Luxury Hotels

Oslo – London – Macau

Oslo, and in fact Norway, as such is hardly ever mentioned in terms of luxury hospitality.  Why is that? Girlahead has enjoyed such happy times in Stavanger, in Tromsø, Hammerfest and even Longyearbyen on Svalbard Island, though the last place was in 24/7 darkness so it was impossible to see anything – but where are luxury hotels? Let us think fashion. Top Norwegian brands include Acne, Onitsuka Tiger and Wood Wood – do these sound luxury? Now when it comes to the arts, the story is completely different. On the music side, think composers Edvard Grieg and, today, 35-year old Erlend Oye. And now for general arts.

The image above shows one of the light installations that will highlight the second Fjord Oslo, 6-8 November 2020, at Oslo harbour. This year there will be eight new light-based installations together themed Anthropocene – a speculative geological epoch defined by human activity having the most significant influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet, and leaving a permanent legacy on the Earth.  Through light and colour, projection-mapping and movement, the works reflect on the relationship between humanity and the natural world, while also offering viewers a powerful, positive – and free – experience of art. Fjord Oslo has been compiled by co-founder and artistic director Anastasia Isachsen.

It is also worth mentioning that there are two other luxury associations with Norway. One is Norwegian salmon, which some gourmets prefer to Canadian, Chilean, Scottish or Tasmanian. The other is MONEY. Norway has the world’s biggest Sovereign Fund, over one trillion (US). Yesterday it was announced that Norway’s Parliament is considering tilting its investments from dominance in Europe to higher percentage in the USA, namely upping the US exposure would rise from 41.6% to 48% of the whole. Interesting?

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London, by contrast, is renowned as home of such luxury brands as Harrods and The Savoy and so much more. Girlahead would also cite The Beaumont, a brilliantly unique 73-room hotel that has a giant Antony Gormley ‘Crouching Man’ statue on the outside that, inside, is part of a bedroom (yes, really). Thanks to the hotel’s owner The Grosvenor Estate, GM Jannes Soerensen – he who really understands luxury – announced yesterday that The Beaumont will re-open in the Spring with a 25-room extension, including a light-filled mega-suite.

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When Macau’s SJM Holdings opens its new HK$39 billion (US$5 billion) Grand Lisboa Palace on Cotai later this year there will be many environmentally-friendly features. All 1,000 bedrooms, for instance, will have energy-efficient LED lights, temperature sensors, and smart-control so drapes close automatically when the room is empty, reducing solar heat cooling loads. Bathrooms will feature heat-recovery ventilation systems, dual-flush toilets, and faucets with low-flow fixtures. The hotel is run by Peter Finamore, and Girlahead is also 100% positive that the food, and drink, at the hotel will be nothing but the best – it is overseen by champion foodie Jonas Schuermann, who came from Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

 

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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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Luxury Hotels

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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