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Four weddings and another wedding

I probably shouldn’t say this because I am in the midst of planning my own wedding but I am suffering with a little wedding fatigue.

I never dreamt I’d write these words as I have always been an enormous fan of this most special of occasions but this weekend will be the fourth wedding weekend of five in a row.

Before I go on saying mean things I should caveat all of what I’m going to say with how much I appreciated being invited, how much I actually enjoy most of a wedding, and that I’d be sad if I wasn’t going to them.

That said I’ll get on to the problem. Which actually isn’t the wedding itself. It’s the before and after. Usually in England people have their weddings somewhere beautiful. An old country house or stately home for example. These all tend to be in the middle of nowhere which is why they are beautiful and not surrounded by roundabouts and fried chicken shops.

Of course once you get there it’s great. A beautiful, tearful service, everyone strolling around with Champagne in hand, bedecked in morning suits and hats, and, of course, two particularly happy people. I cry every time.

You have to get there though. Then you have to check in to the B&B you’re staying at which is always the worst one in the area (and not that close by) because inevitably I’ve not booked till the last minute. Then having squeezed into the dress of choice for the day I head to the wedding, have a little too much to drink, struggle to find a taxi and wake up with a headache. Then I drive home feeling under the weather.

By the time I get home it’s Sunday night and work is looming. A tiring cycle of long drives, uncomfortable beds and rubbish breakfasts that becomes particularly tiring if one has five in a row!

In order to make sure I enjoy weddings more next year I’ve decided to select the five friends I think are most likely to get married in 2016 and send them a list of SLH’s Country House Hotels.

Domaine Des Etangs Wedding

The list includes beautiful country house hotels all perfect for different sized wedding parties. They all have rooms and I’m going to insist they save me one of the rooms on site because the hotel was my suggestion. I’m a genius. Fingers crossed a couple of them decide to head overseas… that would really reinvigorate my love of weddings!

Well it’s Friday so I suppose I’d better find somewhere to stay tomorrow night for the wedding… wish me luck!

Melissa. x

Fancy going undercover to review hotels?

Sometimes people ask me if it’s difficult to review a hotel. I always come up with the same helpful answer. Yes… And no.

Is it a hardship to go to a beautiful hotel, sleep on incredible beds, eat stunning food, explore a new city, have drinks on picture-perfect terraces, or chat to genuinely lovely staff? No, not in the slightest. We can all enjoy doing those things.

But it can be difficult especially when the hotel has room for improvement or you’re trying to put an amazing hotel into unbiased perspective.

It’s not easy to have a great time, laugh with staff and then go away and objectively point out flaws alongside the positives. And it’s not easy to look at a hotel, consider it in the context of other hotels and make a judgement call about what this brilliant hotel has over another and vice versa.

I am as guilty as anyone of having a wonderful time, gushing about where I’ve stayed and then forgetting to offer objective advice to people who want guidance. But people need it. They need thoughtful honesty and impartiality from a variety of people. As do the hotels themselves. How to improve if nobody ever criticises?

Suddenly I’ve crushed the “woohoo free holiday” vibe associated with travel writing… Sorry.

Let’s build it back up again. My blog hosts SLH have just launched the most exciting search in the history of amateur travel writing which will see 25 people become hotel inspectors. Or as they’ve rather more wonderfully dubbed them ‘secret agents’.


I love this quote from the press release: “Mystery Inspectors are in tune with the brand and look at the experience as a whole, from start to finish, as a guest. This includes everything from drinks by the pool and a signature spa treatment to borrowing a kayak or enjoying a Michelin-starred meal.”

Drinks by the pool or a spa treatment… what a tough life the lucky 25 are going to have!

The key word there though is guest. Who better to tell guests what they should expect from their hotel than another guest?

I’m a big fan of the idea of a community being put in charge of its own quality control. It shows a confidence and willingness to be judged that only the best independent hotels would be happy to agree to.

So bravo all 520 of them! Bravo to SLH! And bravo to the 25 lucky people who get picked for these incredible secret agent positions!

Good luck everyone who enters!

Melissa. x



The magic of a folding bicycle

When I go to a city or town for the first time my priority is always to explore immediately. I like to get my bearings.

The options are plentiful. Walking, driving, mopeds, taxis, buses, trams, trains… you get the drift.

I’ve tried them all but none have come close to my favourite of all the methods of transport – the humble bicycle.

Or not so humble bicycle in the case of my latest two wheel exploration. As I approached the SLH branded Brompton at No 11 Cadogan Gardens it was clear this was no Penny Farthing.


There it was sat in the Wimbledon-themed terrace (Pimms on the table, tennis on the television, Astroturf on the floor) looking like a Transformer in sleep mode.

I’ll be totally honest here and say the Transformers films have always scared me a little bit. And if I continue to be totally honest the Brompton scared me a little bit too.

The folding bike daunted me for two reasons. Firstly it looks a little complicated and to give you an idea of my mechanical abilities I struggle with my niece’s Lego kits (she’s 6).

Secondly, I knew that if by some miracle I managed to fold this beautiful little contraption into something resembling a bike I was then going to have to sit on it and pray I’d done everything right. Which wouldn’t make for a particularly relaxing ride.

Like every great concierge, Richie at No 11 Cadogan Gardens read my mind, spotted my hesitation and promptly constructed the bike for me. It took him about 30 seconds.

I managed to get my own helmet on and then set off around one of the most beautiful parts of London. The Kings Road, Fulham Road, Chelsea, Embankment, Sloane Square came and went in a jiffy. Feeling very snazzy indeed on this limited edition bike (you can only get them at this hotel and one other SLH hotel The Dylan in Amsterdam) I couldn’t stop. Soon I had circled Parliament Square, crossed Westminster Bridge and whizzed past the London Eye on the South Bank. Then Waterloo Bridge over to the Strand and Trafalgar Square, a quick stop at Buckingham Palace to watch a few tourists, and then back to No 11 again. All this in 45 minutes and I’m no Bradley Wiggins.


Hotels like No 11 Cadogan Gardens that are small and located in the best parts of town are a dream for people like me. I live in London but never really treat it like a tourist. It was a wonderful treat to be able to. And even better for those who are genuine tourists (and probably better able to fold the bike up themselves) this Brompton becomes hand luggage in seconds meaning any time you want to stop, pop into a café or museum and have a look… in you go.

In short it’s genius. Bravo SLH, bravo No 11 Cadogan Gardens and bravo Brompton.

Melissa. x

Here comes the sun… run away!

I am writing to you today from a park bench. It’s a beautiful bench in a beautiful park – Hyde Park in London.

The temperature is apparently 28 degrees celsius according to my phone. For those of you who prefer Fahrenheit that’s somewhere in the mid to high 80s. Tomorrow it’s going to be even hotter as we bathe in a UK heat wave. Hip hip, hooray.

Absolutely glorious… or is it?

Just as I took out my laptop a man with a dog in tow sat down, mopped his brow and let out a loud sigh. The dog did similar, panting away under the bench.

“It’s too hot,” he said to nobody in particular. Since there was nobody else around I acted as if he were talking to me.

“It’s a scorcher isn’t it! I love it.”

He didn’t look too impressed but we chatted and essentially the relevant conclusion was that he and his dog did not like the heat one little bit.

In the UK this chap and Gordon his cocker spaniel (somehow I got his dog’s name but not his) usually get their preferred weather but a really hot couple of months each year is not unheard of. So he goes on holiday to colder places would you believe.

As someone who chases the sun as often as possible this concept of running away from it was a little alien. But it got me thinking. What if I were trying to escape the sunshine and head somewhere cooler? Where would I go?

Here are my choices below. I’d love to hear from anyone who deliberately runs from the sun for their holidays. Let me know where you go.

Cromlix 4

Cromlix and Chez Roux in Dunblane, Scotland
As much as the rest of the world jokes about the English weather the English joke about the Scottish weather. The good thing about Scotland is that it’s as beautiful in the rain as it is in the sun. And heading 600 miles due north means it’ll be a few degrees cooler than here. As Andy Murray slogs it out in the heat at Wimbledon, I’ll head to his hotel which sits on a 34 acre estate (so Gordon would love it). He’ll probably head up there too, after his time in the Championship for a bit of relaxation!

Grande Roche Hotel 2

Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl, South Africa
When one hemisphere is hot, the other is cold. So heading south is the best way to guarantee some cooler weather. It’s 16 degrees Celsius in South Africa today which is a temperature we can all be happy with. This hotel has suites among the vineyards, a working fruit farm, fine dining from Michelin-trained Executive chef Roland Gorgosilich and an award-winning wine list. What a spot to sit outside with a glass of wine and a cardigan over your shoulder!

Blanket Bay 4

Blanket Bay in Queenstown, New Zealand
If you’re serious about escaping the heat then snow is surely the answer. Queenstown is arguably the best spot on earth for adventures on the white stuff. This secluded lodge made of New Zealand stone and timber and the surrounding Southern Alps are beautiful all year round. And here you get a private balcony to sit on with a hot chocolate to enjoy the views of the mountains and Lake Wakatipu.

Melissa x

The best places to do almost nothing

Do you ever hope it’s going to rain so you can stay in bed all day? Or at least park your bum on the sofa for eight hours of avid box set viewing?

I do. Not very often I should say, but a few Saturday nights ago I did a little rain dance before bed in the hope that Sunday could truly be a day of nothing.

It was sunny though, my dance failed. My guilt-free day of doing nothing was taken from me.

Occasionally I like my holidays to be guilt-free activity vacuums too. I’ve never prayed for rain on holiday of course but I have deliberately sought out places to stay where doing anything other than a triangle from bed to sun lounger to restaurant to bed again would be madness.

Regular readers will know I adore city breaks and that I’m not afraid of a hectic schedule (take my longest day of the year plans last Sunday for example). But isn’t it nice sometimes when the most one can even hope to achieve is reading a pile of books, snoozing and paddling a little.

With doing very little in mind I’ve picked out three of the best places I can think of to give your body and mind a rest to beat all rests.


Bloomfield Lodge – Beautifully Remote in Cairns, Australia

On one side the longest unspoiled stretch of rainforest in the country, on the other the Great Barrier Reef. To get here you need a privately chartered plane, a four wheel drive through the outback and a river boat. This all sounds a bit exhausting so don’t worry your timber cabin is remote enough to laze by the pool to the call of kookaburras for days on end. And perhaps go snorkelling at a stretch!

Vahine Island

Vahine Island on Vahine Island Tahaa, French Polynesia

When it comes to doing very little indeed a remote Polynesian hideaway on a private island with just nine bungalows is ticking a lot of the relevant boxes. Double ticking them in fact. I’d probably go for an overwater bungalow so that I can pretty much fall out of bed into the blue lagoon. Although beachfront bungalows have their own hammocks… hmm. Tough decision.

Pangulasian Island Resort 7

Pangulasian Island Resort in El Nido, Philippines

Nothing says idle holiday like ‘canopy villa perched on stilts above the forest’. Why would you move if there’s a forest canopy to enjoy. Actually you might move around a little bit here. Perhaps to the 750-metre white powder beach, the infinity pool, the poolside grill or the library for a new book. Stressful or what…

I’d love to hear where would you go if you wanted a few days of doing very little indeed?

Melissa. x

What to do with the longest day of the year?

I hate to exclude people from things but today, southern hemisphere, this isn’t for you. Sorry.
Northern hemisphere, hello, how are you, how lovely to see you, are you excited about the summer solstice? I am and I have big plans.

The longest day of the year is almost upon us and I for one intend on using every minute of it. Every moment of the 16 hours, 38 minutes and 17 seconds available in fact.

I’ll be in England this weekend and my plan is to wake up before the sun rises and be at the front door ready to go at 4.43am when it peeks over the horizon. My mission is to be back home before the sun sets at 9.22pm. Henry is coming with me although I had to bribe him with a sports massage.

Alexander House Hotel & utopia Spa 3

So… out the door at 4.43am and on our bikes at 4.44am. We’re cycling to Waterloo Station to jump on a train to Crawley for an hour. Then a short ride to Alexander House Hotel & Utopia Spa in the nearby Sussex countryside for a quick breakfast, sports massage for Henry and a classic Swedish massage for me.

After filling our stomachs, and placating Henry, it’s back on the bikes for a 45 minute ride to Gatwick Airport for the short flight to Guernsey (don’t worry about the bikes, they’re Bromptons, so fold into a bag nice and easy). By my calculations we’ll be there in time for a late lunch at the restored 12th century manor Bella Luce Hotel, Restaurant and Spa. We’ll be eating at the award winning Courtyard restaurant before retiring upstairs to their Garden View room for a well earned snooze. We’ll have plenty of time for a glass of wine before making our way to the airport for the hour flight back to London. With a bit of luck we’ll be back inside our flat before the clock strikes 9.23pm. Phew. Now that is making full use of daylight hours I’m sure you’ll agree!

I admit it’s a pretty full on schedule. Not everyone is going to want to cram in quite so much so here are a couple of slightly more serene suggestions for you.

1. Find all the Davids in Florence.

Florence Duomo

Many make the mistake of thinking the real David is in the Piazza Signoria and many who know the real one is in the Galleria Dell’ Accademia make the mistake of being content with just seeing that one. Florence is littered with Davids and finding them all could fill the longest of days (it’s actually 15 hours and 27 minutes of daylight in Florence). You will need to eat of course and with three SLH hotels in central Florence; Hotel Lungarno, Hotel Regency and J.K. Place Firenze, you can tick off breakfast, lunch and supper in three sensational settings. Just make sure you’re at the top of the Duomo as the sun sets.

2. Drive the California Coast.

According to Google maps it’ll take you 6 hours and 21 minutes to drive from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. Which leaves plenty of the 15 hours and 6 minutes of daylight on offer in California, to play with. I’d recommend a Segway around Santa Barbara and plenty of dips in the sea. You can top and tail the day with stays at Southbridge Napa Valley to enjoy some wine and the Art Deco masterpiece Shangri-La Hotel in LA.

Henry’s idea, by the way, was to stay in bed till midday and then have a very, very long lunch in a pub garden. Perhaps he’s right. Does that sound more appealing to you? How do you plan to spend the summer solstice?

Melissa. x

Sailing in a Skyscraper

Velassaru snorkelling

It’s rare that I go away and really don’t enjoy myself. But recently I was on holiday and reached a point where I couldn’t help but ponder the merits of dark empty rooms and drying paint.

It happened on the high seas. I had the wind in my hair, a cocktail in my hand and a view to the horizon in every direction. Oh how lovely, you’re thinking. But then I was asked to move because someone wanted to play shuffleboard.

I shuffled off deck nine and headed for the pool. The pool was full. So I wandered around a bit then went to my room and changed for supper. Then I changed for supper again when I checked the dress code and saw I wasn’t in the appropriate attire.

The next day we hit land, not literally, and I excitedly joined the queue to get off. By the time I reached the front of the queue, boarded a tender, got off at the shore and found the appropriate coach for my chosen activity the excitement had abated a little. And what was left of that excitement was trampled, set fire to and then trampled again when I was reminded to be back on board by 5pm.

Some people call this sailing. It isn’t. It is to sailing what driving a lorry along the motorway is to Nascar.

Sailing does not take place in the same place as shuffleboard, bingo, musical theatre renditions or dress codes. Or in the company of enough people to fill a medium-sized stadium. Sailing is a sport, a hobby, an adventure and a joy whereas what I was doing was floating around in a skyscraper eating and waiting to get off and on again.

I shouldn’t be mean about cruises really. I went with my Aunt and Uncle who love it, as do millions of other perfectly sane and pleasant people. But for me it’s like going to a famous ocean-side fresh fish restaurant and ordering a fish finger sandwich.

I want to be with a few friends, hoist a sail, feel the spray, anchor in random bays and dive off the side into an empty ocean.

Lucky for us, SLH has hundreds of hotels with private jetties, fully chartered yachts and sailing boats to fulfil all of your sailing needs.

Petit St Vincent 4

For my upcoming summer trip I’m going to take said aunt and uncle to the beautiful Caribbean island of St Vincent and The Grenadines where we’ll stay at Petit St. Vincent.

The plan is to charter their private yacht and head further afield to discover the nearby islands, bays and reefs.

Legend has it that the skipper has spent so much time on water he actually has to find his land legs!

Now that’s my idea of sailing! I’d love to hear yours…

Wonderful windows

I live in a new build flat. It’s perfectly nice and there are plenty of advantages.

Practical advantages like cheaper bills, things don’t break, modern fixtures and fittings… all far too boring to ever contemplate telling anyone about. So I apologise for telling you.

However clever and nice a new building is, it can’t compete with old ones. Especially when it comes to windows. I don’t know what has happened to windows but most of the new one’s I’ve seen are very dull and functional.

Yes you can see through them so that’s fine but they don’t wow me any more. Efficiency has taken over from grandeur.

Big tall old fashioned windows are a work of art in themselves. And since a major role for windows is to frame the outside world I feel that the frame needs to be as impressive as the view it surrounds.


Anyone building something new should be forced to visit the newly opened Pousada de Lisboa hotel in Lisbon. This former stately building is packed with preserved period features like chandeliers, vaulted ceilings and, yes you guessed it, grand windows giving far-reaching city views.

If you haven’t been to Lisbon you should pop it on your to do list. It’s a city-sized work of art and as such deserves a spectacular frame like those this hotel provides.

Now would be a good time to go actually as for the month of June Festas de Lisboa is taking place with street entertainment, festivals, cinema, music, theatre, parades, folk festivals… I could go on.
But don’t worry if this month is a little soon for you. There is no bad time of year to go to Lisbon and no bad time of year to enjoy this stunning old building that’s been spruced up for 21st century guests.

If you’re like me and prefer to move around a bit and try different hotels the good news is that there are many options with very fine windows.

Internacional Design Hotel Bastardo

How does Internacional Design Hotel sound? This is about as modern and trendy as hotels get with touches like graffiti art, bright orange bathrooms and zebra murals. And yet you’ll notice the cutting edge interior designer has gone for some classic-looking windows that let the view do the talking.

And how about a former aristocratic family palace with views of the river Tagus sound? Quite pleasant? I think so. The Hotel da Estrela is also just 500 metres from the Basilica in a tranquil part of the city, but don’t worry everything you’ll want is within easy reach.

I’ve just had a look out my window and I feel nothing, no excitement at all. Excuse me while I book a plane ticket to Portugal.

Heaven is a place in Thailand

For many years I haven’t really gone to the cinema in the summer. If it’s nice outside it feels ridiculous to lock yourself away in a dark room for a couple of hours. Which is a shame because I do love going to the cinema.

But, you’ll be relieved to hear, this summer I shall be going to the cinema and I shan’t be stuck indoors.
It’s actually not a new idea to have a cinema of sorts outside. Drive-in cinemas, for example, were popular especially in America decades ago.

But in London I’ve noticed the trend has really taken off and there are viewings all over the place. From big parks to small squares we’re loving the fresh air/movie combo and doing it in droves. Plus you can bring whatever snacks and drinks you fancy to most of them rather than being stuck with a bucket of popcorn or sweets and a fizzy soft drink.  Pimms anyone?

What could be better?

I’ll tell you what’s better actually. An open air pool cinema in Thailand at a beautiful boutique hotel framed by sea and mountains.

Cape Nidhra Hotel (2)

The geniuses at Cape Nidhra Hotel in Hua Hin have created this entertainment masterpiece.

I can already picture myself lolling on a lilo with a cocktail within easy reach in front of a classic film. This is officially heaven on earth for me.

And best of all when the film ends rather than packing up my picnic and lugging it home on the tube I can just roll off the lilo and into the pool for a swim. Or I can head to the beach, to the private pool that comes with every suite, or go for a massage at the spa perhaps… you get the idea.

Everything is better on holiday isn’t it!

How to feel great in three days

I hate to show off but I must say that today I feel absolutely marvellous.

Relaxed, refreshed, replenished… and lots of other lovely words. And to thank for these feelings I have Lefay Resort & Spa Lago di Garda in Lake Garda, Italy.

It’s hard to believe I was only there for three nights really. I must admit I was a little nervous before arriving. These guys bill themselves as a wellness experience that enables guests to achieve physical and mental rejuvenation.

That sounds wonderful of course but what if it didn’t work on me? I racked my brains and was pretty sure I’d never felt physically and mentally rejuvenated in three days!

The good news is it did work.

On day one I sat with a doctor and we just chatted. Nothing too heavy, a few lifestyle questions, my mood day to day and how I felt. It’s such a relaxed setting I was comfortable answering honestly and suddenly 45 minutes had flown by.

And the Sherlockian doctor somehow knew what kind of person I am and also which treatments would benefit me. She even knew and recommended what kind of tea I should drink.

Over the next three days I had different massages and attended classes all specifically designed to best suit my body and mind. I spent time in an indoor salt lake, had hydro-aromatherapy, stretched my meridians (google meridians you are going to want to stretch them too), had a ‘massage of the centre’ and more. A massage of the centre by the way is actually a facial. But because, as the experts told me, our bodies are connected in extraordinary ways this facial also included my fingers and toes.

Lefay Resort & Spa

On top of this there’s a healthy menu alongside the normal menu, two pools that look out over one of the finest views I’ve ever seen and divine rooms designed for relaxing in.

The beauty of this place is that unlike some wellness retreats you don’t feel guilty for having an occasional coffee or a glass of wine. Their attitude is that wellness has to be achievable in real day to day life. Eat vegetables of course, do some exercise, but don’t remove everything you enjoy from life in an attempt to improve your body. It won’t work because your mind won’t be amused if the body is living off mung beans and lentils.

It’s so reassuring to hear doctors setting realistic and achievable goals. And it’s also reassuring to know that being well and being boring need not go hand in hand.

So, as I said, I am feeling unashamedly marvellous today. I’m telling you because in just a few days you could feel marvellous too.

Take a look at SLH’s selection of Spa Resorts and let me know where your favourite spa is…


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