Thursday, October 12, 2017

Best luxury hotels in Moscow: Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow

Arriving at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow
and heading to the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow

Christine Cunanan checks into the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow, considered among the city’s best, and discovers the real heart of Russia

For my recent visit to Moscow, I booked the five-star Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow for two reasons: its high online ratings from guests and its excellent location. 

It stands on a relatively quiet street next to a neighborhood of 19th century buildings in the vicinity of the fashionable Neglinnaya Street that has been wonderfully restored and then turned into an enclave of stylish shops and cafes; and yet it is only a short stroll away from the historical heart of this ancient city, and therefore the center of Russia.

A striking shot of the glass elevators with a view of the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow

The newly-reopened 19th century Maly Theater, famous for the staging of plays for the czars and the aristocracy, is right in front of it, while the Bolshoi Theater (which takes all of four minutes to reach on foot), the Red Square and the Kremlin are all only short strolls away. 

View of Old Moscow from the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow

Moscow is a city with an old soul, a glorious and also event-filled past, and a colorful present. Amidst the cacophony of sensations that this unusual combination produces, the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow is a refreshingly calm oasis for travelers.

It's interesting to note that different Hyatt hotels around the world have their own distinct personalities. If you ever find yourself in Taiwan, consider booking a room at the Grand Hyatt Taipei. 

Industrial design at its best 

Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow is an oasis for travelers

From the outside, the building looks simple and unassuming, as many Park Hyatt hotels are, in contrast to the explosion of colors, details and styles of hotels elsewhere in the city. 

The modern exteriors are steel and glass with just a bit of the classic, as the traditionally elegant décor of the hotel’s Café Ararat — a place regarded as the best Armenian restaurant in town, and an authentic remake of a legendary restaurant of the same name that had been operating for decades.

Café Ararat that provides a vista of the beautiful Moscow city skyline
Meanwhile, the inside is a complete surprise. The lobby is a cavernous empty space that extends until the ceiling, with the guest rooms encircling this open area accessible via two glass elevators

From the bottom, the view upwards reminds me of a modern art museum like the Georges Pompidou in Paris or a cutting-edge industrial plant – but one with an unmistakably lively vibe as the Ararat Park Hyatt is a great favorite of the beautiful people of Moscow.

From the rooftop looking down at the lobby at the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow

My deluxe room on the sixth floor of the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow, with dark woods and colors, and contemporary classic furnishings, had a wonderful view of old Moscow

It was just high enough so that I could look out and see the ornate rooftops of the city buildings as well as the goings on along the streets around it.

Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow's renovated deluxe rooms have one king bed 
with luxurious linens, custom-made furniture, and a large work desk 
with all the requisite technological amenities

Wellness, Russian style

The Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow is also known for its spa treatments. Foremost among these is the Russian banya, the local version of a combined sauna and steam bath, with a plunge into an ice cold pool and a bit of whipping with dried branches of birch trees. Traditionally, the Russian sauna is heated to much higher temperatures than the Western-style sauna. 

There are public bathhouses around the city, too, like the historic Sandunovskie Banya with its ornate interiors (there's a general hall and 13 rooms all decorated in distinctive styles reminiscent of Russian, Greek and Turkish architecture); not a few Muscovites also have their own facilities at home. 

Who wouldn't want to dig into this after a relaxing banya session?

But for tourists like myself, the Russian banya experience at the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow provides a most authentic and yet comfortable and private way to experience this favorite Russian practice, said to help with everything from blood circulation to anti-aging.

My personal banya experience began with the hotel’s Quantum Spa & Health Club began with a five-minute stay in the sauna, heated to extremes, Russian-style. When I checked the temperature inside, it hovered between 70 and 80 degrees Celsius, in contrast to a typical Western sauna which usually never strays far from 40 degrees. 

Then the attendant took a bundle of dried birch tree branches out of a large pail of water, tied up so that these formed a giant fan, and swished this over the sauna stove so that even hotter aromatic vapors filled the air.

Wellness, Russian-style at Quantum Spa & Health Club

Not too hot to handle 

“This is a real detox,” I thought to myself, as I prepared to doze off. I felt like I had just run a marathon even if all I did was lie down on the planks of the hottest sauna I have ever entered in my life. Towards the end of the session, the temperature in the Russian sauna approached 100 degrees.

“Next step, please,” the attendant then said, breaking my reverie.

She ushered me out of the sauna and pointed to a pool next to it just larger than a jacuzzi for two. I got in and, just like the sauna, everything about it was extreme. The water was freezing – but only for a few seconds as my body adjusted to the drastic temperature change – and the pool itself, which was small in diameter, was so deep that I failed to touch the bottom even when I dropped down to do so.

It was completely invigorating, to say the least, and I happily discovered that I could actually stay comfortably in this icy cold water for a solid few minutes. 

Getting out of the pool, I was given a plush bathrobe and a five-minute break on the couch complete with herbal tea and a plate of fruits and sweets.

Dinner on a rooftop 

Kamchatka crab at the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow

Despite the call to sleep after a most relaxing experience coupled with jetlag, resting in my room was not to be. I’d made an appointment for dinner with a Moscow friend at the Conservatory Lounge & Bar on the 10th floor and rooftop of the hotel. 

The Conservatory Lounge & Bar of the Park Hyatt Moscow is very popular among Russia’s fashionable people so tables are scarce on most nights without an advance booking; but the efforts to secure one in advance are worth it as the atmosphere is electric with a mixture of the energy and enthusiasm of the chefs working in the open air kitchen on the terrace and the chic guests.

Take word of Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow's expert chefs 
when asking about which Russian dishes to try first!

The food here is casual and contemporary – no heavy Russian stews and soups, as far as I could see, save for the traditional beetroot borscht – and perfect for a nice evening out. 

We ordered all the chef’s specialties including a bruschetta with Kamchatka crab and avocado, and a beef tartar with black garlic and egg, before sharing a rib-eye steak with all the sidings between us.

Starting the day right 

Guests will never tire of this breakfast at the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow 

My favorite memory of the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow, however, pertains to breakfast, held in a large and bright room on the second floor of the hotel.

Here I would order eggs benedict with smoked salmon everyday; and over it I would
spoon a generous serving of red caviar, lightly salted and fresh from the cold seas of this vast, intoxicating and yet unpredictable country. 

It was delicious in a wildly decadent way, and with each spoonful, the glory of Moscow that I had seen and experienced on this visit came alive.     

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