Celebrity hotels I’ve loved and loathed

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Celebrity hotels I’ve loved and loathed

There’s a certain thrill to staying in a famous person’s place, but some are better than others.

Most romantic places around the world

To date I’ve stayed in the palaces, crumbling or otherwise, of various Indian maharajas and minor nobles. My favourite and most recent was at the RAAS Rajmahal Palace, owned by the dashing young (24 years old) Maharaja of Jaipur. It’s a pink Deco fantasy of 13 elaborate suites and rooms, some named after previous notable guests such as Jackie Onassis and the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Set in its own parklands in the city centre, its guests graze on excellent Indian and continental dishes and relax by the most photogenic, candy-coloured pool in the country. Staff treated me like a prince. I didn’t want to leave.

Many years ago I spent two nights at the summer villa of the former Yugoslav dictator Tito. Located beside Slovenia’s dreamlike Lake Bled, the villa’s past occupants include the emperors of Ethiopia and Japan, sundry kings and presidents, and me.

Set in its own parklands in the city centre, the RAAS Rajmahal Palace’s guests can relax by the most photogenic, candy-coloured pool in the country.

I remember Vila Bled had a not-very-good Relais & Châteaux restaurant and rooms were on the gloomy side, but it had an absolute lakefront location so guests weren’t that concerned with the food or décor. Or the war crimes of its former owner.

At Faletti’s, a Lahore institution, I stayed in the Ava Gardner suite – their finest. I’m too young to be familiar with Ava’s oeuvre so the impact of the moment was lost on me. But I quite enjoyed the faded grandeur of the place; I survived on pots of tea and toasted sandwiches, surrounded by worn carpets and furnishings possibly dating from Ava’s stay in 1955.

Just down from Rome’s ritzy Via Condotti, the upper two floors of the 16th-century Palazzo Ruspoli house a tiny hotel where guests can stay in the former quarters of Emperor Napoleon III. Granted, he wasn’t the top Napoleon, but still, there’s a satisfying glimpse of grandeur in the heavy tapestries, gilt-edged oil paintings and hand-stencilled walls.

I stayed in the palazzo’s more modest rooftop apartment, with a large garden terrace and panoramic views over the Eternal City. On the street below, a saxophonist played “Summertime” on a balmy September evening. One of my all-time favourite Roman memories.

I once had the good fortune to be a guest at Richard Branson’s Makepeace Island, but the bad manners to not think much of it.

In Australia, I once had the good fortune to be a guest at Richard Branson’s Makepeace Island on the Noosa River, but the bad manners to not think much of it. His idea of stylish interiors – Bali circa the 1970s, with bedside books detailing 365 different sexual positions – felt a bit tired and disappointing for such a dynamic billionaire. That said, I stayed some time ago so it’s probably been freshened up since then.

Conversely, London’s Savoy did not disappoint. Home, previously, to the likes of Dame Nellie Melba (the hotel’s kitchen created peach Melba and Melba toast in her honour), Noël Coward, Monet and Churchill, it’s a theatrical place where all the world’s a stage, and anyone can star in their own fantasy.

I stayed for a night or two in a Thames-facing suite and loved every minute, but not as much as a Mr Robert Stone, who stayed in the Savoy’s Maria Callas Suite and afterwards wrote gushingly to The New York Times: “It was heaven, and the fulfillment of a lifetime dream.”

I don’t get that excited, but I do keep a list of hotels owned – or once owned – by prominent people, like Robert de Niro’s Nobu properties and The Greenwich in Manhattan, and Richard Gere’s Bedford Post Inn in rural New York.

London’s Savoy did not disappoint. It’s a theatrical place where anyone can star in their own fantasy.

King Charles III lets out his Romanian retreat, a trio of rustic cottages with no Wi-Fi in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. You can even make like a monarch and sleep in his bed, except for May when he books the place out for his own entourage.

Pharrell Williams, the singer behind the infectious smash hit “Happy”, is one of the backers of Miami’s 266-room Goodtime Hotel, famous for its pool parties and DJ sets. Its catchcry, “Stay with us and get lost in the moment”, seems as good a reason as any to choose a hotel. 

Obviously Airbnb has its share of notable homes to rent, too, from Jane Austen’s family townhouse in Bath to Bing Crosby’s Palm Springs hacienda and, in a weird coincidence, Ava Gardner’s old residence in Burbank, California – now run by a horse-mad couple called Phyllis and Randy.

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