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Here’s a Million-Dollar Question For You: What Exactly Is luxury?

When five stars simply aren’t enough

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, Dubai

While luxury as a concept manifests itself in many, many different ways, it essentially always boils down to the same thing: an attempt to go above and beyond the usual, to excite and enrich the senses, and to allow the recipient to experience the very highest points of living. This goes for the world of spirits as much as it does for the realm of travel; for dining, jewelry, furnishings, and fashion alike. 

The hotel industry is no stranger to luxury. Indeed, the very idea of the hotel evolved alongside the concept of greater-than-usual levels of comfort and beauty, and the cities and towns of the world have long been blessed with the presence of five-star hotels. From vast establishments featuring rooms by the thousand to small, elegant boutique affairs reserved for just a handful of couples, these places already go the extra mile to provide something more than special, and well into the arena of the extraordinary.

We are in an age when the heights of luxury are extending ever higher

However, the other defining feature of luxury is an insatiable appetite for betterment, and a constant need for reinvention and reevaluation. As such, it came as no surprise to anybody to discover that, at some point, five stars simply wasn’t enough. We are in an age when the heights of luxury are extending ever higher, and the demands of the global elite grow ever greater. When the extraordinary became simply not enough, the seven-star hotel was born. But what makes a hotel worthy of such a rating? And what might we find in these rare and wonderful resorts? We lift the lid on this coveted phenomenon and invite you to find out more.

What’s the difference between five- and seven-star hotels?

Before we delve too deeply into the world of five- and seven-star hotels, it’s important to note that as with many rating systems, there’s no single global standard with which hotels are judged. With this in mind, it would normally be recommended to take such ratings with a pinch of salt. However, it’s very hard to deny that seven-star hotels really do go above and beyond the call of duty, and make a considerable effort to distinguish themselves from their five-star counterparts.

Five-star hotels invariably feature several key factors, making them worthy of their ratings. This will include a range of different rooms and suites, pools, spa facilities, and access to extensive grounds. Guests will benefit from handmade food, often prepared by world-class chefs, concierge services, business and conference spaces, gyms, and valets—indeed, it would be fair to say they rarely miss a step or fail to include something their guests would appreciate or need. Another criterion commonly stuck to include is them being situated in buildings of architectural significance, or in close proximity to renowned landmarks.

The seven-star experience begins even before the guests arrive

Hotels which are advertised with seven stars, however, like to push the envelope even further. The seven-star experience begins even before the guests arrive, with the concierge or hotel staff researching their guests in order to find out how to provide them with everything they might desire. This is compounded by the fact that these hotels will usually feature more suites than they do rooms, offer limousine services, excursions to breathtaking locations, and a range of Michelin-star standard restaurants. On top of this, a staggering array of “extras” will be offered—and these range from luxurious experiences such as caviar facials and revolving beds to gold-leaf tattoos, gold iPads, or ridiculously extravagant cocktail menus and beauty services. The intention? To give every guest a sense of the billionaire lifestyle, and to offer an experience unlike any other. Let’s take a look at the world’s finest examples of these seven-star wonders.


Seven Stars Galleria
Seven Stars Galleria

Seven Stars Galleria

This Milanese hotel is where the concept of the seven-star experience began. It was the brainchild of luxury hotelier Alessandro Rossi, whose vision was to create a completely new sort of hotel experience—one which catered for every whim and tailored itself around the desires of the guest. Not only is the Seven Stars Galleria incredibly beautiful in design and execution, it also features a wealth of services which go beyond those of any other hotel in Italy. The fact that it resides in one of the city’s oldest—and most stunningly restored—buildings helped secure its legendary status.

The hotel offers suites with 24-hour butler service, restaurants which design their meals around your preference, and the kind of decadence and luxury for which Milan is famous. Rossi’s idea was to have everything prepared in advance for the guest, to present a sort of “seventh heaven” upon arrival. As such, guests fill in a questionnaire when they book their room; asking how they like their pillows, what temperature they find most pleasant, what time they like to eat… nothing is unaccounted for!


Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, Dubai
Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, Dubai

Burj Al Arab

Of course, should you ask anybody you meet to name a seven-star hotel, the chances are they’ll first mention the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic sail-shaped dream palace, and the building which gave the Emirates its stunning reputation for luxury.

The Burj Al Arab is all about style and comfort, and a particularly Arabian level of hospitality and attention to detail which allows guests to explore their love of luxury in the most stunning settings. Incredible spa facilities, chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces, vast aquariums en-suite… this really does deserve its reputation for being the hotel with everything! Those lucky enough to stay in the Burj Al Arab Royal Suite really will feel like they belong to the highest echelons of the aristocracy, with spectacular views across the Arabian Gulf. However, it doesn’t end there. This suite comes complete with a vast, state-of-the-art entertainment system, twin jacuzzis, gold-lock wallpaper, a huge bed with fourteen pillows… and you’ll be served by the world’s largest fleet of hotel butlers, trained to serve your every whim before you’ve even realized what it is you crave.


Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi
Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi

Emirates Palace

It comes as no surprise that there is more than one seven-star hotel in UAE. The Emirates Palace is in Abu Dhabi, and its designers went to great lengths to ensure it outstripped the competition in almost every possible way. The result is a fairytale palace of epic proportions—the Emirates Palace cost $3 billion U.S. to build, and it looks as though not a penny went to waste. The building features marble imported from five different countries, boasts a private beach which extends along 1.3 kilometers of glittering coastline, and tapestries handmade in Thailand which weigh a ton each. Also—and this is where it really gets a bit over the top—the kitchens of the Emirates Palace go through 5 km of pure gold each year for decorating desserts, and it even has a gold bar vending machine.


Taj Falaknuma Palace
Taj Falaknuma Palace

Taj Falaknuma Palace

India is a country of huge diversity, and it is also a land which does luxury very, very well indeed. The Taj Falaknuma Palace really is a genuine palace and was once the Hyderabad home of the Seventh Nizam, who was the world’s richest man in his lifetime. It is opulence defined—each suite is furnished in the most stunning antique fashion, and chandeliers drip from every ceiling. Guests get to enjoy the finest cuisine in the subcontinent and experience the kind of comfort and luxury which was once reserved only for the Maharajas.

The Taj Falaknuma is renowned for its chauffeur-driven excursions to some of Hyderabad’s most beautiful locations, as well as having access to a phalanx of decorated elephants.


Pangu 7 Star Hotel Beijing
Pangu 7 Star Hotel Beijing

Pangu 7 Star Hotel

One country which is beginning to truly find its voice when it comes to luxury tourism is China. The communist country has recently invested billions in the construction of several highly luxurious hotels and resorts, but the most opulent of them all is surely the Pangu 7 Star Hotel of Beijing. The building itself has been designed in the shape of an enormous Chinese dragon—a symbol of wealth and luck—and it boasts several deluxe restaurants, the most exquisite spas in the country, views of the Olympic Park, and plenty of distinctly European style additions: Italian marble is found everywhere in the hotel, as is hand-embroidered silk wallpaper.

These hotels have shown that no dream of luxury is unreachable or unattainable. Indeed, they’ve proven that the impossible can be delivered on a gilded plate to those who can afford it, and wish to spend their money on such unique, tailored experiences. Despite this, it’s vital to remember that the world of luxury travel is forever evolving with the demands of its customers—it’s highly likely that what’s to come will be more impressive than we could even envision at present. For lovers of luxury, no thought could be more exciting.

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Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris is a wine and luxury lifestyle journalist from Bristol, UK. He splits his time between England, Hungary and Romania, and is deeply involved in the wine scenes of each country, which he endeavours to champion in western Europe. He is also a published poet and author, and the co-editor of an influential international arts and literature journal.

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