In December, the country is hopping with some 2,500 traditional Christmas markets held every year. Dating back to Medieval times, the markets showcase local cuisine (sausages and mulled wine, anyone?) and booths of artisan’s gifts. Sofitel is offering fantastic rates at Dorint Sofitel Gendarmenmarkt Berlin, Dorint Sofitel Bayerpost Munich and at Dorint Sofitel Quellenhof Aachen with offers up to 40% off rack rates, seven days a week, until December 31st 2005.
From now until February 28, 2006, check out an exclusive exhibit at The Gallery at Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C. Renowned French painter Jean Marc Huss explores themes that span thousands of years; his works of oil on canvas depict Buddha images dating back to the Khmer Empire. How cool. After you check out the exhibition, check into the hotel’s Presidential Suite, voted one of the best in the world by both USA Today and Elite Traveler. After all, the three-bedroom suite is the choice of heads of state when visiting the nation’s capital-- the very height of luxury. Details include: panoramic views from the floor-to-ceiling windows, two balconies, living room with grand piano, chess table and telescope, a kitchenette, exercise area, and a truly spectacular bedroom. Get this: the master bedroom features a TV above a windowed, infinity-edge SOK tub that fills from a ceiling height nozzle. Wow.
Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C., Official Site
Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C., Five Star Alliance
Business meeting in LA? How about taking it poolside at Shutters on the Beach? It’s got one of the most spacious pooldecks of all the luxury hotels in LA, with full restaurant and bar service along with high-speed wireless internet access. (Not to mention the Jacuzzi with spectacular ocean views.) Shutters conjures images of crisp, white linens matched by whitewashed walls-- the sun-filled spaces the epitome of understated elegance. With a recent interior redesign, the spacious rooms are classy, elegant and reminiscent of a private beach cottage. This is beachfront living at its finest, just minutes from all the fine dining, luxury shopping, outdoor adventure and museums on offer in LA’s neighborhoods. Jog along Santa Monica’s 22 mile beachfront trail, then indulge in a custom treatment by Ole Henriksen at the hotel’s ONE spa. At the Getty Center, forget the art; the building itself is an architectural triumph (comprised of blocks of unpolished marble with imbedded fossil specimens), with a killer view to match. Over the weekend, head to the Santa Monica’s Farmers Market before hitting the luxury boutiques on Main Street or Montana Avenue.
Shutters on the Beach, Official Site
Shutters on the Beach, Five Star Alliance
I overheard a conversation in the airport the other day, in the waiting lounge for a South African Airways flight. The subject at hand? The best hotel in Africa. Naturally my ears perked up, and I listened with glee to the descriptions of heavenly suites and excessive pampering at The Palace in Ethiopia. But it’s a mystery! My research has turned up… nada! Have you heard of this mysterious, sumptuous hotel in Addis Ababa? Can anyone point me in the right direction (since—alas—Google has failed me)?
November 14, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
A recent article in The Guardian got me thinking about the hotel rating system—those hotels that strangely surpass five stars. The best-known example worldwide? Why the seven-star, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab takes that prize. Perched on its own island, its tower soaring above the skyline, the hotel is the landmark visible for all of Dubai. What’s so special about a pad here? Personalized butler service, a laptop and private fax in every suite, an underwater seafood restaurant (reached by a simulated three-minute submarine ride), and an 18th floor spa with sweeping views of the Arabian Sea. The price tag starts at $1,000 a night.
With such over-the-top perks at luxury hotels these days (personal iPods and PSPs, and all the good stuff I’ve recently blogged about), it’s no wonder that hotel PR departments are getting creative with their rating systems. After all, there is no global, standardized rating system. Sure, different tourist boards around the world have their own ratings, and Mobil and AAA are widely known, but a universal system? Nope.
That’s pretty bogus if you ask me. What should we do about it?
November 12, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
First Stop: Shop Til You Drop in Jaipur
Known as the “Pink City,” Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, founded by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1727. The rosy color of the city is alluring and magical at sunset, set against the backdrop of desert sky. By decree of the Maharaja, the entire city was painted pink when the Prince of Wales visited in 1876. Today, laws dictate that every building maintain this hue. The walled city of Jaipur was designed with the City Palace at its center, with tiers of public buildings and noblemen’s residences spreading out from it. Main attractions include the Amber Fort—the temple within showcasing the exquisite Sheesh Mahal (hall of Mirrors)—and the Hawa Mahal, the “Palace of Breezes.” This palace’s latticework is like a beehive, the red and pink sandstone intricately carved. The elaborate facade has 953 windows, where the royalty used to glimpse secretly the city life below. The old city boasts some of the best shopping in the world. At the bazaars and markets, visitors find world-renowned jewelry (semi-precious stones, silver, bangles), brilliant fabrics, prints, embroidered textiles, shoes, and rugs.
Where to stay?
Taj Hotels operates the Rambagh Palace, a destination resort that used to be Jaipur’s Royal Palace residence. Spread over 47 acres of gardens, courtyards and fountains, the Rambagh Palace embodies the rich culture and history of the former rulers of Rajasthan. The palace hotel was first built in 1835 as a hunting lodge, converted to a palace in 1925 as the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur and finally converted as India’s first palace hotel in 1957. Pampered by personalized butlers and exemplary service, guests are invited to relive the royal lifestyle within this architectural masterpiece. Rambagh Palace offers 90 opulent rooms including the former chambers of the Maharaja.
The Oberoi Rajvilas is set in an oasis of thirty-two acres of beautiful gardens, pools and fountains, just seven kilometers from the city. Like the surrounding palaces and architectural treasures, the hotel is designed with reflective pools, decorated pillars, cool interiors and tented canopies with hand-embroidered fabrics. The hotel combines the royal elegance of the past with the modern conveniences of the 21st century to provide guests with an indulgent experience. Enjoy the very best of Western, Ayurvedic and Oriental therapies in the fabulous spa.
Taj Rambagh Palace, Official Site
Taj Rambagh Palace, Five Star Alliance
The Oberoi Rajvilas, Official Site
The Oberoi Rajvilas, Five Star Alliance
November 11, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Situated in the heart of Mayfair, surrounded by charming antique stores, boutiques, and public gardens, the Connaught is a hop and a skip from London’s Bond Street stores and all of the best theaters, museums and parks. The 67 rooms and 24 suites boast sitting rooms with open fires and exquisite antiques. But what I’m really lovin’ is 24 hour concierge service and butler service on every floor. (And the Penthouse balcony overlooking the Mayfair rooftops, accessed through French windows from the sitting room.) The restaurant MENU, the mahogany-panelled interior designed by Nina Campbell, offers award-winning cuisine by Angela Hartnett. From now until December 31st, check out this special offer. The Inspirational Interiors Weekend is a brand new weekend promotion for those with a taste for Interior Design. Guests are greeted with a bottle of champagne in their room, along with a Connaught handbook of the chicest places to shop. In addition, guests have the option of a chauffeured car service for two hours (additional fee). The Inspirational Interiors weekend is available any Friday/Saturday/Sunday.
The Connaught, Official Site
The Connaught, Five Star Alliance
November 9, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
I just heard about another controversial development project: the first five-star hotel opened yesterday in war-ravaged Kabul. The Kabul Serena luxury hotel offers 177 guestrooms, ranging in price from $250-$1,200 a night. Afghanistan’s capital is being revitalized by foreign aid and investment (and profits from the opium trade). Yet many argue that money invested in development projects—such as the city’s luxury hotel—should be aimed instead at projects to aid the poor. On the other side of the coin, the hotel is providing jobs for 360 Afghans (20% women) and is helping to promote economic growth and international tourism. The hotel itself—as explained by its developer—helps the national economy by accommodating those foreigners who will have a major impact on developing the economy. What are your thoughts?
After 12 months of renovation, this legendary Geneva landmark has reopened as the first and only Four Seasons in Switzerland. Located in the city center on the shores of Lake Geneva, the hotel offers views of Geneva’s most prominent tourist attractions: the Jet d’eau (the world’s tallest fountain) and the Old Town, full of 16th century buildings, cobbled streets and designer boutiques. 83 guestrooms and 20 suites offer floor-to-ceiling windows, Louis-Philippe-style furnishings, ensuite marble bathrooms and LCD flat-screen TVs. Enjoy the finest northern Italian cuisine at Il Lago restaurant, or sip cocktails outside on the lakeside terrace of the Bar des Bergues. Take advantage of the special introductory offer! After all, skiing in the Swiss Alps is less than an hour away! From now until February 28, 2006, Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva is offering an introductory rate starting at CHF 600 for a Superior Room, including breakfast for two, double occupancy.
Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva, Official Site
Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva, Five Star Alliance
Both The Washington Post and The Independent UK have recently reported the impossible: the development of a five star, $85 million hotel in the heart of Baghdad. The 23-storey “opulent palace complex”—as described by the Independent—will be the first private investment in Iraq since the U.S.-led war. Not to mention: the tallest building in the capital. (Hmmm, could the target be made any more obvious?) The land is being donated by the Iraqi government, but the (foolish) private financing is being undertaken by an Iraqi businessman. The hotel will be located in the middle of the Green Zone (built to withstand mortar and rocket attack), and will take two years to build. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the project, because most citizens cannot enter the Green Zone, and the hotel would thus be serving only the foreign population. (The plush suites, business centers, conference rooms and golf range accessible to a select few foreigners.) This has got to be a joke. Would you book a room here? PS. Apparently, there’s another plan brewing- to turn Saddam Hussein's former Tikrit palaces into a themed tourist destination. Don't know about you, but I've always fantasized about vacationing at the former-residence of a war criminal...