Dark tourism is hot for Halloween. And we’re not talking about visiting Finland during winter when there is little to no daylight. We’re talking about places with gruesome histories. Towns that have endured the tragic and twisted. Houses that have set the scene for the sickening and shocking. Places that are, for all intents and purposes, cursed to their very core. As we hurtle headfirst towards 31 October, we unearth five of the best places for dark tourism in the world, all with a luxury twist. Here’s to putting the haute in horror, SUITCASE style.
There’s nothing more autumnal than the crisp and the crunch of leaves underfoot in Salem, the New England town as famous for its colourful display at fall as it is the witch trials that occurred between 1692 and 1693. With 200 people accused of practising witchcraft and 20 executed after being convicted, its horrible history sets the scene for a sinister time come All Hallow’s Eve. Check into beautiful boutique hotel The Merchant, housed in a 200-year-old historic building and launched to coincide with Halloween last year. Each well-appointed room comes bedecked in stylish fabrics, modern furnishings and eclectic accents, but it is the George Washington suite – named after the namesake president, a former guest of the building – that provides the best bragging rights. After a luxurious night’s slumber, take a five-minute stroll in the crisp Massachusetts air to Salem Harbour, The House of the Seven Gables (the oldest 17th-century wooden mansion in the state) and The Salem Witch Museum for small-town thrills and spills. Then settle your nerves with a ‘Rosemary’s baby’ (bourbon, black pepper vodka, St Elder liqueur, grapefruit, maple-rosemary syrup) or ‘separate immortality’ (spiced rum, spiced pear liqueur, cinnamon syrup, Angostura Bitters, prosecco, soda) cocktail at recently-opened hotspot Opus whose upstairs cocktail bar is hip and happening any night of the week. Welcome to the witching hour.
There’s nothing quite as dark as the depths of horror writer Stephen King’s imagination. Except, perhaps, the source of one of his most famous novels: The Stanley Hotel in Colorado. As the inspiration for The Shining, the 104-room stay – renamed the Overlook Hotel in the book – is largely considered an evil entity haunted by ghostly apparitions (once such one captured at the top of the staircase in old-fashioned dress by a guest just this year). With the fictional hedge maze used as the book’s climax by King finally built for real last year and plans well underway to open a 43,000-square-foot horror-themed museum on-site, the time to experience the terror is now. If you’re brave enough, plump for room 217, where the author himself and his wife Tabitha stayed in September 1974. It is here he had the nightmare that formed the foundations of his bestselling story. This year, the hotel is hosting its annual Halloween Masquerade Party on 29 October complete with live music, creepy cocktails and dancing on graves. Otherwise, the wood-panelled whisky bar is a cosy place to curl up in on any given evening, a warming bourbon or scotch clasped firmly in-hand. Who knew the ghostly could be quite so glamorous?
Got a bone to pick? You will do at Capela dos Ossos – ‘the chapel of bones’ – in the town of Évora, Portugal. Keen to save space in the 16th century, ever-resourceful monks moved the remains of no less than 5,000 corpses to the chapel, its interior still bedecked with their dusty old bones. If you look closely, you’ll even spot an adult and a child still hanging from the nooses that killed them. Nice. But where there’s darkness, there’s decadence just around the corner. Found in a converted 15th century convent is Convento do Espinheiro, just five kilometres down the road from the chapel. With awe-inspiring arches and charming cloisters still intact, it’s an authentic hotel that combines old-world charm with contemporary amenities. Many of its rooms overlook the rolling Portuguese countryside while its world-class spa and first-rate treatments will soothe and relax after a spine-tingling morning.
The Ring is just one reason to be terrified of Japan. Another is the Aokigahara Forest – otherwise known as ‘suicide forest’ – a weird and dense woodland found at the base of Mount Fuji. As it’s so easy to get lost in, it’s become a hugely popular place to top one’s self, thousands said to have committed suicide between its tall and twisted trees over the years. With long branches that black out the daylight overhead, hanging is one of the most popular methods used. But suicide is just the start for this sinister neck of the woods. The forest is also rumoured to be a popular location for ‘ubasute’, a brutal form of euthanasia that involved leaving the old to die in the wilderness when there were too many mouths to feed in a family. English-speaking guided tours can be arranged for those who dare and it’s just two hours from Tokyo for a day trip. Pre-stroll in the forest, live the high life at the recently-opened Prince Gallery Tokyo Kiochio, the second Japanese hotel in Starwood’s Luxury Collection. With views of the high-octane city and the distant shape of Mount Fuji, you’ll be able to psyche yourself up for the paranormal paranoia that lay ahead, while the nature-inspired décor also nods to what is to come.
The past can be painful when it comprises broken relationships let alone broken bones. So spare a thought for the poor folk immortalised in Amsterdam’s very own Torture Museum. There are over 40 instruments of torture to be discovered inside, from the inquisition chair to the good old-fashioned guillotine, while graphic illustrations depict just how each and every one was used during medieval times. The skull cracker, we imagine, does what it says on the tin; the rack has ways of making you talk by dislocating limbs from hand to foot; and the saw is a slow and painful way of cutting you clean in half. After a whirl around the museum, console yourself by holing up at The Dylan, a slick stay set around an 18th century courtyard. Within easy reach of the museum and right on the canal, it couldn’t be better placed to dip into a little light torture before dinner. And what a dinner it will be! Five stars gets you seriously fine food: the Michelin-starred Vinkeles offers fabulous French fare with a modern twist in seriously smart surroundings. Sure to take your mind off the agony of the garrotte – come with a strong stomach.
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