Monday, October 13, 2008

Forbes Best Hotel in the World

Forbes magazine recently released the Forbes Traveler 400 Hotels in the World. Coming in number one this year was the Alvear Palace Hotel in Argentina.

The Experience

During the Roaring 20s, several wealthy Argentines endeavored to create South America's finest hotel. No expense was to be spared, and everything from marble columns to delicate etched-glass windows were imported from Europe. Construction cost millions and took more than a decade, but the investors achieved their goal: a place fit for kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, as well as an instant symbol that Buenos Aires had "arrived" as one of the world's great cities. Eighty years later, the Alvear Palace still sparkles, a hotel of exquisite taste and exemplary service that makes every guest feel regal. The grandiloquent architecture is what blows most people away—the cathedral-like lobby and a dining room modeled after the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The clientele is also precious: well-heeled Argentines, jet-setting Europeans and an increasing number of Americans who don't have to ask the price. And even the location can't be beat—the swish Recoleta district in the heart of BA and right up the road from the cemetery where Eva PerĂ³n (and many other Argentine luminaries) sleep for eternity.

The Rooms

No two rooms are exactly alike. The Alvear's interior designers continually mix and match lamps, paintings and other decorative arts items including many rare antiques. The overall effect is best described as a 21st-century take on Louis XVI: glass-and-brass coffee tables, gilt-edged sofas and armchairs, Oriental carpets and crystal chandeliers that blend easily with wide-screen TVs and touch-screen phones. But what really sets the Alvear rooms apart are the little touches: custom-made sheets spun from Egyptian cotton, Hermes toiletries in the bathrooms and fresh roses next to your bed each day. Given the excess of the age in which they were originally crafted, even the standard (Palace) rooms seem spacious. And Alvear suites are some of the largest and most lavish you'll find in the city, equipped with separate living and sleeping quarters, as well as a Jacuzzi in the bathroom.

The Service

Much like the Bourbonesque chairs in the lobby, the Alvear's service can be rather stiff. Absolutely flawless—but wooden all the same. Those craving lively repartee and Argentine amistad will have to search elsewhere. Adding to the somewhat stuffy ambience is the Alvear dress code—no shorts or sleeveless shirts in lobby, bars or restaurants. But then again, this is the sort of place that makes you want to dress to the nines.

The Highlights

Looking over its shoulder at the modern luxury chain hotels popping up around Buenos Aires, the Alvear is always updating and adding to its already considerable repertoire. La Bourgogne, the only Relais Gourmand restaurant in Argentina, specializes (naturally) in classic cuisine under executive chef Jean Paul Bondoux. Afternoon tea in L'Orangerie has been a local tradition since the days when Evita was still a girl in the provinces, while the Lobby Bar prides itself in a world-class selection of cognacs and single malt whiskies. Other treats include a health club with massage and heated indoor pool and a wine cellar that can be transformed into a romantic dining area for two.

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