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It’s over two years ago that Rocco Forte Hotels dropped The Augustine Prague from its portfolio, during some dark days before its current ambitious expansion plans. We had heard whispers that it would become a Park Hyatt hotel, but no: it is now part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection.
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Hello Thursday! Time for a quick roundup of news from around the world, because hotels never sleep. We’ve got Shanghai, Mumbai, Uruguay, and a few places in between. Onwards!
Rocco Forte Shanghai: Following the first small steps on the road to significant expansion taken in Jeddah, here is the confirmation that Shanghai (above) will follow in 2018. The first Rocco Forte hotel in China is also the first in Asia Pacific altogether, and part of the “Longhua International Aviation Service Centre, a new urban complex in Shanghai’s Xuhui Riverside area known as West Bund”. There is no official name yet, but it will be on the top 15 floors of a high-rise at 280 rooms and suites.
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Having seen its struggles, we were very excited when Rocco Forte talked about the promising future for his hotel group following a $95m cash injection from Italian investors, not in the least because of his goal to revive the Grand Tour of Italy and save the country’s economy in the process. There was talk of hotels in Venice, Milan, Naples, and Sicily, as well as others further afield to double Rocco Forte’s presence from its current ten hotels.
While we were expecting Venice to be announced first, given the “advanced stage of discussion” about a hotel there, further afield it is: number 11 will be the Assila Hotel and Residence, a development in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, opening this summer.
Above a rendering of the hotel, which will have 146 rooms, 62 suites, and 94 serviced apartments in what looks to be a dual-towered glass structure.
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It’s nearly the weekend, there's lots of hotel news that is worthy of your attention, so here are a few snippets to keep you up to date on the latest from around the world.
Four Seasons Carmelo, Uruguay: we could almost do a weekly feature called the Four Seasons Chronicles, because the news about the Canadian group keeps coming in. Upping its hotels in South America with two new properties in Colombia just a few weeks ago, now it’s down one again by virtue of the departure of the resort in Carmelo, Uruguay by March 31 this year. By early March we should find out which brand will come in its place.
Shangri-La in Mauritius and Sri Lanka: having gotten the opening of its hotel at the Shard in London out of the way in 2014, this year Shangri-La Hotels will have islands on its mind. First, in Mauritius, the former Oberoi Le Touessrok will become Shangri-La Le Touessrok in September following a major renovation. On Sri Lanka, Shangri-La Hambantota Resort & Spa should open just before that, with a second property in capital Colombo to follow in 2017.
Sure, enjoying a luxury hotel is easy if you’ve got the $$$ to burn that it takes to stay the night. But let’s face it, that’s not always the case, so we love to find ways to sample a hotel for a fraction of the cost of checking in. Who said you needed to be an overnight guest anyway?
We found the perfect alternative at Hotel de Russie in Rome, where rooms will easily go for $800 a night and up, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a Hollywood star or two (Pitt, Clooney, they’ve all stayed here). Just off of Piazza del Popolo, on designer store-lined Via del Babuino, the de Russie hides a beautiful – and particularly tranquil – courtyard and garden behind its façade, where you can take a quiet break from the hours of strolling through the Eternal (and sometimes frenetic) City.
Yes, the food prices on the menu of Stravinsky Bar will make you look twice (hello €35/$43 sandwich!), and even a latte set us back €8 ($10), but that did come with free WiFi, for two hours, which worked across three devices. We caught up on email sitting close to a terrace heater (it was out of season) and listening to the jazz music coming from the bar.
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Verdura Resort in Sicily
We knew a couple of months ago that Rocco Forte was sniffing around Venice, but plans really are coming to fruition now. Last week, it was announced that Forte is getting a $95m cash injection from Italian investors (in return for 23 percent of the company) – which he’ll use to open hotels in Venice, Milan, Naples (YES) and Sicily.
It gets better. In an upbeat interview with Il Giornale, in which he says that luxury travel will save Italy's economy, Forte said this:
We want to create a network of uber-luxury hotels in Italy – one that’ll be capable of attracting travellers wanting to rediscover the Grand Tour, that was so tantalizing to the aristocrats of the 18th and 19th centuries.
According to Forte, they’re currently sifting through potential sites in Venice, Milan and Naples. He is also “convinced of the unexplored potential of Sicily” (where they already have one resort outside, Verdura, in Sciacca). Taormina or Siracuse are on the hitlist there. Paris, New York, Moscow and the Middle East are priorities after Italy.
It doesn’t feel this long, and yet it feels like forever – the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago in November, and the city is marking the anniversary on November 9 by lining up 8000 helium balloons along a 7.5 mile stretch of the old border between east and west.
Obviously no hotel wants to be seen to be taking advantage of an event of such historical importance, but the Hotel de Rome has drawn up a pretty sober package, valid November 7-10.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall package includes three nights accommodation and breakfast, a three hour private guided tour of Wall-related sites, a trip to the Asisi Panorama near Checkpoint Charlie, and a two hour Trabi tour (in an iconic East German Trabant car). They’ll also throw in champagne and currywurst as you watch the balloons on the 9th from the hotel rooftop terrace.
The Manchester Evening News is now adding to the list of departures with an update that a sale has been agreed for the city’s Lowry Hotel to Westmont Hospitality Group. While the management team on-site reportedly is staying on, it will mean a rebrand as well, but whether that’s InterContinental, Hilton, Marriott, or another brand Westmont works with is still to be confirmed.
We’re also happy to see mention of renovations to ‘further enhance the offer’; we stayed at the Lowry back in 2010 and still remember being a little underwhelmed by our room at what was meant to be “the” luxury hotel for Manchester, with a rather generic bathroom, a huge tear in the sheets on the bed, and ripped fabric on some of the furniture.
You can still book through the Rocco Forte website until well into next year, with a Deluxe Room starting around £149 ($243) a night. We’ll let you know what becomes of the Lowry when we find out.
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What to do on a weekend in London? Some might say, quite a lot. But in case you’re tired of
life what’s on offer in the capital, Brown’s Hotel has something else up its sleeve for you: an art tour.
Brown’s premise is that Mayfair’s solid gallery scene is being laid siege to by the all the posh shops and fashion brands moving in; so it’s introducing the tours to remind us what Mayfair should be about.
Each week, a different director from a participating gallery will whisk guests off and around the area, showing off their favorite shows and spaces – not just the obvious ones, but hidden galleries that open by appointment only in private offices.
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Scouring around for information about the forthcoming JW Marriott Venice yesterday, we stumbled upon a rather exciting piece of news: Rocco Forte is planning to open a hotel in Venice.
According to La Nuova, RF himself said that Venice is “attractive” (no, really?), and that he’s looking for a property. The only problem is:
Venetian palazzos are small, and it’s difficult to find space for a 60-room property, which is what we’d like.
Simples, Rocco – buy an island.
That article is from 2012, so let’s hope they’re close to finding something by now. In the meantime, here are three other recent Venice openings (all 2013) that’d be worth a shot:
If there’s one main event in the Brussels social calendar, the Flower Carpet, which runs 14-17 August, would be it. And if you think, “Pshaw, the best they can do is a flower carpet, that just proves everything I thought about Brussels being boring,” you’re totally wrong. Not only is Brussels ace, but the flower carpet is extraordinary: a carpet of begonias in pretty patterns all across the cobbles of the Grand Place, one of the most impressive squares in Europe. It is, apparently, so overwhelmingly beautiful that they can only hold it every two years for three days (disclaimer: that may be hyperbole, and also an excuse).
Seeing the Flower Carpet properly is fiendishly tricky – you can’t walk over it, so you can only get a squiz from the sides. Those in the know book a guided tour of the squareside City Hall – you can get a bird’s eye view from the second floor. But this weekend, there are only two English tours – both on Sunday – and you can’t book ahead, so you’re going to wait in line forever, and probably be disappointed.
Which is where the Hotel Amigo comes in. The Rocco Forte hotel has created a brilliant Begonia Package that will get you perfect views without the need for queuing. It includes:
· Availability-dependent upgrade to a Deluxe room
· Specially created Rose Blossom welcome cocktail;
· In-room facial (ooh-err missus);
· Dinner for two including a sommelier-selected bottle of wine;
· 4pm late check out;
So far, so luxury hotel blah. But here’s the kicker: if you check in August 14, you’ll get an invite to the Flower Carpet’s inauguration cocktail party, in the courtyard of the City Hall; and you’ll also get two tickets to the City Hall to see the panorama: something that will be out of reach for all but the most dedicated wait-in-liners.
Problematic packers, you know who you are.
You can’t zip your suitcase without your entire family doing a tap dance on top of it. At the airport, people congratulate your Samsonite and ask “how far along” it is. When you unpack at the hotel, your once-neatly pressed wardrobe looks like someone was trying to teach themselves origami with your conference outfits.
There is help for people like you, and his name is Ivica Tot-Genz. As the laundry manager at Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Rome in Berlin, Tot-Genz has become the Yoda of luggage management. He’s an interesting guy, a trained bespoke tailor (eye for measurements) who used to fold parachutes for stowing under pilots’ seats in his native Croatia. And his “professional packing” service is inclusive for Hotel de Rome guests.
To give us a taste of his experience-gleaned ideas, Tot-Genz shared with us ten of his Top 10 Packing Tips: