Luxury Hotels

Prague Corinthia – UK travellers

Lavender and the Czech Republic are so entwined Girlahead cannot think of one without the other. Most top hotels seem to have lavender bags in bedroom closets, often made by staff members from bushes in their own homes. Little linen bags at Corinthia Hotel Prague, above, are embroidered by an outside company. Shown also is a bottle of the favourite local digestif, Becherovka Original, made weekly, in secret, by the Jan Becher company, based in Karlovy Vary. Over 20 ingredients are used, following the recipe established by Josef Vitus Becher 1769-1840.

Corinthia Hotel Prague has one of Europe’s most memorable beauty experiences. Why? Imagine a 26th floor treatment room with views far over the city – apparently it is especially stunning on a sunny day in snow-covered winter. The room is overseen by a charming Russian beautician, from Siberia (she wears crisp white, like the bed’s just-pressed sheets).  Add Holy Land products, new to Girlahead, and build in an hour of relaxing and much needed sleep. The overall effect? Unbelievable.  This is today’s luxury.

The 539-room hotel, run by a Scottish globalist, Mark Agnew, is a haven for those who have need to be at the Prague Congress Center, across the road, but it is also beloved of tourists as you can get from the hotel so easily downtown, from Vyšehrad metro station, two minutes from the hotel.  And after doing your tourist stint, refresh on return with an apéritif of a deliciously-chilled glass of Moravian Rosé, made from Pinot Noir, Travnicet and Korinek grapes. And, postprandially, nothing beats those already-mentioned digestifs, perhaps with a dessert tasting plate that included whipped egg white mousse with chocolate, Indiánek; a chocolate and peanut delight, Prazská koule; a local profiterole, Vétrník; and some of the biggest-ever macaroons, Laskonky. How about that for a final edible memory of Prague, and its really noteworthy Luxury Bloc event, which more than ever looks like being the ONLY ‘real’ luxury travel event of 2020? Thanks again, Gabriela Markova, for stimulating this lovely visit back to the capital of the Czech Republic.

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Good news for those relying on travellers from UK, albeit not immediately. Personal Travel Agents at Co-operative Travel  talked to 1,000 existing customers in the week 4-11 September 2020. Here are some figures:

79% would be more inclined to book with a travel agent in the future (of those who, pre-Covid, would have booked travel themselves online, 58% will switch to booking with a travel agent.  73% plan travel abroad in 2021 (22% will  even if they have to quarantine). 78% want a beach, 34% hanker for a city break. Europe is most popular destination, at 78%, followed by UK staycation (37%), Caribbean (25%), USA (19%), Indian Ocean/Africa (14%) and Dubai/Arabia (9%).

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Still up on MARY GOSTELOW GIRLAHEAD PODCAST – the UK’s most innovative operating hotelier, Robin Hutson.  Hear him talk about the oh-so-English Pig Hotels https://anchor.fm/gostelow

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Prague – China – simplicity in travel

One of the fascinating lifesize sculptures on Prague’s iconic Charles Bridge is of St Augustine, showing a philosopher holding a hook and a burning heart, with an accompanying angel beside him. Sculpted by Jan Bedřich Kohl in 1708, it was apparently paid for by the Augustinian monastery of St. Thomas, about 700 metres away. Well, that monastery is now The Augustine, a Luxury Collection hotel. Amazingly, it is also  still a working monastery: four  monks have one of the complex’s seven buildings, and they still maintain the incredible church, that can be used for weddings (see the video, below).

This is a place, indeed, that leaves many memories, many of them thanks to the Austrian gm, Mario Egger, who was running food on many of the top global cruise ships for some years.  Food here, indeed, is a treat. Expect local, say, at dinner, a delicate beetroot carpaccio followed by a truly sensational ribeye with grilled artichoke and mushroom – OK, we could have had local beer, the hotel-exclusive St Tomas (sic), actually brewed onsite until 1951 but now produced by a nearby microbrewery, but I confess we opted for a strong Rioja, Marques de Riscal Riserva 2015. Breakfast is delightful, too. Though other hotels here have given up on buffets, The Augustine offers portions of delicious fare, to which you can at least help yourself, see above.

This is also a hotel with sense-of-place rooms. Suite 325, on the central divider between two inner courtyard gardens, is not overtly austere but its colours seem just right for ecclesiastical association. This is for arts and culture lovers. I adore the selection of hard-back books scattered liberally around. There are five big Everyman classics, and, also from them, small books that include a delightful Poems of Food & Drink. As respite, I have Jan Reich’s Bohemia, Peter Ashley’s More from Unmitigated England, and Quintessentially Reserve 2009. And, as with great hotels everywhere, anything that saves time is to be applauded.  The marvellous concierge, when asked if he could find an Apple Watch charger I could borrow, had been out to buy one, for the hotel.

It was Sir Rocco Forte who had had the idea to turn  this monastery into a hotel, but now it is managed by Marriott as part of the Luxury Collection (the complex is owned by Alexander Klyachin, the oligarch who also owns the Metropol in Moscow, and the Azimut chain). I suspect he bought this one for its uniqueness, and for its location: it is, after all, only ten minutes’ walk from Charles Bridge and about the same, though steeply uphill, from Prague Castle. And it has such great staff, led by the GM and the Concierge.

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What’s wrong with US luxury fashion brands? According to Jing Daily, 20th September, the only two ‘accepted’ in China, with the highest scores in Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Luxury China are Coach and Tiffany, though Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren command high engagement. The current near-demise of Chinese coming to the USA to study this Fall does not bode well for fledgling US brands. In the past students who came to know Lilly Pulitzer while traveling around the Sunshine State, or Brooks Brothers and J.Crew while living in Boston, introduced those labels to relatives and friends back home, which meant brands won exposure without expensive marketing campaigns.

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Why, Girlahead wonders, it is possible to navigate fashion and general retail websites – say Farfetch and Amazon – so easily and quickly and yet any travel and tourism site is full of hurdles and frustration? Do intermediaries along the technical way actually GET in the way, taking a cut of any transaction in the process?  We long for simplicity that many luxury-lovers demand, today.

To finish, have a quick 360-degree tour, below, of the working church of The Augustine.

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Slovenia – New York – Mongolia

Slovenia’s incoming tourism will benefit hugely from Tour De France 2020, which ended in Paris yesterday – the annual event’s youngest-ever winner, Tadej Pogacar, 21, saw his fellow countryman Primoz Roglic awarded second place ( Pogacar rides for UCI WorldTeam UAE Team Emirates, whose main sponsors are obviously Emirates Airline, plus Abu Dhabi and Milan-based Colnago bikes). Now, therefore, is the time to find out more about Slovenia, a land-locked 7,827 sq mile country bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and the Adriatic. Its two million population is led by President Borut Pahor, a career politician, and the Slovenian Tourist Board is led by CEO Maja Pak, who ma de a significant presentation at Virtuoso in 2018 on how Slovenia has avoided over-tourism. Tourists already love such places as Lake Bled, and countryside glamping is popular. Top-ranking cityhotel is Delta Holdings’ 165-room InterContinental Ljubljana, in the capital: GM is Milos Cerovic (Girlahead recommends a 540 sq ft Deluxe Room overlooking the Old Town).

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Style includes simplicity, and Tom Ford has it (would that we can expect Tom Ford hotels in future). Take his current fashion items. Among the plethora of indistinguishable and unwearable clothes from the current New York Fashion Week, only one idea stands out. Take a loose-fit, V-necked sweater, say in soft plum, or palest lavender, and wear it over same-colour equally-loose silk ‘pyjama bottoms’, held up by a black waistband bearing the letters TOM FORD.

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Style is also yearning for, and achieving, a trip that you never thought possible – staying in a luxury yurt (tent) in the distant steppes of Mongolia.  From May through September, French globalist Frédéric Roman-Hauduroy oversees temporary camps that allow you to live, as it were, at one with local villagers. Sleep in 290 sq ft traditional round yurts, with four-post beds, comfortable furniture (and, a couple of minutes’ walk outside, odor-free dry toilets; instead of showers, you are brought water-saving moist towels perfumed with pine needles). A separate yurt holds the restaurant. All food is cooked on-site, by a culinary team headed by a chef from the Mongolian president’s palace. Breakfast can include home-baked breads and croissants. Lunch and dinner is your choice, international or Mongolian, say khorkhog, local lamb cooked on hot stones – no problem with gluten-free or other diet requirements, says Roman-Hauduroy, who explains that all supplies are driven in from the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, 180 miles away. Rates include breakfast, and all-inclusive rates are popular: pay-extra alcohol ranges from ‘remarkably good’ local beer, at US$4, through to finest Champagne, naturally chosen by the French boss.

Most spend at least two nights at Sweet Gobi Geolodge. Day time is for camel and horseback riding, archery, hiking and visiting monasteries (cameras can be re-charged, and WiFi is available on request). Typically, after Sweet Gobi, guests will then go on to one of Step’In Asia’s other camps, for different scenery, fauna and flora.  The best way for Americans to plan the entire trip, says Frédéric Roman-Hauduroy, is to fly in via Beijing which allows up to 144 hours’ visa-free transit, more than enough for this itinerary. MIAT Mongolian Airlines has 43 Beijing-Ulaanbaatar flights each month, and there are several other carriers available. Flight time is just over two hours. From Ulaanbaatar take an hour-long private plane, or a 4×4 Land Cruiser (3.5 hours) on to the camp. After your yurt experience, overnight at Shangri-La Hotel, Ulaanbaatar, before starting the trip home.

Frédéric Roman-Hauduroy is insistent his camps do not harm the landscape at all.  At the end of every season yurts and other structures are painstakingly taken down, and components stored in containers until the following year – it takes a week to remake a camp. Locals who work for Step’In Asia appreciate that in place of rent, the company pays to a community fund that supports education and training. www.outofnowhere.asia

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And, to finish, here again is a reminder to listen to the current MARY GOSTELOW GIRLAHEAD PODCAST, via https://anchor.fm/gostelow

 

 

 

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