When a spa says COLOUR, as at Bulgari Hotel London, the gal feels like dancing – OK not necessarily Psy’s Gangnam but dancing on clouds, dancing through life. This is just the effect that the spa gives at what will be St Regis Abu Dhabi. Look at the colours in the wet room in the ladies’ locker area (the bars are wrapped in polythene as the hotel is not yet open – the first guest will arrive this August). Yes, not only another luxury hotel in town, but a second St Regis, a sibling to the fabulous St Regis Saadiyat Island Abu Dhabi.
The spa here just goes on saying wow, wow. There are 11 treatment rooms, all at least 600 sq ft, which is twice the size of some hotels’ basic bedrooms and more than three times those at the clever Citizen M hotel in Amsterdam, a fun place that conveniently happens to be a couple of blocks from Amsterdam’s RAI conference centre.
Some of the spa rooms here have chandeliers, but then the whole hotel seems to be highlighted by chandeliers. Yet more work for the Czech makers who must be supporting their nation’s economy. That would be a good trivia question – which nation has the highest GDP contribution from overhead crystals? This hotel is part of a sculpture-like affair of twin towers, 50 floors high and joined at the top by what will be an 11,000 sq ft – yes, you read that right – an 11,000 sq ft suite, for which you get three proper bedrooms and one tiny one ‘for the maid’. The rest of the hotel will be on floors 33 to 49, and rooms start from 430 sq ft in size.
Actually I really liked, at my show-round, what they call Grand Deluxe Suites. You have one shared bedroom and salon, reached by a corridor that goes past the bathroom. This is the pièce de résistance as you have a freestanding oval bathtub with stunning views out of the window. Look down at the grounds of Emirates Palace while you soak, or whatever.
I fantasize. Perhaps I would lie in the bathtub drinking the house Bloody Mary. As you by now know, dear reader, every St Regis has its own version of the Bloody Mary that was first invented in the bar of St Regis New York. Here the drink will be a desert snapper, with za’atar once again but here it is smoked, with one of the little hand-held smokers that I first came across in the bar of Ritz-Carlton Vienna. Yes, you can see my mind is wandering the world (just as if I really WERE in the bath drinking not just one but a succession of desert snappers…)
The hotel will have a statuesque bar, just as in all St Regis. There is always a big painting with some local emphasis: here, there are three paintings of horsemen tearing through the desert. I am told by Oliver Key, who will be opening boss of this luxury hotel, that they are by a Russian named Sergei Yatsenko, whose company is called Scythian. Looking at them I think of my friend Wael Soueid at Qasr al Sarab whose hobbies are polo and endurance riding. For the latter, you ride and ride, a hundred miles or more, but you stop at set times for the horses to be medically tested. This is when you might need a desert snapper, or at least you could fantasize about one.
For a keen cyclist, a good luxury hotel needs a suitable bike. I first came across Scott bikes when staying at InterContinental Resort Berchtesgaden, 120 miles from Munich, and 700 metres above sea level with marvellously clear air (Berchtesgaden, which produces lovely tastly yoghurt, is birthplace of the Talise nutritonalist the gal wrote about a couple of days ago). Now here, in Abu Dhabi, I am put on a brand new Scott bike at Hilton Abu Dhabi and off I pedal, along the Corniche.
They are commendably health-aware at this cosy-comfortble resort which is so popular that 20 percent of people staying here come back again and again. Some of them, says the big-boss Wolfgang Maier, who funnily enough also thinks of himself as a Munich Man, return not only for the people who make it all happen but because this is the only hotel in Abu Dhabi where all rooms have windows that open. What a treat this is.
From the top floor, in room 1002, I can look across the water, blessedly free of jet-skis (I think they are banned here) at what is called Marina Mall, an island reached by a long causeway bridge. I had been given a jogging map, total 13 miles (ha ha!) that would take me along the Corniche, which has a cycle track, and back again and over to Marina Mall and along to the big mosque at the end of it. I did not go quite that far. Having dropped my loaned bike off with the concierge, I was back up on the tenth floor when another guest, obviously a regular, came out of his room in Bradley Wiggins type gear, with a hundred-speed bike, all the works.
No fewer than 1,500 locals are members of the hotel’s private beach club, which is packed every day. There are pools, and lounging areas, and squash, and tennis and a big gym. You reach the beach club either directly from the road or via an underground walkway from the hotel. Later, I walked across just as a little girl’s sixth birthday party was about to start. I went into the gym and watched arrivals walk past the window. Some of the invitees were wearing the ultimate Little Princess frocks, and carrying their own gifts for the birthday girl. Others got the maids to carry them (gifts, not Little Princesses). Mothers were dressed in anything from blue jeans to the latest Versace. Presumably there was a gigantic cake.
I too ate splendidly at the beach club, at the outside terrace of Vasco, Mediterranean plus seafood plus steak, whatever you like. Joseph, the manager in charge, knew exactly what we wanted – the salad bar and a great piece of Aussie beef and a glass of Pinot. I loved the way the water features around the Vasco terrace change day-glo colours as the night progresses.
This is a luxury hotel for those who prefer their favourite, rather than their newest, pair of shoes, and for those for whom the words Cosy and Comfortable are key. In the tenth floor Club Lounge, I could not see a chef but I asked for an egg white omelette. It came in three minutes, cooked just out of sight by a real chef… I asked if by any chance they had a Financial Times. That took four minutes.
To continue on the luxury theme, seeing something so natural and so unexpected as a perfect new moon is another component. The gal was about to dine outside, on the terrace of Sayad fish restaurant at Emirates Palace Kempinski Abu Dhabi. There, looking down at us, was this sliver of a moon. The hotel’s lovely chef Sandro Gambo, who made his name at another luxury hotel, Park Hyatt Chicago, came by to say hello and we toasted the moon, together.
Sandro Gambo knows how to prepare food to bring out the best of its flavour. It does not have to be complicated, but a bit of show helps. Here one of the servers is finishing a bouillabaisse, the Provençal fish stew that originated in Marseille. At Sayad, a bowl is brought with tiny fish creations in it, and the soup part is carefully poured over. I discover later that word bouillabaisse comes from the Provençal dialects for bolhabaissa, bolhir, to boil, and abaissar, to simmer.
At breakfast, here, as in other top hotels in Abu Dhabi, locals are eating almost as soon as the place, Le Vendôme, opens. Several tables are ladies-only, completely veiled in black. Twice as many tables are men only, guys in white dish-dashes. There are Arabic, and Chinese and Japanese sections, and a salmon carving table, and omelette specialists and waffle specialists. The coffee, by the way, is sensational (if you hear anyone say hotels cannot produce good coffee, suggest they come here, for coffee from a local company, Maromas).
Luxury is also feasts for the eye, of beautiful old sculptures like some of the Xi’an warrior-type in vitrines in the shiny marble walkways. Outside, there is an exhibition of sculptures suspended between trees. All the pieces are by a Pole, Jerzy Kedzior, known as Jotka. He specializes in pieces that defy gravity – in 2008 his Under the Dubai Sky – Creating Balance collection was shown to great acclaim in Dubai, sponsored by Barclays Wealth.
Each piece here in Abu Dhabi is more amusing than the last – head to see the collection now, as it is a temporary show, and will at some point be taken down (so far it has been extended twice). Jotka was born in Czestochowa, southern Poland, eldest of the seven offspring of an electrician and a professional knitter. The little boy would draw designs which his mother would incorporate into her knitting. He graduated to decorating churches and other buildings. Today, his balance sculptures are inspired by Gothic architecture throughout Europe, and by New York’s skyscrapers. Many are bought by German hospitals as therapy for patients.
Seeing his pieces in the gardens of this, one of the world’s ultimate luxury hotels, I felt awe-struck by the laws of physics that Jotka says help him to gauge a piece’s stability. I get into the back of a cream leather-lined Maybach and leave, having learned yet more lessons on what today’s luxury could be. Having clear clocks in the back of the car, clocks that tell me the time here and in other world cities, is another element.