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A faster horse and a menu? No thanks.

Choice is my chosen topic today. Are choices good or bad?

Every day I head out in search of something to eat at lunchtime and every day I have an internal debate about what to have. If I’m with someone it becomes external and lasts even longer.

Choice doesn’t end when a restaurant is selected either. If you’re like me and enjoy most things that can reasonably be placed in one’s mouth and swallowed then the terrible burden of choice multiplies when a menu arrives in one’s chosen eatery.

Zeavola's yummy skewers!

Zeavola’s yummy skewers!

“IT ALL LOOKS YUMMY” says the message my tummy to my brain.

“WHAT DO YOU FANCY?” says the message that goes back rather desperately hoping for some vague focus.

“EVERYTHING PLEASE.”

Not helpful.

So suddenly I’m sat with a menu the size of my torso, 50 possible meals and a waitress hovering over me desperate for me to eat and get out so that more people can come in.

I was whinging about this problem at lunch today which is why it’s on my mind. I didn’t have to worry about where to eat and what because as it happens I was eating with the general manager of one of SLH’s hotels. I find GMs of hotels always seem to know what they want, when they want it and what will happen if they don’t get it how they like it when they want it.

As I laid out my inability to choose he said something rather interesting. Choice is not always a luxury. Occasionally it’s a total pain in the you know what.

The logical argument is the more things you have to choose from the better because then you can have exactly what you want.

But he said: “If Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.” Henry apparently made this point himself back in the Model T days.

His argument was that often we don’t know what we want. And we don’t want to have to decide. Especially on holiday when often main aim is to use our brains less. A real luxury is to have a chef or waiter tell you the red snapper was caught half an hour ago and is delicious. Job done, I’ll have one of those.

Or if you don’t know what to do in a city you’ve never been to, don’t try to work it out. Just ask the concierge whose job it is to know what you might enjoy.

Relax. Stay somewhere small with knowledgeable personal service. And let them point you gently in the right directions. That’s luxury.

Chocolate Tort with Orange Syrup at Rockliffe Hall

Chocolate Tort with Orange Syrup at Rockliffe Hall

Who are you going to call?

Choosing a holiday is not simple. I know it sounds simple. Where shall I go and when shall I go there. Done. But don’t be fooled, there’s much more. And even these two seemingly innocent questions are a potential minefield of indecision. I’ve listened to people in my office spend several hours discussing just one of them. And not just once. Again and again and again until I reach a point where I want to scream.  What could possibly take this long and require this much procrastination?

Aquapura Douro Valley, Porto, Portugal

Aquapura Douro Valley in Douro Valley, Portugal

Holidays. And only holidays. People buy cars faster. People buy houses with less discussion. People name their children more efficiently. And why shouldn’t they take their time? This is one of life’s pure treats. And if it’s a let-down there’s nothing one can do. Time doesn’t give refunds. When the journey begins there are choices. Most people end up going online and looking around. The annoying thing is that one can look around forever. Literally. You could invent a pill that negates the need to sleep and then spend all day every day for 50 years just researching one holiday. But the bad news is there’s new information going up faster than you can read it. Not only that but most of the information is nonsense written by people who don’t know what they are talking about. And on the whole there’s no way of knowing if it was written by a bona fide travel genius who would be your best friend if you’d happened to have met them or a strange man living in a shed who’s never been on a train let alone a plane. I’ve been thinking about this problem recently because a girlfriend of mine was feeling a little lost. So lost that she actually cried at her laptop and then claimed she was finished with the internet and would never use it again. Ever. For anything. Once I explained that would mean no more Facebook she swiftly reversed her decision but begged me for help. Why do the hard work when you don’t have to? I said. When the car breaks down we don’t go online and try to work out how to fix it. When we need a new washing machine we don’t buy Which Washing Machine magazine (although it is a great read) and learn all about them I just ask an expert in a shop I trust. If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood who are you going to call? Yes, the Ghostbusters. You do not try to sort out the ghost problem yourself.

Hotel La Perouse

Hotel La Perouse in Nice, France

So why do people feel the need to trawl the internet looking for the perfect holiday when none of us are experts? I popped my friend on slh.com and in 20 minutes she had picked a hotel and booked. She clicked Hotel Experiences at the top. Then she chose a Beach Resorts experience. After that it was continent time and she knew she wanted short haul so Europe. And then she chose to look at the map. A map of all the beach hotels appeared and from there it took seconds. She didn’t have to scan the small print to find out how far the hotel was from the beach or worry that a ‘sea view room’ might only be a sea view room if you tape some binoculars to your face and do a handstand on the balcony railings. She just knew. Simple

A bridge, my back and a hotel up north

I don’t know if this is true but I heard somewhere that the Golden Gate Bridge is always being painted. They start at one end and by the time they reach the other it’s time to scoot back round to the other side and start again.

My back is the Golden Gate Bridge.

Not that I have it painted of course, that would be weird. But replace the paintbrush with a masseuse’s hands and the metaphor is complete.

I feel like I need to be massaged all the time. If Henry is there and willing I get him to squeeze and prod my shoulders and neck until he gets bored. And then for quite some time after he gets bored if I can get away with it. If he gets early onset arthritis in his hands it will be entirely my fault.

This can be anywhere by the way. I made him do it on the tube last night because after a day at my desk my shoulders had almost seized up. While I made odd noises in front of a carriage full of strangers he used his free hand to read the paper.

Sadly I have more things to achieve day to day than the Golden Gate Bridge and create less tourism income for the local area so it’s impossible for me to just stay still indefinitely while constant massages take place. If only my sole purpose was to link one place to another. I’d be laughing.

As it is my massages and spa treatments come sporadically so when I’m at a hotel I want to know that at some stage someone is going to attack my back like it’s a piece of dough in serious need of some heavy-duty kneading.

Which is why I was smiling as I read about where I’m staying for the weekend later this summer when I head ‘Up North’ as we London-dwelling English men and women call anywhere north of the capital.

HUMMERH_38836936_Rockliffe_Hall's_18th_Century_Old_Hall_in_Summer_4036x4134

Rockliffe Hall in Darlington, United Kingdom

Rockliffe Hall, an 18th Century country house close to the North Yorkshire Moors. Wonderful.

It has the largest golf course in the UK. But I don’t care.

It has elaborate crystal chandeliers, chenille and velvet fabrics in rich browns and reds AND televisions in the bathrooms. But I don’t care.

Alright I do care a bit. As you know as I once wrote an entire post about how much I love television baths.

But the amount I care in comparison to what I read when I reached the spa section of the website is roughly the amount a hungry Labrador cares about chasing a ball when someone has just dropped a large steak on the floor right by their nose.

Sure I want to play with the ball at some stage but for now I’m entirely, single-mindedly pre-occupied.

The list of things I can do in the 50,000 square foot spa is so extensive I had to look up some of the words in the dictionary. It’s possible, just possible, that I might leave this place feeling like my Golden Gate Bridge has been painted so well it won’t need a touch up for months.

Aromatherapy, body scrub, caldarium, deep tissue massage, hamman, hydrotherapy, Indian head massage, jet shower, kundalini, lymphatic drainage massage, rasul bath, reflexology, salt glow, sauna…

I’m going to stop there before I fall into a happiness induced coma. I feel relaxed simply reading the list. By the time I walk out of there having been covered in mud, salt, warm water, cold water, hot water been stroked and scrubbed and massaged all over I probably will have achieved nirvana and be able to float around rather than go through the bother of putting one foot in front of the other. And more importantly perhaps poor Henry will be able to enjoy our train journeys from now on rather than be forced to massage my neck every time.

Wear white and play tennis – is what to do.

The Bannister Hotel Tennis Court

The Bannister Hotel in Samana, Dominican Republic

I’ve been thinking about wearing white a lot this week.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another wedding post! It’s about tennis in fact.

I’m probably biased as I am a Londoner and was born in Wimbledon but as far as I’m concerned there is no tennis tournament to rival it. And part of the reason I think that is the dress code. While the rackets get cleverer, the players get better, the courts get snazzier and the technology gets more impressive the clothes stay the same colour. Put an Instagram filter on your photos and the players could be from anywhere.

It’s not complicated. It’s just white.

In many ways it must actually make it easier for the players. I remember when I started sixth form at school and suddenly we didn’t have to wear uniform any more.

My initial thought was HOORAY!

But after a week, having to think about what to wear every day was exhausting and time consuming. I longed for the tartan skirt and white blouse that we all wore every day. I actually often think it would be nice to have a work uniform to save me the bother of emptying my wardrobe every day searching for something to wear.

Stoke Park Tennis

Stoke Park in Stoke Poges, United Kingdom

I wonder if the players think the same way. Perhaps at other tournaments they walk out onto court wearing a pink and blue striped dress only to discover their opponent it wearing the same one.

Or maybe the night before (while they should be focusing on their game plan) they have to spend time going through their outfit choices and wondering if their chosen attire will clash with the green grass.
Probably not but it’s an amusing thought!

I always wear white when I play even if I’m on a dodgy concrete court with a broken net. It makes me feel a bit more excited about having a knock about.

With it being Wimbledon fortnight I will obviously become obsessed with tennis once again as I did last year if you remember. This obsession usually lasts about three months right up until the moment it gets cold and the lure of indoors defeats any outdoor activity.

So I’m looking for somewhere wonderful to play at the moment. Somewhere sunny, beautiful, with great courts and a great spot to have a drink afterwards.

Rather than do all the hard work myself I asked the lovely folk at SLH for recommendations and here are their top five picks for great tennis courts.

Villa Orselina, Switzerland 

Villa Padierna, Spain

Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola Au Lac, Switzerland  

Stoke Park, UK

The Bannister Hotel, Dominican Republic

 

Where to get married?

It’s been at least five minutes since I last talked about getting married. It’s probably time I updated you.

Since the oh so romantic Caribbean proposal a few weeks ago I’ve barely thought about it. I’ve just done some light research and read a couple of magazines. Is what I’m telling Henry.

In actual fact if you were to walk into my office now you’d see a room that looks like a confetti bomb has recently detonated.

There are pictures from magazines covering half the walls and the rest decorated with printed out photographs of dresses, flowers, cakes, table cloths, glasses, cutlery… and so on. I even have some photos of complete strangers haircuts who no doubt thought I was mad when I stopped them in the street. I’ve had to ban Henry from coming in here because if he saw it I’m not convinced he wouldn’t leave me.

There is a big hole though. A gaping chasm of wall space with nothing but a question mark and one word: ‘where?’

This is a quandary more and more couples are having these days as the lure of an overseas celebration in a spectacular setting tempts them. Not least because weddings in the UK are very expensive. My dad is firmly in the overseas wedding camp almost certainly because he has to pick up the tab. We have tried to offer to pay but he won’t listen!

My mum wants it to be in the UK as she doesn’t trust airlines to not lose my dress.

And Henry doesn’t seem to mind. If he does he’s keeping it to himself and that’s probably wise.

I was leaning towards Italy. That was until I popped into South Lodge Hotel on the edge of the South Downs. I think Brits too often think we need to go abroad to find the most beautiful places. This hotel proves otherwise. As I walked through the acres of parklands and woods and sat drinking Pimms in front of a glorious countryside view I could picture myself getting married there.

South Lodge Hotel

South Lodge Hotel in Horsham, West Sussex, United Kingdom

With formal lawns, incredible displays of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias and croquet (my favourite game) this place is heavenly.

So as soon as I’ve finished writing this post I’ll be printing out the photo above and pinning it inside the big empty ‘where’ space on my cork board.

It’s not definite but it’s going to take some serious beating.

I’ll let you know where we end up choosing. For now I’ve got some Pinterest pinning to do!

Plenty of fish in the sea – terrifying isn’t it

If there’s one thing I haven’t done that fills me with regret it’s scuba diving.

So many people have, it’s not particularly brave and really I should just do it.

But I’m scared.

It’s strange that I’m scared. Because I’m not usually. I don’t mind snakes, I am happy to pick up spiders, and I will jump off high things without making a fuss.

But there’s something about going deep underwater and not knowing what I’m going to see or what’s behind me that fills me with fear.

But as JFK famously said (although not in the context of scuba diving) we have nothing to fear but fear itself. And sharks of course. Oh and jelly fish. And ones oxygen tank blowing up. And ‘the bends’ if you come up too fast. Other than that though it’s just fear.

So I’ve decided to jump in and try to conquer scuba diving.

The big question for me was where? I wanted it to be beautiful obviously, sunny with warm water so I don’t get cold and a sea full of interesting things that don’t want to eat me.

My other factor was making sure I did it in a proper place with excellent instructors and pristine equipment.

So I have chosen. Spice Island Beach Resort in St Georges, Grenada.

Grenada is perhaps not as well known as it should be for scuba but those in the know will tell you to go.

The hotel is set in eight acres of tropical gardens, it’s on the beach and the food is delicious with international cuisine and Creole both on offer.

Spice Island Beach Resort 2

Spice Island Beach Resort in St Georges, Grenada

Plus the spa, Janissa’s, has recently been redesigned by arguably America’s top architect and interior designer Kobi Karp.

Most importantly for this particular trip though is the PADI-certified diving centre which is full of very experienced instructors who are as happy with terrified beginners like me as they are with experts.

Hopefully they won’t mind me clinging on to them too much.

Some might say it’s silly to do what scares me but I think we should all try to stop fear from ruining our fun.

I’d love to hear from any of you who did something that scared them and loved it.

For now I’m just going to watch some YouTube clips of friendly looking sea animals like turtles and Nemo.

Melissa and Henry are going to Ireland

One could argue that I haven’t used my evening wisely tonight. What I was supposed to be doing was getting excited about the engagement present (yes I’m getting married) Henry’s parents arranged for us. A rather lovely weekend away at Brooks Hotel in Dublin, Ireland.

And actually in a way I have been getting excited. Just not in the most productive way.

Brooks Hotel Front

Brooks Hotel in Dublin, Ireland

Instead of reading all about it and looking at the photos I’ve been trying to turn my name and Henry’s name into one all-encompassing name.

Why? WHY? Yes very good question. Well it’s because of two Americans called Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. Or as they are now known, Kimye.

Kimye. It’s wonderful isn’t it.

Turning two people’s names into one has been popular for a while now. Brangelina may have started it all, I can’t remember.

Anyway. Kimye are in Ireland for their honeymoon apparently and so I thought it apt that Henry and I have our singular name sorted in time for the trip.

The trouble is that Henry and Melissa don’t really go together. Hensa? Melenry? Menry? They all sound like unpleasant tropical diseases to me.

It turns out, after many many hours of trying, it just isn’t meant to be. So for now it’ll just be Melissa and Henry are going to Ireland.

HUDUBBH_26067881_Lobby_View_1417x945

Brooks Hotel in Dublin, Ireland

His parents chose very well too. The Brooks Hotel is lovely. No surprises there. But more importantly it knows what it’s there for. Which may sound a little silly but I’ll try to explain.

Some hotels think that they are the centre of the universe, that inside their walls is where everything important and wonderful happens. In thinking this they make the disastrous mistake of forgetting why people travel. Why the kind of people who book SLH hotels travel.

The hotel must be lovely of course and have a great restaurant, nice rooms and all the rest of it. But the lion’s share of the holiday, especially in a city as swimming in history, culture and fun as Dublin, takes place outside the walls.

Brooks Hotel has the food, drink and facilities to keep you perfectly safe and content for weeks on end but instead they want you to explore. To head to nearby spots like Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street, National Art Gallery, Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol Museum, Botanic Gardens, Dublin Castle, golf, tennis, horse riding, theatres, antiques, boutiques… I could go on but I won’t. I think you get my point.

I know from speaking to friends who have been there and met the concierges and asked for tips that there’s nothing the staff like more than for holidaymakers to get a good look at their home town of Dublin and come back exhausted and ready to be pampered.

So that’s what exactly what Hissa (last try – didn’t work did it) is going to do. And I’ll tell you all about it another day. See you next week.

Can a Hotel be too Pretty?

Sometimes the hardest part of writing a blog post is choosing the photos.

Take Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel in Ibiza for example. When you have a moment take a look at their photos and then imagine you can only pick two.

Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel 10

Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel in Ibiza, Spain

It’s impossible. As hard as picking a wedding dress or wedding cake or wedding flowers or…

Sorry, I am determined to not just talk about my wedding for the next year. I got engaged if you haven’t heard. You probably have heard as I shouted it from the rooftops last week!

Anyway back to Ibiza and these hotel photos. It’s amazing how often hotels take bad photos of themselves but in this case I think a blindfolded drunk alien who has never used a camera before and hasn’t slept for a week could get some good ones. It’s that pretty.

Because it’s set high on a cliff top. It’s surrounded by pinewoods. Everywhere you look is blue sea and bluer sky. It’s in a nature reserve. And just to ensure my photographic selection experience is a total nightmare they decided to build a cascading seawater pool. If you thought infinity pools were as good as it gets think again.

Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel 6

Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel in Ibiza, Spain

On top of this there’s a spa that looks like it was designed by angels and four restaurants where you won’t know whether to stare at the view or the food.

If you decide to go I’d actually recommend not taking a camera. You’ll never stop clicking.

And if you don’t stop you won’t be able to pop to nearby Formentera or explore the many secret coves of Ibiza. Or go on a yacht, or snorkel or see the old town or even be able to book in for a spa treatment by the sunset terrace overlooking the cliffs. And not doing these things would be criminal.

There’s something else I liked while reading about this place too. It’s the dress code. There isn’t one.

Personally I can’t get on board with dress codes. It makes me think of stuffy cruise ships from last century. We all know how to dress ourselves and nobody wants to feel uncomfortable by being stuck wearing something that is too tight or too fussy when there’s wine, food, views and warm weather to enjoy.

You’ll see I chose a couple of photos in the end. Let me know which ones you would have picked.

See you next week.

Ps I’M GETTING MARRIED!

I’M GETTING MARRIED!!!

Phew. Keeping that in has been exhausting.

Finally I can talk about it. And talk about it. And then maybe talk about it some more. So you sit there and listen while I talk about me and the ring that now resides on that most special of fingers.It’s Henry who asked by the way. Not a random stranger.

We were in Barbados (staying at the oh so lovely Coral Reef Club by the way) and if I’m honest I suspected Henry might be planning something.

Usually he sits back and lets me plan all the travel as I’m a little obsessive about it but this time he insisted on sorting everything out. Strange, thought I.

We arrived and I started looking around for the perfect place for him to propose so that I might lead us there subtly.

It turns out at this hotel it’s impossible to find a spot not suitable for the most important of questions. It’s wall to wall pretty and with the sea and beach dominating the eye line one has an incredible view at all times.

Coral Reef Club 6

Despite this fact Henry seemed interested in everything but getting on one knee. He was having the time of his life. Entirely out of character he even sang at Karaoke (sorry Lionel, he murdered All Night Long).

He proved a hit with our fellow guests though and we were soon chatting to a couple who despite having been married for 7 years decided to tell us their proposal story for half an hour.

It was very romantic to be fair to them and I hoped it might give Henry a nudge but he just listened intently, had a drink and then we carried on with our day. Our third day. Yes three days gone and nothing. So I gave up and decided to just enjoy myself. I couldn’t find a ring when I went through his suitcase anyway…

The next day we had our evening meal on the beach. Romantic, obviously, but as I said, everything was romantic and I had forgotten about being a bride.

So I didn’t think anything of it when Henry ordered fruit for pudding other than ‘that’s odd, Henry never has fruit for pudding’.

He then changed his mind and disappeared off to tell them so with me tutting as he went.

Upon his return he said pudding would be a while so suggested a beach walk. Lordy knows what he could order that would take so long but I like a walk so didn’t argue.

I was wearing heels (perfect beach footwear) and so looked very ladylike as I hobbled alongside the Caribbean sea.

Eventually my brain engaged itself and realised my walk would be more pleasant if I didn’t fall over every couple of seconds and I took them off, leaning on Henry as I did it.

And when I looked up again he was holding a ring.

“I’ve got a question to ask you but I’m going to need your left hand,” he said.

Thinking about it I don’t think he actually asked me the question. But I squealed and gasped and jumped up and down and hugged him anyway.

I also swore a lot. More than usual. Wasn’t expecting that but Henry didn’t seem to mind.

Gentlemen readers – if you’re thinking about asking someone for their hand in marriage I can thoroughly recommend Coral Reef Club.

By the time we were back at the table, once I’d stop crying and dancing, there was Champagne ready (fruitgate was in fact a Champagne ruse).

Coral Reef Club 15

Coral Reef Club in St James, Barbados

The hotel staff had been pleasant enough before this but now we were celebrities.

So. I am getting married. I still can’t believe it even when I write it down but it’s true no matter how many times I pinch myself.

And I really couldn’t be happier.

I promise to try to talk about something else next week…

To Blog or not to Blog? Blog, Obviously.

Blogging isn’t easy. Before I started writing this one I used to read a few and enjoyed them. But it never occurred to me how much is involved. From the technical side right through to the actual writing bit..

I talk a lot and like to think I have something to say about lots of topics. But somehow when it comes to writing things down every week the mind occasionally goes blank. And then that moment when you post is nerve-wracking. With 118,568 of you following this blog as of this morning I’m always nervous about whether or not you’ll like what I’ve written.

I’m lucky of course as I focus on travel and SLH has shed loads of hotels in more than 70 countries so I’m not short of material. But still occasionally I sit here at my screen tapping and tutting as I wait for inspiration to hit.

It’s probably cheating but every so often I start reading other blogs to look for that inspiration.
And this week I found it in spades thanks to Hotel Le Bellechasse in Paris and its eclectic and enjoyable blog posts.

As regular readers will know I’m a big Paris fan (except for the catacombs bit) so I’m often pootling around the internet looking for the next place I might like Henry to take me to.

Le Bellechasse Hotel

Le Bellechasse Hotel in Paris, France

With this hotel I killed two birds with one stone. I found a beautiful fashion-inspired hotel (designed by couturier, Christian Lacroix thanks very much) to stay at when I next head across the Channel.

It’s in the heart of the left bank so close to the Orsay Museum and sounds like somewhere I could easily become so distracted that I’d forget to go out.

This quote from their site will whet your appetite: “Playing with a palette of ambiences and influences, perpetuating a skillful balance between audacity and tradition, Christian Lacroix created 7 universes of diversity throughout the rooms.”

I can’t tell you what all that means but it’s exciting and I want to go check out these universes.

Le Bellechasse Hotel 2

Le Bellechasse Hotel in Paris, France

And the second bird was finding a blog I really enjoyed. With such an interesting hotel that sees itself as far more than a place to stay there’s real variety in the posts. Reading it in turn inspired me to raise an e-glass to all bloggers for the hard work they do to provide the rest of us with lots of interesting stuff to read and photos to look at. And all for the price of free Wi-Fi.

So thank you bloggers. Keep it coming.

And I’ll see you all next week when I’ll be sharing some rather exciting news too, that I wish I could tell you now but I’m not allowed to yet!

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