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Seats in the Sky.

I spent this morning talking about planes.

It was sparked by a Buzzfeed link that appeared on my Twitter feed called 12 First Class Cabins That Will Make You Hate Flying Economy.

The photographs are predictably impressive. Flat beds all round of course. Lots of smiling air hostesses (and hosts) some lovely looking canapés and some very smiley people enjoying their space in the sky. One airline has even created a three room suite on board for those who have $20,000 to spare. That’s the price for a one way ticket by the way.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t base a blog post on Buzzfeed. But then ordinarily Buzzfeed has posts entitled things like 17 Cat Reactions For Every Thanksgiving Situation and 46 Reasons We Should All be Thankful for Leonardo Di Caprio.

This piece was a little more my scene. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of, flying on these flat beds in business or first class. I’ve certainly not had my own three-room suite! But I, like so many people, see these chairs and dream of flying on one of them  – stretched out with a movie and a glass of champers. Somehow it has become one of the ultimate experiences around.

Which is strange when you think about it.

Imagine for a moment that you took that chair and put it anywhere else. It would be a thoroughly unimpressive photo that wouldn’t make any of us bat an eyelid. If it were billed, for example, as a budget pod hotel you’d expect that space to cost less than a meal for two in a chain restaurant.

Pop it in the sky and we’re talking serious money. And unless something goes very wrong you’ll be in that seat for an absolute maximum of 24 hours and most of the time far less time than that.

Whereas when you reach wherever it is your flying to you could be there for anything from a couple of days to three weeks.

Yes economy seats are not as comfortable and yes it would be lovely to have a duvet and not have to ask anyone to move when you want to go to the loo. But I think I’d rather hang on to that money, sit upright for a few hours, and then arrive in my destination knowing the bulk of my holiday cash has been invested in the place I’ll be living in for a few nights. That, for me, is when the holiday begins and ends. The getting there is the price you pay for wanting to see a new place (or revisit an old favourite) and stay in a beautiful little hotel.

Perhaps there’s an idea for a new Buzzfeed article there: 12 Small Luxury Hotels You Can Stay In for a Week – For the Price of a First Class Plane Ticket. That one would really get me excited about my next trip.

12 Small Luxury Hotels of the World You Can Stay In for a Week – For the Price of a First Class Plane Ticket to

1. Casa Colonial Beach & Spa in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Casa Colonial Beach & Spa Small

 

2. The Granary – La Suite Hotel in Wroclaw, Poland

The Granary Small

3. Hunas Falls by Amaya in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Hunas Falls by Amaya, Sri Lanka

4. Hotel De las Letras in Madrid, Spain

Hotel De las Letras Madrid, Spain

5. The Margi in Athens, Greece

The Margi 2

6. Petasos Beach Resort & Spa in Mykonos, Greece

Petasos Small

7. Southbridge Napa Valley in Napa Valley, California, USA

Southbridge Napa Valley 6

8. Tiamo Resort on South Andros Island, Bahamas

Tiamo Sunset Blog

9. Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola au Lac in Lugarno, Switzerland

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10. Columbia Beach Resort in Limassol, Cyprus

HUPFOCB_30311553_Pool_and_suites_4368x2912

 

11. Grand Hotel Cocumella in Sorrento, Italy

Grand Hotel Cocumella 7

12. Pallas Athena Boutique Hotel in Athens, Greece

Pallas Athena Boutique Hotel

To be honest you can stay in pretty much every SLH hotel given the cost of first class travel these days, and they’re the best hotels you’ll ever stay in…

Say no to skyscrapers

I work close to Victoria Station in London. And it’s a total nightmare. It has been for a few years now and will be for several more because the whole place is a building site.

Going from A to B used to be a simple process involving pointing yourself in the direction you want to go and then putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly.

But now it involves going via C, D, E and occasional F while penned into a small rat route along with every other poor Victoria worker and a bucket load of tourists trying desperately to get to Buckingham Palace.

New buildings are erupting from the ground, old ones are disappearing and no doubt we’ll have some very shiny and very tall offices and shops and flats in 2020 when it’s all done. Along with a train station that is much cleverer than the last one.

But I felt a twinge of sadness as I sat on a bench and watched it all for a while. Victoria Station is a beautiful old building. I forget that fact for long periods, but am reminded in moments of calm or when I see holidaymakers taking photos of it.

There are a huge number of beautiful old buildings in London as you who have visited or live here will know. But we’re not going to get any more. The number we have is the maximum number there will ever be. The future is full of efficiently created steel and glass monsters. Maybe floating hover-buildings eventually. Who knows. And while I realise change and development are good things and important for infrastructure, jobs etc etc blah blah… I just think the old ones are much prettier.

And as time goes by we’ll have less of them while the new ones get bigger and cover more and more of the city.

Which is why I think I’ll always try to stay somewhere old while on a city break in future. I saw an article about flats in a new New York skyscraper going for tens of millions of pounds. But for some reason the photos left me feeling a bit flat and I really don’t want to stay in one of them. The views are nice and the furniture looks very snazzy but next time I cross the pond I want an old brownstone house and to revel in the historical beauty of one of my favourite towns.

The Inn at Irving Place

The Inn at Irving Place in New York, USA

So I did a little search and found The Inn at Irving Place. Two 1834 brownstone houses with grand staircases and rooms furnished with New York antiques. It even has a tea house. And fireplaces. And cherry wood floors. And most importantly of course no building works or remote control curtains.
Right. It’s 1130am now. I’d better set off in search of lunch because it’s going to take me a while to get there!

Don’t make people wear shoes on holiday.

When I go on holiday I like to relax.

That may sound like the most obvious statement anyone has ever made but strangely enough it’s not obvious to some hotels.

I’ve just returned from a trip to Sri Lanka and almost everywhere I went and everything I did helped me fall deeper and deeper into a peaceful and relaxed state of mind. Even the craziness of the bustling stalls, bartering with locals passionately trying to make a sale only served to make me feel like I had well and truly escaped my every day life.

But there was a moment when my serene state took a bit of a turn for the worse and oddly enough it was a hotel that did it. One of the most expensive hotels in the city in fact, where you’d think they would understand what hospitality looks like in 2014.

I arrived at the hotel with Henry beside me to meet some friends in the lobby before heading out for a bite to eat. Henry was wearing a lovely blue striped shirt, a beautiful new pair of chinos and some sandals.

And believe it or not the hotel wouldn’t let him in. They said they had a no sandals policy at the hotel.

I was astonished. Here we were in a country where the temperatures often reach high into the 30s and yet a hotel that only exists, like all hotels, because of the people that stay in it, has this ridiculous and antiquated policy.

I would hate to stay in a hotel that forced its guests to wear shoes at all times. Poor Henry didn’t seem to mind; he just laughed and said he’d wait outside. But, as ever, I was a little less calm.

For Henry shoes are an annoyance. Prisons for feet he calls them. He wears them for work and when it’s cold but the second he’s in a sunny climate socks and shoes disappear and they don’t go back on again until he’s back in the office.

So what message does this sort of archaic policy send out to people wanting a holiday? It says that guests are not the priority. The priority is something else, something from a 20th century gentlemen’s club that values policy and pomp over hospitality and comfort.

I won’t say which hotel it was as I don’t like to be mean. But what I will say is that when hotels get too big and too full of themselves it is the clients that suffer and this will always lead to a drop in bookings eventually.

We had the complete opposite experience when I stayed at Serene Pavilions in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka.

Serene Pavilions 2

Serene Pavilions in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka

It was beautiful, luxurious, had wonderful food, was tastefully decorated with every whim catered for. But the service was warm, snobbery non existent and every member of staff had a deep understanding of what it means to make people feel welcome.Most importantly for Henry of course was that they couldn’t have cared less what was on his feet, only that there was a smile on his face.

That’s what running a hotel is really about.

I bet I’ve made you want to go to Sri Lanka now haven’t I!

Win the perfect proposal…

As you can hardly have failed to notice, if you read this blog regularly, I was recently proposed to by Henry.

It was the perfect moment and I shall remember it forever.

I’ve told the story so many times that I suspect every member of my family, all my friends and quite a few people who don’t know me particularly well will remember it forever too.

But they don’t know what that moment looked like. They don’t know the expressions my face took on when Henry asked or how he looked when I said yes. And oddly enough even I’ll never know what my reaction looked like and Henry will never know his.

Because, annoyingly, this competition I’m about to tell you about didn’t exist yet. If I’d known it was coming I might have told Henry to hold his horses for a few months.

Alas it’s too late for me. But not for you chaps.

And I do mean chaps. Because this competition isn’t going to work for women unless it’s February 29. Which it isn’t for a while.

Twitter Promo

SLH has teamed up with Flytographer, a company full of very cunning and stealthy photographers across the globe who are able to take photos of you without you knowing.

They can also take very lovely pictures without being sneaky of course. If you a) are terrible at taking photos, b) hate selfies or c) don’t like carrying a camera around on holiday these local photographers take the holiday snaps for you. Much better than you could ever do too. And much much better than the waiter you’ll probably ask to take one of you.

But for the sake of this prize the idea is that you (chaps) propose and the photographer hides and captures the moment for you. Unless she says no of course in which case I assume the photographer will run away. But she won’t say no because she loves you. And she’ll love you even more when she sees a beautiful professional shot of one of the most important moments of her life.

On top of the secret Flytographer you’ll also win two nights at an SLH hotel. So that’s quite nice.
And I’d imagine if you decide it’s not the right time to propose you could ask the photographer to capture the moment you push your girlfriend in the pool instead? Although, I should warn you, she’s unlikely to pop that photo on the mantelpiece or say thank you when you present it to her.

To enter is easy peasy. In two sentences tell SLH your idea of the perfect proposal…

http://www.slh.com/partners/flytographer/

But before I go a few proposal pointers from me.

  1. Don’t make it too perfect – if it’s too staged the surprise can be ruined.
  2. Don’t make it too casual – we want it to feel like you’ve made an effort
  3. Make sure the backdrop is beautiful or romantic – this story is going to get told a lot and the best stories have a great setting.
  4. Don’t do it in front of a huge audience – especially not in a sports arena on the big screen. That’s not fun.
  5. Always on one knee. That’s a tradition that should stay around forever hopefully.

Small. Light. And perfect for hotels…

I don’t often broach the really big issues on this blog. But I’m afraid this week I’m going to have to.

The issue at hand is… reading.

Until relatively recently I was one of those people who would never give up paper books. There’s just something about turning the pages, the smell, the feel, the wonder of holding a good book in your hands… I would say. I’ll never stop reading books, technology cannot compete. I would also say.

But then I got a Kobo for my birthday and now I don’t think I’ll ever read a book again. It’s like I’ve been walking around with a bag on my head all my life and then one day someone came along and took it off. Finally I can see clearly.

It’s a magical device. It’s smaller than the smallest of books and therefore fits in my handbags. And it doesn’t get any heavier even if you decide to read War and Peace or The Bible. Or the Encyclopaedia Britannica for that matter.

Plus there’s that annoying period with many new books when the publishers insist on only releasing a hard back version. These usually cost a fortune and are tantamount to carrying a brick around with you. Not ideal for sunbathing by a pool or for keeping under the rather small allotted weight limits allowed on flights.

And I hate to bang on but how often do you get told about a book you’ll love and then forget what it was? All the time if you’re me. But now I just reach into my bag, press a couple of buttons and I have it waiting for me in my own personal lightweight portable library.

So to synopsise my Kobo is small. And it’s a luxury that allows me to pack more luxuries in my suitcase.

Are some of these words sounding familiar? Small, luxury… you get the idea.

If you like small luxury things but are still in the paper book camp try it out once… and let me know what you think.

As it happens SLH are offering you lovely people the chance to get away with a FREE Kobo Aura eReader this holiday season. It’s simple: book 4 nights and you get your very own Kobo to take away on your next trip!

Love hotels and they’ll love you back

I was chatting with a friend today about discounts. She has plenty of money and likes to buy nice things.

Sometimes I can’t quite believe how much she will spend on a piece of furniture or clothes… but she likes quality and works hard, so fair enough!

The odd thing though is that she always hunts around for a bargain when it comes to holidays. She still stays somewhere nice of course but for some reason I can’t explain, her brain switches as soon as that purchase is a trip away.

Last night she spent three hours trawling the internet for deals, spoke to three travel agents and sent a few emails to hotels. But during the day I know she walked into a handbag shop, saw one she liked, picked it up and took it to the till.

Never would it occur to her to reach the till and say: “How much do you want for this?” Instead she looked at the price tag and then paid that amount.

She also had a rather nice lunch. But at the end of lunch she didn’t look at the bill and then call the waiter over to negotiate a better price.

In so many walks of life she – and let’s face it lots of people who like luxury – consume in a very clear fashion. They pay the amount asked for. Except when it comes to travel and suddenly lots of people lose their minds and think they’re suddenly in the souk in Marrakech bartering like a market trader.

I don’t know when this started or why but I must admit I’m occasionally guilty too.

But why do hotels put up with it? Why do so many accept a lower price?

Mykonos Ammos 2

Mykonos Ammos Hotel in Mykonos, Greece

The answer of course is that a hotel room goes off pretty fast. A June 2014 hotel room is not much use come July. Lovely hotels are expensive to run and have a large number of staff who get paid no matter how many rooms are full. And yet if a room doesn’t have anyone in it those costs don’t go away. So whereas a lovely clothes shop can just keep the stock and wait till someone comes in and buys it, hotels have to be a lot more cunning. They have to keep prices high enough to make a profit but also make sure as many rooms as possible have people sleeping in the beds.

And that’s why there are some great deals to be had. That is why when you go onto slh.com there are some very lovely hotels offering up to 40% off if you book and pay for your trip in advance.

Support the hotel by committing to it and they will support you back to say thank you. How lovely.

So my advice is to forget the sales, save yourself hours of trawling the internet, stop looking for late bargains and book early.

How a restaurant called Bastardo ruined my chair shopping

You’d think buying a chair was the easiest thing in the world. Four legs, a flat bit for your bum and a back bit to lean on. I’ll take four of those shopkeeper, thanks very much, see you again in a few years.

I need new chairs for my dining table you see. I’d earmarked this weekend to find them and thought just before I do I’ll have a little look online at some chairs I like the look of.

It was going to be so simple. So very simple. But then a restaurant in Lisbon ruined it.

Internacional Design Hotel

Internacional Design Hotel in Lisbon, Portugal

The restaurant in question is a new one found at the Internacional Design Hotel called Bastardo.

Some people looking at the photos would have noticed something different. Perhaps the stunning views out the window. The Rossio and its statue of D.Pedro IV for example. Others might have not made it that far and been impressed by the enormous windows themselves.

I didn’t even make it to the windows. I got stuck on the chairs. Have you ever seen so many cool chairs?! It was exciting at first. The first chair I saw was the perfect one. Definitely the best I could ever hope to find for my flat. I remember thinking I must call the restaurant and find out where it’s from and then order four immediately.

The trouble was that the second chair was a bit more perfect. And the third even better still. I realise perfect is an absolute and I really shouldn’t be abusing its meaning like this. Something is either perfect or it isn’t. So I apologise for the last couple of sentences. And sorry about the next one too. But I don’t know how to talk about the fourth chair other than to say it was arguably the most perfect of all the perfect chairs.

Internacional Design Hotel Bastardo

Bastardo Restaurant

Anyway. You get the idea. There’s a whole load of chairs and I love them all and I want them all. But I only need four. This is why I shouldn’t look at photos of cutting-edge design hotels or their restaurants until I become a millionaire. Then I can buy a table for 40 and get all the chairs.

Strangest of all was I was so obsessed with the chairs that it took me a little while to register the name of the restaurant. Bastardo. Even the non-Portuguese speakers among you have probably worked out that Bastardo is Portuguese for, erm, bastard. I feel naughty just writing it. But the folk behind the restaurant aren’t the types to worry about ruffling a few feathers.

To quote them “Bastardo is the illegitimate son of Portuguese cuisine. Born to break rules and the fruit of true love, forbidden love.”
So if you end up going don’t be surprised if you’re surprised. From the looks of things the dishes are going to be daring, undefinable and no doubt delicious. Styles, concepts and cultures all thrown together with creative abandon.

I haven’t been so I haven’t tasted the food. But if the chef is as good at picking ingredients and throwing them together as the person who found the chairs it might just end up being the best meal ever.

 

Too Darn Hot

I don’t think I’ve ever told you about the second great love in my life. Or third I suppose if you count Henry. Travel being number one, naturally.

My number one way to spend an evening in London is to head to the West End to watch a musical.
If you haven’t experienced this thrill I suggest you stick it on your bucket list immediately.

The venues are extraordinary and the shows – all of them – are the pinnacle of entertainment as far as I‘m concerned.

For my ninth birthday party we saw Starlight Express, for my 13th birthday it was Joseph and for my 17th it was Phantom of the Opera.

The roller-skating trains had me desperate to paint myself electric blue and travel around on wheels at all times. After Joseph I demanded a multi-coloured coat and Phantom had me in tears almost from start to finish. Although I didn’t feel the need to wear a white mask to hide my face thankfully.

That would have been a difficult look to pull off.

I’m often asked what my top 5 list of musicals is.

Ok, I’m not asked; I create the conversation and volunteer mine. But inevitably my top 5 becomes a top 20 as it’s impossible to choose. What is clear though is that I owe Andrew Lloyd Webber a gift or 7. Because his musicals populate most of those tops spots and the songs from them are on repeat on my iPod most of the time.

Taking all of what I’ve just said into account try to imagine how excited I was when I found out that there is a show called TOO DARN HOT at Tylney Hall Hotel, where I can watch the best songs from his best musicals performed live by West End singers and musicians.

There isn’t a word. The closest I suppose is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. That almost conveys how I felt when this news came to my attention.

Tylney Hall 4

Tylney Hall in Hook, UK

So I’m going to go to Tylney Hall in Hampshire. If possible I’m going to sit in the front row. And then rather than emerge onto a cold wet London pavement and fight the crowds of the West End to get into a packed sweaty tube (as is the usual routine post show) I’m going to dance upstairs to bed. I’ll probably sing too so apologies in advance to other guests in residence that night!

After I’ve had my three course supper, Winter Pimms and wine in the Oak Room of course…

When a hen goes on holiday

My best friend emailed me today to ask me what I want to do for my hen do.

I must say in all the excitement about my wedding I hadn’t really thought about the hen do. It’s one of those occasions that seemed very exciting when I was in my 20s but as a 30-something the idea is a little less appealing.

Dressing up in costumes, drinking too much and doing silly things is no longer my cup of tea… well, not for several days in a row!

I was making this point to a work friend who opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibility. Why not do something I actually want to do? There’s no need to conform to what a hen do ‘should’ be.

So I am. I’m turning my hen do into a holiday with my best female friends and family.

Once I had decided to do this it took me about 10 seconds to remember that SLH has launched Private Residences.

The beauty of this idea for me is that as a gang we can take over a small hotel, get treated like queens and not disturb anyone else when things inevitably get a little raucous. No other guests have their holiday ruined and I don’t have to feel guilty about subjecting strangers to whatever my imaginative friends come up with to embarrass me.

It’s like having a villa but with the service levels and facilities of an amazing luxury hotel… what could be better?

The only question left is… home or abroad? Do I keep it in the UK or really go for it and head to a far flung sunny destination? My shortlist is down to two… let me know which you would go for. I must say I’m rather torn!

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Oak baths (2)

Foxhill Manor in Cotswolds, United Kingdom

Foxhill Manor is a stunning Cotswold Manor set within the 400 acre Farncombe Estate and the little sister to SLH’s Dormy House Hotel. From London it’s a couple of hours in the car and there are eight bedrooms and suites so plenty of room for everyone I want to come.

I also love the gardens and terraces there and rather unexpectedly there is also a cinema! Great for a Sunday afternoon watching chick flicks with my friends.

AWAY

Private Residences Pangkor Laut

Pangkor Laut Estates in Pangkor, Malaysia

Pangkor Laut Estates is part of Pangkor Laut Resort in Malaysia.

Here there are eight private sanctuaries and each estate is designed to be completely self-contained. Perfect. Thrown in for the price is a pair of butlers (two butlers, what a luxury) and a chef.

Of course there are bedrooms but also a dining pavilion, a garden, a terrace, and of course a beautiful pool. I can just see us all sat enjoying supper overlooking the Straits of Malacca with a warm breeze blowing across us.

What do you think? Answers on a postcard, please.

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