Park Hyatt Sydney was deemed Best Hotel, Australasia at The Ultras, held in Dubai on 21 November 2018. The Ultras are, honestly, now the most global luxury hotel awards. The 13 million Discovery members of Global Hotel Alliance GHA can vote, plus readers of Ultratravel (published in UK by The Daily Telegraph) and in UAE by Al Ittihad and The National. This year, for the first time, The Ultras were presented in Dubai.
For the 12th year running, the global winner was Dubai’s iconic Burj Al Arab (the award was collected by Jumeirah CEO José Silva). Other best regional hotel accolades went to New York’s Mandarin Oriental, for The Americas; Antibes’ Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc was the winner, Europe; Cape Town’s One&Only won Africa; Maldives’ St Regis Vommuli got the Indian Ocean; Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental picked up Asia. Gleneagles was Best Golf Resort; Wilderness Safaris was Editors’ Choice, Group; Ubud’s Capella was Editors’ Choice, New Hotel; and, finally, Bangkok’s Siam Kempinski was Ultratravel Collection Hotel of the Year.
This was the first-ever event held on the wind-free west lawn of Burj Al Arab. Hotel MD/RVP Tony Costa had, with organisers, masterminded an evening that included superb drinks, service and stand-up canapés complemented by serving stations promoting all five hotel restaurants. Gourmet chef Nathan Outlaw manned the seafood barbecue.
There were plenty of personalities, including awards presenters, ex-Formula 1 champion Damon Hill and rugby football legend Mike Tindall, plus his long-legged wife, equestrian Olympian and granddaughter of The Queen, Zara Phillips (she showed suitably royal pizzazz by turning up in stilettos and the shortest of black shorts, as her luggage had not arrived).
Eight days later, yet another over-the-top hotel opened in Dubai – Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai – and I had had a preview. Now, staying in any hotel just before official opening can be hit or miss; the gal remembers several of the latter, which in all fairness should not be mentioned by name.
Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai, however, was (apart from some of its restaurants and the spa) all ready to go. There were a few other people staying in the 390-room extravaganza, so the gal did not feel lonely, and there was too much to see and experience, anyway. The resort covers just under nine hectares on The Palm, and the interior is opulent and sumptuous.
On the day of opening, I was told later, a Middle Eastern royal was being driven by.
“Stop, let me go and have a look at it,” he said. He so loved the interiors, with soaring columns of pink Portuguese (rosa Portugala) marble and what seems like acres of gold leaf, that on the spot he booked the Presidential Suite, which costs just into five figures (US dollars) a night, plus four other rooms for good measure. This is a seven-floor palace that has, admittedly, been some time in the making. Think how long it took, for instance, to hang over 6,000 priceless Italian chandeliers. I actually had two in my room – or, rather, giant suite #504 – looking out over the Gulf.
It would be tempting to spend a lot of time in the suites. Room service, even before opening, was outstanding, with exact presentation on the hotel’s bespoke gold-edged Villeroy & Boch china (for the record, cutlery is Sambonnet, most glassware is Schott Zwiesel and, at breakfast, toast comes in a shiny silver rack with Beurre Echiré butter, and Francis Miot jams).
There is nothing but the best here – hence the imminent arrival, on 15 December 2018, of miX by Alain Ducasse, an unheard-of three-floor rooftop restaurant with multiple areas including outdoor terrace dining. Ducasse, it seems, has been chosen by the extraordinary hotel’s owner, who has personally been architect and interior designer.
And who IS the owner? Nver Mkhitaryan is a global polymath, author of a serious social history architectural tome, Man and Dwelling. He is Baron of Castle Stewart, Wigtown, in Scotland. He is an avid collector, say of antique firearms, of which apparently he has over 300. He loves Bluthner grand pianos, and ordered a white one to go into the semi-circular lobby lounge, called The Bluthner Hall, where every evening at 7pm a butler and one of Kempinki’s Ladies in Red (both clad in Versailles style) perform a near-professional minuet. Judging by the calibre of the 23-room Cinq Mondes spa and its approach corridors, and the indoor pool and 24/7 Technogym, he is also a fitness guru.
And he has, by the way, built a really memorable luxury hotel.