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ROYAL AMBITIONS<br><br>The Prince, a new boutique hotel in the Melbourne suburb of St. Kilda, appears to be the retreat of choice for globe-trotting Australian expatriates. Hotel regulars include actresses Rachel Griffiths and Toni Colette, as well as...

ROYAL AMBITIONS

The Prince, a new boutique hotel in the Melbourne suburb of St. Kilda, appears to be the retreat of choice for globe-trotting Australian expatriates. Hotel regulars include actresses Rachel Griffiths and Toni Colette, as well as pop diva Kylie Minogue.

Housed in a space that formerly occupied a drag club and a bar, the building was bought and then revamped in 2000 by a pair of local restaurateurs, brothers John and Frank Van Haandel.

The hotel, which overlooks picturesque Port Phillip Bay, was designed by architects Alan Powell and Wood Marsh and interior designer Paul Hecker. Contemporary touches abound from Marc Newson chairs in the foyer to Aesop fixtures in the bathrooms. Guest rooms, many of which overlook a central courtyard, feature Bose stereo systems, DVD players and high-speed Internet access. The hotel’s luxe amenities include cotton waffle-weave bathrobes and in-rooms bars stocked with Campari and Louis Roederer Champagne. Room rates start at $139 (Australian dollar figures converted using current exchange rates).

The Prince houses the Aurora Spa Retreat, Australia’s largest urban holistic spa. It offers traditional mud treatments from Aboriginal luxury spa line Li’Tya. Circa, the property’s subterranean restaurant, serves Australian cuisine with French accents. Those who have paid a visit to the restaurant include Sting, Mick Jagger, Michael Shumacher and Charlize Theron. 2 Acland Street, St. Kilda, (61) 3-9536-1111, theprince.com.au.

— Patty Huntington

RETAIL HIGH

A must-visit for fashionistas heading to Auckland is High Street, the epicenter of New Zealand’s fashion scene. This little fashion nexus boasts flagships for nearly every major local designer, including Zambesi, Kate Sylvester, Nicholas Blanchet, Karen Walker, World, Carlson, Morrison Hotel and Gubb & Mackie.

During the 2000 and 2003 America’s Cup regattas, many of the well-heeled participants and spectators visited the area, and many of the stores reported large sales increases.

Of particular note, is the Pauanesia boutique at 35 High Street, which offers shoppers a quick hit of Polynesian culture. The store’s offerings include woven flax and pandanus bags and baskets, as well as handmade paua shell and greenstone jewelry. On the home front, Pauanesia carries handpainted and screen-printed cushion covers and tablecloths. Pauanesia also carries Fijian beauty brand Reniu, whose offerings include a range of coconut lotions, oils and rubs made from sugar cane granules.

HOW LONG CAN YOU GO?

Because the impact of SARS is still being calculated here, no one knows how many of the city’s 10,000 restaurants will be left standing or how many retailers will still have shops come autumn. It made for a depressing spring, but the good news for visitors this fall is that there are bargains everywhere.

Indeed, Hong Kong’s five-star hotels are the place to start looking for a deal. Having suffered through occupancy rates as low as 5 percent in April, they are all offering discounts, special packages and unusual gifts through December to help lure guests back to the city.

The picks of the bunch are The Peninsula Hotel and the Mandarin Oriental, both celebrating milestones this year. The Pen turns 75 in December and has a host of tea parties and celebrations lined up to mark the occasion. Visitors can book a table at Gaddi’s or Felix (and only pay 75 percent of the listed price), pick up some famous Pen chocolates, or listen to music composed by the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts just for the Pen. Better still, book a heritage package stay at the Pen — it includes a junior suite, cocktails and dinner, a heritage walk led by local historian Jason Wordie and a Rolls-Royce pick up at the airport. Salisbury Road, Kowloon. Get details at peninsula.com or ring (852) 2315-3135.

Similarly, the Mandarin Oriental, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. If you want a great souvenir or are looking for an unusual gift, pick up a copy of “Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong — The Cookbook,” a cool tome featuring 40 favorite recipes from the hotel’s famed restaurants. Among the many highlights are The Grill’s beef Stroganoff, The Chinnery Bar’s warm Stilton soup, and Vong’s warm Valrhona chocolate cake. The Mandarin also has lots of great deals for a stay at the hotel — check the Web site for details on upgrading to a harbor-view room, complete with balcony. 5 Connaught Road, Central; (852) 2810-61900, mandarinoriental.com.

MILAN’S TRIPLE BILL

Bali or Bust

My Bali, one of the latest entrants to Milan’s culinary scene, is quickly garnering a reputation among the city’s fashion flock as a must-visit. On any given night, the likes of Stefano Gabbana and Giorgio Armani can be spotted dining amongst models and Italian soccer stars.

Arrive at the impressive statue-bedecked entrance and saunter down a red carpet framed by a series of fragrant cinnamon candles and gold fabric-draped walls that lead to a massive ornate dining room.

My Bali’s menu offers an eclectic mix of Indonesian and Italian fare, including fried rice, shrimp with coriander and white chocolate mousse.

A band playing on a raised floor in the center of the main dining room entertains patrons, and the musical options are as eclectic as those who visit the restaurant, ranging from jazz to Argentinean dance to hip-hop. My Bali, Via Padova 13/A, 20127, Milan, (+39) 0228940530, mybali.it.

Ferré’s ‘Natural Evolution’

Gianfranco Ferré in May expanded his fashion empire by opening an eponymous day spa adjacent to his boutique on Via Sant’Andrea in Milan.

“It’s a natural evolution to the lifestyle concept,” said spa manager Tiziana Pini. “When you enter Ferré, you can experience anything from amazing shopping to complete relaxation within one space.”

In typical Ferré style, the spa features a glass mosaic floor and walls covered in tiny black, gold and brown tiles. The 1,615-square-foot space includes two treatment rooms, a vitality pool, an ice room, a steam room and a hydro massage shower infused with natural oils.

Treatments at the spa include the Holistic Balance with Hot Stone Therapy and the Totally Blissful Back, Face and Scalp Massage. Via Sant’Andrea 15, 20121, Milano tel: (+39) 0276017526.

Sail Away

Sweeping sails appropriately grace the entrance of Mast, a nautical-themed bar that opened recently in Milan near the Parco Sempione.

The space features leather chairs from the Sixties grouped into various colors, including black, white, beige, red, yellow and brown, creating a very Mod atmosphere. Equally retro are the silver lamps that grace each table.

Adding to the calming environment is the guitar music that softly plays in the background, soothing the caipirinhas-sipping crowd. For patrons interested in chatting — not chilling — there’s a separate, quieter bar situated under an impressive low-hung glass chandelier. Mast, Via Agudio 3, Milano (+39) 023490046.

VITAL SIGNS

What could be better than a bath of rose petals followed by a hydrating body massage? Opened late last year, Madrid’s first — and only — day spa is called Chi Spa, a catchy play on words: “chi” means vitality or universal energy and “chispa” means spark in Spanish.

The two-level spa is a soothing combination of milky white walls, dark woods, camel upholstery and steel and glass tables by Eileen Gray. There are four “suites” — and one Jacuzzi — per floor with luxurious custom-made beds, graduated lighting, music, showers and plush toweling.

Treatments, for women (upstairs) and men (downstairs), include anti-stress and detox massages, rejuvenating facials ($132), shiatsu ($68), antiaging manicures and the most fragrant pedicure in town with thin cucumber slices, eucalyptus oil and fresh mint applied to combat foot fatigue ($40).

Spa hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Booking suggested. Conde de Aranda, 6; Tel: (34) 91-5781340.

CLUB CUSHY

Tired trade show attendees, take note: Nektar, a new Munich nightclub lets patrons put their feet up while enjoying a wide range of hipster diversions.

First, there’s dinner in the form of Chef Markus Huschka’s four-course, $42 prix fixe dinners (a sample menu: scampi on potato pancakes with arugula sorbet, followed by morrel-stuffed cannelloni in truffle foam, veal medallions with pea pods and asparagus pockets, and a chocolate parfait with asparagus-strawberry sauce) served on small tables perched atop Nektar’s large, bed-like banquets. One hundred twenty people can be accommodated in Nektar’s Salle Blanche, an all-white room lit by florescent colored tubes that functions as restaurant, kitchen and performance space. The club’s other rooms include the Salon Orange, with a decidedly Jetsonesque decor; Le Cabinet Plasma where video artists show their stuff on the newest Sony plasma screens, and the many-pillowed Le Club Blanc, also designed for lounging, dining and/or partying. For a high-tech twist on the velvet rope, there’s a “Porte Privée” where 150 “friends of the house” can separately enter the premises — after, that is, they’ve been identified by a handscanner imported “direct from the Pentagon,” according to the owners. Finally, the computerized billing system takes note of each guest’s preferences regarding their choice of wine, table, etc. so that they’ll be instantly called up the next time he or she materializes. With all that, who needs room service? Stubenvollstrasse 1, 81667; (49-89) 459 11 311.

PICTURE THIS

Located off a quaint Parisian alley in the 14th arrondissement, the new Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation celebrates the famous eye, and personal tastes, of the renowned French photographer. More a powwow for photography connoisseurs than a museum, the first two floors of the sun-filled building will be dedicated to exhibits, while the remaining three floors will be used to bring together photographers, designers, architects and filmmakers for discussions, seminars and the like. The first exhibit showcases a personal selection by Cartier Bresson of more than 90 photographs from such greats as Dorothea Lange, Robert Doisneau and Man Ray. Alas, there is nary a Cartier Bresson in sight. For those, rush to the National Library of France, which is hosting a major retrospective until July 27.

Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson, 2 Impasse Lebouis, (331) 56 80 27 00

National Library of France, Quai François-Mauriac (331) 53 79 59 59. — C.G.

ON THE RISE

With bakers in his family stretching back four generations, Eric Kayser was practically born with a rolling pin in his hand. Twelve years in the business, he boasts 25 stores worldwide and 60 signature breads. Now his latest creation, also named Eric Kayser, is a slick bakery-cum-restaurant in Paris’ trendy eighth arrondissement. Whether it’s an endive salad, steamed salmon or a steak, each dish comes with one or two special breads.

How does Kayser account for the legions who line up daily for a loaf? “Most of all, it’s passion,” he said. Thanks to a special liquid yeast Kayser invented, his bread is lighter and tastier. So it should come as no surprise that celebrity chef Alain Ducasse, ahem, “kneaded” Kayser to supply him with bread for the sandwiches served at his Be Grocery store, which opened last year. So what’s next for his expanding bread empire? Bakeries in America, he hopes, as well as a new product line. “We’ll soon make our own jam and we are working on bread knives and cutting boards,” Kayser said. “We have a big demand for those.” No one can accuse him of…loafing. 85 Boulevard Malesherbes, (331) 45 22 70 30.

SLEEPING WITH CORBUSIER

Berlin’s chic new hotel, Ku’Damm 101, owes its color scheme to none other than Le Corbusier. As for its witty interior, that came courtesy of young Berlin design firm Vogt + Weizenegger, who created the sci-fi lobby and lounge, with its endless curves of dark plum banquettes, white floor-to-ceiling lamps that look like mutant fishnets and columns with slightly virulent accents of acid yellow. On the ground floor, there’s also a hip bar serving fresh fruit cocktails, and a minimalist backgarden is in the planting.

Upstairs, the 171 guest rooms team up design classics like Arne Jacobsen chairs with clever contemporary objects such as Lemon Grass Group’s Micky Mouse table, featuring three adjustable circular parts that can be moved around depending on whether one’s eating, working, writing or reading. Ku’damm 101 also has rooms specially designed for blind guests, with tactile brush insets to aid orientation, and there are treatment rooms for massages and other forms of bodywork, as well as an aromatic steam bath.

This is one hotel, however, where you won’t want to order breakfast from room service. The breakfast room on the top floor has a superb view of the rooftops of Berlin. And on a clear day, you can see all the way to Alexanderplatz. Singles from $105, doubles from $125. Kurfürstendamm 101 10711 Berlin (Wilmersdorf); 49-30-520055-0 Fax: 49-30-520055-555www.kudamm101.com.

ISN’T IT GRAND?

Never mind the slowdown in luxury tourism. The Grand Hotel Intercontinental, a 19th- century landmark on Place de l’Opera in Paris, just reopened after a 15-month renovation. Interior designer Pierre Yves Rochon was entrusted with the decor for the hotel and the Café de la Paix, the hotel’s luxurious brasserie. Most of the 480 rooms are equipped with the latest technology, Second Empire décor and marble bathrooms. Standard rooms start at $750 and a suite runs to $1,200 per night. Meanwhile, Parisians and tourists have found their way back to the legendary Café de la Paix, which serves in grand style from 7 a.m. to midnight.

2 Rue Scribe, (331) 40 07 32 32.