It can actually get quite boring travelling, especially when you are by yourself. And the more travelling you do, says the gal, the more difficult it is to distinguish one happening from another.
Do as a good friend of mine does, compile ‘photo sets’ and take images, to remind you of a time, of a moment. This still life was taken from a suite at the Hôtel Plaza-Athénée, Paris. I happen to remember the hotel also for its Dior Institut, and the sensational Patrick Jouin-designed Restaurant Alain Ducasse, with what look like giant, floor-standing halves of silver cloches, each actually holding banquette seating.
One little still-life therefore triggers a whole host of memories, differentiation of the one from the norm.
An artwork can make a traveller feel at home. This Valay Shende sculpture of a Mumbai dabbawala lunchbox man is outside 361, sic, the all-day dining at Oberoi Gurgaon – the even-more-so luxury hotel of the Oberoi pair, the side-by-side Oberoi Gurgaon and Trident Gurgaon. The dabbawala is so funny it makes the gal laugh every time she sees it. Hard to imagine that this 202-room hotel celebrates its fourth birthday in April 2015. The $110 million project was so long in coming, while expectation mounted, but now, looking at it, you can see why it was a complicated project.
Looking from the main gate, you see an enormous decorative pool, with a six-floor block at the far end. To get to this block you then drive up through a forest atop a man-made slope, which takes you up to the fifth floor, which is the lobby (get it?). Back at the main entrance, one of the two, two-floor glass boxes that stand as entry sentinels is now Gucci, in big letters – they are still trying to decide which is the best brand for the other ‘box’. They already have all the top brands, anyway, in the retail gallery below the man-made mountain.
Oberoi knows how to welcome (what did I say earlier? Yes, an artwork makes one feel at home, quickly). I am in suite 6120, memorable because I think, in all my experience, that it is the only presidential suite that has a 60-foot private pool cantilevered to the side of the top floor of the building. Let me think further: Grand Hyatt Tokyo‘s presidential suite‘s pool is also outside, but it is not jutting out… I also have a gym, so handy to save time, and plenty of space, and books that include a 570-page tome, The Spirit of Indian Painting, by B.N. Goswamy.
This luxury hotel, like all in the Oberoi portfolio, is masterminded by the Oberoi family, with the help of such ‘adopted family’ stalwarts as the company President, Kapil Chopra. I was having a drink with Kapil Chopra when we heard that the Oberois, in the form of Chairman Biki Oberoi and his son, the COO of the company, Vikram Oberoi, were passing by. Yippee. For them, and only for them, I even went into the Cigar Bar, which is fortunately incredibly well insulated. And then I went on to dinner, to taste the gorgeous Pavilion 2008 Shiraz, from the Chinkara winery in Victoria, Australia, run by the elder Oberoi daughter, Natasha Oberoi.
Leela has two luxury hotels in the Delhi area, Leela Ambience Gurgaon, which hosts the annual Hotel Investment Forum India HIFI, and the opulent Leela Palace New Delhi, in the diplomatic area of Chankyapuri. The gal wanted to go back there, to be reminded of what super-luxury, through Indian eyes, is all about. There, waiting, was Louis Sailer, the hotel’s GM who some years ago – the other side of the world from India – hosted a Veuve Clicquot dinner on a sandbar that was only in existence for 90 minutes before the tide came back in.
Luxury at Leela Palace New Delhi is the two-floor high lobby with ceiling-high columns, eight real-look trees and two gigantic Murano chandeliers. Think oodles of gleaming marble and sparkle and lots of flowers. There, before the main mass stirred from their oh-so-comfortable beds, flower arrangers tidied and replaced single rosebuds on a flower ball, just as they do every morning. Not a single petal must look past its best. At the rear of the main building the garden around a floodlit eight-foot high gold Devi sculpture is manicured to perfection.
Room 931, a 1,600 sq ft Royal Suite, has cut-glass toothmugs, and ultra-plush carpets, and a private terrace, with ten-foot walls, with a sunken stone jacuzzi big enough for all my Delhi friends, at once. This room gives entrance to the ninth floor Club lounge, a polished-wood sanctuary ideal for business meetings if you do not want to be seen. Downstairs, in that lobby, is gathering place for those who do want to be seen, and to see (MEGU restaurant is also a great place for celebrity-watching).
But this time we dined in the all-day restaurant, Qube, which no-one in their right minds would dare to call a ‘coffee shop’. No, all-day, all-style dining in an epitomal luxury hotel requires strategic architecture and design, in this case a glass cube with gold ‘mushrooms’ hanging from the ceiling. And it needs spectacular food, cooked here at visible kitchens, and service. At breakfast they remembered my specific idiosyncracies from a year back. Luxury is bespoke.