I have a confession to make: I’ve fallen in love with the St. Regis brand. I know, I know, it sounds silly. But before you start assuming I’m being dramatic, allow me to tell you about this love story between a backpacking girl and a luxury hotel and why they’re meant to be.
(Okay, maybe I’m being a touch dramatic…I digress…)
In January, I spent four glorious nights in the St. Regis Abu Dhabi, stopping through the United Arab Emirates for the first time on the way home to the USA. Usually when I travel you’ll find me in a cheap hostel trying to pinch pennies, though I love to toss in a fancy stay for a night or two throughout longer trips for some moments of luxury.
On this particular occasion, my partner and I had just spent three months in an un-air-conditioned long-stay hostel room in Kampala, Uganda and two weeks in Mumbai and Goa, India most of which was low budget accommodation. When we received the generous offer from my boyfriend’s mom to book a room in Abu Dhabi using her hotel points, we jumped at the chance. We knew it would be a luxurious end cap to a trip that was wonderful, but not all together without it’s challenges comfort-wise.
We ended up booking at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi knowing it was a gorgeous place from the pictures, but not knowing much else. After 14 hours on a train the day before from Goa to Mumbai and an early flight into Abu Dhabi, we finally pulled into the St. Regis hotel in the back of a taxi and were immediately transported to a new world. An exquisite St. Regis world.
Over four days, Christian and I spent as little time sleeping as we could so as to enjoy all the offerings of Abu Dhabi and St. Regis as possible. We indulged on fancy dinners, elaborate brunches, ceremonies where we learned the history of the St. Regis brand, live music, butler service – by the end, we were certain there are few places like it.
It’s not just the luxury. Lots of places have that. You can find fancy hotels, butlers, extravagant meals – the components of St. Regis – around the world. But you won’t find the unique and incredibly rich history, impeccable design and detail, and wonderful hospitality all wrapped up in one. Let me share some of the things that make this place so enchanting to me.
The St. Regis History
There are currently about 40 St. Regis properties around the world and the first one ever was in New York City, New York founded by John Jacob Astor IV “as a place to pursue his passions in the company of the city’s luminaries”. Built in 1904, it was a companion to the also famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel of which Astor was half-owner.
John Jacob’s wife was Caroline Astor, responsible for essentially creating America’s first high class club. She’d invite her some of her (400) closest friends over for fancy gatherings of elites, so named The Four Hundred. Basically Jacob and Caroline were a couple of the richest, most affluent people in America and the world at that time. The Mrs. Astor, as she was oft referred to, is responsible for many of the traditions at St. Regis: afternoon tea ceremonies, midnight suppers, champagne sabering, roses as floral décor and ingredients in the St. Regis scent. All Caroline.
I’d love to write a book on the history of the St. Regis but since this is not meant as a book, I’ll keep this to the abridged version and encourage you to read more about the colorful history of the brand.
Theme and Décor at St Regis
Walking around the hotel I had a lot of words bouncing around my mind. Opulence, luxury, extravagance, glamour. Everything was thoughtful; the gorgeous double staircase, the crystal chandeliers, the library and lounge by the bar, bedroom, bathrooms – it was all fancy without being ostentatious, without losing its charm.
Behind the main bar is a huge mural – it draws your attention but remains inconspicuously a part of the St. Regis history. In the original New York St. Regis, the “Old King Cole” painting by Maxfield Parrish has decorated the wall at the King Cole Bar since it opened in 1948. As a tribute to this first iconic mural, most of the other St. Regis locations have a mural of their own behind their respective bars. At St. Regis Abu Dhabi, we admired two murals depicting both camel and horse racing. At the St. Regis on the other side of the city, we took in a more abstract painting depicting the history of Abu Dhabi which our bartender recounted for us.
I pored through the magazines of the St. Regis along with many websites to see what their other properties looked like and was impressed, though not surprised. Somehow, they have injected a flavor of the local culture into each hotel and resort without losing the elegant style of the St. Regis brand, be it a beach resort in the Maldives, a romantic city center in Rome, or a cozy hotel in Aspen.
St Regis Dining
Our St. Regis hotel had incredible dining options. We ate at the café, an Italian restaurant, and sampled the enormous spreads for breakfast brunch each day to the point that we skipped almost every lunch completely and ate just twice a day.
My favorite parts though were the food and beverage related ceremonies. Each hotel has a champagne sabering ceremony in honor of the Mrs. Astor, who loved to serve champagne to her guests. The ceremony might occur under the champagne-bubble-inspired chandelier as it did for us in Abu Dhabi or under a starry, snowy night in the mountains – each location does it a bit differently. But either way, if you are able to attend, you’ll get to watch a trained professional open a bottle of champagne with a sabre which most don’t get to say everyday.
There’s also a Bloody Mary ceremony where you can learn the history of the Bloody Mary and sample a couple styles, including the signature recipe at your St. Regis location. Remember the King Cole bar I mentioned earlier? The head bartender there, Ferdinand Petiot, invented the Bloody Mary at that bar, so named the “Red Snapper”.
Bloody Mary Recipes We Tried:
the Red Snapper (St. Regis New York, original recipe)
the Desert Snapper (St. Regis Abu Dhabi)
the Arabian Snapper (St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort)
the Shogun Mary (St. Regis Osaka) and
the Chilli Padi Mary (St. Regis Singapore).
We also paid a visit to Abu Dhabi’s other St. Regis location – the Saadiyat Island Resort – to try their own Desert Snapper and the Bloody Smoke (from The Lanesborough – St Regis Hotel). Each hotel’s recipe incorporates local ingredients; it’s a fantastic way to highlight the St. Regis New York roots through tradition while celebrating their own uniqueness and I absolutely love it.
There’s also a lovely afternoon tea ceremony which we enjoyed after our giant Saturday brunch – honestly a great reason to visit your nearest St. Regis hotel even if you’re not a guest. I’d recommend doing the tea ceremony a different day if you partake in brunch – we were so stuffed we could hardly take advantage of the tea time sweets!
Finally, there’s a midnight supper, a unique joy of The Caroline Astor which has carried on through the guests at St. Regis. This is one of the things we didn’t manage to fit in our first trip and will be saving for a future visit as I’m sure it’s a magical night.
If that isn’t enough to woo you, I was sold by the St. Regis tradition of wonderful hospitality best emblemized by the Butlers who attend to each room. Yes, each room at the St. Regis properties is assigned a Butler who will provide such luxuries like turndown service, tea or coffee around the clock, and even unpacking/packing your luggage for you desired.
During our champagne ceremony, our ceremony leader even took a photo of us (with our permission) – we had no idea they would print it off and attach it to a card, and deliver it to our room alongside chocolates, all before we returned from a post-champagne ceremony dinner!
We didn’t encounter a single person who wasn’t absolutely kind, helpful, and sincere across the properties. From the moment we walked through the doors of the hotel, I realized we were some place special and I can honestly say we were enchanted by St. Regis the entire four days.
But what about sustainability?
Super luxury doesn’t really fit in well with my typical efforts to live an eco-friendly life, and certainly this level of extravagance is not something I plan on indulging in regularly. That said, I don’t think eco-friendly and luxury have to be antonyms and I believe you can and should take steps to be an eco-friendly traveler in all types of accommodations.
Turn your lights off, reuse your towels and sheets, don’t use the little plastic-wrapped soaps and razors if you don’t need them. Order your veggies instead of meats.
At the same time, I was struck by some of the elegance in the St Regis design throughout their locations in ways that had unexpected connections to sustainability. It seemed to me that the St. Regis properties had curated exquisite collections of décor and tradition that incorporate local items, ingredients, and customs.
I’m inspired to start doing the same in my own life, incorporating eco-friendly, high quality, artisan items I love alongside sustainable habits. It might never be as glittery as the St. Regis hotels, but a sustainable life doesn’t have to mean a joyless, beauty-less life. I am endeavoring to find ways to be have a life both exquisite and sustainable, taking some notes from St. Regis and the Astor family along the way.
A final note.
This is not a sponsored post in any way. St. Regis did not ask me to write this (though St. Regis Team – if you’re reading this and want to hire someone to write a book on your hotel history, I’m available!) I’m just a huge fan who has a new bucket list item of trying all the St. Regis Bloody recipes and perhaps an improved appreciation for the finer things in life.
Looking for the St. Regis nearest you?
Good news – there’s 40 locations around the world. This list below isn’t even all of them!
- New York, New York
- Aspen, Colorado
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Deer Valley, Utah
- Houston, Texas
- San Francisco, California
- Washington, D.C.
- Bahia Beach, Puerto Rico
- Bal Harbour Resort, Florida
- Monarch Beach, California
- Princeville, Hawaii
- Shenzhen, Guangdong
- Sanya Yalong Bay, Hainan
- Lhasa, Tibet
Thanks for reading my raving review of the St. Regis Abu Dhabi and brand in general. I hope you can see why I fell in love with St. Regis hotels!
Have you visited one of their properties before? If so, please tell me about your experience in the comments!
Safe and happy travels.