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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.

Secret guide to skiing

Whoever it was who first looked at a mountain covered in snow and decided to strap two planks of wood onto their legs and slide down it at great speed is high on my list of dream dinner guests.

I can safely say I wouldn’t have been the first to come up with it. I might have invented the snow angel or the Slush Puppie but skiing would never have occurred to me. Because it’s mad.

I still think it’s a bit mad despite the equipment having moved on a touch and most importantly ski lifts to do the hard work for you. So a big thank you to that man/woman for being brave enough and crazy enough to come up with the best sport in the world.

In England we’re all starting to think about where to ski this season. Whether we’re an expert who’s been going every year since birth or a family taking their kids for the first time it’s just about the most exciting trip to plan. Arguably the best thing is that in most European resorts and many outside they suggest you eat cheese with just about everything. Nowhere else would we agree to eat this much cheese in such a short space of time. But there’s something about a mountain (maybe the altitude or that fresh mountain air) that suddenly makes it ok to replace all the other food groups with a vat of molten cheese and lumps of bread.

This week I have a few recommendations for you… whether you’re an expert, a family or simply looking for some amazing après ski.

Blanket Bay 2

Blanket Bay in Queenstown, New Zealand

For experts
Blanket Bay in Queenstown, New Zealand

You’ve done most of Europe, you’ve skied in America… where next?

New Zealand is my pick of the lot as the skiing around Queenstown is challenging and the area is beyond beautiful. With places like Milford Sound to see on top of great slopes and easy access to heli-skiing it has plenty to get even the most experienced skiers excited.

Blanket Bay overlooking Lake Wakatipu is the place to stay. It’s secluded, has views of the Southern Alps and with just 13 rooms it’s exclusive. Make sure you get a room with a balcony or private terrace, available during British summer time.

HUSMVCR_28010820_Skiing_in_Winter_time_in_St._Moritz_3543x2803

The Crystal Hotel in St Moritz, Switzerland

For après
Crystal Hotel in St Moritz, Switzerland

I like St Moritz for many reasons but most importantly it’s the spirit of the early visitors to one of the world’s oldest resorts.

For it was these early visitors who created the Cresta Run in 1884 that is a toboggan track where people first started throwing themselves down head first. It makes the person who invented skiing seem positively unadventurous.

The town is seriously swish with all the best shops and people dressed in the gladdest of ski rags strolling around like it’s a town-sized catwalk.  The bars and restaurants in town and on the mountain have all the vital ingredients required to create perfect sophisticated après ski. To ensure you’re right in the middle of the action stay at Crystal Hotel.

Grand Hotel at Waldhaus Flims Mountain Resort & Spa in Flims Waldhaus, Switzerland

For families
Grand Hotel at Waldhaus Flims Mountain Resort & Spa in Flims Waldhaus, Switzerland

I first skied in Flims aged about 4 and it was perfect for a young girl making her first tentative snow plough.

We didn’t stay at this hotel but we dreamed of a day we could. The 19th century hotel was renowned then and still is now as the finest spot in town.

With a couple of pools, a large choice of bars and restaurants and a spa and wellness centre it has plenty to offer families outside of a range of gentler slopes for beginners and intermediates. And for slightly older children LAAX nearby has a halfpipe up the mountain and an indoor centre with a ski jump, trampolines and a foam pit to practice bolder moves in complete safety.

Where’s your favourite place to ski?

Henry doesn’t drink very much.

For non regular readers Henry is my husband to be. He proposed to me one Caribbean night not long ago and you can read about the rather lovely proposal here.

For those who know all about him stay with me here. Don’t go.

Because I’m writing about something today that might sound trivial. But it really isn’t.

I’m away with Henry this week in the Maldives, as you do! He had to come for work so I’ve tagged along and we’ve added a couple of nights on to the trip to relax. Well, for him to relax. I’ve been relaxing the whole time.

It was our first night of joint relaxation last night. We sat down for supper and over came the waiter.

Baros Maldives in Male, Maldives

And now I get to the reason I mentioned Henry doesn’t drink much alcohol.

It’s strange how often him not drinking is met with surprise. If he doesn’t want wine or beer some waiters don’t hide their surprise. And when he orders his favourite drink the surprise and slight element of condescension only grows.

That drink is Coca Cola by the way. I try to get him to drink less of it as there’s so much sugar in it but he doesn’t tend to do what I tell him to do!

Anyway. Back to the waiter.

He came over and asked what we’d like to drink. I ordered a glass of wine, Henry ordered a coke.

There wasn’t a flicker of surprise from our waiter’s face and off he went.

And when he returned he had something that made Henry incredibly happy.

Because, rightly or wrongly, Henry hates it when his coke arrives at the table. The famous bright red can standing out for all to see. A tumbler with ice bringing further attention to the beverage and a straw adding to the apparent childishness of his choice.

But a can didn’t arrive. And neither did a straw. Instead a small carafe was placed on the table and alongside it was a wine glass. He grinned at me like I’d just told him how handsome he is (he enjoys a compliment) and made a grand show of pouring out the coke and pretending to taste it as if it were a fine wine.

My point this week is that coke is a fine wine. It is a chocolate milkshake with Smarties sprinkled on top. It is a bottle of Dom Perignon 52.

It’s a drink. And just as worthy as any drink to sit on a supper table if the imbiber so desires. If you want to know what incredible service looks like it’s this. It’s waiters who don’t care what you eat or drink as long as you enjoy it. They don’t think less of you because you order the cheapest red or have white wine with well done steak.

If you want a romantic picnic for two on a desert island with cuisine provided by Kentucky Fried Chicken then that’s what you should have. A good hotel will just check if you’d like barbecue sauce or ketchup with it.

I’ve rarely seen Henry so happy and I know it’s the first thing he’ll talk about when he gets home.

And all it took was a coke in a carafe.

 

Is there anything more romantic than a massage for two?

Yes, yes there is. A massage for two in the south of France.

There’s something about this part of the world that carries with it an air of luxury a cut above anywhere else in the world. The glamour and beauty of places like Cannes or Monaco has an old school romance that is hard to beat in the showing off to friends afterwards stakes.

So chaps, if you want to impress a girl, this is the place to take her. Or (to avoid any accusations of being old fashioned) girls, if you want to impress a boy, take him.

Henry is taking me next month (the right way round as far as I’m concerned) in an attempt to squeeze in a little more sunshine as London quickly enters into the cold, wet and dark months that we Brits love to complain about.

We’ll be staying at the Tiara Miramar Beach Hotel & Spa in Theoule-sur-Mer near Cannes and I must say Henry has outdone himself with this choice.

Tiara Miramar Beach Hotel & Spa 2

Tiara Miramar Beach Hotel & Spa in Théoule-sur-Mer, France

The hotel’s backdrop of the Esterel Hills coupled with its red rock seat above the Mediterranean makes for a postcard setting that’s as much fun to look at as it is to look out from.

It’s been renovated recently which is always an exciting time to visit a hotel. Largely because on the whole (and this might sound a little obvious) renovations make a place better than it was before. And considering how highly people spoke of this place before they threw a load of money at it, this can only mean an exceptional weekend coming my way. Mostly I’ll be by the pool, on the private beach or sipping cocktails on the terrace. Perhaps I’ll stretch my exertion levels to game of tennis even.

But what really caught my eye was the double treatment room. Double treatment room means duo massage and duo massage means doing my favourite holiday activity but with Henry alongside me. I know some people prefer to be on their own for such things but I always enjoy a bit of company whatever I’m up to.

Henry thinks he’ll probably fall asleep, snore and ruin the entire thing but if I can just keep him awake somehow then I think it’ll be just about the most romantic thing possible in just about the most romantic place possible.

There’s more to it than one double treatment room by the way. In case you prefer to get away from your other half for an hour or two while being pampered. Apparently there’s more than 350sqm of facilities at the Tiara Spa by Sothys. That means absolutely nothing to me as I don’t really know what a square metre looks like never mind 350 of them but it sounds big. What’s important though is that there’s a sauna, steam room and something called a sensory shower. I love a bog standard shower at home so who knows how much fun this will be. I’ll let you know.

I’ll also let you know how the gommage goes. For those of you who don’t know what gommage is, fear not I didn’t know until about 20 seconds ago. It is to exfoliation what Ferrari is to cars. The best one. So I fully expect to have the skin of a movie star afterwards.

 

It’s a dog’s life

Do you ever look at your dog and wonder what they are thinking? What is on that furry mind and how could I make them happier?

Does he look like he’s a little discontented with his current hairstyle? Or that he would prefer to have a chef prepare his food rather than you emptying a ready meal into his bowl?

It’s quite possible you haven’t ever asked yourself these questions. But people do. I do with my mother’s dog. Although Hugo (mum’s bichon frise) wants for nothing to be honest. I remember seeing the most delicious looking bowl of the finest chicken breast I’ve ever seen in the fridge last time I popped over to say hello.

“Can I have some of this mum?”

“Don’t you dare touch that, that’s Hugo’s.”

“But you love me more than Hugo don’t you?”

“I’m very fond of you darling but if you touch that chicken I’ll have you arrested.”

So Hugo is spoilt. And quite possibly my mother’s favourite ‘child’ as she calls him. But in comparison to some pups around the world Hugo is roughing it.

I know this because SLH asked 8,000 people across the globe what they would like hotel’s to provide for their dogs. And the results blew my mind.

Here are a few of the requests:

  • Pata negra ham (not just ham take note, a specific type of ham)
  • Caviar (any caviar will do apparently, this pup is willing to sacrifice the Beluga from time to time)
  • Blueberry facials (This is a real thing, Raithwaite Estate in Whitby, UK offers it)
  • A sausage dog girlfriend (Fair enough, sausage dogs are very cute)
  • Luxury bedding (I can’t find a flaw with this demand, we all enjoy a high thread count and fluffy pillows)
  • A personal butler (A good butler should be able to look after the homo-sapiens and canines in a family so this may be a little extravagant)
The Raithwaite Estate Whitby, United Kingdom

The Raithwaite Estate in Whitby, United Kingdom

Not content to let the dogs hog the five star pampering one Australian cat apparently wants someone to spend the day telling her how beautiful she is, while an American feline would rather go bird-watching at the zoo.

Obviously these are the grander requests from pet owners but some serious stats came out of the survey. 7.3% like to travel with their pet whenever possible. 15.1% are willing to pay a supplement for their pet to be pampered on holiday. That’s about one in every six people.

Of the extras people want for their pooches bedding, food and grooming are the most important so it turns out our pets want pretty much the same things we do.

Despite this there are lots of hotels that don’t let you take your pets with you. But thankfully there are plenty that do including Lainston House Hotel in Winchester, UK which not only welcomes dogs it has created a VIP (Very Important Pooch) package. And this isn’t just a gimmick. The package includes a room or suite with a patio door that leads straight out to the hotel’s 60 acres of grounds, a dog bed, water and food bowls, and a treat.

Lainston House Hotel

Lainston House Hotel in Winchester, United Kingdom

Then there’s the home of the dog blueberry facial, The Raithwaite Estate in Whitby (UK). It might sound silly but in fact it’s actually the best way to remove stains from a dogs face.

After the facial dogs can enjoy the rest of the dog spa (yes a spa for dogs) where they can have mud baths or perhaps jump in the Jacuzzi.

The more I read the more I start thinking about disguising myself as a Great Dane for my next holiday. It’s a dog’s life? That phrase clearly needs some rethinking!

 

Blog Winner Announced!

blog-congrats

 

Congratulations to Nick Holland, who’s won SLH’s recent blog competition!

He’s won 2 nights at Kandolhu Island in Male, Maldives.

Stay tuned for our announcement of the second winner…

http://www.slh.com/hotels/kandolhu-island-resort/

“I think we might be lost Henry”

He denied it. Ever since making an executive decision to turn down the hire car company’s offer of a sat nav we hadn’t been lost once… Apparently.

“Where are we then dearest?”

“Italy Melissa”

I laughed and he laughed and we stared at the paper map together.

And I was actually rather pleased we were lost. How dull would it have been if we had jumped in the car at Bari airport, typed in the name of the hotel and followed an arrow through Puglia.

Then we wouldn’t have been able to marvel at the spectacular unhelpfulness of the signs in this part of the world. We wouldn’t have puzzled over which turn to take when both directions apparently go to the same place. And certainly we wouldn’t have noticed a sign telling us our destination was 2km away and then driven past one five minutes later informing us we were now 3km away.

The places we’ve stumbled across by accident while here proved to be the most interesting to such an extent we started trying to get lost deliberately. At one point we put the map away and just used the sun to give us a vague idea that we were going in the right direction. And this turned out to be the most fortunate of all our decisions as it led us to a little town called Melissano. There’s something about walking through a town that has (almost) the same name as you that makes it a touch more exciting. Naturally I bought everything I could find with Melissano written on it. Including all the postcards I’ve sent home. If you haven’t received yours yet mum sorry for ruining the surprise!

Relais Histo 3

Relais Histó San Pietro sul Mar Piccolo in Taranto, Italy

Another interesting find was a town called Diso, deep in the heel of Italy where a huge party had erupted for no particular reason. It was there I was asked to dance by a little old Italian man who stepped in when Henry failed to do his duty. I’ve given up trying to make him dance now, he will forever remain 99% perfect. The Italian spent 10 minutes showing me the moves required without much success and then chatted to me for 10 minutes as I tried to keep up before realising that I hadn’t understood a word. When he spotted the blank look on my face he just laughed and span me around a few more times before delivering me back to Henry.

We finally settled into Relais Histó San Pietro sul Mar Piccolo in the charming coastal town of Taranto. Luckily we did manage to find this hidden beauty and didn’t end up roaming the coast line arguing again. And boy am I glad we did!

The stories I have about this stunning part of Italy are all with me because of Henry’s decision not to pay the 10 euros a day for the sat nav. And looking back on it I think that I’d pay 10 euros a day not to have one.

So next time you fly-drive just say no to technology, point your car in roughly the right direction and see what happens. I guarantee you’ll have a far more exciting trip.

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