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Chocolates at turndown are all well and good, but here’s a hotel that’s going a step further – a chocolate store and workshop. This could only be in Belgium, of course – and it’s at the new NH Brussels Carrefour de l’Europe.
The hotel was previously a Best Western, but was taken over by NH this month. It’s in the Grasmarkt – a pretty square of medievalish buildings in the old town (though it’s very touristed, quite noisy, and even a little bit drunky – and most of those old buildings are now hotels). You’re right at the foot of the hill that leads to the Royal Palace, and a quick walk across from the Grand Place.
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Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. You can see it from the ground, a little dirty, a little noisy from the traffic, and sometimes even a little alarming, thanks to the anti-Falklands/pro-Malvinas encampment in there. You can hold onto your bag like there’s no tomorrow, and take a photo of the Casa Rosada through the metal barriers that may or may not be up.
Or you can see it from on high, in your swimsuit.
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Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was a Marxist politician and co-founder of the Italian Communist Party, who was imprisoned by Mussolini and died soon after his release. He is still a god for Italy’s Left. So what better thing to do with his former home than convert it into a luxury hotel?
Uhh, quite. This is what’s kicking off in Turin at the moment, where the four star NH Collection Torino Piazza Carlino opened on Monday to major controversy in the city. Last week, people protested – again – with their red flags outside the building, as they have done for the past two-and-a-half years, during its conversion.
This is the fifth NH hotel in Turin (who knew?) and has 160 rooms, which are suitably spartan, in a way, with understated hardwood floors, plain white walls and the palest of neutrals for the curtains.
There are two rooftop terraces (from which views should be great, as this is plum in the city center), with a bar and aromatic herb garden up there; a fifth floor panoramic fitness room, another ground floor bar on the square below, Piazza Carlina. The building itself is an enormous, grand palazzo dating back to the 17th century, with a plaque outside noting the working class Gramsci link.
Not Vegas. A lobby
With hotels piling in to chase the millennial dollar, it’s reassuring to see one brand going back to what hotels always used to do to get clients – pile on the superlatives.
After three months of work and millions of euros, NH Hotels have just reopened the NH Collection Madrid Eurobuilding (definitely not a millennial name), now the biggest hotel for the brand. NH may not be a big deal to American ears but they’re one of Europe’s most reliable brands, treading the line between business and boutique quite impeccably (also, delicious toiletries, if you ask my mum). Anyway, this is the flagship property for the NH Collection brand, and it’s pushing the boundaries of hotel technology. Basically, they have what we’re looking for in a hotel down pat:
Well-equipped rooms: “Brilliant Basics” is the name for the thinking behind the room design. All 431 rooms have specially commissioned mattresses, rain showerheads, Nespresso machines, professional hairdryers and “next generation LED” TVs.
VIP level if you want it: If you stay on the “five star floor” you get access to the VIP lounge, too.
All the services you need, plus fun extras: Spa, fitness center, event spaces, rooftop solarium with a fake beach, two fine-dining restaurants (including DiverXO, Madrid’s only three Michelin-starred restaurant), a lounge and a sushi bar.
Fashion-forward technology: An LED vault screen (the largest in Europe, and the largest in the world for hotels) in the lobby projects digital art and “special sound” across the lobby. Think the Fremont Street Experience in Vegas, but in a hotel lobby. Insanity!
Cutting-edge tech: Here’s the really interesting part – there are four ”Living Lab” bedrooms (plus communal areas) that are trialing the latest hotel tech – not just wireless mobile charging, but tablets providing a video link to reception for when you need to ask a pressing question. The Living Lab isn’t just about hotel guests – it’s apparently an initiative to “identify and encourage entrepreneurial talent by fostering pioneering projects in the hotel industry”. They will be running contests and promoting hotel tech-related start-ups. We dig.
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Our name is HotelChatter and we are addicted to hotel toiletries.
Designer, cult, no-name motel brands – we can’t get enough. We stash them away every night in our suitcase, so housekeeping gives us more. We check out with bagfuls of the stuff. We haven’t bought soap or shampoo in years.
Hotel toiletries are the first things that always crop up in those articles that always crop up – the ones asking what is ok and not ok to take from hotel rooms. (Spoiler: it’s always the toiletries and stationery that’s ok, everything else is off limits.)
Recently we’ve noticed a decline in hotel toiletries. Smaller bottles. Fewer restocks. A sparser selection of products. Those wall dispensers that, much as we want to be eco, we can’t quite get around to accepting.
We live, of course, us inhabitants of HotelChatter Towers, surrounded by hotel toiletries (a shoebox of soap, one of shampoo and conditioner, one of body lotion). And we tend to grab them without much thought – it’s hard to remember just where that bottle of CO Bigelow came from, after all.
But, spring cleaning this week, we stumbled upon another shoebox full of body lotion – one collected in happier times, around 2006-2008. Perhaps it’s coincidence, perhaps it’s pre-financial crisis, but we noticed that most of these bottles had been personalized to the hotels – and we had a Proustian moment, there in the bathroom, remembering the various trips.
A recent HotelChatter minibar experience. We could have done with this being free.
Book two (weekend, obvs) nights with the Weekend Extender package and they’ll give you a free 5pm checkout on the Sunday. And in case you’re stumped for what to do with your extra hours, they’re giving you a free run of the minibar.
You'll have to stagger your boozing, because they won't restock the minibar on your second night, and there aren't any bars in the rooms at quite a few of the hotels (for a list, see here.
All publicity is good publicity, right? Erm, maybe not for the British Airways staff who were caught carousing in a posh Cape Town hotel just before they started their strike. No word on whether it was the same group who earned the airline the nickname British Bareways last month.
But this may be some good publicity for the hotel in question, the Lord Charles, outside of Cape Town in wine country, since the Telegraph had the mind to tell us that there are two swimming pools, “multiple sun decks and seven acres of manicured lawns should one opt for a midnight stroll” (presumably you can also stroll in the daytime).
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Oopsies – we may have been impressed by NH Hotels this week for plugging their cheap rooms and offering us a dream holiday, but they’ve got in a teensy bit of trouble elsewhere – the UK advertising watchdog has just banned one of their ads because they reckon it showed a child in a “sexually provocative pose”.
The picture was part of an email campaign and series of ads called The Organizers (ridiculous tagline “an organized group with a license to save”). Supposedly, the ads have been promoting good deals – although we found them so baffling, seeing as they seemed to consist of photos of models rather than telling us what the deals were, that we never realised this, and used to just hit delete.
We like winning stuff, especially if the stuff is a free stay in a hotel someplace nice. And the peeps at NH Hotels - a chain we just listed in our favorite budget brands in Europe - want us, and you, to win exactly that.
The NH Hotels Dreams Contest is pretty easy to enter: just describe your dream holiday in 100 words or less. They even say it can be "fantastic or incredible" so fairytale trips to Mars are probably okay, too.
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In need of a cheapo vacation? Thinking that the $100 and $150 deals we were talking about here are out of your price range this time round? It’s time to rediscover the joys of the budget hotel.
And while Europe doesn’t have quite as many as America (in other words, there isn't a choice of about five chain motels at every motorway exit), it’s still possible to know roughly what’s in store when you book into a budgie room. Here are our Five Best Budget Brands in Europe. Tune in tomorrow for our picks for the worst.
You know the scene. You open the door to your brand new hotel room, run over to the window, open the blinds and bam, you are hit with the anti-view. Maybe you are looking down a dirty alley, witnessing a drug deal, staring at an air shaft in the face, or seeing a brick wall. Whatever you are viewing it is not extremely pleasurable. Help out your fellow hotel mavens by uploading your anti-views to the HotelChatter/Flickr photo pool, or by sending the photo along to us. Remember to tell us the name of the hotel and the room number with the not-so-easy-on-the-eyes view.
The website of the NH Express Santander in Spain describes it like this:
Well located in the city's shopping district and the Nueva Montaña Business Park.
We definitely agree that it's near a business park because this is one of the views out of the NH Santander, truly one of the ugliest anti-views we've seen in a while. It's just a bunch of scrap metal. And it gets worse. Check out this one too.
However, the view is not everything, because it's actually regarded by guests as a pretty good hotel to stay in: not somewhere you'd choose for the view, obviously, but a clean, central and reasonably-priced hotel. With rooms starting at around $105 a night that's definitely reasonable and many people say the buffet breakfast (included) is above average too.