Sir Rocco Forte owns some of the most stylish hotels in the world but was still taken aback when he walked into the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Unlike the gigantic scale of the Emirates Palace, Sir Rocco's hotels concentrate on the intimate, personalised experience that only smaller establishments can offer. "This hotel is completely opposite to any hotel I would ever have anything to do with," he said. "It's a bit like being in a railway station. It's a wonderful property but it has no sort of warmth and feel to it that my hotels have."
The son of the late hotel magnate Lord Charles Forte, who owned Forte, Sir Rocco set up the Rocco Forte Collection shortly after his father's company was the subject of a hostile takeover in 1996. He now has 13 luxury hotels in Europe, from the Victorian-era Brown's Hotel in London to the Hotel Astoria in St Petersburg, both of which feature historical buildings with modern decor. The hotel company said its first Middle East hotel being built next to Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi would open by July next year. Created by architects and interior designers who worked on the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, the Dh600 million (US$163.3m) five-star property will have 281 rooms.
"The Middle East is an area of development and therefore it's an obvious area to come to," Sir Rocco said. "This coincided with us being asked to come here." While Sir Rocco owns and manages all the company's hotels in Europe, the Rocco Forte Collection will manage only the Abu Dhabi hotel, which is being developed by the Tourism Development and Investment Company and Al Farida Investments as part of a project that will open in phases.
The hotel is part of the first phase, which will have a collection of shops underneath. The second phase will include 145 serviced apartments, which will also be managed by Rocco Forte. Sheikh Hamad bin Ahmed, the managing director and chief executive of Al Farida Investments, "stayed in one of our hotels in Europe, liked very much what we were doing and asked us if we would become involved in his development here", Sir Rocco said.
The hotel has attracted to the project Mark Hix, the British restaurateur and chef behind The Ivy in London, and Fulvio Pierangelini, the Italian Michelin-starred chef, as consultants for its restaurants. Its Sky Bar, described as a "design highlight", is suspended on the fifth floor of a 10-storey atrium overlooking the city. His father's company, of which he became chief executive in 1983, had hotels in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Bahrain, including the Forte Grand in the capital, which became the Royal Meridien.