Nicholas Chrisostomou spends a long weekend getting acquainted with the Polish capital from the decadent surroundings of the country’s most opulent accommodation: the Presidential Suite at RAFFLES EUROPEJSKI WARSAW.
Every cultured traveller, discerning globetrotter and hospitality professional knows the Raffles story. I mean, who hasn’t visited Singapore’s famous Long Bar to sip on a Sling, nibble on monkey nuts and drop the shells on the floor?! The famous cocktail was developed at historic Raffles Singapore in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, and has since become an inherent part of the hotel’s rich heritage. More than a century later and the tradition is now a must-do for any seasoned traveller visiting the Southeast Asian island city state, and the Singapore Sling has become a firm fixture on every decent cocktail list around the world. But, successfully combining 21st century accommodations, modern technology and contemporary detailing with the historic 130-year-old Raffles brand, to create a new cutting-edge luxury hotel offering to satisfy the needs of today’s pampered travellers, is another prospect entirely. And appropriately honouring Raffles’ heritage while propelling the premium luxury brand into the future is no mean feat.
Mid-2016, AccorHotels spent US$3 billion to purchase Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI), the Toronto-based parent company of the Fairmont, Swissôtel and Raffles brands. The move instantly positioned Accor as a leading player in the luxury hotel market, made it the largest hotel group in the world (outside the States), and prompted it to form a standalone luxury brands group which incorporates Sofitel Legend, SO/ and MGallery as well as FRHI’s brands, amongst others.
Operating independently within Accor to ensure that the hotel group delivers the personalised experiences, top-end services and luxury levels that today’s discerning travellers expect, has enabled Accor’s LUXE division to focus on and grow its luxury brands with exacting detail. If the first new Raffles property to open since Accor purchased FRHI is anything to go by, luxury hotels have just entered another dimension and Accor is in the driving seat.
It is very rare that the top-to-toe renovation of any hotel genuinely returns a once shining hospitality grand dame to its former glory without sacrificing something. Be it the building’s history, super-luxe touches, modern conveniences or sprawling facilities, something is usually lost in the renovation process which renders the reincarnated hotel slightly less than perfect. However, when a renovation is a resounding success and careful attention to detail has been paid, hospitality classics are reborn for generations to come and true hotel greatness is achieved. In recent years this can be said of London’s Savoy, The Peninsula Paris and Rosewood’s spectacular transformation of Hôtel de Crillon. After my stay at what is undoubtedly Poland’s most sumptuous hotel today, Raffles Europejski Warsaw firmly belongs on the very same esteemed list.
Rarely does one visit a landmark hotel which not only satisfies all the usual requirements of a five-star grand dame but also pleases the eye and provokes the mind, complete with a historic pedigree dating to the mid-19th century carefully woven through the property. Proudly Polish Raffles Europejski Warsaw – which re-opened its glamorous doors this summer after a painstaking four-year refurb – achieves all of this and more, thanks to the skilled work of Warsaw-based architects WWAA working with National Opera House stage designer Boris Kudlicka and architects APA Wojciechowski, all under the close supervision of Warsaw’s Conservator of Historic Buildings.
Originally opened in 1857 as Hotel Europejski and occupying a beautiful Enrico Marconi¬-designed neo-Renaissance palace, back in the day this grand edifice on Warsaw’s Royal Route was the favoured hangout of the city’s elite, attracting artists and luminaries from around the world, for, amongst other things, piano recitals in the vaulted-ceilinged Pompejanska Room. The same spectacular room is now a central part of Raffles Europejski Warsaw’s Presidential Suite, the hotel’s crowning accommodation. It was to the spend the weekend in this historic suite that I travelled to Poland, although not before seeing the rest of the stunning 106-room property, whose new-found grace, poise and tranquillity have seemingly captivated today’s movers and shakers in Warsaw.
The amalgamation of modern art and classic architecture in any building can totally transform a space, and extend the reach of artworks way beyond where they’re displayed. Nowhere is this more evident than Raffles Europejski Warsaw, where the hotel’s lovingly curated collection of some 500 pieces of modern and contemporary Polish art not only accentuates the historic building, but also imbues it with an overriding sense of vitality, aptly at the beginning of its new lease of life.
The massive building’s classic exterior façades, complete with typically Polish rounded corners, modest columned portico and relatively unpretentious entrance, give little clue as to the hotel’s glamorous interior. But, once inside, it is immediately obvious that Raffles Europejski Warsaw is a rather special hotel.
An elegantly civilised street-level entrance foyer, peppered with custom-designed furnishings and lighting, is where guests first encounter the hotel’s art collection, in the form of Włodzimierz Jan Zakrzewski’s futuristic bent neon light installation “Borders”, which pays homage to Poland’s changed land borders over the years. A few steps up, and guests find themselves on a long, striped carpet by Leon Tarasewicz, and beneath a dramatic, lengthy ceiling installation made up of an undulating series of 160 large hand-blown glass pebbles by Filip Houdek, each of which signifies a year of the building’s life. Opposite the main entrance is a 1960s chandelier re-imagined as an illuminated and wall-mounted mirrored kaleidoscope. Leon Tarasewicz also painted the twenty striking striped panels which line one side of a corridor that glamorously leads the way to the hotel’s main restaurant, and are dramatically reflected in a wall of smoked mirrored glass. It is these statement pieces and more on the ground floor which set the contemporary artistic tone that permeates the entire building, and make an emphatic super-styled hotel design statement which is utterly unique in Eastern Europe.
Works by many of Poland’s other top artists are also included in the hotel’s collection, including black and white photography by avant-garde legend Tadeusz Kantor and work by Turner Prize nominee Goshka Macuga, and every guest room – from entry level through to the largest suite – features pieces of original art. Where befitting, art pieces from the building’s previous life have also been restored and incorporated in the new hotel, such as the delightful 1961 “Abduction of Europa” mosaic by Krystyna Kozłowska, which now adorns a wall of the reception area of the excellent onsite Raffles Spa.
Every piece of art in the property is catalogued in a book dedicated to the collection, which is presided over by the hotel’s knowledgeable full-time art concierge, who also gives guided tours ranging from an hour to half a day. The various facets of the collection are indeed fascinating, and a day can easily be spent soaking it all in, together with the hotel’s four “Memory Rooms”, located in different parts of the building, each of which provides a different curated snapshot of a piece of the property’s past.
Art also features heavily in the hotel’s food and beverage venues, which were fashioned by renowned Spanish designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán. In Europejski Grill, bold blue and white pottery, characteristic of Poland’s artisans, decorates the walls. Meanwhile, Warsaw’s very own Long Bar is presided over by a giant, wall-mounted Jaroslaw Fliciński ceramic piece, “Blessed Relief”, which stretches for many metres above the bottles lining the back bar.
Located in a corner of the building and at just over 270sqm, the hotel’s Presidential Suite is the very best that Raffles Europejski Warsaw has to offer, and affords its lucky inhabitants sweeping views up and down the Royal Route.
Entering the room – via a single, unobtrusive door set behind the suite’s high-backed private bar – is a WOW moment if ever there was one. An unabashedly flash and OTT space, I was instantly transported to a decadent world of 21st century luxury in a historical setting brimming with beautiful, modern design at every turn. The hotel’s designers truly excelled themselves in fashioning its Presidential Suite, and the overall effect is nothing short of spectacular.
Soaring ceilings dominated by a pair of mammoth crystal chandeliers share centre stage in the former Pompejanska Room with an authentic, fully restored 19th century Budynowicz concert grand piano, which pays homage to the recitals that took place in that very same place many decades earlier. Yet, despite its size, the piano doesn’t look at all large at one end of the enormous room.
At the other end, a stunning bar and high stools are poised for a mixologist to entertain guests, enclosed by high, curved, glass-fronted cabinets containing a variety of hand-cut crystal glassware of all shapes and sizes, together with coloured antique decanters, vases and jugs.
A pair of vast curved sofas imitate the gently curving contours of the room, accessorised with contemporary armchairs, occasional tables and countless other pieces of custom-made furniture liberally positioned throughout.
Off one side of the open-plan main room is a dining area dominated by a huge marble table and leather armchairs, above which hangs a modern interpretation of a chandelier, skilfully juxtaposing modern lighting with the vintage crystal chandeliers in the adjacent space. Directly opposite and off the other side of the main room is a beautiful dark wood desk, large enough for even the most egotistical of CEO’s, behind which tall bookcases line the walls filled with hardbacks, vintage vases and objets d’art. In fact, gorgeous objects are generously scattered around the entire suite, taking the edge of what might otherwise have been a less welcoming space, for, despite its mammoth size, this is not solely a showpiece suite. Rather, it is a lavish place to sit, relax, read, eat and enjoy, and gather with friends over a cocktail or two.
At the centre of a dark wood-lined blacked oak floored study, sits an ink blue velvet two-seater couch, above which a stunning abstract piece by Symon Szewczyk hangs. Not dissimilar to a bijou gentlemen’s club, this room provides a more intimate space to curl up with a book or catch the day’s news on one of the suite’s four screens. In this part of the suite, a warm palette of muted pastels and gold accents prevails, which is in stark contrast to the bright whites of the main entertaining spaces. From the study, a corridor leads to the main bathroom and master bedroom, both of which are luxurious but modest compared to the rest of the suite’s vast proportions.
A glitzy, dimly-lit guest powder room, and a sleek black half-kitchen (which can be accessed by butlers via a separate entrance so as not to disturb the suite’s inhabitants) complete the Presidential Suite’s generous collection of interconnected rooms and entertaining spaces. Further rooms can be added via a connected lobby to enlarge the suite to two or three bedrooms.
On a trajectory to fast becoming the new Prague, Accor has stolen a march on its competitors by opening what is undoubtedly the most lavish hotel in Poland, in a prime Warsaw location, crowned by a Presidential Suite which must surely be the finest suite in the land.
Raffles Europejski Warsaw has not only introduced unadulterated 21st century luxury to the Polish capital, but also a standout modern art collection, first class food and beverage venues and a sumptuous spa, not to mention butlers for the first time in Poland. But, most importantly, this completely rejuvenated grande dame of the Warsaw hospitality scene has set an incredibly high new bar which will be difficult for any other hotel to reach. Herein lies Raffles Europejski Warsaw’s finest achievement, and the key to its success in decades to come.
Nicholas Chrisostomou stayed in the Presidential Suite at Raffles Europejski Warsaw in October 2018. The year-round nightly rate for the suite is PLN 18,360 including breakfast for two and airport transportation.