'Let them eat cake' holidays

How about the seven-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai where you get to choose from a menu of 13 different types of pillows, or a two-night stopover at the Mandarin Oriental in Bermuda where you can enjoy a champagne ‘high tea” served in your suite by a private butler? Should you be staying at the Hong Kong Peninsula, your airport transfer will be in a Rolls Royce.

Forbes.com writer Pascale Le Draoulec says ‘Luxe Lodging” is here to stay. He points out that the luxury hotel trade is booming on a global scale and clearly there are more than enough ridiculously wealthy people who will pay for a ‘little bit extra” and then some.

For old money types there are more traditional hotels like the Four Seasons Georges V in Paris, the St Regis in New York, the Connaught in London and The Peninsula in Hong Kong.

The new money is more intent on contemporary choices found between the pages of Herbert Ypma’s Hip Hotels City Guide (Thames & Hudson), such as the Sukhothai in Bangkok, The Prince in Melbourne or the Lydmar Hotel in Stockholm. A good place to note how well our local hotels are doing against the international backdrop is to check out the annual Condé Nast Traveler magazine Reader’s Choice awards.
In the recent (United States) awards we held our own against some pretty stiff competition. The Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town rolled into eighth place in the ‘Best of the Best” roll-call and Cape Town was voted the best city in the Middle East and Africa category. Our exclusive lodges in the Sabi Sand Reserve did exceptionally well (all the usual suspects were there, including Mala Mala, Singita, Londolozi and Ngala). What is notable is that only two properties ever received a perfect score in the 20 years of the awards—La Scalinatella in Capri (top of this year’s Best of the Best list) and our very own Singita Private Game Reserve.

However, it’s not just luxury and perfectly gorgeous locations that ensure hotels are up with the best of them, ‘authentic experiences” are now more sought after than ever. Back home the boutique hotel concept is growing in leaps and bounds and in Beijing a new trend has started, known as the ‘courtyard house” style of accommodation, which is a much more intimate alternative to the chain hotels. The Cote Cour boutique hotel is the perfect example of this East meets West concept and will no doubt be a popular choice of accommodation during the coming Olympic Games.

In Japan you can stay at a ryokan (inn) where, again, less is so much more. This is zen travel and tourism at its best and you get to sleep on a tatami mat and sip green tea as part of a package dedicated to authentic Japanese culture. One of the most famous ryokans is the 145-year-old Hiiragiya Ryokan in Kyoto, the regular haunt of samurai warriors of old.

Among wealthier travellers, who have been there, done that, ‘alternative” type experiences are all the rage. The Jules Undersea Lodge in the Florida Keys is one such place—you have to scuba dive just to get to the reception area. Of course Quebec’s Ice Hotel is another one that deserves mention (the lodge is made out of 7 000kg of snow and is open only during winter). Another spot to look out for is the Hydro Palace in China, a complete underwater palace set to open in 2009. In the meantime you could always book a room at The Kamp Hotel in Helsinki, with the sauna big enough for 10 people and designed for ‘informal business gatherings”. More interesting than a private suite at the Dorchester.

The lowdown

Websites

  • Hotel Cote Cour in Beijing: www.hotelcotecoursl.com/home.html
  • Burj Al Arab in Dubai: www.burjalarab.com
  • Singita Private Game Reserve: www.singita.com
  • Hotel Kamp: www.hotelkam.fi
  • La Scalinatella: www.scalinatella.com
  • The Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards: www.concierge.com/bestof/readerschoice

Extreme Extravagance

  • Burj Al Arab in Dubai has a helicopter pad on the 28th floor of the hotel; a personal butler will draw your bath and you get to one of the restaurants in a private submarine.
  • The Hong Kong Peninsula: you’ll get picked up at the airport in a Rolls Royce and it just gets better from there (the hotel has its own in-house chocolatier).
  • The Landmark Oriental Hotel, also in Hong Kong, has a special service for residents—they can do some in-room shopping and buy designer Chanel from the comfort of their private suites.
  • The Ritz Carlton in Moscow is the spot where you can stay in the Presidential Suite, with its incredible views of Red Square. The dining room boasts bullet-proof windows and you’ll pay somewhere in the region of R112 000 a night.

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