Birdseye view on blue ocean beside green land with a cyclist riding through the greenery
Birdseye view on blue ocean beside green land with a cyclist riding through the greenery

Butterfield & Robinson’s Dalmation Coast Active trip in Croatia

Mike Scarola is the CEO of Butterfield & Robinson, a luxury travel company with the goal of making a positive impact. He speaks to LUX about connecting with local communities and travelling on two wheels instead of four

LUX: What was the inspiration behind your Slow Find initiative?
Mike Scarola: The Slow Fund is driven by our passion for sustainability, focusing on education, culture, conservation, and preservation. We needed a formal vehicle to give back, which is essentially the genesis of the Slow Fund. Sustainable travel has been in our DNA since the beginning, just by the nature of what we do.

Seeing the world or seeing a region on bikes or on foot, we believe is a better, more sustainable way to travel. Currently we support nine initiatives globally, which range from conserving species and iconic landscapes across Africa, to supporting gender equality in the safari industry, to our art residency in France. The ideas behind the initiatives we choose to support typically come from our guides or our planners, because they know the region and its needs the best. We always aim to support sustainability efforts or cultural initiatives in the regions where we take travellers, and often try to bring our travellers into some of those initiatives while they’re on trip. This allows them to give back to the communities they visit and understand the essence of Slow Travel.

Two chefs cooking pizzas in brightly lit restaurant

Pizza making lessons from a local chef in Italy on the Amalfi Coast Walking tour

LUX: When you first brought in this idea of sustainable travel and travelling on bicycle rather than taking cars, was there a high client demand for it, or was it something that you had to intensively market?
MS: The long story is that our founder, George Butterfield, is an unbelievable trailblazer. He had a huge passion for travel and bringing people to new experiences. He was always trying new trips,  and in the early 70s he decided to try biking and as a part of a travel experience. But first time round, it just didn’t catch on.

Then he had someone in his office who, in the early 80s, started to make a case that we should try this again. He thought that people that are looking for luxury will also want to bike through Europe. George was actually pretty hesitant at the time, but they tried it and it absolutely took off in the early 80s.

LUX: How do you go about tracking your carbon footprint and why do you think it’s important that companies, especially travel companies, need to be doing this?
MS: We’re in our second year of very detailed tracking of our carbon footprint, and the reason we do this is because we want create a positive impact in the world. There’s a real crisis and we’re part of it, but we’re now trying to be part of the solution. The first step that we thought was important was to try to measure our impact. It’s tough, but once you measure that, you can communicate the biggest impacts of what your company has day-to-day on the environment, and then you can start to take solid steps to reduce it. We’ve always thought about the environment and taken steps to improve our trips and reduce our carbon footprint, but this formalisation allows us to track it on an annual basis.

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LUX: What’s the philosophy behind your travel experiences?
MS: We think there is a large number of travellers who want to be active when they go on vacation, and who will get a better experience seeing a region on two wheels than they will on four. There’s so many regions now that are wonderful to hike through, to bike through, to canoe through, that also have luxury accommodations, which is often really important for us. We always try to bring our travellers to luxury accommodations, to high end food.

Man standing next to his bike by a sunny slanted road

Mike Scarola on the Tuscany Wine Country Biking tour in Italy

LUX: You do a lot of community-based work trying to enhance their lives whilst travellers come and visit. How do you ensure a community focused approach while also balancing client demand?
MS: What we find is that travellers are looking for very authentic experiences. They’re not only looking to stay in the nicest hotel and eat the best meals. They’re looking to feel like they’ve come away with a connection and a deeper understanding of the region, which lines up really well with what we try to do. We try to source from locally-owned businesses and local people to help deliver experiences on the trip. So whether it’s a specialised tour, or  stopping in the middle of your cycle for lunch in a restaurant owner’s backyard, where they’re going to teach you how to make pasta, these are the types of authentic experiences that our travellers are looking for. We work really hard on a day-to-day basis to try to find them and it’s only possible because of the network we have built up . We have about 125 guides that are located around the world, who know their regions intimately and are often the source of new experiences with locals.

LUX: Can you tell us more about your art residency initiative in France?
MS: Certainly. This a partnership with a former guide, who has an art residency program in France. They came to us to say that they often identify fantastic artists who are very much in need of financial aid, who could use our help. That’s all we really needed to know. A passion of ours is being about to support our guides, and to support art and culture. We’ve sponsored a number of artists. The latest one is a Belarussian artist, who had to leave their home country because of what’s happening over in Ukraine. This was a phenomenal artist who really didn’t have anything, and was going to have to give up their passion and give up their talent in order just to survive. So we helped to support.

LUX: What sets Butterfield and Robinson apart from other travel companies in the industry?
MS: The heart and soul of this business are our guides and our experienced designers. I would argue at the end of the day that we have the best guides and the best experienced designers on the planet.

Read more: Travelling Botswana on Eco-Safari, Review

Guides showing a map of Tuscany to people on a cycling tour

Mike Scarola guiding on the Tuscany Wine Country Biking tour in Italy

We always have a get together, a guide kick off at the beginning of the European season in April, and a guide gathering at the end of the European season. They are the most creative, well-travelled individuals who speak multiple languages with stories from the whole year on how they took travellers to amazing spots. We ask our travellers at the end of the trip to rate us on a whole bunch of different metrics, and the guide score is always the highest and most consistent, because they’re so knowledgeable about the region.

LUX: How do you aspire to continue redefining luxury travel in the years to come?
MS: The biggest thing for me is listening to our travellers. Our travellers have been the best source of direction over the last 57 years, and I think they’re going to continue to be. I think the demand for authentic experiences will continue to grow. The other thing is that travellers are looking to have a bit of an impact on their trips as well. I can see us doing it a lot more where they’re not just visiting and learning, but they’re participating, potentially in a project that they do on a trip that you know makes them feel a little more connected, a little more empathy for the region and the culture.

Find out more: www.butterfield.com

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A room filled with lights and technology
A room filled with lights and technology

3Sun Gigafactory opened in 2011

Eliano Russo is Head of Enel Green Power’s 3Sun Gigafactory in Catania. Here he speaks to Samantha Welsh about the way the factory works, its benefits on the local community and the clean energy transition
A man wearing a white shirt and black blazer

Eliano Russo

LUX: What is a photovoltaic cell and how does it work?
Eliano Russo: Solar cells are the heart of solar power generation systems. A photovoltaic cell is a device that can convert the energy of solar radiation into electricity through the photovoltaic (PV) effect. This effect is possible since photovoltaic cells are usually made of semiconductor materials (the most diffused is silicon), which have weakly bonded electrons. When the light of the sun hits the PV cell, the electrons of the semiconductor receive energy from the light’s photons and are then able to move. The movement of these electrons through the metallic contacts of the cell produces an electric current. PV cells are assembled into photovoltaic panels that find applications in several fields.

LUX: What are the peculiarities and advantages of the technology 3Sun offers?
ER: 3Sun offers cutting-edge technologies in solar cell and PV module (or panel) manufacturing. Our solar cells are based on bifacial silicon heterojunction (HJT) technology, which offers several advantages over the most widespread technologies on the market. Moreover, our PV modules are manufactured in Europe with sustainable materials derived from a regulated supply chain.

A man wearing a green jumper working in a factory

3Sun Gigafactory combines research and innovation to produce new-generation photovoltaic modules that support the Enel Group in guaranteeing clean and renewable energy

Continuous innovation in pursuit of the highest level of cell efficiency is a fundamental value as we strive to maximise the effective transformation of the sunlight that hits our panels into energy. HJT technology is characterised by high performing photovoltaic modules with low degradation and in early 2020 our HJT cell achieved a world record efficiency level of 24.63%.

The double-sided structure of the solar cell allows solar radiation to be captured via direct light on the upper surface, as well as reflected or diffused light on the lower side. “Bifaciality” also guarantees extra power output even with cloudy conditions where the amount of diffused light is quite high. The solar cell is also very resilient to thermomechanical stresses thanks to the temperature during the manufacturing process that does not exceed 200°C, which also allows for thinner solar cells to be manufactured, , thus reducing the use of silicon and cutting costs.

LUX: What are the benefits for the solar supply chain and the European energy sector in general?
ER: For Europe, the photovoltaic sector represents one of the main enabling technologies to accelerate a sustainable and competitive energy transition. To reach its decarbonisation goals, in Europe we need to achieve 600 GW of installed solar capacity by 2030, which requires building and installing an additional 440 GW. On the other hand, in order to increase the continent’s energy independence and reduce risks related to external geopolitical factors, it is important not to become overly dependent on supplies from other geographies.

A solar panel

Italy’s HJT Photovoltaic Panel

Today, a large part of the photovoltaic industry supply chain is still concentrated in the Asian market, especially in China, where there is also less emphasis on environmental, energy and labor standards compared to those in Europe. Therefore, the creation of a European photovoltaic industry that can guarantee our energy security and independence while upholding those standards represents a strategic priority. In order to achieve this, we must invest to reshore the solar PV supply chain in Europe as we did in Catania, Sicily with the construction of what will be the largest solar gigafactory on the continent.

LUX: What is the potential impact for local communities?
ER: One of the most important positive impacts for the local community as a result of the factory’s expansion is the employment opportunities for Sicily, increasing local direct and indirect employment. In 2022, 50 university graduates were employed, while the selection process for an additional 100 is currently underway, as well as the selection for hiring 550 secondary school graduates. With the new hires, who will fill technical and operational positions in areas such as production, maintenance, auxiliary services, product quality and plant operation, 3Sun’s team, which already includes more than 200 people, will reach about 900 people in total. In addition, 3Sun will also generate a total of 1,000 indirect jobs, including current ones, by 2024. . These numbers mean a lot in terms of employment for a territory like Sicily, especially for young people. In some cases this means young people who have had the opportunity to return home after years of working abroad, excited to be able to contribute to the realization of a project as important as this one.

Technology in a glass box

Bifacial solar panel production at the 3SUN Factory

LUX: How essential is political collaboration to clean energy transition?
ER: It simply cannot be done without it. Our current climate policies are the direct consequence of a political commitment that we took together as Europeans and, more widely, as countries committed under the Paris Agreement. The challenge of climate change is global, it affects everyone, and the response can only be global. A strong, collective, political commitment is needed to tackle a problem of this magnitude. But the political commitment must also be matched in the private sector along with the actions of each and every one of us as individuals.

LUX: What is the role for regional partnerships in tech innovation?
ER: We will be the largest European PV factory, basing our manufacturing on the most advanced technology processes, materials, and design. We carried out a robust research and development phase in collaboration with the most important research institutes and development companies in Italy, Europe and the US. In fact, 3Sun has triggered the most advanced research consortium in Europe with renowned partners such as CEA-INES in Chambery (France), Italian Institutes such as IIT, CNR, ENEA, as well as European and Italian universities. The strict collaboration with the research centers is also witnessed by the presence of very advanced research labs within the industrial complex of 3Sun and in the nearby Enel Innovation Hub and Lab, which hosts research institutions and start-ups. The concentration of research institutes and industries in a few kilometers also encourages important exchanges and generates a very fruitful environment for the development of innovative ideas not only in the PV field. Beyond research collaborations we also work with a wide range of subcontractors in the supply chain of strategic and innovative materials as well as of advanced industrial support and maintenance processes.

A woman working in a factory

The first HJT cells were produced in February 2019 and mass production began in August 2019

LUX: Please share the aims of Project TANGO
ER: TANGO is the acronym for iTaliAN pv Giga factOry, the name of the project through which we are creating an industrial-scale production facility for the manufacturing of innovative, sustainable and high-performance PV modules at Enel Green Power’s 3Sun solar panel factory in Catania. In April 2022, under the framework of the European Commission’s (EC) first Innovation Fund call for large-scale projects, EGP and the EU signed a grant agreement that contributed to the development of TANGO, a facility that will have a production capacity of 3 GW per year by mid-2024. Of our total investment of around 600 million euros, the EC has contributed up to 118 million euros and around 70 million euros came from the Italian National Resilience and Recovery Plan.

LUX: How is the 3Sun Gigafactory in Catania innovating to leading the transition to green energy?
ER: Our production capacity of 3 GW, which we will reach in 2024, will make us the largest production facility in the photovoltaic industry in Europe. However, our contribution to the energy transition is not only quantitative but also qualitative. The values that guide us are innovation and sustainability, two pillars that enable us to create a high quality product made in Europe.

A solar panel in front of a blue board

3Sun Gigafactory represents a model that could be used all over the globe

LUX: Can you accelerate performance to be sure of meeting targets?
ER: We won’t ever stop innovating. The architecture of the 3Sun HJT solar cell is highly compatible with the so-called Tandem structure in which a perovskite top cell is coupled with a silicon bottom cell, the top cell utilises the blue component of the solar spectrum and transmits the red component to the silicon solar cells. The 3Sun tandem structure, that we call “Tango Technology”, allows the solar cell to reach higher efficiencies, well above the theoretical limits of silicon solar cells. 3Sun is developing innovative technology with the aim of increasing solar cell efficiency, achieving more than 30%.

LUX: Longer term, how do you see 3Sun Gigafactory model developing?
ER: 3Sun Gigafactory represents a model that could be replicated elsewhere in Italy, Europe and other parts of the world. As outlined previously, in order to accelerate the energy transition and ensure energy independence and security in Europe, it is necessary to build a European ecosystem of highly efficient solar PV module manufacturing.

Find out more: enelgreenpower.com/3SUN-factory

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a red convertible Porsche parked in front of a green field
a red convertible Porsche parked in front of a green field

This special Heritage Design Edition of Porsche’s 911 Targa 4S is the perfect compromise between a fixed-roof and a convertible- but your hair may still get messed up

In the first part of our supercar review series, LUX gets behind the wheel of the Porsche 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition

One of the most important decision-making factors for anyone contemplating any sports car is hair. As in, “Will my hair get messed up when I ride in that?”. Get the decision wrong, and you could be in for a world of pain, and many stressful driving experiences.

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In a convertible car, where the roof lowers completely and leaves the passengers exposed behind the windscreen, forget any ideas you may have about looking like Grace Kelly or Leonardo DiCaprio. Any expensive hairstyle turns into a kind of 1980s plugged-into-the- socket-style frizz.

White leather seats and red hardware in a car

The alternative is to buy a car with a fixed roof, which are also more highly regarded by car geeks as they tend to be better to drive. But since when were geeks ever correct about any matter of style?

The 911 Targa 4S is Porsche’s answer to this pressing question. Press a button and the (hard) rooftop section lifts itself up, while the rear windscreen also lifts and swivels backward rather alarmingly. The top section disappears into the middle of the car, and the rear windscreen comes back and fixes itself to the ‘Targa hoops’ that encircle the top of the car.

The net effect is that when the roof is open you are surrounded on three sides by glass, the area above your head, where the roof would be, open to the sky. That stops wind blowing in sideways and should, in theory, keep all hairstyles and wigs as perfect as the day they left the salon.

a red convertible Porsche with a white circle on the side of the car, driving by a green field

The motorway north out of Basel into this car’s native Germany is wide, flat and has no speed limit. Taking these factors to their logical conclusion, we can report back that, at a road speed of more than 150mph (255km per hour), even someone with a closely cropped cut of their own hair will end up with a 1980s plugged-into-the-socket-style frizz. So don’t be fooled. If you want perfect hair, take your Bombardier.

In other respects, this is a stylish and satisfying car. The extra roof engineering makes the car notably heavier than its lightweight sports car Porsche 911 stablemates. For most driving experiences, that doesn’t matter at all. What does matter is a modern, technical- looking and practical interior, which we think looks best in the lighter colours of the Heritage Design Edition model we tested here (a limited edition that is no longer available, but the regular 911 Targa 4S is the same car aside from the design detail).

white leather car seats

Being in a sports car usually both works ways and it is particularly the case here. Your journey will be notably noisier and less relaxed then if you had taken the same route in a luxury sedan. But on the right roads, you will have more fun: the latest Porsche 911 is a fast, exciting car when pushed hard, and more practical to live with than a Ferrari or Aston.

Read more: Philanthropy: Nathalie Guiot, The Culture Booster

You will feel more alive than in an SUV or a sedan, and with the roof on you feel as secure as you do in a fixed-head (coupé) car. With the Targa roof off, you have the opportunity to get a suntan, show off a bit and your hairstyle will be – well, we can’t lie – messed up.

LUX rating: 18/20

Find out more: porsche.com

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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cable car
cable car
October is not usually known as a ski month. But at the Andermatt Swiss Alps development, you can cruise the slopes down the 3000m Gemsstock in the morning, and be back for some witches’ brew at the Chedi in the evening.

There are many time-honoured ways to get thrills and excitement on Halloween; skiing, traditionally, has not been one of them. Yet if the fancy catches you, that is exactly what you can do this October 31, on one in Switzerland’s most serious ski mountains.

The Andermatt Swiss Alps ski region, located bang in the centre of the country, is opening this October 31 with its top run, descending from a dizzying 2955 metres, the first to open, followed by two steeper and more challenging glacier runs later in November.

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Andermatt’s Gemsstock mountain, where the action is taking place, is one of the most exciting in Switzerland. From the top you can see over to Monte Rosa, near Zermatt, on the Italian border to the southwest, and to Piz Buin, on the Austrian border, to the northeast. There is a vertical drop of more than 1500 metres from top to bottom. Many of the pistes are north facing and benefit from big snowfall caused by the “barrage effect“ of winds sweeping across north-western Europe and hitting the Alps. In simple terms: lots of snow.

ski mountain

Andermatt’s 3000m Gemsstock mountain

This year, after a hot autumn and early September, temperatures plummeted and the mountain has already seen several significant snowfalls, augmented by their own “snow farm” which preserves snow from the previous winter throughout the summer and feeds it into the slopes for the next season.

Read more: OceanX founders Ray & Mark Dalio on ocean awareness

Sadly, Halloween skiers won’t be able to take advantage of the full vertical drop down to the village at the bottom, which will only open in December. But the village of Andermatt itself is a new gem of the Alps, a tiny traditional village of cosy shops and restaurants augmented by a new luxury development.

ice rink hotel

restaurant dining room

The Chedi with its private ice-rink (above), and Japanese restaurant

Aficionados will know that its highlight is the Chedi hotel, with its Japanese at the Chedi restaurant at its heart. There is also a burgeoning new residential development village created around the Piazza San Gottardo up a little further along the road, with apartments – uniquely, open for purchase by foreigners – restaurants, shops, bars, two hotels (one already open) and even a concert hall.

luxury apartment

A rendering of Andermatt’s latest apartment building Enzian

Later in the season proper you can also sample Michelin-level fine dining on the other mountain, Gutsch. For the moment though, it’s time to put on a Halloween costume, book your place in the cable car up the mountain (a new service for coronavirus times) and whizz down from the top on your broomstick, or even the latest pair of Stöcklis.

Find out more: andermatt-swissalps.ch

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country manor house
country manor house

Sibton Park Manor House in Suffolk is one of the hideaway properties in Fish&Pips’ UK portfolio

Luxury travel company Fish&Pips began by focusing on alpine holidays before expanding into the Mediterranean and more recently, the UK with a selection of handpicked hotels and remote hideaways. Here, we speak to co-founder Holly Chandler about expanding into new territories and handling the challenges of COVID-19

two women in a garden

Holly Chandler (right) & Philippa Hartley

1.How was the concept for Fish&Pips born?

Philippa Hartley (The Pips) and I (The Fish) founded Fish&Pips in 2006. The name Fish&Pips (Holly nee Fisher and Philippa, Pips) was a light bulb moment courtesy of Philippa’s Mum – it just worked – thank you, Jill.

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Philippa and I have been in each other’s lives forever. Our dads were best friends and we have been on holidays together ever since I can remember. Following university, we decided to do a winter season before looking for ‘proper jobs’ in London, and so after some Cordon Bleu training, Scott Dunn took us on at one of their luxury chalets in Méribel. We loved it and ended up winning a Chalet Team 2004 award. It was here that we realised we made a unique team. Whilst working for Scott Dunn, we saw a gap in the luxury market for a small, expert and personalised ski business, that treated its guests as individuals. With a friendly, professional approach to service, a team with a zest for life, a love of food and a background in hospitality, we had the foundations of Fish&Pips.

Over a decade on, after a lot of hard work, Fish&Pips has gone from strength to strength, and over the past thirteen years, it has cemented its reputation as one of the best small specialist ski companies in the UK, catering for 1400 ski guests each winter. Fish&Pips has been built on strong foundations of superb staff, great food and friendly but attentive service.

yacht on the ocean

Fish&Pips’ portfolio also includes super yachts such as Jeannous (pictured here) which offers holidays around the Greek islands

Our loyal guests wanted an option to holiday with us in the summer, so due to popular demand, we launched our thoughtfully curated collection of Mediterranean hotels and villas in February 2019. Our new investor (Blake Rose from Scott Dunn Travel) helped turbo charge this vision, he came with a wealth of knowledge on Mediterranean product, luxury travel and high level customer service. In June this year, we launched our UK collection of hotels and hideaway and despite the current climate, Fish&Pips has been really gaining momentum.

We are now offering a Fish&Pips holiday across the French Alps, Mediterranean and the UK, and there are plenty more exciting things to come. As we grow we want to make sure that we remain The Friendly Travel Experts, a small team with a big heart.

2. How do you select your partnering properties and is there a specific criteria that they need to fill?

Yes, and this list of criteria seems to be ever-growing. All of the properties that we select must have the Fish&Pips factor and reflect what is important to us. We will only acquire properties that feel personal and welcoming, where the team are professional and friendly and the owner or manager lead with great attention to detail. It’s also important that they are well located and that they offer activities and experiences.  They need to be stylish and have something special about the food, whether it be authentic or Michelin-starred. It is important to us to offer a variety of property types in each destination (family friendly hotels, adult and boutique hotels, wellness retreats, villas, hideaways) but they all need to satisfy the F&P criteria.

Read more: Laid-back fine dining at Knightsbridge restaurant Sumosan Twiga

We are also committed to working with properties that have a passion and policy for sustainability and supporting their local community. Minimising our impact on the environment is a responsibility of ours that we take very seriously and we are currently developing our approach and strategy on this.

When it comes to selecting properties, each property is thoroughly researched, rigorously inspected, re-inspected, and approved by myself and Philippa. It is so important to us to build a fantastic relationship with the properties and get to know them inside out. This is something we won’t falter on as it is this knowledge and detail which can make or break an experience and sets our offering apart. Over the past few months visiting new properties has had to be put on hold so we have instead spent many hours on zoom with owners and managers, but we cannot wait to see them all in person soon.

seaside villa

Each property that partners with Fish&Pips is personally chosen by the founders based on specific criteria

3. What’s your most popular collection and has it changed over the years at all?

Our original offering of operating ski chalets in Méribel Village is still a huge part of our business. However, we are now into our second year of our hotels and houses collection across Europe and we are certainly seeing this grow, not only with our ski guests, but noticeably with new guests turning to us for our expert advice for their summer holidays.

Our UK hotels and hideaway launch has been incredibly popular; in fact, the high level of enquiries blew us away. Everything was aligned for this launch – stunning properties, some fantastic press coverage and excellent timing with a UK staycation boom. We love what the UK offers – there is so much on our doorstep from heritage and history, to more incredible boutique hotels and unique hideaways. With this in mind, we are continuing to develop our UK collection and are excited to introduce more wonderful properties in the not-so distant future, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

luxurious kitchen

The kitchen dining room at Moat Cottage, one of Fish&Pips’ UK properties

Our aim is to become a one-stop shop for travellers. Whether they want a short weekend away in the UK, a summer break in the Med or a ski holiday in the Alps. We want them to be able to come to us eventually for all of their holiday needs. We have big plans!

4. How do you think the coronavirus crisis will affect the travel industry in general and Fish&Pips in particular?

It is certainly a very challenging time for travel and it is difficult predict how it will affect the industry – who knows when normality will resume? With ever evolving policy and travel advice, there is now the added complication of unpredictability! For the industry, there is an element of having to plan ahead, but also to think on your feet and pivot where necessary to react efficiently to these changes. This is where our UK offering has been so successful, as we fast tracked our plans to adapt. It’s definitely takes us out of our comfort zone not being able to make a solid strategy but being small and owner-run, means we can be reactionary relatively easily.

Read more: SKIN co-founder Lauren Lozano Ziol on creating inspiring homes

What I can tell you is how this has shaped the travel industry and Fish&Pips in the short term… At the moment, travellers need the confidence to book. This is where flexible cancellation policies have really become key. This is one of the most important criteria for guests when booking now, whether it be to the Med, Alps or the UK and I can’t see this changing for quite some time.

luxury hotel

Sublime Comporta is one of Fish&Pips’ hotels in Portugal, offering a luxurious eco-retreat one hour from Lisbon. Image by Nelson Garrido

The human touch is more important now than ever and I think this will be an ongoing trend. Covid-19 has shown the importance of the ‘human touch’ and we have really felt this when it has come to people planning their holidays this summer and next winter. Guests want to be able to speak to you on the phone and use your expert knowledge and reassurance to build confidence. It is more important than ever for tour ops to be able to be that extra helping hand.

We have seen a bit of a divide with our guests this summer, and again I think this will be ongoing well into 2021. Those that are embracing the abroad escape and those that would rather not travel out of the country.

luxury bed

We have also seen the type of holidays that people are taking shift as travellers choosing not to travel abroad instead choose to spend their money on more of a luxury UK product whether it be boutique hotel, farm to fork country estate, a glamorous hideaway, a contemporary tree house or a splendid 40th birthday!

For us, we just want to make sure we are ready for guests whether they decide they want to stay close to home or to venture further afield. With this mind, we will continue to develop our portfolio in current destinations, grow our villa and hideaway offering across the board, and we are currently working on some exciting new (and slightly chillier) destinations which we hope to launch in September.

Adaptability is key so that we are ready no matter what is thrown at us next!

5. What’s your approach to sustainability?

Sustainability is something we are really passionate about at Fish&Pips and I have actually been nicknamed ‘Swampy’ for always talking about the environment. We always try to have sustainability at the front of our minds, from our chalet operations to when we research and talk to hotels.

From a chalet perspective we have teamed up with an amazing company called ‘One Tree At A Time’ who are really challenging the way that the ski industry operates. They have created a Pledge system whereby companies and individuals commit to changing the way that they operate and live, with a more sustainable future in mind. We were the first chalet company to sign up to the Pledge last winter and have seen some fantastic results. Our aim is to set a tried and tested template for other chalet companies to follow to help reduce their own carbon footprint.

luxury living room

A two bedroom cabana at luxury eco retreat Sublime Comporta

Our aim was to reduce (waste, plastic, consumption, energy, palm oil, carbon), educate (train our team, challenge our suppliers) and plant trees (offset and encourage our guests to do the same). Guests can now offset their carbon with us by planting trees with us. Last winter we planted 6,700 trees in 4 months.

Read more: Why now is the time to check into Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

When we talk to potential properties, one of our top questions is ‘What are you doing to be more environmentally responsible?’ Our UK properties are really quite impressive and are leading the way for sustainability in the hotel industry, from using locally sourced, farm to fork food, no single use plastics and really caring about their local communities.

We are currently working on a F&P Green Stamp that we will award to properties that are actioning a strong environmental policy and doing their best to make the world a little bit of a better place. Nature is one of the most important reasons for travel, so we must protect it so that future generations can have the same opportunities that we have had.

6. Where do you go to get away from it all?

In the summer I actually live on a stunning tiny Channel Island called Alderney. I’ve grown up between there and London, and have holidayed there since day dot. It has always been my solace, and place of calm, although the social scene on an island 3 miles by 1 is pretty hardcore! At the moment, Alderney feels more away from it than ever before with strict 14 day quarantine restrictions in place for anyone entering, but once you’ve stuck it out then it is totally worth it as it is business as usual – everything’s open, no masks, no bubbles, no social distancing. I am truly spoilt by the beauty of the beaches here, honestly they are out of this world and with only a handful of people to share them with. We can also escape to Guernsey, Sark or Herm by boat should cabin fever kick in. So this is my current getaway and I am actually relishing it, enjoying the peace on this beautiful, untapped island.

Come Autumn, I will absolutely be ready to travel again and I can’t wait to get back to the UK to explore all of our wondrous UK properties and scour the country for more gems – a weekend break away in any of those is my idea of heaven, and Scotland literally blows me away. In the winter, there is nothing like the feeling of freedom that skiing gives you and I won’t give up my ski holidays for anything as they are engrained in our lives having lived in Méribel for 14 winters and my husband is also ski instructor. If I have the time between running businesses (I have a couple in Alderney too) and bringing up my children, I absolutely love heading to the slopes for a few hours, followed by a large glass of wine.

As for travel outside of the UK and France, I adore the variety that Europe has to offer from villas and yachts, beaches and coves, to out-of-this-world authentic dining, to countryside retreats, and icy open space up Iceland and Scandinavia. When things settle down I cannot wait to get back out there and explore more far flung destinations, but for now, Europe offers more than enough for me.

Find out more: fishandpips.co.uk

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Landscape photography
Landscape photography

The view across the Rhine valley from Alsace’s Chateau de Haut-Koenigsbourg to Germany’s Black Forest.

LUX takes a journey from Alsace-Lorraine to Lake Constance, through a historic, beautiful, tranquil and gastronomic part of France and Germany that is curiously overlooked on the international tourist map

Location photography by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

There was a point at which, quite abruptly, the Autoroute A4, the east-west artery arrowing out of Paris towards Germany, became interesting. For hours before this point, we had been driving on a wide motorway flanked by flattish fields. Wind turbines and the occasional tractor were for the most part the only distractions from the monotony, with the exception of a brief section, near the city limits of Reims, where the vineyards of Champagne crept up an unexpected hill to our right. But the Montagne de Reims is better experienced in a glass than through the glass.

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An hour or so east of Reims, as if the gods of scenery had decided on a set change there and then, the highway swept to the left and up through a sudden forest on a long incline. The forest felt ancient, revealing glades and streams between its fronds, even when travelling at a cruise. There had been no warning of this scenery’s arrival, making it all the more compelling. In a few miles, a sign told us we were in the Forest of Argonne, known as the site of some of the worst battles of the first world war, and among oenophiles as the source of wooden barrels for some of the world’s great wines.

As if now trying to free itself from its straight-laced former self, the motorway writhed through a series of hills, along viaducts and across shallow valleys. We were now in Lorraine, technically part of the same, recently created region of Grand Est that we had been driving through for hours, but in reality a different part of Europe, historically, linguistically and, evidently, topographically. Lorraine, by itself or bound to neighbouring Alsace, is arguably as Germanic as it is French. Without crossing a border, we had changed nations.

historic building

Riquewihr, one of the historic villages on the Alsace wine route

We turned off near Verdun and followed a country lane that tracked a little river, turning left at a little junction and heading into the forest. Through a tiny one-horse village aligned along the road, and some wrought-iron gates, and we arrived at our overnight stopover, the Lodge Hôtel du Domaine de Sommedieue.

Read more: Why we’re dreaming of summers at Badrutt’s Palace, St Moritz

The reception area doubled as a restaurant, in an old building with a few tables outside, scattered across a lawn shaded by tall trees and bordered by a series of ponds. Our room, tidy, clean, well prepared and functional, was in a newly refurbished building a few metres away. The Sommedieue advertises itself as a fishing lodge, but we don’t fish, so we ordered a bottle of very good Côtes du Rhône from the receptionist/ waitress, who happily chilled out by the bar with her beau, with no pressure on us late arrivals to drink up and allow her to lock up. We drank the bottle, then another, at an outside table, alone with our thoughts and the plopping of fish, until a deep night-time absorbed us all.

lake with boats

Uberlingersee, the northwestern stretch of Bodensee (Lake Constance), in southern Germany, is an idyllic destination for summertime leisure visitors

The next morning the waitress had been replaced by the busy, jolly owner, who asked me which newspapers we would like. He placed a selection on a long wooden table inside the restaurant which he had festooned with a breakfast spread worthy of a still life: fresh, fat loaves, thickly sliced; home-made raspberry and apricot jam; slabs of butter; a bowl of apples.

We headed on, eastwards, through Lorraine, through forests and past rivers and lakes, still in France but with road signs reading as if they were in German: Harskirchen, Hirschland. Lorraine and neighbouring Alsace were at the heart of Europe’s history and wars for centuries, sometimes French, sometimes German, sometimes independent: they have seen peace only since the establishment of the forebear of the European Union after the second world war.

The town of Phalsbourg is bounded on one side by high wooded hills and on the other by meadows dropping down into the lowlands of Alsace. It sits on the border of Alsace and Lorraine, and we were there for its annual festival, the Festival de Théâtre. We arrived in the late afternoon, and walked into the central square, which with its gabled, almost Hanseatic architecture, feels like it belongs more to the Baltic than a country with a Mediterranean coast. We had a pizza on the terrace of one of the square’s handful of restaurants, while the festivities geared up; children and adults wearing the traditional red wandered by, eating candy floss and sipping on local wines respectively. A jazz band launched into a fabulous set as the day turned from gold to light blue to darker blue.

As the band finished, we climbed into the car and headed into the hills enveloped in deep forest and arrived, around midnight, at the Auberge d’Imsthal, a little inn set on a lake in the forest, ringed by hills. I sat on the balcony, listening to fish splashing and animals crashing through the forest, looking for shooting stars.

Church at night

Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church in Phalsbourg, a town in the hills on the border of France’s Alsace and Lorraine regions

The Alsace Wine Route carves its way across slopes lined with vineyards and scattered with Hansel and Gretel villages. The road is slightly elevated from the Rhine floodplain, and as you snake through the vineyards you see views of the deep blue mass of the Black Forest mountains. Halfway along the wine route, we stopped off at the village of Eguisheim, which sits amid its vineyards near the leading edge of a steep hillside leading up to the Vosges mountains.

Read more: Artist Marc Ferrero on his collaboration with Hublot

Eguisheim is tiny – the size of a city square in Paris or Madrid – but seems both eternal and infinite. Its narrow streets, lined by 500-year-old gabled houses, many of them in pastel shades, are arranged in an oval shape, with a breathtakingly bijou square with a fountain at its heart. We sat in a courtyard belonging to a wine producer and drank light, pure local crémant rosé sparkling wine, as the sky and the buildings changed colour and a cool breeze wafted down from the mountains as night fell.

convertible silver car

Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet

For our epic drive across Europe, we had a Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet, a big, handsome, luxurious convertible with seemingly limitless performance and the ability to whizz down any road in a ‘swoosh’ of power and smoothness. The armchairs cradled us like a jealous lover, and, with the roof down, their air-conditioning kept us chill when the sun shone, and warm at night.

The most memorable, and attractive, thing about the Swoosh-mobile was its effortlessness; the way you could fire it up and almost instantly be going at the speed limit, while it made bumps and bits of broken road disappear as if they were not there. So many fast cars these days are tuned as if they are going to be driven on a racetrack, riding down the road so firmly that you fear the movements on your expensive wristwatch will disassemble themselves every time you hit a bump, and making you fear for the integrity of the wheel every time you crash into a pothole. The S 560 is different: it is made to give its driver and passengers the most soothing drive possible, at a level of luxury that would have been inconceivable in a car only 15 years ago.

Read more: Entrepreneur Dr. Li Li on the importance of global relationships

If that makes it sound like the car is boring to drive, it’s not. There is a certain rakish, louche joy in whipping the roof down, cranking the concert-standard Burmester hi-fi up to high, and aiming down the road, elbow on window sill, the car emitting a deep, sonorous but quite muted gurgle. It responds well to changes of direction, not driving nearly as softly as its super-smooth ride would have you fear. Perhaps on a racetrack it would suffer against sportier rivals, but who takes this kind of car on a racetrack anyway?

It certainly didn’t suffer on the autobahn. Parts of German motorways remain free of speed limits, meaning that, once you spot the roadside sign telling you all speed checks are off you can go as fast as you wish without fear of being stopped or photographed by the police. As the autobahn descended from the Black Forest towards Bodensee (Lake Constance) on the final part of our journey, the no-limits sign appeared. The road arrowed straight down a gentle incline bordered on either side by meadows, with no junctions, and no traffic ahead of us. With the accelerator buried, and a rumble of chest-beating from somewhere inside the exhaust system, we surged, roof down, unstoppably, past an indicated 150mph in a matter of seconds. I finally eased off at 155mph when the wind above the open roof was at a severe hurricane level. The S 560 may be easy going, but it can also go.

car dashboard

Convertible sportscar

Such speed hastened our arrival on the shores of Bodensee, which is shared between three countries: Germany on its northern shores; Switzerland on the south shore opposite; and Austria at its eastern edge. Überlingen, on the German shore, is a small and historic resort town. That evening we strolled along the lakefront along a pathway festooned with gardens and small hotels, past the Strandbad (lake beach), where families were sunbathing, playing games and jumping into the lake, and to the centre of Überlingen. A row of cafes, restaurants and ice-cream booths faced the lake, alongside the pedestrian path; a passenger ferry docked, sending a mother duck and her ducklings into a tizzy and causing a passer-by to rescue a duckling which had jumped into a hole for safety. A ten-year-old brother and sister played trumpet and violin, quite competently, attracting a pile of donations for their bicycle fund. A mini beach-volleyball tournament attracted a small crowd, sipping local beer sold from a pop-up stand, on the waterfront. Überlingen is a special find, a tidy, beautifully preserved hark back to another era that feels all the more relaxing now because of it.

For our final overnight, we drove five minutes to the Park Hotel St Leonhard, on a gentle hillside, covered with meadows, orchards and vineyards, above the town. From the wide balcony of our room, the hill sloped down into the town towards the lake; across the two fingers of Bodensee, the lights of the settlements on the Swiss side lit up, the Alps forming a jagged graphic backdrop. The air was wet, herbaceous and grassy. This had been Europe, both new and old, at its very best; and sometimes true luxury cannot be measured by hotel stars.

Four Alsace wines to try

Alsace’s wines remain curiously undiscovered. Whites and sparkling dominate, all are fresh and sophisticated, some are sweet but others are dry, complex and fabulous value; and there are many good producers, keeping prices reasonable.

Domaine Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile
Rich, rounded, but bone-dry riesling with layers of candy and lime. Fabulous wine and value.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris
Sweet but not cloying, packed with a thousand fruit salads and much more. One of the greats.

Bruno Hertz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé
Heart-stoppingly pure sparking pink, simple and delicious, tasting of summer forest.

Domaine Hugel Riesling
Somehow unctuous and dry at the same time, stony with kiwis; older vintages can age beautifully.

For more information visit: mercedes-benz.co.uk

Note: This trip was undertaken pre-lockdown. LUX paid in full for all the hotels in this feature. 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue.

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Reading time: 10 min
interiors of lounge
Luxury country estate house

The grand exterior and park of the Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden

Our editor-in-chief reflects on travels to some of the world’s great hotels, old and new, across Europe and Asia

Brenners Park, Baden-Baden

Swing open the balcony door at the Brenners, and you are in a fairytale land of luscious trees and deep lawns, with a stream running along the end of the garden in front of you. Locals and tourists stroll along the path beyond, kids run in the flower-bedecked meadow.

Not that long ago, Baden-Baden in Germany was pretty much the place in the world to come to get away from it all. In the days before jets, the view from the Brenners Park, overlooking the gardens, with the tops of the hills of the Black Forest immediately beyond, and the opera house just down at the end of the park, was as good as it could possibly get.

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It feels pretty good right now. I ease myself into one of the balcony chairs, listening to the birdsong, reflecting that we are in the heart of Europe, a tiny distance from my home, somewhere unencumbered by the over-commercialisation of modern tourist destinations, and without hurricanes, typhoons or sweltering heat.

The hotel is in a little valley which itself is the centre of the spa town of Baden-Baden. Walk out through the grounds, over a little bridge, turn right and you are in a Baroque town centre within around four minutes’ walk. The park itself feels like the hotel’s back garden. Arriving at the grand entrance, you are aware of drawing up at an institution that has attracted the world’s great and good since 1872. Emperors from Germany to Persia stayed here. The reception area has the feel of the ground country house, rather than a city hotel, and a short climb up an oak-panelled staircase (or in a cute vintage lift) took us to a grand corridor with our suite at one end, and the connection to the adjoining villa containing the hotel’s famous wellness and spa area.

True to its history, the Villa Stéphanie is a health, medicine and recuperation centre in its own right. Sure, you can swim lengths in the conservatory pool and chillax on wooden sun loungers inside facing the park, or outside in the park in summer. You can also have a treatment and a tour of the wet facilities in the 5,000sq m spa, with its pool areas overlooking the gardens. You can also get proper medical consultations and physiotherapy along with everything else – the medical centre is housed in yet another building, adjacent to Villa Stéphanie.

Interiors of restaurant

The subtly modernised Fritz & Felix restaurant

I settled for an excellent analysis and treatment session of physiotherapy regarding my tennis elbow (conclusion: too much phone use, and too little actual tennis) after which a refreshing 50-length swim gave me an appetite. We wandered down for dinner at Fritz & Felix, an art-deco styled but distinctly contemporary culinary concept, a restaurant/ bar/kitchen. It was a refreshing contrast to our expectations of a historic German hotel. The menu, all in lower case, featured a delicious looking selection of high-quality but simple dishes: sole with capers, parsley, lemon and olive oil; local pike perch with lentils, balsamic, thyme and olives; fillet of beef with chimichurri and broccoli. The rack of lamb with chick peas, raisins and cumin went down particularly well.

The Brenners Park is part of the same group as the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in the south of France and the Bristol in Paris, and you can tell with every flutter of perfect service. Pure class.

Book your stay: oetkercollection.com

Rooftop Swimming pool

Mandarin Oriental Singapore’s swimming pools with views across Marina Bay

Mandarin Oriental Singapore

It was late when I arrived at the Mandarin Oriental Singapore. The transfer from the airport was quick, only 15 minutes. But the flight had been delayed, we had circled during a storm, and I had missed my dinner arrangement, so was feeling rather irritable.

I explained this all to the pleasant young lady who met me at reception and took me to my room (in-room check-in is such a slam dunk for a luxury hotel that they should all be required to do it to retain their five-star status) and she sympathised and, in that luxury Asian hotel way, immediately came up with a solution. Why didn’t I go to the poolside lounge bar, Bay@5, still open, for a glass of wine and a bite to eat?

Read more: Back to school with Van Cleef & Arpels

There aren’t many city hotels in the world where the swimming pool bar will be open, let alone tempting, at 11 o’clock at night, but this Mandarin, it turns out, was very much one of them. On exiting onto the pool terrace, I was greeted with a night-time-hued blue pool and surrounding tropical foliage and, across the waters of Marina Bay, an archipelago of black liquid and skyscrapers that is one of the most intimate yet dramatic night-time cityscapes in the world. Being on the fifth floor, we were just raised above the streetscape of the bay area.

The storm had passed over, the sky was starry with a warm breeze. The terrace of the bar area had a few couples and a small group sipping wine, and 80s music playing. I sipped on a beer so cold the condensation poured and reformed and poured again onto my lap, and instantly I felt much improved.

Contemporary interiors of a bar

The bar at Mandarin Oriental Singapore

The food was exactly what you might want after a long and jet-lagged journey: I had a vegetarian pizza with San Marzano tomatoes and grilled vegetables, and a hamachi ceviche with coriander. There was a selection of cocktails from Mandarin Oriental bars across the world, some fine Australian wines, and Ruinart Blanc de Blancs champagne, but the draft beer suited me fine that evening – I was the last to leave, and back in my room I was half tempted to leave the curtains open so the harbour lights lulled me to sleep, although in the morning I would have been woken by the tropical sun.

I had a morning in my room before meetings in the afternoon, which was nothing if not invigorating. The decor was contemporary Asian luxury: lots of greys and taupes, some piano blacks, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Fortunately, Mandarin Oriental has not yet fallen for the trend of assuming everyone works lying down propped up on pillows in their beds, and there was a proper office chair and desk, which I shunted around to face the view. On my final morning I had an hour spare, and went back to the pool deck, this time to do some lengths of the huge pool and spend 10 minutes lying under the overhead sun. With a view directly across the harbour and out of the sea, it felt like we were on a tropical island, and in a sense we were. Pretty impressive for a city-centre hotel, and I can’t think of anywhere that beats it for a resort in a city of glamour.

Book your stay: mandarinoriental.com

Grand country house

The Four Seasons Hampshire brings a modern style to its 18th-century English manor house and park

Four Seasons Hampshire

The clouds were dramatic as we headed up the drive towards the brick manor house that is the Four Seasons hotel in Hampshire. The hotel is on a slight hill above open fields of English countryside, and on a sunny day, puffs of white and slabs of grey fought each other for places in the Atlantic-washed sky. Arrival was made even more atmospheric at the sight of three fawn-coloured horses, their riders gently leading them across a lawn to the stable block.

The feeling here is of space and light; you (or your kids) are free to roam down the slope leading around the hotel to the restaurant, café and eventually the shooting field at the back. Inside the building, a covered passageway in the conservatory leads to a spa block with a big indoor pool with a glass roof, and outdoor Jacuzzi and sunbathing area, completely private on an Italianate terrace.

interiors of lounge

The lounge are of the Wild Carrot restaurant at Four Seasons Hampshire

Our room was a blend of traditional English coloured cushions – pinks, dark pastels, and burnt orange – a combination of leatherwork, ornate wallpapers, with windows looking over the open fields. Less than 40 minutes from Heathrow, you are plunged into a serious English country house experience.

Read more: High altitude luxury at Riffelalp Resort 2222m, Zermatt

We were expecting a slightly formalised English dining experience, but fortunately the management had more sense than that. Wild Carrot, the main restaurant, has been reborn as a kind of grand Parisian bistro. There were leather banquettes, bare wooden floors and no tablecloths, and a menu featuring lots of raw and local ingredients. Typical was the very welcome lightly torched house-cured mackerel with pickled radish and hollandaise, and a main of Somerset salt-marsh lamb rack with roasted cucumber, Greek yoghurt, tomato chutney and mint. All the vegetables are locally grown.

Luxurious indoor swimming pool

The hotel’s pool is attached to the converted stables

Unlike some traditional English country house hotels, signs proclaim children and dogs are welcome, and there are plenty of activities for both. The riding stables offered us a trek across the fields and around the lakes and hacking around the woodland on horses which had been perfectly matched to our height, weight and experience. There is also a high-wire adventure park, which involves zip wires, ladders and perilous bridges to clamber across, all with highly professional instructors.

There is also tennis, clay pigeon shooting, cycling, croquet and an immensely satisfying spa. The grounds are vast – a walk down to and around the lake and back is enough to work up a full day’s appetite. Altogether, it’s impossible to think of another English country house hotel which offers such a complete range of experiences in such luxury, let alone one so near Heathrow Airport and the capital.

Book your stay: fourseasons.com

Grand palace in snowy setting

The Gstaad Palace was once called, for good reason, the ‘Winter- Palace’

Gstaad Palace

A memory of a place is first recalled by rapid-fire still or moving image (or maybe now a GIF?) in your brain. A few weeks after my visit, my instant memory of the Gstaad Palace was our table at Le Grill restaurant. Wood-panelled walls and ceilings and a thick Alpine carpet, and veneered wooden chairs and occasional tables gave it a mountain chic. Formally dressed waiters bustled around, chatting with guests they have known evidently for years or decades.

They were no less courteous to us, to their credit, although of course we had no common anecdotes to share with them. With Alpine flowers on the thick tablecloths, and cuisine rich and local ingredients, including flambéed dishes prepared at the table by the waiters like a glorious piece of 1970s revival, it was an evening experience unlike almost any other.

Read more: The Thinking Traveller’s Founders Huw & Rossella Beaugié on nurturing quality

There was a fantastic Hungarian traditional string band playing in adjacent bar, alternating with a soulful jazz band. The house Burgundy, poured from magnums, accompanied everything extremely well. You could choose Le Grill to propose to your other half, for a family get-together, or a casual dinner for one – it’s that versatile.

When we drew back the thick red curtains of our suite in the morning, we were greeted by the Alps as drawn by Laurent de Brunhoff, creator of Babar the Elephant. Big, forested round hills dropped into a broad bowl, above which jagged rocky peaks loomed. The Palace is the cornerstone of Gstaad, the reason the village has become one of the epicentres of wealth in Europe. In winter, after dinner at Le Grill or one of the other restaurants, you would roll down to the GreenGo nightclub, with James Bond and Pussy Galore sitting on corner sofas sipping two olive martinis as Julio Iglesias rocks the dance floor.

cosy lounge area with open fire

Today, the hotel’s modern spa adds a warmer kind of seclusion from the outside world

In summer, when we went, the nightclub is a swimming pool, connected to the spa (open year round) and looking out onto a garden with a cute kids’ playground, and lined by the hotel’s famous clay tennis courts. Here, you can play as if you were born with a pro living in your garden house (as many guests likely were) with a 270-degree view of the mountain bowl of the Bernese Oberland. If you need something bigger than the hotel’s internal pool, wander up to the Olympic-sized pool the hotel shares with the village (it has its own sun-lounger area, and this is a very posh village). We loved our simple, abundant mountain-food lunch at the pool bar.

The Palace is the kind of place which makes you feel very welcome, but at which it is always evident that there are layers of society into which money simply won’t buy. In its lavish lounge and bar area, just behind reception, old families from Germany, Switzerland and Italy, whose forebears have been coming here for generations, chat easily about art, girls and boys, and schools. The windows in the corridor leading down to the restaurant contain watches and jewellery, from famous brands, that simply might not be available to you unless you know them personally.

The service, however, is sublime for everyone – there was not a flicker of an eyebrow when we booked a tennis court, arrived on the court, and realised we didn’t have any rackets or balls. They were served up in an instant. I just enjoyed sitting on the terrace at breakfast, picking out a gluten-free croissant, looking out over the view, and catching snippets of cultured conversation in several European languages. Perhaps we will be coming back here for generations also.

Book your stay: palace.ch

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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Mountainscape of peaks and glacier
Mountainscape of peaks and glacier

Monte Rosa, the second highest mountain in the Alps at 4,634m (left), towers over Zermatt’s Gorner Glacier. Lyskamm (right) is another of the 33 peaks higher than 4,000m surrounding Zermatt. Photograph taken from the Gornergrat observatory station by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Zermatt, in Switzerland, has mountain views and activities that are the stuff of legend. It also has the highest altitude luxury hotel in Europe. Darius Sanai checks in and is mesmerised

We arrived for our stay in Riffelalp Resort 2222m by taking four trains from Zurich, each one more quaint and tiny than the previous. The first was a double-deck express that arrowed smoothly through luscious lowlands and past lakes; alighting at the bottom of a deep valley at Visp, we changed to a more pared-back, basic train that made its way up a narrow, steeply inclined V-shaped valley, more gorge than valley in places. Shards of rock sat on the valley floor among trees and cows, a fast-flowing river accompanied us upwards. There were glimpses, as we ascended, of glaciers and snowy peaks, even in mid-summer.

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Arriving at the top of the valley in Zermatt, we crossed a tiny station square, gazing up at the citadel of the Matterhorn looming over the village like a rock god. The next train was a cog railway, which headed in a meandering zigzag through the larch forest up the valley sides; we crossed over a high iron bridge above a waterfall, in and out of deep larch groves, the ground disappearing below us.

Alpine hotel nestled into mountainside

The Riffelalp Resort 2222m sits high above Zermatt in the valley below, with views of the surrounding peaks, including the Matterhorn

After 15 minutes, and feeling a lightness in the air, we emerged at Riffelalp station, right on the tree line. On the other side of the open-air ticket barrier was a tiny, open, narrow-gauge train, and a smiling drive/porter in full uniform, with a peaked cap. This little train, more toy than real, with no windows and waist-height doors, had room for around 20 people and a little luggage. It ground along a mountain path through the forest, at little more than jogging pace, for five minutes, as we were enmeshed in the aromas of pine cones and herbs, until it reached a clearing. Here, 600m above the valley floor, at a height of 2,222m (thus the name) we were greeted with a cluster of pretty Alpine chalets and a view, across and above the confluence of three glacial valleys, over to the Matterhorn, and several other peaks, lit only by moonlight and starlight, glaciers staring at us from across the dark night-time green haze.

Luxury drawing room of a suite room

Bedrooms at Riffelalp benefit from sweeping views over the mountain peaks

If the view was mind-bending, stepping inside the hotel was even more so. For this was no high-altitude mountain hut; we were inside a luxury palace hotel, beautifully created with Alpine woods and finishes, with a long and wide corridor leading down from the lobby area, past a jazz bar with a live band, and towards a restaurant, whose large windows perfectly framed the night-time Matterhorn. All the details were done beautifully, from the lighting, to the granite, wood and artisanal tables in the gently curving lobby/corridor area, whose large windows perfectly framed the mountains: at night, you could spot the helmet lights of the climbers on the Matterhorn.

Luxurious hotel bedroom

Alpine terrace

One of the resort’s bedrooms (above), and (here) views of the Matterhorn from the terrace

We stayed in the Matterhorn suite, an L-shaped series of rooms, decorated in blonde woods with contemporary furnishings, each of which had a balcony looking out over the high-altitude drama of a dozen peaks of more than 4,000m. This is the highest luxury hotel in Europe, and from the bedroom balcony, it certainly felt it. The granite and marble master bathroom was a masterpiece of design and sheer size – in contrast to many Alpine mountain hotels’ compact dimensions.

Read more: Back to school with Van Cleef & Arpels

What was particularly compelling about the resort is that it is just that: a place you don’t need to leave. On the roof of one of the buildings is an indoor and outdoor pool and sun terrace – it gets surprisingly warm on a summer afternoon, notwithstanding the altitude. Inside is a spa. There is a bowling alley, table tennis, billiards, trampolines in a play area outside, and perhaps our favourite part was the garden terrace downstairs.

Indoor swimming pool

The indoor swimming pool at the hotel’s spa

The buildings are located just where the trees start to peter out, giving way to high-altitude grass and tundra, meaning you can sit at a table outside the hotel, watching hikers and climbers go past during the day while sipping a glass of wine – and you have the mountain to yourself at night. Kicking back with a drink after a long hike, as the sunset turns ever more blue, watching the other tourists disappear down the valley to Zermatt, or the serious climbers striding on and upwards towards their bivouacs, is an infinitely relaxing feeling.

Grand restaurant dining room

The Alexandre restaurant serves fresh, light Alpine cuisine

There are three restaurants and a bar (the two main restaurants are open in summer). The Alexandre is the one in the main hotel building and any fears that it will be an old-fashioned Swiss grand restaurant serving heavy cream and food are quickly dispelled. The Swiss Alpine salmon fillet with wild spinach and venere rice was light and umami; meanwhile the Simmental beef with mountain vegetables and potato purée really tasted of Alpine meadows.

We had slightly feared that staying at Riffelalp would mean feeling cut off from the village below, a 20-minute train ride down in the valley. In fact, it was quite the opposite: we felt like we were the privileged ones, in a kind of contemporary, tasteful luxury Nirvana high up in the view, and we never felt like going down. Indeed, we never felt like leaving at all.

Book your stay: riffelalp.com

Pine forest trekking

Larch and pine forests coat the steep slopes immediately above Zermatt. Image by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Four unmissable summer activities in Zermatt

Hike the Mark Twain Trail. Named after the American writer, it loops upwards and around the mountain from Riffelalp, revealing more and more vast, glaciated peaks at every turn, past high-altitude lakes and meadows, until you reach Gornergrat, the station and observatory at 3,100m with probably the most spectacular 360-degree view in the Alps. The trail is not particularly steep and can be done in three hours, but it’s not for those who have a fear of heights. There are hundreds of other mountain paths, over mountain top and through forest, valley and meadow.

Take advantage of the mountain gastronomy. Zermatt’s mountain huts may look quaint and weathered, but many of them house restaurants of Michelin-star standard, or rustic cuisine of the highest quality, with fine wines from around the world to match. And you need to walk or trail bike to get to them, making them justified. Some of our current favourites are: the Findlerhof, on a forest trail with a mesmerising view of the Matterhorn, where we had fantastic forest cuisine: a local mushroom salad and herbed chocolate fondant, cooked and served by the delightful owner; Restaurant Zum See, in a tiny
hamlet in a lush glade just above Zermatt, where the platter of local air-dried beef and cheese was sublime and the owners charming; Edelweiss, a characterful hut on a cliff directly above the village, accessed only by a short but very steep walk, which felt cosy and atmospheric; and the Whymper Stübe, in the oldest hotel in the village, where Edward Whymper, the English tragic hero who first climbed the Matterhorn in 1865, stayed, and where the fondues are superb and the atmosphere even better.

Mountain path

A panoramic path down from Zermatt’s Stellisee lake with the peaks of Dent Blanche, Obergabelhorn and Zinalrothorn in the background. Photograph by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Visit the Forest Fun Park. A high-wire park in a forest on the edge of the village, run by mountaineers, its trails, of varying difficulties, are ingeniously devised and variously involve zip-wiring over the river, down above rapids, and across a football pitch, and clambering from treetop to treetop, all in safety and with a stunning view of the Matterhorn.

Climb the Matterhorn. If you’re fit and fearless, plan ahead and book your guide and accommodation, Europe’s most famous mountain can be climbed by capable non-experts. But take heed of advice and guidance: after a gradual decline in accidents in recent years, in 2018 there were at least 10 deaths on the mountain. If you’re not quite up to climbing, a spectacular second best is a hike up to the Hornli Hut, known as Base Camp Matterhorn, on the leg of the mountain, which anyone can do if they are fit and don’t suffer from fear of heights. It’s two hours up from the Schwarzsee lift station, and pretty dramatic in itself.

Matterhorn mountain with fields of wildflowers

Wildflowers grow in the unique microclimate of Riffelsee, at 2,800m one of the Alps’ highest lakes, protected by ridges from northerly winds. Photograph by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Other places to stay

Up in the mountains above the village, there is nowhere that comes close to Riffelalp Resort 2222m. When staying in Zermatt itself, we like to stay in Winkelmatten, a hamlet on its southern edge, at Chalet Banja. Available for private hire, Banja is beautifully built and detailed by a local doctor and his artistic wife, with four floors of exquisite local stone, wood, artefacts and detailing. It sits above a riverbank amid conifer trees, with uninterrupted views up to the Matterhorn; on the lowest floor is Zermatt’s biggest private (indoor) pool, with the same views, and a gym and sauna and steam rooms. The Alpine library in the atmospheric kitchen/living/dining area is engrossing.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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Reading time: 8 min
Product image of glasses and fishing nets
Product image of glasses and fishing nets

Sea2See turns discarded plastic fishing nets into high-fashion eyewear

François van den Abeele had a dream – to turn discarded plastic fishing nets into high-fashion, hand-finished eyewear. People once laughed at him, but now, as he leads a swell of eco-entrepreneurs, his products are in increasing demand around the world. He tells LUX how he created an ecosystem around his brand, Sea2See
Portrait of man holding glasses

François van den Abeele

“My love of water sports nurtured a passion for the ocean and brought me to focus on the problem of plastic contamination in our seas. I had spent a lot of time reading about the degradation of our oceans, the problems surrounding marine plastic, and about the brands trying to implement circular economy in the way they produce.

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“I began to investigate ways of using plastic waste as a raw material to produce something that people would use and potentially wear. Sustainability is non-existent in the optical world; the main raw material used is plastic and 40 per cent of the population wears glasses. It was a perfect win, win, win.

“All this, along with a personal motivation to change my profession and do something positive with a sustainable impact culminated in the creation of Sea2See Eyewear.

“We have agreements with 27 ports in Spain, six in France and now we are starting in Ghana. We collect on average half a ton of plastic waste per day that we recycle to produce all of our optical frames in Italy.

Fishermen standing on a boat deck

“The market is changing, and consumers are more and more worried about the future we will leave to our kids. The proof is that in three years we are being sold in more than 2,500 optical stores across Europe and North America, and the numbers are growing.

Read more: Highlights from the 3rd edition of NOMAD St. Moritz

“People laughed at me four years ago when I had the idea of producing glasses with recycled marine plastic. Today we get calls daily from stores or brands that want our product or to collaborate with us.

“There is a global awareness that we must treat our planet better and consume differently, and Sea2See, thanks to its customers, is doing its part. Sustainable glasses will not change the world. People that wear them will.”

Discover the collections: sea2see.org

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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Reading time: 2 min
Mountainside city at night
Mountainside city at night

Georiga’s capital Tbilisi sits amidst the Caucasus mountains, on the border of Europe and Asia. Image by Denis Arslanbekov

Why should I book now?

Thinking of booking a spring break? There are few places more lovely than the Caucasus mountains, on the border of Europe and Asia. And in the region, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is unmistakably the most beautiful city. In a broad valley surrounded by mountains, at its heart is a medieval old town with a fortress towering above. The country has two millennia of history and feels like it was once the centre of a culture and empire – which it was. Winters are cold, summers are hot, and spring, with the trees and blossoms in full bloom, are perfect.

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What’s the lowdown?

The Radisson Blu is the best-located hotel in the city, at the top end of the broad Rustaveli Avenue, the magnificent boulevard, lined with palatial buildings, that bisects the town centre like a more elegant Champs-Elysees. Rooms have views across the city to the mountains beyond. It’s a modern, light and airy place with a lot of glass everywhere. Climbing out of our car and being greeted by the doorman was our first taste of hearty, genuine Georgian hospitality – we had two recommendations of things to do before even entering the reception area. The receptionists were equally friendly, and, you felt, from their hearts: this was genuine national pride, not just training.

Interiors of a chic restaurant

Filini is the hotel’s chic Italian restaurant (above), and in the warmer months, guests can dine on the rooftop terrace (below)

Chic rooftop restaurant

Getting horizontal

Our “superior” category room was spacious and very light, with full glass walls on two sides, and gorgeous views across to the churches of the old town. Decor is contemporary and minimal: whites, creams and light greens. The minibar was filled with local snacks – creamy Argo beer, and packets of local pistachios. There are two restaurants in the hotel, both of them contemporary-chic, and an excellent selection of neighbourhood restaurants just across the square. Wander down Rustaveli Avenue, where a highly fashionable passeggiata takes places every evening in the warmer months, and you get to the Old Town’s wonders, but as a place to stay, we preferred being slightly out of the tourist main drag at the other end of Rustaveli.

Read more: Galleria Continua’s Lorenzo Fiaschi on opening a space in Rome

Luxurious hotel bedroom with floor to ceiling glass windows

The rooms on the higher floors offer the best views over the Old Town

Flipside

The Radisson Blu Tbilisi really didn’t have any drawbacks. Although we would advise anyone visiting to pay more for a room on a higher floor, to maximise those views.

Rates: From GEL 424.80 (approx. £100/€150/ $150)

Book your stay: radissonhotels.com/en-us/hotels/radisson-blu-tbilisi

Darius Sanai

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Exterior of an alpine hotel in winter
Exterior of an alpine hotel in winter

Hôtel de l’Etrier is located in the sunny Alpine resort of Crans-Montana

Why should I go now?

While many Swiss resorts suffer from “deep valley” syndrome in midwinter, with the sun hidden by peaks for most of the day, Crans-Montana is both snowy (it sits at 1450m and its top station is at 3000m) and sunny, as it’s on a south-facing shelf high above the deep Rhône valley. Hôtel de l’Etrier is a Crans-Montana institution: take one of its recently refurbished, Alpine-contemporary pine clad, coolly lit south-facing rooms with a big balcony, and you have one of the best views of any Alpine hotel, and one of the sunniest locations.

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What’s the lowdown?

L’Etrier is a three minute walk from the main Crans lift station (you can leave your skis at the lift station rental store, which incidentally does an excellent line in Swiss Stoeckli skis, among our favourites). Step into the hotel and you have a picture-window view from the bar across the Valais Alps; there are few better places to relax with a long cocktail after (or maybe before) a day on the excellent Crans slopes.

Luxurious indoor swimming pool with loungers

The hotel has a spa and indoor pool, which connects to an outside swimming pool in summer

You also have access to two of this foodie village’s most well-known restaurants without even stepping outside, as a passageway leads to the Michelin-starred Pas de l’Ours restaurant and its more casual counterpart, the Bistrot de l’Ours, serving signature dishes such as candied pig shank with curry, beer cabbage, juniper and apple vitelotte.

Alpine lounge area with armchair and fire

The bar offers a cosy atmosphere for casual dining, whilst le Fer à Cheval restaurant (below) serves traditional Swiss alpine cuisine

Detail image of a table with wine and hams

The bar in the hotel itself is supremely relaxed and serves casual food, and this was our favourite hangout of all, in a deep armchair by a picture window looking out at the dramatic view. Many Alpine hotels nestle deep in valleys and views are limited; not so here. There is also an indoor pool (connecting outside in summer) and spa/wet area.

Getting horizontal

Our “superior” room was just that. It wasn’t the last word in high luxury, and l’Etrier is not priced as such, being a four-star hotel. But we preferred it to rooms we have had in some of Europe’s (and Switzerland’s) grandest institutions. The light pine and modern lighting decor were just right; the furnishings were light and contemporary without being irritatingly over-designed and the emphasis was on comfort.

Read more: Andermatt’s new high-altitude restaurants

Spacious bedroom with pine fittings

One of the hotel’s spacious suites

The balcony had such magnificent views across the resort, below, the woods around it and across the Rhône valley to the giant peaks of the Pennine Alps surrounding the distant resorts of Zermatt and Zinal, that we spent an evening sitting and admiring the rose-coloured sunset, despite the increasing Alpine winter cold. Some rooms are just right in terms of general vibe: this was a room you didn’t want to leave, in the evenings, as the canopy of stars emerged above the mountains and valley.

Flipside

Crans-Montana is quite a spread-out resort and none of its top hotels can claim to be quite in the centre of things; L’Etrier is no different, and while it’s very near the main lift, it’s an eight minute walk (or two minute shuttle) to the centre of Crans, one of the two villages.

Rates: From 200 CHF  (approx. £150 /€200/ $200)

Book your stay: hoteletrier.ch

Darius Sanai

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Reading time: 3 min
White cliffs of dover with the channel stretching into a blue horizon

Image of a DFDS ferry floating on the sea

The DFDS ferry from Dover to Calais only takes 90 minutes, but with beautiful views, good food, and the comforts of a VIP lounge, you’ll wish the journey was longer, says LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai

What is the most curious new development of early 2019 was a report stating that sales of paper maps are actually increasing. The report quoted extensively from the august merchant of the world’s greatest and most detailed maps, the cartographers Stanfords of Longacre in London. Apparently, in the era when your phone contains not just a map but predictions for exactly you should be doing in the confines of that map, the lure of the paper map is increasing, not decreasing – in some cases, anyway.

On the face of it, this seems bizarre. Why would we need a foldout map, when everything you might have a need to know about a journey is stored inside your phone, and by tapping your destination, it will not only tell you how to get there, it will tell you exactly how long it will take you to get there and how many people recommend the fish pie at each restaurant en route. Astonishing progress. Or is it?

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Think about that for a second: on a Google map, your journey across the country, or across the continent, is reduced to a simple statement of time. This is an amount of time, it is implied, that must be endured until you do what you actually need to do, which is is get to the stated destination at the other end. It completely ignores the fact that the journey might be an end itself, that the journey might be something to enjoy and indulge in.
White cliffs of dover with the channel stretching into a blue horizon

The iconic white cliffs of Dover

Your electronic devices all about maximising the efficiency of delivering a certain message in a certain way. Yet the art of travel is precisely the opposite. Your journey is not data to be downloaded in a microsecond. It is something to be indulged in and appreciated in itself, not simply a means to an end.

These days, there are many very efficient ways to get from Britain across the continent of Europe (Brexit aside), including a plethora of travel by aircraft to different hubs, high-speed trains, and of course the tunnel under the Channel. But all of these assume that the two points of interest in your journey are the beginning and the end, and nothing in between. Or, in the case of the tunnel, assuming that the speed with which you get from one side of the water to the other is more important than what’s above.

Read more: Ingenuity is crucial to human destiny

Until relatively recently you might have been forgiven for avoiding the option of ferry travel, as the vessels that sailed from the UK to France were not the most sophisticated, even though they had their own romance. So, recently, on a DFDS ferry from Dover to Calais, we were both delighted and astonished. An efficient cafeteria served a selection of French-biased food (real vegetables, properly cooked, accompanying meats of various types) which you could take and eat at your leisure in the refectory overlooking the stern of the ship. France, to start with a line in the distance, became a distinct outline of cliffs, beaches, and buildings by the end of the meal.

Meanwhile, a walk round to the outside deck at the back revealed the cliffs of Dover, slowly fading into the haze, as we left the seagulls behind.

Luxury ferry lounge with leather chairs

The VIP lounge offers a comfortable space for travellers to relax and enjoy the views

But the most compelling aspect of all, besides the views, and the sense of reality that you are crossing a body of water between one part of the continent to another (a body of water that has proved the difference between independence and conquest for Britain since 1066), was the simple comfort of the VIP lounge. Here for an extra fare, you can relax in absolute silence on the array of sofas and help yourself to a selection of drinks and snacks. And read magazines and newspapers while watching the world go by for the windows. As an element of a long journey, it is a real respite break for drivers and passengers. It is not inaccurate to say that we were rather disappointed with the announcement that came after just over an hour into the journey, that we would soon be disembarking at Calais.

And there’s the rub. Taking the ferry is actually barely any slower than going underground when all the elements of boarding and embarkation are taken into account. If it’s rough, you may wish to spend a bit more time outside, but you still feel like you have been somewhere, properly traveled, rather than simply been transported. We will be doing it again this summer.

Book your journey: dfdsseaways.co.uk

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Reading time: 4 min
celebrity guests arriving at gala in cannes underneath sculpture
Actress Kate Upton on the red carpet at Cannes

Kate Upton at the 2017 amfAR Gala Cannes

Charity art auctions are taking off around the world, and for the best and worst of reasons, says Simon de Pury, himself the world’s leading philanthropic auctioneer

Portrait of world renowned art auctioneer, Simon de Pury

Simon de Pury

In times past, the main philanthropic efforts in the art world used to be confined to the US, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is fiscal encouragement for individuals to make charitable donations in the US, which is not the case in Europe. And more importantly it is an integral part of the entrepreneurial educational philosophy in the US, that if you are successful, you give back.

Any successful person in any area in the US is expected to have one or two causes to which they contribute some of the fortune they have made. But over the past 10 years, things have changed. More and more wealth has been created around the world, and the art market has consequently become more global. This means I have witnessed efforts in philanthropy around the world increasing dramatically.

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It is very gratifying to see, and in many cases to be involved with, cultural institutions that organise regular fundraising events. We also see increasing numbers of organisations of friends of museums, whose main task is to raise funds for philanthropic and charitable causes. In some cases, these are to benefit the institutions themselves; and in others, funds are raised for important causes that are not adequately funded through governments.

Perhaps the ultimate art philanthropist is Maja Hoffmann, who has devoted so much energy to the new LUMA Foundation in Arles; designed by Frank Gehry, it is going to become a cultural art centre of major importance. She also funded the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles; and she is a donor to MoMA and the New Museum in New York, and the Kunsthalle in Zurich. She supports these institutions not just in financial terms, but also by putting together sophisticated programs. She is a shining example.

celebrity guests arriving at gala in cannes underneath sculpture

The amfAR 2017 Gala in Cannes

Then there is the growing area of non-cultural philanthropy, one in which the art world is becoming increasingly involved. It’s not a recent development (although it has been growing exponentially recently) . The art world was the first to mobilise in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when Thomas Ammann, an art-dealer friend of Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, set up amfAR, which has raised great amounts of money over the years.

What is striking about the art world is that some artists have themselves made significant donations. Damien Hirst donated a beautiful golden mammoth which Len Blavatnik bought for $16m at the amfAR auction in Cannes in 2014. It’s now at the Faena hotel on Miami Beach and something of an Instagram magnet. It also happens to be one of best works in the Damien Hirst oeuvre. Hirst is the most generous artist I know; he has donated many millions of dollars’ worth of art to various charities over the years. Tracey Emin is also immensely generous, as is Chuck Close, who never holds back in supporting causes close to his heart. There are many others, too; artists these days are solicited on a daily basis to donate works to various causes.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Madonna pose backstage

Leonardo DiCaprio and Madonna at the 4th Annual Saint-Tropez Gala organised by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 2017

There is one lingering anomaly, at a time when we should all be highly concerned about the future of the planet: the fact that only three per cent of global charitable donations go to environmental causes. Leonardo DiCaprio is leading the way in devoting time and energy to raising awareness of the poor state of the oceans and other environmental issues, and I have had the honour of being auctioneer at the four large charity auctions he has organised in St-Tropez over the past four years.

Read more: One-of-a-kind designs by talented artisans at Baku Corner

David Beckham posing in a black tuxe and bow tie

David Beckham arriving at the 2017 amfAR Gala

What is significant about these auctions is that they include works by artists such as Jeff Koons, Urs Fischer and George Condo, many of whom donate very substantial works. In 2016, of the 20-odd works on sale during the live auction, 15 were donated and 12 of them set new auction records. This shows that people are not simply buying art at these auctions as a charitable act – they are buying top works, which makes it sustainable and gives it extra purpose. Leonardo manages, through his status, not only to obtain top donations, but also to bring in potential purchasers from all over the world. In that tent in St-Tropez on the gala evening, there is a greater concentration of money than at the big auctions in New York.

What is increasingly extraordinary about these events is how global the audience is now. High net-worth individuals are coming from all over the world, with more and more attending from Russia, the former eastern bloc, the Middle East, China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Latin America and all over Africa. It has really become a global effort.

All of this also raises awareness, and once awareness spreads it becomes easier to raise funds. Offices that look after HNIs all now have specialists in philanthropy to advise their clients how they can help. People are getting drawn in for different reasons. Some people pay for the artworks because they just want the artwork. But increasingly individuals want to take responsibility because governments are not. One of the reasons philanthropy was initially more widespread in the US is that most institutions there depend on private donations, there being no public funding. In Europe, public budgets used to be much bigger, but with cuts, individuals have had to step in.

You can also see this with the instant mobilisation that takes place when something happens, for example the recent refugee crisis. Some artists are galvanized into action by such crises – Ai Weiwei has made a movie and marched on the streets of London together with Anish Kapoor. It’s the future.

Simon de Pury is an art auctioneer and collector and the founder of de Pury de Pury. Read more of his columns for LUX here.

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Reading time: 5 min
Dramatic mountainous landscape of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, South America
Dramatic mountain landscapes in Chile, one of 2018's luxury travel destinations

The dramatic landscapes of Chile. Image by Ruben Santander

Geoffrey Kent, Abercrombie & Kent’s chairman and founder, spends around 270 days on the road every year. In this month’s exclusive column for LUX, he pins down some of luxury destinations that will be trending in 2018 and gives his insider tips on where to stay and what to do

Armenia

Armenia is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Known as the “Land of Churches”, it’s scattered with magnificent monasteries, ruins full of relics and centuries-old cathedrals. The now-defunct Kingdom of Armenia was the first country on the planet to adopt Christianity. It’s said that two of the apostles – Thaddeus and Bartholomew – spread the religion’s ideas northwards from the Holy Land to Armenia after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Landscape in Armenia, one of the hottest travel destinations of 2018

Armenia countryside. Image by LEMUR Design

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During my recent visit, the many highlights included visiting UNESCO-listed Geghard Monastery and Zvartnots Cathedral, the Hellenistic-style temple of Garni and Khor Virap, from which there are magnificent views of Mount Ararat. Whilst at Khor Virap, I particularly enjoyed partaking in the tradition of releasing doves in the hope they’ll fly to the mountain’s summit.

The “Pink City”, Yerevan is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities. It’s home to the Yerevan Brandy Company, which has been producing cognac since 1887. During World War II, Stalin apparently shipped cases of Armenian cognac to Winston Churchill, who first tasted the spirit at the Yalta Conference.

Montenegro

Though small, Montenegro may be the next major thing in the Balkans. With some wondering if it’s the ‘next Croatia’, the country’s tourism star is on the rise thanks to the development of a new multimillion-dollar marina on Boka Bay. When it opens in 2018, Portonovi will lure the Adriatic’s yachters to shore with its siren’s call. The marina’s lifestyle resort will include Europe’s first One&Only resort, a yacht club and an Espace Chenot spa. I’ll be cruising around Montenegro on a superyacht this September, docking at Portonovi and attending a private opera on an islet in Kotor Bay, which is on the World Heritage List.

Montenegro's blue skies and mountains surrounding Boka Bay

Montenegro: the new pearl of the Balkans. Image by Faruk Kaymak

Chile

In my experience, most travellers touch down in Santiago and head straight out of town – north for the stark beauty of Atacama or to the wild expanse of Patagonia down south. In this sliver of South America, which will celebrate 200 years of independence from the Spanish Empire in 2018, there’s so much in between.

Read next: Artist Rob Munday’s extraordinary holographic portraiture

Long overlooked, Santiago is worth pausing in. The food scene is piping hot, with restaurants like Boragó at the fore. More and more design-centric boutiques are popping up. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s all framed by the stunning surrounding Andes. With BA’s relatively new nonstop flights to Santiago, it’s more accessible than ever.

Dramatic mountainous landscape of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, South America

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Image by Olga Stalska

Once you’ve finished exploring Santiago, I recommend heading to Patagonia to stay at one of my favourite hotels. The Explora Lodge provides some of Earth’s ultimate views. Sitting at the breakfast table on a clear day, the view is one of the most beautiful you’ll ever see – with glaciers, snowcapped mountains and the lake. The trouble is you must get lucky. I’ve been there several times and you might get horizontal snow when it’s windy so that you can’t see more than a foot ahead of you.

Agra

Rudyard Kipling, Disney and the UK’s close ties to the subcontinent obviously have had an indelible effect on our psyches. India’s appeal is evergreen and the classic introduction to this colourful and captivating country is the ‘Golden Triangle’ – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Before travellers visit the tangled jungles of Madhya Pradesh, the tranquil backwaters of Kerala or the Bollywood sets of Mumbai, the Golden Triangle is essential India.

Mother and child walking in colourful building in India

Travellers continue to be entranced by the colours and culture of India. Image by James Houston.

Most just dip into Agra for the Taj Mahal, but with the famed mausoleum under restoration-related scaffolding at the moment, there are new cultural attractions emerging. Famed architect David Chipperfield is collaborating with New Delhi-based Studio Archohm on the Mughal Museum. Located near the Taj, this modern marble palace is due to open any day now. I like contemporary architecture so I’m very excited about this.

Egypt

A camel crosses in front of the pyramids in Egypt

Image by Martin Widenka.

This isn’t the first time Egypt’s been on my ‘where to go next’ list, but it’s back because this ancient country is  buzzing with renewed confidence. It’s been a bucket-list destination for centuries, but there has never been a better time to travel to Egypt. There are new hotel openings to entice, such as the 39-storey St Regis in the heart of old Cairo.

New tombs are being discovered regularly. A trio of rock-tombs were unearthed 125 miles south of Cairo and another was found on the left bank near the Valley of the Kings. And most excitingly, the world’s largest archaeological museum, the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) will open in 2018 in Cairo. Not only that, but its many fabled sites are free of crowds and open to in-the-know travellers. The experience for tourists in Egypt right now is as welcoming and upbeat as I’ve ever seen it, but the ability to see the pyramids without crowds won’t last long.

Find out more about Abercrombie & Kent’s luxury tours: abercrombiekent.co.uk

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Reading time: 4 min
Wendy yu wears bespoke desinger dress
Wendy Yu

Wendy Yu flies between London and Hong Kong for her businesses on a regular basis

Wendy Yu is an entrepreneur and philanthropist, and the founder and CEO of Yu Capital. With investments in China and Europe in fields as diverse as transportation and sustainable fashion, Yu is a visionary – with a penchant for dresses. As the youngest member of the British Fashion Council board of trustees, founding member of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s ‘Young Patrons Circle’ and heir to her family’s business Mengtian Group (China’s leading wooden door manufacturer), she is a Renaissance woman par excellence. Kitty Harris chatted to Yu over an English breakfast in London about her new group, Yu Holdings, sustainable impact investment, and her healthy obsession with ball gowns.
Wendy Yu entrepreneur

Wendy Yu

LUX: Your father runs the Mengtian Group and your mother is a successful private investor. What are the most important lessons you learnt from them?
Wendy Yu: Resilience and being determined. I think my dad is a dreamer, but he is genuinely determined and I really like that. He built his business from scratch and I think he has encountered a lot of hardships during his lifetime, but he never quit. He is always so passionate, determined and relentless about what he is going to achieve.

Since I was young, I have had the mindset that if I want to achieve something, I will find any possible way to achieve it. My dad has taught me about the ‘win-win’ mindset, that in everything you do, if you want to keep it sustainable, you have to not just do it for yourself, but also for others. Before I came to study in England, when I was fifteen, he had this really long talk with me. He said “there are three qualities that I want you to have in your life. First of all, to be a loving person. Secondly, always to fight for the better version of yourself and always think about how to improve yourself. Thirdly, never be afraid of hardships and be relentless about what you want to get.”

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LUX: As vice chairman of the family company is there ever any tension when working with family members?
Wendy Yu: Yes, absolutely. I am a very logical person, but sometimes with family business it can get too emotional when you have different ideas to each other. My dad is a very solid entrepreneur, but he is very Chinese. When he comes to England, he doesn’t eat British food and will only eat Chinese food. He loves spicy, authentic hotpot only at home. I think there is definitely tension, because there are so many big personalities and strong characters. But, at the same time we have bonded with each other and we just want the best for the company and the best for each other.

My dad is very happy with the company being one of the biggest manufacturers in Asia and China and he is happy with the brand. He is happy to make the most out of the Chinese market, because it is so big. My vision is really to expand my family business and legacy globally and to create a solid and well-established international company and brand. My education and experience in England, since my teenage years, has given me opportunities to grow up with both eastern and western mentalities and perspectives; that is where the conflict lies sometimes. Very recently I have restructured my company, Yu Capital, and the main entity will be based in Hong Kong. Under Yu Holding, there will be Yu Capital, Yu Culture and Yu Fashion, because I’ve realised so much of what I do is not just the investment. There is philanthropy, cultural exchange and fashion collaborations.

Entrepreneur Wendy Yu pictured on red carpet at The Fashion Awards 2016

Wendy Yu at The Fashion Awards 2016.

My vision is to connect investments with the innovation and creativity between the East and the West and I feel that Yu Holding will be a better entity than Yu Capital to be strategic about engagement with these sectors. I usually divide my investments into financial investments and strategic investments. Yu Capital would be more focused on financial investments, that is on the technology side like Didi, the Chinese taxi app, and Tujia, China’s home-rental website and hedge funds.

The strategic investments would be in fashion, cultural exchange to support the museums and the art world, to connect art between the East and the West. Those are two of my big passions and I feel I can say that ninety percent of the time, I spend time on my own business: Yu Holding and Yu Capital. I feel the pressure that no matter what I do and how well I do within my family business, my dad will always be the person saying yes and no. I am like my dad, as I like having the say of what direction to go in. I think he will be proud to see what Yu holding is going to achieve in the next three years and I can prove that my vision isn’t bad or limited , because I want to do things globally, not just in China. I like being independent and I think it would be a waste of my experience and education here if I don’t connect the world with China.

Read next: Salvatore Ferragamo on family prestige and Tuscan indulgence

LUX: It sounds like your business is global, so it isn’t aimed at any one territory. Is that right?
Wendy Yu: Yes, that is absolutely right. I have two partners who stay in Shanghai and they come from very solid financial investment backgrounds, one of whom is my cousin. There is still a bit of family force there but that is to make sure that I don’t do anything crazy. Yu Holdings is really my vision and my two partners are amazing. They love that I am creative and pull off different business deals. They love the idea that I’m a great matchmaker. I am good at spotting and sensing which two companies or parties will potentially have great synergy and to be the bridge that joins them.

LUX: Is part of the plan to set up a luxury group?
Wendy Yu: Absolutely, but it would be in ten years, because I think I am at the beginning stage of my career. I think I leave my mark on everything I do, and it is important that the projects are commercially successful as well. With my strategic investments, I put less money in, but I have the presence and we help each other. I have a team doing the portfolio management for me, but at the end of the day, I am the one that is making the decisions. I think after you’ve done all the due diligence and risk assessments you have to go with your heart.

LUX: Why was it important for you to be involved in the Young Patrons Circle at the V&A?
Wendy Yu: I was invited to be the founding member of the Young Patrons Circle; they know I support a lot of different museums and art galleries, so it seemed natural that they asked me.

Sian Westerman, Caroline Rush (Chief Executive of the BFC) and Wendy Yu on terrace in London

Sian Westerman, Caroline Rush (Chief Executive of the BFC) and Wendy Yu

LUX: You’re the youngest patron of the British Fashion Council (BFC) Trust – what does your role involve?
Wendy Yu: I joined a while ago and through the BFC platform I get to meet a lot of designers and learn the challenges they have encountered. I have become friends with a few of them and we have bonded. I support them by introducing them to all of my friends. I love to support women and the people I like, with no other intentions. When I think a girlfriend will like their work, I just introduce them to each other. It is a win-win situation for both of them and I take no commission! My family really believes in karma and I think that in the long-run, if you support people they will support you back. I usually get along with two types of people. One type is very creative (designers and artists) and the other type is those in the finance world. I think there are two parts of me, one is very geeky and numerical, and I love to be creative and to think outside of the box.

LUX: How much input do you have in your different investments?
Wendy Yu: I am tremendously involved in them. I am very hands-on and I chat to people for specialised advice. Usually, we have around one hundred deals to look at over a year. Normally, I have a sense of whether a deal will work or not. We do a very careful analysis for around thirty of them. Then, I look at the report and certain things I will naturally feel are great. For example, for Didi and Tujia I knew instantly that it would work, but I still asked them to do the analysis. Decisions have become relatively quick and we made both deals over a period of two months and they are big investments. But, with fashion investments, I have to get to know the designer on a more personal level. It is generally a smaller investment and I know it is not purely financial. My financial adviser will write the report listing the pros and cons, since it is a strategic, impact investment. When I invest in something, before I make my final decision, I think, ‘what is the worst thing that could happen?’ Of course, you should also consider what is the best thing that could happen, but if I can take the worst thing that could happen, then I am happy to do it. Bottletop was one of my first investments and I am very happy with it, even though I didn’t get any return from it. I love the idea and I think the two founders, Cameron Saul and Oliver Wayman, are amazing entrepreneurs. What they are trying to do (recycling bottletops to make accessories) is great and they are supporting women in Africa and Brazil. They are growing quite fast and at a steady pace.

LUX: What is the typical timeframe to hold and sell an investment?
Wendy Yu: When I first started, I invested at a very early stage. Later I realised that’s not my favourite type of investment, because you hold it for so long. What I really like are pre IPO investments. I really like opportunities like Didi and Tujia – large companies, because I believe those companies are really shaping our world, or shaping China at least. I love being part of the change in many ways and in terms of the financial return, for example the Didi deal, I got a 47% return over a 14-month period of time, which is great. You don’t really get that from the fashion brand. I invest through a fund and we sold part of our shares already. With hedge funds, it is very calculated. You would only put a few million in and the return could be over 100% each year, but it varies because it fluctuates over time. You could make a loss of 20%, or you could win 100%. That’s why you need to invest in different hedge funds. I am very involved and I am very passionate about it, because naturally I love numbers and I am very excited by them and I love creativity.

Wendy Yu travels to Hong Kong

Dinner in Hong Kong, working breakfast in London

LUX: How do you think the investment market is going to change in the next ten years?
Wendy Yu: I think China and Asia, the emerging market, is extremely exciting. But, having said that, I think that you have to really value your opportunities carefully. I have noticed that a lot of investments that are making great returns are in China. It isn’t really happening in London. I think European or American investments, are very strategically relevant with what I want to do and achieve. It is a great value investment over the long-term. In the Chinese market, it is a great financial investment over a certain period of time. I am now also starting up a joint venture with my French partner Kacy Grine, who is an incredible capable and intelligent French banker, he was serving as an adviser of the former French President and has been a long time personal advisor Prince Al-Waleed, who is the biggest investor of Saudi Arabia. We are setting up a joint venture. We feel it is the time to connect the foreign giant technology companies or foreign brands in China and to do the matchmaking with you in the West. The Chinese companies want to go global and the global companies are interested in the Chinese market, but they really want to find the right partner and we are of value in this matchmaking process.

LUX: When you do the matchmaking, you obviously add value to your partners, but how do you benefit from it?
Wendy Yu: It varies from case to case according to the level of our involvement and the deal structure, but we generally act as their advisors and matchmakers.

Read next: Priya Paul of The Park Hotels on balancing innovation and heritage 

LUX: In terms of sustainable investment, are you looking to be more sustainable in your investments?
Wendy Yu: Absolutely. I think my philanthropy investment and impact investment is very sustainable. I am trying to balance it out. A while ago, I studied at Oxford Saïd Business School while they were doing an impact investment programme, I was very inspired. I realised that when you pass away, you don’t leave anything. You only leave the good things you have done. I think until I reach a certain level in my career, I want to pledge the majority of my wealth to the company. I don’t want to keep it all, honestly. What Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done is wise. I don’t want to hold on to so much. I want to enjoy life for sure, but one of my missions is to do things worthwhile that I’m proud of. I want my family to be proud that I am leaving something meaningful and sustainable, that will stay there for a long time.

Ethan K handbag collaboration with Wendy Yu

Ethan K x Wendy Yu handbag collection at Harrods

LUX: Tell us about the inspiration behind the Ethan K x Wendy Yu handbag collection at Harrods last year…
Wendy Yu: We have been friends for a while and I’ve bought from him. He probably likes my energy and I like his energy. Just like with Mary [Katrantzou] and my other designer friends, we like each other’s energy. They inspire me and I inspire them. I always give them crazy ideas that they love. He said, ‘let’s do a Wendy Yu bag.’ I go to a lot of events, but during the daytime I’m working. I was thinking about a bag that I can use for nighttime and daytime and that is why he designed a bag for me that is very versatile. His clients are Hermès owners, or people who have bought a lot of different bags and they are kind of bored and now they want something bespoke. Ethan’s family had tannery at the back of their home, so he has the experience of doing a bag in crocodile skin that is boutique too.

Bespoke ring made by anna hu

The Wendy Yu butterfly piece by Anna Hu

LUX: How did your love of fashion begin? You have an impressive evening gown collection – do you have a favourite dress?
Wendy Yu: My love for fashion began at very young age, when I was little I enjoyed playing with and collecting Barbie dolls, then I started to collect fashion magazines when I grew up. I love to be constantly surrounded by inspirations and creativity of all kinds. In terms of my favorite dresses; I have two. Mary Katrantzou recently did a bespoke gown for me to open the exhibition ‘Creatures and Creation’ at the Waddesdon Manor. Anna Hu also did a bespoke ring for me and named it a Wendy Yu butterfly piece. Mary did the dress in ten days – can you imagine? We did the last-minute stitching on site. The other one is Giambattista Valli – he did two bespoke gowns for me when I did an international debutante ball in New York. He did it in about three weeks. I am really into dreamy, crazy gowns!

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Reading time: 14 min
Switzerland with the lake and town surrounding it
Javad Marandi, international entrepreneur with investments in the UK and continental Europe, is the first to feature in our new Luxury Leaders series. Here Marandi describes his work in Switzerland, and how the nation retains investment appeal

The first investor featured in this series is Javad Marandi, a London-based entrepreneur with significant investments in the UK, continental Europe and Azerbaijan. Marandi focuses on hotels, commercial real estate, fast-growing retail companies, and blue chip companies in the manufacturing sector.

A UK Chartered Accountant by training, Marandi is also known as a successful second-tier investor in fast-growing British fashion retailers and is the owner of Soho House group’s Soho Farmhouse hotel in Oxfordshire, England. In the first part of our focus, he reveals the secrets of investing in Switzerland.

Javad Marandi billionaire businessman

London-based entrepreneur, Javad Marandi

Key fact bio: Javad Marandi

Born: January 1968, Tehran, Iran
Education: Electrical and Electronics Engineering and Chartered Accountant
Lives: London
Nationality: British
Married to: Narmina Marandi, nee Narmina Alizadeh, daughter of Ali Alizadeh, a prominent oncologist in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Children: 3
Investment strategy: Looking for growth sectors within the more mature stable markets of Western Europe in the small to medium sized industries.

Part One: Investing in Switzerland

LUX: Which sectors did you choose to invest in, in Switzerland?
Javad Marandi: I am a major investor in one of the country’s best-regarded manufacturing companies. I also co-own commercial warehouses.

LUX: What attracts you about Switzerland as a place to invest?
JM: The country is renowned for its highly qualified workforce, excellent education, apprenticeship and training schemes and high-quality infrastructure. Its location at the heart of Europe means it will always be a commercial crossroads, and the highly developed nature of its economy mitigates risk. All of this makes it an attractive environment for the investor.

LUX: How closely correlated is the growth of your investments with the Swiss economy?
JM: Annual GDP growth in the country since 2010 has been between 1 and 3 per cent, in line with my expectations. Growth has slowed a little in the last year, but Switzerland is a mature, low-risk market and there are plenty of opportunities to grow our investments there regardless of the macroeconomic situation. Having said that, the overall economic climate is very positive.

LUX: Has the slowdown in other European countries affected your Swiss businesses?
JM: The sectors we invest in are not highly exposed to economic developments in the rest of the EU. The construction manufacturing business is focused on the Swiss market. The commercial real estate is located in the north of the country on the transport infrastructure hub and yields are exactly as projected by the executives of the businesses.

LUX: How has your construction manufacturing business performed over the past five years?
JM: It has seen compound annual growth of over 5% in both our turnover and EBITDA. This is extremely satisfying performance given the backdrop of the appreciating Swiss currency and the Country’s GDP growth. There are plenty of opportunities to preserve and grow investments in the country.

Javad Marandi invests in Switzerland

Switzerland: an effective place to do business, according to Javad Marandi

LUX: Has the recent appreciation of the Swiss Franc affected your investments?
JM: The tourism sector has been affected, as have manufacturers that rely on exports. My investments have not been adversely affected. I think the independence of the Swiss Franc is a positive for the investment climate.

LUX: Do you personally enjoy visiting the country?
JM: I have visited Switzerland frequently over the past 20 years both for leisure and business. My first job was a multinational company near Geneva. I am first and foremost, a family man and the children, my wife and I love the mountains and the skiing! The investment climate down on the plateau, where my investments are based, is a contrast to the chocolate box image of the high mountains. The Swiss are sophisticated, cosmopolitan people who have been trading with their immediate neighbouring countries for centuries. They are multilingual and very adept at dealing with investors from all over the world.

LUX: Do you have any further plans for investment in the country?
JM: We are continually assessing potential investments in Switzerland and all over Europe, to complement our existing portfolio. However we base our decisions an analysis of potential return, rather than focussing on any specific country.

Note: Javad Marandi sold his stake in the Swiss construction manufacturing business in early 2021

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Reading time: 3 min