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A library on the beach

There’s a big debate going on locally at the moment – do we need a library?

Apparently the number of people using them is down; a lot of the books are gathering dust and the anti-library brigade argue the space could be better used for something else.

The pro-library people think this attitude is ridiculous and that there is no better use of space than a library. There’s no middle ground really. Well there is but that middle ground is populated by people like me who don’t really mind either way.

I’m on the fence a little. I feel like I want to support the library and make sure it’s saved but at the same time I haven’t set foot in it or indeed any library for many many years.

I think it’s the ambiance. It’s dark, dusty and quiet. Three things I don’t really like.

I want the exact opposite from my library so I’m going to suggest my local library learns a lesson from Thalatta Seaside Hotel on Evia, the second largest of the Greek islands.

Thalatta Seaside Hotel Library

Thalatta Seaside Hotel has recently opened a library you see. So they clearly think there’s a demand. And they’re right. Because their library is a beach library. Two words I was never expecting to see in a sentence together!

It’s apparently the first beach library ever and although the idea had never occurred to me before I am amazed this isn’t already a thing.

My friends tell me constantly that the main reasons they go on beach holidays are to get a tan and read 78 books. And their main complaint about holidays… not enough baggage allowance.

Boom. All problems solved. At this beach library there are lots of books to choose from and guests are encouraged to leave behind any books they happen to bring with them but have finished. In no time it’s going to be a treasure trove of seaside page turners. And you don’t have to lug any books back and forth on planes. So more room for shoes and tacky gifts.

At the end of each season the hotel collects all the books and donates them to a local school. I assume there’s an element of a selection process before the books are handed over… 16 copies of 50 Shades of Grey probably won’t make the journey to the kid’s hands.

So my local library should do the same. Granted there’s no beach in London but if they made it a relaxing place to be then people would visit in their droves. Put some beach loungers in, play the sound of breaking waves, and serve cocktails. That’s a library we’d all want to save.

P.S. Great news this hotel opens for summer in 1 week!

My love of sunshine and steak

You probably won’t have heard sunshine compared to a steak before. One consists of solar rays from that big star up above. The other is meat. No obvious link. But somehow one got me thinking of the other today.

If you’ve lived somewhere like England before you’ll hopefully know what I’m talking about. In England the weather is our favourite topic of conversation. This isn’t a myth or a sweeping generalisation, it is 100% our number one thing to chat about. This is because the weather here is not to be trusted. Even the people paid to talk about it on the television have no idea what’s coming next.

Today, for example, the clouds parted and the sun came out. The whole country rushed outside, made a picnic, dashed to the nearest beach/field/lake and collectively cheered. Summer is here! And then it was freezing again and we all went home to watch television in front of the fire/radiator/blow heater.

This is where steak comes in. I compare a British summer to an evening at the finest steak restaurant in town. You plan your evening. There’s a lot of planning, a lot of talk about where you’re going to go, what cut of steak you might eat, the sides you’re going to order. Then the night in question arrives and you’re at the table. The smell of perfectly cooked premium meat is in the air and the restaurant is full of happy people, great music and a glass of red.

Then, finally it looks like your table is next. The waiters are headed in your direction and start putting down plates around you. Everyone has their food except you but now the best looking steak of them all is headed across the room. It is placed ceremoniously in front of you and you start salivating uncontrollably…

At this point in our metaphor the fire alarm goes off, the sprinkler system kicks in and you rush outside soaking wet. Probably to get more wet in the (inevitable) rain.

Summer in England, and I’m sure in many places around the world, is full of promise, full of excitement, full of great smells, and, in the end, full of disappointment.

On the plus side we are among the best in the world at enjoying tiny windows of good weather. However, I am not. I don’t want to just smell the steak. I want to cut it up, chew it and keep eating till I’m full. And then have pudding.

So I did a little research shortly after getting home shivering from the beach with picnic basket in hand. “The sunniest places on earth” was my search term. I don’t think we should sit around all summer with Pimms and strawberries permanently on ice in case the sun decides to make an appearance. If, like me, you want to be sure of some vitamin D, here are my top 5 places to head. All five are in the 10 official sunniest countries in the world chart.

  1. USA
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The Betsy South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida

2. South Africa

Grande Roche Hotel

Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl

3. Kenya 

Diamonds Dream of Africa 6

Diamonds Dream of Africa in Malindi

4. Australia

Injidup Spa Retreat 5

Injidup Spa Retreat on the Margaret River

5. Brazil 

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Campo Bahia Resort in Santo Andre

Where are you going this year?

The best places to swim, run and cycle

Right. Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Personally I prefer to start with the bad… start on a low, end on a high.

The bad news is that I have agreed to do a triathlon later this year. That might not sound too terrible to you but you don’t know how far I have to go yet.

First comes the swim. A couple of lengths of a pool? Nope, no, absolutely not. Unless the pool is enormous. I have to swim almost a mile (Or 1500km if you prefer metric). I’ve never done that but it sounds unpleasant. Add to the distance the fact that I have to do it in the Thames (yuk) while wearing a wetsuit… and we have ourselves a rather unpleasant start to a Sunday.

After doggy-paddling my way down London’s famous (and not clean) river I have to drag myself out and, in front of a large cheering crowd, remove the wetsuit. Have you ever removed a wetsuit? It’s close to impossible at the best of times. With a baying audience and the longest swim of my life just finished it’s going to be potential YouTube gold.

If I manage to take the wetsuit off my prize is a 26 mile bike ride. Lovely. And if I don’t fall off or get a puncture then I win another great prize: a 10km run.

The treats keep on coming don’t they. Anyway, as terrified as I am in true Melissa style I’ve found a silver lining. I’m going to need to practice. Yes most of that practice will take place in London but not all of it. Because apart from all the other things other countries are really for they are also good for, you guessed it: swimming, cycling and running!

So I’ve managed to persuade Henry we need three holidays, one for each discipline. He started to grumble but then I told him I’m raising money for charity and he had to be quiet.

Here’s where I’m going to go for my ‘training’. Where’s your favourite place to swim, run or cycle?

SwimmingCap Rocat in Cala Blava, Mallorca, Spain

CapRocat_entrada

I’ll be doing my swim in the rather boisterous Thames so I’m going to have to practice somewhere altogether nicer.

There are few places I like more than the Med and few bits of the Med I like more than the coast of Mallorca. And in Mallorca there’s nothing to rival Cap Rocat, a 19th century fortress in 88 acres refurbished not long ago. With a private jetty, salt water pool and, erm, a drawbridge (alright not required for training but wow) it’s the perfect spot to work on my front crawl.

CyclingLa Plantacion del Sur in Costa Adeje, Tenerife, Spain

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Needless to say I know very little about where is best for cycling as I’m usually in a car. But the experts all tell me the Canary Islands are where it’s at. Many of the top cyclists go there to train. So I’ve chosen Tenerife largely because La Plantacion del Sur is there. If I am going to have to spend several hours on a bike I need a great spa, incredible bed and spectacular food. And this place has all that and then some. If I’m really in pain I can opt in to butler service apparently!

RunningQuinta da Casa Branca in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Quinta da Casa Branca

I like some variety when I run. A bit in the city and a bit on some beautiful trails. So I have a lot of choices of where I can get both. But nowhere is it quite as easy and as beautiful as Madeira. A quick look online and you’ll see oodles of running routes and trails. This little Portuguese island has only one hotel I want to stay at so I’ll be based at Quinta da Casa Branca in Funchal. It’s modern but not annoyingly so and the gardens are ridiculously beautiful. The perfect spot to get my breath back!

Celebrities aren’t my A-listers when I’m booking a holiday

It’s quite possible that I’m alone in thinking this but… I don’t really care where celebrities go on holiday. Do you?

It’s not that I’m not interested in hearing where George Clooney spent his honeymoon or where Bruce Willis owns a holiday home. It makes for an interesting and light-hearted read. I just wouldn’t ever think about choosing a holiday based on where someone famous has visited.

They would probably be near the bottom of the list of people I would turn to for holiday advice actually.

Number one, two and three would always be an expert. For acting tips speak to actors, for singing tips speak to singers and for travel tips… well you get the idea.

There are of course fewer experts with the, erm, expertise than one might like. Plenty claiming to be travel geniuses but very few with the knowledge, charisma and empathy to work out what you want, be charming, and have enough hotels in their head to find the right one for you.

I like to hear what my friends and family think of course. And I like to read reviews from like-minded folk. But they, like me, are holidaymakers. They are subjective and therefore can be swayed by a variety of factors that aren’t relevant to me.

For example: The people or person they travel with. If your group gets on incredibly well then fun levels are going to be high. The rose-tinted spectacles go on and the chances are your friend will rave about a hotel because they had such fun. As amateurs we are unable to separate fun from fact. A better hotel but with terrible company will most likely get a bad review. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the view from the terrace is, or how wonderful the staff are if the person sitting opposite is in a foul mood and ignoring you.

That’s why I will talk about travel with anyone and everyone, but when it comes to crunch time and I’m thinking about booking I call someone whose livelihood depends on me being happy when I go away and even happier when I get back.

Friends of mine who have followed my advice and found a travel agent they can trust say they will never go back. And of course if they are among the best agents they’ll probably be a partner of SLH. Which means you can rely on their expertise and SLH’s prowess in everything small and hotel related.

That, to me, sounds infinitely more appealing than following Kim and Kayne around the globe.

Taking over the world

A friend and I who both travel a lot have been battling for world domination for several years. It’s less Dr Evil than it sounds.

A big map sits at her house and we have two bowls of pins. I’m red, she is blue.

At the moment I’d say she’s slightly ahead. I don’t know for sure because I seem to be incapable of counting pins in maps.

But I think she’s cheating. Originally it was one pin per country but the rules have become a little confused of late.

Her argument is that each US state should qualify as a country in pin terms because they are so different. She also thinks The Canary Islands which are technically part of Spain should have their own pin as they are so far away from Spain. Then Easter Island got its own pin. And now the Galapagos.

So I said that New Zealand ought to have two pins then as it’s two islands. She disagreed. I’m not sure how exactly the logic works but I seem to be losing out.

Naturally she has an answer for that and says the 12 pins I have in different Caribbean islands should in fact be one pin. So I should count myself lucky to have them. I gave up in the end.

She clearly wants this world domination more than I do. Plus the map lives at her house so she can add and remove pins without me ever realising.

I suppose I could have the map at my house but it’s quite ugly and nobody likes a show off.

The reason the map sprung to mind this morning as I sat down to write this post is that I think, and I can’t be sure because as I said I struggle counting pins, that my next country will bring me up to 80.

Which means that I will draw neck and neck with SLH. I thought about trying to compete on the hotel front but 520 hotels seems a little too many for me to cram in.

I am as well travelled as SLH. Thanks very much.

I am at least 10 years older though so one could argue it’s an unfair contest. But since I’m losing to my friend and I really don’t like losing I’ve designated this 80th country (Sri Lanka btw) as my victory tour.

Serene Pavillions

Serene Pavilions in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka

So… your move SLH. Where are you going next?

Top 4 SLH hotels for your Easter Getaway

I love surprises. So in a way it’s actually good news that the least surprising and predictable things can surprise me. Like Easter for example.

It comes along every year at roughly the same time. And every year we all get very very happy because no matter how many deadlines we have, whatever our boss thinks about it and how stressed we might be on Tuesday, we all get Friday and Monday off to party. Or in my case walk dogs and eat in country pubs.

Two days off shouldn’t be this exciting. I have a holiday allowance of 25 days (sorry America I know you get far fewer) and yet it is the free ones, the bank holidays and special occasion days off that really get me overexcited.

Excited and, as I mentioned earlier, surprised. Because irrespective of this being my thirty seventh Easter, when someone in the office asked me what I was going to do with the long weekend I stared open mouthed for 10 seconds before doing a little dance.

“Oh me oh my Easter weekend!” I exclaimed, before carrying on with my dance.

After I calmed down I decided I’m not going to walk the dogs and go to country pubs though. I’m going to go away…

The big question is shall I go for a city break, head to a private island, hit the beach or lounge in a country house?

1. The City BreakABaC  Restaurant & Hotel, Barcelona 

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Yes Barcelona is an obvious choice, yes millions of people go there every year, and yes a lot of you will have been there already. But there’s a reason it’s so popular and that’s because it’s one of the coolest cities in Europe. And it’s by the sea of course. What you probably haven’t done is stayed in a little hotel like this. The 100-year-old listed building that was once the home of photographer Doña Madronita Andreu is ridiculously close to the centre of the city and has just 15 rooms. And they have personal shoppers, private trips in a Lamborghini or Ferrari and a double Michelin-starred restaurant.

2. The Beach BreakHotel Belvedere, Mykonos Town, Mykonos

Hotel Belvedere 8

 

If I’m going to an island then if I’m completely honest with you most of the time I’m hoping it’s a Greek one. And if I’m going to a Greek island I’m hoping it’s Mykonos. And if I’m going to Mykonos I’m hoping I’ll be staying at Hotel Belvedere. And not just because it has a cool name.

It has the best views of Mykonos Town and the Aegean Sea from balconies and terraces, the pool is about as well placed as any pool in the world. There are two exceptional restaurants, one with incredible Greek dishes and the other divine Japanese I can’t wait to try!

3. The Private IslandKandolhu Island, Maldives

Kandolhu Island 3

If you’re going to go down the private island route it makes sense to do it somewhere where there’s loads of them to go round. Since The Maldives is made up of nothing but islands that’s where I’d go. There’s nothing like arriving by seaplane to make you feel blissfully remote.

Granted since it’ll only be Henry and I travelling I may bump into one or two other people as there are 30 rooms but there’s enough sand to have your own patch of beach during the day or night so it can truly feel like a castaway experience (except for all the 5 star amazing facilities of course). It’ll be an overwater villa for me I think, with a Jacuzzi, natch, and with my free snorkelling gear and 4 restaurants to choose from I’ll have a very happy Easter indeed.

4. The Country HouseBella Luce Hotel, Restaurant and Spa, Guernsey

Coast Media: CM0628 Ian Walker. Bella Luce Hotel, St Martins.

When a hotel has ‘spa’ in the title I’m always happy. If the word has made it into the title it means they take their spa seriously. And I love a serious spa.

Guernsey for a Londoner provides all the excitement of a holiday but with such a short flight there’s barely time to undo your seatbelt. This 12th century country house is older than Christopher Columbus and Henry VIII put together, has an award-winning garden, roaring fires, and a big selection of rare vintage whiskies. And the food is top top notch. Could a country house break be any more perfect? I think not.

Which one would you pick?

 

I love packing and I’m proud of it

I’m going away for work for a few days tomorrow so tonight I will be packing.

A contentious statement? I didn’t think so.

For as long as I can remember I have always left the night before I go away free so as to enjoy an evening of packing. And for all that time I’ve never considered it weird.

Until today I had never even considered considering if it is weird. But after drawing riotous laughter this morning when I used packing as a reason not to go to the pub after work I’ve had to start considering it.

These two guys in my office told me that packing is not an evening activity. It is a short sharp piece of personal admin that takes approximately 5 minutes.

Take out suitcase, put things in suitcase, close suitcase. Done.

Fools.

What about writing out the various things you might be doing and then deciding what you might like to wear for each occasion? What about taking out all of your clothes and shoes, laying them on the bed and matching things up? What about rummaging around drawer after drawer looking for adapter plugs? And getting toiletries needed for the plane into a see through bag for security? And making sure your laptop or iPad is fully charged (they’ll take it off you at security in some countries if they can’t turn it on).

Surely you’ve got to leave plenty of time to phone other people going with you and discuss what they are packing? Then of course there’s the weight limits to think about. Which often means big decisions about shoes need to be made. There’s lots more I could add to this list but I believe the case for the defence has been made rather successfully. How this can this process possibly be reduced down to anything shorter than 3 hours?

They just laughed again when I explained. But I decided I’m very happy to be laughed at.

I’m not going to go to the pub despite their teasing. Instead tonight I’ll be packing. Slowly. And every second I spend doing that will be a pleasure. Because the only thing that gets close to the fun of going on a trip is looking forward to going on a trip.

I’m not feeling very App-y

Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I am utterly useless when it comes to technology.

It seems that I am one of only a very small number of people under the false illusion that my phone is for phoning people. Other than that and texting it sits in my bag and I wait for it to ring.

This is not something I’m proud of, by the way. I don’t wave my tech-uselessness around like a badge of honour. When I see friends using their smart phones, erm, smartly, I envy their confident swipes, swishes and clicks.

Although having said that I watched a friend research and book a holiday with their phone last night and couldn’t help but wonder if I could ever be happy doing that. The app he was using was clearly very clever and efficient. But there was no conversation, no expert advice from a voice on the end of a phone.

Yes there was plenty of information on the app and he could click through to reviews by other people, search hotels quickly, even have a mini tour of a few hotels… But I’m just too much of a chatterbox to be satisfied with that.

I want to have a natter on the phone with someone who really knows what they are talking about and loves travel like I do.

My friend told me I was old fashioned and I didn’t argue. Perhaps I am. As I researched the movement towards mobile and tablet traffic and bookings in travel it became very clear the rise is incredible and shows no signs of slowing down.

And with such great apps being built, like the SLH app for example, traffic will continue to rise and rise.

There are a lot of busy people who prefer the speed and convenience of an app. And of course there’s a whole generation coming up who use their phones for everything because they haven’t known anything different.

As long as people don’t disappear completely from travel and holidaymakers like me can still combine booking a trip with a long series of chats over the phone I’m happy to let the rest of the world let their fingers do the talking.

Don’t wait till Valentine’s Day to be romantic

I am always up for celebrating occasions. However small or insignificant it might seem I will put on a party dress and grab the excuse to do something special. Especially if that special thing involves a few days away in a lovely little hotel.

But there is one occasion I just cannot get on board with. Valentine’s Day.

I hate to sound like an old grump but having a designated day on which we are all forced to do something romantic makes me feel a little bit unwell.

In the past I have tried to embrace it and Henry, bless him, has in the past pulled out all the stops to put on a typically romantic evening. The trouble is the whole of London is full of couples dutifully having meals out alongside one another. While single people gather like pariahs at each other’s houses and drink too much wine while telling each other how much more fun it is to be fancy free. Until too much wine is consumed and someone starts crying. I know this happens because for several years I was the one crying and declaring that nobody will ever love me. I almost bought a cat one Valentine’s Day such was my despair.

While I wouldn’t ever say it’s better to be in a relationship than be single I can say that I prefer being in one. But I don’t want to make people who aren’t in a relationship feel like they are missing out or that their life is lacking in some way. And taking part in Valentine’s Day makes me feel like I’m doing that. So we aren’t doing anything at all this year. We’re actually not even going to spend the day together. We are going to go out with friends instead and have a strict no cards, no flowers, no staring into each other’s eyes policy.

Every day except February 14th will now be a pseudo Valentine’s and we will be trying to do something nice for each other on a daily basis.

And of course we will be going on an Anti-Valentine’s mini break somewhere. It’ll be very romantic but when we want to be, not when the card shops tell us to!

Any ideas about where we should go would be very welcome. Write your suggestions in the comments below and I’ll let you know which one we choose in a few weeks time!

SLH have lots of hotels just for adults! The perfect place for anyone’s Anti-Valentine’s mini-break…

I’ve been thinking that maybe I’d like to be a boy

I’ve been watching Henry in the morning lately, more intently than usual, and I’ve begun to find his routine rather annoying.

He wakes up, gets in the shower, showers, brushes his teeth, gets dressed and then has a coffee before leaving the flat.

This entire process takes a maximum of 15 minutes. 15 minutes. I don’t think I’m slow at getting ready but I’m lucky if I walk out the door an hour after waking up.

This is the same when we are on holiday too. By the time I’m ready he’s already had a swim in the pool or read his book on the balcony or something equally lovely.

I did some maths this morning (using a calculator obviously, my maths is appalling) and worked out that over the course of the year this means something rather disturbing.

I spend 273 hours more each year getting ready than he does. That’s 11 and a half days. Which is more days than people in America get for their holiday allowance each year I believe? Sorry America, we Brits get at least 20.

It turns out that Henry has almost a fortnight’s worth of time every year to kill that I spend doing exceedingly dull things like moisturising, drying my hair, putting make up on… the list is too dull to complete.

I don’t understand who decided, or when, that us girls have to do all these things but I think if I had a time machine I’d go back in time to whenever this was decided and change things round.

Let boys shave their legs and paint their nails while I have another half an hour in bed every day.

Sigh. Alas as much as it pains me the status quo is unlikely to change any time soon and the thought of having hairy legs doesn’t really appeal.

I have consoled myself by deciding that I look better than Henry when I walk out the door. Because quality takes a little time. If a girl were a hotel it would be elegantly decorated, well looked after with great attention to detail and a wonderfully manicured garden.

The Henry hotel on the other hand would be thrown together in a hurry, look quite nice from a distance but there would definitely be dust all over the place and chips in the paintwork.

Right it’s getting late. I’d better take my make up off… so I can put it on again tomorrow.

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