A defence-themed round-up includes rooms for hire in former forts and citadels everywhere from the West Indies to Portugal, airlines run by the military and the hotels favoured over the years by the world’s most well-travelled guests: war reporters.
Consisting of just four villas perched on a seaside cliff, Secret Bay’s most striking features are the private pool and in-room chef, making it an effort to venture out. But a few minutes from the hotel lies one of the Caribbean’s most significant military sites: the Cabrits garrison, which passed from British to French control and back again in the 18th century. Perched on a peninsula, the barracks were abandoned in 1854.
The Dominican Government has now restored the garrison (a national park since 1986) and its main defence post, Fort Shirley. It’s a fitting neighbour for Secret Bay, a resort built by native Gregor Nassief and his Venezuelan wife. Each of the villas and bungalows – designed by Venezuelan architect Fruto Vivas – are appointed with locally crafted furniture. The hotel has even set up a community development fund for the nearest village.
The 86-room Hotel Fort Canning is built on one of Singapore’s most important historical sites. Locals believe that the grounds, traditionally known as Bukit Larangan – “Forbidden Hill” – was the site of their ancestral king’s palaces. The lobby, built above archaeological digs, has a glass floor that lets visitors admire the 14th and 19th-century artifacts unearthed by the hotel’s resident archaeologist. The area has also been home to Sir Stamford Raffles: the British statesman and founder of modern-day Singapore built his residence here in 1819.
Winner of a prestigious urban redevelopment award in 2011, Fort Canning has suites overlooking the city skyline, decorated with Poltrona Frau furniture. But the best view is from the pool, where swimmers and sun-seekers are surrounded by the thick vegetation of Fort Canning park.
Today’s guests at Scribe (pictured top and above) stroll through refurbished, ample rooms, far from the days when journalists crammed every free space with typewriters, telegraphs and radio equipment. It was the Second World War, when the Scribe was the Paris base for all Allied correspondents), so busy that veteran NBC journalist John MacVane estimated that up to 250,000 words left the building every day.
“Every war has its hotel and the Lebanese war had the Commodore,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. The haunt of foreign journalists who covered the Israeli invasion and Lebanon’s civil war, it was also home to Coco the parrot who mimicked the sound of incoming artillery – until someone shot him. The Commodore celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008 with a facelift. Sadly, the News Bar is now simply The Lounge.
Famous British war cameraman Peter Juvenal opened the Gandamack Lodge after the Taliban fell in 2001. At the time it was one of the only places in Kabul where correspondents could get together over a stiff drink and trade notes on the war. These days, Gandamack is more popular with the crowd of well-paid private contractors and aid workers in the city.
Tension might be stirring again between Argentina and the UK, but that hasn’t stopped the UK Royal Air Force from operating three flights a fortnight to the Falkland Islands. Finding an empty seat is not as easy as buying any plane ticket; these flights are not commercial. And don’t get upset if you arrive at the RAF Brize Norton base in Oxfordshire (from where the flights leave) and your flight is delayed; the control tower is known for changing the schedule at short notice.
Bolivia’s TAM (Transporte Aereo Militar) is a well-drilled unit. No surprise given that the airline – not to be confused with the Brazilian carrier – was established by the country’s Air Force in 1945 as a civilian service. “TAM is a non-profit carrier,” the company’s Lieutenant Colonel Marco Antonio Rocha Venegas, one of 600 employees, says. “It connects remote parts of the country with its commercial, cultural and social hubs, encouraging progress and integration in the whole of the country.”
The armed forces have played a strong civilian role in Bolivia since the return to democracy in 1982. As well as TAM, the military has its own hotel in La Paz, the 14-room Hotel Aeronáutico (opened in 2007) that offers rock-bottom prices for soldiers and tourists.
Although run by the armed forces, 70 per cent of TAM’s workforce is civilian, and the airline has a fleet of 11 planes. The non-profit model means it can offer fares at lower prices than private carriers in what remains the poorest nation in South America. However, from October TAM will be regulated by the airline industry and will have to level out its prices. Its unique status as a military unit means that it cannot operate international routes either, though it does fly to over 20 national destinations.
In October 2011, the US ended its military presence in Iraq. However, it left behind diplomats, government personnel, support staff and private contractors who need to get around. The State Department responded to the ill-equipped Iraqi carriers by creating its own airline: Embassy Air Iraq runs flights to Baghdad from other Middle East capitals and also on domestic routes.
The diplomat-administered airline is airborne, though a State Department report to Congress in June said it struggles on competitive routes. A round-trip between Amman and Baghdad costs €1,985, for example – more than three times what other commercial carriers charge.
Galle, a walled fort town on Sri Lanka’s west coast, 120km south of Colombo, is home to the Amangalla hotel. Built in 1684, it began its life as the Dutch Military Headquarters, but for the past 149 years has been a hotel. Aman Resorts acquired it, before reopening it in December 2004.
Then came the Boxing Day tsunami; however, thanks to the surrounding fort’s wall, the hotel resisted and became the aid and communication centre for the region. Today it is back to doing what it does best: guiding visitors to the hydrotherapy pools in the spa or to the garden pavilion, where daily yoga and meditation classes take place.
With its splendid shoreline and easy access from Lisbon, Cascais is one of Portugal’s best-known beach towns. But long before it lured surfers, its forts and lighthouses protected the Portuguese crown from invaders. King Philip the First’s 16th-century citadel became part of the president’s office after Portugal became a republic. Now it is a 126-room hotel: the Pousada de Cascais.
Designed by Portugal-based architects Gonçalo Byrne and David Sinclair, it melds the citadel’s historic core with a clutch of new-builds. For the soundest of sleeps, many rooms are within the citadel’s original barracks, vaults and arches.