A boutique casino resort? Really? Absolutely. The Altira has 216 rooms, a fraction of the number offered by most Macau casino hotels. The atmosphere (calm, quiet and refined) feels more "zen" than "gambling den".
Altira bills itself as a "six-star" experience. What does that even mean? It means sleek, sophisticated interiors by Peter Remédios, whose signature curves also grace The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong and the Four Seasons Hotel New York. Every room in the Altira faces the harbour, and the non-stop light shows of Macau's casinos can be enjoyed from the roof-top bar (top left). If you're scared of heights, avoid the infinity-edge pool on the 16th floor (top right); if you're not, enjoy swimming along the skyline accompanied by an underwater sound system. For the ultimate in relaxation, though, head to the spa.
Another "six-star" wonder? Well, not quite, but only because such a thing doesn't exist in the Forbes Travel Guide rating system. Altira's spa does, however, deserve the five stars it has won from Forbes for four consecutive years. You could spend the whole day here - every need is catered for, even those you didn't know you had. On arrival, spa guests are asked to choose from five brightly coloured gemstones - rose quartz, yellow jade, aventurine, charoite and lapis lazuli. Your choice is rolled over your chest, its healing properties supposedly enriching your chakras. With each stone comes a matching massage oil, which is worked into every knot in your muscles while you lie on a heated bed.
The signature treatment employs a diamond scrub and a skin ointment made with 25-carat gold. Over the top? Sure, but isn't that what luxury is all about?
So what about the food? Tenmasa, the only branch of the tempura specialist out-side Japan, uses imported flour and spring water chilled to precisely seven degrees Celsius. A personal tempura chef can explain how and why this is necessary for an ideal batter consistency. He will also tell you that a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice should be the only accompaniments because traditional tempura sauces drown the deli-cate flavour of the seafood. And not just any salt: Okinawa salt, twice cooked, sparkles in delicate ramekins on the table. The imported spring water is also used in all the broths and tea. Of course, there's also an extensive sake menu.
The food at Italian restaurant Aurora can be overwrought but high-quality ingredients hold the dishes together. Even in miniscule portions, the peach brunoises (tiny dice about 3mm cubed, with the fruit coming from Australia's Huon Valley) that accom-pany the Sicilian red prawn carpaccio explode with flavour.
Ying, a Cantonese restaurant, serves traditional fare, spiced up with a few Macanese twists and a sense of humour. Rich Man's Congee, served with poached garoupa, is a subtle, refined - and expensive - version of the comfort dish that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy. Be sure to try the home-made XO sauce (Lee Kum Kee pales in comparison). I would be happy with just a healthy spoon of it on top of a bowl of white rice. It's that good.
Altira offers a breakfast that's up there with the world's most expensive. The 8,888 pataca meal includes Dom Perignon Vintage 2003 and 30 grams of melt-in-the-mouth Beluga caviar. If only that price tag allowed you to take home the Hermès table setting and Waterford champagne glasses …
Six-star luxury - does that mean six-star prices? Yes, but there are some great packages on offer, many of which include a Maybach transfer to and from the ferry terminal. The fully reclinable, soft-leather seats in the high-class German car will make you wish Macau's traffic were even more gridlocked than it is.
Prices range from 1,188 patacas for a king-sized room (pictured) to 58,888 patacas for a suite, with several options in between. For details, go to www.altiramacau.com