Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square
Universiteto St. 14,Vilnius, Lithuania; kempinski.com/vilnius; 96 rooms starting at $268 (€200).
The Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square is Lithuania's newest luxury hotel set in the capital of Vilnius. The brand's first property in the Baltic states was once a grand dame known throughout the region a century ago. The building has been meticulously restored to its neoclassical roots with an impressive grand lobby awash in white marble with panoramic windows looking out to Cathedral Square.
The Kempinski brings a level of luxury that the city now needs. Since Lithuania's independence in 1990, the modern metropolis with its historical façade seems to be full steam ahead, thriving culturally and economically. The lavish Kempinski Hotel simply reflects this new chapter in Lithuania's history.
Just a 15-minute ride from the airport, the hotel is located in the midst of Old Town. Simply fall out of Kempinki's door and start exploring this UNESCO site with its mix of gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture. The Kempinski is walking distance to the best shops, countless churches and the old Jewish ghetto.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
As centrally located and as historically rich as the hotel is, be careful not to get too lulled into its lap of luxury. Get off property to explore intimate, culturally authentic spots. For a traditional meal, locals referred me to the nearby Zemaiciai Restaurant where diners eat below ground in a labyrinth of catacombs. It was a medieval moment to remember and one I'd never get at the five-star hotel.
Going to Eastern Europe and skipping the spa is like going to Aspen and not skiing. The large spa has two saunas, Finnish and steam, and stocks Britain's skin diva Daniele de Winter's products. (De Winter's products are exclusive to Kempinski and not available anywhere else in Lithuania.) Try the 150-minute Vilnius Signature Ritual that includes essential oils, a black-grape scrub and a hot-stone massage.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
You'll enjoy floor-to-ceiling views of the central square from Telegrafas, the hotel restaurant, but the real reason to dine in is executive chef Ciaran Gantly's outrageously innovative menu. There is a wee nod to traditional Lithuanian dishes, yet all is mixed with a mad modern twist: Try the squab with caramelized pork belly, Jerusalem artichoke purée and pickled plums, or perhaps the duck confit with forest mushrooms and truffle-Madeira jus. There's also a Lithuanian menu with silk herring tartar and veal roulade with parsley foam. Expect precise pairings – in house sommelier Narimantas Miezys was recognized as Lithuania's best sommelier in 2012.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
To ensure a view of Cathedral Square, you could look through the bulletproof windows of the Presidential suite (1,420 square feet with butler's quarters and a private entrance) or from the balconies of deluxe-category rooms on a variety of floors. Fifth-floor rooms only offer cathedral square views from the attic rooftop.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
Mix and mingle with the city's financially savvy and fashion-forward business elite. As the hotel is steps away from the Presidential Palace, governmental gadabouts and politicos may pop by, too. The night I was in town Tom Ford was, naturally, having a fashion fete.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.