The Ritz-Carlton Seoul is an example of a luxury hotel that is well immersed in its locale – it is right in the Gangnam district of Korea‘s capital. The gal fully expected to see GM Radu Cernia, a charming Romanian who started out running a shopping mall, approach with his version of a Psy dance, but instead, the perennial and ultimate hotelier, he was there with suitable local style. He was flanked by two guest relations officers in full length, full-fabric, one-colour chima skirts, with short jeogori jackets (one explained later that this gear is not exactly practical as, underneath, you must wear crinoline-type hoops, suspended from the shoulders).
The 375-room hotel is ziggurat-shaped, which means that end suite 1673 has a substantial balcony, looking over the immediate area. In one direction I was fascinated by the plethora of new construction, in another I looked far down at the rooftops of myriad small bars and restaurants for which this part of the city is justly famous. In summer, this suite would be ideal not only for sunbathing, and looking at what is down below, but big enough for hosting a cocktail for about 30 of one’s favourite friends. In winter, however, the sensible stay indoors. Dine in The Garden, and look out at greenery – or do as we did and enjoy outstanding Japanese in Hanazono, designed by Tachiko Koike.
Some guests choose to enjoy the local surroundings, bars and the like, and then head back to dine in their rooms. Here, the 24/7 room service offerings include two unusual specials. Rest Set comes with three bottles of Heineken’s London beer, plus both French fries and potato wedges. Love Me Set comes with half a bottle of Möet, plus strawberries and whipped cream. I merely went to bed, and in the morning thoroughly enjoyed an early breakfast in the friendly 12th floor club lounge. Then I went out to hit the streets, discovering the long subterranean walkways, which have excellent shops, so you do not have to face the cold of ground level.
Gangnam, which means south of the Han river, is one of the 25 local government districts, and has 15% of Seoul‘s total 10 million population. Early morning there was not too much sign of people around, although groups of young men popped into bars, perhaps for a wakeup. I wondered how lobster in tanks in the open air survive in today’s temperature, minus six. I personally hurried back to my luxury hotel, going in the pedestrian entrance past the spa and the May Clinic. As well as Psy Gangnam Style, this area is also known for plastic surgery, and, says Radu Cernia, the hotel is going to go ‘under the knife’ too, at least metaphorically. It closes January 2017 for six months, for a complete new look – I just hope they do not replace those ladies’ stunning local dresses.