Skip to content

The trouble with Winter is…

I have a serious problem when winter arrives. The problem is shoes.

Some people, in fact most people (especially girls) love shoes. I don’t think this is just a girl thing though, I know plenty of boys with a serious shoe rack who cannot get enough of them. But girls dominate the shoe arena. In many girls’ minds the idea that one could ever have enough shoes and handbags is a ridiculous concept.

Handbags I agree with. If I had the money I would buy a new one every day! But shoes and indeed socks and tights are – to me – feet prisons. My feet want to be free. They want to be comfortable and enjoying the world outside like my hands and face get to.

But the cold winter comes along and so far as I’m aware, nobody has invented heated sandals. So I have a choice. Blue toes and funny looks or put the shoe prisons on.

Generally my resolve takes a beating by early December and on go the tights and shoes until spring.

My feet won’t survive the entire winter without some freedom though so it’s become a vitally important part of my winter to find some sun. Not for me you understand, it’s for my feet. I’m caring like that.

This winter I’m paying for my feet to go to Thailand. The weather and terrain is well suited to flip flops or even bare feet so they are just going to love it! The lucky little size 6 blighters.

They are going to be treated to a small tropical island near Phuket called The Racha. The headline for this place is as follows: “An eco-luxury beach resort fringed by the powdery sands of Batok Bay.” If that isn’t toe heaven I don’t know what is.

The Racha

And while they enjoy the freedom I will be learning Thai cookery, craft making and snorkelling by day with some cocktails and stargazing by night. The only thing my feet will have to worry about is transporting me from our private retreat (there are 85 dotted across 20 acres of lush grounds so it could be a medium-sized walk) to the restaurants, beach and spa.

The most interesting thing I learned about this place as I geeked up by the way was that many of the villas have their own infinity edge or plunge pools. Amazing but that’s not the interesting part. The bit that got my attention was that music is piped in to the pool. Extraordinary. I have no idea how one pipes music but I’m impressed.

Right I’ve got to go out now. It looks distinctly like shoe weather through the window. Time to lock up the feet. Sad face.

Where would you set your feet free this winter?

See you next week.

Melissa x

Five Riads are better than one

I’m planning on using the word ‘nook’ a lot today. Firstly because I like it and secondly there were a lot of them at a hotel I visited this week.  La Sultana Marrakech in Morocco.

This place passed one of the toughest Melissa tests for a small hotel: I got lost in it. Not an “OMG PANIC!!!” lost, more of a “wonderful, I’ve not seen this room before,” or “Ooh, I think I’ll read my book in this new nook.” Here I felt lost for hours at a time. But the last thing I wanted was directions. (Although I did ask for directions once after an hour spent in an outdoor massage cabin when even walking in a straight line and keeping my eyes open at the same time felt like a personal Everest).

I love getting lost and to be able to do it in a place that has less than 30 rooms is a rare treat. I think it’s because I grew up in a house with lots of little hiding places and cubby holes that made for an unrivalled game of hide and seek.

A nook makes one feel like there’s a small part of a hotel that’s yours. Because if there are enough of them it’s quite likely you could have one to yourself for a day.

La Sultana Marrakech

Riads like La Sultana act as an extraordinarily chilled and effective buffer from some of the most hustley and bustley (no I don’t think they are real words sadly) streets you’ll see. One second you’re dodging mopeds, bicycles and horse-drawn carts while haggling over the price of some shoes and a scarf and the next (and I mean literally the next) you are on a beautiful, calm rooftop with 360 degree views of the city with a cold drink in hand and light breeze upon your face.

The advantage La Sultana has over many of the other riads is that it has service levels and facilities that just wouldn’t be practical or possible without 5 being combined. It’s also (and I realise how dull this sounds) accessible by taxi. Which might not sound like a plus point worth shouting about but many of them aren’t which can cause problems if you decide to explore the desert or the mountains for a day and want to get back. The medina is a maze and a delightfully complex and badly signposted one at that so after your taxi gives up the walk can be challenging!

I haven’t used ‘nook’ in a while have I. But sadly I am out of time. So I’ll see you next week and if you want to know more about La Sultana or Marrakech just ask below. I’ll be especially happy to give you some shopping tips!

The best après ski ever

My parents tell me that when I was a little girl I used to love being very cold.

When they started telling me this story about five year old Melissa I was very confused. Being cold is not my bag these days.

But then they explained themselves. The story goes that I would turn my electric blanket on full blast. Then I would go out into the garden for a run around. A late night December dash with no shoes on. Why they let me do this I really don’t know!

Anyway after a few minutes of getting myself very chilly indeed I would rush back inside, sprint up the stairs with teeth jangling and leap under the covers into my toasty bed.

Essentially I had invented a personal Roman baths scenario with a modern twist who’s a clever girl.

Sounds so good I’m toying with the idea of doing it tonight.

I mention this because snow is coming. At least it’s coming in this hemisphere. And my parents tell me snow was my favourite weather in which to play my little temperature game.

The more I think about it the more I think perhaps I haven’t changed all that much. Because my current yearning is to head for the mountains and find myself an outdoor sauna.

In holiday terms there is nothing more tiring than a ski trip if you ask me. It’s incredibly fun but boy do I ache at the end of a long day up the mountain.

outdoor sauna

Hotel Tannenhof in the rather wonderful St Anton has conveniently answered all my prayers. Because not only do they have an outdoor sauna they also have a Jacuzzi with a view of the mountains. I spent all day today dreaming of pulling my feet out of my ski boots, removing the 58 layers of clothes and strolling in my dressing gown through the cold air and into the sauna. I think I may have just shuddered with joy while writing that sentence.

The good news keeps coming by the way. Guess how many rooms there are. Go on guess. Nope, you’re wrong, there are seven! Seven!!! That’s only one more than my flat if you include the cupboards. So the sauna is not going to be busy. The Jacuzzi is going to be mine all mine and the massage therapist is going to have plenty of room for me in her schedule.

Suddenly a ski holiday sounds a lot less tiring to me…

Now that you know my favourite thing to do after a day on the slopes I’d love to hear what yours is!

See you next week.


Diamond Dust Facial: Yes they are a real thing!

Do you ever have a sudden and irresistible desire to do something that feels like a whole new level of opulence?

I spend so much time worrying about the future, being careful with my money and saving for the future that its impossible to really ‘live for the day’. It’s called being sensible I suppose and though I agree we do need to spend the majority of our time being a bit careful, I do think that in order to keep ourselves feeling alive, we must giver ourselves a treat every now and then.

A holiday is one such treat and arguably the greatest treat of them all.  But I’m not talking about that kind of treat today. I’d call a holiday a necessity, a lovely necessity, but necessary all the same. I for one would be miserable without them!

I’m talking about those times when the chance presents itself to go one step further. To do something that lets us hold up our heads and say: “Today, I lived. Big time!”

On one such day I drank a delicious shot of tequila that had gold flakes in it. That felt pretty amazing. I also remember being at a party where after finishing supper we didn’t wash up, we smashed the plates and moved on with our evening. What a thrill – I can see why that caught on in Greece!

On holiday not too long ago I bathed in goat’s milk and on another occasion, I slept on a bed covered – and I mean covered – in rose petals.

I thought I’d struggle to find something to top all of these but, oh no, dear reader, I’ve managed it!

Have you ever heard of a thing called a Diamond Dust facial? I had not. I had to read it several times to even believe there was such a thing!

This isn’t a fancy marketing ploy by the way, it is a purely factual name to describe what is on offer. And on offer (I’m going to have to repeat it because I’m still astonished) is a Diamond Dust facial.

Urso Hotel 15

Urso Hotel and Spa in Madrid has teamed up with Spanish skincare specialist Natura Bisse (winner of best luxury spa brand in 2012 and 2013 thanks very much) to offer treatments that combine the latest scientific innovation with unadulterated relaxation.

But most importantly they put diamond dust… on your face. The results my research tells me is incredible sparkling skin. As it should after a diamond treatment!

I’m going to Madrid and I’m going to get that facial so I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime I’d love to hear your tale of opulent holiday behaviour. When did you do something that gave you that naughty tingle that comes with such a treat?

Melissa. x


Northern Hemisphere Rules!

For those of you who follow rugby you’ll know it’s been a difficult time for those of us from the Northern Hemisphere.

I’ve never been much of a patriot and see myself more as a global citizen for want of a better phrase. People are after all people.

But last week I suddenly found myself becoming very hemisriotic. No that’s not a real word but I don’t know what the hemisphere equivalent of patriotic is!

The rugby world cup is drawing to a close and my hemisphere has not done well. England went out early after losing to Australia. I’m afraid the USA went out early too. But I know you Americans aren’t as into your rugby as we are!

The quarter finals were all Northern Hemisphere versus Southern and I had switched my support from England to Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France.

It didn’t go well. I am clearly not a lucky supporter. Ireland lost to Argentina, France lost to New Zealand, Scotland lost to Australia and Wales lost to South Africa.

So after a little totting up you’ll see that means Southern Hemisphere 4, Northern Hemisphere 0. I am sad.

I am trying to look on the bright side. So while I am forced to admit that my hemisphere is not as good at rugby as the Southern hemisphere, I think we have a lot more incredible places to stay!

I’ve picked four of my favourite hotels in the Northern Hemisphere that I think are as good as anything the Southern Hemisphere has!

Marrol's Hotel

Hotel Marrol’s in Bratislava, Slovakia.
This classic little townhouse is tucked away in a peaceful spot in the city’s historic quarter. It has a Roman-style spa, a Finnish sauna and a stunning summer terrace.

hotel la suite kobe harborland

Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland in Kobe, Japan.
There isn’t a better spot in this part of Japan. On the waterfront with views of a beautiful harbour is where you want your hotel to be. The rooms are seriously smart, there’s a women-only spa with mist sauna and water therapies (hooray for me) and of course a great Japanese restaurant.

Castle Hill Resort and Spa 3

Castle Hill Resort and Spa in Cavendish, Vermont, USA
This is a seriously smart mansion set in the seriously stunning mountains of Ludlow. The French-American (two wonderful Northern Hemisphere countries) food by Alphonsus Harris is delicious. And as a spa lover staying here is a must as it has the only full service spa in the whole of the Okema and Ludlow region.

Château de Bagnols - France

Chateau de Bagnols, Bagnols, France

This is a castle. Which we in this hemisphere do particularly well I think.
This is a medieval one with a 13th century drawbridge, a moat and the prettiest gardens I’ve seen in a long time.

Now I am well aware that there are some wonderful hotels in that other hemisphere and I’d love to hear from anyone whose favourites are there!

See you next week!

Melissa. x

Out of Office

In my office yesterday we had a spectacularly 21st Century debate. The Out of Office debate.

If you’re like me then that moment that you click the out of office on and switch off the computer before walking (skipping) out the door is one of the best parts of going on holiday.

However… do we really mean it? Are we out of the office in body and in spirit? Or will we be having a glance at our work phones as they inevitably buzz and flash?

If you’re like me then the chances are your body is out, your mind is semi out but not entirely. I do like to keep a sneaky eye on emails despite Henry’s repeated attempts to hide my phone from me.

Other people in my office are quite forcefully entirely out of the office. They really mean it. The computer goes off, the work phone goes off, and if anyone from the office wants to talk to them they’re going to need to get on a plane or send a pigeon.

I do admire these people. It is probably the healthier way to go and the general consensus these days is that a digital detox is a vital part of modern life. Although, as an aside, I am never ever happy if there is no wifi. Perhaps that’s because I’m addicted to my phone and an addict would say that wouldn’t they!

Apparently there are some companies that have made it mandatory that their staff don’t look at emails while on holiday. And their out of office message will say something like: ‘I’m out of the office until July 17. Emails received between now and then will be deleted and not read so please get in touch with me when I’m back’.

How cool is that?! Alas I won’t be writing that when I press the button later today. Although I’ll still be skipping out the door on my way to staying in a tree house for the first time since I was 13. It’s been a while!


At Keemala in Phuket they have seven tree houses, and for a few days I will be in residence. It’s not quite like my last stay in the tree. There’s far more luxury, far less of a draft and I don’t need to use a rope to climb in thankfully!

And the trees are a bit more impressive in this rainforest where the incredible-looking tree houses look like they are suspended from the canopy. No offence dad, your trees are lovely too.

I’m told it’s so peaceful in the resort, and particularly in my elevated position, that it’s hard to believe you can be in the middle of the lively Patong beach in minutes. I don’t think I’ll go to the beach though. Not with yoga, spa treatments and meditation on offer!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on ‘out of office’. And tree house memories are more than welcome too!

Melissa. X

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 194,837 other followers

%d bloggers like this: