These four luxury hotels have a dark (and fascinating) past

The Interlude - worlds first urban wellness retreat in a converted prison

Converting heritage buildings can be an interesting challenge for architects and designers, particularly where the existing blueprint is a prison. From Melbourne to Istanbul, Luxury Travel looks at four hotels that have been repurposed from their former life as prisons

Adina Apartment Hotel Pentridge and The Interlude, Melbourne, Australia

With its imposing bluestone walls and fortress-like architecture, Pentridge in Melbourne is where some of Australia’s most notorious figures such as Ned Kelly and Chopper Read were once imprisoned. After shuttering in 1997, the historic building reopened earlier this year as a contemporary hospitality complex with a 106-room Adina Hotel, several food and beverage establishments, and a 19-room wellness retreat called The Interlude. During the redevelopment of the site, which was originally built in the 1850s, several rare panopticons were unearthed under the old prison exercise yards—. The suites in the Interlude were converted from original cells with vaulted brick ceilings, original doors, and bluestone walls.

Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet, Turkey

This striking Turkish neo-classical structure with pointed arched, ornate tiles, and domed towers was designed by Mimar Kemaleddin Bey in 1918 as the first jailhouse in the Ottoman Empire capital. Forbes reports that humourist Aziz Nesin, poet Nazim Hikmet, and novelists Kemal Tahir and Orhan Kemal, were among the political prisoners at Sultanahmet. In 1994, the conversion of the property into a luxury hotel began, with Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet opening its doors in 1996. Original features were retained, including the central courtyard that was formerly an exercise yard, guard towers, tall windows, and high ceilings. London-based design studio Goddard Littlefair led an extensive renovation of the 65-room hotel in 2022 with references to Old Istanbul used throughout, such as mosaic-lined walls, carved timber inlayed cabinetry.

The Liberty, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Boston, USA

Set in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighbourhood, The Liberty was formerly the infamous Charles Street Jail — a historic city landmark that was built by architect Gridley James Fox Bryant and Rev. Louis Dwight in 1851. Poor living conditions led to the jail’s eventual closure in 1990 and, in 2001, the development of the site into a hotel began. Designers and architects collaborated with historians and conservations from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Boston Landmarks Commission, the National Parks Service, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority to preserve elements of the original structure, such as the jail’s 90-foot-high central atrium and granite exterior. The 298-key hotel opened in 2007 and received a renovation by acclaimed interior designer Bill Rooney in 2016.

Hoshinoya, Nara, Japan

In September, Hoshino Resorts announced it will develop its 10th luxury Hoshinoya hotel on the site of the former Nara Prison, within the south-central Honshu district in Japan. Completed in 1908, the former prison building, built in red brick, is said to be a prime example of architecture from the Meiji era. It was designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan in February 2017 for its historical significance and architectural excellence. The renovation of the 6,226m2 building is being undertaken by Azuma Architect & Associates, who are transforming multiple solitary confinement cells to 48 guest rooms. Guard quarters will become shared spaces, while the project will also include a restaurant lounge, and museum that will be open to the public and will share the history of the former prison. The hotel is expected to open in the northern hemisphere Spring, 2026.

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