BACKGROUND Intercontinental took over management of the former Ankara Regent Hotel in Almaty in October 2006 – the second international hotel group to enter the city (after Hyatt). Hyatt withdrew in 2011, having struggled to retain the necessary service standards, but the Intercontinental remains, with a strong local and international customer base.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Standing alone with plenty of space around it, the blue-glass façade of the hotel looks suitably exclusive as you drive through the security gates. The atrium is airy but inviting, with a bustling sunken lounge area. Three interior glass-sided lifts look down on the lounge and out of the hotel’s glass frontage towards the mountains.
WHERE IS IT? Conveniently situated between the old town to the north and the emerging financial and business centre to the south, the hotel faces the former Presidential Palace and Republic Square. The city’s new metro system is limited and the nearest station is 10-15 minutes’ walk away – unless you love walking, getting around town invariably means a taxi ride.
ROOM FACILITIES I was in a king deluxe room in the northern wing of the building, which curves slightly to face the Tien Shan mountain range. The view is stupendous, particularly in the early morning before the city haze obscures the snowcapped peaks, so it’s worth asking for a room on this side of the hotel if possible.
The room itself is classical in design and décor, with earth tones throughout, including an attractive Kazakh silk bedspread and light wood furnishings. The last major room renovations were in 2008, so it did feel slightly old-fashioned – the flatscreen TV, tea/coffee-making equipment, safe and minibar were all adequate but not class-leading (no Nespresso or iPod docks here) – but the room temperature was warm and cosy (vital in this part of the world in winter). The bed and bedding were upgraded throughout the hotel in 2012, and mine were excellent.
The work desk by the window was large with well-placed electric sockets, but the chair was too low and soft for comfortable laptop use. Kazakhstan uses the European-style twin round-pin plugs, but the sockets are circular with recessed holes, so my standard square adapter did not fit. A phone call to housekeeping solved the problem, with adapters supplied within minutes.
The bathroom also had a retro feel, with slabs of dark marble and an old-style combination bath/shower unit, but the shower was powerful and piping hot and when I slid the doors open the bathroom floor was impressively dry – not always the case with this shower design.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS The ground-floor Asian Café Restaurant serves international breakfast and lunch buffets. Breakfast, one of the best I can remember, included a comprehensive Japanese and Korean section, a rack of fresh honeycomb from the mountains, and a superb selection of fresh/dried fruits and nuts.
High-end Belvedere Restaurant on the 10th floor boasts lofty ceilings and inspirational views, but my favourite was Bosphorus Restaurant on the mezzanine floor. It serves authentic Turkish and Ottoman dishes – exquisite, if pricey. The outdoor Tennis Bar & Restaurant is open in summer in the hotel’s rear courtyard garden, complete with large barbecue grill. The 10th floor Club Lounge opens 6am to midnight, but the Lobby Lounge and Atrium Bar serves snacks and salads round the clock. Finally, J-Bar has deep sofas, cigars available, and a live jazz duo six nights a week.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES Wifi is free throughout the hotel (at 512Kb/ps) with high-speed in-room wired internet available at 56 tenge (US$0.30) per minute or 3,360 tenge (US$22.4) for 24 hours. The mezzanine-floor business centre (staffed 8am-12pm) has four new iMacs all connected to their own printers.
There is 1,008 sqm of meeting space; the Grand Ballroom caters for 700 reception-style or 550 theatre-style, and can be divided into two. It has its own dedicated VIP entrance and car park. There are four meeting rooms: the Abai and Ablai Khan rooms cater for 50 and 70 people respectively (reception-style); the larger Astana room can seat 350 theatre-style, and the business centre has a small meeting room for 10.
LEISURE FACILITIES All in one huge area, there’s an extensive gym, an indoor pool with separate children’s pool, a Turkish hammam and saunas. Outside are two tennis courts, barbecue grills and a garden, and the hotel also houses a beauty salon, gift shop and a “Rich” carpet shop worth browsing.
VERDICT Although it should modernise its room hardware, this venerable establishment still ranks among the best hotels in the country due to its consistently high service standards (not always easy in Kazakhstan) and luxury.
HOW MANY ROOMS?
277 guestrooms, comprising 203 deluxe rooms, a wheelchair accessible room, 49 executive club rooms, 13 junior suites, nine executive suites, the Pasha suite and Presidential suite.
Fantastic views across the city to towering mountain peaks, and an extremely comfortable bed with down-filled duvet (essential in winter).
Internet rates for a flexible stay in a king deluxe room in mid-July start from 52,000 tenge (US$345).
181 Zheltoksan Street, 050013 Almaty, Kazakhstan, tel +7 727 250 5000, www.ihg.com