Luxury Hotels

A luxury London hotel hosts a Skift evening

Array of olive oils at the club lounge’s cocktail hour

It was really good, says the gal, to catch up with global Frenchman Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, whose profession, once he landed in the luxury hotel space, has taken him from Paris to London to Tokyo and now back to London. As Area VP UK and Ireland for Hyatt, he also heads one of the UK capital’s signature hotels, ‘The Churchill’, officially Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill.  Yes, there are memorabilia dotted around the 440-room property, but not too much of it, a bust here, a memento there. Among pieces in pop-up exhibition is this portrait, above, a 47 x 47cm oil by Paul Wright. The photo was taken as de Saint-Exupéry was on his way out, to co-host, with his wife, a dinner that Hyatt was sponsoring at the official residence of the French Ambassador in London. This was in aid of LP4Y, Life Projects For Youth, helping disadvantaged teenagers in south-east Asia.

Skift audience that night

Hyatt, and Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, will never say no to challenges. At corporate level, Hyatt has signed a global partnership with Skift for ten Megatrends presentations, in different destinations.  In London, interestingly, it was noticeable that at least 90% of participants were well under 30, and predominantly hospitality-related digital marketers and branding specialists who wanted authentic facts and stats. Skift’s CEO and Founder Rafat Ali presented some of the megatrends that his research department has identified, and his audience were given books to take away. Now in the past I have heard Rafat Ali brilliantly interacting with such greats as Keith Barr and Gerald Lawless. But this evening was different. Free, thanks to lead sponsor Hyatt, and such other supporters as Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau and Visit Dallas, it was held to launch a handy 72-page color book, Skift: Megatrends Defining Travel in 2019. Although the pre-presentation hospitality was confined to buttercup- or fuchsia-colored alcohol-free drinks, afterwards there was a jolly good stand-up party with Pommery’s Champagne Greno, Grand Prestige Brut, and a full bar, plus bowls of warming curry rice, samosas and one-bite canapés.

At an earlier Skift event, Gerald Lawless, left, and Rafat Ali

I must mention this luxury hotel’s main restaurants.  Years ago its adjacent, and somewhat symbiotic, Italian restaurant, by Giorgio Locatelli, was talk of the town (Madonna went there the first week).  It, like the hotel, is now a global institution.  There is also a Churchill Bar, with an outdoor cigar lounge, and, central to the whole operation, Montagu Kitchen has seen the lobby lounge of years past become a really sensible and enjoyable all-day dining place. The fact that this hotel has so much to offer, and that it is a mere five minutes’ walk north of Selfridge’s and the rest of Oxford Street’s retail, makes it popular with all ages – I travelled in elevators with a noticeable number of Millennials from the Middle East, wrapped up against the English winter.  Yes, we all like this place, said one. SEE ROOM 506, AND THE CLUB BREAKFAST

Read more
Luxury Hotels

Simply Sunday, simply overcome the wintery weather

Beetroot risotto with prawn

Hotel Rangá in the middle of Iceland has outdoor hot tubs and once a Kardashian climbed in, with Champagne, the rest of the world more or less followed suit.  About ten years ago, Lars Wagner, then GM of Mandarin Oriental, Munich, hoisted an alpine chalet to the hotel’s rooftop and, thanks to highly-publicised sponsor Veuve Clicquot, he made a marketing, and financial, killing.  In Paris, Buddha-Bar Hotel, Park Hyatt Vendôme and Raffles Royal Monceau have turned their inner courtyards into alpine environs, albeit without any actual ski slopes.  Luxury hotels, it seems, know how to turn winter to advantage, says the gal.

It does not even have to be costly to have effect. InterContinental Budapest puts fur throws on chairs on its outside terrace (see the image, with GM Claus Geisselmann, above). Of course the warming beetroot risotto helps, as did the view over the Danube to Buda castle, on the opposite bank’s hill, helps, but the ambience is such I remember every moment. And in summer there are memories here, too. Sit on the terrace and watch the nonstop panorama of river cruises going back and forth. Gábor Zsiros, Concierge at InterContinental Budapest, says the river cruise season runs from March through to October, with peak May to August, with up to 18 ships a week – from Avalon, Tauck and Viking, alone – disembarking and boarding passengers, about 130 per vessel.  Sit here on the terrace, and watch the activity, from the luxury hotel closest to the Danube here in the centre of beautiful Budapest. Memories, memories.



Read more
Luxury Hotels

Budapest’s iconic luxury Four Seasons hotel

GM Yves Giacometti in the lobby

Budapest Four Seasons Gresham Palace is, as its name implies, a palace, designed in 1906, by local architect Zsigmond Quittner, to be headquarters of the Gresham Life Assurance Company. Then, the gal learned, it went through two World Wars, and Hungary’s 1956 uprising and at one time it was briefly headquarters of the Red Army. Jump forward to the beginning of the present century and it was top lawyer Béla W Fejér, a friend of Isadore Sharp, who led the initiative to turn the six-floor palace, or what remained of it, into one of the most beautiful of luxury hotels. Opened in 2004 with 179 rooms and suites, and a rooftop gym and indoor pool, it was bought in 2011 by its present owners, Oman’s State General Reserve Fund.

Bedroom coffee cups…

Sometimes, but not often, bedroom designs last more than a few years. Richmond International’s concept for the rooms here evoke European style, understated rather than in-your-face – see a video of one of two Chain Bridge suites, room 103.  I loved the hand-painted Herend Hungary floral china that went with the Nespresso machine, an illustration of art meets function. Richmond International, under its ultra-creative leader Fiona Thompson, is currently ‘tweaking’ public spaces, whatever that will mean.  The hotel had, actually seemed perfect when it opened but it is even closer to perfection now.  Originally it had restaurants flanking its main entrance, looking across Szecheny garden to the Chain Bridge. In 2008. the ‘crisis’, which saw the collapse of the national airline, Malev, meant the closing of the haute cuisine Pavas restaurant.

Kollás foie gras omelette…

GM Yves Giacometti and the owners, therefore took a bold step. A side-street facing meeting room was combined with Pavas to produce Kollázs a massive L-shaped space, with a prominent outside entrance on Zrínyis: come in and face Josper and other grills, walk left, or right, through a succession of wood-lined rooms, with a circular bar at the heel of the L (designer is EDG). Local politicians and other A-Listers come in through the side door, while hotel guests come in direct from the lobby.  And who are those guests? Well, like most top hotels in this immediate area, about 50% are North American, but here the whole complement of guests also includes about 9% from the movie world.

.. and to-go, anytime

There are several studios nearby, of which the largest, Origo Film Group, has 9 complete soundstages. The Government gives all the support the studios need for such movies as Atomic Blonde, Blade Runner 2049 (in which director Denis Villeneuve used Budapest’s former Stock Exchange as a Los Angeles casino) and Evita.  Yves Giacometti never names names but it is known that Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, Rosamund Pike and Charlize Theron have been working in Budapest in the last few years. It is also common knowledge that some scenes of the 2015 movie Spy, with Jude Law, were actually shot in the hotel’s gorgeous lobby… so, come to this luxury hotel, and you never know whom you might meet picking up a coffee-to-go from the kiosk at the lobby-set entrance to Kollázs. WANT TO SEE CHAIN BRIDGE SUITE #103?

Read more