The Ritz-Carlton Abama, on the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, Tenerife, is honestly the most unusual of that brand that this gal has ever seen. After a 90-minute drive diagonally from north-east to south-west of Tenerife, I entered the top of what is a massive green bed quilt – 400 acres in all – flung over an undulating slope that goes down to the ocean, or at least to a clifftop 100 feet above it. The 465-key hotel occupies just some of this acreage. You enter what looks like a low-rise terracotta fortress and look straight through to an impressive view of the green ‘quilt’, and on and on. This is the entrance to the main block of the hotel, comprising a zig-zag building and villages of seperate or semi-detached terracotta houses that stretch down the ‘quilt’.
I met with the hotel’s newly-arrived GM Gregory De Clerck, who first took me on a walk around the campus. First stop was the kids’ club, a large garden with every plaything you could think of including a wooden version of Louise Bourgeois’ famous metal spider sculpture. Inside, the club has various rooms for eating, sleeping, watching movies and – in all of them – for making NOISE. (How do the 40 nannies, numbering one for every eight kids, retain their hearing?) Next, we took the tarmac road that forms one side of the whole: it runs from the entrance building down to the clifftop. As we walked down we passed some villages and pools that are family-friendly. We passed others that are for adults only.
At the end of the road is the top of a funicular that works non-stop, taking hotel guests down to a secluded beach that is miraculously hotel only. We lunched at the closest of 12 eating places, dining on magnificently sweet Santona anchovies from the north of the Bay of Biscay, followed by today’s catch, an enormous sea bass cooked in salt crust and cracked table-side. I heard how the hotel is going after a ‘five Gs’ market: golf, grey, gay, group and gourmet. On the ‘golf’ front, the course immediately above the main resort is still owned by the entire Abama complex and the Spanish media group, Polanco – the hotel is now part of Blackstone’s empire. And on the ‘group’ front, Dom Pérignon is about to host two back-to-back getaways to launch a new vintage – 70 lucky recipients at each. Another upcoming booking is an incentive for 800.
How do they manage this when such invitees obviously want their own bedrooms? Simple, said Gregory De Clerck. It will be a buy-out of the hotel and he is renting the required number of time-share golf villas that are still owned by Polanco. Having walked down to lunch, we took the delightful toy town-like shuttle train back up to the main building. My car was waiting, and several of the dispatch team made sure its Wi-Fi would work for a scheduled Skype call (it did). After promising to come back for more – including hopefully dinner at MB, the two-star Michelin overseen by Martin Berasategui (who has three stars for Restaurante Martin Berasategui at Lasarte-Oria, 15 minutes’ drive south of San Sebastián on the Spanish mainland) – I sadly left this very friendly and eventful luxury resort.
Why did I have to leave? I was cruising on Regent Seven Seas Explorer, from Lisbon to Barcelona via Madeira, the Canary Islands, with ports of call in Morocco and mainland Spain. The Canaries – named for dogs rather than birds – also included the unusual Lanzarote, an island more or less exclusively formed by volcanic lava and ash. A highlight was a Disney-like tour through lava fields around Timanfaya volcano. Lanzarote was named for an Italian, Lanzarotto (or Lancelotto) Malocello, who discovered the island in the early 14th century. Its activities today include production of aloe vera, and also wine, from vines individually bedded right down into the ash to reach the fertile soil beneath.
In between sightseeing and constant education in local history and geography, I was back on board. Regent Seven Seas Explorer, built in 2016, is the perfect example of today’s maxim that luxury requires space. The ship has 750 passengers in an overall space that could likely accommodate twice that number. Cabins, called suites (technically correct as there are curtains to separate bedroom from living area), have big terraces with loungers as well as upright chairs.
There are so many bars you never have to rush to get an at-the-counter stool. Other than the sailing part, the whole operation was run by a GM, Michael Coghlan, who unlike his land-based colleagues works seven days a week from about 7 am through dinner with a few hours off in the afternoon. (After three months on, he does have two months’ leave.)
The food on board was superb, with copious buffets at breakfast and lunch for those – like me – who prefer helping themselves at those meals. Of the many dining choices my favourites were, rather surprisingly, the general-menu Compass Rose, with its superlative service and exquisite food of Chartreuse (the French fine-dining). This could, possibly, have been labelled a ‘foodie cruise’. We had father and son Michel Roux and Alain Roux on board (the Explorer has a fully professional cooking class kitchen, thoughtfully with glass walls to allow others to see what’s going on).
In Cadiz, the fish section of the main covered market, held daily Mondays to Saturdays from dawn to about 2 pm, was a true educational eye-opener. I loved Cadiz (pronounce it as near to ‘Cardiff’ as you can): it has narrow streets and a plethora of narrow shops that specialise in hams and ladies’ shoes. The cathedral has a cavernous catacomb beneath that still has masses of space for saints to come. This is a highly religious city and just before Easter, religious groups parade every night carrying mighty treasures from the cathedral through those eight-foot wide streets. One of the best viewing places must surely be a luxury hotel I discovered purely by accident, the 14-room Hotel La Catedral, directly opposite the cathedral. From its fourth-floor rooftop, take 20 steps up to its glass-sided pool. What a clever feature. I am lucky enough to come across memorable hotels, everywhere.