These places to stay offer every little elegant touch — some, even at a discount.
Check in to Paris' Le Meurice late in the day, and you'll be just in time for afternoon tea, the highlight of which will be resident pastry chef, Camille Lesecq's "detox macaroon." Flavored with green tea and candied pink grapefruit cream, the treat is impossibly light but intensely flavorful.
It's just the tiniest touch in an entire establishment that evokes the splendor of the hotel, a home-away-from-home to Europe's most discerning travelers for nearly 200 years. This year, legendary designer Charles Jouffre began his transformation of 160 rooms in the hotel, using 12,000 meters of the finest fabrics, 5,250 square meters of the plushest carpets and nearly 3,000 hours of traditional craftsmanship, at a total cost of 6 million euros. The result is a hotel, which melds modern elegance with the opulence of Versailles.
Every little bit spent, from the renovations to the macaroons, represents Le Meurice going to great lengths to attract leisure visitors under its colonnades and through its doors during the difficult economic climate. And Le Meurice is not alone in taking such a tack, seeing an increase in luxury as a way to increase business.
London's world-famous Claridges Hotel has launched its "Dior Dressing Table" service, available for 300 pounds (approx. $500), for guests staying in its Linley and Claridges suites. The service includes an elegant cream silk Claridges monogrammed dressing gown, high-heeled marabou mule slippers, a rose pink cashmere eye mask, and a selection of fragrances from Christian Dior.
Described as an "art-deco jewell" by Danielle McKinlay of government-backed national tourist agency Visit Britain, Claridges has long been the destination of choice for the world's celebrities and royals.
To compile our list of Europe's most luxurious hotels, we solicited picks from several travel experts based in both Europe and the United States: Claudia Kozma Kaplan, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Leading Hotels of the World; Jo Anne Sperry, Europe planning manager for travel company Abercrombie & Kent; Danielle McKinlay, in the media relations arm of government-funded group Visit Britain; Tom Hall, travel editor for Lonely Planet; and Brooke Ferencsik, senior manager of media relations for Trip Advisor. From their suggestions, we picked the 10 spots to ensure that a wide swath of Europe was covered.
Extravagant touches are available far beyond centers of luxury, such as Paris and London; look to Wales and the Celtic Manor Resort, host of the 2010 Ryder Cup. Set in beautiful rolling hills, one can enjoy dinner at the hotel after a round of golf, while the evening mists drift gently along the countryside. But this is no ordinary, post-18-holes-of-frustration noshing. In collaboration with Michelin-starred chef James Sommerin, the resort offers such refined dishes as Welsh venison loin, kidney and shoulder with chestnut squash and pancetta.
Luxury hotels going the extra mile — as Le Meurice does with its macaroon or the Celtic Manor with its cuisine — has become the norm amidst the recession since many hotels are hemorrhaging profits normally derived from corporate visitors. As a result, there are bargains to be had.
Luxury for less
"To attract more leisure visits, we have introduced a promotion which offers customers 50 percent off the price of a room on selected weekends," says Celtic Manor spokesman Gareth Jones. Jones reports that although between January and September 2009 corporate business is down by 30 percent from 2008, leisure-visit revenues are up by 1.5 million pounds (approx. $2.47 million).
The Celtic Manor should consider itself lucky. Figures released in October 2009 from Nashville-based Smith Travel Research on European luxury-chain hotels make for grim reading: Between January and September 2009, occupancy was down an average of 10.8 percent compared with the same period in 2008. Worse still, revenues over this time were down 28.6 percent.
Although the picture is incredibly varied (with some large chains suffering inexorably, while some smaller boutique hotels find ways to flourish), the common tie is that all hotels have had to think critically about how they can lure guests through the doors.
The advantages, however, are firmly in favor of the traveler. Mouth-watering detox macaroons, accessories and slashed room rates are just a few of the delights that luxury travelers can expect to enjoy.