having been destroyed by fire during the Hundred Years’ War.

Some very distinguished personages are said to have stopped at the old inn. During the seventeenth century Henri IV, Marie de Medici, Louis XIII and Madame de Sevigne, who was at the inn in 1626, alone make a respect-able showing for one posting house; but the great letter writer had as her companions other great personages—the Princess de Chaume and the Marquise de Kerman.

Alexandre Dumas, pere, was a guest at the old inn, for, in recounting its list of distinguished patrons, the proprietor leaps from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Then we look further down the list and here we find Alphonse Karr, a name known in this country to the few, but in the France of Louis Philippe, and of the Second Republic and Second Empire, he was an admired writer.

The name of Puvis de Chavannes, the mural decorator; Robert Planquette, musical composer of popular opera comiques, such as “The Chimes of Normandy,” as the work is known on the English-speaking stage; F. Hopkinson Smith, who painted a picture of the quaint old place and delighted its proprietor by exhibiting it at one of the International Expositions here, and wrote a little work about it, “The Arm Chair at the Inn.”

There have been omelettes that have become historic: wonderfully delicious morsels that have inspired books certainly, and possibly poems. Who has not heard of “The Cure’s Omelette,” so charmingly introduced in Brillat Savarin’s classic, “Physiologie du Gout,” to abbreviate its title? Also more or less recalled is the famed “Omelette a la puree de pintade,” invented (for that is the word) by the Capuchin Chabot. The Cure’s Omelette had a wonderful filling of hashed carps’ roe, tunny and minced shallot, while the Capuchin’s was transformed into a masterpiece by a purée of guinea fowl. These belong to the past, but the Omelette of Madame Poulard is still served to those valiant tourists, or pilgrims, that in the summer time invade one of the most picturesque spots in Europe, Mont-Saint-Michel.

This omelette, which made Madame Poulard noted, although introduced only some fifty years ago, already has found its way into books. Madame was so attractive, so cheerful, and so skillful with her omelette casserole over the great open Louis XV fireplace that the guests gathered in the great grill to see the ceremonial of making la Fameuse Omelette.

The Hotel Poulard, which is the home of the renowned omelet, occupies an ancient building, but how long it has been an inn is a question, but there is none about the date from which its fame began. It was on February 1, 1873, that Madame Poulard commenced to exploit her hotel and succeeded, by her delicious omelet, as well as by her amiability. Mont-Saint-Michel was known from the eighth century, when the first chapel to the warrior saint was erected, but it did not become a Mecca for tourists until Madame Poulard inspired the visit by spreading the fame of her kitchen masterpiece.

Madame sold her house in 1907, but her “Livre d’Or,” as she calls her hotel register, contains many names of famous men and women who have visited her hotel, and the majority of Americans who go to France to tour that charming country manage to reach Mont-Saint-Michel to visit its ancient abbey and to enjoy the omelet of the Hotel Poulard. When Madame Poulard, now retired, was asked for her treasured Register by the present proprietor she also produced several interesting photographs of herself and her house made when she was active.

The name of Her Majesty, Ranavallo, deposed Queen of Madagascar, appears on the register, and on its pages will be found the names of Queen Marie, of Rumania; Princess Marie, of Greece; Lady Patricia Ramsay; Beatrice, Infante of Spain; King Ferdinand, of Rumania; Queen Olga of Greece; the Maharajah of Kapurthala; Aristide Briand; Maurice Rostand; Generals Nivelle, de Betancourt, and Petain; also Adolphe Thiers, Georges Clemenceau, to mention only a few.

The sign of the Grand Cerf (stag) evidently was as widely popular in France as the different colored Lions were in England during the centuries when inns dotted the old post roads. While it may be assumed that each of them is in some manner historic, the Hotel du Grand Cerf, at Les Andelys, in the district of the Eure, probably is entitled to first mention. It is located in the country of Nicholas Poussin, one of the great French painters of the seventeenth century, and its walls are said to have been built in the thirteenth century. Poussin is said to have been a visitor there, and Antoine de Bourbon, father of Henri IV, of France, breathed his last there in a room on the first floor which is still shown to the curious. This event occurred in 1552, when Antoine retired to the inn after having been wounded at the seige of Rouen.

Architecturally this Grand Cerf is interesting, especially to one to whom minutely carved and age-blackened beams make an appeal. There is a characteristic heavy cornice and a carved Renaissance stone fire-place. These features must have made an impression on Eugene Violett-le-Duc when he stopped there, for the great French architect was the author of a Dictionary of French Architecture from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. The old hotel also has housed as guests Sir Walter Scott, Victor Hugo, and Chateaubriand among writers, and Horace Vernet and Rosa Bonheur, among painters.

Forty kilometres distant from Les Andelys lies, in the same district, the town of Evreux, on the Iton River, one of the tributaries of the Seine. There is to be found the Hostellerie du Grand Cerf, which is more modest in its claims to antiquity, for the sign informs one that it was established in 1735. There is still another Grand Cerf that has some claims to inclusion here. This house is in Cosne, on the Loire, in the District of Nievre. When the Pennells were making their “Sentimental Journey” in 1888, they stopped there over night, and if one really wants to know how they were impressed, we can do no better than to refer to their delightful volume, the result of this following in the footsteps of Sterne.

Like Switzerland, Italy is a land of hotels, not merely hostels for the weary wayfarer, but for those who are still making “The Grand Tour,” just as they started to do in the eighteenth century. Fortunately for twentieth century tourists, both transportation and hotels have been wonderfully improved, and comfort and convenience can be obtained by merely putting the hand into the ready purse of the modern Fortunatus.

Not only is it not difficult to discover an historic hotel in Italy, but the traveller will find it exceedingly unlikely that he will overlook one. The palaces of the mighty merchant and other princes of a few centuries back, with all their tradition of grandeur, all their picturesque location and all their great past have, in many instances, been transformed into delightful hotels; and a palace is none the less a home for the traveller because once it housed a powerful prince who also called it “home.” Naturally the only difficulty in a case such as this is to be able to make a selection of those to be mentioned in a, work of this kind. With so large a number possible many, of necessity, must be omitted.

To many persons who travel in Europe Italy means either Venice or Rome. Of course, there are other cities which the traveller should not, and most likely will not, neglect. Venice, owing to its unique position and the delight of its architecture, has been aptly called “The Queen of the Adriatic.” It has a charm and a tradition of which no other city anywhere can rob it or effectively supplant it in the imagination. Venetian hotels early were famous, and their value was so well recognized by the Government that as far back as the thirteenth century it was the duty of the police to see that clean beds and all necessary comforts were provided for travellers. In those days, like the inns in other parts of Europe, the Venetian hotels had their signs. There were to be found there in the fourteenth century The White Lion, The Wild Savage, and The Moon, depicted upon various inn signs. To-day, however, with the great hostelries occupying palaces that once were the homes of Doges, more dignified names have been found for them.

The Hotel Royal Danieli is one of these ancient palaces of families of the Doges which has been transformed into a hotel. It had in the past received so many eminent guests privately entertained by the Dandolo family that such a transformation was not a very violent effort. This palace of the Dandolo family was built in the fourteenth century, a period when Venice’s famous builders and architects were probably doing their most glorious work. It is more or less contemporary with the façade of the famed Ducal Palace. The Dandolo family at that time had already been famous for nearly two centuries. They gave Doges and great admirals to the ancient Republic, one of the Dandolos, Enrico, who probably was the greatest in his line, was one of the first to humble the great Barbarrosa, which Emperor was compelled by the Venetian to come to Venice and make his peace with Pope Alexander III, whom he had driven from Rome, and who was living in exile in the former city.

In the year 1498 the Prince of Molfetta, with his suite of forty-four followers, arrived in Venice and the party were entertained by the Dandolo, the first persons of importance to be guests in the building which is now the Hotel Royal Daniell. Later in the same year there came to stay at the same palace the Florentine Ambassadors, Rucellai and Vespucci, who must have been pleased with their quarters because they arrived on August 24 and departed on May 28 of the following year, when the French Ambassadors arrived and occupied part of the Dandolo Palace. The Prince of Bisignano arrived in 1520, accompanied by many Senators, the party being escorted by torch-bearers, as they came at night.

As the younger members of the Dandolo family married parts of the Palace were apportioned to them, while parts of the property passed by purchase to the Gritti family. The part thus passed had been for years the residence of the French Ambassadors to the Republic. The Palace has been described also under the names of Gritti, Mocenigo, and Bernardo, owing to the wealthy families of those names who have at one time or another occupied parts of it. It was in the possession of the two families last named in 1797, when the Republic fell.

In 1822 the Palace first became a public hotel. In that year Joseph dal Niel, who was called Danieli, opened it as a hotel de luxe, and two years later purchased the second floor from the widow of Alvise Bernardo. It is said that several of the most important acts of the Venetian Republic were discussed and decided upon in the Palace. Since it has been a hotel it has frequently been host to great writers, artists and other persons of note. George Sand while residing there wrote her novel, “Leone Leoni”; Victor Feuillett stopped there while collecting his Venetian impressions, which he used in his novel “L’honnetete”; Balzac was. a guest and so was Alfred de Musset, who was then a very young and impressionable man.

Across the Grand Canal from the beautiful church of Santa Maria della Salute, in Venice, are three ancient Palazzos, or palaces, which once were the residences of the Ferro, Fini and Pisani families. All of them are tall buildings for Venice, and they were built about the sixteenth or late fifteenth century. These have been connected as they stand side-by-side, and now form The Grand Hotel. It has had a great many distinguished guests, but cannot point to so crowded a history as the Royal Hotel Danieli, which is under the same direction.

The Palazzo Ferro and the Palazzo Fini are the most ancient units of the hotel, and they were erected about the same time as the Church of the Salute, across the canal. The Palazzo Fini was erected by an immensely wealthy family who, at their own expense, built the Church of San Moise.

To the European tourist who “does” Europe extensively it might seem that Byron must have inhabited a great many hotels, for there are numerous hostelries which use the English poet’s name for their own and whose proprietors will explain that that wonderful if peculiar genius stopped at his house in such and such a year.

Therefore, one is not astonished to run across the Byron Palace Hotel in Ravenna, Italy. When Byron lived there in 1819 the picturesque building was known as the Palazzo Rasponi. Henry James went to Ravenna in 1873, and at that time he was not favorably impressed with the Byronic house, any more than he was with the Dante tomb. “If Dante’s tomb is not Dantesque,” he wrote, “so neither is Byron’s house Byronic, being a homely, shabby, two-storied dwelling, directly on the street, with as little as possible of isolation and mystery. In Byron’s time it was an inn, and it is rather a curious reflection that `Cain’ and the `Vision of Judgment’ should have been written at an hotel. The fact supplies a commanding precedent for self-abstraction to tourists at once sentimental and literary. I must declare, indeed, that my acquaintance with Ravenna considerably increased my esteem for Byron and helped to renew my faith in the sincerity of his inspiration.”

Oscar Wilde visited Ravenna four years after Henry James, and one of the results of that Italian journey was his poem “Ravenna,” which won for its author the Newdigate Prize at Oxford the following year, 1878. He, too, found Byron’s one-time home somewhat neglected, for he writes :

“How lone this palace is; how grey the walls! No minstrel now wakes echoes in these halls. The broken chain lies rusting on the door,

And noisome weeds have split the marble floor: Here lurks the snake, and here the lizards run By the stone lions blinking in the sun. Byton dwelt here in love and revelry

For two long years—a second Anthony!”

No one seems to know the origin of the beautiful Villa Serbelloni, one of the features of the tiny Bellagio peninsula which juts into Lake Como, but in the next breath the inquirer will be assured that its history is a very old one. For instance, it is known that Caius Cecilius Plinius erected his luxurious Villa Tragoedia on the promontory, and that Kings and Princes in olden times were pleased to linger here in that efficient idleness which was relaxation reduced to one of the fine arts. On this beautiful spot there were royal palaces in the dim past. Here Theodoric, the famed leader of the Goths, had a residence, and here also the Emperor Maximilian of Austria made a long stay. The Gauls had made a stronghold of it and when the Romans came into possession they established there a nautical school. It was a feudal land of the Castelli in the thirteenth century. The Lombards strengthened the ancient fortifications, but these were dismantled by one of the Italian princes in the fourteenth century and afterwards their ruin completed by order of the Duke of Milan, in the year 1375. There is no need to go on with the long history of the region of the Como pirates, or of the naval engagement on the lake in 1531, when Duke Sforza of Milan had his forces completely routed.

The Villa Serbelloni is the chief feature of Bellagio, and no one knows when its oldest parts were built. In 1538 the Villa came under the feudal tenure of the Duke of Monte Marciano, whose right to erect fortifications caused a long dispute with the town of Como; but in 1620 Philip, King of Spain, who also was Duke of Milan, decided in the Duke’s favor. This Duke of Monte Marciano, known as Ercole I, who was a noble soldier, beautified the castle of Bellagio and built the monastery of Immaculate Mary in the vicinity. At the death of Colonel Sfondrati in 1787 all the domains of the family on Lake Como and elsewhere passed by heredity to Count Serbelloni.

Alessandro Serbelloni spent large sums of money beautifying his estate, and constructing roads and paths over the promontory. Costly plants and flowers were brought from distant parts and transplanted, making his Villa property one of the most beautiful in Italy. Like many another Italian palace, this Villa changed in status to a hotel in the nineteenth century, and its gardens are among the unforgettable sights of Lake Como.

Lake Constance, on the borders of Germany and Switzer-land, is probably better known in these late years from having been the scene of the building and sailing of Count Zeppelin’s dirigibles. But on an island in front of the ancient town of Constance on the Untersee, where the lake unites with the great river Rhine, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the inventor of the dirigible balloon, was born. If you look on a map you will find Constance seems to be located in Switzerland, but really lies in Prussia.

To-day the principal building on the Island is the Insel Hotel; that is, in English, Island Hotel. As a hotel it dates only from the year 1875, but as a building it goes back to the year 1235. In the latter year a Dominican monastery was founded there by Bishop Heinrich I. von Tann, who erected the cloistered buildings which have now served as a part of the Insel Hotel for more than half a century.

In 1874 Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin and Count Eberhard von Zeppelin organized the Insel Hotel Stock Company, which took over the old monastery buildings. The community had been dissolved in 1785, after which the then Emperor of Austria, Joseph, presented the Island to Sieur Louis Macaire de Lor, of Geneva. After the buildings had been renovated and altered for their new career, the hotel was opened and among the guests in its early years was the Kaiser Frederick III, who gave it probably the highest testimonial any hotel ever received. When a hotel-keeper has an Emperor state, for publication “of all the hotels I have visited I like the Insel Hotel best,” he is justified in printing the testimonial on his folders.

The ancient cloisters have been covered with frescos representing the history of the Island. These were painted by Professor Carl Haeberlin between the years 1885 and 1895. The old Dominican church has been transformed into a banquet hall, and traces of the fourteenth century frescos painted by the Friars are still visible. They represent scenes from the lives of the Christian Martyrs. What was the Refectory in the old monastery has become an attractive reading room, whose walls are decorated with reproductions of Manesse’s manuscript song. The present proprietor, Matthys Brunner, purchased the Island in 1907.

Innsbrück in the Austrian Tyrol has a beautiful skyline of the snow-covered peaks of the Rhatin Alps behind it, and in its most favored location is the historic Hotel Tyrol. It is a nineteenth century hotel inasmuch as that cycle saw its beginning, its decline and its resurrection into the modern class of European hostelries.

It is the largest hotel in the city of Innsbruck and is not exceeded in size by any other in the Tyrol. It was not always either, but in 1878 Carl Landsee, whose name is known in the Tyrol and in Austria, generally as a pioneer and initiator in foreign travel, took over the house. New wings were added to the old building between the years 1902 and 1904. He died in 1924, when the hotel was taken over by his three children. A few months before his death the corporation of Innsbruck honored him by presenting him with the Freedom of the town.

During the last quarter-century the Hotel Tyrol has entertained many eminent guests. The Archduchess Maria Therese of Austria was there in 1909; the Archduchess Maria Josepha and the Archduke Max, in 1911; Prince von Bülow and Princess Marie von Bulow, in 1925; Prince Mohamed Abi Pascha, in 1913; Prince von Metternich, in 1916; Archduke Friederich, in 1912; Archduchess Marie Valerie, in 1916; and the Indian poet, Rabinath Tagore, in 1926.

The Hotel de Prusse, in Leipsic, has the distinction of having had the Emperor Napoleon as a guest on the fateful night of October 19, 1813, after the Battle of Leipsic had been fought and lost by the Man of Destiny. Accompanying him was Murat, King of Naples. Later the same hotel entertained the Emperor Alexander I of Russia, and Frederick William III, King of Prussia, both of whom had been opponents of Napoleon and witnessed his defeat, which was the beginning of the end for the Emperor of the French.

Among other great personages who stopped at the Hotel de Prusse were Schiller, Goethe, Lessing, Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, Hans von Bülow, and Madame Ristori, the famed Italian tragic actress.