Recently reimagined Singaporean elegance at Marina Bay: LUX Checks In

Checking-in from the heat of a long day, MO’s calming presence of a vast ring of concentric rooms welcomes one in. Across its new colour scheme of pinks and greens, one feels that Wimbledon might just take some notes, to be lifted to a quiet Singaporean elegance.

The room had an immense view of Marina Bay’s iconic skyline (but safe from its heat): lay back, feet up, and helped myself to delicious Singaporean chocolates.

Singapore skyline with a pool

Up on the 5th floor, Mandarin Oriental’s 25-meter swimming pool looks over the Singapore skyline

Wandering around vast zen corridors, I checked out for myself what are supposedly world-renowned cocktails at the MO Bar. Dark blue suave, art deco chic – I had a reclaimed Singapore Sling to begin, naturally. It had a sweetness without overdoing it – and cutting beneath with jagged sourness  it was balanced by a bright lollipop – a humorous play on Singapore’s original historic drink.

A cake store with lavish decorations

Mandarin Oriental has various food stores and its cake shop has artisanal confectioneries, specialising in cakes, pastries, festive treats, and premium gifts for all occasions.

After their recent revamp, I’d like to see the room where the chemistry of cocktails takes place – it seems a Willy-Wonka-cum-James-Bond enterprise – and it delivers. Onto the ‘White Rabbit’ cocktail, made with an edible layer of an image of a White Rabbit, the type that slips onto the tongue and dissolves. But the real taste lies underneath, with a laksa tang.

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From fresh Singaporean breakfast to lunch the next day, I swanned up to the pool for a dip with another view of the skyline, before a welcome Italian twist. Ruinart blanc de blanc, antipasti, fish and exquisite cheese looking over the pool – what more could one want, apart from an Italian waiter himself serving with Mediterranean charm and gastronomic expertise? Well, it had that too.

Read More: Nira Alpina, St Moritz, Review

Night facade of Mandarin Oriental Singapore

Mandarin Oriental has 510 rooms, and 8 restaurants, also including MO BAR, The Spa, and a lounge and club HAUS 65.

A much needed massage at The Spa after months of London brought a zen which – well, I only wish I could maintain it in London, but without the Singaporean skyline and fresh noodles it won’t be so easy.

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mandarinoriental.com

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hotel mandarin

The Mandarin Oriental is in the beating banking heart in the old town of Zurich

Zurich has seen the transformation of one of its oldest hotels into a gem in the historic heart of the city

For those unacquainted with Switzerland’s largest city, a visit to Zurich always comes as a positive surprise. You may expect banks and pharmaceutical company HQs in a clinical row; instead you get a bijou medieval old town on the banks of a river filled with swans and storks, a dramatic lakeside waterfront with a view of the Alps, and plenty of olde-Europe atmosphere.

The spiritual centre of the town is the Paradeplatz, the point, a few hundred metres from the lake, where the chic Bahnhofstrasse luxury shopping street meets the edge of the old town, amid some serious-looking private banks housed in historic buildings and trams coming and going (cars are banned from this part of town). And now, for the first time in decades, the Paradeplatz has a hotel to match its stature as the world’s centre of discreet wealth management.

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The Savoy has been on the Paradeplatz for generations; it was one of Switzerland’s original luxury hotels, but until recently had slipped off the pinnacle of hotelerie and was a rather uninspiring and old-fashioned five star hostelry. Now, following a magic wand by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, it is the talk of the town.

The LUX lodgings certainly deserved to be making waves. After walking in and being recognised by the staff without saying our name (always impressive, even if pretty easy with a quick online search), we were whisked upstairs to a corner suite, beautifully and elaborately decorated, with a view over the little square and the streets around. Decor was fresh, light and airy, with thick light taupe carpets and some beautiful marquetry.

balkon

Guest can enjoy their morning coffee on their balcony overlooking the famous Paradeplatz

Read more: Visiting Ferrari Trento: The sparkling wine of Formula 1

One of the fascinating questions about the hotel was: how do you meld old Switzerland (the Savoy) with Mandarin Oriental, a luxury brand with its roots in East Asia? While there were hints and accents of contemporary Hong Kong in the design cues, this was, pleasingly, not an attempt to insert one culture inside the other.

Dinner the first night was at the Savoy Brasserie & Bar,  blending just a hint of Swiss formality (white coats for the wait staff) with an ease of spirit and sense of life. Oysters were a feature here – to go with an art deco theme – and we particularly enjoyed a main of monkfish escabeche, with bell pepper and crispy rice chips.

mandarin

Guests can have drinks and light bites in the Mandarin lounge

The culinary highlight was the next evening; Orsini is technically in the adjacent Orsini building from the 14th century,, but to reach it you stroll around the side of the building, with a historic church reminding you of where you are, and into a narrow entrance opening out into a bijou dining room. Our fellow diners included two highly wealthy finance people of international origin, quietly celebrating a deal, a couple celebrating an anniversary, and another finance person quietly making his next billion on his iPad.

The cuisine was as rarefied as the atmosphere. Artichoke with “cacio e Pepe” milk, grapefruit and Mazara red prawn tartare; potato gnocchi with grilled eel, “Giulio Ferrari” Spumante sauce (that’s a top Italian sparkling wine), fava beans and caviar; both were outstanding in their subtlety. Bravo to Mandarin Oriental for running two such brilliant but contrasting restaurants under the same roof

food

There are two superb dining options in the hotel: The casual Savoy Brasserie & Bar and the intimatefine dining restaurant Orsini

Those would have been the hotel’s public space pieces de resistance, but while LUX was staying there, the MO opened its rooftop bar. And we learned something quite spectacular about Zurich rooftops. Even if the building is not very high – the MO is just one storey higher than its neighbours – they can make for astonishing views, because as soon as you rise above the buildings around you, you are greeted not just by a view of the city’s churches and other landmarks, but the sweep of the Alps and lake on one side, and dramatic forested hills on the other. A few floors and you are in another world. So the MO is not just the most chi-chi spot in town, but one of the vibeiest also.

This is a boutique MO, not a grand one, but the company has over the years shown it can do old-world boutique (Munich) just as well as it does new and palatial (New York), the sign of a hotel brand immensely comfortable in its own skin and flexible enough not just to move with the times and spaces it operates in, but lead with them.

www.mandarinoriental.com/de/zurich/savoy/

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A pool surrounded by grass from a bird's eye view
A pool with deckchairs by the sea

The Mandarin Oriental, Costa Navarino is the first of the hotel group’s properties in Greece

Looking to extend your summer in the sun? Getting weary of your guests on your yacht? Drop by the brand new Mandarin Oriental, Costa Navarino in Greece, opened this month

A sunset and a hotel overlooking the sea

Mandarin Oriental collaborated with TEMES, a leading developer known for their commitment to sustainability, to develop the resort

A pool surrounded by grass from a bird's eye view

The hotel has an 18-hole golf course on the property designed by premier golf course architect, Robert Trent Jones II

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A deck chair and parasol with mountains and see in the distance with a sunset

Mandarin Oriental, Costa Navarino is located next to the recently opened Navarino Agora, a marketplace with curated retail, dining venues, artisanal street food and an open-air cinema

A beige bedroom with a floor to ceiling window sliding door to a terrace overlooking the sea

The hotel has 99 suites designed by Tombazis & Associates Architects and K-Studio, the team behind the renowned Scorpios beach club in Mykonos

A terrace with beige and wooden chairs and a pool overlooking the sea

The hotel used locally sourced materials to create its bioclimatic design, drawing inspiration from local agricultural traditions and the region’s heritage

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a stone house with an outdoor patio
a stone house with an outdoor patio

Bittescombe Lodge and Deer Park is situated on the edge of Exmoor National Park, surrounded by nature and tranquility

Hidden in the hills of Somerset lies Bittescombe lodge, now part of Mandarin Oriental’s exclusive homes collection in collaboration with StayOne. Candice Tucker visits the property and reports back

Mention the English countryside and it usually conjures up an image of gently rolling hills with a patchwork of fields separated by hedgerows, rather than the grandeur of the Scottish Highlands.

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Just 1 hour and 39 minutes away from London, by train, I discovered the best of both worlds. Nestling near Taunton, in Somerset, is Bittescombe Lodge and Deer Park. The short drive to the property provides spectaculars view of seemingly never ending hills, covered in a quilt of yellow and green to being surrounded by trees, which transports your imagination to the great Canadian forests.

A fireplace with golden dog sculptures on each side and a pink chair

The home’s interior design and artworks were all curated by the owner

The Lodge is located in a completely secluded part of Somerset, sitting on 400 acres of land. Inside the property is intricately designed to the most exacting detail with silk and wooden walls, eccentric coloured furniture and a variety of artworks, all curated by the owner, yet it still maintains an English countryside charm.

A sitting room with green sofas leading to a terrace

The living space which includes a full size snooker table and cinema screen

The amenities are endless from a cinema, indoor swimming pool and spa (including an in house masseuse) to a gym and paddle court. The owners have ensured that the instructors for all sports including shooting and clay pigeon shooting are of the highest calibre. We enjoyed sniper shooting (a plastic deer!) whilst sipping hot apple cider and bone broth soup prepared by the in-house Michelin Star, Mandarin Oriental approved chef. Alternatively, you might prefer to snuggle up with a good book sitting in the little library looking down at an indoor well that’s 15m deep.

A swimming pool with an orange dog sculpture in the corner of the room

Within the spa are a heated indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, gym, sauna and massage room

Each bedroom is unique but all are luxurious and cosy. Our bedroom had a plush bright coloured headboard with wooden floors and thick rugs to sink your feet into. On the bed your name is embroidered onto your pillow case and even your hot water bottle! It’s these distinctive features that make the property feel like you are in your own luxurious home rather than simply a 5-star hotel.

With hidden doors in the walls it’s what you imagine your childhood self would dream about playing hide and seek in.

A room with paintings on the walls and green sofas and a gold lamp

The service at the lodge is mirrored to that of Mandarin Oriental’s standards

At dinner we ate locally sourced venison from the deers reared at the estate. The owners explained that sustainability is an essential part of their ethos. At breakfast we could request whatever we desired. The hot danish pastries and soft poached eggs with ripe avocados on toasted sourdough was the ideal breakfast before a day in the outdoors.

A bed with a yellow headboard and green curtains and a brown throw sprawled across the bed

Each bedroom is equipped with a fireplace and beautiful views of the estate

The trails around the estate echo the scenes enjoyed on the way to the Lodge, but then you hit the deer park. With over 150 deer roaming free around the park one becomes enchanted by families of deer gracefully bounding across the land or stopping to drink at a meandering stream.

Read more: Edgewood Resort, Lake Tahoe Review

With up to ten rooms available, we recommend the stay for group trips. If you demand the full grand British countryside experience, Bittescombe Lodge and Deer Park provides it.

Rates: From £20,880/2-nights (approx. €23,500/$25,000)

Book your stay: www.stayone.com/mandarin-oriental-exclusive-homes/bittescombe-lodge

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A double staircase looking over at a terrace
A double staircase looking over at a terrace

The leafy terrace at Mandarin Oriental Ritz in Madrid

In the first part of our luxury travel views column from the Spring 2022 issue, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai checks in at the Mandarin Oriental Ritz in Madrid

“A little bit more, Sir?” A bartender is holding up a bottle of artisanal gin, having already emptied what seemed like a half-gallon of it into a bowl-shaped glass, filled with ice, slices of limon (a kind of lemon-lime cross) and juniper berries. I look up at the trees, the expanse of the square behind them, the outline of the grand Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum beyond, and the moon above, and think: yes, why not. I have arrived.

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If the arrival is a key part of any hotel experience, the post-arrival at the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid, was pretty important, too. I had left my bags to be taken to my room as I wanted to catch the last embers of daylight from the bar’s terrace, which sits above the garden restaurant, itself almost contiguous with the trees of Retiro Park. You are in the centre of one of Europe’s most vibrant and dusty metropolises, but surrounded by nature (and, in my case, soon immersed in a very good small-producer gin).

round bedroom with a sky painted on the ceiling

The hotel’s royal suite

Neither of Europe’s other two grand Ritz hotels, in London or Paris (the three were born siblings, created by César Ritz to redefine the grandeur of hotels at the start of the 20th century, but are now owned and operated separately), offer such an outdoor experience, or indeed such a refreshing one. I am not speaking of the gin here, but of the decor: Mandarin Oriental’s magic wand over the previously grandiose but fusty Ritz Madrid has created lavishness with a certain elegance and contemporary class.

It’s a perennial question: what to do with a grande dame hotel – in this case, one of the grande dame hotels – to bring it into line with what a new generation of traveller expects, while not destroying its soul. I have seen hotels with decorative ceilings ripped out, with hip bar designers imposing darkness where there was once light, and with questionable contemporary art replacing dusty but meticulous classics.

A white corner of a building with trees and a garden in front of it

The hotel’s Belle Époque façade

Fortunately the Ritz does not fall into these traps. Our Mandarin suite combined fresh but classic colours – pale walls, pale gold furnishings – with hints of MO style, such as black lacquer detailing. The service was up to date, effortless and effective without being stiff: just the right balance to cater for a wide variety of traveller.

Read more: Chef Ángel León: Ocean Sustainability Supremo

And the food in the Jardin (Garden) restaurant was also spot on: kimchi chicken skewer, Thai sea bass ceviche, grilled sole with artichokes. You can delve into the paella menu, as many others were doing. The hotel may claim it has updated its Belle Époque origins to work in the luxury travel world 110 years after it opened (I don’t know, I didn’t check, but it’s the kind of thing a hotel would say) and in this case, they would be absolutely right.

Find out more: mandarinoriental.com

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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hotel facade

Located in heart of Knightsbridge, Mandarin Oriental London backs onto Hyde Park

Why should I go now?

The last few years haven’t been easy for Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Following the hotel’s biggest ever refurbishment, a major roof fire broke out in 2018 causing significant damage and almost two years of closure. It reopened at the end of 2019 with a bright new contemporary look, only to face closure again due to Covid-19.

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Thankfully, the hotel reopened its doors to guests on 23 July, and for those looking for a luxurious and relaxing summer staycation, there’s no better place; London is at its best in the summer and the hotel boasts one of the best locations from which to enjoy it. The back entrance of the hotel (reserved for the Queen) opens directly onto Hyde Park where you can jog, picnic, meditate, horse ride, row on the Serpentine and wander through Kensington gardens whilst the other side (the public entrance) sits opposite Harvey Nichols. Down the road is Harrods and South Kensington, Mayfair and the West End are all a 15-minute stroll away.

What’s the lowdown?

The hotel was originally built in 1889 as a gentleman’s club and the  grand red-brick Edwardian exterior remains beautifully preserved as a relic of the city’s past. The interiors, however, have been given a hefty make-over by designer Joyce Wang. A light, floral colour palette reigns throughout with flashes of gold and copper detailing; flower-shaped lighting features hang from the ceilings and huge vases of fragrant seasonal blooms designed by McQueens stand on almost every surface alongside misty terrariums filled with giant succulents. The atmosphere is joyful, calming and a tiny bit eccentric. Entering through the double doors (held ajar by men in top hats and red blazers) and up the grand staircase, feels delightfully cinematic and otherworldly.

grand hotel entrance

The entrance into the hotel from the street; the Hyde Park entrance is reserved for the Queen

The underground spa is moody and sexy. Redesigned by Adam D Tihany, it features a slim 17-metre heated pool with a good-sized gym, but the real highlight is the wellness experience. The experience begins in the changing rooms where there are a variety of (gender separate) pools, steam and sauna rooms followed by a relaxation room, featuring exceptionally comfortable loungers, snacks and mindful activities such as colouring, breathing exercises and meditation. If you’re having a massage, facial or scrub, this is where the therapist collects you from (it’s worth remembering to arrive in plenty of time), but even without a treatment, it’s a deeply calming space to spend time in. We went twice during our stay and on both occasions, we had the facilities to ourselves.

Read more: CEO of Azumi restaurants Sven Koch on the future of hospitality

underground swimming pool

Redesigned by Adam D Tihany, the spa features a 17-metre underground swimming pool

In terms of dining, Bar Boulud is the hotel’s all-day French bistro. Situated on the lower ground floor and accessible by a separate entrance from the street, it offers a relaxed, easy atmosphere and a menu of refined comfort food; our favourite dishes were the rich onion soup and creamy, white wine moules served with thin, crispy pommes frites. Despite its name, Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner serves lunch or dinner in a more high end setting with a range of a la carte and tasting menus and an exclusive chef’s table experience.

The prettiest of the restaurants, however, has to be The Rosebery. Open throughout the day, The Rosebery serves one of the most impressive hotel breakfast menus we’ve ever experienced. Alongside the usual array of  pastries and cereals, there are detox juices, bircher museli, exotic fruit platters and beautifully cooked dishes with lots of healthy options. The afternoon tea is also something of an occasion with a bespoke menu designed to match the chosen tea blends.

fine dining restaurant

The Rosebery is open throughout the day for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner

The service throughout the hotel is impeccable. Every member of staff, even the ones we hadn’t met, seemed to know our names, but we also liked that it never felt intrusive. Many of the hotel’s guests are public figures (we spotted a few familiar faces who we won’t name), so privacy is respected and prioritised.

Getting horiztonal

Our Deluxe room overlooked the streets of Knightsbridge and straight into the windows of Harvey Nichols, which was a somewhat surreal but amazing experience. We especially loved watching the transition from day to night as the sun dipped and the lights began to glow through the windows.

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

The room itself felt spacious and airy with pale grey walls, soft-coloured contemporary furnishings and a huge double bed with mountains of pillows. There was a stylish drinks cabinet by the door complete with crystal champagne flutes and a coffee machine, and the  marble bathroom featured a powerful walk in shower.

luxurious bedroom

The Knightsbridge Suite

Flipside

While there’s a lot to love about Bar Boulud, the interiors could do with a refresh to match the new, brighter, youthful elegance of the hotel.

Rates: From £740 (approx. €800/ $950)

Book your stay: mandarinoriental.com/london/hyde-park

Millie Walton

Please note: This review was carried out before the breakout of coronavirus and the subsequent closure of the hotel. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Bar Boulud are due to reopen soon, whilst the spa currently remains closed due to government guidelines. The Rosebery is open for all-day dining and afternoon tea, as well as 24-hour in-room dining. Please check the hotel’s website for further updates.

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Luxury country estate house

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

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

Brenners Park, Baden-Baden

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

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

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

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

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

Interiors of restaurant

The subtly modernised Fritz & Felix restaurant

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

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

Book your stay: oetkercollection.com

Rooftop Swimming pool

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

Mandarin Oriental Singapore

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

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

Read more: Back to school with Van Cleef & Arpels

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

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

Contemporary interiors of a bar

The bar at Mandarin Oriental Singapore

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

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

Book your stay: mandarinoriental.com

Grand country house

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

Four Seasons Hampshire

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

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

interiors of lounge

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

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

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

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

Luxurious indoor swimming pool

The hotel’s pool is attached to the converted stables

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

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

Book your stay: fourseasons.com

Grand palace in snowy setting

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

Gstaad Palace

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

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

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

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

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

cosy lounge area with open fire

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

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

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

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

Book your stay: palace.ch

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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Guggenheim museum Bilbao at night
Guggenheim museum Bilbao at night

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Image by Niclas Dehmel

This month, our columnist and Abercrombie & Kent’s founder Geoffrey Kent focuses in on Spain’s diverse offering of cultural itineraries

As an art lover, dabbling collector – I particularly like Joan Miró – and founder and co-chairman of a travel company that caters to a clientele made up of ultra-high-net-worth individuals and connoisseurs of many persuasions, these kinds of topics come up frequently. For a cultural odyssey which takes in some of the world’s great art houses, my current top tip is: take a Spanish sojourn.

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Spain’s contribution to the world of art packs an impressive punch – and has done for centuries. This year, the country’s great treasure trove of art is celebrating its 200th anniversary, so right now is the perfect time to experience this cultural hothouse, as viewed through its famous art institutions: among them the Prado, Museu Picasso, and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Madrid

city of Madrid at sunset with aerial view

Image by Florian Wehde

Museo del Prado

The Prado is undeniably one of the most important art museums in the world – and one of the planet’s most visited tourist attractions. It houses an outstanding display of works by Spain’s three greatest painters: Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco, together with famous pieces by Flemish, Italian, and other European masters. Together, its collection is considered among the finest ever assembled, spanning the 12th to early 20th centuries, numbering in the thousands, and containing not just paintings and sculpture, but also historic documents, prints, and drawings. Founded in 1819, this year it celebrates its bicentenary as Spain’s premier gallery. For a deeper understanding of the works on display, A&K offers guests the privilege of enjoying the Prado’s collection and temporary exhibitions privately after hours, guided by specialist art historians.

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

Located near the Prado, the magnificent Thyssen-Bornemisza boasts one of the most important privately assembled art collections in the world. It offers art lovers an experience that is nothing short of extraordinary. The museum’s permanent collection spans eight centuries of European painting, as well as a display of 18th- and 19th-century North American paintings. Until 26 January 2020, the temporary exhibition will be exposing the relationship between the Impressionists and the art of photography.

Read more: Champagne Bollinger celebrates 40-year James Bond partnership

Museo Sorolla

Off the beaten track for most visitors to Madrid, you won’t be overrun by tourists as you wander the Sorolla’s light-filled spaces. Originally the house and studio of Spain’s greatest late 19th- and early 20th-century painter, this museum is dedicated to the life and work of Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) – known as the ‘Spanish Master of Light’. It houses an eclectic collection, including paintings by family members, his daughter Elena among them. Although his work is sometimes compared to that of Sargent, Sorolla does not belong to any specific school, and the house also contains pieces by the old masters who inspired him. The galleries also host special exhibitions by current artists. As a result, Museo Sorolla presents a fascinating journey through Spain’s history of art.

Where to stay: The Westin Palace, which is steps from both the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums.

Barcelona

Aerial view of a city

Image by Alfons Taekema

Casa Vicens

One of the world’s first Art Nouveau buildings, this house designed by Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) for Manuel Vicens i Montaner is rightly considered a masterpiece and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Standing in the tranquil neighbourhood of Gràcia, it is an oasis of calm covered in striking green and white tiles. Inside you can learn about Gaudí and his significance within the Modernism movement. Guests of A&K get the opportunity to beat the morning crowds with a private before-hours visit to Casa Vicens, or a sunset tour.

Museu Picasso

Set on Montcada Street in La Ribera neighbourhood (once home to Barcelona’s great and good), Museu Picasso lies in the heart of the city’s cultural, commercial, and tourist district, surrounded by centuries of history and art. The museum itself is housed in five medieval palaces, architecturally as impressive as the artistic treasures within. Containing 4,251 works by one of Spain’s – and history’s – most influential artists, it is the largest gallery dedicated to Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), and the only one established during his lifetime. It is the ideal place to study the artist’s formative years, containing many early works, and illustrating his enduring relationship with Barcelona.

Read more: One&Only opens a second luxury resort in Rwanda

Fundació Joan Miró

For me, a trip to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without paying homage to this great Catalan artist. Miró was born in the city in 1893 and he established the Joan Miró Foundation in 1975. Located on the Montjuïc Hill, this art space in one of Barcelona’s most popular museums. It houses more than 10,000 pieces of Miró’s art from his first sketches to final paintings, including many seminal works. It also contains ‘Espai 13’, which promotes the work of young experimental artists.

Luxurious rooftop pool

Views from Mandarin Oriental Barcelona’s rooftop

Where to stay: I particularly like Mandarin Oriental hotels, and the one in Barcelona is located on the glorious Passeig de Gràcia, mere moments from Gaudí’s Casa Batlló.

Bilbao

Landscape image of Bilbao city

Image by Yves Alarie

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

With its sweeping curves of glittering metal and glass, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao building itself needs no introduction – the scale and futuristic beauty of Frank Gehry’s 1990s titanium structure leaves a lasting impression. It was built to showcase art works such as Jeff Koons’ sculpture Puppy, Richard Serra’s unique sculptures and Mark Rothko paintings. Next to the museum’s permanent collection, the regular rotation of temporary exhibitions across different periods – not always Modern – draws art enthusiasts back time and again.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

The city is also home to the wonderful Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, which houses paintings from the 12th century to the present day and is considered one of the finest art museums outside Madrid.

Where to stay: The just-renovated Gran Hotel Domine – it boasts the best views of the Guggenheim.

For more information visit: abercrombiekent.co.uk

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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

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Reading time: 4 min
The Excelsior hotel Hong Kong
Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental The Excelsior

The Excelsior is a cathedral to modern tourism and business travel

Luxury hotels are not all about marble bathrooms and art in the corridors: without perfect service and functionality, a luxury hotel is not worth the title. Darius Sanai holds up Mandarin Oriental’s Hong Kong behemoth as a case study – technically, it’s not a luxury hotel, but the experience should be an example for all hoteliers on how it’s done.

The idea of staying at a Mandarin Oriental hotel conjures up a dreamy vision, a blend of eastern exoticism and richness of service. And this dream is generally an accurate predictor of what you’ll receive in the only luxury city hotel group that, for me, perfectly combines the style and individuality of a boutique private resort group with the functionality of a major luxury chain.

‘Functionality’ is probably not a word that appears in Mandarin’s, or any group’s staff manual, but it’s a key element of a top hotel and one that is overlooked too easily. I have stayed in boutique hotels whose bar staff don’t know what a cigar cutter is; design hotels where room service breakfast looks like something on a second-class train carriage; style hotels where the concierge forgets your restaurant reservation and today’s front office staff have no idea about the detailed conversation you had about your needs with yesterday’s front office staff. An adaptor for your European plug? Sorry, the guest who borrowed it last week didn’t bring ours back.

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I’m ok with having an orange sofa in the shape of a banana in my room; I’m delighted to find an oxygen machine and green juice in my minibar, it’s fine that the person showing me to my room is an easy-on-the-eye Instagram star, but when I travel, and I suspect I speak for a fair number of LUX readers here, what I need is functionality.

This is different to being able to process eccentric requests, or to having a fleet of Teslas to show your green credentials. Functionality is boring, and it makes the world go round. If I call on my way in from the airport and order dim sum in my room at precisely 6.30pm that night, it needs to be there; I don’t need to have to call at 6.45pm to be told, oh sorry, there’s no dim sum today, would you like anything else from the room service menu? The adaptor – already in the socket. Housekeeping needs to speak English and know the answer to a question about dry cleaning delicates without promising to call me back – I’m talking to you now, I don’t need to talk to you again. Room service should remember my breakfast order from yesterday so I don’t need ask all over again about gluten-free toast and no lemon in the water and do you have any sliced grapefruit, no, not juice, sliced actual grapefruit. The person who answers the ‘At Your Service’ function on the phone really does need to know everything about the hotel – it’s not at my service if you have to be a broker between me and the rest of the hotel.

Read next: Searching for serenity in the Nepalese Himalayas

Staff need, in general, to know not just about what you are asking them, but every element of the hotel, so the host in the French restaurant on Floor 2 is clued-in that you have a car for the airport at 9.30pm and the staff there already know to serve dinner in time, while the concierge has already had the bell boy pick up your bags (and return the adaptor to reception so they don’t add a charge to your bill).

Which brings me back to Mandarin Oriental hotels. All the ones I have stayed at, from Hong Kong to New York, score high marks in this kind of functionality. Not unusual – a minimum requirement for a luxury hotel, and one which is shared by competitors like Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton.

There is a hotel that appears in the Mandarin Oriental portfolio, though, that doesn’t bear the brand name. The Excelsior in Hong Kong is part of the group, but not; it’s just called The Excelsior, and doesn’t share the luxury status or accoutrements of its more illustrious sisters. It’s a good bit cheaper, as well.

The Excelsior, Hong Kong

A Deluxe Double Room at The Excelsior

I have just bid The Excelsior farewell for the last time. I had a three-year advisory contract with a Hong Kong-based client, whose company booked me into the Excelsior for all of my four-to-six-time-a-year stays. Having, on previous trips to Hong Kong, stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, its sister hotel the Landmark, and other luxury citadels like the Four Seasons and Upper House, I have found myself staying in The Excelsior for something like 15 times over the last three years, for nearly a week at a time; that’s more than 90 nights, enough to get to know a place, or get weary of it.

The sole sub-luxury hotel of my global itineraries for LUX, my luxury consultancy Quartet Consulting, and my other employer Condé Nast, the 848-room monolith, at the ‘wrong end’ of Hong Kong to the financial bustle of Central, with its plethora of groups from mainland China, should have stood out as a step down, a place to be endured, perhaps even complained about to my client. One colleague did complain: a creative director who travelled with me once took one look and instantly changed addresses to a boutique hotel, which turned out to have paper-thin walls and chaotic service, but which had Tom Dixon light fittings.

Read next: Fine artist and model, Orla Carolin on modelling’s need for greater equality 

The Excelsior is a cathedral to modern tourism and business travel. Thousands seem to flow through its two facades every day. Its rooms are homage to the era when hotel rooms weren’t really designed; the bathroom’s on your right (with a shower in the bath), the safe’s in the cupboard on your left, the desk is in front if you, and the bed’s over there. To walk into my room (2422, usually) after the 12 hour flight from London should have been to be hit with a wave of mundane gloom: my functional home for the next six days.

But I rather loved the Excelsior. My room, like most others (I never received special treatment there) looked out over the harbour to Kowloon, and past to the mountains in China, with that spectacular and unique mix of commerciality, romance, urban ugliness, urban beauty, noise, light and possibility that Hong Kong epitomises.

My flight would touch down at 5pm on a Sunday night, and, arriving at the hotel around 7, I would get changed (a shower in a bath is fine) and walk outside into the neon-lit streets. The crazy signs and lights of the Laforet stall, the crowds of shoppers at any hour, the shops on the Lockhart road selling Chinese roots and beauty products and barbecued chicken and technicolour drinks; these were an instant hit of Hong Kong, unlike anything you will receive in the sanitised central business area a mile or so away.

I would then walk back to hotel for dinner at Yee Tung Heen, the Cantonese restaurant on the second floor. A formal, sophisticated, old-fashioned place with white glove service and tablecloths and a vast menu of traditional Cantonese dishes, it is apparently a favourite place for a treat for local families – and appears absolutely nowhere on the fashionable tourism agenda. Bare sharing tables, fusion offerings, Cantonese cocktails – all are on offer elsewhere in Hong Kong, but Yee Tung Heen has extreme comfort, peace, an excellent wine list, and superb food. From the boiled peanuts which I dipped into the homemade XO sauce as a pre-starter, to the steamed garoupa with ginger and lime, to the citadel of Chinese mushrooms, this was the best food I had in three years of being shuttled around Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong.

The Excelsior, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong

ToTT’s bar has the best views of Hong Kong from the roof terrace

After dinner, jet lagged, knowing this would be my only night “in” during my stay, I’d ask for the rest of the bottle of Riesling to meet me at the rooftop bar, ToTT’s. It inevitably got there before I did, a table would be waiting and I would sip a glass and marvel at the best view of Hong Kong from anywhere: 34th floor, with a precipitous view of both the city and Kowloon across the water, and the canyon of lights leading away through anonymous forests of blocks into the eastern distance.

“Room Service, Wendy speaking, how can I help you Mr Sanai, would you like the same as usual?” – how did Wendy remember, or care, among 848 rooms, with my several week period of absence each time, about the jug of American coffee, empty bowl with spoon, sliced apple and orange, and Welsh sparkling water (not the revolting San Pellegrino)? How did the entire concierge and front desk staff always know exactly when my limo for the return to the airport was booked? How did it all link up in such a vast hotel with its streams of bemused and voluble first-time tourists?

My theory, though I can’t be sure, is that the Excelsior is a kind of test-bed for Mandarin Oriental’s staff: if they can operate at peak standard at the Excelsior, they can do it anywhere.

It’s a rare anomaly of a hotel where the service is super-luxury and the rooms are barely above three-star (a recent refurbishment stripped them of their most attractive element, 1990s-retro oak panelling and desks that ran the length of the walls, replacing them with forgettable florals and whites). And I’ll take it that way anytime. The Excelsior may never be a LUX Hotel of the Month – not unless it is knocked down and rebuilt, as the old Intourist in Moscow gave way to the new Ritz Carlton – but every luxury hotelier should pay a visit to see how hotels ought to operate.

mandarinoriental.com/excelsior/

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