With countless hotels and resorts claiming to reflect their surroundings and incorporate the indigenous cultures, sense of place is a catchphrase on the verge of becoming a cliché. Perhaps aware that the term is nearly as trite as boutique, Mandarin Oriental Group Chief Executive Edouard Ettedgui avoids employing it when discussing some of his company’s recently opened hotels. But still he contends that the particular cities did inform the designs or the choice of locations of the properties. Sitting on a sofa in a Mandarin Oriental, New York, suite, with Central Park 60 stories beneath him and Queens over his shoulder, Ettedgui notes, for instance, that the city is synonymous with the media and with power, and so what better location for a New York hotel than the colossal Time Warner Center? A more recent and less lofty project, the nine-story Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C., opened in March. “It’s a new building,” says Ettedgui, noting its limestone facade, “but it fits right into the landscape.”
These types of architectural and design considerations certainly are relevant to hotel guests seeking to immerse themselves in the local culture, and while this may be one goal of visitors to New York or Washington, D.C., it is the primary reason to visit northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai or the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, the locations of two “hideaway resorts,” in Mandarin Oriental parlance, that will open in the coming months. In describing these properties, Ettedgui has no compunction about using the term sense of place, and if the resorts live up to his descriptions, his usage is most appropriate.
The 52-acre property of Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai, scheduled to open by the end of this year, will include rice paddies, a Lanna temple, formal gardens, and tropical flora. Guests will stay in 142 villas and suites designed in the traditional Lanna style that characterizes the region’s architecture, and decorated with local artifacts and antiques.
The Riviera Maya resort will offer equally authentic surroundings on its 36-acre Yucatán coastline site. When it opens in fall 2005, it will feature mangrove wetlands, naturally formed lagoons and streams, and a cenote, a deep freshwater lake created by rainwater and eroding limestone. Adjacent to the cenote will be a 20,000-square-foot spa.
Dhara Dhevi will also include a spa, a 10,000-square-foot structure resembling an ancient Mandalayan palace. “We wanted to impart some of the mystical culture of Chiang Mai,” says Ettedgui, “to give a real sense of place.”