New hotels are constantly opening somewhere in the world, one after the other. As chic as they are, the interior decor often seems off the shelf, as if the buyers are all buying from the same wholesalers with volume discounts - or bought cheaply ragged antiques at estate auctions.
Even worse, but very popular: old-fashioned veneer furniture in the rooms, which, painted with lime paint for an antique finish, is now considered cool vintage in boutique hotels. In hotel chains, accessories, colors and furnishings are deliberately similar so that hotel guests know exactly what to expect when they are out and about. This is reminiscent of franchise editions of various burger shops and roadhouses. They all look the same and are quickly forgotten.
And then, at the other end of the scale, there are incredibly durable and antique hotels that have become attractions in their own right over the centuries. Now you might think they only offer ancient lavender, are inhabited by woodworms, ghosts and cobwebs.
The opposite is the case if you leave out possible cellar vaults. They are often family-run houses, where each generation has tinkered, renewed, renovated and brought in the ideas of their time. These inns have grown like ancient rose bushes and vines.
But where are the inns that have been frequented by travelers for centuries? In Japan for example. The "Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan" with its own hot springs near Mount Fuji has existed for an incredible 1300 years. It was opened in 705 AD.
It is considered the oldest continuously operating hotel in the world, confirmed by the "Guinness Book of Records". What makes it so special is that it has been run by a whopping 52 generations of one family, a remarkable family tree.
That's quite an achievement. The guest house was opened by the emperor's aide Fujiwara Mahito, who expanded the hot springs into rock pools. In fact, the hotel's hot water comes directly from the Hakuho Springs at the foot of the Akaishi Mountains.
Back then, samurai warriors splashed about in the rock pools, today it's vacationers. The recently renovated luxury hotel focuses on traditional accents. With tatami mats as flooring, with sliding doors covered with paper, with futons, with antiques, from which one could assume the scars in the wood came from samurai swords.
This house shows that ancient does not necessarily mean old-fashioned. It still goes with the times. Tradition has its price: an overnight stay costs from the equivalent of 360 euros (keiunkan.co.jp/en).
In contrast, the houses, which are among the oldest hotels in Europe, look like youngsters: for example the Elizabethan "Olde Bell Hotel" with 45 rooms in the southern English town of Hurley.
It was opened almost 900 years ago, in 1135. First as a guest house for the nearby Benedictine monastery; there is even said to be a secret monks' tunnel leading there. The hotel claims to be the oldest in England (theoldebell.co.uk).
Incidentally, the oldest inn in the Black Forest is in this country: the "Zum Roten Bären" in the middle of Freiburg, probably from the year 1120. There are sources that mention the first innkeeper, Johan der Bienger, in 1311.
A good 50 innkeepers who are known by name follow. One of them painted the slogan "Suffet Wi Bigott" (Drink wine with God) on the wall of the room. An original decor that cannot be bought later (roter-baeren.de).
The “Gasthof Gastagwirt” in Austria in the Salzburg region is also very old. More than 600 years ago, in 1380, the inn was given the "irrevocable, indispensable and forever inheritable right to sell" with letter and seal. And: since 1516 still a real family business, which according to the hotelier "is passed on exclusively through marriage". That seems pretty outdated (gastagwirt.at).