Luxury Hotels


Paintings of hotels always attract more than photographs.  Arrive at THE CONSERVATORIUM, a Set Collection hotel in Amsterdam (a hop skip and jump from the Rijksmuseum) and there’s a good chance your welcome card is a hand-coloured artwork by GM Roy Tomassen. The card at WALDORF ASTORIA CALEDONIAN, Edinburgh – above – is by the hotel’s artist partner, John Goldie.

The hotel is seeped in the arts. In the main lobby, there’s a Hamilton & Inches grandfather clock dating to 1890, the Royal Warrant jeweller and timepiece keeper which had been founded 1866 on nearby Princes Street by James Hamilton and his nephew, Robert Kirk Inches. The clock is actually 13 years older than the eight-floor hotel, opened to accommodate those arriving at Edinburgh’s Waverley station on the Caledonian Railway. Ah, more history. The Caledonian Railway, backed mainly by English investors, ran from 1845, linking such key locations as Edinburgh with Glasgow and Carlisle. In 1921, its pride was shattered when the Railways Act saw it absorbed into the London Midland Scottish Railway.

But its presence lives on.  Up the 149 carpetted stairs of the Caledonian (the hotel) are stained glass windows inset with coats of arms and memorabilia of the Caledonian (the railway).

More memorabilia. Suite 160 is named for Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, born in Edinburgh in 1859, in Edinburgh.  What would he say today to the hotel’s scrumptious breakfast selections? The menu offers a ‘full Scottish’. Wait for it: Ayrshire back bacon, pork sausage, MacSween’s haggis, Stornoway black pudding, mushroom, tomato, potato scone and your choice of eggs.

It’s quite obvious that after all that you might be full, but you have ideally put time aside to cross the road to the Johnnie Walker Princes Street, across the street. It’s quite possible that you now have even happier memories of ‘the Cally’ (hey, did you know their spa now uses 111skin? And their tartan is based on the Murray of Atholl’s pattern, with red for the hotel’s exterior sandstone, from Locharbrigg; and deep green for Princes Sr Gardens; light grey for the rocks of Edinburgh Castle – and black for those rail lines.  Girlahead gives full marks to the hotel’s owners, Twenty14 Holdings, and to the onsite management team, GM Dale MacPhee, Biana Peter and Dean McVey, for giving the hotel so many points of differentiation.

Let us listen to Hilton’s global brand leader for Waldorf Astoria, plus its other luxury brands, Dino Michael:

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Luxury Hotels


A plea to developers, choose a view. Yes, it can be built in later, an internal view, say casino ops at BELLAGIO in Las Vegas or ducks at THE PEABODY in Memphis TN. But think how RITZ-CARLTON MILLENIA, Singapore, is enhanced by being able to look across the Bay to another hotel that is famously like a giant E standing on its three legs… There are ocean view-resorts, say THE BREAKERS in Palm Beach FL and FOUR SEASONS SHARM EL SHEIKH in Egypt.

If you want a Royal Palace view, head to Red Carnation’s MILESTONE HOTEL & RESIDENCES, London. Look across the road and, 300 metres through Kensington Gardens you see the gate, above, of Kensington Palace, London home of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and an assortment of (lesser) royals.

Yes, the hotel is a mile, or slightly over, west of the centre of Old London, Hyde Park Corner. It’s in mid-Kensington, 500 metres west of the Royal Albert Hall (or, on a more philistine level, the same distance east of Europe’s largest Whole Foods).

Go for the hotel’s Hermès Suite. There’s four-seat dining on a Victorian terrace. The bathroom is Connemara marble. The bedroom, anchored by a modern frame-only four-poster, and a metre-long tortoise holding a glass tabletop, has an off-white and pine green palette. Four-metre tall walls host, in total, ten full-size Hermès scarves (one features Wedgwood medallions on a red background). Bea Tollman, doyenne of the Red Carnation Hotels family, wore these scarves when they were latest head-cover fashion. It is she, with her daughter Toni Tollman, who has designed this suite, and the entire hotel. As well as 57 unique bedrooms, there are six longer-stay residences, ideal for families. ‘William and Kate’, for instance, is soft residential taupe throughout, two ensuite bedrooms, an enviable Siemens kitchen, and a salon with working fire.

There’s lots of colour here. Think silver-pot coffee and whatever, in the all-day ecclesiastical look Cheniston’s (Kensington’s earlier name). Green and white check breakfast linens complement a waiter’s scarlet eyewear and his ubiquitous Red Carnation lapel corsage. Outside, The Milestone’s exterior railings are garlanded end to end in fresh wreaths of green variegated ivy and assorted white blooms. The hotel’s Range Rover Autobiography town car, by the way, is driven by Colin Monplaisir – and it’s dark green.

Let’s listen to Red Carnation’s MD, Jonathan Raggett:

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Luxury Hotels


Can you make a drink into a lifestyle brand?  Thanks to Howard Schultz, Starbuck’s has done so (question, when will we see a Starbuck’s hotel? With the founder’s $3 billion in personal wealth it would make a nice brand extension). In Edinburgh, Girlahead was blown away by Johnnie Walker Princes Street – see above, one of the treasures in the eight-floor’s ground level boutique. You can spend hours here, admiring the scarlet, buttercup or gentian fashion for sale – raincoats make a lot of sense, in Scotland.  The entire ambience and display is designed by BRC from Lox Angeles, who also do Walt Disney World and the like.  Here in Edinburgh you can spend oodles on a single bottle, admittedly. As owner Diageo concedes, the £180 million investments in four such lifestyle emporia in Scotland is part of its goal to evolve the masculine, over-40 age of the perceived whisky drinker to include women, and Gen Y is part of the target market.

Girlahead could not find any evidence of a Johnnie Walker but Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label has its own bar lounge, in the golf club house at GLENEAGLES. The lounge, apparently, is currently being feminized slightly. Apparently, while not considering whole hotels per se, Johnnie Walker’s guardian, ie. Diageo, is happy to talk short-term pop-up bars After that, could whole hotels follow?

The closest hotel to Johnnie Walker Princes Street is WALDORF ASTORY CALEDONIAN, EDINBURGH, just across the road. This is a soft red Permian sandstone hotel, designed in 1903 as a resting place for rail travellers. Today, look out and up at Edinburgh Castle – or across  to J. Walker.  Girlahead stayed in suite #160 named for Arthur Conan Doyle born in this fair city in 1859. His suite has a grand piano. Like all 268 rooms, stay here for really warm and highly professional service, including by those with Good Scottish Names, say MD Dale MacPhee (in fact she is from Cape Breton Island) and Dean McVey, who, although his title is something different, is one of the best concierges in the business (is ‘fixer’ his middle name?).  Jeff Banks now has his name on long-standing Pompadour restaurant, but when it’s closed dining in Peacock Alley, the lobby lounge, is extremely enjoyable, comfort and health food, and looking up through the eight-floor open atrium.

Think ‘The Cally’ too for wellness – 111skin and all that – and for a PhD in whisky. Johnnie Walker Princes Street is less than 30 metres away…

Unusual dining ideas, worldwide, include eating on QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 MGALLERY – yes, Accor has taken the nostalgic ocean liner, now moored permanently in Dubai, into its ever-growing portfolio. Overseen by Saeed Al-Bannai, CEO of PCFC Investments, the 63-year old ship, originally designed by Cartier’s James Gardner, now has 447 rooms, and nine places to

Also in Dubai, ATLANTIS, THE PALM, brings in Italian super-chef Paco Morales of two Michelin-starred Noor. On two nights only, 26 and 27 May, Ossiano at Atlantis, The Palm, will offer a 10-course menu titled ‘Origin’. This will tell the story of Ossiano’s own Gregoire Berger as he supposedly travels around the world. The menu will servce dishes from Berger including jellyfish and seaweed snow, and from Morales – say hummus made with kefir snow and squid. Morales’ two Michelin-starred Noor, part restaurant, part cultural project, is located just outside his hometown Córdoba, Spain. He is famous for exploration of Al-Andalus cuisine of medieval Muslim Spain, which has had a significant impact on modern Andalusian gastronomy.

Six Senses is, says Girlahead, one of the two brands most famous for really healthy food.  Listen to its visionary CEO, here: 

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