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Re-imagined Lockups Offer Couples Their Own Private Alcatraz

By: Terry Gardner

If you’re a prisoner of love, you and your Valentine may want to sentence yourselves to a getaway at a prison hotel – more than once a year. Here’s a look at six hotels and hostels that have been transformed from lock-ups into love-ins.

Liberty Hotel, Boston

A Champagne check-in, spectacular views of the Charles River and a concierge that lends handcuffs inspire surrender at the Liberty Hotel.

As the Charles Street Jail from 1851 to 1990, the building grew infamous for its squalor. Now it’s gaining fame for its sense of humor and beautiful preservation of historic jail catwalks and cells.

The Liberty Hotel opened in September 2007 with 18 luxury rooms in the historic structure, 280 rooms in a new tower, the Alibi Bar (in the former drunk tank) and two restaurants: Clink and Lydia Shire’s Scampo (“escape” in Italian).

For romance: The Liberty’s Guilty Pleasures Romance Package with chocolate-dipped strawberries, an intimacy kit, etc., is popular year-round. Packages start at $415.

Malmaison Oxford Hotel, Oxford, England

Malmaison Oxford, about 60 miles from central London, encourages guests to bring their own handcuffs. This former prison blends comfy beds, power showers and mood lighting with wrought-iron-work stairs and 3-inch-thick steel doors. There are 40 cell rooms (each created from three cells: two for the room, one for the bath) and 54 rooms that were never cells.

For romance: Love Suite Love package starts about $479 (or 295 GBP) a night and includes a suite, Champagne, chocolate-dipped strawberries, aromatic oils and candles and breakfast.

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet

This 65-room hotel, built in 1918, was reborn as the Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahment in 1996. The Turkish prison’s original wooden doors and its courtyard watchtowers (now housing elevators) were preserved along with other architectural features.

For romance: Choose a bed-and-breakfast package, which starts at about $488 (or 370 Euros) a night.

Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, Finland

The confining bars have been removed from the Hotel Katajanokka, which opened as a Best Western in May 2007, but the outer red brick walls and central hallway of the former Helsinki County Jail remain. Each of the 106 rooms (including three junior suites) was created from two or three prison cells.

From 1837 to 2002, the jail housed inmates awaiting trial. For romance, the hotel recommends a stay in November or December when you can cuddle through the long, dark night, or go in July or August for a day that won’t end. Katajanokka’s best romance package includes a glass of champagne or sparkling wine and breakfast for $191 (or 145 Euros) a night for a premier double room.

Jailhotel Lucerne, Lucerne, Switzerland

For a hip take on hotel incarceration, youthful travelers check into the Jailhotel Lucerne.   Built in 1862, the building functioned as a prison until 1998.  The Jailhotel and Alcatraz Bar opened in 1999.  Its Falling Waters Suite was once the Visitor’s room, the Director’s suite was the warden’s office; and the old prison library is now the Library Suite.  The “Most Wanted” rooms are backpacker type lodging while “Unplugged” puts you inside an original renovated cell (with your own private shower next door).

Katja Prudente of the Jailhotel recommends visiting from June to August for warm summer weather or December to February if you enjoy snow.

As with most hotels, nightly rates vary but are generally lower in winter than summer.

Nightly rates vary by season. The Library and Director Suites cost about $241 (220 CHF) in summer and $175 (160 CHF) in winter.  An Unplugged Twin Cell costs far less than the Falling Waters Suite.  All lodging includes a continental breakfast.


Hostel Celica, Ljubljana, Slovenia

A stay at Hostel Celica might make a guest more fully appreciate freedom. The building was a military prison from 1882 until 1991 when Slovenia gained its independence from Yugoslavia.  The former military barracks were transformed into a cultural center, and 80 artists helped transform 20 prison cells into a youth hostel, which opened in July 2003.

The ground floor of Hostel Celica includes an art gallery, a restaurant and a bar along with a handicap accessible room. The 20 renovated cells highlight the nationality or cultural influences of their author/artist, so cells may be French/German, Slovene/American, Irish, etc.  Dorm rooms are located on the second floor that was once the prison’s attic.  Nightly rates for a cell room begin at $32 (24 Euros) per night.

And if staying in a former jail doesn’t set your heart aflutter, perhaps another hotel conversion will. The Back Bay Hotel in Boston offers luxurious digs in a former police station and has a restaurant called “Cuffs.”

See Terry’s Romantic Lockups guide for more information!

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