Luxury Hotels

Abu Dhabi’s luxury Park Hyatt beach resort

Ai Weiwei

First, the gal must confess. Louvre Abu Dhabi, ten minutes from such luxury hotels as, in order of proximity, St Regis Saadiyat Island, Pearl Rotana and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, is stupendous.  It vastly exceeded expectations (anyone who has seen Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, the one with black, or white, or grey bathrooms and a roof based roughly on Vienna’s gorgeous Dom, might be sceptical about the name Jean Nouvel, but here the artist has come up trumps). The gigantic fretwork saucepan lid of aluminium that covers the whole area is in such contrast to the water and sand all around.  Juxtaposition is, indeed, the key word for the whole effect of this long-awaited architectural masterpiece, which opened November 8th, 2017. Judging by the Olympic-scale proportions of roads and parking spaces, the authorities obviously expected the appeal of Madison Square Garden from day one

One of a myriad of Louvre vistas

The space is so large there is plenty of room for all but do avoid coinciding with a mega cruise ship as the cruise terminal is literally next door. Louvre Abu Dhabi comes into Abu Dhabi’s total $27 billion budget for Saadiyat Island, of which about $600 million was invested in the building and a further $525 million was paid for use of the Louvre name (and yet an additional $747 million is allocated for art loans). Frankly, during my visit I was most impressed by the architecture – see a video below – and by a temporary exhibition, finishing June 3rd, 2018, on globes and old maps. The more-permanent displays merely present a Neil MacGregor-type history of the world in 100 objects.  I did, however, love the unique 13-foot Fountain of Light crystal chandelier and steel sculpture by the perennially-young Ai Weiwei, now all of 60.

View from a Louvre terrace

Back to hotels. I always relish meeting youngsters who will one day be running significant properties.  It seems only a few years ago, for instance, that the gal, stupidly wearing shiny-soled boots in a snowstorm in Moscow, had to be stopped from sliding over Red Square by a young Greek, Mattheos (Aki) Georgiou at Ararat Park Hyatt.  He is now GM of Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor, opening later this year. Now cut to Abu Dhabi, where that Emirate’s luxury Park Hyatt is currently without a GM but, as with all good establishments, the team is so well trained that Hopes For The Future are able to show what they can do, and beautifully. During my stay I was looked after magnificently by another Greek, or half-Greek – Andrew Kakakuts is also half Ukrainian. Non-stop travellers have continual little needs. Help, what about this stain on my shoe?  No problem. Andrew Kakakuts and Filipina assiistant housekeeper Aireen, assembled their team of chemical experts.

…view from suite 603, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi

I love dining here at Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, both in the on-the-sand Beach House and, our choice tonight, Park Grill.  I was with a Frenchman Julien Gonzalvez, who after years in Asia has come here to open Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi.  In his honour, we drank Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage 2012 M Chapoutier, to go with local tuna followed by Irish beef from John Stone, part of the mighty Kepak Group. At the enormous Le Café breakfast buffet, some of those vacationers headed straight for a table of croissants and bread-and-butter and other puddings but I was happy to see masses of papaya. You can be super-healthy here: use the 24/7 Technogym, run the mile or more of beach, swim what seems like acres of outdoor pools, use stairs (24 down to the gym, 27 every time you eschew elevators to go between lobby and the outside area). AND NOW SEE VIDEOS OF INSIDE THE LOUVRE, OUTSIDE THE HOTEL, SUITE 603 AND BREAKFAST IN LE CAFE

Read more
Luxury Hotels

Luxury hoteliers meet at AHIC 2018

Stephen Sackur

For the first time, the 14th annual Arabian Hotel Investment Conference AHIC – held April 17-19, 2018, moved from one luxury Dubai hotel, complex, Madinat Jumeirah, to a hotel in another Emirate, namely Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah (or at least its beach).  Host partner Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority built what can best be described as the ultimate air-conditioned tent. Bespoke, it took six weeks to construct and, at 90x30m, was big enough for an auditorium for the 900+ delegates, plus a smaller discussion area, and all support, including food and drink, and an adjacent majlis only used for a multitude of royals on day one. The assembled dignitaries that day included the Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi.

Jumeirah’s Marc Dardenne and Jose Silva

Themed Focus on the Future, relevant sessions included milllennials, when Emaar CEO Olivier Harmitsch described his E25 group which continually inputs a younger viewpoint – but why, asked Jonathan Worsley, AHIC founder, and chairman of organiser Bench Events, are millennial brands not already in the region? They will come, said Standard’s Amar Lalvani, but those brands are perhaps slow to realise the potential of the Middle East – although the 25hours group, now partially owned by Accor, will be opening at Dubai’s WT Centre. Also looking ahead, AHIC this year highlighted Ras Al Khaimah for big growth, not only on Marjan Island: the Emirate saw one million tourists in 2017 and is aiming for three million by 2025 but there are currently only 5,500 rooms.

A local band

Thank goodness for investment in a superb interviewer, BBC Hard Talk’s Stephen Sackur – he came here direct from interviewing Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Sackur was especially good when talking with Emaar’s charismatic Chairman Mohamed Alibar, and with IHG CEO Keith Barr. He also stirred up an owners’ panel to the extent that RAK Hospitality CEO Yannis Anagnostakis asked why some operators promise a five-star product that turns out to be four-star, and some guests consider three-star (in reply, such operators as Simon Vincent, Hilton, rose to heated defence). Sackur’s final task was to introduce wrap-up speaker, Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi

The main area of the tent had a massive exhibition area, and a golf simulator. Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah GM Alan Stocker, who seemed to be on permanent hotel-lobby duty throughout the event, made sure the tent’s ongoing snacks and drinks were always superb.Waldorf Astoria hosted the first night cocktail, but pride of place goes to night two’s desert extravaganza, hosted personally by Marriott President Middle East & Africa Alex Kyriakidis at the recently-rebranded 101-tented pool-villa Ras al-Khaimah Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi (scroll down to the previous Girlahead). And how absolutely admirable that the Ruler himself turned up. AND NOW WALK AROUND THE TENT, AND THEN THE MARRIOTT PARTY

Read more
Luxury Hotels

And now for a luxury tent in Ras al Khaimah’s desert

300-year old olive tree, from Spain

When Ritz-Carlton went into Ras al Khaimah it actually signed two luxury hotels, or rather two amazing tented camps.  As well as the beach-set property Ritz-Carlton Ras al Khaimah Al Hamra there is what is now Ritz-Carlton Ras al Khaimah Al Wadi, 20 minutes’ drive from the coast in the eternal dunes of Wadi Khajeja, a 500-hectare national park. Arrive, and you go into a covered lobby courtyard dominated by a 300-year old olive tree: the gal was told that the property’s owner, HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, specifically wanted a tree from Spain and this one, with its original soil and a horticultural ‘nanny’, was brought by ship through the Suez Canal, a three month voyage in al

Long view, from lobby to end tower

After passing by the olive tree, I went on through to the open approach, 24/7 gyms, sic, on my left, breakfast room on my right, and, 300 yards ahead beyond a long decorative pool, an Emirati tower on a hillock.  A buggy with a falcon’s face painted on the front took me to villa 515, which at 2,400 sq ft was considerably bigger than its counterpart down on the beach.  Put simply, this particular villa, one of 31 in this 101-total property, is like an extended figure-eight. Around the walls are no fewer than 31 blinds, only three of which are automatic (the others need pulling down at night, up in the morning).

Bathroom reflections

The bathtub occupies a central place.  Lie in it and look, thanks to cleverly-angled mirrors, around your entire space and out to the 40-feet heated pool, sunk into the sand. as shown n the picture above  In the morning gazelles flitted around the sand-dunes beyond.  I went down the five wood steps outside my front door and took one of my two pale blue city-bikes for a spin, to see The Farmhouse terrace restaurant, where I will dine next visit (last night was the final gala of the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference AHIC, hosted magnificently in the sand-dunes here, see the next Girlahead).  Next time, too, I try the Rainforest water experiences here, and have a massage.

Amit Arora is everywhere

Amit Arora is GM of both properties and guests, like him, can shuttle between here and the beach-set Al Hamra property.  But stay here, up in the desert, and it is all-inclusive, apart from alcohol.  You do get all meals, and your choice of one activity a day.  Falconry is on that menu and I did meet the bird, a lovely tame female who appeared, despite a leather hood over her head, to be quite content with her life as one of the many attractions at this luxury tented-camp hotel. I must comment, by the way, on its space.  I am told it was almost full last night but I only saw half a dozen other guests the entire time (perhaps the tents are so addictive most just stay put). AND NOW SEE VIDEOS OF LUXURY TENT 515, AND A SECTION OF THE BREAKFAST BUFFET

Read more