We splash out in a Bay Area onsen, taste first-class fare at Paris’s foremost railway terminal and take the opportunity to recline in Norway and Portugal. Plus: a word with the GM of New York’s most anticipated hotel opening.
UK-based hotel group Firmdale’s Crosby Street Hotel opened in 2009 and quickly become known as one of Manhattan’s finest stopovers. Eight years on and its latest project, The Whitby, will open in February. The just-so Kit Kemp-designed hotel will boast 86 rooms, private terraces aplenty, an orangery and 130-seat cinema – not to mention The Crosby’s former star GM, Kathrin Apitz.
What makes a successful general manager?
Providing your team with the right tools. It starts with recruitment: anything technical can be taught but we have to make sure they have the right personality.
How do you keep service standards high?
The Firmdale approach is to put yourself in the guest’s shoes and make sure you get it right first time. Carry everything out before the guest actually asks for it. The team needs to see that from the top-down and I believe in leading by example. I spend a lot of time on the floor so I am visible to guests as well as the team.
How are you preparing for the new opening?
We are quite picky – but it’s a good thing. We’re very detail oriented. With The Crosby we have a large pool to hire talent from and we pride ourselves on hiring from within; if that’s not available then we branch out. With a new opening we have a minimum of four weeks on site so everyone knows where to get what and how long it takes to deliver.
The former Grand Hotel du Montenvers was built in 1880 to cater for the first mountaineers who had come to see the spectacular glacier known as the Mer de Glace. In 2016 the historic building was snapped up by the family-owned hospitality outfit Maisons et Hôtels Sibuet. It reopens the space in spring 2017 as the Refuge du Montenvers; its restaurant (with panoramic terrace) is already open.
The only way to get here is to hike or take the mountain train from the resort of Chamonix. The historic inn has been carefully renovated, leaving a sober granite façade peppered with clusters of red-and-white painted windows. Guests can sleep in individual rooms, or there are six-person rooms for larger parties.
Opened in late 2016, this three-room guesthouse may be teeny but it’s big on personal touches: think home-baked cakes on arrival and the invitation to wander the flea market with owner Juan de Mayoralgo. The green-tiled façade gives way to a neutral interior with wooden floors, period details and a spare mid-century spread of tasteful furniture. “The house is so beautiful that I didn’t want to fill it with too many things that might distract from it,” says De Mayoralgo.
The upstairs garden room is the pick of the bunch: although bijou it boasts a capacious bathtub and views over a lush canopy of trees. There’s also a garden out back in which to breakfast on Portuguese cheese, seasonal fruit and crusty bread.
Three years ago, the only thing that you would have been swimming in at this former garage in the Tenderloin District would have been motor oil. Now artfully transformed by builder Sunny Simmons and wife Caroline Smith – an artist and acupuncturist respectively – Onsen is a riff on Japan’s hot-spring resorts. The fee of $30 (€28) will get you two hours of soaking time in the 40C 13-person pool (bathing costume optional) that once served as the mechanic’s pit. This is usually followed by a turn in the redwood-and-cedar sauna and steam room or a rubdown in one of the spa’s six treatment rooms. To round off the experience head to the 23-seat restaurant for seasonal dishes such as rice porridge with house kimchi.
Founder Tom Broughton’s vision of creating a good-looking optical brand has extended to the opening of the brand’s fourth space, this time in King’s Cross – and in a nod to its neighbourhood, it’s decked out in racing green as a nod to the Flying Scotsman locomotive that once came through the nearby station. As well as being a great stop-in for specs or shades, the artful new office doubles as an on-the-go optician.
This retreat, founded by Norwegian composer and musician Håvard Lund, is on a lonely archipelago north of the Arctic Circle. The project consists of nine houses clad in hardwood, which together accommodate 15 guests and have views over Fleinvaer Bay and its remote islands.
The rocky landscape provides each building – consisting of a sauna, kitchen house, studio, bathhouse and private sleeping houses – with an individual style. The retreat is available at a cost but if an artist wants to be considered for a residence, the committee of musician Nora Taksdal, director Katrine Strøm and general manager Lund have been known to accept an artwork as payment.
Highflying entrepreneur João Rodrigues has already shaken up the Portuguese hotel scene with four trendsetting projects, including holiday rentals Casa Na Areia and Cabanas No Rio near beach hot-spot Comporta. Now this pilot-turned-hotelier has collaborated with Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus to create another holiday rental in the Portuguese capital.
The brief was to turn an 18th-century apartment in the heart of the city into a contemporary holiday space with six suites spread over two roomy floors. They are available to rent separately or as a complete house, with a private chef available on demand.
With a prime trackside berth at the bustling Gare du Nord, L’Etoile du Nord is the latest project from chef Thierry Marx. Inspired by the “buffets de le gare” (French train-station cafés) of yore, this large white-concrete and Bavarian-wood structure has seating for more than 100 in the downstairs brasserie and an upstairs wine and tapas bar (not to mention a takeaway bakery for those with connections to make).
Far from the delicate victuals he conjures up at his fine dining Sur Mesure at Mandarin Oriental, Paris, Marx’s food here is of the easy, old-school French variety – more steak frites than foamy squiggles. A fine new arrival amid the station’s otherwise average food offerings.