Luxury Hotels

Sybaritic Single has the time of his luxury life in a Tehran hotel

Personalized welcome

The Sybaritic Single enjoyed the grand final flûte of superbly chilled Dom Pérignon 2009 with a quartert of raspberries as the flight ‎commenced its descent, arriving at Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport in a few minutes. The following two days promised to be exciting ‎yet as dry as Iran’s Lut desert, the hottest place on earth.

But once he reached the luxury Espinas Persian Gulf hotel well past midnight, the protocol could blow away even the most seasoned traveller: the moment the door of his car opened, an impressive welcome committee ‎greeted him by name (clearly rehearsed and pronounced correctly), his photograph was displayed on screens in the lobby and the pianist ‎proudly performed Russia’s anthem – and he did so every time the Sybaritic Single would walk through the ‎lobby throughout his stay, day or night. The next two days were all about Persian hospitality in its most genuine form: nothing was too ‎much to ask for and whenever something had not been considered it was quickly arranged effortlessly. ‎

Naturally, saffron tea and beluga caviar became the staples of the Sybaritic Single’s diet in absence of Champagne and raspberries. One ‎morning he arrived late for breakfast. The restaurant immediately reopened and the ‎entire buffet was fully restocked. Not a single eyebrow was raised – just a bouquet of fresh flowers was gracefully placed on his table. Another thoughtful convenience was keeping the spa open until very late ‎in the evening so that the Sybaritic Single could enjoy a massage just before going to sleep.‎

He also had a chance to ascend to the top floor of his hotel’s sister property, Espinas Palace (currently ‎Tehran’s most luxurious hotel and the only one in the country to offer butler service, though located slightly away from the city centre), for a private preview of the ‎new iconic Sky Lounge which will, among everything else, feature the city’s highest caviar bar ‎and even a flying hippopotamus as its centrepiece, created by Mohsen Gholami in 2016 as part of his “Holy Zoo” collection. Curiously, the hotel could also easily rival the ‎Baccarat Hotel & Residences in New York when it came to the number of Baccarat chandeliers illuminating its interiors – ‎what a surprise! Equally impressive was that it could challenge Carnegie Hall when it came to the size of its in-house theatre. ‎Starting this week and for the next 60 days, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables will be performed ‎on its stage, to 2,700 every night – and what a massive and world-class production that will be!

48 hours in Tehran flew by and the Sybaritic Single was enjoying some more caviar at the ‎airport lounge. Suddenly, he realised that he had forgotten to empty his safe box before leaving ‎the hotel. With just over an hour to departure, the rang the hotel and explained the situation. What happened over the next hour was both a miracle and an example of a superbly -orchestrated service: the hotel opened the safe, packed and sealed its contents (most importantly, a very rare diamond-encrusted Vertu mobile phone), sent their fastest chauffeur to the ‎airport, arranged for the package to be cleared through two very strict security checkpoints as well as ‎immigration, and to be hand-delivered to the gate. Of course, the Sybaritic Single had to pull a few ‎strings to delay the departure of a full Boeing-777 by a good 25 minutes in order to be reunited with his phone. Yet the moment the flight eventually took-off, he could ‎once again celebrate with Champagne and a saffron rock candy. He immediately began planning his return to Tehran’s unexpected ‎world of oh-so-luxury hotels.‎

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Luxury Hotels

The PuLi set a precedent for luxury hotels in China

At the ILTM party

How to do justice to a luxury hotel that has been the arbiter of taste since it opened nearly ten years ago?  When The PuLi Hotel and Spa burst on to the Shanghai scene no-one in China, certainly, had seen anything like it, and international travellers quickly realised this was a new type of luxury hotel.  The salient point, says the gal, is that The PuLi is still innovating. When it hosts a cocktail for ILTM, as it does every year, the food is not canapés or anything else mundane but Iberian ham carved in front of you, and oysters shucked to order.  The PuLi’s reputation draws everyone on an invitation list to turn up.

Renato Chizzola, Thomas Vaucouleur de Ville d’Avray

Entering a discreet building tucked behind the Park Place mixed-use complex is itself a draw.  You go in, past quite a lot of bamboo, to what seems like an endless lobby plus lounge, its floor shiny black slabs of stone reputedly from centuries old buildings (designer Johannes Hartfuss from Melbourne has a knack of bringing Old China into Today). The 100-foot long bar, running 20 feet to your right as you enter this space, is conciergerie, reception and drinking-eating counter. There are nooks and crannies everywhere, and the world’s top hang out here.  I coincided, for instance, with Renato Chizzola, boss of Le Cheval Blanc Randheli Island – he was here to see The PuLi’s recently-arrived GM, Thomas Vaucouleur de Ville d’Avray, who had previously been part of his team in the Maldives

Markus Engel

I also met up with Markus Engel, visionary behind The PuLi.  He set up Urban Resorts with John Laing, and the two have painstakingly created and now expanded the brand.  Their properties in Xiamen, which is already open, and, coming within the next three months, both Beijing and Kuala Lumpur will, I expect, similarly excite the travelistas.  Markus Engel told me, firmly, that Xiamen must be on my next China itinerary (forget Sanya, Xiamen is luxury China’s new cool, he said).  His mission is hostmanship, putting personal awareness back into a hotel world increasingly ruled by impersonal investment companies which see hotels as merely a way to make money by buying and selling real estate.

Scraping a butter scoop, table-side

Dinner was at this luxury hotel’s all-purpose, always-good second floor restaurant, PHENIX, and long-time Melbourne-born chef Michael Wilson was as unassuming and down-to-earth as ever.  Try his cold-smoked salmon, shown above, with soda bread, and then perhaps his mussels with fries, so good you might want a second helping.  There are lots of memorable touches.  Butter, for instance, comes in a big loaf tin and, using a spoon, the server scoops what looks like an icecream portion, in front of you.  You wonder who all the other diners are – are the two local men in flat caps at the next table some of China’s top artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs who make up some of The Puli’s best clients?   And then, after a totally enjoyable two hours, I went back up to room 1615 – see a video, below – relaxed, and happy. WATCH THE VIDEO

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Luxury Hotels

Quick visits to two new luxury Shanghai hotels

Middle House rooms have pull-cord master switches

Shanghai is one of those world cities that seems to launch new luxury hotels with every new moon, and of course all of them seem to be successful in an environment that craves the latest, and innovation abounds. The gal was lucky enough to visit two of these just-opened.  First was Middle House, latest in Swire Hotels’ Collective range. The car swung into a slate and real bamboo oasis, surrounded by highrises. Inside the 111-room hotel designer Piero Lissoni seems to have blossomed: yes, there are his signature dark colours and sombre tones, here and there, but there are also such delights as a coffee corner, shown above.  And he has cleverly put the beds in the centre of rooms, with high-enough bedheads really to become ‘walls’ separating working from sleeping space.

Michael Faulkner, courtyard

GM Michael Faulkner, seen here in that arrival courtyard – in front of the hotel’s Ulac bikes – showed me how the 14-floor hotel block connects below ground to another block, which has 102 serviced apartments. Along the walkway is a splendid eight-room spa, which uses LVMH’s new products, Cha Ling Ancient Pu’er tea cosmetics, harvested in Yunnan. Bedrooms In both blocks use Bamford, and there are Illycaffè espressos.  I especially liked the hotel’s two-room Penthouse Suite, on the 14th floor – with a round dining table to seat six, it is probably also used for small meetings.  Three other notable features at Middle House: every room has a simple attached-to-ceiling cord by the bedside, the master switch (Faulkner calls this ‘Mr Goodnight’); a Café Gray, as in Hong Kong’s Upper House; and, in the complex’s integral HKRI Taikoo Hui shopping mall, the world’s largest Starbuck’s Reserve Roastery.

Ronan Henaff, rooftop

And then it was off to EDITION Shanghai, which opened this July. This is another entertainment place that happens to have rooms, in fact 147 of them.  Particularly fascinating was the way GM Ronan Henaff, from Brittany, relayed how EDITION founder and leader Ian Schrager is in control of everything – he appears to check how far down the ceiling-hung living garden rods actually hang, for instance.  The really good EDITION newspaper, an A4 sheet presented folded in half, has a quote from Schrager: ‘to turn a hotel into a destination you need a unique experience that touches people in some personal, emotional and visceral way’.

EDITION sashimi

Ian Schrager has obviously had a close hand not only in putting in rooftop lounges on both of the hotel’s towers, and, inside, a Club lounge, a red-hued night club and a screening room. There are also restaurants, lots of them, which is just fine for Ronan Henaff who was previously GM of Shanghai’s multi-use Three on The Bund.  Today, he hosted lunch at EDITION’s Japanese restaurant, Hiya, on the 27th floor – it is run by Brit Jason Atherton, who also runs this modern-luxury hotel’s ground floor Shanghai Tavern.  The sashimi, in particular, was absolutely ace.


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