Lifestyle Luxury Hotels

WINDSTAR – 2

There’s nothing like sitting in the summer sunshine in a UNESCO-recognised garden and watching the world go by. The garden in question is Parque Güell in Barcelona, Gaudi’s outdoor masterpiece in the Catalonian capital.

This is the first full day aboard Windstar’s gorgeous Star Legend, for a week-long cruise from Barcelona to Civittavecchia, for Rome. Being Windstar, the itinerary is extremely welll thought-out.  Board Sunday but no sailing until Monday afternoon, which gives Sunday as time to unpack and settle in, explore the ship, work-out in the seventh-deck Technogym (open from 6 a.m.) and generally acclimatise.

Monday, one of the wide choice of excursions left the ship at 0745 to allow five and a half hours to do at least minimal justice to Antoni Gaudi, 1852-1926, the most recognisable architect not only of Catalonia but Western Europe of the last two centuries. The guide, Bettina, had eleven to look after and she was a real pro. First we walked around the entire exterior of Sagrada Familia, above. Gaudi wanted 19 towers, she explained, in between pointing out the challenges he faced, financially and politically in his quest for excellence. His work became his entire life – at one point he was sleeping in his office. He never married, and he eventually died from injuries sustained in a traffic accident.

What a sad man Gaudi must have been. Towards the end he wrote: ‘My good friends are dead; I have no family and no clients, no fortune nor anything. Now I can dedicate myself entirely to the Church’.

Bettina herded her charges back on the bus to go to Parque Güell, a nearby hilltop development which Gaudi envisioned as multi-use living, with houses and a market set among woods. Sadly it was impractical for anyone to consider living up above the city. One of the three finished houses, where Gaudi actually lived for a time, is now a gift shop. Girlahead relaxed in the sun, on a terrace bordered by a 200-metre snake-like meandering parapet of ceramic shards. See the image below.

This is very definitely the ideal time to study Gaudi’s work. There were crowds everywhere, but only  fraction of those found throughout the long summer months (for this reason, by the way, apparently Windstar’s Winter 2024-2025 schedule will also include Venice – what bliss to see that beautiful destination without being smothered in half of humanity). No, this is all very leisurely, and well thought out, and timing is such that when we get back from this Gaudi immersion lunch will still be available and laundry will shortly be coming back – prices are so reasonable that even those who did not opt for the laundry-included package will not feel the bank is broken.

Ah, Bettina, and Gaudi, call….

 

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Luxury Hotels

WINDSTAR – 1

Mark Symonds really wanted, when he was a teenager back in the English Midlands, to be an airline pilot. But a once in a lifetime migraine scuppered that. Next, how about the Merchant Navy? They took him, he left school, packed his bags and he was off, to Singapore and a new life.

For the last six years he’s been a Captain with Windstar, the luxury cruise company ultimately owned by Philip Anschutz, Colorado’s most successful businessman whose interests range from hotels (The Broadmoor) to trains, and sports to entertainment. He may be mature but he’s incredibly savvy when it comes to innovative investment. When he bought what is now Windstar Star Legend he sliced it in two, added a new centre bit and thus extended it from 134m to 159.6m, with capacity upped from 208 to 312 passengers. The ship, mind you, has been a chameleon since she was commissioned, in 1990, as Royal Viking Queen, since when she has also sailed as Kloster, Royal Odyssey and Seabourn Legend. Anshutz bought her in 2015.

As Captain of Star Legend, Captain Symonds works roughly three months on and three months off, when he catches up with all the DIY tasks his wife and 14 year-old daughter have been accruing. Sometimes they cruise with him, and the fact that the yacht is currently doing weekly schedules Barcelona to Civittavecchia, for Rome, and then back again makes proximity to UK definitely agreeable.

Onboard, Simmonds is automatically on the bridge for all movements in and out of ports – an open-door policy means the bridge is often a passenger point of contact. There are 225 passengers on this particular weeklong cruise, which more than justifies the company’s faith in attracting business during winter (90% of those onboard seem to be American).

Girlahead boarded Star Legend in Barcelona and she was immediately impressed by the friendliness of all the crew, and by her cabin – called, as in universal cruise lingo, a ‘suite’. See it, below. What makes in stand out is the colour scheme, taupe and soft teal, plenty of mirrors and pale wood. There is more than enough storage for two, whose typically-enormous suitcase can easily fit under the bed. Toiletries are L’Occitane. Temperature is easy to control. The bed, as was soon discovered, is amazingly addictive….. see Suite 608, below:

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Luxury Hotels

INDIA – 17

Dining at Four Seasons Mumbai?  Well, there’s Asian, and international (coffeeshop if you must). The wow, however, is up on the rooftop, near the hotel’s private members club.

Oh yes, AER is wow.  It’s the place for sunset viewing – see the reel below. It’s recently been tweaked by Phillip Pond of Agency Pond. Girlahead had not come across him before but with a pedigree that includes AvroKo, Rockwell and Yabu Pushelberg – doing the adjacent Four Seasons Residences tower, opening in a couple of months – he must be good.

He’s certainly imaginative, this Bangkok-based American. He’s conceptualised rooftop space, which admittedly has glass safety barriers, as a cruise ship. To be honest, however, he could have themed AER as a giant mortuary. The customers would not have minded one iota.

AER is open from 5pm through one, seven nights a week, and hotel GM Nitesh Gandhi says every evening sees three distinct shows. After-work cocktails with sunset are replaced by dinner+drinks, which in turn give way to late night romancing and chitter-chatter.  No problem if it rains. Adarsh Jatia and his family have invested half a million, US$, in two sets of German-engineered glass ‘tents’ that automatically roll in, one from either end of AER at the first hint of precipitation.

What to eat here? There are skewers, that kind of finger food, but Girlahead so liked the dry ice-enhanced sushi platter – see the photo above – that she had a second helping. Well, this was the last supper in India, for now (who wants to leave Incredible India with a whimper?) See a final memory, below.

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