Why should I go now?
It’s mid-winter in Kazakhstan, a spectacular time to see the biggest and most historic city in this huge and dynamic former Soviet republic straddling Siberia and the Tien Shan mountains – effectively the northernmost edge of the Himalayas.
What’s the lowdown?
Arrive at night, like we did, and you are ushered effortlessly to your room by the staff – they behave as welcomingly as Ritz Carlton staff anywhere in the world, but if it’s a first visit to the country, the Kazakhs looks impossibly exotic, beautifully coiffed, tall, slim, a striking blend of Slavic and Asiatic.
In the morning, draw the curtains expecting to see just another big Asian city, and you are blown backwards by the view from the picture windows in the bedroom. Before you stretch a vast array of peaks, rising to more than 5000m – higher than the Alps, deep frozen in snow, dwarfing any view from Milan, Geneva or Munich. Right in front of the hotel is an Olympic-style ski jump.
You could spend all your time in the Ritz and the uber-luxe Esentai Mall that adjoins it; the lobby, bar and restaurants are all on the 28th floor, with an excellent sushi bar. The aptly-named VISTA hosts a Sunday jazz brunch, with live band, straight out of the Upper West Side: we dined here with old friends, a sad and poignant occasion for very private reasons. The food was pure Manhattan bar & grill, with a little Osteria thrown in (particularly in the wine list, which was a heaven for Italophiles).
It would be a shame, though, not to go and explore Almaty: we enjoyed a night time trudge through deep snow to a couple of luxury fashion boutiques, including gorgeous MaxMara and Armani stores, with staff and clientele seemingly lifted directly from the Via Montenapoleone. And in contrast, in winter, a short drive takes you to the high-altitude ski resort of Shymbulak; skiing at nearly 4000m on the northernmost edge of the Himalayas is one of the world’s more spectacular experiences, and the snow is usually cold and dry (and the runs well groomed, and quite easy).
There’s a beautiful pool and a Six Senses spa to revive yourself ahead of your next round of business conversations. Kazakhstan is a country on the go, and we found its leaders very open to inspiring conversations about developing its future. As for the bedroom, think Ritz modern luxury, with that matchless view thrown in.
This has to be the best luxury spot between Moscow and Beijing. If we had to be critical, we’d say we’re mystified as to why Kazakhstan doesn’t do a better job of selling itself. President Nazarbayev – call on LUX if you need inspiration, because your country is too much of a secret.
Rates: From 90 000 kzt ( approx. £200 / $300 /€250)