Hotel makeovers from around the world

As we approach the end of the year, we tend to think about making changes. Think you can’t change? These hotels did. Many of them started as one thing and wound up another. They may inspire you to the point of prayer, drink (water or something harder), a life of crime or even going underground. Here are some that intrigued us. (Note that rates do not include applicable taxes.)

Malmaison Glasgow, Scotland

If neoclassical architecture makes your heart shout “Hallelujah!,” this former Episcopal church may bring you to your knees in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Malmaison converted the 1830s church in the early 1990s. A magnificent iron sculpted staircase descends to the basement, where a brasserie and bar have replaced the crypt. Signature cocktails include the Confession (Long Island Iced Tea) and Entombed (a martini with a secret spiritual twist). Whether or not guests find salvation in the amenities at this 72-room hotel, the Malmaison says that a lot of wrought iron “got saved.”

Info: Internet rates from about $127.

Hotel im Wasserturm, Cologne, Germany

Once Europe’s tallest water tower at 117 feet, this luxury spherical hotel quenched Cologne’s thirst from 1872 to the late 1890s. Since opening in 1990, the 78-room Hotel im Wasserturm has cloistered weary travelers and movie stars (including Catherine Deneuve and Brad Pitt). After restoring the tower’s exterior walls (damaged in World War II), the architects divided the building into 11 floors.

“The form of a tower — it’s a symbol for a kind of refuge, protection and safety that is not confining, but rather gives you a great sense of spaciousness and generosity,” Michael Bach, sales and marketing manager, said in an email. “One step outside and already you are right in the middle of the pulsating life of the city. One step back — and you feel safe in your ‘own’ four walls.’


Info: Rates from $176 a night.

Hotel du Vin Henley-on-Thames, Henley, England

This boutique hotel’s brewery heritage beckons fermentation fans. Henley, about 35 miles west of London, is known for crew races on the River Thames. The Brakspears Brewery’s classical Georgian facade and many beams and pipes were preserved. The fermentation room and old malt house are now three private dining rooms. Room sizes vary, depending on what function once operated there. The Hotel du Vin said in an email that its rooms have “obviously been altered slightly to accommodate the basic amenities such as the bed, bathroom, desk, etc.” Suites have very large windows, and in some two-story double rooms, the bathroom is on a second floor.

Info: Rates from about $200 a night

Back Bay Hotel, Boston

Fans of crime novels, TV shows or movies can book themselves into the 225-room Back Bay Hotel to sleep in the old Boston Police Department headquarters (1925 to ’97). The hotel opened in 2004. Its ground floor lobby and sitting room replaced the police press room and areas where detectives once solved cases. Cuffs, an Irish-themed bar (located in the former drunk tank), and the Stanhope Grille restaurant now operate in the basement where holding cells once stood. (Albert DeSalvo, a.k.a. the Boston Strangler, was processed and held in this basement.) Cuffs features historic black-and-white photos of police officers, chiefs and detectives. Boston Police documents and photos maintained by the department’s archivist are on display in Cuffs, whose signature cocktails refer to police code and include a 10-91B (“Noisy Animal”) and the 10-0 (“Use Caution.”)

Info: Rates from about $190.

Desert Cave Hotel, Coober Pedy, Australia

Technically, only one room of Desert Cave’s 19 underground hotel suites was converted; the rest were burrowed in the 1980s. Underground Room 3 once washometo an opal miner. Managing Director Robert Coro says the hotel “retained the original marks on the sandstone wall. In the old days a miner lived, cooked, slept and stored his gear in one room.”

For travelers partial to windows, 31 of the hotel’s 50 suites were built above ground. Umberto Coro, the founder of this hotel, wanted to show off how dugouts provide natural temperature control. In the summer, when it’s 115 degrees outside (this is the Outback, after all), it’s 78 degrees in the underground rooms. In winter, when the temp drops to 48 degrees, it’s a cozy 60 degrees inside. The hotel, which opened in 1988, also features an underground bar and game room and a shopping arcade. The town of Coober Pedy is known for its opal mines, so the Desert Cave offers guests opportunities to dig for these gems during a stay.

Info: Rates from about $264.