The Biltmore offers glamour and relaxed fine dining in the green heart of Mayfair. LUX checks in

Mayfair, the historic luxury heart of London, is the only place many people will stay when visiting the UK capital. While there is no shortage of hotels, there is a dearth of hotels with anything resembling a view or a sense of space around them. In most cases, even the best rooms have an outlook across the street to another building.

The Grosvenor square suite

This, we realised, would rather presently not be the case with the Biltmore. The hotel occupies most of the south side of Grosvenor Square, the most spacious historic square in the area, an expanse of grass and trees and light. We were whisked up to our accommodation, one of the presidential suites, which itself took up a large portion of the hotels front facade. The view from the two bedrooms, living room and dining room was suffused with green.

The Grosvenor Square view suite

The Biltmore can be best described as contemporary glamorous. Our favourite element was the leather padded person-sized bar cabinet, whose door opened to reveal the line after line of cut crystal glasses standing ready for a monster Negroni session. But it would have been a shame to have too many Negronis (the hotel will happily send a bartender up to make them for you in the suite), before visiting the vibey Pine Bar on the ground floor, whose cool atmospherics lend themselves to lingering over a few signature De La Louisiane cocktails (rye, absinthe, vermouth and Benedictine). Dress contemporary glamorous, or you will look like you are in the wrong place: Etro or Cavalli will do just fine.

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The bar, though, was just a prequel to the highlight. And along the hotels marble floor, Grill 88 is the hotel’s showcase restaurant. At first, you might be deceived as the casual chic decor is not much of a stand out from the other high-end restaurants in the area. But you would be well advised to sit down with a glass of champagne, relax and listen to the explanations of the concept provided by the super knowledgeable staff. This is a restaurant that takes its food and is sourcing very seriously indeed.

Grill 88 at the Biltmore

While there is a variety of dishes on the menu, the specialty here is steak, and our thoughtful, server pointed us in the direction of a tasting menu of steak from different regions: Australia, the US, Japan, the UK and Brazil. After a couple of (excellent) oysters and a superb heritage tomato salad with fruit that was firm and plump, but usually and interestingly flavoursome, a tasting board arrived with ready sliced and seasoned cuts.

Head Chef Luis Campos

The chef appeared to explain how each was sealed and cooked. The quality was superb: sourcing attention to detail clearly runs all the way through the operational process of Grill 88. And there is a broad wine list, as you might expect, but, as you may not expect, there is plenty of unusual and reasonably priced wine that matches the food very well – Puglia was well represented.

The Pine Bar at the Biltmore

In the morning, breakfast was served in our suite at exactly the requested hour, and laid out beautifully at the dining table off the living room. The ingredients in the Arabic breakfast were not quite as meticulously sorest as those in the Grill for dinner, however: the tomatoes adid not quite match that level of quality.

Altogether, an experience that combines relaxation and glamour with a perfect location, and one of the most interesting menus in Mayfair.

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Reading time: 3 min

LUX checks into the Bellevue Palace, Bern, Switzerland.

Le Lobby is a true classic reborn, a convivial meeting place to exchange views and discuss weighty matters over drinks as well as sushi and sashimi.

The wow factor:

The walk from the train station in the Swiss capital of Bern, to the Bellevue Palace, takes in some traditional cobbled streets and a stretch along a hilltop, alongside some Swiss government buildings. Walking into the grand atrium of the Palace, you pass through a gin bar and onto a terrace, at the end of the same hilltop, from where the ground drops away into a pastoral Alpine view of meadows and forests. There are even cows grazing on the hillsides: all of this from the most city centre luxury hotel of a capital city. All very Swiss.

Breathtaking views from the comfort of your own room

People watching:

Smartly dressed Swiss gentility were all around us; conversing quietly behind their Chopard necklaces and Audemars Piguet watches. The hotel, which was built in 1865 and rebuilt in 1913, is a place where such people have come for generations.

overlooking the River Aare or the Bernese Alps, each room has unique features

Show me to my room:

Our suite had a view out to the Alps: from our balcony we could see the white slopes of the peaks of the Bernese Oberland, the triangular Jungfrau and frightening Eiger, in the far distance. Inside the suite, this was truly a palace of a hotel in the traditional sense: antique furniture, thickly carpeted rooms, huge marble bathrooms and acres of space.

The open kitchen at Noumi Restaurant celebrates world food ideal for combining and sharing. Taste experiences in bowls and from the grill, including vegetarian variations, which are inspired by simplicity

Come dine with me (and other things):

The lobby, with its ornate Belle époque atrium, is the place for a drink when the weather doesn’t suit the terrace with a view outside: the speciality is gin, and it’s a power broker type of place for Switzerland, with important besuited men sipping at Martinis, all in surroundings more dramatic than, say, Claridge’s. But the real surprise restaurant action is downstairs at Noumi Bar & Grill; here you walk into a different universe from the traditional elegance of the best of the hotel, with a DJ spinning tunes in a booth, open plan kitchen, speakeasy lighting and a funky atmosphere. Food is best described as modern wealthy Asian: poke, tataki, simple grilled steaks. Ingredients are of superb quality and the kitchen’s touch is light but delicate. Very vibey, if rather out of keeping with the rest of the hotel. We could eat there every night.

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Reading time: 2 min
Cliffside hotel with view of the ocean
Luxury outdoor hotel swimming pool

L’Hotel Marrakech is one of Voyager Club’s Hidden Gems in Morocco

Sophie Caulcutt is the co-founder of luxury travel and fashion concierge company Voyager Club, which connects travellers with unique hotels, provides lifestyle services and curates personalised vacation wardrobes. Here, we speak to the 28-year-old entrepreneur about luxury experiences, fashion, and the hottest destinations for 2020

Portrait of young woman in a white dress

Sophie Caulcutt

1. How did Voyager Club go from an idea to a reality?

My background is in fashion and my other passion has always been travel. My co-founder, Ashley Barras, (who is also an avid traveller) and I couldn’t understand why no one was connecting the dots between the two, where you were going and what you put in your suitcase…so we had a vision to create a travel and lifestyle company that would be the first company to do just that. Voyager Club was launched in September 2018.

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As well as offering clients a vacation wardrobe service, #MyVacationStylist, that curates bespoke wardrobes for every traveller wherever they are going, partnering with MatchesFashion – Voyager Club also works with Hidden Gem hotels and exclusive privately villas around the world. We do the 360 for clients, from travel to concierge to the vacation wardrobe but all our services are also à la carte.

2. What kinds of experiences can the lifestyle concierge organise?

We strive on offering the most personalised experiences so every trip is bespoke to each client. Anything from insider itineraries and off the radar experiences to curating the perfect holiday wardrobe. With our little black book, Voyager Club can also organise the money can’t buy experiences around the world such as access to exclusive global events with MatchesFashion and their favourite designers to renting a house or yacht that would not usually be for rent. We also offer what we call ‘super brand’ concierge, helping brands make the impossible possible from events, pop-ups and experiences in beautiful destinations.

Cliffside hotel with view of the ocean

Another of Voyager Club’s Hidden Gems: Monastero Santa Rosa on the Almalfi Coast

3. How do you tailor a holiday wardrobe to an individual’s preferences?

If a client chooses the #MyVacationStylist service, they will be paired with an expert stylist for an in-person or phone consultation and asked questions about favourite designers, colours as well as the vacation itinerary. Our vacation stylists will then create an edit based on the client’s preferences and ship them to their hotel, villa, yacht or chalet in time for their trip. The best part is you only pay for what you keep.

Read more: Why you should invest in a wine storage cabinet

Layout of holiday clothing

Voyager Club’s #MyVacationStylist service is a personalised shopping service, tailored to fit with the client’s itinerary

Suitcase filled with luxury clothing

4. Favourite brand right now?

I have a few…This season La Double J which are amazingly versatile in a suitcase, Ulla Johnson and Gioia Bini for vacation mode and my favourite new discovery are Métier bags, which are a work of art.

5. Where do you predict will be the hottest holiday destinations next year?

Eco-retreats in South America as our commitment to sustainability grows and Comporta [in Portugal] for summer escapes with its bohemian beauty.

6. What are your travel essentials?

Noise cancelling headphones, vitamins, a great swimsuit and always a pair of great flats (I always pack a pair of Le Monde Beryl mules). I never travel without my own beauty products which I decant into miniatures from Muji and always keep in my wash bag ready to go!

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Reading time: 3 min
Children celebrating Holi festival in India
Charity programme in Africa with bike repairs

A&K Philanthropy programmes include the Duuma Wajane Bike Shop in Tanzania, where women repair and resell secondhand bikes to support their community

This month, Geoffrey Kent, founder and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent, reports on his industry’s move towards sustainability and why he thinks responsible tourism is the most authentic way to travel
Man standing by yacht harbour

Geoffrey Kent

Working towards sustainable tourism is the travel industry’s duty, and while big airlines and hotels should lead the way, there are still plenty of ways for individuals to make the right decisions. Being a responsible tourist might sound complicated – or lofty – but it does not need to be either. If 7.7 billion people were to make more sustainable choices, the planet would be better off. Think of the influence one individual can have; I have been very inspired by teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg, whose solitary climate change protest outside the Swedish parliament sparked a youth movement in some 112 countries. It’s often children who are the most aware and passionate. We must live up to their expectations.

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Thankfully, the concept of responsible tourism is catching on. It’s true that notions of sustainability, carbon neutrality, animal welfare and cultural sensitivity haven’t always been in sync with the travel industry, but increasingly we find our customers are asking us to book hotels with eco-friendly practices, to support the local communities they’re visiting and to find carbon-neutral ways of making the journey.

A recent study that we commissioned found that 65% of respondents are likely to be more conscious and careful of their own behaviour when travelling and 50% are likely to stay at hotels that contribute positively to the local environment by engaging in behaviours such as sourcing food locally. We’ve found that if our clients are ‘green’ at home, they tend to take those practices on holiday. At Abercrombie & Kent, we can create itineraries for our clients that are both environmentally conscious and culturally sensitive; we were doing this long before responsible tourism was a thing.

Our experience and network of travel partners have taught us that integrating sustainability into your travel arrangements does not mean sacrificing luxury or comfort. When it comes to five-star luxury with serious eco-credentials, the Six Senses group are leading the way with their programmes: energy conservation, water re-use, waste recycling, responsible purchasing and wildlife protection are all part of their policy. There are small groups and properties also committed to the cause: Sanctuary Retreats for example, The Brando in Tahiti, Caiman Ecolodge in Brazil, Mashpi Lodge in Quito and 1 Hotels. Some of the big hotel chains are at it, too; all the properties in the Fairmont Hotel chain are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

Children celebrating Holi festival in India

A&K Philanthropy also supports Hansraj Children’s Home in Udaipur, India

It’s not just on land either, A&K operates an annual cruise to Antarctica with James McClintock, an endowed professor of polar and marine biology at the University of Alabama. He shares adventures from more than 30 years of Antarctic research into ocean acidification and how climate change has impacted the food chain, especially penguin rookeries on the Antarctic Peninsula. A&K has worked with Dr McClintock for the past 12 years to support his research, providing more than $350,000 worth of high-tech equipment, from satellite penguin tags to webcams that allow scientists around the world to monitor penguin rookeries.

Our approach to animal welfare issues is uncompromising. Since the company’s inception, I have championed the concept of ‘shoot with a camera, not with a gun’. Our clients travel to Africa to connect with and celebrate its abundant wildlife, diverse landscapes and thrilling experiences. Elsewhere, we follow vigorous animal welfare guidelines developed by the Association of British Travel Agents in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation, a third-party organisation whose mission it is to protect vulnerable animals from abuse.

Read more: ‘Extremis’ by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar opens at Setareh Gallery

But there’s more to responsible tourism than getting to your destination and back without wreaking havoc on the community you’ve visited. Imagine a trip that offers you the opportunity to make connections through unique local experiences not found in a guidebook. Travel philanthropy can create the most memorable moments of your holiday. Whenever possible, we ask our clients to take part in our Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP) programme.

We founded AKP in 1982 as a non-profit working with communities on education, health care, conservation and enterprise development, in the areas our clients travel to. Simply put, we work with our neighbours. Anywhere there is a Sanctuary lodge or camp, we establish a nearby project. In Uganda that means Bwindi, located beside Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp. In Zambia, near Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, we work with Nakatindi village. It’s vital that these communities should benefit from any influx of tourism into their ancestral homelands. Anywhere there is a Sanctuary boat operating on a waterway, we establish a project at a place where we regularly undertake shore excursions. For example, in Myanmar that’s at Sin Kyun village where we bring education, clean water and hope to a small remote village on the Irrawaddy river.

AKP has full-time community development professionals on staff around the world. Our philanthropy co-ordinators meet with communities to identify local issues and establish where we can have the greatest impact. We never just have a great year, write a cheque and walk away. At Nakatindi, we heard from tribal elders that their highest concern was mother-to-child HIV transmission, so we established a new maternity ward to provide a clean birth environment. These decisions are made in consultation with our community partners, government officials and departments and sometimes other non-profits in the area.

In 2017 and 2018, our guests gave most significantly to education and healthcare, but contributions come thanks to inspiration, never solicitation. Our female teenage guests are often the drivers. They visit a programme with their families and have the empathy and persistence to inspire their families to be philanthropic. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve had from the parents of teenage girls, who say, “She keeps mentioning the programme we visited and we’ve got to do something about it.”

I believe responsible tourism is a more authentic way to travel. Our guests define luxury as having an authentic experience, an encounter that is true to the place and its traditions, incorporating elements of the past and reflecting local culture. They want to get out and explore, experiencing traditions that are not akin to their own. What can be more responsible than that? Lives are changed when one is immersed in a different culture, and one reaches a new understanding of how life is lived in another part of the world.

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This article was originally published in the Autumn 19 Issue.

Reading time: 5 min
Luxurious outdoor deck at safari lodge
Luxurious outdoor deck at safari lodge

Sanctuary Baines’ Camp, bordering the Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta, is ideally placed for wildlife watching

Nobody wants to go where everyone else has been. Creating a holiday that eschews the well-trodden tourist trail requires knowledge, contacts and experience. James Parry speaks to ultimate tour operator Abercrombie & Kent to see how they create experiences beyond expectations, from the best view of a solar eclipse in Argentina to a private tour of the Bolshoi with an ex-ballerina as your guide

In our increasingly crowded world, it’s difficult to ‘get away from it all’. We often reminisce about the places we visited long ago – that seaside holiday when you and your friends were the only people on the beach or that time you visited a beautifully tranquil temple and got a guided tour by one of the monks. And though our memories of bygone holidays may be rose-tinted, it is certainly true that getting off the beaten track today has never been more difficult. Queues, timed tickets and a throng of visitors brandishing selfie sticks are often part of the price you pay for seeing more of the world.

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The travel market is starting to recognise that some travellers would like a more engaging, authentic experience abroad, one where they can create a personal connection to their destination. Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), the bespoke travel company created by adventure pioneer Geoffrey Kent, has been specialising in highly personalised itineraries that are designed to match each traveller’s interests and passions since 1962. A&K’s clients want more than a sight-seeing tour, and Kent and his team are specialists in what’s known as ‘experiential travel’, conceiving trips that “inspire our guests to look at the world in a new and different way”.

Rolling fields of vineyards

Chile has some of the world’s most spectacular vineyards

However much input you may want to have in your itinerary, a wide network of contacts is useful, and A&K’s global staff – which numbers over 2,500 – leverage their detailed local knowledge and send their team members on fact-finding missions so they can devise trips full of unusual venues and experiences.

In Cambodia, A&K’s contacts extend beyond the temples, cultural landmarks and eco-tourism spots; it has also built relationships with art experts and curators to offer insider access to the country’s thriving creative industries. If you’re passionate about craftsmanship, the chance to spend time in an artist’s workshop gets to the very heart of what makes a place tick. One visit included the opportunity to spend time with artisans who are preserving and promoting traditional Khmer lacquerware techniques and whose pieces have been commissioned by brands such as Cartier, Hermès and Louis Vuitton. On another trip, A&K arranged a stopover to a Khmer couture designer to see how locally sourced fibres are used to hand-make bespoke fabrics that are now making it onto the catwalks of Milan and Paris.

Fashion designer at work drawing in the studio

Eric Raisina, a couture designer in Cambodia

For dance lovers, the trip of a lifetime might involve witnessing the legendary dancers of the Bolshoi in Moscow – not just performing, but in rehearsal. Elizabeth Patch, private client manager, organised one such behind-the-scenes visit for a client, who commented on “the unstaged emotion and raw-life element of the practice room”. The experience also includes a tour of the legendary institution led by a former ballerina who offers first-hand recollections of a life dancing on stage and regales her guests with stories of landmark productions and celebrated prima donnas. Guests are also shown the seamstresses’ workshop, where every costume is hand-made, and the visit is topped off with an attendance of the performance itself.

Read more: Ferrari designer Flavio Manzoni on collaborating with Hublot

Ballerinas practising for a performance

Behind the scenes at the Bolshoi in Moscow

Time and again, travellers’ most memorable experiences are drawn from the people they meet. In Chile, one possible itinerary sees visitors spending time at Casa Marín, the award-winning winery of Maria Luz Marín – one of the most influential women in the global wine industry. Marilú, as she is usually known, bucked the trend in the male-dominated world of viniculture by going out on her own to produce premium wines from an estate that most experts said was too close to the sea for vines to thrive. Today she shares her knowledge – and some of her finest vintages – with guests at La Casa.

A spoon applying cream to half a cooked peach

Renowned chef Francis Mallmann’s unique Siete Fuegos open-flame cooking techniques in Argentina.

One of the greatest joys of a bespoke holiday is delegating logistics to the experts – even the weather. Earlier this year, a special programme was arranged for a group of clients to witness the total solar eclipse visible across parts of South America on 2 July. The A&K team in Argentina had to identify the best possible location for a luxurious camp from which to view this momentous event. “We chose two different places, based on the optimum vantage points, and had to decide at the last minute which one to use, after we knew what the weather was doing,” says Veronica Curtis, A&K country manager for Argentina. “We were prepared for one area to have more cloud cover than the other, so we had helicopters on standby ready to take the group to whichever site had the best view of the eclipse.”

Read more: Lenny Kravtiz on his creative vision for Dom Pérignon

Total solar eclipse

A rare view of the total solar eclipse in Argentina this summer

For travellers who balk at overcrowding, the ultimate luxury would be a visit to a unique venue on an exclusive basis. This applies not just to cultural landmarks, such as the Mount Etna Observatory in Italy – one of many private tours that A&K has made possible – but also to accommodation. Hotels and lodges are selected to reflect the distinctive character of each destination. Think lesser-known gems, such as the boutique Temple House in Chengdu, China, which artfully combines a restored imperial courtyard with chic modern interiors, and Angama Mara, a luxury safari lodge dramatically perched on the edge of Kenya’s iconic Great Rift Valley in the midst of what has been described as the ‘greatest wildlife show on Earth’.

Abercrombie & Kent has spent decades honing its instinct for what makes truly meaningful, one-of-a-kind trips. Beyond the planning and preparation, experiential travel requires imagination on the part of the organiser and the traveller. After all, a successful journey will take you to a place you’ve always dreamed about, but a wildly successful trip might just take you to a place you’ve never even heard of.

Another side of the red city

YSL logo on the side of a building

The YSL Museum in Marrakech

The sandstone walls and souks of Marrakech in Morocco are a well-established stop on the mainstream tourist route, but you can also experience some of the city’s more remarkable sights in a totally original way: without the buzz of the crowds. Bespoke private access can be arranged to many of the city’s cultural venues, offering you the chance to soak up the atmosphere at your own pace. Options include an after-hours private tour of the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, a visit to an Arab horse stud farm, and exclusive occupancy of the privately owned estate of Dar El Sadaka, designed by the celebrated French installation artist Jean-François Fourtou and home to his whimsical architectural masterpieces, The House Fallen from the Sky and The Giant’s House.

Discover A&K’s portfolio of travel tours:

This article was originally published in the Autumn 19 Issue.

Reading time: 6 min
Luxury hotel interiors of a drawing room with painted walls and soft furnishings
Facade of a grand mansion house

The Rocco Forte Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland

Since he created it in 1996, Sir Rocco Forte has grown his eponymous luxury hotel group to include multiple properties in key destinations across Europe, with a major expansion this year within his family’s native Italy. And there are plans for the boutique group to move into the US, Middle East and Asia. LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai speaks to the group’s chairman and founder about new openings, changes in the hospitality industry and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur
Colour portrait of a middle aged man in a suit

Sir Rocco Forte, Chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels

LUX: Rocco Forte hotels is currently in a period of planned rapid expansion – why now?
Sir Rocco Forte: We had a period of consolidation after the financial crisis and have gradually come out of that and the business profitability increased. We’ve improved the quality of the management team. Generally taking the company forward, it was the right moment to start expanding again and looking at adding additional properties…

There are a huge number of different luxury brands within Marriott. Having said that, I think there’s an opportunity for the niche player somewhere, a business that is much more personalised in its approach to its customers, where attention to detail is extremely important. I think people are looking for things which are more individual, more related to where they are going. They want the rubber stamp wherever they go. I think it is going to get more and more difficult for these big companies to actually deliver that, and for a smaller organisation like mine, it’s easier because the top management is hands on. The business and the detail of business has some advantages.

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LUX: How has the landscape and your business philosophy changed since you started?
Sir Rocco Forte: It’s changed significantly on the technological side, the way people buy hotels in particular is much more a business done through the internet than there was than it was before, there are online travel agents who are becoming quite powerful. Customers are now more inclined to book through the web than going to direct to hotel. Then there’s the social media aspect which is also becoming more important, as a means of communication and promotion of properties. There is an interaction between guests who have tried properties and posted comments and so on. This is picked up by other people and used to validate their choice. TripAdvisor type sites didn’t really exist before and now people use it to make up their minds about hotels. Then you have the back of the house side of things; technologies have come in there and give management a greater ability to know their guests. There is increased technology in the rooms, television, wi-fi. Wi-fi became available 20 years ago and now people complain unless they had the fastest band available in the hotel. People used to pay for wi-fi and now they don’t want to pay for it anymore. Telephones, actual landlines have gone out of the hotels; they are hardly used.

In terms of the actual service side, the principles remain the same. The customer wants to be treated as an individual, wants to feel a warm welcome when he goes into a hotel, wants to be recognised. Maybe the relationship between the customer and the staff members has changed to some degree, it’s become slightly less formal, which is something that we did from the beginning.  I wanted to de-formalise the service to some degree. Then you’ve also got to keep up to date in a hotel because there are things that people have in their own houses that they expect to find at a hotel and it is a competitive market place.

Luxury hotel interiors of a drawing room with painted walls and soft furnishings

The front hall at Brown’s, a Rocco Forte hotel in London. Photo by Janos Grapow

LUX: The marketplace is much more crowded nowadays with new players coming in and there’s Airbnb. What is it that has allowed you to keep going and growing with so much more supply?
Sir Rocco Forte: Airbnb doesn’t really effect the luxury end to any great degree. Airbnb has already started to show problems with consistency. There are plenty of niche players coming in and it does eat into the marketplace, but if you have a well-located hotel and you deliver an excellent service and have a regular clientele that like the place, it’s very difficult to prize a luxury customer away from a hotel that he’s used to and where the staff are trained to his needs. There have been a lot of new openings in London and there are more in the pipeline; there’s always a supply and demand equation. I think you’ve got to try and distinguish your hotel group from others and make a potential customer feel that they will get something special, something different if they come to you. The staff are the people who deliver the service and you’ve got to ensure that they’re motivated in the right way. They need to have the right training, the right philosophical background. We put a lot of effort into induction where we tell them about the family, the history of the company, the history of the hotel and something about the city where the hotel is located  so everyone has a sense of heritage and belonging as a family. It is my sister and myself and three children running the hotels, we know a lot of the individual staff members and it creates a sense of warmth in our hotels which you cannot necessarily find anywhere else.

Read more: Chaumet’s latest exhibition reveals the symbolic power of tiaras

LUX: Is it important that your guests can recognise the brand when they’re staying at one of your hotels?
Sir Rocco Forte: Yes, part of having a group is that, you get cross fertilisation and you get customers using more than one hotel, following the brand. So the brand is important because the customer knows that if he comes to Brown’s or goes to Hotel de Russie in Rome, he will get a certain type of service and a certain type of welcome.

LUX: A lot of your properties are significant and historic properties in individual cities, how do you imbue them with the Rocco Forte brand?
Sir Rocco Forte: The induction is consistent throughout the company that creates the blueprint on which the hotel is based. My sister who leads the decor has a strong agenda and sense of place. It is very difficult sometimes to please everybody. The thing is you get a hotel designer to design the hotel and there are the prototype rooms, but it is never quite finished, it is a design hotel, you are always adding little bits and pieces and so on, which gives a more personalised touch. My sister does that very well. She usually buys locally, which give the rooms a more homely feel.

Views from a luxury terrace over a European city

The view from the Popolo Suite at Hotel de Russie in Rome

LUX: You have lots of developments happening in Italy at the moment – is Italy a particularly important destination to you?
Sir Rocco Forte: Italy is not the easiest place to do business, so in a way that is an advantage for us. Italy is a tourist destination, it is the prime tourist destination in the world. The American market loves Italy and that’s a very important market for travel. About 40% of our business comes from the States, you can get high prices for the rooms you sell, which in some destinations it’s impossible to do. So from that point of view, it’s attractive. The bureaucracy and the labour laws make it difficult, but the demand is there if you get the right hotel in the right location and at the price.

LUX: And Italy is underserved by luxury hotels, isn’t it?
Sir Rocco Forte: Yes, there’s no luxury chain across Italy, and we now have the opportunity to create one. We have six hotels and the three new hotels that we’re developing — we are doing a second hotel in Rome, a small 40 bedroom hotel in Puglia, and we have just taken on a place in Palermo, which is a 100 bedroom hotel and used to be a jewel of a place, but is now very run down and it’s been badly run for many years. It is a wonderful destination hotel. The city Palermo is having a revival, a lot of people are buying houses there, and doing them up. It is quite a good time to go in there and I already have a resort in south of Sicily, and Palermo is the airport you use for that so having the two properties working together is beneficial. But obviously, I need to be in Venice and Milan, I’d like to be on the Amalfi coast and some of the other heritage cities with smaller hotels. I am pushing to try and get there.

I also still want to be in the States…New York and LA and Miami maybe, I’d like to be in Paris, I’d like to be in Moscow, and probably another German city. Hamburg or Dusseldorf would complete the German equation. We are doing our first hotel in the Far East, in Shanghai, which will open next year. We don’t have a clear date, things get delayed quite a lot there.  It is moving forward, but slower than it is supposed to. That will be our first step into that part of the world. We will see. If I am going to travel to my hotels and if they are way out, that’s less attractive. I have to think carefully about it, about how far we extend geographically. Within Europe it is fairly straightforward.

Read more: Maryam Eisler’s new photography series reimagines pastoral romance

LUX: With the new portfolio that you are developing, are most of the hotels owned or managed, or both?
Sir Rocco Forte: The Palermo hotel we bought, but we probably won’t keep the ownership. We are talking to a partner about taking it on and leasing it back to us. The other two are leases, I prefer leases to management contracts because we’re in control with a lease. You have complete control of the property and you can do more or less what you want. With a management contract, the owner tends to interfere all the time. He thinks he knows how to run the property better than you do. If the hotel is doing well, he doesn’t need you, if the hotel is doing badly it is your fault. You take on more risk with a lease, but then it is a bigger upside and you have control over your own destiny.

Luxury hotel suite with plush furnishings

A Junior Suite at Hotel de La Ville, one of two Rocco Forte hotels in Rome

LUX: As an entrepreneur, what qualities have you needed to get to this stage with RF Hotels?
Sir Rocco Forte: Very difficult to say. I think you have to have a passion for what you’re doing, what you want to do, and you have to really care, and have people around you who believe in what you’re trying to do, who will help you to do it. You have to have determination. Where there are obstacles you have to overcome them. You have to have the determination to overcome them, not take no for an answer, continuously try to move things forward. It is easy to get dispirited, upset and to give up. A lot of people do, but I am not made that way and I am always looking forward, always looking to see if I can do things better. It is that, and I think the minute I stop having a passion, then I should stop working. But I hope that will never happen.

LUX: Do you have dreams of passing on the business to your children one day?
Sir Rocco Forte: Yes, but my kid are still in the early stages and they might well reach a stage, where they don’t want to take on responsibility so we’ll see. At the moment, that’s the idea. And it’s good having them working the business, it gives a certain continuity to the business and it adds value to the business. In the short term, it makes us different to a lot of other companies and from a personal point of view, it gives me a huge amount of pleasure: my kids have left home, but I see them all the time. We’ve got something in common to talk about and to argue about, and to enjoy. You never know — I could go under the proverbial bus tomorrow. And then what happens? The business is in a position where it can continue to go forward, but then my family would have to decide what they want to do.

LUX: Talking about the younger generation, do you think that, as customers, their demands of the hospitality industry are different?
Sir Rocco Forte: Apart from the technological side that we were talking about it earlier, the way they dress is differently, but in the end of the day they still enjoy service and being looked after. It depends…a lot of them are brought up under very comfortable circumstances and they understand that way of life and I don’t think they are particularly different. All the ones I’ve seen using my hotels, seem to enjoy the facilities like anybody else. I suppose there is more of a consciousness of wellness and well-being and looking after yourself than there was in the previous generations. We meet those demands through the facilities that we have in the hotels already. But I wouldn’t say there is anything dramatic and to build a hotel for a specific sector of a population is narrowing your market quite considerably. I also think people whether they are millennials or older people, like the idea of heritage and like the idea of history, and they enjoy it when they experience it — I don’t think that has changed. Most people want to know what is the next thing? I don’t know what the next thing is, but I think hotels tend to follow trends rather than set them. Mine do anyway. I think in the luxury sector, that is more so than it is anywhere… You have hotels now that have no staff, you put a credit card in a slot, you get a room key and you go up to your room. And there isn’t a restaurant, there are communal rooms for people to use, you help yourself, all these sorts of things, but not at the top end of the market. I don’t see anything dramatic on the horizon.

Read more: Where I would invest £100m in property by Knight Frank’s Andrew Hay

LUX: Your portfolio is predominantly city-based. Have you ever been tempted to start a resort hotel in tropical climates? And if not, why not?
Sir Rocco Forte: Because anything I’ve looked at hasn’t really worked financially. I haven’t managed to find anything. The hotel in Puglia has a beach facility available, but it is not on the sea. And then there is a seasonality thing, which is difficult. When you are building a new hotel from scratch, to finance that on quite a short winter season, for example, is difficult because it closes, then it opens for a very short summer season and then it closes again…

Luxury contemporary style villa with a private pool and wooden terrace

A luxurious villa at Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort in Sicily

LUX: And what about the residences model that a lot of new hotels seem to have now, is that something you’d ever consider?
Sir Rocco Forte: It depends on the property, the location and the size of the property. But in Rome we’re now doing five luxury apartments, which are situated on the corner of Piazza de Spagna, which is within walking distance to our hotels (one is on top of the Spanish steps and the other one is on Piazza del Popolo). So that’s a new endeavour. Also we’re building some villas now in Verdura, which initially will be let as basically a sort of extended stay or hotel accommodation for families who want to stay together in one unit. We’re starting to get into that market.

LUX: Are there any other new developments in the pipeline that we should know about?
Sir Rocco Forte: My daughter has been working on the spas. The spa in the new hotel in Rome will be her spa design, which she thinks will be the first properly designed spa. She thinks that it has more activity and treatments and so on, which will encourage people to come and see. There are a range of creams that she produced which are properly organic so that is a bit of a new venture. Otherwise, we are continually looking to improve the facilities in our hotels. We are looking at the food side particularly. It is difficult for hotels to do restaurants well. We are always searching. A lot of places that have successful restaurants started out being run by restauranteurs, rather than hoteliers and then they have a few rooms as well. For example, Chiltern Firehouse or Costes originally, they had a few rooms and then they bought the hotel next door extending it. I haven’t found the key to creating really successful restaurants. Our restaurants are doing well by the standards of hotel restaurants. If we are doing 120 covers a day, we are happy, but there are restaurants doing 250 covers a day. Some hotel restaurants you go into, you never see anybody there. That is not the case with ours, but we can do a lot better than we do.

Discover the full Rocco Forte portfolio:

Reading time: 15 min
Grand terrace of a pink mansion house with umbrellas and lots of greenery
Grand terrace of a pink mansion house with umbrellas and lots of greenery

Le Jardin de Russie restaurant at the Hotel de Russie, and the National Museum of 21st-Century Arts (MAXXI)

Rome has a lot to offer the modern traveller beyond classical ruins, and at the heart of this burgeoning contemporary scene is the new Hotel de la Ville. Emma Love sings the city’s praises

When Hotel de la Ville, high above the Spanish Steps in Rome, opens on 23 May 2019, it will be the latest in a wave of cool, contemporary destinations to appear in the capital. Joining Hotel de Russie as part of Rocco Forte Hotels, Hotel de la Ville celebrates the tradition of the European Grand Tour in a thoroughly modern way. Located in an 18th-century palazzo, its decor ranges from Renaissance-inspired busts in the Da Sistina bistro to the decorative patterns of blue-and-white ceramics reinterpreted as a wallpaper print. The spa, courtyard restaurant (with its new take on classic Roman dishes) and the 7th-floor bar with 360-degree views are all set to appeal to a new generation of travellers.

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It’s not only the design of Hotel de la Ville which is inspired by the European Grand Tour: both properties are in the heart of the Eternal City (Hotel de Russie is between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo), so visitors are ideally placed to discover off-the-beaten-track gems. For instance, alongside Rome’s ancient wonders there are now a number of art galleries that offer alternative attractions. The National Gallery of Modern Art specialises in 19th and 20th-century works by Italian and international artists; the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (MACRO), located in a former warehouse, showcases works created since 1960; and the Zaha Hadid-designed National Museum of 21st-Century Arts (MAXXI) is dedicated to contemporary art and architecture. And there is the Palazzo Rhinoceros, which opened in 2018 as part of Fendi’s non-profit art foundation with its exhibitions, rooftop bar and restaurant.

Luxury hotel suite with contemporary luxe furnishings

A grand junior suite at the Hotel de la Ville (above) and the Spanish Steps

Hotel de Russie, named after the Russian Romantic painters who were guests when visiting the city, also blends classical architecture with modern interiors. It has a noteworthy spa, the Stravinskij bar and Le Jardin de Russie restaurant, where in summer tables spill out into the Secret Garden. Near Hotel de la Ville, architecture fans will discover the bizarre 16th- century Palazzo Zuccari, the façade of which features mascherone or grotesque, mask-like mouths around the front door and windows, and the church of Sant’Isidoro where the side chapel houses two 17th-century marble nude female figures designed by Bernini. Covered up by Irish priests in the 19th century, they were unveiled again only in 2002.

Read more: Why Blue Palace resort in Crete is the perfect Springtime destination

For more contemporary design, there is the Jubilee Church, built in 2003 in the Tor Tre Treste suburb by American architect Richard Meier, and the amphitheatre-like Parco Della Musica by Renzo Piano, where everything from contemporary dance to jazz and film festivals take place. Both hotels can arrange tailor-made experiences for guests, whether they want a behind-the-scenes look at the 19th-century Teatro dell’Opera di Roma or a tour of Monti, the once down-at-heel district now popular for vintage fashion and antiques. All of which demonstrates that this forward-looking city is so much more than its past.


1. Behind-the-scenes designer shopping
From a private atelier visit to learning about the craftsmanship that goes into bespoke garments, Hotel de Russie’s ‘Avenue of Style’ experience offers unparalleled access to eleven Italian fashion brands.

2. Private tour of the opera house
Sneak a backstage look at Rome’s most famous classical music venue, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, which is resplendent in its 19th-century glory.

3. Cycle the city
Go cycling or jogging with Hotel de Russie’s personal trainer and triathlon world champion Danilo Palmucci, taking in the Villa Borghese gardens and architectural landmarks.

4. Discover a hip art gallery
Former London art dealer Lorcan O’Neill’s eponymous gallery is in a renovated stable in the centre of Rome where his roster of artists includes everyone from Rachel Whiteread and Tracey Emin to Richard Long and Francesco Clemente.

5. See optical illusions at the Trinità dei Monti convent
Go straight to the cloister on the upper floor to see the two large and very rare anamorphic wall paintings.

6. An immersive perfumery experience
Hotel de la Ville’s ‘olfactive itinerary’ is a closed-doors visit to a high-end perfumery, set inside a historic building with original frescos.

For more information visit:

This article was originally published in the Summer 19 Issue.

Reading time: 3 min
Alpine village of Andermatt in winter
Switzerland's remote alpine village of andermatt

The Swiss alpine village of Andermatt. Image by Laureen Missaire

The fairy-tale village of Andermatt is fast becoming one of Switzerland’s most desirable destinations with the recent opening of a new ski region as well as a scattering of luxury hotels and holiday homes. But what’s it like to live and work in the region? A new documentary series investigates

The Swiss village of Andermatt sits nestled amid the towering peaks and forested slopes of Switzerland’s Saint-Gotthard Massif, some of the world’s most dramatic  scenery. The recently launched twelve part YouTube documentary series, aptly named Mystic Mountains is an ode to the region’s beauty, nature’s captivating power and an investigation into living remotely.

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Filled with panoramic images of drifting clouds and snow-covered mountains, each episode runs for approximately ten minutes and features interviews with locals, guests, historians, artists, free-riders, farmers and business people. The final script was the result of discussion-led workshops with director Benoit Pensivy of 3W, during which mysticism became the overarching theme as way of describing the individuals’ experience of the Andermatt landscape.

Watch the first episode below:

Find the full series here:


Reading time: 1 min
Private tropical beach with sun loungers and palm trees
Private tropical beach with sun loungers and palm trees

The beach at the Rosewood Baha Mar

Baha Mar is the latest and most prestigious resort to open in the Bahamas. With three leading hotel brands and all the residential lifestyle amenities you could wish for, you may be tempted to move there permanently, says Jenny Southan

Said to have the clearest sea water in the world, the 700-island archipelago of the Bahamas has long been a glittery bolthole for holidaymakers and expats looking for a luxurious paradise to make their home, even if only temporarily. Part of its allure can be put down to its association with James Bond, whose escapades often took him to these parts. Scenes in Casino Royale, for example, were shot on New Providence Island, where the capital Nassau is located, and where non-stop BA flights from London touchdown along with services from the US.

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Life in the Bahamas (just 55 miles east of Florida and one of the oldest members of the British Commonwealth) is rich with ways to spend your time, be it strolling along the pink sands of Harbour Island, watching flamingos at West Side National Park on Andros, or viewing Long Island’s blue hole, one of the deepest on Earth. Activities range from diving and sailing to bone-fishing and swimming with pigs on Big Major Cay. With a year-round outdoor swimming climate, the islands are perfect for whiling away the endless days of summer, winter and everything in between.

The desirability of New Providence as a destination has been enhanced by a new resort, Baha Mar, on Cable Beach. Costing US$4.2 billion, it made its debut in 2017 with the opening of the Baha Mar Casino (the largest in the Caribbean, with 119 gaming tables, high-limit betting and private gaming rooms), the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed Royal Blue Golf Course, a flagship ESPA spa with 24 treatment rooms, and the Racquet Club Baha Mar. Also there are the Baha Mar Convention, Arts & Entertainment Centre and the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar hotel, and beyond the show lakes and fountains, you will discover 30 designer boutiques, with brands such as Rolex, Bulgari, Hublot and Chopard.

Exterior of luxury beach-front hotel with pink facade

The exterior of the SLS Baha Mar hotel

With direct access to a kilometre-long white sandy beach, the 299-room SLS Baha Mar opened soon after in November 2017, while spring 2018 saw the unveiling of the 237-room Rosewood. There are fully serviced one- to six-bedroom oceanfront residences and villas from $705,000 at the SLS and from just below $1m at Rosewood. For UK citizens looking to buy property, Baha Mar provides enticing new options in this long-standing tax haven, with no income tax charged to residents no matter where in the world they earn their money. Once you own a house or apartment valued at more than $750,000, you are eligible to apply for permanent residency, and for anyone investing in excess of $1.5m, their application may be expedited.

Interiors of a contemporary bar with sofa seating and indoor plants

The Monkey Bar at SLS

The jet-set lifestyle of Baha Mar is easily enjoyed. The SLS Baha Mar, which is operated by US hospitality group sbe, has become a popular hotspot for entertaining. In addition to Mediterranean restaurant Cleo and trendy Monkey Bar, there is Privilege for upscale pool parties, rooftop lounge Skybar (the only one in Nassau), modern Japanese restaurant Katsuya, Fi’lia by the James Beard award-winning chef Michael Schwartz, and nightclub Bond, conceived by rock singer Lenny Kravitz’s Kravitz Design. Carna for steaks is coming soon.

Read more: Ultra-luxury development One Monte-Carlo opens in Monaco

The new Rosewood, meanwhile, has farm-to-table London-style brasserie Commonwealth and its exclusive Rum Room; and Costa, which features pavilions surrounded by water and a menu of seafood and meat dishes with a Latin American twist. In addition is The Library where a Bahamian-style afternoon tea is served. The heavenly Manor Bar features design inspired by a yacht interior – all dark polished woods and blue velvets.

Luxury hotel lobby with contemporary furnishings

The Living Room at Rosewood Baha Mar

The design of the property itself is reminiscent of a Bahamian island estate home, with white weatherboarding, tropical gardens and verandas. And to ensure the stresses of work are smoothed away, Sense, a Rosewood spa, has created treatments based on ancient Bahamian rituals using local plants such as lignum vitae, moringa leaf, cassava and neem tree.

For those interested in a base on the island, Rosewood has one- to three-bedroom residences (from $995,000) with private concierge and butler services, plus four-to six-bedroom beachfront villas with their own pool (from $6.4m to $25m). Buyers at Rosewood and SLS are eligible to apply for permanent residence status. Dependent on nationality, buyers may be entitled to tax benefits including capital gains and income tax exemptions.

Owners of the residences at SLS and Rosewood enjoy access to the members-only Nexus Club (with its champagne bar, pool with day beds, private gaming and cigar bar) plus the 65m (213ft) super yacht Eternity, on which they can cruise the archipelago or visit Baha Mar’s own 15-acre private island, Long Cay. Staffed by Rosewood and available for private hire, this is where sybarites can relax in a hammock on the beach with a glass of rum. Life doesn’t get any better than this.

Find out more:

This article was first published in the Winter 19 Issue.

Reading time: 4 min
Luxury indoor swimming pool surrounded by plants inside a glass atrium
Luxury indoor swimming pool surrounded by plants inside a glass atrium

The Rosewood Beijing is one of Grand Luxury’s handpicked hotels

Grand Luxury is a curated hotel booking site and a concierge service through which clients can arrange exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. LUX speaks to the company’s founders, brothers Ivan and Rouslan Lartisien about handpicking their hotels, delivering first-class service and making the impossible possible
Colour portrait of founders of Grand Luxury Ivan and Rouslan Lartisien

Ivan and Rouslan Lartisien

LUX: How did you take Grand Luxury from a start-up to a global business?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: From a 3-person company in a maid’s room to a 100-person company based in Paris, London, Dubai, Mauritius, Philippines, Romania and Italy, Grand Luxury has changed entirely in just 10 years. To better serve our individual clientele, we strive to continuously exceed the boundaries of personalisation. We are now the 2nd largest booking force for luxury hotels in Milan, London, Paris, Marrakech. In 2018, we have also become the leading EMEA agency on the luxury segment. The explanation might come from the fact that since the very beginning we have always been truthful to our original values.

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LUX: You handpicked all of the 350 hotels in the booking collection, did you visit them all and what were you looking for?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: We have visited 90% of our hotels and rely on a network of travellers we know since the very beginning for the rest. We also have a team dedicated to visiting hotels on a regular basis but the final choice is always on one of us two.

We are mixing objective and subjective considerations. First of all, the hotel must meet the core standards of a 5-star deluxe hotel. But there must be a rather unique feeling, a special “je ne sais quoi” that will make you feel you are entering in a one-of-a-kind property. A Grand Luxury Hotel might not even feel like a hotel anymore. During our selection process we must have the conviction that we are about to engage in the promotion of a most unique place and enchant our existing clients and of course the new comers to Grand Luxury who we shall lure to our exceptional universe.

Luxury hotel lobby area with contemporary decorations and chandeliers

Grand Luxury clients receive exclusive perks at hotels they book through the site such as the Baccarat Hotel in New York

LUX: What defines first class service?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: For us, luxury starts on-line and off-line when one of us engage on a conversation with the client. Everything has its importance: from the property we had curated, to on-line photos, content and suggestions to enhance the trip. We then ask many questions, not in a formal and mechanic manner but in a way our engagement seem natural and genuine. It’s quite irrational but when you show interest and express empathy, it works.

Luxury used to be materialistic, brand-driven, “stuff”-centric. Today it is more about the “moment”, the parenthesis you open to break away from your daily routine or your busy occupation. From being a Mom of 3 teenagers to a woman who looks after her for that one week and away from the family.

To this end we select, inspect and curate places that are truly exceptional. Not from a physical stand point but from our client’s perspective and for what they really want or need.

Luxury is also about the “results”, the outcome of a trip: be it to celebrate a milestone event or to explore family roots, or simply get away and reunite with your spouse, your mom or your best friends.

LUX: How do the current trends in booking patterns differ from when you started 10 years ago and does it vary across culture?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: To be honest, on some aspects – it did not change so much. We have been quite constant in our strategic vision as we had decided to focus on two salient points: a highly restricted selection of the best hotels in the world, and very personalised service, all of this with a digital twist! The combination of the very best hotels and quality service allowed us to reach a high ratio of repeaters. What has changed in the market is the quest for more experiential travel and the growing desire to experience a destination as locals. That is one of the reasons why Grand Luxury has completely revamped its website, it will be rolled out at the end of the year to embrace these new market trends. Of course, we have to adapt to the cultural aspects.

Read more: How Hublot’s attracting a new generation of customers

LUX: What are the top 5 guest demands?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: Unlike some long lasting and rather terrible clichés, wealthy customers are not capricious and impatient. Their demands (we prefer to use the word requests) reflect who they are and what is important for them (in general or for this specific holiday). If this is a family reunion for a special occasion, all details count from smooth arrivals to small attentions for each member of the family and to make sure you meet these expectations, there is only one technique: ask many questions and anticipate! Do not leave anything to chance (this is good for every single client). Many contact us not to simply find a great holiday spot for them, but for a reason and over the years we had many situations e.g. this famous film director who needed a quiet place anywhere in Europe likely to inspire his writing therefore had to have a solid historic feel without being difficult to reach! This gentleman, a widower for a few months, who wanted to visit all the places he had been happy with his wife before she passed after a sudden leukemia. Imagine the amount of emotion behind his request.

This father who wanted to reward his only daughter for graduating brilliantly. Not a regular five-star palace hotel guest but who had decided to spend well over what he would normally do, to celebrate this milestone event in his family. This very rich family (2 children age 8 and 10) who decided to spend a whole month in Paris and give the children a true education in art, history, culture. They wanted to have a young university teacher every day, capable to take the children on a different experience in a nice, supporting yet demanding manner.

And one day, we had this Australian billionaire who wanted to propose on the third floor of the Eiffel Tower. He wanted to have it for himself and the woman of his life. We managed to obtain a yes from the very traditional institution at a rather high price. Our client was a bit hesitant to spend so much and we knew he was open to an alternative suggestion. In a day we managed to contact the Musée Rodin and to privatise the famous museum for an hour after closing. Champagne had been arranged next to Le-baiser (the kiss) one of the most moving piece of Rodin and of course it work very well as she said yes and was incredibly touched by the gentleman’s surprise proposal.

LUX: Can you tell us more about some of the sought after experiences Grand Luxury can arrange?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: We always try to work on experiences that will work on emotion, memories and take you more deeply in the cultural essence of a country. For instance in Paris, we worked on a specific program about French gastronomy. We picked the clients at 5am at his hotel, brought him to a very nice bakery in the heart of the old Paris to see before the opening of the shop how the croissant and baguette are made, taste it fresh out of the oven. Then the client took a basket of bakeries and was brought on a Riva on the French Seine to eat on a nice private breakfast-cruise, with Champagne of course as you are in France. Then, the client was brought back to his hotel just in time to see the arrival of the food supplies at the Michelin-Star restaurant.

Luxury poolside cabana with plush seating

The Royal Mansour in Marrakech is another of Grand Luxury’s hotels

LUX: How is luxury travel evolving?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: The big change we’ve seen in the last few years is the way people expect to experience a destination. Today, all of our clients from around the world want to feel like a local when they visit a destination, so we bring them experiences that will show them the heart and soul of the place. We have guides in each destination who are really knowledgeable about certain aspects of a place, so we’ll call the guide that best fits the preferences of the guest. In terms of hotels, we’ve seen that more and more people want a more residential feel in the place they stay, so they have a kind of home to go back to in the destination. This is something we’re seeing more and more of with luxury travellers.

Grand luxury app shown on a phone screen

The Grand Luxury app functions as a digital personal assistant

LUX: Is technology increasingly important to travellers or do they want to be off the grid and why did you launch the app to accompany the online site?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: Technology for us at Grand Luxury Hotels is absolutely essential. It has never been used to replace staff but to increase value for our clients. The App is a perfect example. It is a unique opportunity for our customers to have their own assistant directly in their pocket. A transfer, the best new trendy restaurant close to your location, flowers or caviar in your room in less than 30 minutes, a great ballet or musical to go to in the evening! We make it easy for the customer to choose and book among our curated list of partners. And for us, technology is here to answer to clients who want easy and quick options. But if they want to speak to their dedicated adviser, they can of course chat with him/her anytime through the app!

LUX: What can users expects to see with the upscale concierge service?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: Anything, there is no specific limit. It Is all about the client’s needs and wishes. 3 years ago we set a special trip for a small group of opera fans which was meant to end in Prague. On the last night we booked Don Giovanni at the Estates Opera House (where Mozart debuted the famous opera). We had told our clients that a supper would be served after the show but we did not mention where. We had actually arranged for our group to have dinner on stage … with the cast!

On another occasion we had set a wedding anniversary in Venice. The clients (a very nice couple in their 70s) had decided to treat themselves to a long weekend in Venice. Nothing too original so far – but as they head to the restaurant for a dinner we had booked for them, we sent them by boat to a small palazzo instead, where their family and close friends were waiting for them (we had arranged the group to travel a day after and of course made sure their were completely invisible so another of our Venice property was chosen) the family had asked us to surprise their parents, they also wanted to pay for the stay and finally add a fun touch and a small show at the palazzo to also recognise how exceptionally loved the couple was.

LUX: Where will Grand Luxury be in 5 years?
Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien: 5 years ago we had approximately 10 employees. We are now almost 100. The only limit is our imagination. We already have so many plans for the coming months : full relaunch of our website under a completely new design, deepen our offering with far more experiences to offer, launch our new website … Just for one year. What is sure is that Grand Luxury wants to position Itself as a luxury brand offering 360 degrees offer in the travel industry.

Discover Grand Luxury’s list of hotels:

Reading time: 10 min
Grand hotel entrance with british flag flying at the doorway, a car parked outside and lights glowing from the windows
Grand hotel entrance with british flag flying at the doorway, a car parked outside and lights glowing from the windows

The entrance to the Corinthia Hotel in Westminster, London

Under the leadership of Alfred Pisani, Corinthia Hotels has grown from a single family-owned banquet hall in Malta to a global luxury brand with properties in 9 destinations and forthcoming openings in Dubai and Brussels. LUX speaks to the Maltese businessman about the challenges he’s faced, his guiding principles and the importance of creating a strong employee culture
Portrait of Maltese businessman and Corinthia Hotels founder Alfred Pisani

Founder & Chairman of Corinthia Hotels, Alfred Pisani

LUX: You developed one of the first deluxe hotels in Malta on your family’s estate. Can you tell us about that story?
Alfred Pisani: It’s a long story but I’ll try and abbreviate. Basically, I was not planning to become a hotelier. My interests when I was at college were mathematics and science; a very logical style of thinking, which I think is very important to our life anyway. My father had just bought a beautiful, majestic villa with some 20,000 square metres of land and wasn’t quite sure whether we were going to live in it or he was going to do business in it. Unfortunately, he passed away four months later, and suddenly, together with my brothers, I had the responsibility of deciding what to do with this property. The place had not been lived in for a number of years and obviously deterioration had taken place, so our first step was to try and put that right. I went to the bank and got a loan, which my uncle supported me with in terms of security, and we first started using this magnificent hall for receptions and weddings, parties and so on.

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Then one day someone came along and said, ‘Why don’t you provide the catering as well?’ so we brought in an outside caterer to help us with that request. After that, we organised a proper kitchen, and then we opened our own restaurant. Two years down the line, there was a big drive from the government to give incentives to entrepreneurs, as the country was changing the economy from  one totally dependent on a naval and military base (as the English were pulling out), to one where we would have industry and tourism, to create a new economy. So I applied, and I went with my own drawing of a forty-room hotel to the appropriate ministry, but we were told we wouldn’t qualify unless we had a minimum 150 rooms.

Vintage photograph from the opening of Corinthia Palace in Malta

The opening of Corinthia Palace in Malta, 1968

A few weeks later, I went back with an elongated hotel with 156 rooms. And the guy said to me, ‘So you have money for 40 rooms, but do you have room for 156?’ I said, ‘Well, no, but the bank does. They’re going to give us the money.’ He was amused, but I still went through the motions. I went to one bank, and then another, and then another, and eventually I found one large enough to handle the job. The same question was asked about our equity, and I told them the equity was the building, the ground and our effort. We got 100% funding, and this is something I’m still proud of today. That was unheard of then. But I assume the timing was part of the whole success; there was a tremendous push to bring in foreign currency and to create a new industry.

Then when I came to build the hotel, I found the local contractors were very busy and too expensive, so I decided I’d be the contractor. I actually employed people from the street – literally. And I’ve never built a hotel as fast as that. Never. Today I keep saying to everybody, ‘We do so many drawings that we’d have enough paper to build a hotel out of it.’ But obviously things have become very much more complicated with all the electronics and everything. It’s quite remarkable, though, what one can do when one is determined. I remember buying a second-hand mixer to do the concrete, and we would throw in the aggregate, the sand and the cement and I’d hold a pipe and I’d look it and say, ‘Hmm, yes, the consistency looks right, let’s pour.’

Read more: New luxury hotel Chais Monnet opens near Bordeaux

You know, it’s remarkable with what you can do with nothing. We would work from 6 o’clock in the morning until about 11 o’clock at night, day in, day out, for around two years. And then we opened and it was successful. Again, there were coincidences that helped us along the road and we took the opportunities. Some decisions were very difficult to make in terms of bringing in new partners and going from one playing field to a more advanced one with new shareholders and new standards. And you have to remember that we didn’t have a home market. The banks couldn’t come aboard with us, because they just didn’t have the capital to do that. So, each time we went to an outside destination we’d have to talk to banks who didn’t know us. That didn’t make it easy. You really had to prove yourself. And you had to appoint new architects too. This was what I found most difficult. If you got your first step outside your island wrong, it would just knock you out. So you couldn’t afford to get it wrong. At that time, I didn’t think like that: I just went and went and went. I never had a doubt in my mind. I suppose that’s the beauty of youth, when you are full of enthusiasm and determination but you are limited in your expertise and experience: that combination worked well for us.

Vintage photograph of woman sunbathing by a hotel pool

Ladies enjoying the pool at Corinthia Palace, Malta in 1968

We have always focused on trying to achieve the best. I don’t think in the early days we gave more importance to visibility as to the quality. I have a strong conviction that quality will win the day. You have to get every step right and then the results will be right. I had a natural tendency to focus on the details and trying to get everything right with the strong belief that that was ultimately what would produce the results I wanted. We don’t have a real measure. I used to say, ‘If I sow one hundred seeds, ninety-five will grow, because that’s part of nature.’ So as long as you move with the current of nature, the results are going to be further growth. There were these very strong principles from a very early stage, and I was constantly trying to share my beliefs and direction with everybody else.

LUX: What do you think sets the Corinthia apart?
Alfred Pisani: Well, today, after so many years of growing a hotel out of a very small country, we have brought another element into our consideration. Not only do we believe in ‘doing it right’ in order to generate a positive return, but we’ve gone one step further by saying we want to “uplift lives”. It will probably take a long time to appreciate what I’m trying to say; I didn’t think like this when I was younger, but it’s something people get to eventually. If you want a more productive outcome from your colleagues – I don’t like to call them employees – you must identify a sense of caring. If you share your knowledge, give a helping hand and show respect, this creates a more committed work force, where everybody is aligning the energy. It’s just like in a magnet: when you align all the atoms instead of having them in disarray, you create a magnet. Simply by infusing a sense of discipline and purpose, you can align everyone’s energies to think in the same direction. You create an energy where, like a magnet, though you can’t see it, you can sense it.

So, from being totally focused on wanting perfection, it has translated itself over the years into saying how can you make everyone within the family more successful as an individual? You must sleep well, eat well, socialise – work is just another aspect of this holistic responsibility. If you can get your engine to be firing correctly on all cylinders, you just get your efficiency a bit higher; you fine tune it. That’s what I think sets Corinthia apart. We have a very close interaction with our personnel. We call it the family. I truly say this with all sincerity: people who have come to the company, and even those who leave the company, will always remain Corinthians. They will always show respect. I say this with a lot of conviction and satisfaction.

Luxury hotel bedroom with a double bed and open plan bathroom decorated in stylish neutral tones

A suite at the Corinthia Hotel in London

LUX: We’ve been discussing your properties in Malta – is that your biggest market?
Alfred Pisani: If we go back to when I opened my first hotel in 1968, at that time, with Malta still having a semi-colonial relationship with Britain, all we knew was the UK. We bought everything from the UK, right down to the smallest screw. Our tourism came from the UK, I would say 99%. There was no corporate business because there was no business. People came mainly in summer. Their stays would be long stays – one or two weeks – and it was all handled by tour operators, who distributed the brochures and displayed the hotel across the UK. They would come over in August and agree the rates for the following year. Everything was agreed a year in advance.

Read more: Luxury watch designer Richard Mille on creativity and supercars

Over the years the government and hoteliers realised that it was necessary to diversify for the future and effort was put into marketing it in Europe. And this has, over the years, mainly succeeded, because now we have visitors from all over. Possibly Britain is still number 1. I think it’s a healthy situation to arrive at. When we came to open in London, we knew what the story was. In the five-star business, you had the home market and the United States. So we made a big effort in the United States to win our share of the five star business coming to London, competing against all the other well-known brands, who have been there for a very long time. I think we did very well in penetrating the market in the space of two or three years.

Luxury indoor swimming pool with soft lighting and blue tiles

The Pool at ESPA, Corinthia London

LUX: What’s the biggest challenge in investing in other countries?
Alfred Pisani: As I said earlier our bankers, our lawyers, our everything could not move with us. We had to look for destination  where their business had a similarity to us such as resort businesses, holiday businesses, and where it was not too expensive that we could not afford it. I couldn’t dream of coming to London or New York so to begin we built five hotels in Turkey and because I didn’t feel confident enough I looked for Turkish partner.

After 1990 when there was the dissolution of the Soviet Union, tremendous opportunities were available in Russia and all the Eastern European countries came by cheaply. Now, we were, I think, even ahead of the banks! We went into St Petersburg and Budapest and so on and they were good opportunities. We visited every single east European country that had now opened, but what I didn’t have, because I don’t think we were wise yet or we didn’t have the reputation yet, was funding and support from a consult team of banks and institutions which was somewhat of a handicap because the opportunities I met were tremendous.

Read more: The Secret Diary of an Oxford Undergraduate

LUX: And you’ve got properties opening in Brussels and Dubai?
Alfred Pisani: We bought the property in Brussels so that belongs to us, but in Dubai we are purely in management. We will run our flag on one of the most beautiful hotels to be built in Dubai and it will be Corinthia, but we are not the owners. We have supported it in the designs – it will be stunning and it’s set to open in 2020.

In the meantime, we have been operating two other properties on behalf of the same company, the Meydan Group. They have the Meydan Hotel which has big horse racing track and all of the bedrooms overlook the track. It’s a very successful property and we have seen tremendous increase in the bottom line since we took over, together with another hotel which they own in the desert called Bab Al Shams. So, apart from investing in our own properties I think now we have a brand that is visible enough and that is providing good enough standards to also offer it to third party owners and hopefully expand our brand in many more hotels without necessarily putting in capital.

Luxury restaurant interiors with a sculpture of a man in a suit, dark green walls and plush red sofa seating

The restaurant at Corinthia London, headed by Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge

LUX: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
Alfred Pisani: I think the lesson I learnt was a confirmation of the conviction I already had to do everything properly and that by doing everything properly, you stood a much bigger chance of success, as opposed to taking shortcuts. We kept to this principal and we would never get involved with political parties in countries. What I realise today, which I didn’t realise at the time, is that I think we were right  in the way we negotiated and I don’t think I would change it if I had to do it all over again. My advice to those who are still starting is keep on the straight.

LUX: Do you see a difference in what younger and older travellers expect from luxury?
Alfred Pisani: Yes, there has been a change of expectations from the customers in terms of the hardware, for example, bathrooms. However, the basic ingredients that they look for haven’t changed. Are you welcomed with a smile that is genuine and not plastic? Do you truly, collectively, radiate an energy of positiveness, which makes the customer feel good even though he cannot put his finger on it? Those elements haven’t really changed that much. I don’t know whether in a number of years to come whether we will be interacting with one another in a deeper way by the development of our intellect, the telepathy, the ability to feel and sense each other in a stronger way with the support of electronics… That’s the future.

LUX: And what about the future of Corinthia Hotels?
Alfred Pisani: Growth. I am sure that the principles that we have worked with will be maintained and the new phrase that was created recently in our last general managers’ meeting in Brussels: “uplifting lives”. That phrases encompasses how we want to continue helping our colleagues to grow and become better people.

Discover Corinthia hotels:

Reading time: 12 min
A grand hotel reception decorated in purple with gold and black detailing
A grand hotel reception decorated in purple with gold and black detailing

L’oscar is named after and inspired by writer Oscar Wilde. The hotel sits in the heart of London’s historic literary neighbourhood Bloomsbury

Jacques Garcia is the master of decadent design. His portfolio includes the likes of Hôtel Costes in Paris, La Mamounia in Marrakech and NYC’s NoMad. Now the French designer is bringing a touch of Parisian style to London with luxury boutique hotel, L’oscar. He talks to LUX about Oscar Wilde,  alluring atmospheres and the importance of low lighting

LUX: How did you come up with the concept from L’oscar? What’s your creative process like?
Jacques Garcia: Although I’ve had many proposals to do concept design projects in London, L’oscar is only my second public project in the city after Ronnie Scott’s. What particularly seduced me about this project is the fact that the building has a history, it was a former [Baptist Church]. I had to think of ways to work with the structure of the existing building and its history, whilst incorporating modernity through colours and fabrics.

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So for the decor, I imagined that I was Oscar Wilde. Twenty years ago, I created Hotel des Beaux Arts, where I imagined Oscar Wilde’s last bedroom when he was living in Paris. I imagined it as if he lived in a very nice apartment, although in reality he was very poor at the end of his life. I was interested in showing the paradox of the writer’s glory and achievements, and the way he was treated by people for his personal convictions at the time. I returned to the story of Oscar Wilde for this hotel because he is someone that I am continually drawn to – the name of the hotel, of course, is in his honour: L’oscar (the Oscar).

Famed Architect and interior designer Jacques Garcia poses in decadent setting

Jacques Garcia in L’oscar

LUX: Did the building present any design challenges?
Jacques Garcia: Yes, it was very difficult to work with and it took a long time. It was like doing a hotel in New York. London and New York are two of the most difficult cities to for hospitality projects, especially when you’re working with buildings that are listed or historical. But when I like a project, I’m like a kid and even if it takes 9 months, I still love it at the end.

Read more: Wandering Paris with Moynat’s Artistic Director, Ramesh Nair

LUX: Why do you think Parisian style is so desirable?
Jacques Garcia: For a very simple reason: no one ever speaks about the sexiness of the London girl, but everyone always talks about the sexiness of the Parisian girl. This is because the Parisian girl is an attitude, whereas there’s a certain rigidity to the English and also an elegance that the French don’t have. But the English, in my opinion, are missing the attitude. That’s the allure.

Luxury hotel bedroom with plush gold fabrics

LUX: You once said that “before everything, I am a creator of atmosphere.” How do you go about creating an atmosphere?
Jacques Garcia: Personally, I am not a big fan of public spaces. I am very lucky to have an extraordinary house and friends who have extraordinary houses so in my personal life I have no real reason to go to public spaces like a hotel – unless it is to meet and to be seduced by people. People go to public places meet other people, and for me, that’s the starting point when considering atmosphere. I create places where people can meet and seduce. That begins with choosing comfortable chairs, the right lighting. People look better in dim light, always.

LUX: Your designs often incorporate opulent fabrics – where do you source your materials?
Jacques Garcia: I used a lot of fabrics in L’oscar particularly, but since the peacock was the emblem of Oscar Wilde, I wanted to utilise that pattern and used special fabrics sourced from England and France. Mixing colours, especially unusual colours, was very important for me in this project, which is difficult to do, if you do it wrong, you risk the design becoming kitsch. It’s a very thin line, much like a haute couture collection – sometimes it can just work, it can be incredible and sometimes it doesn’t.

Read more: Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s mesmerising art opening on Cap Ferrat

LUX: How much of a consideration is sustainability when designing?
Jacques Garcia: I recently went on a trip to Saudi Arabia. I was in the middle of the desert and there was air conditioning, but a natural system of air conditioning that was used in the old desert houses of 12th century: windows! And of course, the way the house was structured to keep it cool. The projects I work on are different to this. For example, I use a lot of fabrics. Think of my older hotels like the Costes or the NoMad. People are coming into those hotels from 7am to 3am, they are using the seats for working or socialising 20 hours a day and so the fabric wears out and you have to change the upholstery. In that way, it’s not really sustainable. I would love to be more sustainable, but there are also regulations I have to consider such as fire. Plastic treatment on silk is unfortunately mandatory. To use real silk or real corduroy would be more ecological, but unfortunately we have to have the fabrics treated. I hope that businesses will integrate sustainability into their day to day operations once the project is complete. L’oscar, for example, have started by avoiding the use of plastic straws.

Decadent dining area with mirrored ceiling and gold and purple detailing

The walls and ceilings of the Café L’oscar are lined with mirrors, gold panels, and original art.

LUX: Which hotel design(s) are you most proud of?
Jacques Garcia: As well as L’oscar, my favourites are The Mamounia and La Réserve in Paris. My house, the Chateau du Champ-de-Bataille, is also one of my favourites!

LUX: And can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Jacques Garcia: I have a hotel opening soon in Singapore, a private house in Rome, there’s a hotel in Rome as well. There’s a very big hotel in Doha. Private residences in the Gulf. A new NoMad has recently opened in Los Angeles. There are a lot of projects going on!

LUX: What’s your favourite city in the world?
Jacques Garcia: Paris. Why? Because the Parisians.

L’oscar opens in Bloomsbury, London on 17th September. To make a booking visit:
To view more of Jacques Garcia’s work visit:

Reading time: 5 min
Mountainside hotel overlooking lake pictured at night with snowy surroundings

Perched on top of a mountain, the Bürgenstock Hotel boasts unparalleled views of Lake Lucerne

Bürgenstock is the most ambitious resort development in European history, a spectacular complex of luxury hotels, spas, contemporary restaurants and a high-end medical clinic perched on top of a mountain overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland, on the site of a historic hotel and developed at a cost of 550 million Swiss francs by the Qataris. LUX Editor in Chief Darius Sanai speaks to Managing Director Bruno Schöpfer about the challenges and delights of creating something on a scale never done before
Portrait of a man wearing a suit with glasses and a purple tie

Bruno Schöpfer

LUX: Bürgenstock is not just about creating something for now, it’s also a vision of the future in many aspects. How did that come about?
Bruno Schöpfer: That’s a big question! First of all, the Bürgenstock Resort has a past, so it’s not something created from scratch. When I took over the whole development, I created a slogan called the ‘future has a past’ and, as an example, we held an exhibition with historic elements and future elements in order to show not only the press, but also internal people working on the project that we will honour the past. We want to protect our heritage because one day these global visitors will want to visit us to see not only our clear mountains, our air, our lakes, but also to see our history.

And then of course we wanted to recreate the stories about all the famous visitors such as Mahatma Gandhi or Audrey Hepburn (who lived here for 12 years). What great stories to have and to build on for the future. We have included all of these elements in the development of the resort.

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Another important element is food and beverage, especially for Asians, [for whom] food is immensely important. At breakfast they talk about what they want for lunch and at lunch they talk about what they want for dinner. So the food element is key to the resort. We tailored it to our future visitor markets. Not that we wanted to forget our Swiss.We know the Swiss are also well travelled and will enjoy Spices restaurant with its Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai cuisine, and they will enjoy Sharq, the oriental restaurant with Lebanese mezze and Persian grills. All of these elements together, I think, are a cocktail for success. The resort, as the largest of the developments in Switzerland, is what we call the beacon – in German we call it the leuchte – to bring visitors to Switzerland.

LUX: How did you choose the brand name for the emerging group?
Bruno Schöpfer:  We have three historic brands: the Schweizerhof, the Royal Savoy – which, in my opinion, has the biggest potential for international development because it is unique – and of course the Bürgenstock brand. Again, it is very much a Swiss brand – it has been in place for 145 years – and we decided this would become the umbrella brand for the properties.

Luxury hotel bedroom with views of a lake through the window

A Deluxe Lakeview Room at the Bürgenstock Hotel

LUX: Is there potential for expanding the brand beyond Switzerland?
Bruno Schöpfer: There is potential, but for the last ten years we have been focusing on conceptualising and renovating these wonderful assets – we’ve spent one billion Swiss francs on them – and I think the next focus should be to market these globally. And then as a next step yes, I can see an expansion, but one step after another. Now we have established, next is to market it globally and then, yes, there could be an expansion.

LUX: In the past F&B was more incidental to the hospitality concept in Europe, whereas here the restaurants are really a destination in themselves, with their own identity. You didn’t bring other brands in to run your restaurants – what was the thinking behind that?
Bruno Schöpfer: My passion is F&B. I started off my career as an F&B manager in famous hotels such as Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and in my spare time, my hobby is to look at amazing hotels and restaurants. Because of that knowledge, I’ve met and worked with some amazing talent. I basically felt that we would be able to manage with our own global talent. We do have one association and that’s with Marc Haeberlin, who has a three Michelin-star restaurant in Alsace and is the consultant chef at RitzCoffier. We very much put a focus on absolutely great talent. I myself have worked in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines; the executive chef/culinary director worked in the Philippines, Thailand, Switzerland and the US.

Read more: New levels of sophistication in Ibiza Town

LUX: You’ve created a new dining concept in each of the locations – was that with an eye to the future market?
Bruno Schöpfer: That’s a very good question. If a Swiss goes on holiday to China, after one week he is looking for his Swiss sausage salad. Today’s international traveller from, let’s say, China or India, is no different. After a couple of days, they want their authentic, national cuisines. We know that in Switzerland there are very few really good oriental restaurants. So the key to our success will be to create many cuisines in the hotels in which we operate. I know very well that these markets will change and develop, and before long – especially the Chinese and Indian markets – they will become a lot more sophisticated, and the need for their cuisine will always be there. We always have the future markets in mind. And we’re not surprised that we’re seeing a Swiss liking for such cuisines; the Swiss are a big travelling nation and you see them in all the markets. For them, it’s very emotional if they can eat a good Thai, Japanese or Indian meal here at home.

Luxury restaurant dining room with large glass windows providing views of a lake

Spices Kitchen & Terrace overhangs Lake Lucerne with an open kitchen

LUX: What’s the difference between creating Bürgenstock as a resort and creating Bürgenstock the brand?
Bruno Schöpfer: One advantage is that the brand goes back 145 years. It was once a great brand, but a lot of people will agree it is much easier to reenergise a brand than to create one. We are not a large company here who can put hundreds of millions of dollars behind the creation of a brand. We made the decision with the Schweizerhof, the Savoy and Bürgenstock to keep the historic branding; they have a following and a history. It’s all about brand protection and brand management. If you start a new brand it can be quite a challenge just to be registered. We have succeeded with ours because they have been in the market for so long, all of them. But now it’s a matter of how we reload and reenergise them, because a brand is only as good as its content.

LUX: Is Bürgenstock a reason to come to Switzerland for your many of your guests who otherwise wouldn’t? Are they coming here instead of going elsewhere?
Bruno Schöpfer: I think Bürgenstock should become a reason for people to come to Switzerland. We compete when it comes to the inter-continental travel market for travellers’ time. We need to give an international traveller enough attractions, or what I call ‘wow’ factors. It’s all about ‘wow’ today. We want people to come to our resort, pull out their phone and send a WhatsApp picture to their friends. They call it mouth-to-mouth advertising. We want that to happen.

We want to create not one USP, but many USPs, and if you look around here in the resort, you see lots of ‘wow’ factors. Is it the spa with the infinity pool 500metres above Lake Lucerne? Is it the Spices restaurant overhanging the lake and with its amazing open kitchen? Is it the health and medical wellness facility? There are lots of ‘wow’ factors. The reason is very simple. We want the people who visit us for a restaurant to be so impressed that next time they will stay here three days. And we can see that happening right now – it’s high season and we have a lot of Middle Eastern traffic. Most of the people who check-in extend their stay. Just yesterday I had someone staying for two nights who extended his trip by another two nights because, he says, ‘I cannot see it all in two days, I need four!’

Stunning outdoor infinity pool overhanging a lake with snowing landscapes in the distance

The infinity pool at the Alpine Spa, 500 metres above Lake Lucerne

LUX: You’ve been in the luxury travel industry for a while now. How has luxury travel and the leisure traveller changed over the last twenty years?
Bruno Schöpfer: The biggest change happened, in my opinion, with 9/11. From then on we’ve been seeing a lot more private air travel. Here we have the great advantage of a private air strip and four helicopter pads, so we’re seeing more people arrive by private planes and helicopters. Another change is that people are having more holidays. The historic holidays of people staying in the resort for two weeks are now less common. When it comes to our Bürgenstock Hotel and the Palace, the average stay is two or three days.

LUX: Are travellers’ demands higher now?
Bruno Schöpfer: As a whole, yes, demands are much higher. I would say that in the luxury sector generally service has improved. We are a lot more customer-oriented than in the past. Social media and online rating systems put everyone on their toes and make it more demanding, because people can read about it for themselves on Google. But I think the key has to be employing talented people who are interested and passionate about what they do. I always say I’ve never worked a day in my life. In other words, you have to have fun. If you’re not having fun then what are you doing? If it’s not fun then it’s really boring. We need more people who really enjoy what they’re doing, and I think here we offer a surrounding that gives you that. But of course it’s a tough job…I don’t want to glamourise it. It’s a tough job with high occupancies, full restaurants and lots of check-ins and check-outs. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it would be difficult.

Read more: Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar in conversation with Jean Cocteau

LUX: You’ve been open a year now – what have been the greatest challenges?
Bruno Schöpfer: How long do we have? First of all it was a challenge to just get everything ready. When you’re building thirty buildings all to a certain standard, with high interior design specifications, you need to have an amazing team and really passionate people around you. You need to communicate well with your builders. There are so many elements that have to come together from all over the world: marble from Italy, case goods from China…it’s a fantastic logistical masterpiece. And of course you have delays. When things are not there you have to be creative and know how to overcome a certain shortcoming.

Another challenge is the defects: when you take a building into operation it looks great, but you flush a toilet or have a shower for the first time and you realise there are a few issues that you need to fix. That’s normal for building projects. These rectifications are very strenuous and time-consuming because they involve not one but sometimes half a dozen parties. That’s challenging.

Luxury spa with relaxation beds

The silent room at the Alpine Spa

Another challenge for us is the weather. When we have wonderful weather we have perhaps three times more visitors than when we have bad weather, and the implications of that can be tremendous in both cases. You might have full fridges, but the weather is less good so you have less day visitors. But then you might suddenly have wonderful weather and you have three times more visitors than expected. We had amazing weather in September, so when people heard the resort was opening we were flooded with thousands of people. That put a lot of strain on the team and the restaurants, all of which were not yet used to the operation.

There’s also training and retaining staff. The fact is, when you hire a team, not everyone will stay. Twenty percent might leave because they don’t like the job, or you don’t like them, and so you need to re-recruit. So that was basically the first year. But the main challenge besides the usual delays of construction and the defects was the tremendous level of business we had. We opened with full hotels, full restaurants and that has been quite a challenge.

Read more: Wendy Yu on building bridges between the East and the West

LUX: The resort must require a big team – how do you find your staff?
Bruno Schöpfer: There is a staff issue in Switzerland. We have a big pharmaceutical industry and a banking industry; in other words, we have many competing industries with tourism. Fifty percent of our graduates from École hôtelière de Lausanne, my alma mater, join banks, the famous food companies. So, how do we bring 700 people to work here? One strategy from day one was to build at least two hundred staff rooms in the resort to provide convenience for staff members. We now have 200 staff members who live in the resort, so we provide them the fantastic convenience of walking five minutes to work. No commuting – that’s one way to bring staff here. People who are interested and passionate about the industry love to work with such an amazing brand because it’s great for their CV. The chefs love to work here because we are not a boring Swiss restaurant. Young people find this a very interesting and enriching resort to work in. They can learn. When it comes to these great restaurants we needed specialists from these countries. In Switzerland we have very strict labour restrictions, so we couldn’t hire someone from Thailand without a labour permit. We had to obtain what are called third-country permits to hire people from Iran, Lebanon, India, Thailand, China and Hong Kong, who bring the authentic know-how of these cuisines to us. We don’t want to create fusion food, we want to create original dishes. To achieve this we need the right employees.

LUX: We have a lot of readers and friends who historically will go for their detox weekends to Lanserhof or Merano; will this be an alternative?
Bruno Schöpfer: We would love to be an alternative, but we are also aware that we cannot create that in twelve months. You’ve actually just touched on a business I’m very passionate about. I have visited – although I don’t look like it – every place under the sun when it comes to the likes of Lanserhof and Merano, and when I created the concept of the resort in 2008, I asked myself what the next big thing in Swiss tourism was. Nowadays every hotel has residences, ballrooms, the traditional spas. We must be able to take advantage of the reputation of Swiss medical treatments. The King of Saudi Arabia comes to Geneva for medical treatments, the ruler of Doha flew in after he broke his leg for treatment in Zurich, we have a lot of Chinese who come to Switzerland for what we call the ‘sheep’ treatment [a treatment involving the injection of stem cells from sheep]. So there is a lot of history and outstanding medical treatment here in Switzerland.

When we developed this concept I had the help of a doctor and I created a medical advisory board. We basically looked at five business segments which we have now developed. One segment is what we call the medical recovery where people recover from musculoskeletal operations and cancer treatment. But we are not a hospital and we don’t want to be one because that is a totally different investment. We don’t want to be in competition with hospitals – there are plenty of operating theatres in Switzerland – we want to work with hospitals. So the rehabilitation section is where people are rehabilitated after they have been operated on in surrounding hospitals.

outdoor pool surrounded by snow with steam rising and plush surrounding sun loungers

The outdoor pool at the Waldhotel Spa

We have a detox and weight-loss segment. There is also a basic need for the medical check-up, not a ‘hocus-pocus’ one but a proper medical check-up which analyses bone, muscle and fat density, hormones, etcetera. Another special element is psychosomatic rehabilitation, which I approached from a business point of view. Together with cancer, burnout is the fastest-growing condition in the population, especially in a place like Switzerland where we are all in the tertiary sector and under immense pressure to deliver. Burnout is prevalent. This is big business for us – sorry if I call the wellbeing of others a business – but we have a facility here which is pristine, where you can have a perfect sleep in the perfect surroundings, with green mountains and fresh air where you can recharge your batteries. We are in a fantastic location to do this. That is one of our other areas of expertise. The last one is all to do with anti-ageing, because people want to look better. I hate the word anti-ageing – we call it ‘better ageing’ – but it’s everything about skin and looks. We have Dr Jalili, a very good dermatologist, and of course botox is a part of it all too; that’s basically what the Waldhotel offers.

At the end of the day, the resort is a one-stop shop in one place and in two days you can do a total medical check-up on the spot. It’s very efficient.

LUX: Where will Bürgenstock the brand be in 10 years?
Bruno Schöpfer: I’d love to see another couple of hotels. I hate to say ten hotels in ten years…I don’t believe in that. I’d much rather see two or three hotels that are just right rather than growing for the sake of growing. Let’s just do it right. A good brand needs to develop in its own time. It’s also very difficult to recreate a place like the Bürgenstock Resort. It’s unique.

LUX: That was my next question – how will you find anywhere else, is there anything else like this?
Bruno Schöpfer: There could be, there could be. But one has to look very carefully. It’s difficult to find a place with this amazing history, this privileged location, these amazing buildings and atmospheric hotel village. But never say never..

For more information on the resort and facilities visit:

Reading time: 16 min
Grand restaurant interiors with plush leather arm chairs, white table cloths and open kitchen
Exterior shot of Four Seasons Hong Kong tower at night

The Four Seasons Hong Kong towers over the exclusive IFC mall complex in Central, the heart of Hong Kong, and has spectacular views over the water to the Kowloon side of the city

Why should I go now?

Summer is hot and steamy in Hong Kong and traditionally a stopover in this most exciting of Asian cities at this time of year involves spells of freezing inside air-conditioned rooms and baking while strolling the streets of Central in search of dim sum, art, or cocktails. Stroll out to the pool terrace of the Four Seasons, though, and you are greeted by a very refreshing alternative: two huge outdoor pools with an extensive terrace, made of beautifully carved marble, with views across the sea to the mountains of the New Territories. Ferries, speedboats and bigger ships waft through the harbour beneath you, and you are at once in the very heart of Hong Kong, and in a resort hotel on an island in the South China Sea.

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What’s the lowdown?

For further relaxation, turn left just indoors from the pool area and you are in the vast spa zone, where you get your own butler to tend to your every need and show you around (it’s easy to get lost between wet rooms and plunge pools and treatment suites and relaxation rooms). A tip: take your treatment in the evening, when the whole city seems to surround you with a light show reflecting off the waters of the Harbour. We do this just before setting off for the airport for our overnight flight back to London, and it’s the most spectacular way to get a treatment in any city we have seen.

luxury infinity swimming pool with woman practising yoga treepose on centre walkway

The infinity-edge pool is equipped with underwater speakers

We also recommend getting a room with access to the Club Lounge on the 45th floor; this takes the concept of such a lounge to another level, with endless dim sum, afternoon tea, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs champagne on tap and a mesmerising view. You’ll have no reason to visit the hotel’s Blue Bar on the ground floor, which would be a shame as it is surprisingly funky – no old-style Four Seasons wood and leather here – although the view is at ground level.

Grand restaurant interiors with plush leather arm chairs, white table cloths and open kitchen

The hotel’s two Michelin star French restaurant, Caprice

The Four Seasons is located at one end of the prestigious IFC mall and tower complex, meaning it also hosts two of the city’s (and by extension, greater China’s) most significant power venues for lunch and dinner, Lung King Heen and Caprice. We loved dining in the private room (with private chef) at Sushi Saito with some of the butteriest nigiri outside Tsukiji Fish Market.

Getting horizontal

Our bedroom looked out over the Harbour and Kowloon; at night you could stay up for hours looking at the lights, and this was a distraction as the capacious desk was located right by the window. The things we suffer in the name of research. Everything else was Four Seasons-correct, from the vast, bright, marble-clad bathroom to the huge bed and array of amenities.

Read more: Former Cognac warehouse becomes luxury hotel, Hôtel Chais Monnet

Luxury hotel suite with plush double bed, chandelier and soft, cream furnishings

The luxurious bedroom in the presidential suite


If there’s a summer storm, the rush for drivers and taxis outside the hotel and IFC complex in general can mean it’s a little congested outside; but you can, in fact, walk almost anywhere within Central Hong Kong from the hotel by strolling through a series of interconnected (and indoor) luxury malls.

Rates: From 4,092 HKD (approx. £400 / €450 / $500)

To book your stay visit:

Darius Sanai

Reading time: 3 min
Architectural render of white spiral staircase in an open gallery space

Render of a project for a confidential client in China by Design Haus Liberty

London-based architecture and interior design practise Design Haus Liberty might be a relatively new name in the industry, but it has already developed a reputation for creating unique atmospheres in residential and commercial properties across the globe. LUX Editor Kitty Harris speaks to founder Dara Huang about her fascination with pottery, sustainable design and the importance of place

Colour portrait of Dara Huang, architect and interior designer

Dara Huang

1. What’s inspiring you at the moment?

I have been really inspired by pottery lately, it sounds strange, but I find the medium of clay, porcelain and the art behind how it’s made and formulated incredibly interesting. The different ways you can finish, heat or perform pottery in multiple ways is inspiring. I am mostly inspired by the volumetric forms and natural colours it comes in. There is a really nice LOEWE show at the Design Museum that really highlights some gorgeous pieces.

2. How important is sustainability to your design approach?

I think sustainability is such an important issue to think about when you are designing something. It is not always as superficial as where the materials are made out of, or the ratings of the installation. At Design Haus Liberty, we think about the direction the wind blows, the pattern the sun sets and how that effects the way the architecture passively sits in its environment. This is to ensure that the occupiers are as comfortable as possible.

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3. What are some of the challenges you face when refurbishing existing properties/developments?

Definitely everything you can’t see. Opening up a building to refurbish it is a can of worms as you never know what is going on inside. You will find rotting structure, asbestos and leaks. It is usually the most difficult to refurbish grade listed buildings. We have had to replace old timber inside floors which needed reinforcements on either side.

Bright interiors with blue wall, potted plants and images hanging

Design Haus Liberty and House of Sui Sui project: Hampstead Manor in London for residential interior refurbishment, for client Mount Anvil – completed 2017

4. What makes good design?

Balance. I don’t really practice Feng Shui but I do think that it doesn’t feel right when the design is off balance. I use my intuition for that rather than a calculated metric. Once the design feels balanced, the way you live in the space will too. Some of these principles do coincidentally correlate with Feng Shui but I think it’s common sense. It can be in colour, objects, the direction doors open or where they face, placement of furniture or art etc.

Read more: andBeyond CEO Joss Kent on creating luxury in the wilderness

5. Do you believe that contemporary architecture should reference the past?

I believe all good architecture should reference the context whether it’s a nod to the history, the urban planning, or the cultural references. Architecture should tie in with the place and not be 100% foreign. With that said, it is not that it needs to look like its surroundings, but it should have a concept derived from the place.

Installation of lines of hanging silver balls

Design Haus Liberty Mercury installation in the penthouses at South Bank Tower, for client CIT – completed 2015

6. What’s your favourite building in London and why?

Good question! It would have to be something historical. I don’t particularly have one building in mind but I do love St Paul’s Cathedral. I love spaces more than buildings such as Carlos Place, Mayfair and Regent Street, for the grandeur of buildings enveloping you. It is quite breathtaking. The more contemporary work in London has been a disappointment compared to its past.

For more information and to view Design Haus Liberty’s full portfolio visit:

Reading time: 3 min
tropical luxury island resort
Night time image of Hong Kong with lights reflecting on water

Even luxury hotels in the world’s great metropolises, like Hong Kong, sometimes get it wrong, according to Geoffrey Kent

It’s surprising how often ‘luxury’ hotels get even the simple things wrong and lose precious booking revenue because of some too-common errors, says Abercrombie & Kent Founder Geoffrey Kent

I was 16 years old before I spent the night in a hotel. The Ambassador was one of the grandest hotels in Africa. It was a mecca for travellers who liked to be as comfortable as money could make them. Mr Perfitas, the owner, ensured that his hotel did luxury in the right way. Since then, both as a travel professional and someone who loves adventure, I’ve stayed in hotels, chalets, camps – every type of lodging – on every continent and in nearly every country on Earth. I’ve experienced all the good, the bad and the ugly that hospitality can offer. Here’s how even the top luxury hotels can get the basics of hospitality so very wrong.

Charging extra for wifi

Wifi is frequently the highest rated in-room amenity. Like many businesspeople, I’m on the road for the vast majority of the year. I’m reliant upon technology to allow me to run my business whilst travelling and I don’t want to have to pay additional fees for wifi in hotels. Some hotel brands have even been fined for blocking personal connectivity devices so that travellers are forced to fork out if they want access to the network.

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Interestingly, hotels at the lower end of the market have always gotten wifi right, guessing that to win business travellers on tight budgets, they’d have to offer complimentary connectivity and it wasn’t unheard of for hotels within the same brand to have differing policies on wifi charges. Thankfully higher-end properties have spent the last few years getting with the programme, and free wifi is becoming de rigueur.

In 2014, the president and CEO of Loews Hotels and Resorts, Paul Whetsell, stated that he didn’t think it was “sustainable to keep charging” for wifi, scrapping the $14.99-20 a day charge his properties had been asking guests to pay.

Hidden fees

Hotels shouldn’t be charging for all the extras: parking fee, resort fee, gym fee, early check-in, late check-out, an energy surcharge, luggage holding, etc., etc. And please don’t get me started on ludicrously expensive buffet breakfasts. The mark-up on granola is enough to suppress even the heartiest appetite.

Complicated in-room lighting systems

In-room lighting systems must be wonderful fun for those with engineering degrees I’m sure, but for the rest of us attempting to find the switch to turn off that one light which defies all efforts to make it go dark is infuriating.

Hotels should also make the lighting smarter to guests’ needs. If feet hit the floor in the middle of the night, chances are someone needs to use the facilities, the lights should illuminate the way subtly without waking all occupants.

Read more: Why you should check into La Réserve hotel, Geneva this spring

Unreliable showers

Over the years, hotel showers have changed for the better. Sea-views, desert-views, glass feature walls, multiple heads, custom-built benches, built-in sound systems, I love that hotel showers now feature tech-savvy touches and that there isn’t a clingy plastic curtain in sight. However, no one wants to stand there alternately freezing and boiling, under a trickle or tidal wave, while they attempt to work out the pressure and heating settings.

tropical luxury island resort

A private island resort is less magical with an intrusive butler, according to Geoffrey Kent

Lack of power sockets

There should be easy to access outlets so that guests can charge devices on the bedside table and don’t have to crawl under any furnishings to find a plug. Or, even better, hotels should consider furniture with in-built charging facilities. After all, even Ikea stocks products that contain integrated wireless charging.

Read more: Richemont launches debut watch brand, and it’s sustainable

Intrusive service

Butlers should appear as if by magic to grant my wish for a cold beverage or a hot snack. Having a butler should make a stay feel flawless, not make guests uncomfortable.

Badly stocked (and expensive) mini bars

Mini bars should be stocked with a variety of healthy snacks and guests shouldn’t be charged to restock it (another hidden fee). Many forward-thinking resorts are now making the mini bar contents bespoke, and complimentary – in my view that’s the way forward for luxury.

However, not all properties forget the basic rules of hospitality. Hotels that I believe are exceptionally good include The Peninsula Hotels in Paris and Hong Kong, the Mandarin Oriental New York, and Il Sereno, a new property on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como.

All offer complimentary wireless internet access as standard. The Mandarin Oriental even advertises its free wifi on its Google search page title. A stay at one of these hotels exemplifies how hotels get luxury right, seamlessly.

Read more of Geoffrey Kent’s exclusive columns for LUX here

Reading time: 4 min