Always pack your swimsuit on holiday, advise our waterloving writers as they reveal a selection of the world’s top hotel pools
Hotel de la Paix, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Sometimes it’s just too hot to hang around the pool. With the midsummer sun beating down it seems easier, not to mention more sensible, in these days of disappearing ozone layers to remain in the air-conditioned comfort of one’s hotel room. Not so at Cambodia’s exquisite Hotel de la Paix. This boutique beauty in Siem Reap, just 7km from UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat, not only has one of the world’s most beautiful pools, but management has ensured half of the expansive swimming area is under cover (three cheers from redheads around the world).
This huge, Khmer-inspired lagoon features, at one end, a fully covered swimming area with individual cabanas (also protected from the elements) built into the stone walls. At the other end is a delightful water garden in which guests can swim around large stone planters containing lush, tropical foliage dotted about the water. Perched on stone plinths beside this swimming area are several lounge chairs for those wanting to top up their tans. Our tip is to book into the hotel’s lush Pool Suite. Its private pool deck means you are only a step away from plunging into this aquatic wonderland, whatever time of day. www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com. Michelle Rowe Amarvilas, Agra, India: The world’s most famous monument to love is framed in the glass balcony doors of guestrooms at Amarvilas, like a showcase cameo. This Oberoi-operated hotel at Agra, two hours by express train from Delhi, offers an inducement no other hotel in India can match: luxury lodgings with the Taj Mahal framed in almost every window.
Mumbai-based architect Prabhat Pataki has designed the hotel low and wide, with guestrooms in terraced tiers behind a colonnaded forecourt set with glass tiles and adorned with frescoes accented in gold leaf. All is cool and shadowy but, in the manicured gardens beyond, the hotel pool, tiled in peacock blue and flanked with white marble pillars, beckons. And what a maharani-worthy expanse it is: about 23m long and 16m wide, heated in winter and, at night, huge torches are lit and illuminated fountains tinkle and gush in unison, as if celebrating a royal occasion.
As I emerge from my dip there’s a pool steward in immaculate uniform waiting with a tray of watermelon juice and chilled refresher towels. He has placed a bookmark in the novel I’ve tossed with pages askew on the sun-lounger. If the Mogul king Shah Jahan, who had the Taj Mahal erected in memory of his beloved wife, were alive, one imagines he wouldn’t hesitate to give Amarvilas the royal seal of approval. www.oberoihotels.com. Susan Kurosawa Palacio Ca Sa Galesa, Palma de Mallorca, Spain: This heritage hotel’s pocket-sized swimming pool, the only one in Palma’s old Gothic Quarter, is more a classic Roman bath but this subterranean swimming space, set in a 14th-century tunnel built to carry water from the sea, exudes a decadent air of history.
Set in a 3m by 8m stone chamber beneath the hotel, the pool is just 2m high in the middle, sloping down to 1.5m on the curved sides. The restored tunnel retains its classic Roman-style decor, with a bust of a centurion, brown-tiled flooring, plants in classic terracotta pots, and the glimmering green water reflecting off the timeworn stones of the vaulted ceiling.
Because the hotel, built in 1576 as a private castle, has just 12 rooms, there’s a good chance guests will have the pool to themselves. With just two people, there is an intimate, luxurious aura down here in this ancient room. No one will get fit swimming laps here. Instead of feeling like an Olympian swimmer, one feels more like a Roman patrician, swathed in a thick terry towelling robe and perhaps sipping a glass of wine. The pool is heated in winter, cooled in summer.
For those not satisfied with just gently paddling around, there is a sauna, solarium and small gym. www.palaciocasagalesa.com. Garry Marchant Hotel de Rome, Berlin: What could be more decadent than swimming a few laps in a pool that resides in the former jewel vault underneath one of Berlin’s historic bank buildings? Despite the benign presence of smiling spa attendants and thick white towels folded neatly on the waiting lounges, there’s a touch of Hollywood jewelheist danger about the whole thing (you almost expect a black-clad Tom Cruise to appear, dangling upside down from a slender wire, between the pillars).
Hotel de Rome was formerly the headquarters of the Dresdner Bank, and the grand 1889 building has been restored with typical drama and style under the direction of Olga Polizzi, sister of owner Rocco Forte, whose portfolio includes Brown’s Hotel in London. While the pool, part of the hotel’s Spa de Rome, is not of Olympian proportions (it measures 20m) it’s said to be the longest indoor pool in Berlin, and must certainly be the most atmospheric, with its shimmering golden mosaic walls and subtle play of light on the water.
Elsewhere in the spa, you can have a manicure or pedicure in the original bank vault (or organise a private dinner party there) and peer up through a deep-set barred window on to Berlin’s historic Bebelplatz. www.roccofortecollection.com. Sally Feldman
Oasis in the desert: Private cabanas are the last word in luxury at Wynn Las Vegas
Little gem: The pool at Hotel de Rome is housed in a former jewel vault beneath a Berlin bank
Grand design: The expansive pool at Amarvilas, Agra Wynn Las Vegas, US: Nothing sums up the eyepopping artificiality of Las Vegas like its profligate use of water. In this city conjured from the parched Nevada desert, H O is everywhere: spurting from fountains,
2 gushing down waterfalls, irrigating gardens and golf courses. Naturally, its casino swimming pools are the most over-the-top in the US. And the latest thing for travellers is at the ritzy Wynn Las Vegas. Its pool is like a site-specific artwork: from above it looks like a barbell, with two 50m side oval bodies of water, surrounded by greenery and connected by a long, thin canal.
The first large pool is devoted to relaxation: it’s an oasis of tranquillity and calm in pumped-up Vegas, where waitresses in sparkling golden bikinis flit back and forth bringing fresh towels, complimentary bottled water and enormous, luridly coloured cocktails. The second pool is for the serious party animal, with swimup blackjack tables, a hopping bar and DJ. The 50m-long canal between the two works as an ideal lap pool for the energetic.
Vegas has never been a democratic place and the whole area is dotted with luxurious private cabanas draped with curtains, going for a mere $US500 ($744) a day. Each cabana is a self-contained refuge equipped with iPod, flat-screen television and massage table, and is cooled by puffs of moisture shot from above by automatic misters. www.wynnlasvegas.com. Tony Perrottet