Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
STUDYING THE CLASSICS IN
The Carlton Baglioni Milan, the group’s 104-room flagship luxury establishment, is located optimally in a heritage building on the via Senato. It is the only hotel in
Throughout the hotel fresh white roses are artfully placed, a signature element of décor, which subtly reinforces the brand promise from property to property. Another design signature capitalizes on the Italian flair for lighting: in this and every other property in Baglioni’s portfolio, illumination figures as a soothing and carefully considered part of the environment. Comfort and elegance are hallmarks of the brand. Anyone from the fashion industry will relish
The Carlton’s bar (hint: quiet on Sundays and Mondays), a sumptuous room with soft couches and low tables, offers signature snacks worth a try (salami, goat cheese, spinach, tomato, smoked salmon) - the difficulty being one could easily make a meal of them. Franco the beverage manager compounds the problem. You will find him a superior and accommodating host, eager to keep you relaxing in his cozy domain. Far too many temptations abound in the bar, among them a crisp Chardonnay from Friuli, 9 grappas on display (several varieties from Jacopo Poli and the ever-reliable Nonino) or eponymously-named fresh fruit drinks available at €15 a glass: Mauritius- pineapple, papaya, coconut; Zanzibar- watermelon, peach, grapefruit; Ceylon- pineapple, ginger, lime; Sumatra- kiwi, mango, orange; Waikiki- melon, strawberries, blueberries; Giava (Java)- pineapple, melon, lime. Gabriel the barman discreetly turned his eyes away as I grabbed for a greedy handful from the great heap of milk and dark branded Caffarel chocolates spilling out onto the bar from an elegant glass globe.
It’s also advisable to devote some time and attention to the Baretto Ristorante, a
From the end of May until early October, on Wednesday nights from 1-5pm, the Carlton turns its outdoor public terrace into an exclusive aperitivo bar, welcoming only a select number of guests. This would be an ideal location and elegant setting for a chic business rendezvous, a romantic tryst, a high-power reception or glass of Franciacorta taken before your evening’s activity. As a footnote,
For those in search of a luxury spa, look no further than the
A recent refurbishment means the Luna boasts the ultimate in posh lodgings, with attention to the finest details- one lovely touch are discreet reading lamps nearly invisible on the classical headboards. Luna’s dual-level Presidential Suite is another major plus, a favored location for private meetings (Nelson Mandela slept here), with a private terrace overlooking the lagoon. This hotel is not young and hip, rather it is classic and timeless. The repeating black motif adds a hint of
I am by nature a demanding customer, testing the limits of my hosts wherever I go. I am relentless, probing, and do not take particularly well to the word No as an answer. But all requests were possible with Luna’s master concierge Antonio Massari, whose elegance, grace, charm and prodigious knowledge were able to meet my every inquiry. The man is uncanny, a mind-reader, an encyclopedia of
The Luna is home to the 65-seat Canova Restaurant, domain of the celebrated chef Giampaolo Cosimo, whose expert variations on traditional regional fare prove to be another
Chef Cosimo first sent out an amuse bouche of shrimp and melon, dribbled in balsamic vinegar, adorned with dill sprig. Next he produced an assorted fish appetizer consisting of lobster, schie and polenta (tiny local shrimp from the lagoon, a Venetian standard), a scallop done to the perfect temperature, a dollop of tuna tartar with cream, shrimp in pastry, accompanied by long stem capers and a medley of greens: watercress, parsley, rugola and dill. That would have been enough, but
Another piece of good news: the same kitchen supplies Luna’s room service, with some smaller items available, but still an astounding possibility. Mention also needs to be made of breakfast in the Marco Polo room, a theatrical experience in a vaulted space decorated with monumental murals attributed to the
The Luna is a top grade luxury property, with every comfort and outstanding service, set in a brilliant location. But it is largely about the ability to time-travel, for Luna’s personality allows you to feel the history and culture of
It takes very little time in
The Bernini lobby is home to the Brunello lounge bar, a cosmopolitan meeting point, which suits a number of needs: quick snack, aperitif, chill out zone or dining solution. Tucked in among the gold-leafed urns, you’ll find it easy to relax in the graceful ambience where traditional Tuscan furniture blends in with contemporary design. There’s endless people-watching available through the windows. Granted there are many fine restaurants in
The Bernini’s bedrooms are up to the usual Baglioni standards, with elegant appointments, wi-fi, spacious marble baths, superior amenities. In the area of the hotel where I stayed a light-filled lounge has been created, with comfortable seating, drinks and snacks set out on an ornate tabletop, another oasis from the demanding life outside.
Breakfast in the Sala Parlamento proves to be a unique experience as well. Between 1865 and 1870, The Bernini in fact served as the seat of the parliament of the young
The Corsini Room is available for functions of up to 35 seats. There’s also an exclusive private parking garage, which is a real plus for those touring
What’s in the future for Baglioni? I recently had the opportunity to query Luca Magni, the group’s Senior VP, during a long conversation over a typically extended lunch in
I asked Mr. Magni where Baglioni wanted to go with new locations and he revealed that two properties already in the pipeline are
Carlton Hotel Baglioni
Via Senato, 5
Phone: 0039 02 77077
Luna Hotel Baglioni
San Marco, 1243
30124 Venezia - Italia
Tel. + 39 041 5289840
Piazza San Firenze, 9
50122 Firenze - Italia
Tel. + 39 055 288621
If there is a heaven, it might be in Epernay in France, or at the very least a short 15 minute ride north, outside the city limits, just a train ride one and a half hours east of Paris. This little bit of paradise named Royal Champagne sits above the
Dusk had fallen. The sun had disappeared over the horizon, and a crescent moon rose lazily over the valley of the
From the moment of check-in it was apparent I had come to a unique lodging. A personal welcome awaited me, extended in a small windowed reception area, a corner of the original building, cream walls, gold gilt chairs, period furniture. Soon a glass of Le Cellier Aquarelle champagne in a crystal flute, from the Cooperative de Champillon, was offered from a silver tray, to be accompanied by a Madeleine or cannelé, how perfectly appropriate, poetic even. And then a leisurely stroll to my accommodation along crunchy gravel paths in the fading light imparted the unreal sensation of a waking dream.
If ever there was an ideal place to breakfast, it is on your terrace at Royal Champagne- petit-déjuner arrives on an elegant tray, with local croissants and pain au chocolat served on
No visit to Royal Champagne would be complete without a meal at the hotel’s extraordinary restaurant, where Chef Philippe Augé creates seasonal menus of true distinction. He has certainly earned his Michelin star, and surely deserves another. You might first opt for another glass of Le Cellier Aquarelle champagne in the agreeable bar area, as you relax in a soft armchair and consider your culinary options. Among the delicacies sampled in November were a savory dumpling of game (croquette de gibier) and a splendid baby pumpkin stuffed with wild mushrooms and scallops, perfectly paired with a 1995 Laurent Perrier champagne of velvety smoothness. Since the menu changes seasonally, the sommelier is your best bet in choosing an appropriate accompaniment to your meal. The restaurant’s wine list of over 350 names affords one a dizzying array of choice among bruts, rosés and exceptional vintages. Pace yourself (meaning try your best to save some room) so that you sample a featured dessert, another worthy endeavor.
Another night I rode back into town for the final seating at Le Théâtre, a superb restaurant, dining in a tranquil and lofty room, where three waiters attended to me, since there was nobody else around. Later, I shared after-dinner drinks with the owner, an additional experience not often available in season, when the city is mobbed.
The hotel can arrange memorable activities ranging from helicopter flights, tours of manors and cellars, boat cruises, ballooning, golf and tennis, or a visit to the cathedral of
A QUIET FOOTPRINT
Two exceptional Aman resorts in India
Not everyone can travel these days. Trips cost more than ever, meaning mass tourism is on the way out. In its place droves of newly-affluent Asians and East Europeans wander around, but other conditions have acted to transform the marketplace. The pain of air travel is the obvious first contender. It’s harder to fly, the planes are full or late, staff is surly, and everyone dreads the hassle of airport security. Air travel hasn’t gotten any cheaper or easier, even booking online is arduous. Plus, the volatile price of gas cut into a lot of people’s Summer vacation plans last year. The lower end is being squeezed, while mass travel declines. Luxury is therefore the growth category to watch.
The class of tourists still in search of adventure wants the exact opposite of prepackaged environments and institutional behavior, and they are ready and able to pay for it. What they seek are holidays which reinforce their own socially-responsible values, higher denomination top-end experiences combining culture, comfort and sustainable concepts. You might call the new category Sustainable Tourism. It’s a quiet revolution in the industry, one in which thought-leaders try to remain low-profile as they deliver personalized, unpackaged travel with a conscience. At the same time they need to stay mindful of the impact of development, the necessity to preserve legacy and heritage, while leaving a minimal footprint, or they will alienate both their potential clients and their host communities. Most importantly, they must afford eco-tourists an opportunity for guilt-free total immersion in the real culture of less-traveled places.
A clear industry leader, crafting their brand with these new standards and values, is Aman Resorts, who set an admirable example. This operator believes that the service proposition is not incompatible with the eco-offering. They have established small, discreet luxury resorts in many of the world’s wildest, most beautiful and fascinating places. Two very different resorts in
Amanbagh, in rural Rajasthan near Alwar, 2 hours east of Jaipur, reached by Land Rover over secondary roads, is a palatial compound of 40 new suites, with 16 private pools, nestled into an ancient and towering eucalyptus grove, invisible from the road. It’s the only resort in the area, an oasis which recedes perfectly into the landscape- pink stone buildings rendered in the classical style and defined by long colonnades, fountains and courtyards. It’s a tranquil place, with no meeting facilities, a property committed to the service proposition: staff to guest ratio is 6:1. At the moment of your arrival a sari-clad member of staff ties a poli band around your left wrist, a traditional sign of welcome. This memento remains with you for months after the experience- the custom is that you not remove it; the poli stays there until it falls off your wrist. It’s an authentic cultural ritual of personal greeting, followed by the western custom of a glass of champagne offered from a silver tray. Then begins a leisurely walk to your suite. You will find the accommodation elegant, quiet, private and spacious, and the bathroom rendered in local green marble can only be deemed spectacular. In the distance a flute echoes, and your mind drifts back to the mounds of pomegranates on brass trays in the patio alcoves, and the classical sand painting in the entryway, which you will discover changes magically every day.
The kitchen at Amanbagh is the province of chef Matt Small, an expat Aussie who has faithfully recreated regional home recipes in a modern kitchen, complete with its own tandoor oven. In addition to his superior menus for lunch and dinner, Chef Small brings a high breakfast consciousness to the equation, with an exceptional rendering of French toast accompanied by lemon curd and cinnamon, a real delicacy, perfectly prepared. The coffee is strong and arrives hot, and the signature fruit salad of banana, kiwi, watermelon, pineapple, guava, strawberries, grapes and two kinds of pears, garlanded with pomegranate is remarkable, a perfect way to start your day. This master chef oversees a large organic garden, more the size of a football field, producing nearly everything he needs for his recipes.
Amanbagh is so far off the usual tourist path that much of the rural life surrounding it hasn’t changed, perhaps for centuries. Camel-drawn carts are a common sight and you quickly grow accustomed to them. Along the roadsides processions of brightly clad women from the Panjara caste carry great bundles of firewood balanced on their heads. Endless fields of mustard flowers stretch off into the distance. In the vicinity a number of well-preserved fortifications can be visited. There’s even a throne cut from natural rock in a canyon, where the hotel will set you up with a catered picnic. By far the most amazing site is the abandoned city of Bhangarh, with its city wall, main street, temple complex and hillside palace largely intact. Nobody appears to visit the place, and among its ruins you discover examples of stone carving and architecture which bespeak a culture of great skill and sophistication. Nobody knows why the city -which once numbered over 50,000 residents- was vacated, but an alluring local legend describes a curse placed on the city by a queen who practiced black magic. The surrounding flood plain is dotted with ornate cenotaphs. If the guide named Sita Ram is available, by all means take advantage of his encyclopedic knowledge of local history, flora and fauna, not to mention his gracious manner.
How truly sustainable is Amanbagh? The resort generates its own power, has its own water purification plant, grows its own vegetables, and gets 40% of its labor from local villages. It trains its own people, and has involvement in community education and support of local schools. Aman apparently allows its General Managers to put their own personal imprint on their properties, and GM Sally Baughan does a magnificent job for her guests and her community. The level of staff contentment can be discerned by the sight of an impromptu noon game of cricket on the front lawn. From the sidelines a brown-eyed camel kid lazes in the shade, watching the play. Faint in the distance women on their way to the fields can be heard singing traditional songs.
Aman-i-Khas, set on the edge of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, is a compound of nine beautifully furnished tents, nestled among sawgrass, on the shore of a small lake. Here you have the possibility of an unforgettable, authentic, honest camp experience, albeit a very comfortable one. The tents may be canvas, but they boast every luxury appointment.
First you have to get there, and it too is a remote location. To expedite matters, Aman-i-Khas assigns you a butler in
The nearby fortification called Ranthambhore occupies two mountain-tops connected by a stone bridge, with ancient walls over 3 miles in perimeter. It’s home to a complex of abandoned palaces and a famous temple to Ganesha, where it would be considered good form to make an offering. (You buy a marigold garland, hand it and a modest donation to a priest in the temple, he says a prayer, applies an orange flower paste susmna above the bridge of your nose, and afterward you hurl the garland to the monkeys waiting outside, who fight bitterly for them. The winner tears them apart and eats the marigolds with a vengeance. Keep your distance.) The views from the ramparts look out over miles of valleys which were once the exclusive hunting domain of the Maharajah of Jaipur. A mile below, crocodiles bask on the shores of a lake. There are monkeys loitering everywhere, screeching parrots flit by, and temple pilgrims march in procession.
You can also visit Sawai-Madapur, a nearby city with a bustling main street and colorful bazaar, with blocks of open front shops to look in. This small, rural city is known for fragrances and oils, so it is possible to find essences of the highest quality at a small price. A vial of pure lotus oil cost the equivalent of US$2.50. But bear in mind you are a long way from the mainstream, and be prepared for an alternate worldview: things are done differently here.
The camp experience involves sunbathing, eating, reading on your own patio, or availing oneself of the comforts of the spa tent. There’s the opportunity to lay about at the glamorous step pool and hope that the crocodile doesn’t eat you (just joking). The camp has a fine menu of hearty fare and local tastes, all available from room service, which ought to be called tent service. The roughest aspect of the trip may be the bumpy roads your jeep navigates as you visit local villages, or search out the tigers.
Aman-i-Khas has all the credentials of sustainability, its own power and water plants, organic garden, local workforce, community involvement, as well as disappearing during the monsoons seasons when GM Blitz breaks down the camp and puts everything into storage until the favorable weather returns- the invisible footprint for half the year. There’s the abovementioned crocodile –really- dozing on the shore of the lake at the camp. When asked if he came with the property, Blitz answered simply, “He just showed up after the rainy season last year and hung around ever since.”
You may well encounter one of the defining moments of a lifetime during your visit to the camp. On temperate nights a group of local musicians are engaged to sing and play traditional songs accompanying their voices with classical instruments in the open air, seated near the crackling fire pit, while the Rajahsthan sky shimmers above with uncountable stars. No poetry can express the incredible power of a moment like that, and Aman has the gift for providing such stirring experiences. See these places now, for the world is changing, and progress will eventually intrude. Until it does, Aman Resorts can be counted on to do the right thing, as both these magical destinations in
Six Small Hotels of
originally published in Lucire, October 2005
All of these hotels (except Hotel des Grandes Ecoles) can be booked by going directly to www.innsenroute.com:
Hotel Le A
4 rue d’Artois
This intriguing high-end (€320-525/night) luxury property of 26 rooms opened Summer 2003. Under the stewardship of Emma Charles, a hospitality career professional with experience at top chains (Four Seasons, Rosewood), the hotel has real style and cachet to justify the extreme price point. First and foremost is the personalized service component: no stuffy reception desk, staff instructed to recognize and greet guests by name, with a familiar yet respectful relationship-based management style. Charles makes certain that hotel staff get to know every guest, their likes and dislikes, with a strategy of building repeat business. This means a figure of 17% return guests (3+ visits a year). “We are,” Charles says, “not a hotel, but a house.” There’s also the sense of a safe and secure refuge, despite the hotel’s close proximity to the Champs Elysees,
Hotel le Vignon
23, rue Vignon
Hard-core culture vultures and those serious about their shopping will find this 28-room luxury property just off the Place de la Madeleine a brilliant base of operations. It’s barely a half block from the gourmet temples of Fauchon, Hediard and Maille, easy strolling to the big department stores, the trendy boutiques of Faubourg St Honore, and not too excruciating a walk to the Louvre. This would be an ideal hotel for someone in the fashion industry, attending the collections, on a buying trip, or scouting the latest couture. It’s quiet at mid-day, despite its central location on a narrow sidestreet, at a fair price, €185-300, balancing space, comfort, service and location. I like the desk team very much, happy, helpful, accessible people with the cavalier air of informality that la mode expects. The rooms are lovely, rendered in light colors, cream, off-white, airy spaces that exude a real sense of comfort. Beautiful marble bath, with Roger Gallet amenities, terry robe, plenty of plush towels. You get a wrapped madeliene with your in-room coffee service, Marcel Proust, are you listening? Elevator provides access to a comfy subterranean breakfast space. There’s a fashionable photo theme carried throughout the property, so you might have photos of sculpture, architectural details, or fashion-driven images, all of very high quality. My room had cool hat photos. The structure has been a hotel a long time, but the current owner has added more modern furnishings. Her vision and mark is everywhere- and the level of taste works quite well. Turndown service is part of the package. It might be fun to try room service from Terres de Truffes, a new truffle restaurant 10m down the street, with whom the hotel has an agreement in place. Those daring enough to have a car will find a public parking nearby at Place de la Madeliene, elevator accessible in front of the Fauchon store.
A free internet station is available adjacent to the front desk, with in-room wi fi throughout. In-room television has a good mix of BBC, Spanish German and Italian channels. The top floor suites represent the high end of the lodgings, have the feel of a pied a terre or apartment, and would be an excellent place to call temporary home as one samples the joys of central Paris. A pleasure to stay at this property. Highly recommended.
Hotel de Banville
166, Bvd. Berthier
This small, 38 room luxury property is housed in a building constructed in the 1920s situated in the 17th, located to the northeast of central
Hotel de Neuville
3, rue Verniquet
One of three properties operated by the Albar family in
Jardin de Villiers
18, rue Claude Pouillet
Location and value are the keywords with this small property found in a typical residential district in the 17th, where you can experience within a block the last outdoor market of its kind in Paris, open every day. That alone is worth the price of admission, a chance to wander the stalls with firsthand access to every culinary delight at decent prices. Cheeses, charcuterie, pastries and breads, ethnic cuisines, roasted chickens, fine produce, inexpensive wines, those quirky manufactured products that the vendors always have, cheap clothing, hardware, every necessity. It’s almost a medieval experience, and a chance to stray outside the usual tourist model, as you attempt to interact with real people, many of whom speak only the French language. It is, in its own peculiar way, an adventure. Gestures and a happy expression will serve you well when you make your purchases.
Hotel Jardin de Villiers has been open since 1993. It’s a clean, well-worn -but not seedy- property, definitely a budget solution, with a comfortable, lived-in feel. A very friendly deskman named Sebastien. The presentation is a bit dodgy, but unpretentious, and the small size (26 rooms) means there will be a measure of personal attention. The price point is low, €145 and up, with €6 for breakfast. The owner, a former banker, has filled the reception space with traditional décor, adding romantic images, and some of those silly dog prints sometimes seen in club environments. While English is spoken, only French newspapers are to be found on a table in the lobby, so the ambience is very authentic, not at all globalized. There’s a neat little subterranean breakfast room, with restored original stone arch walls, and the usual tiny elevator. The hotel does have one triple room with balcony at top. Rooms feature individual air, minibar, and by November 2005 will be wired for wi fi. There is a small garden filled with flowers in the Spring; most of the rooms face the courtyard, and all the baths have a lot of daylight. The bathrooms are all tile, sparse, clean, but have the unfortunate low complement of scant few of those tiny, rough towels, much maligned by experienced travelers, and plastic wrappers and institutional amenities. This friendly, mid-range hotel is right for the intrepid budget traveler, students, those prepared to rough it a bit. An 85% occupancy figure means that many guests are prepared to endure the small inconveniences for the many advantages that Jardin de Villiers has to offer.
Hotel des Grandes Ecoles
75, rue du Cardinal Lemoine
This traditional property is situated in a quiet cité near the Pantheon, close to the Rue Mouffetard and Place Contrescarpe atop the highest point in the 5th. It’s an old-style hotel of 51 rooms, 44 with bath, 7 with shower, decorated in a charming cottage style, €105 and up. Weather permitting you can enjoy your breakfast outdoors under the trees. This is neither luxury nor spartan lodging, but a charming place to park one’s parents if they are visiting. It’s a great starting point for all the Left Bank attractions, and close enough to the Rue Monge metro so that in 10 minutes you are down by the