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What to wear and when?

Dress codes can be very confusing sometimes. And I’m not even talking about the cryptic ones.

The likes of ‘elegant casual’ or ‘chic’ are beyond me. What on earth do they mean? I spend the weeks leading up to almost any event confused and terrified.

Tonight for example I’ve been invited to a black tie event. Well, Henry was invited and I am his ‘plus one’. Black tie sounds innocent enough and it doesn’t cross his mind to wonder what he should wear.

He doesn’t know quite how lucky he is. He see’s black tie on an invitation and simply opens the cupboard and pulls out his dinner jacket. Done. Every man going will be wearing the same thing and nobody will bat an eyelid.

His only stress might be that he forgot to dry clean it after the last event so it may have a stain on it.

For me, and indeed for all women aside from those famous enough or rich enough to have someone dress them, it’s a minefield. And a minefield that usually ends with my wallet blowing up.

Can I wear trousers to a black tie event? Who knows? I have some velvet ones which I think look pretty smart but will the other attendees look at me like I’ve just turned up in the emperor’s new clothes? Will the people on the door block my path and tell me to go home and get changed?

I honestly have no idea. I have dresses but are they black tie? The only thing I know for sure is I probably shouldn’t wear a black tie!

I do understand that dress codes are needed sometimes. When meeting the Queen maybe. Or at a fancy dress party. But when fun is the order of the day, can’t we just tell everyone to be smart or be casual? Done. If that happened I would be a lot more relaxed, a lot richer and lose a lot less sleep.

I feel the same when I go on holiday. Like most people I like to look nice at supper time and if a hotel has a really snazzy fine dining restaurant or special night then I prefer to look my best and it’s actually quite fun.

Romantic Beach Dinner Baros dinner

But if a hotel bombards me with dress codes I generally don’t want to go there. I spend enough time having to look smart for work, the last thing I want is to worry about it during my down time. It’s important to me to be able to walk off the beach and sit down somewhere and have a drink or a spot of lunch without needing to go back to the room and pick out an outfit.

That, for me, is the ultimate holiday no no. I’d love to hear what your number one holiday no no is? And if you agree with me about dress codes let me know so I know I’m not the only one who prefers to pack more bikinis and less black dresses when heading overseas.

Right, I’m off shopping for a new black tie dress. Wish me luck!

Melissa. x

Would you go on holiday on your own?

I tend not to go to the cinema unless I really want to see the film. This probably happens a handful of times each year and I must say I love it. There’s no doubt in my mind that the cinema is more special than watching something on television or indeed on a plane.

The big question for today though is…  is it ok to go on your own?

I am firmly in the yes camp. I think it’s ok to do almost everything alone. Apart from perhaps tennis and tango.  And a see-saw. But the cinema is, more than most things, a pastime well-suited to one-player enjoyment.

This issue arose in the Melissa and Henry household this week because he wanted to see a film and I didn’t. I told him to go anyway and he looked at me like I’d just suggested jumping out the window.

It’s not a crazy suggestion Henry, I said.

And then I told him I was considering going on holiday alone and if I could do that then he could manage two hours in the cinema without someone to steal his popcorn.

The holiday alone thing ended the cinema conversation and we moved on to the pros and cons of going away without friends, family or fiance. (He didn’t go to the cinema in the end by the way, and he’s still insistent that it was a ridiculous idea.)

But what did he make of the holiday for one? In short he was surprised that I would want to go away on my own. I had more success talking him around though than I did with the cinema. The conversation was simple.

“Henry, are you interested in architecture?”

“No I’m not.”

“Henry would you like to spend three days with a historian exploring old streets and buildings?”

“No that sounds awful.”

Step one achieved. He admitted that the holiday I planned to go on was not to his taste.

Next I persuaded him that there were things I don’t like that he does like.

And pretty soon he was nodding, smiling and helping me find a tour to join in eastern Europe probably because he realised he could get three days of golf in.

I actually ended up joining a group tour that very night and I’m really rather excited about it. There’s 10 of us, all travelling alone (mostly because our other halves aren’t interested in the topic) and the chances are at least one of them will become a good friend. Maybe two of them. Maybe all of them! Who knows.

What I do know is that if you’re interested in something you should never let the fact that nobody you know is interested, hold you back.

Henry isn’t going to go on a similar trip as he says he has enough friends and doesn’t want new ones. Plus apparently it’s weird for men in their 30s and above to make new friends. He does talk nonsense sometimes! Would you travel alone or do as I’m doing and join a group of people you don’t know who have similar interests? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Right I’m off to connect with my fellow tourers on facebook. It’s a wonderful world we live in isn’t it!

Melissa. x

Keeping it in the family

I’ve always loved family run hotels. Somehow I can usually tell when I’m in one within the first five minutes.

It’s a range of things that give it away. The way you are greeted, the look and feel of the place, even the name of the hotel gives little clues that this place you’re staying isn’t about pure profit, it’s someone’s life.

Walking into Carmo’s Boutique Hotel in the north Portugal last week I got that feeling. The personal touches were everywhere. The communal areas were clearly put together by people with great -as opposed to professional – taste. And the tour given by the heavily involved daughter of the owner (who also works as a dentist) was free of the clipped and rehearsed sentences that litter the spiels of trained hotel PR people who have learned their script and repeat it 10 times a day.

It’s passion versus training, love versus hospitality and warmth versus customer service. I should add here that I’ve been to plenty of big hotels owned by giant multi-nationals with staff who were wonderful and caring. But however much those people love their job, are proud of where they work and are desperate to please their guests it’s impossible to compete with a person who has invested their time, money, heart and ambition into a family hotel somewhere they love.

Carmo’s opened just three years ago but already looks bedded in. The concept is to be a boutique hotel in the truest sense of a word that is thrown around rather too much these days.

There will never be more than 20 rooms for example. Apparently that’s a French rule that ensures guests get personal attention. There are 15 at the moment although the grapevine tells me there may be two rather luxurious glamping ‘tents’ with a view being built at some stage. Bagsy first sleep in one of those!

As a wine lover (Portuguese wine is yummy btw if you haven’t tried it) I was very pleased to hear they do tastings, arrange visits to vineyards and have even harvested some of their own grapes. If you get there at the right time of year (around about now) you can climb in a giant tub and squish them with your feet. Now that’s a guaranteed afternoon of laughter right there.

Carmo's Boutique Hotel

I was particularly happy to hear this family love baths as much as I do. In the spa there’s one where you get to soak in 280 litres of goats milk while drinking champagne. Very Cleopatra. And if you like (and I do like) the hotel will prepare the bath in your room and arrange chocolates, candles and fruit accordingly. When Henry runs my bath for me I am close to tears of joy. And that’s without any chocolate, candles and fruit. The person who ran my bath for me here will be getting a Christmas card for the rest of their lives.

I had a family-style welcome at Carmo’s and I left with family-style affection that will stay with me for life.

Have you ever stayed at a family run hotel? If so I’d love to hear about your experience!

Melissa. x

Adult only honeymoons…

My wedding is fast approaching. And essentially we are organised. Everything is kind of in place and the big ticket items like food, drink and a large white tent are taken care of. Along with spectacularly dull things like a generator and portaloos.

The only thing left to organise is a nanny. You see we want everyone to be able to come. I know at some weddings children are banned because the feeling is they won’t fully appreciate the lavender infused napkins or might speak when everyone is supposed to be quiet. But we don’t care if a child wants to enjoy themselves. We don’t mind if a baby cries in church. And we don’t mind if an impromptu game of British Bulldog breaks out during the speeches.

But in case the owners of said children want to pop the toddlers in a ball pen for a bit while they quaff a couple of much needed glasses of bubbles we’ve decided to get a pro in and have a fun place for children to chill. Almost like a hotel kids club I guess.

I’m not judging anyone who decides not to have children at their wedding by the way. I totally get it. And there are times in life, as a non-parent (yet), when I do choose to not be near children. Not because I don’t like them, just because I want total peace and quiet and I don’t want to ruin their fun. The last thing I would want to do is ruin a child’s day by asking them to stop seeing how big a splash they can make jumping in the pool.

My honeymoon will be one such time. The wedding will be rammed with children, at the honeymoon there won’t be any.

Lindos Blu 8

Because we are deliberately opting for an adults-only hotel. I think sometimes these hotels are misunderstood. It’s not about keeping the children out. It’s about letting parents know which hotels they will be able to relax at even if their children have had three lemonades and a basket of Skittles for breakfast. My friends who have kids of between about four and fourteen love adult only hotels for that very reason. It’s a very clear line in the sand that says: “you will not have fun here.”
Whereas those hotels that don’t make it entirely clear can be a little terrifying!

If you have children, SLH’s adult-only hotels are 100% not for you, unless you’re travelling without the little ones. Maybe when the kids have gone to university you could have a look. But if you’ve not got children or if you can hand them over to the grandparents for a couple of days and want total peace and quiet these are well worth a look!

If you’ve stayed at any of them let me know… I haven’t booked the honeymoon yet and any advice would be very welcome!

Melissa. x

Golf for men, spa for women

It’s terrible to adhere to clichés and stereotypes isn’t it? Especially if in the past you’ve been mildly outraged when someone else is guilty of doing exactly the same thing.

Last week I was invited on a corporate day out you see. These invitations don’t come along very often so I tend to leap on them immediately when they do.

But this one annoyed me a tiny bit. It was a golf and spa day. Golf for men and spa for women said the paperless post email. Are these people really suggesting that women don’t like golf and men don’t like spas?!

This is an outrage I decided. Briefly. But then I saw how lovely the spa in question was and decided to button my mouth and sign up. I made a gentle passive aggressive joke in my reply about sexism. And to be fair to them they did say women are more than welcome to play golf and men more than welcome to go to the spa.

But of the 45 people going (26 women and 19 men) 26 had decided to go to the spa and 19 had decided to play golf. You can probably work out by yourself the gender makeup of the two groups!

My outrage had pretty much disappeared by then and I started thinking about Henry and I and our holidays. He is constantly trying to make sure there’s a golf course nearby. And I am constantly telling him golf is dull and that it’s far better to spend our time being massaged.

So it turns out we fall slap bang into the middle of the classic stereotypical couple category when it comes to golf and spas. I am slightly ashamed of myself for getting in a huff and changing my mind quite so quickly but I’ve chalked it down to a learning experience. You’re never too old to learn…

O&G Elite hotels

As a way of quietly apologising to the golf for men, spas for women world I booked Henry a round at Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club in the English countryside of Sussex. And I’m booked in for a day of pampering in the spa. We’ll have dinner together but have amazing days separately. Everyone’s a winner.

See you next week

Melissa. x

Holidays with a United Nations twist

From time to time when I’m reading about travel I see a mention of UNESCO.
Place X has become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Or hotel Y is close to a UNESCO World Heritage site, why not have a look?
I’m always slightly impressed by this as it sounds important. But if I’m entirely honest with you I never really knew what it meant. Does it mean the place is old? Beautiful? Historically significant?
I didn’t even know what UNESCO stood for until I googled it. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. I can see why everyone abbreviates.
It turns out they do rather a lot of very important stuff but for today we’re just looking at the World Heritage bit. The idea, the internet tells me, is to protect sites of outstanding universal value for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. So we’re talking about places that are so amazing they get a badge to say so from the UN and get levels of protection and care that ensures nobody will ever be able to build flats. Or even a small shed.
In my mind if the UN says something has outstanding universal value then it probably is impressive. I can’t imagine they fling this label around willy-nilly, it doesn’t seem their style.

So having been duly impressed I now want to start ticking off UNESCO sites as I travel. Unfortunately for my obsessive need to finish lists, but fortunately for mankind, there are over a thousand sites. You may have heard of some of them: the Pyramids of Egypt; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; the Galapagos in Ecuador; the Taj Mahal in India; the Grand Canyon in the USA; the Acropolis in Greece. All rather pleasant spots and thankfully I’ve already seen a couple.
But now I must see more. Many more. And obviously I’ll need a place to stay.
So I’ve picked out 5 very handily placed rather lovely hotels that are actually within World Heritage sites. Because I’m a genius.

BLOOMFIELD LODGE, Cairns, Australia
This 17 room secluded lodge comes first because I can tick off two sites with one stone. It’s set between Daintree Rainforest (the longest unspoiled stretch of rainforest in Australia) and the Great Barrier Reef. Quite a nice spot then.


CASA ELLUL, Valletta, Malta
Whatever you do don’t ask the receptionist at this 19th century palazzo where the World Heritage site is. You’re in it. The historic centre of Valletta is all in it. This 8 room delight has the best views in town from the roof and a classical central courtyard set around a sculpture of Hercules.


HOTEL BERGS, Riga, Latvia
Latvia is swiftly rising to the top of my to do list. The historic centre of Riga is UNESCO and this hotel is in the perfect place to enjoy it. It’s design led with 19th century roots, art nouveau touches and original artworks by Latvian Old Masters.


This little gem is in Bacuit Bay on Pangulasian Island – the ‘Island of the Sun’.
Here I can tick off a UNESCO box, go scuba diving and snorkelling, chill in the spa and get in a private boat for a sunset lagoon cruise. A pleasing collection of things to do!


This riverside mansion house that will soon celebrate its hundredth birthday overlooks the Malacca River and Kampung Morten. Antiques, porcelain floors and silk give the place a genuine colonial feel and, of course, it’s sat in a World Heritage site.


That’s my five. There are loads more here and as you’ll see not one of them is going to be an unpleasant place to stay or visit. No time to lose with 1000 to get through so get UNES-going!

Melissa. x

Suites For My Sweet

Most of the time if you ask me what type of room I like to stay in at a hotel I’m really not too fussy. Once I’m in the right hotel you can give me a diddy one with a pleasant view and a comfy bed and I’m just as happy.

But sometimes I want to feel like a rock star. Or a teenage .com genius perhaps. Don’t we all? I want to be able to stroll around my room and face the genuine possibility of taking a wrong turn and getting lost.

I want to have a butler to bring me things. Bring me things like breakfast on my terrace served with a flourish (maybe even one of those silver cloches). Or have him/her turn my Jacuzzi on for me because inevitably I won’t know how to do it. Then he could bring my Champagne to me while I’m in the Jacuzzi. And while we’re at it maybe I want to be able to choose between showering indoors OR outdoors.

Essentially, on occasions, we’re all divas. Perhaps on special occasions when we want to be spoilt rotten and feel like we’ve earned it. Or perhaps just because we’re in the kind of mood that demands opulent pampering.

Since I can’t afford to buy a yacht and I’m not interested in supercars the answer to my ultimate pampering urges is big hotels rooms with a four poster bed and enough room to swing a Mulberry.

Water Pool Villa at Baros Maldives

More expensive? Yes of course. This is a treat and treats cost a bit more. It wouldn’t be a treat if it wasn’t a little bit pricey. That’s half the fun of it.

Of course some treats are easier to get hold of than others. And SLH has made this treat a whole lot more accessible with The SLH Suite Deal. It is a sweet deal too. Suites but for 20% less than they usually cost.

So to all you men out there wanting to really impress your partner, or all you women out there who want to show your other half how much they mean to you (and have a seriously fun time yourself in the process) it is now as easy as ringing the bell for the butler.

I hate to hurry you but as the old adage goes all good things must come to an end. And this good thing ends at the end of October. So if I were you I would stop reading this immediately and check out some sweet suites.

So I’ll leave it you to it shall I?

Melissa. x

Food from not far away

The parents of my fiancé, Henry, live in a lovely house in the English countryside. I’m not just showing off here there is a reason I mention this. We’ve stayed there a few times lately (in fact I am there as I type this) as we build up to the wedding. While here I’ve eaten some of the freshest food I’ve ever had. And yet we haven’t left the house once…

That’s a lie actually, we have left the house. We left the house, walked about 20 paces to the vegetable patch, selected some veg and then headed back to the house again.

As a city girl I’ve never really thought about vegetables or where they come from. Or any food really. But having popped some of these runner beans and various other assorted fat of the land delights in my mouth I suddenly became very interested indeed.

Delicious doesn’t cover it. The taste and the health benefits of eating something grown locally and on the day you pick it are extraordinary. If I could create a vegetable patch in my flat I would.

I’ve been hearing people talk about the farm to table concept for a while but it was this that broke the carrot’s back and now I’m obsessed.

It’s rather odd if you think about it. Travel back in time a couple of hundred years and the locals would think you were bonkers for getting excited about farm to table food. “Where else is the food going to come from?!” they would say… before walking away speedily.

But for some time now having the best has involved some delicious food racking up serious air miles en route from wherever it was to our plates. I’m pleased this attitude is changing.

Local food production has an impact not just on my mouth but also the people and communities who create the food. So instead of ordering the Russian caviar in London go to Russia and find the place it comes from. Then eat it. Is my plan. Although actually I don’t really like caviar so that’s a bad example.

A better example is to go to Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall for a cup of delicious Tregothnan tea. You won’t find a tea plantation anywhere else in the UK. Surprising considering it’s our number one beverage.

Then there’s Hotel El Convento in San Juan, Puerto Rico and its rooftop garden. The executive chef Luis Castillo has revitalised El Convento’s rooftop garden, allowing him to put fresh herbs and vegetables into the dishes. If you’re staying there and fancy some sage, basil, parsley, oregano, cumin, coriander, lemongrass, opal basil, tarragon, bay leaves, mint, thyme, radishes, chives or spring onions… they’re on the roof.

A treat for nature lovers at Les Sources de Caudalie - EN_page1_image4

Bordeaux’s Les Sources de Caudalie has a kitchen garden outside its Grand’ Vigne restaurant created by its two Michelin-starred chef Nicolas Masse. The owners liked it so much they added an orchard and a hen house. And three pygmy goats to protect the hens. No I didn’t know pygmy goats did that either.

Quin Kerber 3

And last for today as I’m sure you have places to be… New York. Yes there are farms here. And a movement called Farm to Fifth Avenue. That sounds cool doesn’t it? The Quin has partnered with Kerbers farms so that guests can pick seasonal produce, make their own preserves and have a private picnic on the grounds of the Long Island farm. Delightful.

Right, I’m off to pick some mint for my tea. Now I am showing off.

Melissa. x

Free this weekend? Get packing immediately!

I’m not a fan of doing things last minute. Perhaps it’s the planner in me, maybe it’s because I’m prone to panic, or it could be because I enjoy looking forward to things so much! In which case the further in advance I arrange something the more time I have to enjoy getting excited.

But there is something to be said for a last minute and unexpected splurge now and then. Because sometimes an urge strikes us and to fight it seems silly.

For example it’s Friday today as I write this. Henry just came home and asked what we are doing this weekend. I flipped open the diary and to my astonishment it was blank. For the first weekend in many many weekends we don’t have a wedding or a christening or a birthday party. In fact we have literally nothing planned.

After staring at each other for 30 seconds in a slightly dazed and confused state we both headed for our laptops. And 23 minutes later we had booked plane tickets to Nice in the south of France. A flight so short we’ll have about 10 minutes with the seatbelt sign not on! There are so many flights headed down there from the UK every day that it was easy peasy to get a couple of last minute seats.

We’re going after work and coming back late on Sunday. Now that is last minute. I’m very proud of us!

This doesn’t mean I’m condoning never booking in advance for holidays. If you want to make sure you get what you want and for the right price booking early is a total must. But in the same way that sometimes we just feel like pizza all of a sudden, we can be grabbed by the desire for a very quick break. Pizza does sound good too actually… I might eat one now.

Chateau Eza

Château Eza in Eze Village, France

But before I go find a pizza, I need to book a hotel to go with these flights (preferably one of these):

Hôtel la Pérouse just a short walk to Nice’s stunning Old Town.

or Château Eza, a fairy-like castle perched on the cliffs in the village of Eze.

Can I urge you wherever you are and whatever you are doing, to have a think about this weekend. If you’re busy, fair enough, you must of course go to your pre-arranged plans.

But if you’re not then have a quick look at hotels near you. You could be sat in one of them in a matter of hours having cocktails brought to you, or swimming somewhere or having a wonderful spa treatment. No washing up, no cooking, no household chores. Tempting isn’t it… go on, treat yourself!

Ok now it really is pizza-time. See you next week!

Melissa. x

Wine – far more than a drink

It may have come to your attention if you’ve been following my blog for a while, that I quite like wine. Actually, scrap that, I love wine.

It is the best drink in the world. Especially if like me you’re constantly looking for reasons to get on a plane.

Is there another drink worth travelling for? Is there another drink worth dedicating weeks and months and years to learn about? Is there another drink that is created with such passion in so many beautiful places?

Shutter stock wine glasses pg60-61

Nope. No way.  A wine experience can be as simple as a sommelier recommending a yummy one to go with a meal. Or you can spend a week driving around France or California or South Africa or many more places treating your palette to the magic born of grapes.

The tasting is wonderful. The scenery is stunning. Talking to experts is fascinating. And the hotels you can stay in are sublime. Because wine gets around. You can end up at a laid-back farmhouse, elegant château, alongside lakes or the sea, in the centre of a bustling city… all in the name of a glass of white, red, pink or even fizz.

Plus a wine tasting is just about the only time when it’s ok to spit into a bucket. And let’s face it that is more fun than we tend to let on in adult company.

Naturally Henry is just as pleased about the idea of a wine-focused trip as I am. He wants to hire a couple of bikes and set off across the French countryside with nothing but a map of vineyards in our pocket. I’m leaning towards California and an open top car to do our vineyard hunting.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the many wine-based places to stay to whet your appetite. Although if you’re anything like me all it’ll take is the thought of a chilled glass of pale rosé on a terrace just yards from where the grapes were picked and you’ll be sold on the idea. I’d love to hear where your number one place to go to enjoy the local wine would be… let me know!

All this wine chat has made me thirsty. So I’m off to a bar to have a glass. See you next week.

Melissa. x


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