Luxurious and charismatic Hotels. Sometimes in unusual Places.
Barvikha is a suburb 30km west of Moscow along the famous Rublyovka Chaussee where Russia's powerful, rich and famous live, including President Vladimir Putin. There is also the offical government guesthouse, Barvikha Castle Meyerdorff. In 2005, Russia's leading luxury conglomerate Mercury Group opened a large luxury village with many luxury brand flagship stores, plus a hotel and spa, at the highest standards. Barvikha Hotel is member of Leading Hotels of the World. It is by far the most luxurious hotel in all of Russia.
The Grande Dame Hotel of the industrial metropolis of Donetsk was initially built in 1938. It was completely renewed by Ukrainian-Tatar billionaire Rinat Akhmetov in 2004.
Akhmetov also owns top soccer club Shaktyar Donezk. A trophy cabinet in the hotel lobby.
Inside-out view on the large chandelier
TV with many international channels
Amenities by Molton Brown
View from the room
Indoor pool and spa
Donbass Palace has remained open during the conflict (foto: July 2015)
Tobolsk is one of the most pictoresque cities in all of Russia, and the Sibir Hotel, located right next to Tobolsk's Kremlin is probably Russia's most atmospheric and authentic hotel. A great place for history lovers.
Hotel Sibir from outside, right next to Kremlin
Hotel Sibir lobby
Hotel Sibir restaurant
Plenty of old Siberia maps on the walls
First floor alleyway
View from room to Kremlin
Even if this hotel did not meet my usual quality standards, and I stayed in the Tanoa Tusitala instead, while the Aggie Grey's was being refurbished, I found the history of the "Insel Fehmarn Hotel" worth writing home about:
(Memorial Plaque in the Hotel Lobby)
(Fotos: Insel Fehmarn website)
There are other remnants of German history in Apia, capital of the former Deutsch- and today's independent Samoa. Eastern Samoa - capital Pago Pago - still being occupied by the USA.
(Foto: Tanoa Tusitala website)
I stayed at the Hotel Tanoa Tusitala ("storyteller"), the current Nr. 1 on the island, located in embassy row, which owes its name to Robert Louis Stevenson (pictured here in the lobby background; author of "Treasure Island", "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hide") who used to live at this place.
The famous Aggie Grey's Hotel was unfortunately not open during a complete refurbishment, however several other facilities, including the airport catering and an airport resort hotel, are run under the same name by her grandchildren:
Map of Timor-Leste (Source: Wikipedia)
"Presidente Nicolau Lobato Airport" in Timor-Leste's capital Dili. The national freedom fighter hero (against Indonesia) welcomes visitors martially ...
... with AK-47 in hand.
The Esplanada Hotel right on the beachfront has seen part of the hostilities after inauguration in 2002, but always provided a tranquil safe haven, situated between the embassies of the USA and the EU.
There is only one alternative to the Esplanada Hotel, the Novo Turismo Resort ...
More luxurious, but a little less charisma.
Christo Rei beach and statue at the Western end of town
Interesting murals from the book "Peace of Wall - Street Art in East Timor" in the lobby of Esplanada Hotel
Timorese taxi drivers focus on inner values
Airnorth connects Dili with Darwin daily, and less frequent with Manila. There are also daily flights by Garuda to/from Bali.
View over Dili ...
... and the harbour.
Bye bye to a beautiful country worth visiting.
My new favourite hotel worldwide, combining luxury, design, exotic location, and a bit of "dangerzone" feeling: the Airways in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
It's all about aircraft ...
... views ...
... atmosphere & design ...
... and location, right next to the international airport (spot the aircraft right on the hotel roof, in the picture centre).
Many foreign dignitaries have stayed at PNG's best hotel.
Executive lounge, privy to the "Dakota" room category, with excellent butler service
Restaurant VUE with million-$-views
Wine & cigar stock
Spa & Gym
Dakota room / junior suite
Limousine service ...
... directly from the airport arrival zone.
Greek-Cypriot hotel owner Sir George Constantinou was shot in Port Moresby in 2008. His billionaire estate still owns the Airways and several other hotels in the South Pacific.
Campo Imperatore on Gran Sasso Mountain is the historic location where Otto Skorzeny (Austrian soldier in WW2) freed Benito Mussolini in a daring commando operation. Today there is a hotel by the same name and an observatory on this mountain plateau, which resembles Tibet or the Andes,.
Campo Imperatore is conveniently situated on the highway between Rome and Pescara.
From the main highway it is only 25 km uphill ...
on an immensely beautiful mountain road, a great delight for drivers, ...
past cows ...
and wild horses ...
until you reach the plateau ...
where you can imagine Skorzeny hovering in with his glider planes.
Today's observatory ...
some of the residents ...
and finally the Campo Imperatore ...
which is not always open (there is an alternative hotel at the mountain bottom, the Nido del Aquila) ...
and quite a run-down wreck, but nevertheless worth a visit.
"The Eagle Has Landed" by Jack Higgins, 1975
Excursion to Lake Kezenoy, high up in the Chechen Caucasus Mountains:
A three hours drive uphill from Grozny, partly on gravel roads:
This road sign is at 2.000m above sea level, and exactly on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan:
(Lake Kezenoy in the left background)
With a friendly local guard:
Beautiful Lake Kezenoy is two thirds in Chechnya and one third in Dagestan:
The brandnew Lake Kezenoy Hotel & Villas and its Sports Sanatorium at 1.800m:
View towards the lake:
With a collection of ancient Chechen swords and pistols:
Hotel Kezenoy lobby:
Hotel Kezenoy first floor;
Hotel Kezenoy waiting room:
Hotel Kezenoy's general manager lady and Hasan from the Chechen tourism ministry
This Designhotel is situated at a three hour drive from the capital Tbilisi, in Stepantsminda, high up the Georgian Military Highway, in the Caucasus Mountains, next to the Russian border, with a million-dollar-view on Mount Kazbegi (where Prometeus was chained to, after he stole the fire, according to the ancient Greek sagas). Here are some impressions:
View over Florence from Villa Vedetta
For the holidaymaker or relaxation tourist, there is only one hotel:
The Four Seasons, situated on the outskirts, with a fantastic pool, spa and garden.
Lobby of Four Seasons Hotel Florence
For the businessman, art enthusiast, fashonista or other upscale traveller, the decision is more difficult:
Salvatore Ferragamo was born in 1898 near Napoli. When the family moved to the USA before World War I, Salvatore quickly made his luck in Hollywood, providing made-to-measure shoes to stars like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich or later Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. He moved back to Italy in 1937 and acquired Florence's biggest private medieval palace, the Palazzo Spini Feroni, which today houses the Ferragamo company's headquarter, flagship store and museum. After Salvatore's death in 1960, the family managed to keep control and grow the business, including many other luxury lifestyle products, like their Lungarno Collection hotels.
The name Lungarno originally derives from the cobbled streets that stretch alung the Arno River since antiquity. Nowadays, the Lungarno Collection comprises the four Ferragamo hotels in Florence, plus their super-luxury hotel "Portrait" in Rome. In addition, the family owns the "Borgo San Jacopo" gourmet restaurant inside Hotel Lungarno, "Villa Le Rose" in Chianti, the "Puro Suites" at Scarlino Yacht Club, including use of Nautor Swan Sailing Yachts, a company controlled by Salvatore Ferragamo's son Leonardo, who also runs the Lungarno Collection.
The fabulous four Ferragamo Florence hotels are distinct properties with different styles and strengths and price tags. What they have in common is not only the family ownership, or the sophisticated style by interior designer Michele Bönan, but also the town's monopoly position closest to the Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno.
This is the group's newest (Spring 2014), most private, expensive and luxurious all-suite hotel in Florence.
The Portrait hotel's private lobby lounge
Hotel Lungarno Florence
This is the group's most famous property, very sophisticated, elegant, romantic and "old school", with an award-winning restaurant and perfect balcony views of Ponte Vecchio.
Hotel Lungarno (center, with balcony rooms)
Ferragamo biography book in the Lungarno lobby
Lungarno lobby bar with view of Ponte Vecchio - and Ferragamo croco shoes
Lungarno view toward Ponte Vecchio and Hotels Portrait, Gallery Art and Continentale
Hotel Continentale Florence
This is the group's most edgy and avantgarde boutique hotel (member of Design Hotels Group), with a slightly feminine or gay touch, appealing to the urban lounge and party crowd. It also hosts a popular rooftop terrace and a spa.
Entrance to Continentale
View from the popular Continentale "La Terrazza" rooftop directly above Ponte Vecchio
Avantgarde design hotel interior
Crazy elevators at Continentale
Continentale relaxation lounge above the tourist crowd (right at Ponte Vecchio entrance)
Gallery Hotel Art, Florence
This is the group's most commonly accessible hotel (by taste and price), with contemporary design and art exhibitions.
Entrance to Gallery Art
Gallery Art lobby bar and restaurant with a nice sundeck outside
Gallery Art library
Temporary public art installation between Hotel Continentale and Gallery Art
Ferragamo headquarters, flagship store and museum in Palazzo Spini Feroni
(Museum foto: Wikipedia)
25.04.2014 -30 °C
Each year in April, the Russian Geographical Society builds a spectacular tent camp for scientists, explorers and tourists. The Logistical effort to build Barneo is fascinating. They called it Barneo, because, ahem, well, it is not Borneo ! :-)
Take off from Spitsbergen, Norway on an Antonov AN-74 "Arctic" airplane, nicknamed "Cheburashka" (a comic figure with large ears) ...
... with 32 passengers max
On the flight deck with 4 pilots and navigators, plus one flight engineer and one steward (drinks only during the 2.5 hrs)
Landing on the ice runway at Barneo, 89°12.562’ N (today's drift position: 87 km from the North Pole)
Built every year from scratch with a scraper tractor, which is parachuted in at the beginning, and then sunk (without oils or fuels) at the end of each season
Impressions from the drifting ice camp
Toilet facilities. A hard affair at temperatures around -30 °C
Tents are for 12 people max and heated to ca 12 °C. Excellent sleeping bags are provided.
The main public mess tent
Rules. Against ice bears and ice cracks.
Current overview of "last degree" expeditions to the Pole by foot or dogsled
With Victor Serov, the Russian expedition leader
(and Ice Figure Skating World Champion Miki Ando from Japan who went for the first skate at the North Pole)
With Horacio Galanti, world class explorer of 7summits2poles
Just a day before, Artur Chilingarov, Russia's most famous explorer, Member of Parliament and Presidential Envoy for International Cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic, had visited the Barneo Camp.
His daughter Ksenia Chilingarova produces the Russian Arctic Explorer clothing.
A variety of passport stamps and other souvenirs are available from the friendly Russians
Guns against icebears. There was a rare sighting of a female with 2 cubs in the vicinity.
A symbolic foto opportunity at the Ice Camp Barneo
30 min helicopter ride ...
... on a 25-seater MI-8T Russian helicopter ...
... to a provisional pole at the North Pole on the constantly moving ice (ca.4.000 km per year) ...
... at -41 °C ...
... and 90°N 00' 00" * ...
--- on Horacio Galanti's GPS.
A certificate for the rest of the world
It is no surprise that the Russians have a certain right to claim the North Pole, as their territory circles around more than half of it - and they are uniquely capable of operating in those difficult and cold conditions - as proven by Ice Camp Barneo. It is now scientific fact that the first person to reach the North Pole was Russian Ivan Papanin in 1937 - and not Frederick Cook or Robert Peary, who faked their accounts (North Pole History ). The South Pole (McMurdo Base) is instead controlled by the US-Americans.
The first and only drive to the Geographic North Pole by car was the Russian Yemelya Expedition by Vasily Elagin, in 2013, crossing the whole Arctic Cap from Russia to Canada. The first and only drive by motorbike to the Geographic North Pole was the amazing Shinji Kazama in 1987. In comparison, the English "Top Gear" drive to the Magnetic North Pole of 1996 (at 78°N "only") was rather a quick PR stunt. Think about it...
24.03.2014 -20 °C
Yamal-Nenets Republic in Russia's Northern Central Siberia is Gazprom territory with lots of oil and gas exploration. The region is reachable by air with Yamal Airlines and by car on an asphalted road from Surgut to Novy Urengoy (770 km) or Nadym (1.000km).
Here is a road map:
The excellent 4*-Hotel Yamburg in Novy Urengoy is operated at a high standard by Gazprom.
Beware: Novy Urengoy is formally a closed town, so you require a "propusk", an FSB-permit to stay overnight at any of the hotels in town. However, entrance or transit through town are not a problem.
(Great cigar lounge !)
The best hotel in Nadym - not a closed town - is also operated by Gazprom. The 3*-Hotel Iceberg is shaped like a pyramid.
Nadym is the starting point for the 350km "Zimnik" (winter road / ice road) to Salekhard,
also known as Stalin's "Dead Road" or "Dead Trassa" on the "Transpolarnaya Railway".
A highly recommended "extreme" tourism experience.
Location of the Hotel de Bilderberg near Arnhem, Holland, on the Lower Rhine River
Hotel facade (Source: Wikipedia)
This hotel had been on my list for quite a while, because of its history as the original hotel and namegiver of the Bilderberger conference, which is still a pretty elitist annual circle with a knack for very private accomodation and for art-of-the-state remote control amenities. Whereas the hotel doesn't set world standards anymore and is by no means a game changer, its Bilderburger is easily digestable, not only for the Big Cheese, and boils in a class of its own. Tastes like the beef was personally ground by Kissinger, and the sauce a secret recipe handed down by oral traditions without any notes taken. The new-world design is pleasant and the conference facilities plenty. If the agenda of the Bilderbergers is as bright and friendly as the hotel, we have nothing to fear...
The annual Bilderberger conference draws controversy today because of its undemocratic, intransparent format - and the enormous security cost, which has to be covered by the taxpayer. The 2015 Bilderberger conference is staged at the Interalpen Hotel Tyrol, near Innsbruck, Austria.
Interior design after current renovation
The famous Bilderburger
The bill of the Bilderberg
"We are grateful to the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time Magazine and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost forty years. It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subjected to the lights of publicity during those years. But, the world is more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government. The supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national autodetermination practiced in past centuries."
David Rockefeller, Speaking at the June, 1991 Bilderberger meeting in Baden, Germany
Say "cheese" !
I found Vladikavkaz to be Russia's most pleasant city with an almost mediterranean feel, nestled in the Caucasus mountains, along the Terek River, with open cafes on a pedestrian boulevard (with an old tramway) and at least three good hotels: the Alexandrovsky Palace, the Imperial and the (former Intourist) Hotel Vladikavkaz. Here are some impressions:
Hotel Alexandrovsky Palace: