Lucky dips

Al­ways pack your swim­suit on hol­i­day, ad­vise our wa­terlov­ing writ­ers as they re­veal a se­lec­tion of the world’s top ho­tel pools

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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

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