Lap of Luxury – Gstaad

By Shereen Shabnam

After a few days of rest and relaxation in Zermatt, Switzerland, I was keen to introduce my teenager who loves snow and cold weather to Gstaad. After exploring numerous parts of the country using the Swiss Pass on the way to Gstaad, before venturing to Gstaad, we arrived to a quaint railway station where our driver was waiting to take us to Huus Gstaad, which is one of the most welcoming and homely hotels in the area.

Gstaas is a playground for holidaymakers who prefer a touch of exclusivity for their holiday experiences in a unique landscape that is full of tradition, sports, delectable cuisine and culture. A walk around the town is the perfect antidote to cheer oneself up while trying out hand made chocolates and local cheese platters.

To many, Gstaad is known as a major ski resort and a popular destination amongst high society and the international jet set but it is a perfect place for adventure tourism as well.

While my teenager enjoyed river rafting thanks to the wonderful staff of the Huus Gstaad Hotel, my favourite part of the visit was going up the mountains for tobogganing, watching my daughter try different games and inhaling the fresh crisp air that makes the lungs feel good.

The countryside in Gstaad offers a versatile and diverse sports programme with hiking, mountain biking, paragliding and golf. Gstaad is also a wellness destination and guarantees an unsurpassed variety of leisure activities, spas, healthy cuisine, sports centres and indoor swimming pools.

Set amongst soaring mountains and prestigious international boarding schools, Gstaad is a popular holiday destination for royalty and celebrities. Cable cars connect surrounding ski areas such as Wispile and Rinderberg, with hundreds of kilometers of all-level pistes and cross-country trails.

We started our journey at the centre of Gstaad, which is the most popular and fell in love with the shortest “shopping mile” in Switzerland. With luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants, luxury chalets, the car-free resort was a delight as we walked along the picturesque promenade and tried some of the local delicacies.  explored the local galleriesand exclusive shops.

Retail therapy in Gstaad is a delight with designer stores that include Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chopard, Brunello Cucinelli, Prada, Moncler, Ralph Lauren, and Cartier as well as boutiques that stock labels such as Chloe, Dolce & Gabbana, Tod’s, Burberry, Dior, Oscar de la Renta, and Marc Jacobs.

Food lovers will be happy to note that Gstaad is also a paradise for fine diners, with more than 100 restaurants ranging from cosy raclette restaurants to acclaimed gourmet venues. Our most memorable meal was a five-course meal at Ultima Gstaad.

Leaving Gstaad is not easy as the wonderful views from cosy terraces, the picturesque mountains, fresh alpine air, gourmet cuisine, indoor games near warm fireplaces and outdoor adventures leaves an imprint on the heart and soul.

Each time I visualise a perfect holiday now, my mind wanders to the warmth of the staff and the cosy lobby area of Huus Gstaad and this ultimate hospitality is what makes it a destination that attracts visitors back to the beautiful alpine heaven more than once.

 

 

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EXCEPTIONAL HOSPITALITY AND FAMILY TRADITIONS – WHITE STALLION RANCH

By Shereen Shabnam

As the world gets more accessible to travellers, destinations sought are no longer just limited to beaches and cities. Highlands, cruises, ranches are becoming more popular and our current favourite is the White Stallion Ranch.

The personal touch and hospitality of this traditional dude ranch is carefully blended with the service and amenities of a fine resort where guests can reconnect with nature, family, friends and serenity. Adventure seekers can ride through the unspoiled desert and the rugged mountains.

With a warm, welcoming atmosphere, the ranch has been the Hollywood filmmakers for years as a backdrop in Western feature films and later, as the location for the television series High Chaparral.

The guest rooms at the ranch and The Hacienda, a lovely and private four-bedroom, three-bathroom home are spacious and charming, perfect for larger families or small groups. Every guest room has a private patio with views of the cactus gardens, mountains, or corrals.  Amenities include eco-friendly soaps, shampoos and lotions, hair dryers, mini-refrigerators and personal safes in all rooms.

A premium advantage of a vacation at White Stallion Ranch is that all the cooking is done for guests with a variety of meal options using the freshest, quality ingredients in home-style recipes.

The breakfast includes a cooked-to-order menu as well as an extensive continental buffet. Lunch and dinner buffets are also available with snacks all day including fresh fruit, chips and salsa, peanuts and a homemade trail mix.  For drinks, guests can have coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate, hot and cold teas and lemonade through the day.

Among activities at the ranch, the riding program is one of the focal points, with a large herd of hand picked horses and knowledgeable wranglers to guide the riding adventures.

Guests can also enjoy guided rock climbing, hiking, tennis, basketball, the game room, movie theater, swimming pool, hot tub, gift shop, spa, exercise room or just relaxing on one of the many charming patios with mountain views.

White Stallion Ranch was originally built in the 1900’s and began as a cattle ranch. The original property was constructed of Mexican adobe brick made of mud and straw. During renovation, wire and horseshoes were found in the walls. A small part of the original adobe is on display in the dining room, the original building on the ranch.

As a sought after destination that is also an attraction, the White Stallion Ranch has won many accolades and is recognised for service excellence and value. It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and recognised among the fifteen best hotels in Tucson in 2017 by US News and World Report and holds the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence since 2015 to this year.

The current owners maintain the traditions of the West with many of the original buildings still in use. They have added sunken tennis courts, a movie theater, a new pool and hot tub area with a serenity patio, lighted sport courts a spa area and fitness center. They have also established one of the largest privately owned herds of horses in Arizona and a large herd of cattle.

New ranch holiday seekers should start with the best and the White Stallion Ranch is the perfect venue to get a glimpse into the ranch lifestyle.

 

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Authentic Italian Experiences – Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

By Shereen Shabnam

 

Set in the Eternal City on the grounds of a 15 acre park, Rome, the spectacular Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort offers guests a home overlooking the best parts of the Vatican City. I spent a few days exploring the majestic hotel and its spa recently and left rested and relaxed for my next adventure.

Being a lover of art, I have been sponsoring the art perspective event every two months held in a five star hotel in Dubai over the year and hence, very familiar with the trend of merging the art world with the hospitality world but seeing the seeing the scale of art at Rome Cavalieri left me mesmerised. The hotel is home to over 1,200 beautiful artworks from well-known artists like Andy Warhol, Giovanni Battista and period pieces of artefacts, tapestries and furniture.

Recently, the hotel introduced a series of complimentary luxury experiences for guests who book to stay a number of days in one of the hotel’s suites this year. They can take part in a series of inimitable local activities focusing on art, culture and cuisine, with each experience offered to vary depending on the suite chosen and time of year.

Whether it’s learning to make authentic Italian sandals with an authentic, family-run Italian shoemaker, private tours of the Vatican Gardens, the Pope’s summer Residence or the gardens of Castel Gandolfo or culinary journeys in the city, Rome Cavalieri’s Suite Experiences promise a memorable stay.

Food lovers will enjoy a private culinary tour and two-way transfer to Mercato Trionfale in the Prati neighbourhood, a market frequented by locals. The tour features six venues with over 20 different food and wine tastings. Here, guests can sample local culinary delights including truffles and 30 year aged balsamic vinegar, artisanal gelateria from Fatamorgana, homemade pasta with D.O.C.G. Vermentino wine at an award-winning restaurant, caviar and foie gras topped pizzas at Pizzarium, Rome’s number one pizzeria. It also includes a visit to Paciotti, the number one gourmet food shop in Rome, offering over 200 types of cheeses and 100 types of meats. 

Guests staying in the top suites can enjoy the private use of a professional photographer to accompany them on their day around the Eternal City. Guests will receive a professional photoshoot in both Rome and the hotel, with a Mercedes at their disposal throughout the day. To cherish those memories, guests will receive an elegantly presented box with a USB drive and photo print outs, which will be directly delivered to them after their stay.

My favourite experience naturally would be staying in the Vista and Corner Suites and enjoy a luxury picnic in the hotel’s verdant parkland, accompanied with a butler as well as a private yoga session in the park and an 80-minute massage.

The spa experience in Rome Cavalieri was an amazing escape to a tranquil oasis with Roman baths, fitness centre and reputed products to indulge in. I opted for massage and once I saw the La Prairie products, I wished I had booked a facial too but had to catch my flight back to Dubai.

Overall, the Rome Cavalieri was a surreal experience. The building was designed by one of the most important architects of the period, Ugo Luccichenti, assisted by E. Pifferi and A. Ressa, with contribution from two superstar architects of the ‘60’s, Franco Albini and Pierluigi Nervi.

Ever since its opening in 1963, the hotel is known for the highest level of comfort attracting famous personalities and fifty years on, the Rome Cavalieri continues to move with the times, exceeding the expectations of the most demanding international travelers and living up to its name as an icon in the world of luxury hospitality. I certainly felt extremely special throughout my stay and would love to return with family one day to relive the experience and of course to make their spa my second home for at least a week.

 

 

 

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Pearl of the Adriatic – Dubrovnik, Croatia

By Shereen Shabnam

Dubrovnik in Croatia is a city for all seasons and one of the world’s most prominent tourist destinations. Surrounded by unique medieval ramparts, Dubrovnik attracts visitors for its rich history, mild climate, traditional hospitality and its many festivals, open-air events and architectural treasures.

I explored Dubrovnik, a UNESCO registered protected world heritage site during the evening and in the day taking in the charm of bustling streets, art and different cultural events.

Walking along the promenade during the day meant coming across various art and artefacts on sale as well as live music performances. The open air performances add character to the different areas of the old town classical and jazz music and brings rhythm and charm into an already dazzling atmosphere.

While wandering through the markets, we toured the filming location of the ‘Game of Thrones’ television series and enjoyed some retail therapy of the related merchandise for fans back in the UAE.

The best part of Dubrovnik was exploring the old city, which had interesting markets, art galleries and city walls with fortresses offering beautiful views of the city, the open sea and the Island of Lokrum.

For panoramic views of Dubrovnik, visitors can take the cable car and set out on a scenic adventure that includes breathtaking views of the old town and enjoy the sunset. Make time to head to the Island of Lokrum and Elaphiti Islands or visit the Trsteno Arboretum, which is a protected monument of nature.

Dubrovnik is a great destination for adventure sports or active tourists who enjoy horse riding, hiking, cycling or sailing. A jeep safari or a canoe tour is also an interesting way to explore the area.

Dubrovnik was a gastronomic delight with an abundance of fresh and delectable food, often seasoned with olive oil. Try the naturally grown vegetables like courgettes, cabbage, aubergines tomatoes as well as seafood prepared in a simple way.

I had a full day exploring the old town and came across a Salvador Dali exhibition, which was an unexpected delight. Visitors who enjoy experience centres will enjoy The Cultural History Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Archeological Museum exhibition at Fortress Revelin, the Dubrovnik Natural Science Museum and the Dubrovnik State Archives.

The natural scenery in the area and panoramic views of the coast on the way to the old town in Dubrovnik were definitely some of the most memorable moments in Croatia.  I am already planning my next venture into the land of fortresses and medieval architecture.

Turkish Airlines recently added Dubrovnik, Croatia to its expanding network with three weekly flights for visitors intending to explore this beautiful city.

 

Haven of Tranquility: Shangri-La Dubai

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My favourite venue for rest and relaxation, Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai has a new look and feel after its extensive renovation across its public areas including the Lobby Lounge and Dunes Café. The renovation programme has revealed a beautiful and modern, yet classical design and marks a new chapter in the evolution of Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai.

With the aim to create a contemporary haven of elegance that blends modern Arabia with Shangri-La’s legendary hospitality in the heart of Dubai, the hotel’s Lobby Lounge has been extended, whilst Dunes Café has been designed as a more private dining space set aside from the lobby by pods which shield the area discreetly from the hustle and bustle. Steel and gold chandeliers are suspended from the lobby ceilings, whilst a welcoming and open guest arrival lounge provides a warm and uplifting first impression for guests.

The best features from the renovation is the stunning ‘wave’ chandelier designed by bespoke chandelier designers, Lasvit, hangs in the entrance of the hotel and the spectacular chandelier that hangs in the two-storey staircase connecting the lobby and dining outlets.

In the lobby itself, plentiful flashes of gold and ruby red detailing reflect the jewels of traditional Arabian souks. In addition, 4,212 hand-cut, blue, tiger’s eye stone tiles have been pieced together to form the entry walls to the six lobby elevators. The stone is also featured on the tables in the Lobby Lounge. Tiger’s Eye is a semi-precious stone believed to hold soothing qualities and has been introduced to bring a further sense of calm to the surroundings.

The hotel’s impressive, atrium-style lobby area has been designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) the world’s leading hospitality interior design firm. The new layout across the renovated areas of the hotel has been planned in a manner, which enables guests to effortlessly mix work with pleasure. Host a business meeting in the new stylish Lobby Lounge, meet friends for drinks, enjoy Asian High Tea or watch the world go by while having a specialist tea or coffee.

Located on the ground floor, Dunes Café is convenient and perfectly placed for casual dining with friends or business associates. The live open kitchen, featuring numerous culinary styles, is a showcase for the best of international cuisine.

The signature restaurant of Shangri-La Hotels worldwide, Shang Palace, has launched their latest, unbeatable offer at Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai. Every night from Tuesday through Sunday, guests can dine and wine at the award-winning venue and select up to four options from the a la carte menu for a set price of AED 218 per person. To compliment the offer, guests will also receive 50% off of the exquisite wine selection.

Renowned for its Yum Cha, acclaimed Beijing Duck and extensive list of fragrant teas, Shang Palace offers a wide selection of mouth-watering Cantonese and provincial delicacies, complemented by authentic Chinese hospitality. Shang Palace’s unique fusion of a mystical Far Eastern ambiance and the finest cuisine ensures a truly memorable dining experience.

The latest spa offer allows us to escape from our day to day life and find a moment of inner peace by experiencing a new late night treatment in the serenity and calm of CHI, The Spa, which is now open until midnight.

Whether you are a busy traveler, an exhausted businesswomen or a busy mother, this is the way to reclaim some ‘me time’. The spa seamlessly blends the Far East Asian roots of the hotel with Arabian inspiration from local culture for a truly unique experience.

Book a Drift Away body massage, perfect after a long day at work or travelling. The relaxing head-to-toe massage, formulated with a dreamy blend of essential oils is guaranteed to have you drift away. This 60 or 90 minute treatment is complete with a face and scalp massage to smooth frazzled nerves, relaxing the muscles and the mind. With this purchase, guests can also enjoy full access to Health Club and Spa facilities, and receive a complimentary home sleep kit for lasting benefits.

The Shangri-La Dubai remains my favourite place for tranquility and for catching up with friends and family.

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Futuristic Hospitality: Building World Class Hotels

Known for its exemplary service, and unique properties, Habtoor Hospitality, the Middle East’s longest established hospitality group, encompasses the rapidly expanding hotel and entertainments offering. Part of The Al Habtoor Group, the division takes great pride in the fact that whilst its foundations lie in the UAE, Habtoor Hospitality competes on a global scale.

The Group’s growing portfolio includes the flagship Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection, two Metropolitan Hotels, with a third, The Metropolitan Sheikh Zayed Road, opening in 2016, the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, along with international properties in Beirut, Budapest and the USA.

Al Habtoor Group’s new mega-project, Al Habtoor City, situated in the heart of the city on Sheikh Zayed Road, will play host to some of the division’s most exciting new developments. Under the management of Starwood, 2015 will see the opening of Dubai’s first St. Regis hotel closely followed bythe Westin, Al Habtoor City, as well as the W Hotel brand’s debut in the UAE.

In addition to over 1,600 rooms, including the regions first Bentley Suite, the five star hotel complex will offer a huge array of restaurants and entertainment outlets. The heartbeat of which will be a spectacular, multi-billion dirham, purpose built entertainment theatre with a production from Franco Dragone.

The Al Habtoor Group, Franco Dragone Entertainment and Paris-based designer Jean Rabasse have teamed up to offer the only permanent water-based theatre production between Las Vegas and Macau. The impressive circular theatre auditorium will be 30 meters high and have a capacity of 1,400 unique seats, giving the whole audience a first class view of what promises to be a World class show.

With three additional luxury residential towers featuring 11 exquisite penthouses, this mega development on the banks of the soon to be completed Dubai Water Canal, will be the World’s largest residential and hospitality destination of its kind.

According to Al Habtoor Group Chairman, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, “Al Habtoor City will incorporate more than 3,000 hotel and residential units on one plot. Our project will prove that Dubai is the only place in the world to invest. Al Habtoor City is truly a breathtaking project. It will help boost the economy, provide thousands of jobs and will set a benchmark for future projects of its kind.”

Al Habtoor City’s location rises on thesite where The Metropolitan Hotel once stood. The new boutique 4-star hotel in a new location on Sheikh Zayed Road will comprise indoor and al fresco cafes, an all-day dining restaurant, the renewed Don Corleone Italian Restaurant and English pub, red Lion. Other facilities will include a ballroom, five meeting rooms, rooftop swimming pool and a gymnasium.

The Group’s Chairman, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor mentions, “We started out in the hotel business in 1979 with the metropolitan Hotel, so it is fitting as we celebrate our 45th anniversary that we should revive an established brand that is so much part of our heritage. I feel sure that the new Metropolitan will enjoy the same success as the original one and become embedded in the hearts of Dubai’s residents and visitors alike.”

The most recently announced project from the Al Habtoor Groupwillsee its Hospitality arm operating in a truly unique setting. The St. Regis Dubai Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club will be a state-of-the-art polo and equestrian community, located in Dubailand. This one-billion dirham development will include an Andalusian-style luxury St. Regis hotel managed by Starwood. In addition there will be a state-ofthe- art polo academy with four polo fields, show jumping and dressage arenas, and a riding school with 500 stables.

 

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