It was time to visit three very different luxury hotels in an area that was completely new to the gal – Bodrum, the Turkish peninsula that is rivalling St Tropez, Ibiza and Mykonos as the summer hot-spot. Yes, that is true. One of the most in-touch top hoteliers spent his 2015 summer hols half on Mykonos, half in Bodrum. Especially late June through to the third week of August, there are about half a million on the peninsula and all resorts in the entire Bodrum area seem to run at 100 percent occupancy, and even if you can afford €500, a day, for an overwater cabana, as at one place, you are lucky if you can find a proper bedroom for the night, even if you can pay for it. By the last week of August, everything begins to slow down and by end of November the population returns to its usual 50,000.
I coincided at Bodrum’s glitziest hotel, the 135-room Jumeirah Bodrum Palace, with three friends from the company – Nancy Wolff and Lisa Zoretich, both visiting from Dubai, and Doris Greif, who heads Jumeirah‘s European operations and at the same time is GM of Jumeirah Frankfurt. I arrived at night, on the direct London flight (summer-only, like all international flights, sadly) and, after paying my £20 visa-on-arrival, it was flowers in the arrival vehicle and, once there, Möet white or rosé, and fab Turkish food, a mezze and grilled fish. We looked down the diagonal-steep landscape as jets d’eau to rival Geneva’s but here day-glo coloured, soared into the black sky. I was far too late to bed, in the upper part of two-floor, two-bedroom 62, a 1,950 sq ft Maldivian villa with a 65-foot long L-shaped very private pool.
In the morning they opened the gym for me an hour early (it is part of the enormous Talise Spa) and later we went on a tour. Think every traditional crystal chandelier in the Ottoman Empire, and double the number – some are hanging down the stairwell of the three-floor Palace villa, which has six ensuite bedrooms, an indoor pool and two outdoor pools, one fresh and one seawater. If you want to be more discreet, take one of the eleven Majestic Suites, which only have four bedrooms. Not surprisingly families, especially from Lebanon, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, just love this place, though what some of the traditionalists think of the numbers of voluptuous females, clad only in wisps of blue curtain, who appear lifesize on painted internal columns is an unanswered questions.
Stay at this luxury hotel for stunning views, from each and every one of the rooms, far down to sea, and for some fascinating sculptures in the meticulously-tended gardens, 27 acres in all. Stay for a seemingly endless breakfast buffet, which even has about three dozen cheeses and the same number of pancake types, and goes on until noon, which gives plenty of time to admire the chandeliers overhead. And then, if you do not want to take the 116 steps, or a buggy, down to the beach, count the number of precious carpets scattered in the main lobby, the length of a curved football field. With what to compare this experience? Radisson Royal in Moscow springs to mind, as does Turkey’s own Mardan Palace, Antalya – not coincidentally, both those are masterminded by the same man. Jumeirah Bodrum Palace is now owned by a passionate former hotelier, Vedat Dalkiran, and he has cleverly brought Jumeirah in to make it work. Lovers of the ornate rather than minimalism will hope nothing is changed when it re-opens for the 2016 season.
Well this was a first for the gal, and very agreeable it was. Waiting in the room at Westin Dragonara Hotel Malta was the luxury of a do-it-yourself smoothie kit, with detailed instructions. Choose your fruit, from selections of berries, kiwi and melon, all neatly cling-wrapped. Put in orange juice or yoghurt, and ice cubes, and blend (the blender, already plugged in of course, was specially ice-tough). There was a Kim Kardashian-shaped glass, straws and a stirrer. Room 817 also had two balconies, and Dedon furniture, to sit out, sip the healthy smoothie and look out across the Mediterranean. Hotel GM Michael Camilleri Kamsky says the smoothie idea came up at an innovation meeting. I also have a selection of ‘eat well’ snacks, like walnuts for antioxidants, and a ‘sleep well’ menu that encourages me to order a turkey sandwich with guacamole and spinach, and a decaf herbal tea, one to two hours before sleeping.
He is pretty creative, this guy, Mr Kamsky. My room has a pedal bin with three marked interior compartments for recycling, which cuts his waste disposal bills to near-nothing. Look how a front desk clerk’s shirt, and lipstick, match the picture, behind, of Malta’s smaller-sibling island, Gozo – and his own tie blends with the painting, too. Michael Kamsky found the painting hidden in a back room somewhere so, for no cost, he re-did the front desk look, putting it on a par with others I have written about recently. He is also, by the way, a most unusual hotelier. After Air Malta, including being country manager of Switzerland and then Australia, he moved on to high speed ferries, and then destination management, bringing tourists into Malta. He moved into this hotel in 2003 and he will reward himself next month by buying a Porsche 911.
He runs the hotel as a village, in a C-shaped building rising eight floors from ground zero (the lobby is on the third floor). The 340 rooms that are full all summer long, and nearly-so the rest of the time. There is a gym with 600 outside members. Add one spa, one unrelated but neighbouring casino, and four eating places (plus a really friendly executive club run by a cheery Texan lady). We dined outside, on a private terrace of a stone house, a former maid’s sea-set dwelling. More surprises. The four of us, an appropriate number considering the house is now called Quadro, were presented with individual preserving jars (‘jars’, to the Maltese). Open up, to a smoky aroma of deep-fried pigs’ ears on salad. I followed this, somewhat more conventionally, with a disassembled tart – try saying that ten times after a stiff Hendrick’s and cucumber. The components of what could have been an asparagus and fresh local sheep cheese tart made an attractive, and tasty, palette.
As the light dimmed, inner-lit white standing lanterns glowed ice-blue. Back up in 817 I looked down into the open C-shape to see more blue day-glo lanterns down below. Of course, as always, and without a turkey sandwich and decaf tea, I slept like a baby – thanks once again, Barry Sternlicht, for raising the entire level of hotel mattresses with the Westin Heavenly bed. In the morning, I looked out again, to the blue of the Mediterranean – this is the only luxury hotel on Malta, by the way, that is right on the sea, with no road between building and beach. No wonder 30 Norwegians, who met here on holiday one year, now come back, every July, for two or three weeks. It was apparent when I went along to see Miss Texas in the club lounge (‘let me set up a table on the terrace so you can look out to sea’) that several others also taking real English-style bacon and choice of eggs, from linen-knobbed chafing dishes, that these had come back so often she regarded them as friends.
They eat a lot of fish in Malta, for obvious reason – it is an island, and the fisherfolk are out a-plenty. The gal called by for lunch at one of the St George’s Bay luxury hotels, InterContinental Malta, and it was such a heavenly day that it was decided to lunch not in one of the 481-room hotel’s inside restaurants but in, or rather on, Paranga, a stylish wood space on stilts above the sand. The manager presented what had just been caught, a John Dory and a seabass. The former subsequently appeared filleted, rolled around olives and cooked. The seabass was brilliantly skinned and filleted tableside, with a spoon and knife. Now that is true skill.
Louise Pullicino, who has recently returned to her homeland, and I looked back at the crowds on the hotel’s beach. Who would stay inside on a day like this, even if you have the glory of what will be, when the current renovations are finished, a 481-room beauty? The 19-floor structure is somewhat ziggurat-shaped, with balconies that make the whole thing look like a giant cruise ship. Right now they are finalising 30 new Highline Suites, smallest size 950 sq ft, which all share a rooftop infinity pool. The Swedes will especially like that, when it is winter back home up north – there are over 400 Swedes living in Malta permanently, many working for Betsson online gaming, and not surprisingly their familes and friends love to come and visit, especially in winter.
We ate in the open-sided restaurant and looked back at the beach, and across the water to St George’s, and then we lounged on Paranga’s terrace, which does indeed turn into a Bed Supper Club-like lounging area on Friday nights, but then every night the restaurant spills out on to the beach. And then I went up back up to the hotel’s outstanding 15th floor Executive Club lounge (think InterCon‘s club lounges in London, Budapest, Hong Kong and Sydney) and walked along to my just-finished suite, 1504. Designer is Auntielucy, a local supply company that uses Bang & Olufsen and Minotti as a matter of course, and has an endless supply of granite-grey paint. And the suite works. Everything was in exactly the place I would hope it would be – and, a big plus, I had lots of perfectly ripe whole fruits.
Louise Pullicino says in Malta the government pays you to go to university rather than the other way round (she studied the history and science of space and bemoans the rash of building on Malta). There is plenty of space at the hotel. Its owners, the De Cesare brothers, have turned their former Eden Leisure ice skating rink, attached to the hotel, into the country’s largest event space, 1,700 theatre-style with no problem, plus 24 breakout rooms. This is a very clever luxury hotel: it is also conjoined to a LA Fitness-style fitness complex (fresh orange segments as you go in). There are six permanent TRX ropes and a line-up of 26 spinning bikes must surely be a record ….. no wonder people stay an average 3.5 nights here, there is so much to do. My welcome pack, for instance, included details of two exclusive Malta Film Tours programmes featuring Game of Thrones inductions, Saturdays or Sundays, your choice, led by two actors. Wonder if they also throw in Midnight Express, the 1978 Alan Parker movie, starring John Hurt, which was actually filmed here in Malta rather than Turkey?