Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008

Ararat Park Hyatt

Distinct among Moscow's top hotels for its sleek modernity, the Ararat is epitomized by its glass-topped penthouse lounge — where power brokers and visiting European celebrities gather for breakfast mocha or evening vodka, along with spectacular views over the Kremlin's star-peaked towers. Like the rest of the hotel, the space is spare, spacious, and thoroughly contemporary — and a significant departure from Moscow's other, glitzier offerings (whether prerevolutionary or Soviet-era remakes). Most of the 220 guest rooms here are more elegantly functional than cozy — uncluttered by wall coverings, outfitted with streamlined, innocuous furniture and earth-toned fabrics, and illuminated by enormous windows. The on-site Quantum Health Club has state-of-the-art cardio and weight equipment and a chic rooftop pool surrounded by chaise lounges. At the adjacent spa, steam billows up into the Roman-style baths, and masseuses offer (surprisingly old-world) Russian deep-tissue massages, guaranteed to work out any kinks left over from the flight in.

Insider Tip: Don't miss the ground-floor Armenian jewelry boutique selling one-of-a-kind couture creations.

Room to Book: The Winter Garden Suite, with three rooms and a partial glass ceiling — but remember to pull the shades down before you go to bed in summertime: the sun rises at 4 a.m.

Golden Apple

Discreet and distinguished, this little-advertised hotel exudes serenity in the heart of a city on a 24-hour coffee buzz. Its façade resembles a revamped 19th-century manor, but within, the ultramodern reigns, from the Philippe Starck bathroom fixtures to the tapas and sushi on demand in the bar. The 92 rooms are ready for Russia's crisp winters and abbreviated summer nights, with heated floors in the bathrooms and heavy drapes to block out an early dawn. The enormous golden apple in the lobby — an admittedly unfortunate design element — doesn't detract from the cool atmosphere and unobtrusive service. Courtyard-facing rooms offer a more hushed stay and pristine view (others look out on a nondescript avenue often jammed with cars). The surrounding streets lead to the Bolshoi and other renowned theaters, but a close look reveals that many hotel guests and passersby are here to make pilgrimages to the neighborhood's couture boutiques.

Insider Tip: If you reserve in advance, you can get spa treatments whenever you like, 24-7.

Room to Book: The Chekhov Suite, a split-level fantasy in black, white, and fire-engine red.

Le Royal Meridien National

Real presidents stay in the Presidential Suite at the National — Moscow's most vaunted historic hotel, set just across the street from the Kremlin. Despite having survived decades of revolution, tumult, and repression, the hotel's ornate 1903 Art Nouveau building — partly owned by the Russian government — has retained its grandeur; inside, a recently completed renovation has refreshed the 206 small-but-carefully-appointed guest rooms. Now the parquet floors gleam, the high ceilings with their decorative motifs are newly painted, and the décor has been updated with honey-colored wood furnishings, jewel-toned brocade and velvet fabrics, and custom-made, upholstered Italian armchairs that mimic the style of a century ago. Traditional trumps trendy in the hotel's common areas too — as well as in its cuisine. There's no better spot in Moscow for indulging in blini with caviar and French champagne.

Insider Tip: To go further back in Russia's past, descend into the Archaeological Museum across the street, full of artifacts discovered around the Kremlin from epochs ago.

Room to Book: Room 107 — if you're a history buff. Legend has it that Vladimir Lenin stayed there while plotting revolution against the aristocrats who shared his taste for this hotel.

MaMaison Pokrovka Suites

It bucks the Moscow trend of bigger-is-better, and it's a bit off the well-trod tourist track — and that's exactly why this boutique hotel is such a welcome find. The 84-room property, occupying a funky, blocky-looking modern building, is set just a five-minute drive east from the Kremlin — yet the neighborhood, filled with prerevolutionary mansions, medieval Orthodox churches, and chic cafés and boutiques, has managed to stay under the radar of most travelers. A mix of savvy executives and artsy hipsters, however, has discovered the Zen sanctuary-style guest rooms, many with muslin-canopied beds, polished stone bathrooms, and orchids perched sinkside and bedside. The bold, minimalist style is echoed in the common spaces, which include an eclectic restaurant hung with globular chandeliers, a petite Algotherm spa, and elevator banks splashed with black-and-white photo murals of Moscow street life.

Insider Tip: Sample Uzbek cuisine at Khodja Nasreddin in Khiva, a restaurant nearby where diners kick back on pillows and feast on lamb pilaf and succulent apricots.

Room to Book: The top-floor Chairman Suite, with its light fixture in the shape of a near-life-size horse. It's coveted, so book well in advance.


Russia's aristocratic past and hungry-for-luxury present collide at the Ritz, the poshest new addition to Moscow's hotel lineup. Though the property is spanking new (it opened in late 2007), all the details here have been designed to evoke early-20th-century decadence: the grand lobby has a gleaming inlaid marble floor, dramatic black columns topped by golden pilasters, and grand chandeliers; many of the 334 guest rooms are decked out with silk-trimmed bedspreads, brocaded wall coverings, Murano glass lampshades, and freestanding globes encrusted with semiprecious stones. Guests who stay on the opulent 11th-floor Club Level get even more — including spreads of cocktails and hors d'oeuvres five times a day, unlimited champagne, access to discreet conference rooms, and a lounge overlooking Moscow's premier avenue (Tverskaya) and its apex at Red Square. The common areas include the Jeroboam restaurant, where Michelin-starred chef Heinz Winkler turns out healthy-yet-decadent "cuisine vitale," and a 21,000-square-foot ESPA — the biggest spa in Russia, with 14 treatment rooms and a glass-domed indoor pool. The hotel's one aesthetic nod to futurism can be found at the top-floor O2 bar, with its angular glass roof, Pop art light fixtures, and seats that look like futuristic Fabergé eggs.

Insider Tip: If you're a chess player, ask to borrow one of the hotel's chess sets. Carved from real ebony and ivory, the pieces make even a novice feel like a grandmaster.

Room to Book: If you can, go for broke and book the 2,550-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Suite ($4,500 per night) with its grand piano, library (the books are real), sauna, and tropical shower room.