It is that time of year again, when the gal actually spends three nights, yes THREE nights, in one of the world’s most iconic luxury hotels, the Adlon Kempinski, Berlin. There is a reason for this prolonged stay, as will become clear. On arrival, a most exquisite and elegant English aristocrat is holding court in the lobby, beneath the famous stained glass dome. She spends six months a year here, apparently. It is her second home (it is also the gal’s home, for three nights a year). It is lovely to be back, up the four red-carpeted steps from Unter den Linden and into the lobby. Look straight ahead at the extraordinary 12-foot tall black fountain that has elephants among its appendages.
Look up, too, at that dome, which never changes. But aha, there ARE some changes this year. Kempinski’s signature Ladies In Red, intelligent hostesses who act as bridge between consumer and reception, and consumer and concierge, are wearing delightful little scarlet hats with matching veils (more than fascinators but, nonetheless, the height of luxury fashion). Is this fashion new, permanent? Only for ITB, they say. Let us hope they forget to take them off. ITB, for those who have just arrived on the first plane coming in from Outer Space, is the nightmare of the world’s biggest travel fair and anybody who is anybody and everyone who is not is here, though thankfully not all at the Adlon.
Other accents have been introduced for ITB time. The gym opens at five. At the rear of the lobby, surrounded by flower displays and black and white photos of former guests, all in covetable silver frames, a pianist plays, even quite early in the morning. This evokes a feeling of yesteryear, which is also being stressed with the hotel’s monthly tea-dances, a partnership with Tanzschule Peter Steirl. This hotel is really so elegant. As you check in, a silver bucket stands ready with champagne, if you would like a glass (if not, there is orange juice) and, of course, the Ladies in Red are there. They will be delighting the Virtuoso travel agents who arrive for their yearly ‘international’, meaning outside the USA, gathering, April 26-30, 2014.
The framed photos around the hotel remind me of the collections I saw in two other luxury hotels, in Madrid, only a week ago (are we all hankering after the past?). Here, in my favourite room 518, looking out over Unter den Linden and, to one side, with a clear view of the Brandenburg Gate, my silver photo frame holds a likeness of Teddy Roosevelt. Did he ever come here, I wonder? More recent names include Michael Jackson, whose visit is best forgotten, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved in here when he was released by Putin after those years of imprisonment. Since then the Russian has started travelling the world. On March 4th, 2014, he was in Zurich, invited by the Zurich Chamber Orchestra to hear Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Los Angeles Symphony, which he wrote and dedicated to Khodorkovsky in 2008.
Simply Sunday and, says the gal, time to look around you. Sometimes you find the most extraordinary sculptures that do remind you where you are. Sometimes these are really splendid pieces of art, like the giant Botero sculptures in Cartagena, Colombia, or his famous Fat Bird, finished in 1990, by the river in front of the UOB Plaza, Singapore. Basle has odd bits of work by one of Switzerland’s best-known sculptors, Jean Tinguely, 1925-1991 (see his extraordinary sculptures, too, outside the divine spa at one of Europe’s finest luxury hotels, The Dolder Grand, above Zurich).
Just occasionally there are bizarre sculptures in public places. Whoever, in Laguardia, the mediaeval hilltop village that I visited a few days ago, thought about having a bronze collage of shoes that travellers might have worn? Next to it is another table bearing assorted travel suitcases, but, I hasten to add, no sign of a Porsche Rimowa wheelie.
At an airport, especially before a flight, location and simplicity of living honestly take precedence over the usual criteria for luxury hotels, says the gal. London Heathrow Hilton is connected to the airport’s Terminal Four, by an airbridge – just long enough for a 12-minute hike if you cannot get exercise any other way. The hotel is led by a brilliant boss, Jurgen Sutherland. He and his team think of everything. See the photo, with its bus ticket machine to far right (buy a ticket for the half-hourly shuttle to Terminal Five). Just the other side of that machine is the British Airways boarding card laptop, with printer. Check yourself in, print out your boarding card.
My other top-two airport hotels, also connected to terminals, are the Copenhagen Airport Hilton, reached by a two-minute air bridge, and, at Vancouver Airport, the Fairmont that is actually right above the terminal. When the London Heathrow Hilton opened, in 1990, the lobby was itself likened to an airport terminal. Look at that soaring space, what is it all about? It is a five-floor glass trapezoid. Enter the narrowest side, to the roof-high lobby, and look far ahead to the wider end, which has a pool and conference rooms on the floor below. Both side-sides, so to speak, are bedrooms, half facing in, to the atrium, and half facing out (the North-facing ones look to the terminal). There are full-size palm trees, and a couple of gigantic deliberately-rusted silhouette sculptures.
Down by the pool is another requisite of the good airport hotel, namely a 24-hour gym. Bedrooms, as you will assume, have alarm clocks so you can wake yourself up in time for a workout before that horribly-early flight.. The gym has copies of decent newspapers, and apples, and then I personally get more exercise by walking up the fire stairs rather than taking an elevator. I like the new bedrooms, by the way, with rounded-edges cabinets for tea, coffee, and a glass-front minibar, empty so you can put your own things in.
Regulars know that it is definitely worth staying here, too, for the Club Lounge, which opens at 6.30am. It has a plausible fire and, a really nice touch, an excellent selection of books in a library that is filled up by the many American guests who seem to read hardbacks when travelling (no Brit would ever buy David Baldacci’s King and Maxwell in hard cover, but it was jolly nice to be able borrow it overnight). There is a big communal table in the lounge but somehow people here us it only as a last resort – they prefer working their devices at tables-for-two. Talking of devices, you have all electric sockets, for US, UK and European plugs, handy above bedroom desks.
I have had the fish and chips here many times, in the club lounge, in the restaurant and in my room. On this visit, I was watching a fascinating television programme on poets and World War I, so dining in was the best choice. A cheery young man brought the tray, and although our Chilean winemaking friends might have had a fit, a glass of Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo goes just perfectly with the English favourite (OK, so only a couple of months ago I was claiming that New Zealand is the home of fish and chips, but there are other contenders; the more the merrier).
For all you serious travellers, make a note that the first bus from this airport-luxury hotel to Terminal Five leaves at 4.50 am. On this occasion I was not quite that early. There is a 24/7 coffee bar, with Costa Coffee, but I was just able to make the full breakfast buffet, which starts at 6.30 (there is continental-only from six). Great buffet, stacks of today’s Financial Times and Wall Street Journals. What more does the busy international traveller want?