For small nations, culture is as much about reordering and re-presenting what is borrowed from others as it is about projecting a unique identity. Being cosmopolitan and open to global influence doesn’t make a place less authentic. When it comes to luxury hotels, there is a good chance that stuff that is flagged up as culturally unique will anyway be made made for tourists and ‘not the real thing’. The big test is how well the place absorbs and adapts to global hospitality standards.
When you take the best available attitude to guests, put it in the nicest place and in the most considered way, you get a real jewel.
This recipe has obviously worked in the case of the Lithuanian luxury spa IDW Esperanza resort near the country’s capital Vilnius. The lovely Trakai region has a unique lakeland landscape, which is quite distinct from beauty spots elsewhere in Lithuania. That’s the truly local element of Esperanza’s magic.
Then there are the Canadian cedar logs that the resort’s buildings are made of – the best available according to the owner, himself a Canadian citizen of Lithuanian extraction.
Add the best hospitality standards, an international service crew, the finest products both from around the world and from the kitchen garden on the lakeshore and a Spanish chef and you get a unique and irresistible luxury experience.
As recently as a year ago this article could have been entitled ‘a peep into a private world’, as from its foundation in 2009 until 2012 Esperanza was a VIP members’ club – a trophy resort for its well-heeled owners.
I was wrong to assume that it was economic hard times that had forced it to open to the general public. On the contrary, parent company IDW (International Display Works) has thrived in the high fashion-end of the garment industry, where it is known as one of the top shopfitters and makers of mannequins. As the big brands have boomed, so have they.
I get the impression that the resort’s new open-doors strategy was designed to answer the owners’ questions, namely: How good are we? What do others say? Could we qualify for this or that luxury association membership?
As it turns out, they can. During its brief period of wider availability, Esperanza has already gained eco resort status, and is working to upgrade that. It has also joined the exclusive Small Luxury Hotels of the World chain.
Let’s start with food, perhaps the most exacting test for those focused on a luxury offer. The kitchen is run by Javier Lopez-Ruiz, a renowned Spanish chef who has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants like Sea Grill in Brussels, Gaig Restaurant in Barcelona
and Au Crocodile in Strasbourg. And, whisper it, the Esperanza has aspirations to join that constellation.
Then there’s the service. Esperanza staff exude a sense of genuine curiosity, which derives from the owners. When they talked to us, it wasn’t the usual how-do-you-like-it-here? routine but a sincere interest. The service in general was not simply five stars but the best, the kind where the most routine tasks are carried out with sensitivity and respect for the guest’s quirks. I have a few myself, like a hatred of over-fussy room service that pedantically re-arranges my stuff for the sake of it. Here they judged it just right.
Looking particularly glorious against a stupendous palate of autumn colours, the Esperanza is on the shore of Lake Ungurys in Aukštadvaris Regional Park very close to the red brick, round-towered medieval fortress of Trakai, which dates from around 1400 and has been expertly restored. The cosy little town of the same name is a gem. This region is a must-see for any visitor to Lithuania.
Boating and yachting is available there – a good chance to enjoy the beautiful landscape from another perspective. It’s also easy travelling distance away from the Vilnius, the modern capital and ancient seat of the medieval Lithuanian-Polish kingdom.
For lovers of the antique, delving down through the layers of Vilnius’s baroque-rococo-classical old town is an engaging exercise in time travel, but just to stroll through these streets is a carefree pleasure.
After sampling a gorgeous breakfast we had a restful boat trip on the lake, leaving behind our youngest child, who opted instead to ride one of the resort’s complimentary bikes along lengthy paths in the pinewood with a new friend. He could also practice his bowling in the bowling alley and immerse himself in the playroom.
It’s a sign of how well Esperanza caters for young families, as well as more mature and business guests, that we had no reservations about leaving him behind. Not only is there a kids’ club, but the surroundings must be among the most secure and well-chaperoned places in Europe.
After a day of energetic sight-seeing there were those long and relaxing evenings in the Russian bath house and swimming pool. There are also two Thai ladies standing by to massage your troubles away. This is what I call cosmopolitan!
That kind of tender loving care – not to mention a stress-busting gym – could come in useful after a hard brainstorming session with colleagues and partners in one or the resort’s conference rooms.
The Esperanza is a perfect place for a business decision-making awayday. If the meeting has been a success but, in the hectic rush, you have forgotten a business-trip present, the richly-endowed wine and cognac cellar is at your service.
One last thing: Not only is autumn spectacular, but the long winter months offer plenty of opportunities for snow-bound activities like ice-fishing, snow-mobiling, cross-country skiing and skating.
They even have a stable of horses, and what could be more romantic than a horseback
tour of the woods and the lake in the snow? There is no ‘out of season’ at Esperanza.
It’s not a term that Mother Nature would recognise, and neither do the staff here. n
IDW Esperanza Resort, Kozelkiskiu
Village, Bijunu Post, Trakai District, Lithuania
Tel.: +370 698 78378
Fax.: +370 5 2784163