ADVENTURES IN LUXURY
By Barbara Ramsay-Orr
Hotels are the places to rest while experiencing surrounding attractions. I’ve slept in many beds around the world and most of them were just that – beds, some more comfortable than others, most highly forgettable. But some hotels are truly exceptional. They are experiences in themselves, worth a special visit and well worth savouring. Here are five of my favourites that I would recommend for a truly memorable stay, each one unique, each one a beautifully run establishment.
None of them are cheap, but they are all worth it. You could choose to stay at an Airbnb, or at a chain hotel, but life is short. Why not experience a legend?
The Hassler Roma, Rome
Few hotels in Europe carry the cachet that the Hassler does. Just its position alone, perched above the Spanish Steps marks it as exceptional, but the professional oversight of a career hotelier means your stay will be as smooth as silk. Owner and Director Roberto Wirth is the fifth generation of a hotel family and he gives his personal attention to its operation. Handsome, urbane and courteous, he keeps a close watch. Deaf since birth, Wirth lip reads effortlessly in multiple languages.
He told me some of the history of the hotel, and, knowing I was Canadian, recalled the visit of Pierre Trudeau, who enjoyed sunset cocktails on the terrace overlooking the Eternal City. The Hassler remains the hotel of choice for royalty, public fi gures, and politicians, having played host to Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, Princess Diana (who loved the Hassler bar’s Veruschka Bellini cocktail) Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, the Kennedys and the Beckhams. Each room is different, discretely designed with all the necessary modern conveniences but with a European sensibility. Antique pieces, subtle colours and high-quality linens and amenities make each room, from the smallest up to the Presidential Suite, welcoming and perfect. And the view is priceless. My room gave me an overlook of the Spanish Steps, with Santa Mario Maggiore, the Campidoglio and the grand vista of Rome in the background.
A short walk will bring you to the Villa Borghese Gardens, the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza di Spagna, and the Via Condotti. Dinner on the terrace of the hotel’s Michelin-starred Imàgo at sunset is one of those experiences that you will remember and treasure. hotelhasslerroma.com
Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi
This is a palace you could get lost in, but if you do, you can just call up your personal butler and he will come and find you. The Emirates Palace is a vast and multi-domed confection, light filled, exotic and stunningly beautiful. Its sheer scale takes your breath away. It is larger than Buckingham Palace. Rooms are generously proportioned and sophisticated in design, with soft colours of cream and taupe, with accents of turquoise and gold, lots of gold. When we returned to our room after dinner, there were rose petals in a freshly drawn bath. There’s a little perfumery where you can drop by and order a personal scent, designed just for you. My personal perfume was a heady mix dominated by cedar and ambergris base notes that, months afterwards, potently brought back memories of the hotel when I opened the bottle.
There’s no need to leave the hotel for anything, there are over a dozen different restaurants and lounges within the hotel so guests can choose from contemporary Italian, Indian, French, or Spanish, as well as traditional Arabic cuisine. I did not try the 24-karat-gold camel burger, but it is something to consider. There is also a gold fl aked cappuccino available in Le Cafe.
You can dine formally or in relaxed comfort by the pool or beach. There are two pool areas, one for families, with a Lazy River and activities for the children, and one a more sedate adults only pool. There are yoga and fitness classes, as well as cycling and hiking trails around the resort. The hotel spa is a luxurious and traditional Moroccan Hammam where you can experience a 24-karat-gold radiance facial. Should you want to wander out, the desert is nearby for dune surfi ng or exploring, the Grand Mosque is 20 minutes away, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi is close. The hotel is next door to the Qasr Al Watan, the royal palace. This is the hotel to enjoy a gold-plated royal stay. mandarinoriental.com/abu-dhabi/emiratespalace/luxury-hotel
Shangri-La at The Shard, London
Few hotels can claim to have significantly altered the skyline of a world capital city, but the Shard has done just that. It pierces the sky above London with a bravado that you can’t help but applaud. At 72 stories, the Renzo Piano designed Shard is the tallest hotel in Western Europe. That height gives drama to every room. Taking a bath becomes a completely different experience when the whole of London is spread out below you while you scrub. One of the most impressive things to do is to enjoy a special cocktail in the GONG Bar, the highest bar in Europe, on the 52nd floor. This is the place to sip a champagne cocktail as the sun goes down. A swim in the infinity pool is pretty special too, when the view of the city lurks below. I love the high tea at TING, a feast for stomach and eye, with a combination of sweet and savoury delights that includes a copy of the architecture of The Shard, made from chocolate and raspberry. Rooms are elegant and discrete, with binoculars as standard equipment. The area around the hotel provides some great sightseeing, with the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern and the Tower of London within an easy walk. Just outside the hotel is Borough Market, one of my favourite places to wander, with fresh produce, a Neal’s Yard cheese shop and lots of pubs and bars and restaurants. Best thing to do? Order room service and watch the sun set over this great city. The height (!) of romance! the-shard.com
Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne, Switzerland
Sitting elegantly on the shores of Lake Geneva, the Beau-Rivage is a classic traditional hotel that has managed, through careful and constant improvements, to stay current without losing its historic character. The hotel, which opened in 1861, has just completed a new renovation. There are two wings, one traditional in style and one more contemporary, joined by a rotunda. Much of the interior design of the hotel was done by Pierre-Yves Rochon, and reflects a tradition of handsome luxury, but with all the necessary modern touches. Rooms overlook the ten acres of manicured gardens or the blue waters of Lake Geneva.
There are multiple attractive choices for dining. Top of the list is Anne-Sophie Pic, the two- Michelin-starred dining room, followed by Miyako Lausanne, a Japanese themed restaurant, the brasserie-style Cafe Beau-Rivage, and the more informal La Terrasse for breakfast. For a unique dinner experience, book the hotel’s Belle Epoque style lake steamer, Le Montreux, and enjoy a three-course dinner while lakeside villas and small towns glide by as the sun sets. When I did this cruise, the views were spectacular, but the lake can be chilly so bundle up. The hotel’s Cinq Mondes Spa can be accessed by elevator from the guest floors so clients can go to treatments, discreetly, in robes and slippers, and there are two large pools, one partially indoors, for swimming. The hotel supplies its guests with Metro passes into the heart of Lausanne, you can arrange for bicycles, and day trips can be taken through the vineyards of Lavaux or to visit Chillon Castle. The Olympic Museum is nearby. But this hotel is so cosseting, so beautiful, you may elect to just luxuriate in its care. brp.ch/en/home
The Ambassade, Amsterdam
This is the hotel for book lovers. Located on the Herengracht Canal, the Ambassade became the hotel of choice for the publishing houses which make their homes along this canal to lodge foreign authors who came for the launch of the Dutch editions of their books. Each author donated a signed copy of their books and the hotel’s library is a brilliant treasure trove of great literature. If you have read Donna Tart’s novel, The Goldfinch, you may recognize the Ambassade as the hotel where the narrator stays in in Amsterdam. It’s not all about books, though. The hotel comprises 15 different canal houses that have been connected, and each room is unique. The hallways are twisty and a bit confusing, but the rooms are lovely, most of them with views of the canal. Original art, many of the pieces being part of the hotel’s extensive collection of CoBrA art, hang on almost every wall, and there is a new attractive gallery that holds regular exhibits.
The breakfast room is a light-filled space and a perfect spot to watch the boat traffic or sit at the bar in the library for a cocktail or cappuccino. The public areas were designed by the architectural team responsible for the renovation of the Rijksmuseum who resided at the hotel while the renovations to the museum were done. Step outside the Ambassade and you are immediately in the middle of the Nine Streets, with great shopping and an easy walk to many of the best sights in the city. The hotel will provide you with bikes if you want to go local, but I love to walk in this city. Just around the corner is a place that sells fresh frites in a paper cone. Try them with mayonnaise, in the Dutch style. ambassade-hotel.nl