Travel briefing / Global
A launch in Kuala Lumpur, an art-filled guesthouse in Geneva, and an Austrian hotelier on the up – here is our selection of intriguing new places to lay your head.
When it opened in 1995, the Maximilian Hotel was one of the first small and smart hotels in Prague and it’s recently been given a thoughtful facelift by London’s Conran and Partners. Its 71 rooms are a short stroll from Charles Bridge and Wenceslas Square. The guest rooms are rather grand, with arched ceilings, while the woven headboards nod to traditional basket-making. The hotel’s artwork celebrates the Czech avant garde movement and the reconfigured space now has an additional bar and café plus a brasserie, library and courtyard garden. There’s also a basement spa for those looking for a little respite.
Austin Proper Hotel
Los Angeles designer Kelly Wearstler has brought her deft touch to Texas for the Proper brand’s first hotel outside California. Every dreamy room is finished with tiles by ceramicist Rick Van Dyke, art by Magda Sayeg and Texas-mined travertine. The food options include The Peacock, the hotel’s Mediterranean flagship; La Piscina, a Mexican-inspired poolside affair; The Mockingbird Café, a bakery; and Goldie’s Sunken Bar, a cocktail joint. Bottoms up.
Hotelier Weitzer Hotels,
Graz and Vienna
Florian Weitzer is a member of the fourth generation of a family of hoteliers from Austria’s second-largest city, Graz. Since taking over the group in 2003, he has expanded into Vienna with the Hotel Daniel and Grand Ferdinand Hotel, while also overhauling and updating the family’s three Graz mainstays. He talks about Austrian hospitality, buoying a brand and a new opening outside the capital.
What does Austrian hospitality mean to you and what makes it unique?
There’s a line in the Austrian national anthem that goes: “A nation blessed with beauty”. So we strive for high standards when it comes to hospitality.
How is it changing?
You have to be unique to survive. For my part, each of my locations has its own distinct identity. This appeals to our guests and, of course, this is what helps to create a brand.
Tell us about your latest openings.
We recently opened a new restaurant, Salon Marie, at the Grand Hôtel Wiesler in Graz. Dating from 1909, the hotel itself is quite special. We will also open our first standalone restaurant this summer in Salzburg.
How did you make them feel new and keep your fingerprint on them?
I love reinterpreting highly atmospheric old buildings in a contemporary way, so while we celebrate tradition, we do it in a forward-looking manner.
Are there many opportunities in the Austrian market and what are they
You could say that there are still many places in Austria that are waiting to be kissed and awoken. I believe that my new project is one of them. I purchased a historic spa hotel in a beautiful area just outside Vienna; it will be opening in a few years as the Grand Semmering. It had its heyday before the First World War when important Austrian writers and artists came to visit. I was inspired by the charm of the building. weitzer.com
The Chow Kit
Kuala Lumpur’s Chow Kit neighbourhood doesn’t have the best reputation but hotelier Gareth Lim of the Ormond Group is eager to change that with the opening of two hotels. “This neighbourhood isn’t what it used to be,” says Lim. “Now there’s a great community and great food. We want to be the hotel that changes its narrative.”
The end of last year saw the launch of The Chow Kit, designed by New York-based Studio Tack, followed by smaller sister hotel Momo’s next door. Beyond the interiors that were finished by Malaysian craftsmen, the key for both properties is a sense of place. While The Chow Kit is more refined and sheltered, Momo’s has a lively lobby with a taco bar and an events space that hosts musicians, comedians and pop-ups
Artist Residence Bristol
Charlie and Justin Salisbury have transformed an abandoned boot factory in the St Pauls area of the city into a homely new hotel adorned with art. “The real appeal is the opportunity to bring a corner of this historic square back to life for the community,” says Justin of the space on Portland Square. Other than its 23 guest rooms, the duo’s fifth UK property has a bar, café, garden, restaurant and events space, and makes an excellent springboard from which to dive into the city.
Builth Wells, Wales
A pantechnicon van – once used to haul antiques and later as a storage cabin – has been transformed into an unlikely holiday home in the grounds of Farmers’, one of the few lavender farms in Wales. “The truck was an eyesore that became something we loved,” says Nancy Durham, who founded Farmers’ with her husband William Newton-Smith in 2002. (monocle liked it so much that we collaborated with the brand.) “We have a lot of visitors to the farm and people have been asking for years whether we have a place to stay. At last we do.”
Durham and her team harvest and distil the fragrant lavender plants and use them to make everything from body creams to cakes. The Farmers’ shop, where these handmade goods are sold, is close to the van, which is fitted with large windows and a spacious deck overlooking the landscape and nearby swimming pond.
The interior is furnished with polished oak floors, custom shelves and cabinets containing ceramic tableware by local maker Tim Lake and all you need to self-cater. Upon arrival guests are greeted with freshly baked bread, a bottle of wine, coffee, tea and condiments, as well as eggs from the farm next door. A wooden staircase leads to a cove with a king-sized bed but if you have time to kill before turning in for the night, you can make yourself comfortable in the Bauhaus-style chairs at the foot of the stairs and admire the rolling hills.
It took Tara Wondraczek and her family 10 years to turn a beautiful 18th-century townhouse in the cobblestoned streets of Geneva’s Old Town into a guesthouse. The former London-based brand manager hadn’t worked a day in hospitality before inheriting the property and transforming it into The Hamlet with her husband Christoph.
Today the house has 16 apartments available for short and long-term lets, some with room for four or more. “We realised that home is a sense of belonging and a space to host and bring people together,” says Wondraczek. “It’s our living room and we call this area ‘the square’ – because every hamlet should have one.”
“The square” includes an épicerie and a living room furnished with a solid walnut table where guests eat and work. There’s also a pantry for self-service drinks and treats, a well-stocked library and a gallery for exhibitions by artists including Wondraczek’s mother, Lynne Hacking.
The Hamlet has a number of Vitra pieces (the Swiss furniture firm recently opened a shop downstairs) that are mixed with vintage finds from flea markets. “We want to bring life to the building and connect it with the neighbourhood,” says Wondraczek.
By the lake
Philippe Starck’s nautically inspired redesign of La Réserve Eden au Lac Zürich means that the grand old Zürich hotel now has the looks worthy of its lakeside position.
It’s a bright, crisp morning and the sunlight is dancing off the lake as luggage is hauled by porters through the doors of the newly renovated La Réserve Eden au Lac Zürich. Built in 1909, this property has long been a grand hotel though it was not always among the very best in town. After numerous refits and updates, the latest brief was to make the property stand out in a city that’s replete with five-star stays. Although it’s the most recent addition to the roster of 13 top-tier hotels in the city, La Réserve Eden au Lac Zürich is fortunate to be the closest to the lake.
Michel Reybier, owner of the La Réserve hotel group, tapped designer Philippe Starck for the makeover, and their shared love of sailing led them to sketch out a vision of an imaginary yacht club by the lake. “I heard rumors that Eden au Lac used to be a yacht club,” says Starck. “We found a lot of traces from the past: pictures of sailboats, mahogany panels used for yachts, oars, hulls of boats. It was a dream.”
The final leg of the project set sail in 2017 and, as is often the case, took longer than expected; doors eventually opened earlier this year. The result was worth the wait. Red wood panelling dominates the halls and accents every guest room, while maritime nuances include arched entrances, rattan walls and deck-like timber flooring.
From the exposed brick walls to the muted colour of the rugs, every detail of the refit was selected – and many elements custom-made – by Starck and his team. Orange stools with polished steel frames and leather armchairs fill the rooms, while in one restaurant light flows in through stained-glass windows created by Ara Starck, the designer’s daughter.
Blue and white-striped awnings adorn the façade of the building (a nautical nod but also the colours of the Zürich city crest) and natural light also illuminates the less-formal Eden Kitchen & Bar. “We wanted to avoid white tablecloths, dress codes and set menus. This is not us,” says director of sales Ken Dang, who joined the hotel before the refit to help manage the project. The jade-tiled open kitchen has an elaborate grill with large steel chains for hoisting meat. Try the grilled sole with pilaf rice and spinach or head to the bar where bar supervisor Marco Werner is a dab hand with a martini. As day turns into night and the lounge begins to fill, glasses clink and spritzes fizz as customers move from meetings to socialising. As monocle has noted on several evening visits, the bar could do with turning down the lights so that it’s less like the lobby of an airport hotel.
Climb six floors to La Muña and sample the Peruvian-Japanese menu while seated beneath the building’s original joists and rafters. Here you’ll dine among paintings of crashing waves and black-and-white photographs of seafaring captains. Or sip a cocktail in the roof garden, which has views across the lake toward the snow-tipped mountains and over the city below.
Prior to the refit a small spa and pool were mooted but turned down, though this hasn’t deterred guests. “We have the biggest pool in front of the hotel,” says Dang gesturing toward the lake.