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NEWS Life’s a (private) beach at Château Saint-Martin

This summer, Château Saint-Martin & Spa - one of the Oetker Collection Masterpiece hotels - is again joining with Joseph Keller Beach in Antibes to offer guests exclusive access to their own private section on one of the best beaches on the Cap d’Antibes, France. Last year this was definitely the private beach to be on and we expect the same again.  Guests of the hotel enjoy their own private area complete with luxurious sun-loungers, towels and parasols all provided by Château Saint-Martin & Spa for absolute rest and relaxation.  And you don’t ven have to walk far for food,there’s a a gourmet meal on offer  at the Asian and Mediterranean restaurant right alongside the sandy beach.
This package is now available for booking at Château Saint Martin & Spa. Sun-loungers are priced at 31 euros per person per day and need to be booked in advance with the hotel’s concierge service. www.chateau-st-martin.com

NEWS New residences in the heart of Hollywood

Those wanting to stay in the most talked-about location in Los Angeles – Columbia Square – should know that the hip Hollywood Proper Residences opens this June . This is the first property from Proper Hotels, a new brand of hotels and residences led by Viceroy innovators Brad Korzen and Brian De Lowe. Proper Hotels is delivering a new concept that is purpose-designed for a new generation of young creative types that like to mix work and play.  Hollywood Proper Residences 200 luxury residences. Each features breathtaking, all-around views of icons like the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory and the Downtown Los Angeles skyline  and offering offer stays of seven days, a month, or more. There is high-end design from  the uber-designer Kelly Wearstler and a highly personalized Proper Concierge and App. Guests will have easy access to everything from laundry service to a tech guru to private helicopters or jets. The building is the centrepiece of  the new Columbia Square neighbourhood  the buzzing modern media village on the site of the historic CBS broadcast facilities which also features Neuehouse, Viacom's new offices, Fender's new offices, Paley restaurant, and more. Surrounding blocks are home to the soon to open Dream Hotel, Kimpton Hotel, Edition, and Netflix offices. “We’re all in awe that so much Hollywood history happened at Columbia Square, but there’s real excitement that the best is yet to come,” said Brad Korzen, founder and chief executive of Proper Hospitality. “We’re creating a haven for today’s creative elite – inspired by the grandeur and dreams of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but completely modern, service-oriented, ultra-comfortable, tech-forward, and beautifully designed.” www.properhotel.com

NEWS Private Jet and helicopter expeditions with andBeyond

Luxury experiential travel company andBeyond is well known for its conservation  initiatives and the authentic Arica experiences it creates.  So it is great to hear that the company has announced the launch of its Private Jet Expeditions;  privately guided journeys that offer access to exclusive experiences in Africa. “To coincide with andBeyond’s milestone 25th birthday, we have spent over a year crafting the journey of a lifetime, highlighting all the African destinations where andBeyond operates,” explains Joss Kent, andBeyond CEO. “ The tours cater for a maximum of 12 guests, using private jets such as the Embraer 145 and Pilatus PC12, or similar. The Embraer 145 used for the longer international legs is ideally configured to accommodate small groups and families. In addition to its seating areas, the aircraft offers a comfortable living area, complete with three-seater couches.   Once in the bush n eciting  combination of turbo-prop fixed wing aircraft and helicopters such as the Bell 407 and Bell 206 will take guests to the more remote destinations. In andBeyond’s hands from beginning to end, travellers enjoy all the convenience of private jet travel, from the lack of airport queues to VIP assistance and the use of private terminals, customs and baggage claim facilities.  Offering a glimpse behind the scenes on African conservation, politics and history, andBeyond Private Jet Expeditions provide guests with the opportunity to engage with individuals who have played an integral role in sculpting the continent’s fascinating history, as well as wildlife experts who have initiated or influenced ground-breaking wildlife and conservation projects. In keeping with andBeyond’s commitment to Care of the Land, Care of the People, Care of the Wildlife, the expeditions also allow guests a first-hand experience of the company’s various conservation and community initiatives. With departures in September and October 2017, Africa and Beyond is the most comprehensive itinerary, a 19-day adventure throughout East and Southern Africa, available for a maximum of 12 guests at a cost of USD 116 500 per person.  A shorter tour of 15 days, the Southern Africa and Beyond itinerary travels through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia in May and June 2017 ad is  available for a maximum of six guests, for USD 75 000 per person. 

The company has also fully offset the carbon footprint for the combination of aircraft and helicopters used on the expeditions, making these carbon neutral itineraries. 


NEWS A new ship for Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises newest ship, Sirena, has been christened in a ceremony at the Port of Barcelona ahead of her highly anticipated maiden voyage. After a $350 million refurbishment The 684-passenger Sirena follows the design blueprint of its sister ships Regatta, Insignia and Nautica with four gourmet restaurants, six elegant lounges and bars, the renowned Canyon Ranch SpaClub, and 342 lavish suites and luxurious staterooms. The ships inaugural voyages will encompass Europe and the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and beyond. The ship’s godmother, chef and cookbook author, Claudine Pépin, delivered the traditional blessing, with a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagneand a flurry of confetti . Officiating the ceremony, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO, Frank Del Rio, said: “We launched Oceania Cruises with a visionary belief that we could create something special. With an unwavering commitment to serve our guests the finest cuisine at sea, we established a culinary reputation that to this day defines the Oceania Cruises brand,” said Del Rio. “That culinary tradition continues, as we welcome Sirena to the family”www.oceaniacruises.

NEWS Elewana opens the new Loisaba Luxury Tented Camp in Kenya

Luxury safari camp and lodge operator Elewana, will open a new luxury tented camp on the site of the former Loisaba Lodge on May 1. Loisaba Tented Camp is located on a 600ft escarpment where every room enjoys spectacular views stretching across the Laikipia Plains to Mount Kenya. The 56,000 acre Loisaba Conservancy spans three eco-systems offering a variety of beautiful landscape and incredible game viewing, including the opportunity to see rare Northern species including Reticulated giraffe and Grevy zebra.This is also one of the best places in East Africa to see  the elusive Wild Dog. Guests at the Loisaba Starbeds and Tented Camp have the entire conservancy to themselves. The camp comprises six spacious ensuite tents, three family combinations each consisting of 2 ensuite tents with adjourning walkway and The Private Residence which houses three en-suite tents. complimented with a private bar, dining area and infinity pool. The new Loisaba Tented Camp will fall under the Elewana Collection - a portfolio of fourteen properties spanning the highlights of East Africa's safari and beach offerings. Aside from game viewing the Loisaba Tented camp has two infinity pools (one for guests in the private residence) and a plethora of activities including bush walks, mountain biking, camel riding, lion tracking, horse riding (for experienced riders), fishing, local village excursions and best of all,  the opportunity to spend a morning with the resident sniffer dogs, Warrior and Machine.

NEWS Lexis Hibiscus hotel flowers this month

The new Lexis Hibiscus hotel has a soft opening this month. Seen from above this hotel-on-a-grand scale looks like a giant white hibiscus flower (the national flower) floating in the water off   Port Dickson Malaysia’s  pristine Pasir Panjang beach. Seen close up the 639 pool villas, comprising tower rooms and water villas,  are white ,bright and modern. Each villa is spacious,  ultra-modern  and comes with its own private dip pool and steam room. The leaves  of the flower are Executive Pool Villas, the petals feature the Premium Pool Villas, on the stem are the  Panorama Pool Villas rest on  and the Imperial Suites make up the stigma. The largest of the options, the Presidential Suites, are at the very tip. Tower rooms are located within the main hotel. Complementing the rooms are a wide range of beach and water activities. And they don’t do things by half at this new resort so everything is   focused around the tallest sea water fountain in Malaysia , rising 400 feet into the air. www.lexishibiscuspd.com

NEW High Flying in Malaysia

Need a little ‘spring’ in your step? Four Seasons Resort Langkawi has it covered. Langkawi now offers a X-Jetblade experience, allowing its adventurous guests the chance to soar high about the crystal clear Andaman Seas. The new experience is being called and ‘adrenalin-fuelled water sport which is a must-try for every thrill seeker’. Four Seasons Resort Langkawi is the first resort in Malaysia to offer the experience.
Each 30-minute session begins with a brief orientation before heading into the Andaman Sea under the guidance of the Resort’s expert water sports team. Most first timers achieve jet-flight between 2 – 5 metres above sea level while more experienced participants can advance to heights of 15 metres alongside all sorts of airborne acrobatics and underwater dives

'We’re constantly looking to push the boundaries of innovation while keeping guests connected to the outstanding beauty of our UNESCO surroundings,” commented the Resort’s General Manager, Andrew Harrison. “X-Jetblades tick all the boxes: three dimensional freedom of movement with a breathtaking vantage point of Tanjung Rhu bay, and the thrill of an experience that so few people have had the chance to try. We’re delighted to be the first on the island to offer it.' www.fourseasons.com

NEWS St Regis Langkawi opened its doors today

The glamorous St Regis Langkawi opened its doors officially today (April 6). This is the luxury brand's first property in Malaysia. Located in the Langkawi archipelago, the resort is a natural paradise, fringed by a 600-metre white sand beach overlooking the emerald green waters of a vast lagoon, which tips into the Andaman Sea. The interiors have been created by G.A Design and the architecture is by renowned architecture with courtyards and indoor/outdoor spaces which flow into each other. You’ll find Islamic arches, mashrabiya-inspired screening, and villas surrounded by a garden oasis populated with date palms, allamanda and bougainvillea.
The St. Regis Langkawi is the first all-suite luxury resort in the archipelago, offering 4 private overwater villas and 85 suites. All suites offer expansive views of the sea from spacious terraces. And all this just a 30-minute drive from the Langkawi International Airport.  www.starwood.com
NEWS Four Seasons Resort Hvar to open in 2019

The resort island of Hvar in Croatia has long been a spot where the Euro-elite like to holiday. So it is good news that the illustrious Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts are planning to open a resort here in 2019. The resort will be located on the waterfront at Brizenica Bay on the sparsely populated Kabal Peninsula just north of the historic town of Stari Grad,  home of one of Croatia's seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Stari Grad Plain. The luxury development built by Arqaam Capital will feature a 120-room Four Seasons hotel and a luxury residential community including 60 Four Seasons Private Residences ranging in size from one and two bedroom residences to three to five bedroom villas. The resort will have its own private bay; multiple swimming pools and private infinity pools; a state-of-the-art spa and fitness centre; a selection of restaurants, cafes, bars and retail boutiques; and conference and banqueting facilities. Riad Meliti, Chief Executive Officer of Arqaam Capital, commented, “We are creating a natural retreat within a stunning, secluded enclave in one of the Dalmatian Coast’s most beautiful and private bays. Four Seasons was the natural choice for us as they share our commitment to elegance, unrivalled service and luxury. They have a long history, a strong and undiluted brand and an uncompromising dedication to the highest standards.” www.fourseasons.com

NEWS World's first Art installation at Uluru

It is a surreal sight, sparkly dresses and sensible boots as  Australian’s glitterati gather in the desert for a party to launch artist Bruce Monro’s 'Field of Light', an amazing new art installation in the Red Centre.
One of the most awe inspiring natural wonders in the world is to host one of the most impressive art installations which is combination not to be missed. The solar-powered installation will open at Ayers Rock Resort on 1 April 2016, remaining open until 31 March 2017.  The art work was inspired in the first instance by Australia’s red heart so it’s only fitting it should finally be seen there. Bruce Munro conceived the idea while visiting Uluru in 1992, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the installation first materialized at both London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and in Munro’s own backyard in south-west England. Field of Light has since dazzled visitors at sites across the United Kingdom, the United States and Mexico. In keeping with the desert’s vast scale, Munro and his team will install more than 50,000 slender stems crowned with radiant frosted-glass spheres, transported by Qantas straight from The workshop in England to Ayers Rock Airport. The coloured spheres, connected via illuminated optical fibre, will bloom as darkness falls over Australia’s spiritual heartland. Pathways will draw viewers into the installation, which will come to life under a sky brilliant with stars.  “Field of Light was one idea that landed in my sketchbook and kept on nagging at me to be done,” said Bruce. “I saw in my mind a landscape of illuminated stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, quietly wait until darkness falls, under a blazing blanket of southern stars, to bloom with gentle rhythms of light,” he said. “Field of Light is a personal symbol for the good things in life.”  In keeping with the desert’s vast scale, Munro and his team will install the slender stems crowned with radiant frosted-glass spheres.  If you are considering whether to visit or not the last word from Huffington Post should make up your mind - according to the HP, ”It can be hard to describe in words the gifts that Munro bestows on the landscape as his work escapes description in either written or photographic form, it is something to be experienced.”
Guests at Ayers Rock Resort’s five properties will be invited to interact with Munro’s monumental experiential artwork in one of three ways: The entry-level Field of Light Pass ($35) includes return bus transfers to the remote site and time to experience the artwork or the Field of Light Star Pass ($75) includes the above, along with sparkling wine and canapes at an elevated viewing area at the end of the evening.  TLTB readers will love the 4.5-hour A Night at Field of Light ($235) includes an introduction to the artwork by a host, sparkling wine and canapes at sunset from an elevated viewing area, extended time to immerse in the installation and a three-course buffet dinner showcasing bush tucker ingredients as well as return bus transfers.  There is also an option to arrive by camel or helicopter for this experience. www.ayersrockresort.com.au/fieldoflight Posted 21/3/16

NEWS Crystal Cruises takes to the air in April

Crystal Cruises has revealed the newest addition to its fleet, not a new ship but a luxuriously outfitted Bombardier Global Express XRS jet.   The lavish aircraft will enter service on April 3 and accommodate just 12 guests in what promises to guests offering the option to fly privately on their Crystal vacation. It is also envisaged that the jet will be used by businesses. The aircraft has been refitted with three spacious cabins, designated as areas for business activities, relaxation and sleeping quarters. The forward cabin boasts four wide club seats with foldout tables; mid cabin is configured for conferences, with seating for five; the aft cabin has a three-person divan that can be transformed to a large bed. There is also a galley with an oven, microwave and Aerolux Nespresso machine. “Crystal Luxury Air will open tremendous possibilities for luxury travellers seeking the next level of ease and exclusivity during their journeys,” says Crystal president and CEO, Edie Rodriguez. 
 Chartered flights aboard Crystal’s Global Express jet are now available for booking and will fly guests virtually anywhere in the world, with a max flight range at just under 12 hours per leg. The line also intends to add a Boeing 777 to its fleet in 2017 and 787 Dreamliner in 2018.  Crystal Cruises has recently embarked on a massive expansion program, including a river line scheduled to debut in July 2016, Crystal Yacht Cruises which is currently underway and three new ocean ships in 2018. Hence its new marketing slogan, "All Exclusive”. 
www.crystalcruises.com, www.wiltrans.com.au

NEWS Chef Mangan aboard the Eastern & Oriental
Belmond has partnered with leading Australian chef and restauranteur, Luke Mangan. To dish up contemporary menus aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express Asia’s most luxurious train With 19 restaurants and key partnerships with cruise lines, an airline and now a train, Luke Mangan has firmly established himself as a leading figure on the international culinary scene. Alongside E &O’s Executive Chef, Yannis Martineau, Luke Mangan, and his team based in Singapore, will showcase his considerable culinary skills as they serve up their signature clean and fresh menus aboard the train.  In Singapore passengers can als  join Luke for a morning tour of the food market before boarding the train for a  three day, two night journey that will travel through Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Once on board the train, Luke will meet with guests as well as hosting a book signing of his latest book ‘Salt Grill, Fine Dining for the whole family’. On day two of the journey, Luke takes up the challenge of serving the specially created menus from the train’s galley kitchens to guests in the elegant dining cars.
The first hosted journey takes place on 28th October 2016 from Singapore to Bangkok on board the Eastern & Oriental Express train in Asia.
NEWS Cook Islands spread the love

A new creative identity for the Cook Islands is aimed at distinguishing it from all its beach-and-palm-tree island neighbours. An eye catching new logo (think bright pink, turquoise and navy) tells us to “love a little paradise”. We’re pretty enamoured of the unspoilt Cook Islands any way so no problem there but the emphasis here is also on ‘little’ because one of the charms of the Cook Islands is that size-wise you can get round. Add to this the rise of a number of exclusive and luxurious properties (but not too many) - and we think this one is a no-brainer. The tagline was “inspired by the beauty of the landscape and the innocent, earthy and playful character of the people of the Cook Islands.” www.sale.cookislands.travel, www.airnewzealand.com.au

NEWS Azamara Quest sails into Sydney

Australia’s astounding harbour is a popular port for international cruising ,no wonder then that more cruise lines are choosing to base a ship or two in Australian waters. Boutique cruise brand Azamara Club Cruises, Australia’s newest resident cruise line, will make its maiden call to Sydney when the 686-passenger Azamara Quest arrives on Thursday 14 January 2016. "Since its inception in 2009 our destination-focussed cruise line has proved very popular with Australian cruisers in Asia and Europe – so we are delighted to finally welcome Azamara Club Cruises to Australian waters for the very first time”, said Adam Armstrong, regional commercial director.

Guests sailing on board Azamara Quest will have longer or more overnight stays in some of the most unique and interesting destinations around Australia and New Zealand.  They will also be treated to to a signature, AzAmazing Evening event during each cruise that showcases the destination. www.azamaraclubcruises.com

NEWS A new restaurant for Grand Resort Bad ragaz

Three-Michelin-star chef, Andreas Caminada, will be opening his new restaurant, Igniv, at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in time for Christmas on 16th December 2015.  Igniv, means ‘nest’ in the ancient Graubünden language of Rhaeto-Romanic, and the concept is to create a space where guests share  culinary ecperiences in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Andreas Caminada is known for his vision and innovation within the culinary world so this new restaurant promises to be good.  A native of Switzerland’s Graubünden region (which faces Grand Resort Bad Ragaz across the Rhine). The new restaurant will allow guests to experience an entirely different gastronomic concept to that of his current restaurant Schloss Schauenstein in Fürstenau. Igniv’ s philosophy will be based on the idea of sharing and coming together to enjoy and share exquisite cuisine, creating a more social experience for guests. The menu is also designed to fit into this concept, with meals consisting of either 14 or 18 different sharing plates. “We want to bring people together around the table, to get them eating together, speaking to each other, sharing ideas while enjoying some of the same meals and dishes,” said Andreas Caminada. www.resortragaz.ch

NEWS Hamburg gets a new five star hotel

Hamburg is to have its first new five star hotel in 18 years.  October 2016 sees the debut of The Fontenay,  a 131-room contemporary hotel on the  banks of Lake Alster. The Euro 100 million project is designed by Hamburg architect, Jan Störmer (of Störmer Murphy and Partners) who has envisioned sculpture-like architecture that mirrors the fluid lines of the lake and surrounding parkland. The aim is to make The Fontenay an urban oasis, creating the perfect balance between the natural and the urban. Featuring a gleaming façade of white ceramic tiles, the hotel evolves from three fusing circles that form two interior open spaces, including the impressive 27m high atrium, which will be flooded with natural daylight.  The rooms and suites will have lake views parquet wood flooring, with 2.6m high ceilings. A rooftop bar will be the perfect place to watch the sun set over the city. www.thefontenay.de.

Lunch by the private pool

One happy family staying at Taj‘s luxury hilltop hotel outside Hyderabad, Falaknuma Palace, was so happy with the 60-room beauty that they extended their four-suite booking twice, cutting out Delhi. The gal can understand. This is a theatre that just feels right. After yet another early start and lots of driving and flying, lunch was needed. A room service meal, specially designed, just fitted the bill. It was set out on the balcony of 203, the two-floor Nizam Suite. Lightly-poached halibut, resting atop a mixed salad with baby asparagus, was cooked absolutely à point.

Versace china

The Nizam Suite is top of a brilliant class, here. Downstairs there is an octagonal salon, with Indian and other antiques. The central circular dining table is set, with Versace porcelain – the hotel’s interior designer is Ruya Muan, cousin of the palace’s current owner, London-based Princess Esra Jahl, first – of five – wives of the current Nizam, His Exalted Highness Rustam-i-Dauran, Arustu-i-Zaman, Wal Mamaluk, Asaf Jah VIII, Muzaffar ul-Mamaluk, Nizam ul-Mulk, Nizam ud-Daula, Nawab Mir Barakat ‘Ali Khan Bahadur, Sipah Salar, Fath Jang, Lieutenant-General, Faithful Ally of the British Government (born 1939, Harrow and LSE, ran a giant Australian sheep station but when all his wives sued him he fled to Turkey...). He seems to be out of the picture as far as Falaknuma is concerned

The main pool

I am beginning to see why that family staying here has extended its stay. On my way to the gym I pass an ancient Japanese garden, being renovated. I skirt the main swimming pool, which looks like a basin along a winding river. A couple of bikinis are sunbathing and reading. This is a recovery, rejuvenating place but when you need education you can head for Hyderabad to learn its history, or stay here and simply walk the public areas. Look at early likenesses of visitors of yesteryear, of the calibre of Lord Curzon, 1903, a year before the celebrated Durbar; and the 1903 visit of a Russian Grand Duke, and the 1911 arrival of the Crown Prince of Germany.

A beautifully-painted wall in the spa relaxation area

It is all too overwhelming, like trying to do a History PhD in one day. I will concentrate right now on feeling pampered, and head to the Jiva Spa, past a delicately-stencilled wall. One Canadian couple, on their fourth visit to this luxury hotel, are staying this time for a month, which would just allow one at least to check the spine titles of the books in the many libraries, and perhaps check out some of the sites in town. For me, I am merely staying put.

Girish Seghal welcomes a new guest to his palace

There is only one way to arrive at Taj Falaknuma Palace, half an hour outside Hyderabad – by 19th century carriage. The gal is helped out of it, and one of this extraordinary luxury hotel’s lovely staff members offers a variety of soft drinks, all home-made and infused with cinnamon, or lemongrass. Then, as the newcomer, preceded by a turbaned flunkie bearing a traditional brass stave, mounts the 34 stone steps of the main outside staircase, fresh rose petals flutter down from an unseen hand.

Looking up at the main building

You are immediately in another age, back in the late 19th century. It was 1884 when the Diwan to the 6th Nizam of Hyderabad asked London architect William Ward Marretti to design a palace in his favourite scorpion shape. The Diwan ran out of cash so in 1901 the Nizam, the world’s richest man, took the palace over (he used the amazing Jacob Diamond, now held by the Government of India and said to be worth $130 million, as a paperweight). The Nizam’s dining table, the world’s longest, at 108 feet total, seating 101 with perfect acoustics from one end to the other, is still there.

Tea time

We preferred to sit on the front terrace of the 60-room hotel, and take traditional afternoon tea as we watched the view. A three-tiered tea stand held savouries through to sweet bites, both veggie and non-veg. Our choice of 12 teas, Silver Needle, from leaves of course, not bag, was poured from a long-spouted pot (the glorious floral china is bespoke). A Sufi group, playing assorted instruments in a wailing manner, had been booked but actually they are even better when you are fortified with a really stiff drink inside you.

More arrivals

It is still daylight and we hear others arriving. We look over, to see the carriage disgorging incredulous first-timers. You can read all about this Taj-run luxury hotel forever but, even so, when you you are here, and you see it dominating atop 32 acres of mostly-barren hillside, you get a rush of adrenalin, and the instinctive urge to scream WOW...

Posing with the ‘other occupant’ of suite 545

The gal is always trying to find unusual photo poses, which turn into hotel memories. There was the hotel where kayaking was order of the day, that kind of thing… at Surajkund’s only luxury hotel, Vivanta Surajkund by Taj on the outskirts of Delhi, ‘someone’ was already waiting in suite 545, a 2,200 sq ft beauty with terraces. That someone was a lady who looked as if she had been contentedly lying there for centuries, so she made an ideal pose. The 287-room hotel had opened in 2009 as Claridges and it turned to Taj management in 2013.

Figurines in 545

Why is this hotel unusual? Many hotels change management and brands, but this one is, regardless of who is in charge, rare because of its enormous overall footprint. Its lobby flows around an open central courtyard the size of two tennis courts. Flow from lobby and round and through the Oasis all-day restaurant and round again and you get back to where you started, which is as good exercise as going to the gym. Next feature. You are in India but many of the room decorations, chosen by the Bangkok-based firm PIA, seem more Thai – these little gold figurines in suite 545 are a case in point.

Looking into the working pottery

There are shops down in that lobby walkaround, and one of them has been turned into a pottery studio. Three days a week a potter works there, and classes are held, and I am told by the hotel GM, Rajeev Khanna, that he plans a commercial pottery workshop in the hotel (the only other in-hotel pottery that instantly springs to mind is at Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Coorg, and that is in the grounds rather than leading off the lobby). Rajeev Khanna tells me it was his grandfather, as Municipal Officer in Shimla, who had given permission for two hotels to be built, The Carlton, which subsequently became Oberoi‘s Clarkes, and the other Oberoi in town, The Cecil, where company scion MPS Oberoi started working as a clerk.

Last night’s sunset, seen from 545

Rajeev Khanna had evolved this luxury hotel from Claridges to Vivanta, and he has been busily building up its wedding business. He had, earlier in his own working life, set up Taj’s butler programme (they were a new phenomenon in India then, he said). Although this hotel does not have formal butlers as such, the crew is remarkably well trained. My five o’clock breakfast was immaculate. I left before the sun I had seen set last night had time to get out of its own bed.

Each ‘pyramid’ shields a relax bed, in the spa

It is difficult to find design that is honestly different. The gal thinks back to the giant half-cloches that are in fact bankette seating in Restaurant Alain Ducasse, at one of Paris’ finest luxury hotels, Plaza-Athenée. Here in Delhi are what look like mini pyramids. Each provides a privacy screen for a heated bed – this is the relaxation room of the about-to-open Vivanta by Taj Dwarka. (Dwarka is at the end of one metro line, at the rear of Delhi international airport: it is one stop, three minutes, from the airport, and less than 20 minutes to downtown.)

Bedrooms have origami ceilings, and bedheads ‘run around’ to become window seats and then desk tops

Dwarka is one of the growing IT and young achievers’ suburbs. Locals living nearby must be hungry for this hotel, which seems to have no competitors. Everyone will love the 1,000 foot-long building, six floors high, which the Japanese architects have made into one giant sculpture of unique geometric blocks. Similarly, Japanese designers have introduced origami elements to the 250 bedrooms. Ceilings and walls have fan-shaped parts, and a continuous wall line, at varying heights, runs from bedhead, underneath the window and all the way to the opposite wall, to form a long desk.

Approach to Vivanta by Taj Surjkund...

I visited two Vivantas by Taj that day. From the sensational futurist Dwarka, it is over an hour’s drive to Surajkund, on Shooting Range Road near Tughlakabad Fort. The surroundings here are positively rural – I expected to see wild animals roaming – and there is no metro in sight. There is, however, an adjacent giant office block, with big international brands as tenants: it is owned by the Nanda family, who, via The Claridges Hotels & Resorts, also own the hotel (they ran it themselves until they brought in Taj, as management, in 2013).

...and a feature in its vast, open-square, lobby

Outside the mughal-looking building is a line of fountains. And in the vast lobby of this somewhat unusual luxury hotel there is a water feature that, at night, turns into a candle-lit celebration. Why is this hotel unusual? Dear reader, you are about to find out.

Floral display just inside the door of suite 930

Flowers are more and more becoming differentiators in luxury hotels, and those in the Taj Mahal Delhi seem softer, and more delicate, than before. This is the arrangement just inside the main door of suite 930, an enormous and tastefully decorated Presidential Suite that has a jogger, running machine, in the office. How lovely, thought the gal. One can read about Lutyens while burning calories – unfortunately the three, yes three, pistachio-coloured tomes on Lutyens here on the capacious lined bookshelves are all coffee-table heavies, impossible to move.

Satyajeet Krishnan, in the hotel lobby

I was dining with the GM, Satyajeet Krishnan, and as we walked down one of two, 35-step, curving staircases from lobby to lower level I noticed how a decorative water feature has been turned into a green-plant mini-garden. We were going down to Varg, the modern-Indian restaurant that gets much acclaim – and not only because designer Theo Nicolaou has incorporated a havali wall as you enter. I had a small tower of tangerine-infused black cod bites, and a plate of duck four-ways – and if they were to market the hot naan with camembert and truffles it would be a best seller.

A harpist plays, evening long

We drank The Wolftrap 2013 from Boekenhoutskloof, Franschhoek, which made me think of a lovely sibling hotel, Taj Cape Town (one of the advantages of ILTMs, always same destination, roughly same time of year, is that they give me the chance always to be in certain places annually). I hear about the Ch Margaux dinner that was held here at the hotel, hosted by the vineyard’s owner, Corinne Mentzelopoulos, who inherited it from her Greek father. As we walk back up the stairs I am introduced to the harpist, new since my last visit.

Presentation of today’s newspapers, outside your door

I love luxury hotels which are constantly upgrading themselves. Before, when staying here, I found a plethora of daily newspapers outside my door, and all the others. This time, I had satellited Financial Times and International New York Times in my rack. Taj Mahal Delhi is now hosting Christie’s first-ever Delhi office, and it is working with Delhi Art Fair. This March, there are sessions for the hotel’s Chambers Club members to talk with the Dalai Lama, and during the polo season it hosts in its own marquee at the Indian Polo Association and Army Polo and Riding Club’s Jaipur Polo Ground, ten minutes’ drive from the hotel.

View from the Lord Kitchener Suite

Oh what a view. No wonder, in the days of the Raj, the British would retreat up to the Himalayas, perhaps here, to the Simla (Shimla) area, to escape the heat, and admire the scenery. This is the view from room 545, the Lord Kitchener Suite, in one of Oberoi‘s luxury hotels, Wildflower Hall, at 8,692 feet above sea level. It is a gem, set in 22 acres, some of it cultivated but mostly left wild, blending in to the cypress forests around. Having arrived from the mist (for which read smog) of Delhi, the gal breathed in good, fresh, mountain air, again and again.

Looking up at the hotel

The current six-floor hotel, with 87 bedrooms, opened in 2001 on the site of an earlier building that had been razed by fire eight years previously. Biki Oberoi led the design of the new construction, ensuring that it looked as authentically Raj as possible. It had been the Viceroy’s home and Kitchener came here for nine summers – it was he who planted the garden. Herbert Kitchener, born in northern Ireland in 1850, was a celebrated military tactician and leader, famed for winning the 1898 Battle of Omdurman.

One of the photos of Kitchener in his eponymous suite

He then turned his attention from Sudan to South Africa‘s Boer War, and thence here to India, where unfortunately he did not see eye to eye with the current Viceroy, Lord Curzon. Anyway, Kitchener rose unstoppably to become, in turn, Baron Kitchener of Khartoum and Aspall (Suffolk); Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum, Vaal (Transvaal) and Aspall, and Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and Broome (Kent). In 1914, by now a Field Marshal, he was appointed Secretary of State for War and began preparing for a long war. Tragically he was one of 600 drowned in June 1916, when the cruiser HMS Hampshire sank west of the Orkneys (he was en route to Russia when the ship struck a mine).

My fire is lit

Now, today, I am in the suite named for him, and I think how much he would have loved this luxury hotel. I have a real log fire, which is lit for me by one of kurta-wearing 250-strong team members, all of whom come from this area. I go to sleep accompanied by crackling wood …

Chefs await...

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen says he has drained all the unpredictability out of as much of his life as possible because the unpredictable parts are unpredictable enough. How could the gal have foreseen what a memorable day she was going to have at Oberoi‘s lovely Wildflower Hall hotel, here in the Himalayas? Dress warmly, and take a hike with the leader of the nine-strong highly-trained expedition leaders, up through the cedar forest to a clearing. Chefs await, in greeting.

...as does an outside ‘suite’...

It is as if an outdoor suite has been prepared. I have a camp bed, and a bedside table with suitable books, including a guide to birds of India. I have a tent, with a double day-bed and pillows inside. In summer, apparently, this place is booked nearly every day, as couples and families savour the space, and bespoke food and drink. I trekked here via the Strawberry Trail, named because in season there are wild strawberries, and raspberries, along the way. Today I had merely learned, en route, how these cedars, indigenous to the Himalayas, change sex, and produce either all male, or all female, cones.

...the chefs cook...

Butterfly-like seeds from a female cone are caught by a male cone, never from the same tree to avoid incest. I learned the areas of the Himalayas, too. In between I sneaked glances at the chefs, busy preparing lunch, with everything, except dessert, made here on the spot. First came beautifully-decorated bruschetta, then perfect Swiss rösti with two dipping sauces, one chicken, and one morel (somehow rösti seems so appropriate here in this alpine setting, I almost expect to hear cowbells at any moment).

and I finish with pa’an icecream

And then comes dessert, a kitchen-made pa’an icecream, of betel leaves and rose petals. It was honestly one of the beautiful dessert tastes ever, but I had to laugh at the incongruity, eating icecream in near-zero temperatures. It was time to return to the warmth, in more ways than one, of my luxury hotel. We passed, coincidentally, the actual ice pit that Lord Kitchener had built, over a hundred years ago, to conserve winter ice for summer gins and tonics.

NEWS The Knickbocker New York opens today
The Knickerbocker in New York City re-opens its famous doors today (Thursday February 12) more than a hundred years after John Jacob Astor IV first built the hotel. Times Square has changed beyond recognition since the 16-story structure was first built. Then it stood out, now it is surrounded by high rises but the new hotel has lost none of the charm of the original. Outside the Beaux-Arts façade remains (One of the few left in NY) as do the original copper lion heads on the roof terrace. Inside the hotel there are 330 guest rooms, including 31 suites decorated designed by Gabellini Sheppard. We predict that the new 7,500-square-foot rooftop bar and terrace will attract the 21st century glitterati. New Yorkers will be heading there in droves to enjoy the astounding views of Times Square and New York City’s neon skyline. "We're embracing the hotel's original DNA, while simultaneously offering guests intuitive service and relevant luxury," says GM Jeff David said. "The Knickerbocker's history is something that most luxury hotels cannot offer”. See our report in NEW OPENINGS here.


GM Richard Launay says welcome

Richard Launay, who runs Cartagena’s top luxury hotel, Santa Clara (a Sofitel Legend property), is there to greet the gal as she arrives for an all-too-short return visit to this fascinating city. on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Local architect José Alvaro Arias had the idea of converting an abandoned convent built 1617-1621 for Doña Catalina de Cabrera, who founded the Clarissan order (it later became a hospital). He brought in Accor as financial partner, and in 1949 work began on converting the building to a five-star hotel. Read about some of this, indeed, in the foreword to the fascinating Of Love and Other Demons by Nobel literary prizewinner Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Gabo), 1927-2014, who recounted, October 26th, 1949, being present when the crypt was being emptied.

Standing on the glass panel in the breakfast room

The splendid 122-room hotel, designed by, and still 80 percent owned by, José Alvaro Arias opened in 1995, since when it has continued to add features that make it even more an essential part of the community. There are still many signs of its past. I put my foot on a glass panel in the floor of the El Claustro restaurant, once the convent bakery and kitchen. Look down, to a well below. The other restaurant, 1621 (for the convent opening), has original bare walls, a reminder that this was the nuns’ refectory. Whereas then they presumably ate their humble fare in silence, today diners enjoy French food with a Colombian twist, with a choice of over 250 wine labels. But this is not necessarily a place to put on weight.

Detail of a uniform

As well as a 24/7 Lifefitness gym, there are big stone staircases offering 64 steep steps from ground to fifth-floor rooftop. I mentioned how Richard Launay’s DNA is one of incessant improvement. He has upgraded the eight-room Sisley spa significantly – it is world-class – and is bringing in nutritional food items, as suggested by Marisa Berenson, for Sofitel generally. Top Colombian stylist Lina Cantillo has designed fashion wear for the 320 employees, and she adapted embroideries shown on 17th century oil paintings of convent Mother Superiors. See, therefore, the embroidery on a butler’s waistcoat vest (doormen here, by the way, are also in all-white, with open wicker-work top hats).

Botero statue in the indigenous courtyard garden

This luxury hotel now has a premium Botero Suite, named for Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero and designed by his daughter, Ina Botero, who is one of the many famous names who lives in Cartagena. There is a Botero sculpture, indeed, in the hotel’s commendably indigenous garden, which warrants yet another story.

Early 1920s Rolls-Royce outside Brown’s Hotel

The gal was walking along London’s Albemarle Street not long ago and just outside Brown’s Hotel, where she ran into Sir Rocco Forte‘s sister Olga Polizzi busy taking carpets out of the lounge (she put in hardwood parquet, instead) there was a rather splendid car.

This is a Rolls-Royce, and suitably parked outside a hotel, for Mr Rolls first met Mr Royce in a hotel – the Midland in Manchester, to be exact, and in 1904, the year after the hotel opened, with only one connecting room for its 600 rooms, all of which had coal fireplaces but bathrooms had to be shared. What IS this particular Rolls, I asked? It is early 1920s, I was told, and it is being used to promote Mr Selfridge, the television series co-produced by ITV and Masterpiece/WBGH. It tells the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge and his London department store on Oxford Street (it is now owned by the Weston family, who also own the equally massive Primark just across the road). Mr Selfridge has been running nearly two years in both the UK and North America. I just wish I had time to watch television, because the early 20th century is just a fascinating period. But to keep girlahead, I must keep on travelling – for you.

Fruit sellers in Cartagena

But there are many unique experiences in Cartagena, Colombia’s famous Caribbean city which still has six miles of its original defensive walls, built 1605 to 1805 with limestone hauled from 15 miles or more. Stay in the the iconic Santa Clara (Sofitel Legend) luxury hotel in the San Diego part of the Old Town, perhaps in its top Botero Suite, breakfast in the indigenous garden in its inner courtyard, lie by its lovely outdoor pool and then take a stroll through the narrow streets around. You will undoubtedly pass ladies in fabulous local dress, says the gal.

St Dom is full of highly-covetable fashion and treasures

You might, however, miss St Dom unless you know about this sensational new boutique (it is at Calle Santo Domingo 33-70). Here you find pieces by Amelia Toro, POLITE, Kika Vargas, Johanna Ortiz, Andrea Landa, Caffe, Flor Amazona, Mercedes Salazar and Suki Cohen, and many more, plus racks of colour Azulu beach-type gear.It is honestly one of those shops, winding as it does around an inner courtyard, that engages the senses, and your credit card. Were I not travelling, as always, with hand-baggage only, I would indeed be tempted.

I coincided at St Dom with its owners, Maya Memovic and Alex Srour, who were fortunately visiting from Bogota, where they are based – they already own the Azulu fashion stores both in the Colombian capital and here, in Cartagena.

Maya Memovic and Alex Srour

I would certainly put St Dom into the category of a must-visit, for anyone coming to Cartagena (the concierges and butlers at Santa Clara can show you how to find the treasurehouse of design, and also, if you want to dine away from the hotel, La Vitrola, or go for seafood at Marea, by Hermanos Rausch). We drove though the upping-trendy Getsemani area of town, passing some of the most famous hole-in-the-wall dance venues of the calibre of Havana and Quiebracanto.

The car had cooling towels and snacks

Then, sadly, it was time to leave Santa Clara, truly one of the top luxury hotels in the world. I was sent back to Silver Cloud in a car with nibbles, water wrapped in perfumed linen, and satellite versions of today’s Financial Times and the New York Times. What more can a travelling girl want?

Beach vendors at Santa Marta

Santa Marta, Colombia, is one of those ports of call that are best visited by a luxury cruise ship. The gal enjoyed her short stay but it was over a hundred degrees that day and humidity must have been over 80 percent. No-one was moving very fast. Some of the passengers onboard Silver Cloud opted to stay onboard and watch the mesmerizing container port operation. A line of trucks drove in bearing full-size containers, picked off as if by magnetic mega-pincers and put on top of a growing stack, one per minute. The only vendors doing any business in town were those selling cold drinks or ice cream.

Pop-up hairbraiding salon, Santa Marta

There was considerable business, too, at the hair-braiding stations, kind of pop-ups with a few braiding ladies sitting in the shade and plaiting tresses into imaginative styles. I wandered a little and found one hotel, the Colonial, with some guys hanging around outside it. Santa Marta, with a population of 425,000, is the third largest town of Caribbean Colombia – after Barranquilla and Cartagena – and pretty much a hanging-around kind of place. It does have considerable history, however: the oldest city in Colombia, it was founded July 29th, 1525 by Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas, and Simón Bolívar (full name Simón José Antonio de la Santíssima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco), born in Caracas 1783, died here, December 17th, 1830.

Sunrise as we sail into Cartagena

But then, the following morning, we sailed into Cartagena and, after three years away, it was like coming home, although Cartagena has achieved an even greater international following in the intervening years. It has an annual Hay Festival Cartagena, an offshoot of the Hay on Wye literary event – the next, its tenth showing,January 29th – February 1st, 2015, features Javier Cercas, Steven Pinker and dozens of other writers (sponsors include the BBC, the British Council and The Telegraph – and the beautiful and historic Santa Clara Sofitel Legend here in Cartagena).

A sea of white vessels, including the super Silver Cloud

Many of the participants will be staying at what is without doubt the top luxury hotel in Cartagena, if not in Colombia. I am on my way there right now… Silver Cloud moors in one of the city’s marinas, and joins what looks like a sea of white vessels. I am met by butler Rudi, in pristine white.

The Counter’s burger, on salad rather than a bun

It only seemed like a couple of years ago that you could not find anything other than artificial junk to eat at US airports. But, thank goodness for the gal’s sake, the situation has improved dramatically.

The other day, at Miami, I found the Premium (=Oneworld) lounge does not open until 1300 so thanks to a helpful buggy driver, I was directed to a fabulous build-your-own burger outlet, The Counter. You order from a tick-box sheet on a clipboard, Bun (choose type, adding $1.75 for gluten-free) or salad base (choose type), choose protein for patty (the beef is 100% natural Angus, hormone- and antibiotic-free), want cheese (which of eight types?)? Add fries, sweet potato fries, avocado, tomato and so on. Choose a sauce. I was with a friend and our bill for two came to $40 and well worth every cent.

Simply Sunday. Life is getting better in some respects, especially when it comes to airport eating.

A black swan swims up to three newly-laid eggs

There was big excitement at Aruba Hyatt Regency Resort & Casino, the premier luxury hotel on the island’s westerly Palm Beach. The day the gal arrived for a visit, one of a pair of black swans that patrol the water-feature outside the main restaurant had laid three eggs. Let us hope at least one of the eggs hatches satisfactorily. This is an extremely successful hotel, packed out, with rates more than trebled over Christmas and New Year, when minimum stay is five nights (WiFi is free, by the way). Including many children, there must have been over a thousand staying at the 357-room hotel.

A toucan watches

There is so much to do. Loved the Kadushi – ‘cactus’ juice and smoothie bar, where whatever you want is squeezed in front of you. My favourites were papaya in paradise, a smoothie of mango and papaya, and also a cool vibes concoction of celery, spinach, cucumber, lime and yoghurt. There are strict notices asking you not to feed the resident toucans, by the way (yes, I said there was a lot to do here, including a 24/7 Precor gym and tennis, and nearby golf, and just generally deciding which restaurant to frequent and if you cannot make up your mind, head for the Shoco to-go...).

Seen on a kids’ club wall

I was impressed by the ZoiA spa, where the five treatment rooms have inner-lit circular basins that glow in the dark.

There is an indoor games room, with car-simulators and many other gadgets that youngsters enjoy when they are bored of the sun.

Camp Hyatt at Camp Watapana, promoted by a mythical pair, Johnny and Jenny Venture, is super, too, with an outdoor playground and, inside, walls covered with stylised maps, of Aruba and the USA.

Educational fun is so much more valuable than just messing around.

This blow-up ‘cake’ holds a multi-kid trampoline

So parents pay for their kids, and they can pay themselves to have a beach palapa as shelter from the blazing sun – opt for renting ahead, or the less-expensive first-come-first-served, which presumably is the best option if and when this luxury hotel is running low occupancy, which means almost never, as 2014 closed at an average 87 percent, up seven points on 2013...

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