LUXURY HOTEL INSIDER
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...
Well, I suppose now isn’t the best time to pack your bags for Paris. But I can’t help but wax poetic about one of my favorite hotels in the world, the grandest of the Parisian Palace Hotels: The Crillon. Its location on the world-famous Place de la Concorde can’t be beat. This is the center of the City of Light, man! The hotel is mere steps away from the swanky boutiques of the Faubourg St.-Honoré. Strap on those walking shoes and just a short marche away are the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Champs Elysées, and many more of the city’s most famous attractions. The 103 rooms, 39 suites, and 5 luxury apartments are sumptuous and magnificent, without sacrificing the intimate atmosphere of a private residence. (This is the only Palace Hotel that has retained private-ownership by a French family—the makers of fine bubbly, the Taittingers.) The Leonard Bernstein Suite, named for the great conductor and composer who used to camp out here, is exceptional. Three bedrooms, two living rooms, a sauna, Jacuzzi, Turkish bath and all the modern technology. Its large terrace overlooks the most majestic view of Paris: from the Eiffel Tower to the Musee D’Orsay across the Place de la Concorde. With fully personalized service, hotel guests feel like the royalty who are frequent guests here.
Hotel de Crillon, Official Site
Hotel de Crillon, Five Star Alliance
The most outstanding new city hotel across all of Asia? The award goes to the Langham Place Hotel, Mongkok, Hong Kong-- bestowed at the 16th Annual Travel Awards 2005, presented by TTG Asia. The hotel is a business traveler’s dream. With Omnipresent WIFI, IP Telephony and 42 inch Plasma TVs, the hotel is the most technologically advanced in Asia. The hotel’s Chuan Spa—perched on the top three floors of the hotel—is arguably the best in Hong Kong. And with a location directly above the MTR subway station, the hotel provides easy access to all of Hong Kong. (And let’s not forget the 600,000 square feet of shopping at Langham Place Mall, connected to the hotel by walkbridge.)
Langham Place Hotel, Mongkok, Hong Kong, Official Site
Langham Place Hotel, Mongkok, Hong Kong, Five Star Alliance
October 31, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
The Economist recently announced that two new niche carriers have started flying the London-New York route. We’ve watched the low-cost model (thank you, Southwest!) catch on in Europe and Asia, but these two new transatlantic airlines are uniquely (and notably) devoted to luxury business class. Eos has enhanced planes originally built to carry 250 passengers. Now catering to only 48 business travelers, the Eos planes provide an experience more closely akin to corporate jets than business class cabins. Flights commenced October 18, leaving London in the AM, with return fares of $6,500. The other new kid on the block is Maxjet, targeting a different part of the business market: the more budget conscious business travelers. Maxjet planes carry half their original capacity, so 102 passengers enjoy double the space per seat. Return fares are the same as full economy fares, at $1,600. (Both airlines fly from London’s Stansted to New York JFK.)
October 26, 2005
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Let’s say you’re stuck on business in San Salvador—one of those alarmingly large, sprawling, polluted Central American capitals. Whatever to do?! And where on earth to eat? (Besides the prolific Burger King and stinking Pollo Campero?) First stop, the English language bookstore, Bookmarks, to wile away those hours with a quality paperback. (Centro Comercial Basilea, Col San Benito) Next door, in the trendy Zona Rosa neighborhood, is fantastic al fresco dining, the white tablecloths overlooking fountains and plenty of pretty people. Zona Rosa is hopping on weekends, with lots of bars and trendy clubs. If your stomach turns at street food (though the local pupusas—cornmeal patties stuffed with rice and beans—are excellent), you can also try La Ventana (Calle San Antonio Abad at Av San Jose, near Boulevard de los Heroes), which serves German and European fare along with Salvadoran tipica, in a convivial atmosphere. To sleep? The Real Intercontinental will suffice (It’ll have to—it’s the best in town.) Is there anything redeeming about this city? Anyone, anyone?