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…
Wake up in room 101 of St Regis Saadiyat Island and you are in a unique position, here in Abu Dhabi. You look out over your private pool, and already there are golfers on the course. Yes, the gal is told, hotel guests can play, arrange it via your butler. If someone wants a luxury golf resort with nonstop hot sun and an adjacent beach, this is perfect.
Arrive here early morning, or leave late evening, and there is a special lounge, with washrooms and showers and a small gym – the main gym is in a separate building, seven minutes’ walk from the hotel. The lounge is also next to the fabulous two-floor-high all-day dining, Oleo, with an overhang over the serving and buffet area that reminds you that outside there is a clear blue sky above the sandy beach. I sit outside, having chosen lots of fabulous fruit. A waiter brings really good coffee, in a white china ‘tea’ pot.
It is worth going to the egg chef just because of the chefette, who is deftly managing two omelette pans at once. Most have omelettes filled with all kinds of things: there are lots of Germans staying here right now, with hefty appetites. They, and the slim-line, white dish-dash locals (who adore eating breakfast in hotels) have one thing in common. BREAD. Both pile plates mountain-high with breads, both rolls and cut-your-own baguettes and local flat bread. With the Europeans, you can see where it goes. With the locals, I wonder.
I head for the spa, a hearty walk, about ten minutes in all from room 101, but fortunately all inside as it is so so hot outside, even at 9.30. I am amazed at the ingenuity in the spa locker room. Taking the eye around vertically, you see a bank of three lockers, say 5A, 5B, 5C (all yours), one above the other. Next comes a high alcove with padded leather seating, then the next three vertically-set lockers (all your neighbours). This is such a stylish idea and gives you your own seating area.
The spa is very calming, very relaxing. You could stay here and be so busy you would need that. As well as golf and the usual beach and pool activities, this is the nearest hotel to what will be Louvre Abu Dhabi, now opening 2015. Already there are cultural programmes. On Saturday June 1st, 2013, the museum’s French director, Laurence des Cars, is hosting a family workshop, and on Wednesday June 26th, 2013, she is lecturing on unlocking the mystery of art, with science. Stay here for culture, for the whole family.
The door of my Bentley – actually, the hotel’s – is already unlocked and rarin’ to go. Max Wiegerinck, who is in charge of the luxury hotel at the moment, found time to come out to say goodbye, as did some of the staff, all with big smiles.