VOLANTE Through the course of a year, Stanley Moss came across Accor’s Pullman chain five times in three countries. He discovers that in each city—New Delhi, Marseille, Auckland and Paris—Pullman was united by high standards
Photographed by Paula Sweet
Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.
There are those occasions in a traveller’s life when spending extra just to smooth the process makes good sense. These might include moments like having a car and driver meet you at the airport in Fort Cochin, India, so as not to have to navigate the Byzantine intricacies of a taxi connection to your hotel. Or a luxurious buffer when arriving and leaving New Delhi, where your choices are limited to departure at an unholy hour of the morning when you ought to be in your comfy warm bed, or touchdown at bleary-eyed-o’clock, when surly people just roused from their sleep arrive at their airport jobs intent on taking revenge on anyone who approaches their desk.
Which brings us to the real beginning of our story. In January 2019, after a dozen trips to the subcontinent, we had learned our lesson with India well. Following weeks of hard travel and presented with the limited choice of an unthinkable departure hour (who wants to arrive at IGI at 2 a.m. for a 5 a.m. flight? Only crazy people), we asked our travel planner to book us into a property in Gurgaon, where we would check in as early as possible in the afternoon, take a leisurely meal, then sleep until midnight, followed by a 1.30 a.m. car to the airport. We’d pay our tiny extra for a room night, but it would eliminate a ragged, last-minute nocturnal dash into the no-person’s-land of flight anonymity as encountered many trips before. The travel planner, Travelscope India, booked us into the Pullman New Delhi Aerocity. We did not know the hotel, a sub-brand of the Accor Group.
There begins our tale. With only ten hours at the property we had a very short time to evaluate the place, as we always do with our over-travelled and discriminating eyes. We can’t help ourselves. After all, we stay at upwards of 50 properties a year, most of them boutique grade, and our hospitality radar cannot help but be operational 24–7. Fast, friendly check-in led into a room that exuded comfort, style and fun. We settled into the place, ordered room service, and made our flight comfortably, with total efficiency on the part of the Pullman New Delhi Aerocity team. Smiling staff waved us goodbye well beyond the midnight hour. We had been seduced, but did not know it.
Fast forward months later to another of those strange glitches which travellers encounter, a day-early arrival into Marseille, prior to a rendezvous with driver the following noon, en route to Provence. We needed a hotel at the airport, and the Pullman was an option. We remembered that Delhi had been a quality experience—would the 131-location brand hold up in a second try on another continent? Would the magic continue?
No request remained unmet at the Pullman Marseille. From the cordial check-in, the arduous selection of a room, the crazy lobby with its graffiti-inspired décor, a terrific restaurant experience for dinner, to an irreproachable breakfast with bio eggs and customized juices, the brand continued to deliver. Never once had we revealed our connection to either journalism or the travel industry—we simply were normal nomadic guests in transit. Even a casual afternoon walk around the property added to the mix. There were colourfully painted beehives set out at the edge of the property, and a fun sculpture garden where civilized children romped. We felt miles away from the commodified world of airports and big-brand hotels.
Now we were intrigued enough to book room nights at the Pullman Auckland, New Zealand, thousands of miles away, across the International Date Line, below the equator, where we discovered the same vibe, once again sensitized to the global vagabond. Comfort, artful décor, panoramic views, inspiring public spaces, super location, personalized service, outstanding emphasis on dining, and the largest indoor pool in the nation’s biggest city. An easygoing style of management and authentic urban rhythm under a banner of Kiwi sensibilities. Unimposing hospitality flavoured by custom-infused gins in the lobby bar. A tiny jar of the property’s own honey, produced from hives on the roof. Do we detect a note of brand continuity?
Back to Delhi later in the year, to see if the earlier visit was illusion. Instead, a pumped-up repeat of our first time at Aerocity, with the luxury of an additional room night to experience the rich possibilities of dining and view the public spaces in better detail. Now we are getting the idea, a brand concept emerging. There’s local art and performance events in the public spaces, a wine bar, regional dining choices, a youthful and vital worldview. India is big, and Aerocity embraces its diversity of tastes, flavours and colours.
Finally, two months later we arrive at the Pullman Bercy in Paris, set at the southeast corner of the city in a modern tower. It’s been repurposed from an older hotel, transformed into an urban archæological statement of functional minimalism. Big events happen on the lower level, hustle-bustle occupies the ground floor spaces. Outrageous pop-up events are scheduled, comfortable couches face the barber shop, there’s a screening room and an indoor amphitheatre, a futuristic exercise room, a concept store with curated retail products next to the reception table, abundant workspaces discovered in every corner. It’s a crossroads, a depot, a watering hole, a junction, an agora. There’s a dizzying choice of food and beverage options. Our room is a bi-level perch in the sky with a rain shower overlooking the rooftops, automated curtains, two-storey windows. We live in a sci-fi movie, a high-tech dreamscape. It’s Paris out there, and the world is our huître.
So, thanks, Pullman. We get it and we like it. You exist to welcome everyone, to know the people, city, neighbourhood, so road warriors don’t feel like tourists or strangers. You’re into mixing international travellers with the locals, mooshing together work and play, a counterpoint to uptight luxury hotels. We love a place where you’re free to be yourself, where you’re connected to the globe. And we’ll be seeing you again soon. •
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