Luxury Hotels

The keep-fit luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi

Looking at the pool, the Canal beyond

To keep fit in Abu Dhabi, The Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, could be just the luxury hotel you need – the name means the ‘village by the guard tower crossing’ – and it is on the Grand Canal between Al Maqtaa Bridge and Musrafah Bridge. The gal certainly felt completely invigorated and refreshed for her too-short stay in this 213-room hotel.  There is so much on offer here, from pool and long sandy beach to ten spin bikes, above, ready and waiting: these are on the rooftop of the three-floor wellness block, which has separate men’s and women’s gyms (you guys will never experience the transformation of shapeless robed figures coming in completely shrouded in black, only to cast it aside to reveal latest workout gear on slim, if too shapely for most catwalks, frames).

Tai-chi, 8 a.m.

The 11-room spa is in that block too and I had one of the most memorable facials ever, a success not only because, inevitably, I fell asleep, but the Lotus Pink Caviar sheets with which Melody from north-east India worked seemed to transform with a magnificent sheen, and she finished up with extending the facial remit to include really strong leg stretching – hers, not mine. There was more stretching next morning, when the Bulgarian tai-chi teacher took me in hand, so to speak, and showed that just pushing down hard with two clenched fists can have a workout effect.

Great mosque, sunset

Fortunately I was able to escape between all this hearty exercise to enjoy #627, the Ruby Suite looking right across the Canal to the Grand Mosque, which, like the Taj Mahal, changes colour from first hint of daybreak through to end of dusk. This is a bedroom that really ‘works’.  All light switches are simple flick-switches, and marked in big letters.  Toiletries are easy-see, easy-open Acqua di Parma, there was enough fruit for any fruitarian – there was even more, I discovered, up in the seventh floor Horizon Club, one of the best in the business, with a cocktail hour that stresses its edibles are, where relevant, garden-fresh. They also have copies of the Financial Times, and the excellent local The National, here, not necessarily the norm in this Emirate’s top lodging places.

Gulf tuna

Of course, being this brand there is a Shang Palace Chinese restaurant but since the luxury hotel’s GM Ulf Bremer had temporarily defected, purely for business reasons, to Saudi Arabia I had a good glass of Bekaa red with his Lebanese colleague, Ahmed Issa, who runs the adjacent Traders. This is a F&B man through and through and as we ate in Bord Eau he explained how this luxury hotel’s gourmet-French was, like E. Macron in diplomacy, bringing what it stands for up to date. It is now simple, unfussy food, of the calibre of fresh Gulf tuna with kumquat, and zucchini purée, on a RAK plate from another Emirate, Ras al Khaimah. Our Ksara Reserve du Couvent 2014, by the way, came in Riedel glasses, and when it was finally time to leave I had a farewell card written, and signed, by staff members from ten nations, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines and Russia.  See why this is such a addictive and agreeable place to get, and keep, fit? AND NOW SEE FIRST SUITE 627 AND THEN THE HORIZON CLUB AT COCKTAIL HOUR

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Luxury Hotels

Abu Dhabi’s luxury icon, when it comes to hotels

Looking up in the main dome

Back in Abu Dhabi, the senior of the seven Emirates that constitute the UAE, the gal was immediately immersed in the ultimate in contrasts that Emirates Palace Kempinski presents. First, size. The entire building is, in a straight line, a kilometre long, and it has a total of 7,200 doors, inside and out, with 114 elevators, and 77 interior shops. At the same time the painters, directed at the 2005 opening by designers KY&A, appear to have used only one colour, soft sand.  By contrast with the size, there is minimalism.  Signage throughout the entire structure is subtle gold, presumably at least 18 carat, which means that, when letters are set on sand-coloured walls, you can hardly see them.

Looking out at the beach

It took me at least 24 hours to learn how not to get lost (sometimes it is quicker to go outside, walk along some of the mile-long private beach promenade, and then back inside again). I did, naturally, quickly find my way to one of two identical gyms, both 24/7 and extremely well equipped. More minimalism: I always think of Arabic mezze starters as a pot-pourri of dozens of platters, enough to feed five thousand.  Here, at the local-Emirati Mezlai restaurant, a single Villeroy & Boch dinner plate bears five tiny dishes with hommus and so on – which is of course avoiding food waste.  I had earlier worked up a good appetite by walking from end to end and round the cricket pitch and golf course, which are one and the same.  I passed the Bedouin tent, where locals explain their camels to fascinated child guests.

Looking across at the royal palace

This 394-room hotel is actually very child friendly: off one end of the building are two mammoth water chutes, one red and one yellow, and a wild water stream.   It is also going after culture.  Its mammoth theatre next hosts, on April 20th, 2018, the Donetsk Opera and Ballet, presented by Flash on behalf of Abu Dhabi Culture & Tourism: star of the evening will be Abu Dhabi’s own prima ballerina, Alia Al Neyadi, 24, originally inspired by her Ukrainian mother, Svetlana  (Alia then went on to get her Masters at New York University Tisch School of the Arts).  As I walked the grounds, here, I looked along at the Emir’s palace. I also admired some of the popup Balance sculptures, including a dancing horse, above.  This time, sadly, there was no time to admire the hotel’s unique and ongoing ATM that serves up real gold charms, real time pricing, day by day.

Martin Cramer

I was pleased to see what a great job someone has done selling this luxury hotel as a tourist destination – experienced Germans, especially, seem to like coming here time and time again, merely to stretch out on the beaches, with bikinis and books, a world away from the local VIPs in dishdashes gliding through the acres of cool polished-marble hallways. I also met up with the recently-arrived Argentinian GM, Martin Cramer, who has been in the Middle East for several years.  Ramadan, which starts this year on May 15th, 2018, does not faze him at all.  His teams are putting up a 700-person tent on the beach, for nightly Iftar parties.  Very conveniently, Ramadan finishes June 14th, just as the World Cup starts.  Abu Dhabi is football crazy (it owns Manchester City, for a start) and that tent will get even noisier when it turns into a non-stop sports bar, but honestly, Emirates Palace Kempinski is just so enormous that no-one else will hear, let alone complain. NOW SEE FIRST THE LOBBY AND THEN A VIDEO OF SUITE 3320

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Luxury Hotels

Sir Rocco Forte’s luxury Edinburgh hotel

Richard Cooke, lobby fire

When Richard Cooke, then GM of Shangri-La Hotel Toronto, was at  home one day he answered his mobile to find it was someone who stayed with him whenever in town. Come and run my Edinburgh hotel, said the voice – and that is how, three years ago, the Brit came back across the Atlantic to be in charge of Edinburgh ‘New Town’s’ luxury hotel, The Balmoral.  It is in a commanding position, at the junction of North Bridge and Princes Street, directly above Edinburgh’s main rail station, Waverley, and looking west along Prince’s Gardens to the Castle, and east to Arthur’s Seat. The gal was in the Bothwell Suite, # 230, newly redecorated by Rocco Forte Hotels’ family designer, Olga Polizzi, it was a symphony of soft greys and blues with hints of heather-purple. It looked along to the castle, and also south, across the dip of railway lines, to what is known as Old Town.

Popular lower-level pool

One of the cores of this hotel is the stunning pool, with adjacent ESPA that seemed to be equally popular with both hotel guests and locals. Another big draw is Palm Court, above, full every afternoon with mainly-female afternoon tea takers (two-hour slots, here). Overflows are seated in the very attractive mezzanine gallery looking down at the elegant lobby, with some of the male team members in tartan trews, the tartan from Kinloch Anderson – there is a tartan concierge here, Andy Fraser, ready to help you choose your own family-heritage pattern.  Arriving soon, in about two months, will be Alain Roux, son of The Waterside at Bray’s legendary Michel Roux, here to help you choose brasserie food, in a stunning space that I was privileged to tour, hard-hat style.  Brasserie designer is Martin Brudnizki.

The bar has over 500 whiskies on display

And no-one should miss the bar, which has over 500 whiskies.  FIVE HUNDRED, how could anyone get through so many, even in a long life time?  Sadly here I was, on the final night of my whisky experience – and lo and behold, once again the whisky supremo chose the most local, which happened to be my second tasting of Glenkinchie, but this time in a tulip glass.  I also had a tutored lesson in the nectar, by the way (see a video, below). Dinner was here at Number One, where Brian Grigor’s Michelin-starred menu offers seven or ten courses. As always, I preferred simple, namely a starter of trio of bright green French asparagus lengths, served simply on a hazelnut purée and, for sauce lovers, a beurre blanc.

Breakfast collage, 4.30 a.m.

This was followed by a filleted Dover sole holding surf clams (and for this the wine man suggested a Pinot Noir from Chassagne-Montrachet, 2015 Ferdinand & Laurent Pilot).  After a good, though short, night’s sleep, breakfast arrived on the dot of 4.30 – look at what this luxury hotel produced, in the middle of most people’s night (yes, the yoghurt is Ferme des Peupliers yoghurt but the preserves aee Scottish, produced specially for The Balmoral by Isabella’s Preserves, named for its Aberdeen founder Isabella Massie). At 5.15, there was this suave gent in sunflower tie and matching lapel flower.  As he drove to the airport he regaled me with tales of a last week’s job, taking Bulgarian and Russian bankers around distilleries.  The loved the peaty whiskies on the Isle of Islay, he said. Put that on your list for next time. SEE MY SUITE – AND THEN ENJOY A WHISKY TUTORIAL

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