Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

High on luxury

Lofty Hong Kong Ritz-Carlton pulls out all the superlatives

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You'll never get a view of the heating system or the parking lot at the newly opened Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. As the world's tallest hotel, stretching 121 storeys high, the views get star treatment.

All of the hotel's 312 rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows. My junior deluxe suite was on the 117th floor. The ear-popping, 52-second elevator ride from the building's entrance on the ninth floor to the main lobby on the 103rd was my first clue I was really high up. The second clue was what I saw from my windows -- a cloud at eye level.

From the hotel's perch on Hong Kong's West Kowloon waterfront, you can see the eclectic mash-up of old and new China. Old-fashioned junks share cruising space with modern ferries transporting commuters and tourists between the city's shores. And surrounding skyscrapers look downright minuscule against the mountains in the distance that mark the beginning of mainland China. If you want a closer look at the vistas from your room, there's a telescope set up, ready for use.

But remember, this is a Ritz so stunning, views alone won't cut it. The rooms are plush and comfy to the max. The beds are like clouds themselves. You land in them with a gentle poof, thanks to the down mattress pads, 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets and featherlight comforters. At the end of a day of sightseeing, drinking milk tea from street vendors and shopping, it was heaven to know that such a bed awaited.

And then there were the turndown treats -- a wee cardboard box containing four exquisite chocolate truffles, each uniquely decorated with a wash of gold dust, a smear of raspberry or sprinkled with crushed pistachios. It made me wonder why it's called turndown service. Would anyone in their right mind turn down turndown service? I think not.

There's a subtle touch of shimmer in the room. The decor finishes lean heavily on sheen, from walls clad in silk to leather headboards with a metallic wash. It's as if designers brought in the glittering skyline of Hong Kong right into the space. The bathrooms rely on travertine marble floors and walls, plus onyx countertops, to underscore the glam factor. A full-sized soaking tub provides a soapy setting to take it all in.

As you'd expect at the Ritz, service is fantastic, eerily good in some ways.

I had access to the Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge on the 116th floor, where I had breakfast while watching the buzz of Victoria Harbour below -- and I wasn't eating cornflakes and bran muffins while I did. Club Level guests can tuck into food around the clock, with six separate food and beverage spreads offered throughout the day.

I went international on my early mornings with a pile of spicy noodles, shrimp dumplings, smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers on a bagel that must have been magically transported from a Montreal bakery. By Day 2 of my four-day stay, the staff knew my name, the names of all three of my cats, where I'd dined the night before, and catered to my odd love of capers by putting an extra dish of capers on my table.

When I wasn't eating or staring at the views, I contented myself with a soak in the indoor infinity swimming pool on the top floor of the hotel. The outdoor Jacuzzi was a bit too much for me -- a reminder that I was seriously high (I am one of those people who has vertigo standing on a chair to change a light bulb). The space here seemed ethereal, dressed in blue and white, with sun pouring into the pool, making the light dance on its surface.

I could easily have planted myself there for a long time, but I had booked a facial at Espa, the on-site pamper palace, the highest hotel spa in the world. It has just 11 treatment rooms, but each made the most of its fantastic view. The chill-out area, designed to keep the Zen state going, consisted of space-age white leather and chrome loungers facing the windows. It worked; a quick snort told me (and my fellow guests around me) that I had fallen asleep, supremely contented by the feel of my 20-something-looking skin.

My newly dewy, glowing skin and I were primed to head to Ozone, the highest bar in the world. Surprise, surprise -- it's quite the hot spot among well-heeled locals who come for an exotic selection of Asian tapas and tunes pumped to a decibel level just a smidgen under a shout. Here you can see the latest Louis Vuitton handbag tucked under the arm of a Jimmy Choo-pump wearer -- a subtle reminder that shopping tops eating and drinking as the national pastime. Where else do you find lineups outside luxury-goods stores, waiting for the doors to open?

There was one more experience I had to have before I was done at this hotel. The Chocolate Library puts a novel spin on afternoon tea by making it chocolate-centric. You can nix regular tea in favour of hot chocolate drinks (no Hershey syrup here) with global flavours from the world's primo chocolate-producing spots -- Mexico, Venezuela, Madagascar, et al. Presentation is a showstopper. A wooden book is placed on end on the table, then opened to reveal beautifully crafted chocolate nuggets arranged on shelves built into the "book." It's not surprising that the Chocolate Library is a big hit and, if you plan to go, have the concierge snag you a table.

-- Postmedia News

IF YOU GO

TO BOOK: ritzcarlton.com/hongkong

ROOMS: From C$770 (for a deluxe room)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2012 D8

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