It is fair to say Kiev has been misrepresented overseas.
While Ukraine has been in the headlines for more than three years, following the Russian military incursion in Crimea and the Donbas region to the east of the country, the capital has remained largely unaffected.
Indeed, under the leadership of president Petro Poroshenko, elected following the Euromaidan protests in 2014, confidence is flowing through the capital, while the long process of tackling corruption has at least begun.
But this gap between perception and reality has proved troublesome for the hospitality sector.
While the Eurovision Song Contest, hosted in Kiev in 2016, showed the country was open for business, visitor numbers are still well down on peaks seen before the outbreak of political unrest.
Yet, 13 million overseas guests arrived last year, up by a million on the year before.
Without an active national tourist board, Ukraine has struggled to get its message out to consumers – this is an open, EU-facing country waiting to be discovered by the global travelling elite.
With strong competitors, including Croatia and a rapidly emerging Georgia, it is important to emphasise the unique strengths Ukraine has to offer.
Kiev also suffers from an outdated reputation – tourists see it as Soviet, outdated and poorly connected.
But this could not be further from the truth.
Landing at Boryspil International Airport earlier this month, I found connections quick, borders efficient, and transfers smooth.
“Welcome,” nods the guard in military fatigues.
11 Mirrors is at the forefront of a new era for Kiev
Private sector operators have been working tirelessly to correct international perceptions of Kiev.
At the forefront of this effort are properties like 11 Mirrors Hotel – which sits at the vanguard of a ‘new’ Ukraine.
“Our hotel, 11 Mirrors, represents the contemporary Ukraine, an end to the Soviet period.
“We are looking to the future,” enthuses Daria Nykyforova, brand director at 11 Mirrors owner-DEOL Partners.
Part-owned by Wladimir Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, the hotel sits on Bohdana Khmelnytskogo Street in the heart of the old city.
With just 49 rooms – spread, of course, over 11 floors – it is one of the most desirable residences in Kiev, running at 100 per cent occupancy during my visit.
The property opened just five years ago, in time for the final of the UEFA 2012 Championships, which Ukraine hosted alongside Poland.
Nykyforova jokes: “We went from closed to 100 per cent occupancy over night; no soft opening here!”
Since then it has grown in stature to be considered Ukraine’s Leading Boutique Hotel by voters at the World Travel Awards.
The welcoming lobby at 11 Mirrors
On entry, the feeling is of quiet sophistication, with the stone and brushed metal desk creating an imposing, yet welcoming impression.
Staff are polite, genuinely taking an interest in each guest, while the doorman personally escorts residents to their rooms.
Upstairs, the 30 bedrooms at the front of the hotel offer floor-to-ceiling windows, with great views over the nearby St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral.
Each comes complete with a cinema-scale screen, fast Wi-Fi, a huge double bed, and – a personal favourite – a ‘Maxi Bar’, which is essentially a full-scale bar, in addition to the more traditional ‘Mini’ variety.
A slightly strange ‘Love Box’ is on offer, containing everything from feathers and chocolate, to lingerie and much more exotic items.
On the walls are the eponymous mirrors designed by Phillipe Starck, 11 per room.
Each is a reflection of a core values of the hotel – including curiosity, optimism, courage, independence and confidence.
Guests are encouraged to gaze into the mirrors and decide which of the values matters the most to them.
Each room comes equiped with its own Maxi Bar
This ties into the wider theme of the property – design.
This is very much a property for the elite international traveller, drawing on Klitschko’s personal experience of global hospitality to create something unique.
Nykyforova continues: “We are seeking lifestyle travellers, those who are not in a hurry and wish to see something out of the ordinary.
“Perhaps they have time for champagne for breakfast!”
Indeed, 11 Mirrors was the first member of Design Hotels in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The organisation receives some 3,000 applications every year, with only ten per cent accepted – bringing huge responsibilities.
Mystery guests arrive frequently to check standards, while the property must abide by a set of criteria outline by the brand.
For those that need convincing, this ensures the hotel maintains international standards.
Mingle with the Kiev elite at 11 Mirrors
Downstairs, the restaurant is small, but perfectly formed.
The cuisine draws from Ukrainian heritage, borscht for example, but gives it a modern, European twist.
Ukrainians make up a small percentage of guests – with prices starting at 6,500 hryvnia, this is easy to understand.
Instead it is very much an international clientele.
During my visit the restaurant welcomed mainly American guests, with the odd Brit, German, and Israeli thrown in.
Indeed, Wladimir’s older brother, Vitali, who currently serves and the popular mayor of Kiev, can sometimes be spotted sitting here on the first floor of the hotel, gazing out on his city.
“This is a property for the creative classes from all countries,” adds Nykyforova.
This, it transpires, includes Russians, who one might assume would not be welcome given the political situation in Crimea and the Donbas region.
But, while there are currently no direct flights from the eastern neighbour, Russian guests remain welcome at the hotel.
In this respect 11 Mirrors remains a-political, catering to a global lifestyle elite, without regard for nationality.
Wladimir Klitschko played a key role in the creation of 11 Mirrors
There is no gym or spa at the property – which is perhaps a little odd for a hotel owned by a boxer – but 11 Mirrors seeks to compensate with ‘jogging maps’, which showcase some of the more famous sites in the surrounding streets.
Within just five minutes run, guests can catch a glimpse of St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, the Golden Gates and Maidan Square, sight of the Euromaiden protests that shook the country in 2014.
I took the chance to visit the National Opera of Ukraine, which is literally on the doorstep, to catch a high-quality performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.
With tickets in the front few rows starting at £13 – it proved impossible to resist.
Back at 11 Mirrors, Nykyforova reveals the hotel claims no star rating, arguing it does not view itself in that way.
She concludes: “This is a new kind of hotel.
“Many travellers are tired of the gold-plated feel of luxury hotels; with offer something different, luxury, but far less boring!”
11 Mirrors sits at the heart of Kiev, capital of Ukraine
The 11 Mirrors Design Hotel is an independent hotel with the strong sense of style.
The property is ideally located in the very heart of old Kyiv, on Bohdana Khmelnytskogo Street, just a few meters from the National Opera House, as well as major business and leisure areas.
Find out more on the official website.