The off-season means mostly hibernation for the Constanta – Mamaia resorts. Hotels are shut down until the spring works, dance clubs and all-night pubs return to their home-towns (mainly Bucharest, where the branded pubs are closed throughout the summer) and the few restaurants still working cut short their menus. The main premium offers for the months to come are the four main luxury hotels – Grand Hotel Rex, Vega, Richmond (in Mamaia) and Cherica (in Constanta).
During the summer, Rex is the official headquarters for Constanta’s new rich and for the never-ending flood of VIPs, stars and starlets in search of a break from Bucharest’s boiling asphalt, glass and steel. It’s a rather large establishment, with generous spaces, a terrace accommodating 90 and a restaurant large enough for 220 people. Pretty shiny during a normal summer day, a few steps away from the noisy traffic, with rooms offering a view, regardless their position – the sea on the West side and the Techirghiol lake on the East.
The restaurant menu is quite offering, with a wine selection to match most meals, although some of the market’s landmark brands – required in all a luxury location – are absent.
The design fails to surprise at the upper levels of the hotel, but keeps up with the hotel rank at the (upper) ground level – the restaurant – lounge – terrace area. The black & white, along with grey and silver tones may be somehow seen as on the edge of kitsch, but in fact work and play together, building a fair chill out air. The music (chill, acid jazz, drum&bass) and the perfect air temperature add a bit to making up a comforting afternoon.
That happens usually, the word goes. When we arrived at the scene, the Romanian Grand Prix for speed boats was taking place, unfortunately. This translates into a helicopter landing and taking off every ten minutes or so, right in front of the hotel, on an improvised heliport. All the soundproof windows and walls were far from matching such a challenge.
The main disappointment was the commercial gallery (on the lower ground level) – empty spaces and just two stores (out of a dozen) still opened, two weeks before the season’s closing time. The names engraved on the glass gates were a promise for exclusive luxury, such as Loro Piana and Brioni. Instead, a couple of shelves were selling colorful beach blouses and swimsuits.
The apartments are around a “good” ranking, yet far from the advertised “spiciest rooms on the Romanian seashore”. A bit of extra-space may have done a lot to upgrade those rooms. Speaking of tiny spaces: elevators are a nightmare, even for those who don’t suffer from any claustrophobia and a ride as a couple may prove difficult.
To compensate a bit, the mini-bar in the room has everything one needs. A box of Cuban cigars is already on the table, in case you wish for one.
Roughly speaking, the hotel is still fresh, with a neutral design (non-aggressive, it counts for a “thumbs up” in Romania), more of a pit stop / sleep refuge between long trips to trendy clubs and restaurants. Balconies need a brush, especially on the Eastern side (towards the sea), being affected by wind, sun and salted air.
The main discomfort sources – except for the occasional helicopter and the small elevator, are not numerous, but should be taken into account. The pedestrian alleys towards the hotel are made of limestone rocks, similar in size with the railroad embankment stones. On the Northern side of the hotel, there’s a self-service traditional food restaurant that must have bothered (olfactory, if not by noise) a few Rex guests during the past summer. For the off-season time, the distance to the nearest functioning club or restaurant is not a problem, since the hotel only 3 to 5 miles far from the Constanta downtown, However, eating and clubbing “in the city” may prove to be quite a challenge in the never-ending busy traffic during summer. Same thing applies to the following Vega and Richmond hotels.
Suddenly upgraded from 3 to 5 stars, Vega put a lot into impressing clients from the very beginning. A good attitude, for starters, unless the client is rather unwilling to accept stiff personnel, eager to prove the hotel’s luxury statute.
At a glimpse, the beach kindergarten and shop, as well as the shallow pool, make this a good destination for families. At least, families have a better shot at spending quality time here than at Rex, the temple of never-ending bachelor-time. Also counting for first impression – the water wall with laser projections at the entrance and the “vintage” Excalibur Roadster SS, previously owned by Princess Grace of Monaco, now parked in front of the hotel and available for rent (400 Euros for 6 hours).
The best suits (Senior) are close to international standards, offering plasma TV sets, coffee makers, audio equipment and a more than useless microwave oven (I’d like to see a millionaire paying up to 700 Euros for a night here unfreezing his lunch!). Junior suits are almost more uncomfortable than the cheaper, yet larger Family rooms.
The feng-shui wannabe hotel is, everything taken into consideration, acceptable in overall design. Still, the Vega Fashion & Art store at the ground level is crowded with useless and large objects that no sane person would buy during a holiday.
The personnel is kind and seems qualified, but rather stiff and “rule’o’holic”. A demand out of the ordinary and you’ll get a long, quiet break for meditation or a just-as-long session of consultations in the chain of command.
The most important problem – one that the hotel will never escape, regardless the investments in design – is the old, dusty, crappy, corny and obsolete architecture made famous by some Romanian comedy films in the early ‘80’s. In this aspect, only colors and carpets have truly changed.
For foreign visitors, the limousine rentals and the trips to regional landmarks – from traditional Romanian restaurants and historical sites to sky-diving – may prove a good investment, at a fair price.
After coming to a closure with some problems with the restaurant they sublet without a trace of inspiration, Richmond seems to be a fine promise for the following season. The personnel is warm-hearted and relaxed (quite the opposite, compared to the stiff and tensed ones at Vega!), inducing no stress at all on their clients.
The most attractive offer is the Spa treatments with grapes and chocolate (still a rare occurrence in Romania). The fitness room is a fair 4-star one. The rooms – within the limits of the antiquated architecture, are nice, almost pleasant, without becoming an abundant luxury symbol. In this particular case, it’s an extra-point for building up a family-air, a space easier to assume and turn into an intimate experience. This aspect – making the resort a home-away-from-home – is easily ignored in Romania these days, opulence being preferred by many. Once again, in this particular case, the personnel makes the difference and scores decisively in turning the hotel into a more familiar “beach house”.
Full mini-bar, cold Champagne (Mumm or Moet), Hermes cosmetics, everything is in its right place.
Off-season, prices drop to a medium level and the hotel may be fully reserved by groups nearing two thirds of the capacity.
The greatest flaw is the location of the hotel. The sea can be seen only from the top floor and, even then, one has to watch the tar roof of the neighboring hotel. Better, anyway, than to stare at the drying laundry of the labor-union workers. Fortunately, there are lots of place to spend an afternoon, instead of sitting in a Richmond balcony.
For a 4-star hotel, Cherica is the revelation of the season. Anyway, it is the first all-year business hotel on the seashore. Not really a holiday destination, but perfect for any business trip, from a night to a whole month.
It is located about a hundred yards from the sea and at a 10 minutes ride from the railroad station, the Constanta Casino and the entrance to the Mamaia resorts. It has nothing to do with the “modern” hotels in Constanta (there is a “Guci” Hotel there, too, so remaineth thy name!). Cherica is just an oasis for peace, comfort and noblesse.
The hotel’s building was originally built by the monks from the Mount Athos, for their own use. Known as the “Monk Hotel”, the building was later acquired by a rich businessman, then inherited by his daughter, Pulcheria Doiciu, known as Cherica (kerika), later to become spouse of Prince Dimitrie Gr. Sturdza. Confiscated by the Communist regime, the hotel remains state property until 2003, when the retrocession process finally returned it into the Sturdza family’s property.
“The heritage”, one of the fundamentals of the “luxury” concept, can be found everywhere in this hotel, from Cherica’s translucent portrait on the entrance door to all the “belle époque” pictures on the walls, on each and every hallway. The seducing combination of perfumes that embrace the hotel is an alchemy experiment conducted by the general manager of the hotel in person (on the other hand, room-perfumes must be displaced before a room is occupied!).
Once in the room, there are fine chocolates waiting on the bed, as an welcome gesture (Valrhona, a manufacture operating in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy). From the safe contained in the closed to the Prija cosmetics (the company produces only for top hospitality resorts), everything is in it’s right place. The mini-bar offer free water for the thirsty ones. Also free are the coffee and tea bags near the electric coffee maker.
The edge of the hotel, compared to the largest, most luxurious and most expensive hotels in Romania, is the size of its rooms and apartments. Even without a balcony (the building was erected in the late 1800’s), all apartments are almost residential-size. The “mobile office” rooms, separated from the bedroom, may fit in easily up to six – seven people. This is the way the new owner, Prince Serban Dimitrie Sturdza, wanted it. The hotel heir is a graduate from the French Institute of Modern Arts and had all sorts of aesthetic adventures, from designing perfume bottles to industrial architecture. He also put up all the plans for the furniture inside the hotel, another point where Cherica surpasses all competition.
The Café Café on the ground level matches the hotel in fine taste, being the work of Catalin Nedelcu, an investor who wanted it to look like “the best abroad” and came to this result. It does look like the best, from the Bose speakers to the delicate game of textures and shapes of the terrace furniture.
Still, none of the above may stand for the hotel’s best card. The fact is that, despite the crisis and all subsequent complications, Cherica has the lowest prices – both in accommodation and restaurant. The “breakfast ticket” included in the room price covers 180% of the most expensive breakfast. Rooms are between 70 and 153 Euros per night, compared to 300-600, average prices for the similar resorts in Mamaia on-season. The most expensive room is about as much as the cheapest at Rex, off-season. For all returning clients, there is a discount program inspired from the US, Denmark and UK luxury resorts.
One last thing: at Cherica, all employees smile and it seems that no one forces them to do so.
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