Almaty has been on the discerning traveller's map for a while, but more often than not as a gateway to the Tien Shan mountains that loom right behind the city. Now Almaty is venturing into boutique territory with a new hotel opening and a few bars and restaurants that would be quite at home in London's West End.
Donatello Hotel is what Almaty has been crying out for - a coherent sense of style and taste, a great location and a manageable price tag for what you actually get. The beds are from Bolzan Letti, near Venice, the food is top notch Italian and there's a hip bar inside the hotel itself that sees plenty of traffic throughout the evening from the elite of Kazakh society. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but in the absence of real character in Almaty the choice is often between over-priced business hotel A, or over-priced business hotel B. It's a pleasure to finally have a totally different choice! Hopefully it will lead to greater variety in the future.
The city's nightlife scene is adapting accordingly, catering for a more international market. High notes are Vogue and Stylish Dog - round the bill up and close your eyes when you hand over your credit card.
The city is becoming more than a base for the mountains, but they are still the big draw here. Charyn Canyon, Altyn Emel National Park and the ski resort of Chimbulak are all accessible from the city, though for the adventurous Altyn Emel is somewhere to stay for a night or two (in simple accommodation) to really explore the heart of the park. Almaty also combines well with Kyrgyzstan for those who need flight access through Kazakhstan, which is the best connected city in Central Asia.
All in all, a city on the up and up. Head over there and watch its rise first hand.
Make it happen
Check out our Kazakhstan country page for itinerary ideas and for context about the destination and contact our local experts if you're interested in visiting - they are brilliant at creating tailor-made tours all over the country. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.