A small piece of central England became a small piece belonging to Arabia this summer when the Al Habtoor Group purchased on of the UK's top hotels. Frank Stamford checks in to find out more
Everything about the Monkey Island Hotel spells class. It is located on a four and a half-acre private island with the picturesque village of Bray just a stone's throw away across the River Thames. The island is a wash of lush green and the hotel design ... well, the hotel design I suppose you could say is typically British.
Its bright white exterior provides the wrapping for a hotel steeped in centuries of tradition, but one which has retained its qualities as a luxurious property despite a turbulent and busy past.
A walk across the splendid lawns and a deep breath of fresh air makes it hard to believe that the pollution-filled streets of the city of London is less than an hour away. A stay at Monkey Island could make you feel like you are on a different planet, not just a different area. But with this summer's fresh air has come a wind of change at Monkey Island, with the news that one of the Middle East's most successful businessmen has bought the hotel outright.
Khalaf Al Habtoor is chairman of the multi-faceted Al Habtoor Group, which has become a synonymous name in a variety of industries, from hospitality to construction and entertainment in the United Arab Emirates, With three hotels already under his belt in his native country, Mr Habtoor decided it was time to go international and has been a huge admirer of the Monkey Island Hotel for some time.
"The service is excellent at this establishment, but we still want to improve all areas further," he said. "We want to improve the rooms and we want to offer leisure facilities for guests. Sport is as important as food and drinks to people nowadays."
Mr Habtoor said plans were being drawn up for possible additional leisure facilities, which could include a swimming pool.
The Metropolitan International LLC company, the hospitality branch of the Al Habtoor Group, made the multi-million pound acquisition of Monkey Island in August, and it is Mr Habtoor's first venture into the British hospitality business. The distinguished looking Mr Habtoor is a regular visitor to England and already owns a luxury home in Blackwell Heath. This latest purchase ended years of him wishing to add the hotel to his empire.
"I have been looking to have this property for a long time," he said, adding that he has visited the hotel dozens of times in the last 15 years. "It's one of the most beautiful features of England.This purchase represents a significant step in the development of Metropolitan International."
The announcement of this ground breaking purchase was made in a unique way. Press conferences were held in England and Dubai to ensure the impact was felt both at the place of purchase and Mr Habtoor's home land.
With 26 rooms and suites' the Monkey Island Hotel epitomises luxury hospitality. All the rooms have their own river and garden views while the Pavilion restaurant is situated at the top of the island overlooking the River Thames. The restaurant can cater for up to 100 guests and has been awarded two AA rosettes.
The hotel is available for private conferences and its four function rooms can cater for parties up to 130 people. The hotel provides an ideal setting for all manner of events, from business conferences to birthday or anniversary celebrations.
Monkey Island Hotel is also an ideal venue for weddings. The bride can choose to arrive by car or helicopter. The ceremony can then be conducted in one of the function rooms. The River Room is suspended over the Thames and with its panoramic windows provides natural daylight and beautiful river views for up to 130 guests. Alternatively there are the Pavilion, Garden and Temple rooms. The Island can also be reserved for exclusive use. Making use of marquees that can accommodate up to 250 guests.
History of Monkey Island
It is commonly believed that the Monkey Island Hotel's name derives from the earlier title of "Monks Eyot". It was thought that the Monks used the island in association with their fishery in the Thames. Other popular anecdotes regarding the origin of the name make reference to King George III, who apparently in his sad, mad days lived on the island with a monkey as a pet!
However, contrary to popular belief, the name stems from the monkey paintings in the Monkey Room. The French artist, Andle de Clermont, was commissioned to paint whatever he deemed appropriate. Monkeys were his choice.
The hotel is steeped in history and in the Bray Court Rolls of 1361, the island is called Bournhamas Eyte, in a document entitling John Casse and John Tylehurst to use it for pasturage at the charge of 2/6d per annum. The name occurs again in the Public Records Office plan of 1640 when it is referred to as Burnham-Ayt. The words Eyet, Oyte and Ayt are Old English expressions for an island.
Ironically, Monkey Island may not have progressed had it not been for the Great Fire of London in 1666. During the re-building of the city, Berkshire stone was shipped downstream to the capital barges which, on their return, carried rubble to be dumped on many islands in the Thames.
This rubble provided Monkey Island with a solid foundation for building whilst raising the level to prevent flooding. In approximately 1723, Charles Spencer, the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, purchased the island. He had seen the property whilst attending meetings of the Kit-Kat Club at nearby Dawn Palace. The Club, which met from 1720, purported to be a gathering of men of wit and pleasure about town but beneath the facade of the club, had more sinister objectives concerned with the defence of the House of Hanover.
By 1840, the Pavilion had become a riverside inn which could be reached by ferry from the South Bank. Visitors have been staying in various parts of the two buildings - the Pavilion and the Temple ever since. It became particularly fashionable after the turn of the century when Edward VII and Queen Alexandra often had afternoon tea on the lawns with their children. Notable authors, Rebecca West and H.G. Wells are also known to have visited the island.
The footbridge was not built until 1956, and additional rooms were added in 1963 retaining the original building as a centrepiece. The Temple was a private residence until 1970 when more rooms were added and the property became Monkey Island Hotel with the original fishing temples scheduled as Grade I listed buildings.
The Middle East operation
The acquisition of the Monkey Island Hotel by Metropolitan International LLC represents a further development of the Al Habtoor Group from being a Dubai-based trading company into a truly international business enterprise. The group is firmly committed to seeking out new business opportunities and acquisitions in the future.
This year, the Metropolitan Hotel in Dubai celebrated its 20th anniversary by receiving ISO 9002 recognition, and presented a fresh look to guests following an extensive refurbishment programme.
The 193-room property is an ideal base for both business and leisure trips to Dubai, combining a serious business appeal with the leisure facilities at the close at hand Metropolitan Resort and Beach Club, which are available for guests to take advantage of during their stay. Located just 10 minutes from the city centre, yet far enough to be a quiet oasis, The Metropolitan Hotel spells sheer luxury, from its elegantly furnished suites and rooms to the vast variety of exclusive restaurants and bars.
Its 180 standard rooms are equipped with international direct dial telephones, radio and colour television, individually controlled air-conditioning, mini-bar, express laundry service, and 24-hour room service.
For the discerning traveller, an executive floor offers a separate check-in and check-out reception and an exclusive lounge where complimentary continental breakfast and evening cocktails are served. Among the 13 suites are unique duplex suites, a luxurious Presidential Suite and a Royal Suite.
The hotel is also a long-established entertainment centre with a multiple screen cinema and several top quality outlets ensuring The Metropolitan Hotel is at the forefront when it comes to a night on the town.
Every taste is catered for with Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Arabic and British outlets serving a variety of cuisine, while the Red Lion and the Rattle Snake bars provide perfect locations for the Dubai reveller or overseas visitors.
More conference and incentive travel organisers have become attracted to The Metropolitan Hotel following the ISO recognition, which put the property's banqueting and conference facilities under the microscope during its assessment. At the forefront of banqueting and conference facilities in the Gulf, the hotel's staff and management have kept abreast of technology, presentation, service and menu planning. The Al Andalus Ballroom, one of the largest banqueting, exhibition and conference venues in the Middle East, offers flexible facilities to accommodate a variety of needs. A conference suite and VIP suite are also available for smaller functions.
A 10-minute journey on a regular shuttle bus service links The Metropolitan Hotel to The Metropolitan Resort & Beach Club. Located on a golden strip that rivals any beach in the world for cleanliness, The Metropolitan Resort & Beach Club boasts facilities that would compliment any such hotel anywhere.
After opening 10 years ago as an exclusive club, the site developed into a hotel and international sporting venue, and is home to the annual Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, Dubai's first venture into the world of women's professional championship tennis.
With 103 magnificently appointed rooms and suites, The Metropolitan Resort & Beach Club provides unparalleled levels of service, which have also been recognised by the International Standards Organisation. Situated within a quiet oasis of beautifully landscaped gardens and
overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Arabian Gulf, the hotel invites guests to relax in the shade of swaying palm trees and "let your mind wander".
There's gastronomic delights to satisfy the most diverse of appetites, and service standards to match.
The Metropolitan Resort & Beach Club offers a variety of indoor and outdoor sporting activities, with the tennis courts meeting international standards and the glass-backed squash courts providing the perfect venue for competition of all levels. Volleyball, water skiing, jet skiing and just about every watersport imaginable is available, with all facilities coming under the guidance of professional instructors.
Completing the triumvirate of Habtoor hotels is The Metropolitan Palace, which has become one of Dubai's most after hotels since opening in October 1997. The 212-room property has become an instant hit with the regular flow of stars to Dubai from Hollywood and Bollywood, and the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Amitabh Bachchan and Patrick Swayze have all enjoyed its exceptional facilities and service standards. Wesley Snipes, star of films like Drop Zone and Major League, even went as far as to call it "my home away from home" in the hotel's VIP Golden Book.