Hotel penthouses: the best rooms in town

Sarah Thomas opens the door to the best room in town: the penthouse.

It's not every hotel that hands you the keys to a Maserati Quattroporte for jaunts around town while you're there. If you're paying EUR20,000 ($39,000) a night, however, chances are you would want some bang for your buck.

Despite the gloomy economic climate, the demand for penthouse suites is still thriving. With guests including heads of state, royalty, entertainers and commerce chiefs, this level of wealth is such that it seems almost impervious to a downturn.

So what do you get if money is no object? At the Hotel Plaza-Athenee Paris's lavishly furnished Royal Suite, as well as the keys to a Maserati there are four bedrooms, a living room, dining room and digital fingerprint entry.

In the main bedroom, the plasma television rotates so it can be seen from any point in the room and a glass video projection screen is visible from the front and back. There is even a fridge in the bathroom for cosmetics to keep their "efficacy".

The luxury that money can buy is breathtaking: the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi offered a $US1 million ($1.5 million) seven-night package last year at its palace suites and included first-class return tickets, use of a private jet and spa treatments.

The world's most expensive suite is the Ty Warner penthouse at the Four Seasons New York, with a reported $US34,000 price tag. Named after the hotel's billionaire owner, the nine-room suite covers the entire top floor of the building and features 7.6-metre-high windows with stunning views of Manhattan.

Other extras include a butler and a personal trainer, a Zen garden, a spa room and use of a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

It's not just the furnishings or gimmicks that appeal to penthouse-suite guests. Travel agent Claudia Rossi Hudson, from Mary Rossi Travel , has penthouse guests among her clients - with suites typically costing $25,000 to $70,000 a night - and says the views are a strong selling point.

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"If you're staying in the top accommodation in a city, you need to be able to get a sense of the place," Hudson says. "They want to come home and relax and unwind and the view is part of that relaxation process - you are there in this iconic city with this fantastic view."

Service also matters. "Whatever any guest wants, day or night, we get it," says Four Seasons Sydney general manager Stephen Lewis of his presidential suite. "There's no such thing as 'no' - anything happens, any time it's wanted."

Lewis says he has fielded all sorts of requests from the hotel's $5500-a-night, 156-square-metre suite, which, along with the rest of the hotel, has recently been refurbished. More simple demands include putting in a guest's preferred artwork or favourite flowers. Not all requests are so straightforward, however - one musician asked for a dance floor to be installed, another entertainer wanted the windows to be blacked out for extra privacy.

"It's business we particularly like because it's fun having those sorts of people stay in the hotel," Lewis says. "It just adds to the cachet and glamour of running an international hotel."

Justin Hemmes's $6500-a-night ivy penthouses still have no scheduled opening date, despite their much-publicised "rock-star-style bang". Elsewhere in Sydney, top suites include the InterContinental's 245-square-metre Australia suite, the city's largest, which features panoramic views, a terrace, a grand piano and a spa bath.

In Melbourne, Crown Towers has 31 villas with private lobbies and lifts.

Security and private entrances are important factors, particularly for celebrities, Hudson says.

"An absolute must is a discreet entrance to the hotel and straight up to their suite, where they don't have to smile sweetly at other hotel guests getting in the lift with them," she says.

Hudson says it's essential to match the level of service required. "Hotels need to be able to deliver and to organise wonderful things at the drop of a hat," she says. "[When] you're talking about a bellboy delivering something to a room, you don't want him to fall over with shock when the movie star answers the door. They have to be discreet."

In many cases, suites make some degree of economic sense when space is a big consideration - guests might have staff, security or nannies to think about and need the additional bedrooms or offices.

One thing that has changed under the current climate is that top-end trips are something that should be kept quiet, Hudson says. "Our clients are being very discreet about their travel," she says. "While they might be wealthy enough to stay in accommodation like that, it is no longer cool to be showing off your wealth. The bragging rights aren't there.

"If your brother-in law's lost his job, he's not going to be particularly thrilled to hear about how much you spent on your presidential suite. There certainly is the feeling that travel is for the experiences, it's not for boasting about."

(Photos: Inside the world's top hotel penthouses)

FAST FACTS

Crown Towers, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank, Melbourne; (03) 9292 6666; crowntowers.com.au.

Four Seasons Hotel New York, 57 East 57th Street; +1 212 758 5700; fourseasons.com/newyorkfs.

Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, 199 George Street; (02) 9250 3100; fourseasons.com/sydney.

Hotel Plaza Athenee Paris, 25 Avenue Montaigne, 75008; +33 1 53 67 66 67; www.plaza-athenee-paris.com.

Intercontinental Sydney, 117 Macquarie Street; (02) 9253 9000; sydney.intercontinental.com.

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