fit for a president

With panoramic views of San Diego’s surrounding cityscape and bay, the spacious Penthouse Presidential Suite at The US Grant is a rooftop aerie worthy of a President’s Day seal of approval. Built by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. in honor of his father, the Civil War hero and 18th President of the United States, the hotel is one of the most historically significant locations in southern California. Added onto the hotel in 1939, the penthouse was originally built as a radio station, making its historical mark as the site from which President Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcast the first ‘fireside chat’ outside of the nation’s capital. Boasting a dining room, a separate salon, and an executive desk tailor-made for issuing edicts with a flourish, its presidential bona fides gets a further boost from having hosted 13 of this country’s Commanders-in-Chief.

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it’s the thought that counts

I’m a luxury hotel junkie. If I had my druthers I would live in one permanently. Some people find it impersonal – I think it’s heaven. The friendly faces, the room service, the myriad little extras designed to be  not-so-surreptitiously slipped into an outward bound valise. Once upon a time a good hotel was heralded by two essentials: intuitive staff and bespoke toiletries. (To this day if I close my eyes I can instantly recall Claridge’s in London, the bars of Floris soap sensuously wrapped in a wax-coated paper. Tokyo will forever be associated with the Park Hyatt in my mind - and miniature bottles of a then-unknown Molton Brown, as exotic as the ingredients inside.) It holds true today, for the most part. Yet at the same time more and more hotels are falling over themselves to lure back guests with in-room trinkets and takeaways. Some of them are practical, like the personalized business cards on my desk at the Washington, DC Fairmont. Some are fanciful, like the monogrammed robe that was waiting for me at The Plaza. What’s impressive, ultimately, is the thought that goes into each – elevating a run-of-the-mill hotel stay into something memorable. My pick for this month’s best of the best comes courtesy of the DC Fairmont. An elegant and portable solution for gentleman: credit card collar stays.

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live blog: down in dc

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hotel paradise

For all their friendly hospitality, Mexican hotels almost uniformly miss the mark to some degree. It’s never tragic mind you; in fact it’s often nothing more than a curious detail that leaves you to scratch your head, bewildered by a corporate thought process which somehow led to a jar of mustard arriving alongside an egg white omelet, or an artful turndown arrangement of bed pillows in the bathtub, or plush bathrobes atop paper slippers in the spa. (I will go on record, however, with enthusiastically vocal admiration for the novel Mexican art of twisting humble bath towels into fancifully shaped flowers and swans.) Brain power has obviously been extended into these little flourishes. But to what end? What does it add?  All this blather is just a long introduction to telling you how Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla & La Esmeralda, twined resorts which share a common zocalo yet somehow manage to navigate the task of catering to – and keeping separate – both families and adults, proves a refreshing exception to the rule. Attention has been paid here. And a great deal of thought and design have gone into Paradisus: La Esmeralda is for families, while La Perla is adults-only. Opt for Royal Service – a semi resort within the resort – and the two need never intersect. Royal Service features a private pool, bar, and an exclusive restaurant surrounded by palapas and Bali beds – in addition to a private stretch of  beach. Discrete butlers are at your beck and call, available for everything from ironing trousers to finding a preferred table at Passion by Martin Berasategui, a restaurant collaboration with the seven Michelin-star Basque chef. (Surely that’s a first for an all-inclusive resort.) Each resort is its own oasis, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico – with the stress-free luxury of never having to reach for your wallet.

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the cull: beloved no more

Nothing quite destroys the essential truthiness of a word like it’s nonsensical repetition. So in order to save these poor words for future generations, I’m starting a new occasional post here called The Cull, which calls for their temporary suspension due to excessive overuse, exaggeration, and/or just plain egregious misuse. (Travel and lifestyle reps take note: I actually do read what you write from time to time.)

2012’s word-most-in-need-of-saving: beloved. As in “This new family musical is based on the beloved New York Times best selling book.” Or “The hotel’s beloved holiday tradition of tea in front of the fire returns for yet another season of smiles.” Or “You’ll be inspired by the wit and wisdom of beloved author and TV spokesperson.” It’s a Wonderful Life is beloved; your elderly Aunt Meemaw is beloved; Toni Morrison’s Beloved is beloved. A hotel is not. Nor is a celebrity stylist. (Or any book written in this century for that matter.)

Beloved, no more. Until we meet again.

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urbanauts

Viennese architects Kohlmayr Lutter Knapp have come up with an adaptive new use for the empty retail spaces dotting the Austrian capital: hotel rooms. Mostly around 250 square feet in size, the small disused shops are being converted into street level lofts nicknamed Urbanauts. The master plan calls for different Urbanauts clustered together in one neighborhood making up a decentralized hotel, with services dotted around the area: the coffeehouse next door is the breakfast room, the hammam across the street is the spa, and the hotel bar is that trendy watering hole around the corner. Amenities and local tips are plotted on a map provided in the room. And the lobby? It’s the whole city. The concept is designed to offer guests a real feel for the surrounding urban space, and an alternative to the run-of-the-mill tourist traps. Guests step out of their room right onto the sidewalk, but the spaces still offer a private and convenient retreat for travelers. Guests can decide how much of the view outwards – and inwards – to reveal, using a clever blind system. And as part of the emphasis on locality, artists from the immediate environs are invited to design the rooms. Rates top out at around €120 per night per Urbanaut, including breakfast and the use of two bicycles. Space helmets not included.

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andy fraser, tartan butler

Curious about whether you can pull off a tartan plaid in 2012?  Look no further than Andy Fraser, the new Tartan Butler at Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel. A master at tracing Scottish ancestry, Fraser scoured over 30 variations of his own family tartan to trace the clan as far back as the early 13th Century. Coming quick to the realization that this talent was more than just an avocation, the local Edinburgh resident partnered with Rocco Forte’s Balmoral to share his expert guidance with guests wanting to find out a little more about their Scottish heritage. The gentleman definitely knows his history, too: “It was the Dress Act of 1746 that tried to bring the warrior clans under government by banning the tartan and other aspects of Gaelic culture,” says the Scotsman. “When the law was abolished in 1782, it was no longer ordinary Highland dress but was adopted instead as the national dress of Scotland.” Just imagine: plaid, a political statement. Once Fraser has established a connection to one of the thousands of clans and traditionally recognized tartans, he can arrange a trip to Kinloch Anderson, one of the city’s most established Highland dress shops. Or better yet head to my friend, kilt maker Howie Nicholsby, for an altogether 21st century kind of statement.

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best hotel toiletries ever

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foggy morning at la costa

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loving the langham

I’ve spent so much time waxing rhapsodic about the dizzying heights of the Ritz that I forgot to mention I have since moved on to Langham Place, Mongkok. No slight intended, because this hotel is amazing. Rising 42 stories above the heaving heart of Kowloon it boasts the authentic sights, sounds and shops of old Hong Kong right on its doorstep. (As you’ve been reading about – I hope – for the past week.) And yes, it’s all sleek and modern and smells nice and wears its cheeky monkey on its sleeve, but what sets it apart from inferior chains – hello, W Hotels - is the substance beneath all the style: first and foremost is the X-Team, a handful of the friendliest, best-connected concierges I’ve ever put to the test. Then there’s Chuan Spa, as warm and welcoming as an opium den – from which the decor seems to take some inspiration. Treatments are guided by principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine – Wu Xing, or the Five Elements; Yin and Yang; and Jing Luo, the Meridian System – and it doesn’t get more authentically indulgent as this. The hotel also has one of the most impressive collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world, let alone Asia, including pieces from Wang Guangyi, Yue Minjun, and Jiang Shuo. Comprised of more than 1,500 pieces – some provocative, if not downright controversial –  you can explore highlights of the multi-million dollar collection via an interactive iPad tour narrated by the hotel’s curator. As for food, I don’t think I can sing any more praises for Ming Court than I already have. I’m going to miss it here. (Not to mention Hong Kong.) If the Ritz felt more like a mistress, over the top flashy with legs for days, Langham Place is the wife you’d like to have: smart and sexy, with just the right amount of wrong to keep you coming back for more.

 

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walk this way

As evident in the signage at Langham Place, the hotel has an insouciant style that’s just this side of cheeky. I think I’m going to like it here.

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sage advice from the 118th floor of the ritz

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down in the depths (on the 113th floor)

The view from my 113th floor bed. Am I obsessed with the Ritz-Carlton? In a word: duh.

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top of the world, ma

I’m not sure if the swimming pool on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton is technically the highest swimming pool in the world, but when I’m reclining in a lounger with Hong Kong more than a third of a mile beneath me can you blame me for not bothering to read the fine print?

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puttin on the ritz

From the vantage point of Hong Kong island, across the water from the Kowloon mainland, the International Commerce Centre tower which houses the new Ritz-Carlton juts out of Victoria Harbor with all the subtlety of a Louboutin stiletto. It’s as imposing as it is incongruous: the world’s fourth-tallest skyscraper stranded in the middle of a barren parcel of reclaimed land called West Kowloon. In a few years it will be the centerpiece of the city’s “cultural quarter,” with high-speed trains linking mainland shoppers to a host of new museums, concert halls and malls all entwined and master planned by Sir Norman Foster. But until then it remains a bit of a desert oasis – at once removed from the surrounding city while still very much embodying its ethos – with the Ritz its ultra-stylish sanctuary in the sky.

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