To continue on the luxury theme, seeing something so natural and so unexpected as a perfect new moon is another component. The gal was about to dine outside, on the terrace of Sayad fish restaurant at Emirates Palace Kempinski Abu Dhabi. There, looking down at us, was this sliver of a moon. The hotel’s lovely chef Sandro Gambo, who made his name at another luxury hotel, Park Hyatt Chicago, came by to say hello and we toasted the moon, together.
Sandro Gambo knows how to prepare food to bring out the best of its flavour. It does not have to be complicated, but a bit of show helps. Here one of the servers is finishing a bouillabaisse, the Provençal fish stew that originated in Marseille. At Sayad, a bowl is brought with tiny fish creations in it, and the soup part is carefully poured over. I discover later that word bouillabaisse comes from the Provençal dialects for bolhabaissa, bolhir, to boil, and abaissar, to simmer.
At breakfast, here, as in other top hotels in Abu Dhabi, locals are eating almost as soon as the place, Le Vendôme, opens. Several tables are ladies-only, completely veiled in black. Twice as many tables are men only, guys in white dish-dashes. There are Arabic, and Chinese and Japanese sections, and a salmon carving table, and omelette specialists and waffle specialists. The coffee, by the way, is sensational (if you hear anyone say hotels cannot produce good coffee, suggest they come here, for coffee from a local company, Maromas).
Luxury is also feasts for the eye, of beautiful old sculptures like some of the Xi’an warrior-type in vitrines in the shiny marble walkways. Outside, there is an exhibition of sculptures suspended between trees. All the pieces are by a Pole, Jerzy Kedzior, known as Jotka. He specializes in pieces that defy gravity – in 2008 his Under the Dubai Sky – Creating Balance collection was shown to great acclaim in Dubai, sponsored by Barclays Wealth.
Each piece here in Abu Dhabi is more amusing than the last – head to see the collection now, as it is a temporary show, and will at some point be taken down (so far it has been extended twice). Jotka was born in Czestochowa, southern Poland, eldest of the seven offspring of an electrician and a professional knitter. The little boy would draw designs which his mother would incorporate into her knitting. He graduated to decorating churches and other buildings. Today, his balance sculptures are inspired by Gothic architecture throughout Europe, and by New York’s skyscrapers. Many are bought by German hospitals as therapy for patients.
Seeing his pieces in the gardens of this, one of the world’s ultimate luxury hotels, I felt awe-struck by the laws of physics that Jotka says help him to gauge a piece’s stability. I get into the back of a cream leather-lined Maybach and leave, having learned yet more lessons on what today’s luxury could be. Having clear clocks in the back of the car, clocks that tell me the time here and in other world cities, is another element.
What is luxury? As a noun it is the state of great comfort and extravagant living, say some. But the gal is set to show that a ‘luxury’ hotel, or a luxury resort, does not always have to be about extravagance. Sometimes an element of sheer over-the-top implies luxury. See this lush curtain fabric and the amazing cord and its tie, at Emirates Palace Kempinski, Abu Dhabi. You simply want to touch it, to feel if it is real.
Taken as a whole, this place does exemplify ‘luxury’ magnificently. Look at it from outside. It is a kilometer long, which means it has to have mirror-images gyms and spas at the ends of both wings. There are 394 bedrooms, including 16 Royal Suites, but look at the facts and figures. There are 114 exterior domes, and, inside, 7,200 doors – who counted them? – and 114 elevators.
On the total-200 acres of land there is one cricket pitch, a mile of white sandy beach, a marina – and two camels. These live on the sand fairly near to the main building, and their minders were just getting up from their bed rolls on rugs in the open-sided rush-topped camel ‘hotel’ when I ran past, as the sun came up. This is the only time of the day to run, here, as it is appallingly hot by about eight.
Who stays in a hotel like this? Government delegations galore, and all their minders – and tourists, lots of Germans and Russians and people from the UK. I hope they make them pay on arrival as the interior is so confusing it could be quite easy to get lost, never to be seen again. The tourists, however, find their way to one of the many outdoor pool complexes and spend their days there, many turning different shades of tomato hue.
Once back inside, that is where the fun, and the exercise, begin. To get from my room, 2517, I can take one of those elevators, or 104 carpeted steps of a wide curving staircase down to base level, to the gardens and the gym. To get to the lobby, I quickly discovered the simplest way was down one flight of that staircase and head, left and right and through the absolutely gorgeous long marbled walkway to the Grand Atrium, centre of the whole building (this open space is 150 feet across, nearly 200 feet high).
If luxury is space, you have it here. If luxury is a gold bath filled with sweet-smelling petals in the two Anantara spas here at this luxury hotel, you can tick off two more requirements. Add to that, of course, Thai therapists who know what they are talking about. And the fact that mine got me out by my requested hour. Luxury is also time, and every five minutes saved adds to that state of great comfort.
Simply Sunday. Coming out of Heathrow‘s Terminal Five the other day I saw lines of metal wheelbarrows. One row is painted fuchsia pink, one dull yellow, one turquoise. A tiny sign explains that this is in honour of the annual Chelsea Flower Show, which this year celebrates its centenary. London will be absolutely clogged May 21-25, 2013, as thousands flock to see the gardens. Fifteen are specially designed, say by Arthritis Research. One that will get a lot of acclaim is Sentabale Forget-me-not, sponsored by household do-it-yourself company B&Q. This garden celebrates Prince Harry‘s charity in Lesotho and, what with Prince Harry getting raves in the USA last week and playing polo in the Sentabale team at a match closely involved with St Regis luxury hotels, you can be sure royal-watchers will be checking that garden. Which brings the gal back to a display of wheelbarrows, put up by Heathrow’s owner, still known to everyone as BAA. A little thing like that reminds the travel what is going on…