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Suites For My Sweet

Most of the time if you ask me what type of room I like to stay in at a hotel I’m really not too fussy. Once I’m in the right hotel you can give me a diddy one with a pleasant view and a comfy bed and I’m just as happy.

But sometimes I want to feel like a rock star. Or a teenage .com genius perhaps. Don’t we all? I want to be able to stroll around my room and face the genuine possibility of taking a wrong turn and getting lost.

I want to have a butler to bring me things. Bring me things like breakfast on my terrace served with a flourish (maybe even one of those silver cloches). Or have him/her turn my Jacuzzi on for me because inevitably I won’t know how to do it. Then he could bring my Champagne to me while I’m in the Jacuzzi. And while we’re at it maybe I want to be able to choose between showering indoors OR outdoors.

Essentially, on occasions, we’re all divas. Perhaps on special occasions when we want to be spoilt rotten and feel like we’ve earned it. Or perhaps just because we’re in the kind of mood that demands opulent pampering.

Since I can’t afford to buy a yacht and I’m not interested in supercars the answer to my ultimate pampering urges is big hotels rooms with a four poster bed and enough room to swing a Mulberry.

Water Pool Villa at Baros Maldives

More expensive? Yes of course. This is a treat and treats cost a bit more. It wouldn’t be a treat if it wasn’t a little bit pricey. That’s half the fun of it.

Of course some treats are easier to get hold of than others. And SLH has made this treat a whole lot more accessible with The SLH Suite Deal. It is a sweet deal too. Suites but for 20% less than they usually cost.

So to all you men out there wanting to really impress your partner, or all you women out there who want to show your other half how much they mean to you (and have a seriously fun time yourself in the process) it is now as easy as ringing the bell for the butler.

I hate to hurry you but as the old adage goes all good things must come to an end. And this good thing ends at the end of October. So if I were you I would stop reading this immediately and check out some sweet suites.

So I’ll leave it you to it shall I?

Melissa. x

Food from not far away

The parents of my fiancé, Henry, live in a lovely house in the English countryside. I’m not just showing off here there is a reason I mention this. We’ve stayed there a few times lately (in fact I am there as I type this) as we build up to the wedding. While here I’ve eaten some of the freshest food I’ve ever had. And yet we haven’t left the house once…

That’s a lie actually, we have left the house. We left the house, walked about 20 paces to the vegetable patch, selected some veg and then headed back to the house again.

As a city girl I’ve never really thought about vegetables or where they come from. Or any food really. But having popped some of these runner beans and various other assorted fat of the land delights in my mouth I suddenly became very interested indeed.

Delicious doesn’t cover it. The taste and the health benefits of eating something grown locally and on the day you pick it are extraordinary. If I could create a vegetable patch in my flat I would.

I’ve been hearing people talk about the farm to table concept for a while but it was this that broke the carrot’s back and now I’m obsessed.

It’s rather odd if you think about it. Travel back in time a couple of hundred years and the locals would think you were bonkers for getting excited about farm to table food. “Where else is the food going to come from?!” they would say… before walking away speedily.

But for some time now having the best has involved some delicious food racking up serious air miles en route from wherever it was to our plates. I’m pleased this attitude is changing.

Local food production has an impact not just on my mouth but also the people and communities who create the food. So instead of ordering the Russian caviar in London go to Russia and find the place it comes from. Then eat it. Is my plan. Although actually I don’t really like caviar so that’s a bad example.

A better example is to go to Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall for a cup of delicious Tregothnan tea. You won’t find a tea plantation anywhere else in the UK. Surprising considering it’s our number one beverage.

Then there’s Hotel El Convento in San Juan, Puerto Rico and its rooftop garden. The executive chef Luis Castillo has revitalised El Convento’s rooftop garden, allowing him to put fresh herbs and vegetables into the dishes. If you’re staying there and fancy some sage, basil, parsley, oregano, cumin, coriander, lemongrass, opal basil, tarragon, bay leaves, mint, thyme, radishes, chives or spring onions… they’re on the roof.

A treat for nature lovers at Les Sources de Caudalie - EN_page1_image4

Bordeaux’s Les Sources de Caudalie has a kitchen garden outside its Grand’ Vigne restaurant created by its two Michelin-starred chef Nicolas Masse. The owners liked it so much they added an orchard and a hen house. And three pygmy goats to protect the hens. No I didn’t know pygmy goats did that either.

Quin Kerber 3

And last for today as I’m sure you have places to be… New York. Yes there are farms here. And a movement called Farm to Fifth Avenue. That sounds cool doesn’t it? The Quin has partnered with Kerbers farms so that guests can pick seasonal produce, make their own preserves and have a private picnic on the grounds of the Long Island farm. Delightful.

Right, I’m off to pick some mint for my tea. Now I am showing off.

Melissa. x

Free this weekend? Get packing immediately!

I’m not a fan of doing things last minute. Perhaps it’s the planner in me, maybe it’s because I’m prone to panic, or it could be because I enjoy looking forward to things so much! In which case the further in advance I arrange something the more time I have to enjoy getting excited.

But there is something to be said for a last minute and unexpected splurge now and then. Because sometimes an urge strikes us and to fight it seems silly.

For example it’s Friday today as I write this. Henry just came home and asked what we are doing this weekend. I flipped open the diary and to my astonishment it was blank. For the first weekend in many many weekends we don’t have a wedding or a christening or a birthday party. In fact we have literally nothing planned.

After staring at each other for 30 seconds in a slightly dazed and confused state we both headed for our laptops. And 23 minutes later we had booked plane tickets to Nice in the south of France. A flight so short we’ll have about 10 minutes with the seatbelt sign not on! There are so many flights headed down there from the UK every day that it was easy peasy to get a couple of last minute seats.

We’re going after work and coming back late on Sunday. Now that is last minute. I’m very proud of us!

This doesn’t mean I’m condoning never booking in advance for holidays. If you want to make sure you get what you want and for the right price booking early is a total must. But in the same way that sometimes we just feel like pizza all of a sudden, we can be grabbed by the desire for a very quick break. Pizza does sound good too actually… I might eat one now.

Chateau Eza

Château Eza in Eze Village, France

But before I go find a pizza, I need to book a hotel to go with these flights (preferably one of these):

Hôtel la Pérouse just a short walk to Nice’s stunning Old Town.

or Château Eza, a fairy-like castle perched on the cliffs in the village of Eze.

Can I urge you wherever you are and whatever you are doing, to have a think about this weekend. If you’re busy, fair enough, you must of course go to your pre-arranged plans.

But if you’re not then have a quick look at hotels near you. You could be sat in one of them in a matter of hours having cocktails brought to you, or swimming somewhere or having a wonderful spa treatment. No washing up, no cooking, no household chores. Tempting isn’t it… go on, treat yourself!

Ok now it really is pizza-time. See you next week!

Melissa. x

Wine – far more than a drink

It may have come to your attention if you’ve been following my blog for a while, that I quite like wine. Actually, scrap that, I love wine.

It is the best drink in the world. Especially if like me you’re constantly looking for reasons to get on a plane.

Is there another drink worth travelling for? Is there another drink worth dedicating weeks and months and years to learn about? Is there another drink that is created with such passion in so many beautiful places?

Shutter stock wine glasses pg60-61

Nope. No way.  A wine experience can be as simple as a sommelier recommending a yummy one to go with a meal. Or you can spend a week driving around France or California or South Africa or many more places treating your palette to the magic born of grapes.

The tasting is wonderful. The scenery is stunning. Talking to experts is fascinating. And the hotels you can stay in are sublime. Because wine gets around. You can end up at a laid-back farmhouse, elegant château, alongside lakes or the sea, in the centre of a bustling city… all in the name of a glass of white, red, pink or even fizz.

Plus a wine tasting is just about the only time when it’s ok to spit into a bucket. And let’s face it that is more fun than we tend to let on in adult company.

Naturally Henry is just as pleased about the idea of a wine-focused trip as I am. He wants to hire a couple of bikes and set off across the French countryside with nothing but a map of vineyards in our pocket. I’m leaning towards California and an open top car to do our vineyard hunting.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the many wine-based places to stay to whet your appetite. Although if you’re anything like me all it’ll take is the thought of a chilled glass of pale rosé on a terrace just yards from where the grapes were picked and you’ll be sold on the idea. I’d love to hear where your number one place to go to enjoy the local wine would be… let me know!

All this wine chat has made me thirsty. So I’m off to a bar to have a glass. See you next week.

Melissa. x

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’.

mystery-inspector-gold-logo-on-black

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! http://www.slh.com/content/mi/

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.

brompton

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.

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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.

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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

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