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By Barbara Kingstone
The opening, or should I say the re-opening, of Hotel Kamp in Helsinki Finland, dispels any notions that the Finns are shy, dour, privacy seeking, retiring people. The Finns know a thing or two about living well. Just a walk into the majestic Hotel Kamp on Pohjoisesplanadi is like a stroll between the gracious old worldliness of the 1880s and cutting edge requirements and demands of guests of the Millennium
When Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, undertook the construction of the hotel which opened in May 1999, it was to the delighted of a grateful city. In 1965 talk about demolishing the building built in 1887 and designed by Theodor Joijer, threw the citizens into a spin. Quiet as the Helsinki residents may seem, there was no way they were going to allow this honored historical neo-classic edifice become history under the destruction ball for yet another modern building. Hotel Kamp in its hey day as now, easily dominates high end tourism in this northern city.
Restaurateur Carl Kamp opened the doors of Hotel Kamp to an appreciative community but unfortunately he died the next year. His widow Maria, tried to keep the business going but that lasted only a few years and after several different management and ownership, the hotel finally closed in 1965. None ever paid homage to the magnificence of the building and its café society past.
Ah, if the walls could talk. In the Czarist years of oppression, the building became a meeting place for the Kagaali, the secret underground movement. And during the civil war, some rooms were used as a hospital and others as headquarters of the German Baltic Division.
I walked around the outside and wondered where I should enter. Should it be at the umbrella filled side walk café where the Helsinki chic sit in the unusually warm summer afternoon when the long hours of daylight in this Nordic part of the world stretches for many hours? Or as I did, walk into that side entrance which leads into the “Bar” where the original architectural features have been preserved. Without too much hesitation, I wandered into a small book lined shelved “The Library”. Feeling puckish, I ordered the traditional English tea, served just so, nibbled on the sandwiches while sitting in front of a white tiled fireplace and thought about the years when the elite met at the Hotel Kamp: when composer Jean Sibelius and his artist friends would sit for hours in spirited discussions.
However, for total first impression impact, I would suggest going around the corner to the main entrance on the pedestrian street of the hotel. Kluuvikatu is where vehicles are permitted to enter only as far as the entrance and mainly for the purpose of dropping off or collecting passengers.
What an attention getter the lobby is! The wide seeping swirling staircase and Corinthian columns, the high dome ceiling cleverly repeated with similar inlaid swirls and circles in the flooring and the overwhelmingly large floral arrangement reek pure luxury. It’s a convenient lobby, with few seating arrangements. These comforts are in the several nearby public rooms.
From the lobby, I noticed waiters busily setting tables in an open kitchen concept. CK’s Brasserie is blue. Blue aprons, blue glasses and dishes with the exception of dashes of white. There’s a fine narrow stand- around counter which doubles at breakfast as a buffet groaning board. It seems wildly successful since all the tables are filled.
When in Finland, sauna. Ah, but nothing prepares you for the most lavish facilities. Etched glass doors open into a fairyland of exercise and pampering. A sauna suite, made large enough for meetings, has already been anointed with several serious business conferences. Isn’t one of the reasons we travel is to see different culture? Two smaller saunas are available; there’s also a steam grotto, another is an enclosed room with state of the art exercise machines camphor filled lounge with chaise longues, which look as though they’ve been covered with small white shells. (They are in fact, ceramic and heated.) Hidden behind two curved walls, which look like part of the new architectural design, are showers. And a large lion’s head doesn’t spew water but crushed ice.
Needless to add, the rooms are also exceptional and decorated with the finest of everything, especially noticeable is the use of luxurious silks. Even the single side swag drapery has been replicated from the original designs in the manor-born fabric. Each suite is named after a Finnish notable. Finnish hero, General Mannerheim’s name is engraved on the 258 sq. metre, Presidential Suite where the guests usually have a title and probably can’t resist viewing the elegant Esplanade Park from the curved balcony.
The Mirror Room is non-pareil. As the name suggests, this ballroom is the epitome of splendor with its high frescoed ceilings, original wall murals gilded columns, orchestra gallery and of course, mirror.
With all this history, glamour and dedication to details, it shouldn’t take too long before Hotel Kamp becomes a destination which rates along with Venice’s Hotel Cipriani, Paris’ Ritz hotel and Istanbul’s Four Seasons. After all, Hotel Kamp was already a legend before those babies were even conceived.
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