Skip to content

The only cellar you’ll see me in… a wine cellar

Has a drink ever been as worshipped as the one that comes courtesy of the humble grape? Wine is more than a beverage. It’s a hobby, a lifestyle, a joy and a huge part of many holidays. For some people it’s one of the main reasons they go away.

Vineyards in destinations like France, New Zealand, South Africa and California draw huge numbers of people keen to treat their palates to fine wine and their other senses to glorious scenery. In fact wine is such a global passion that most places will have a local tipple to try. Many great hotels take as much pride in the contents of their cellars as they do in the beds in their rooms and the art on their walls.

Somehow the word ‘cellar’ takes on a whole new life when the word ‘wine’ is placed in front of it. A cellar creates images in my mind of dark damp basements with spiders and rats loitering around, waiting to scare humans who are nervously searching for some long lost tool. As a general rule I never go in cellars. Unless, of course, it’s a wine cellar! A wine cellar creates an image of cool caverns of ancient stone laden with dusty bottles and a delicious range of crisp whites and vibrant reds. It’s a romantic picture that no other drink storage area can paint.

With a good wine cellar usually comes good food and someone who knows what goes with what to turn your meal into a feast. I’m craving a crisp glass of white wine just thinking about it, but I am known for enjoying a good glass of wine. But Henry, my fiancé, is obsessed! He wants to learn all about what he’s trying – I’ve never seen him talk to anyone for as long as he talks to sommeliers when he meets a good one!

So I thought it was high time I took him away somewhere that would really excite his taste buds and his inquisitive mind. I was astonished (and I’m rarely astonished) to read that Small Luxury Hotels of the World has no less than 96 hotels that have wine cellars worth boasting about.
Equally as astonishing is the list of places these hotels are found in. Chiang Mai in Thailand, Sussex in the UK, Murnau in Germany, Cuernvava in Mexico, Male in the Maldives… I could go on.

Hayfield Manor Wine Cellar

Hayfield Manor, Cork, Ireland

Since the start of the year I’ve been talking about indulging myself, about doing things I love. And I have no hesitation in adding wine to that list of loves. It’s an art form. An art form that is far more inclusive and popular than any other and an art form that can really make a holiday even more special.

I’m going to have to have a glass of wine now. Sadly there is no cellar here so I’ll have to pop to Waitrose until I can travel to my dream wine cellar. I can already see myself on a veranda, somewhere warm, watching the sun disappear behind a hill as I sip on a delicious vino and listen to Henry talk to a stranger about grapes.

I’d love to hear where your favourite wine comes from and where you had your most memorable glass.

See you next week.

Melissa. x

A cooking masterclass without leaving the house

Have you ever gone to a restaurant, eaten some food and then just sat there for a few minutes in mild joyful shock?

I have. I’ve done it loads of times. The closest comparison I can come up with is when a magician does something so clever that your brain simply cannot even begin to compute how he or she has done it. That’s how I feel about great food. Magic.

The question is of course… do you want to know how the magician did it? Or do you enjoy the mystery?
Personally I hate not knowing. Mainly because if I know the secret then I imagine that I could learn the trick and impress people at parties. Actually I need a party trick desperately! Ideas on a post card please.
There is a code among magicians that means they are supposed to keep their mouths shut.
Chefs, on the other hand, have no such code.

This means I can find out what they did that had my taste buds disco dancing and try to recreate it. I’m not foolish enough to think anything I cook is going to be magical, or even half as decent as what the pros serve up. That’d be like sending the bloke who painted your walls into the Sistine Chapel and expecting him to create a masterpiece. But one thing’s for sure – I’ll certainly have fun trying.

Once a week I’ll be trying my hand at new recipes using my new food Bible, the Small Luxury Cookbook.  There are 480 pages of recipes from more than 200 hotels from around the globe. The beauty of the huge range of hotels, which come in all shapes and sizes, is that each chef provides a different spin. I’m nervous about taking on such a huge range of difficult dishes, but I figure it gives me a greater chance of nailing at least one!

Just before I dig myself into a hole, let’s note that over 90 SLH hotels have Michelin stars – I’m not holding my breath for award-winning quality from my little kitchen. But either way, I’m going to try them all no matter what Henry says. Before you know it, I’ll be able to whip up things like lionfish, kolokythanthi (stuffed courgette flowers) and sea urchin to add to my signature dishes of lasagne and French toast. Once I feel like I’ve mastered a particular meal, I’ll go to the hotel that serves it to try the real deal and see where I’ve fallen short.

My first attempt is tonight. I’m going to be try the 18-hour pork belly with carrot puree, pop pork, teriyaki sauce, and green apples in Assyrtico wine. Delish! My guide tonight will be Chef Aristotle Zervas from Aressana Spa Hotel and Suites in Santorini, Greece and my guinea pigs will be my future mother- and father-in-law…so the pressure is on!

ARESSANA - 18HRS PORK BELLY

I’ll let you know how I get on.

See you next week.

Melissa. x

Don’t worry, be appy

Last night my friend was an hour late for a drink. That’s pretty late isn’t it. Too late?

Well yes, once upon a time it would have been. But thanks to smart phones, those times are over. I know some people think they are evil and we all spend too much time staring at them, but I certainly don’t get bored of mine. The world is literally at my fingertips.

So I didn’t actually realise she was an hour late until she arrived and told me how late she was. If this had happened 10 years ago I would’ve had to play snake on my phone for an hour, and the time would’ve dragged on as I watched that little snake follow the same path again and again. Ten years before I wouldn’t have even had snake. Or a mobile, for that matter. I would’ve just sat there, probably weeping, staring at a warm beverage and contemplating my sudden loneliness.

I did a bit of light banking, read the news and then got stuck in to the newest app on my phone… the SLH app (if you have an android phone you’ll have to wait till March I’m afraid. Soz!).

For those of you who are my age (let’s call it mid 30s) or older, you’ll remember the pre-internet times when our only option was an oversized brochure with a few grainy photographs. It doesn’t feel that long ago does it? But probably sounds like the Jurassic era to those of you in your 20s and younger.

Anyway I was playing with this new thing amazed by it and amazed by how tech savvy I am these days. I was swooshing through it like a whizz kid coder. Private Island? Two button pushes for Melissa and boom, seven choices. Where’s the nearest SLH hotel to me if I need one of those emergency massages I was talking about last week? One button push for Melissa. I felt like a genius.

Of course I’m not actually a tech genius. I’m the opposite. I can barely work a calculator. But this app is so simple, clean and useful that if you handed them a credit card a three year old could book a holiday in about three and a half minutes.

I’m probably not going to be one of the increasing number of people who book travel through their phone. I can see why they do it but, as I’ve said before, I still love a good travel agent largely because I enjoy the nattering. But in this spare hour gifted to me by my tardy friend I found a wine cellar I want to drink from, a golf course I want to take Henry to, an all-inclusive hotel for my sister’s family, a great last minute ski spot and chalked up three city breaks to add to my to do list. Researching a holiday, which is let’s face it the most fun research there is, has never been so pleasant and so easy.

 

Villa Mangiacane -Wine Cellar

The Wine Cellar at Villa Mangiacane

Take a look if you’re lucky enough to be left sitting somewhere alone waiting for a useless pal sometime soon.

Whoopsie, I’m now late to meet someone else. Let’s hope they’ve downloaded the SLH app or they might be grumpy by the time I get there!

See you next week.

Melissa. x

Dishwasher-free Indulgence

So last week I told you I was forgoing making radical changes to my lifestyle such as joining the gym until after I had been to a rather lovely wellness hotel.

Joining the gym in January is like going food shopping on an empty stomach. A terrible and expensive idea. But what I didn’t tell you was that while I am ignoring my insides for a month or so I am going to be paying full attention to my outsides.

January is officially a month of indulgence and for me there is nothing more indulgent than having a massage. A firm set of hands and some serious sports massage action and I am in the place people who behave well in heaven get to go to next.

So great is my love that I thought it didn’t matter where said massages took place. A bus shelter, a railway station, on a roundabout… I thought the point was the hands. But it turns out I was wrong.

My January dedication to massage created a rather embarrassing few minutes this weekend. I wanted one desperately but had been given a 9 hour delivery slot for a new dishwasher. Fascinating stuff I know.
Anyway, what I thought was a eureka moment came when I discovered that in an ‘emergency’ there are companies who will send a professional masseuse with a massage table to your home.
I promptly ordered, my masseuse promptly arrived, I promptly removed most of my clothes and as luck would have it the company delivering the dishwasher decided to suddenly be prompt themselves.
The delivery guys, bless them, did their best not to look surprised by me in a dressing gown or the woman with oil covered hands loitering by the massage table. But they didn’t waste any time getting out of there and I could hear them laughing as they walked down the stairs!
Somehow having two men in overalls carrying a dishwasher through my ‘treatment room’ rather trod all over the relaxation levels for me.
Even when the delivery guys had departed I wasn’t able to fully relax during the massage because the mood bubble had been burst.

Pimalai massage

Pimalai Resort & Spa

There’s a reason why most spas are in hotels and it’s because they don’t have large white goods being carted through their treatment rooms by sweaty middle aged men. They also have towels and dressing gowns by the bucket load that you don’t have to clean yourself several times because they’re covered in oil. And you also don’t feel honour bound to help the masseuse carry their massage table down the stairs and to her car.

This weekend I’ll be having another massage to continue my indulgent January. But it’ll be in a building with a big S L and H stamped on the outside! (Have a look at all the options here)

Right I’m off to book that. And learn about what I’m going to talk about in my next post… Apps.

See you next week! x

New Year, but same old me

Twixtmas is an extraordinary time of year. And I’ve just realised it might not even be a real time of year as Microsoft Word has just underlined it in red. I’m sticking with it though I’m afraid Mr Dictionary.

This is the name I, and I believe lots of other people, give the period after Boxing Day but before the New Year. My mind goes through a curious process during these few days. It had been a very happy mind. The build up to Christmas is a time when somehow it’s totally fine to eat, drink and be extraordinarily merry in a fashion you simply wouldn’t allow in another month.
Every year my body is full and my mind in a daze from which it only awakens sometime in this Twixtmas period.

This year, or last year should I say, it happened on December 29. I sat bolt upright out of the comfortable chair by the fire, picked up one last leftover sausage wrapped up in bacon from the plate nearby and then put on some shoes.
The shoes felt odd after a few days of slippers but I pushed through and found myself outside breathing the cold December air in and out as if it were the finest perfume in the world. Then like a toddler taking her first step I placed one foot in front of the other and began a surprisingly long walk.
During this walk, which happens every year, I usually make all sorts of decisions about the changes I’m going to make next year. They almost always involve being thinner, healthier, happier, nicer and more caring.
The thinner and healthier pairing dominate if I’m honest and gym memberships and superfoods suddenly replace crackling and roast potatoes as the subjects of my heart’s desires.
It’s actually a terrible time to join the gym though. The gym people know we are all going to feel like this so the prices rocket, the special offers disappear and we all end up buying packages that will not represent value for money. Largely because however good our intentions are very few of us actually stick at it!

So during my walk this time I decided to wait to make my gym decision till February. Clever aren’t I.
I’m also going to book a wellness retreat. The reason being that I don’t actually know what I need to work on. It could be that I need more cabbage but instead I’m stuffing broccoli. Or that I need to swim but instead I’m running.
That’s where experts come in. They’ll know how I can make myself fitter and healthier in the fastest possible way. Lazy you might say, I say efficient!

My choice for this shortcut to health is the soon to open 7 Secrets Resort and Wellness Retreat in Lombok.

Hi_HULOPSS_67746239_7_Secrets_Resort_2
I know I’m going to like it because apparently one is greeted with a head, hands and shoulder massage. If that’s how they say hello imagine what will happen when I actually get into a treatment room!
When I return I’ll be packed with Vitamin D, healthy Michelin Star food and a clear idea of how to feel very well indeed by making some changes at home. All without signing up for a 10 year gym membership for several million pounds!
So while New Year is already here, I’m going to save the new me for a few weeks and do it right.
I hope you, like me, have fully enjoyed Christmas and New Year and are as excited as I am about a wonderful 2016!

I Love Christmas Markets

Right then. I am willing to accept that it is now Christmas time. You may think me a little bah and a little humbug but I’m afraid I will never ever join in with the festive spirit until December 1. I don’t have the capacity to remain this excited for more than about four weeks at a time.

But as the clock strikes December I am literally the most Christmassy person the world has ever seen. The advent calendar is ready, the tree is up, the tinsel and fairy lights abound and I usually wear a Father Christmas related item every day. Perhaps a brooch, at hat, a jumper or on occasion an entire elf outfit.

Suddenly I want to fall over onto ice while wearing blades on my feet and drink hot wine. My brain tells me I’m addicted to mince pies despite them not entering my thoughts for even a millisecond over the previous 11 months. And the songs come flooding in and I hum them constantly. Weird isn’t it.

But my very favourite thing and the thing that makes this almost certainly the most wonderful time of the year are the markets. Why are Christmas markets so much better than markets at, say, Easter time or, erm, summer? Because it’s Christmas. That’s why.

I’ve been to Christmas markets all over the place so when it comes to deciding where the best ones are I feel more than qualified to judge. With my credentials well and truly demonstrated I can now exclusively reveal the winners of the Melissa Best Places For Christmas Markets Awards 2015. THIS IS BIG.

london

  1. London

Ok I am biased because it’s home but actually we are very good at these. My favourite is on the cobbles of Belgravia. A farmers market, loads of stalls, live music and a grotto photo booth inside a black cab!

Zurich

  1. Zurich

As a country Switzerland feels pretty Christmassy all the time. Probably because I tend to go there to ski. But in December Zurich goes into festive overdrive. My favourite market is in the Niederdorf. It’s the oldest in the city and the most beautiful surroundings.

market

  1. Cologne
    Big statement this but I’d say for delicious food on Christmas stalls Germany can’t be beaten. The smells of baked apples, cinnamon biscuits and mulled wine fill the whole city especially near the cathedral where there’s a massive tree and a big stage.

paris

  1. Paris
    When in Paris the Champs-Elysee never fails to feel like where it’s at. So naturally it plays host to my favourite Christmas market in the city (which is also the biggest btw). There are more than 150 wooden chalets lining this incredible illuminated avenue.

NY

  1. New York
    Start spreading the news… Christmas markets in NYC are the best in America! The market day I spent there it rained so I went to the only indoor one at Grand Central Terminal in Vanderbilt Hall. I picked up some of the best presents I’ve ever given here.

There we go. Those five places can expect huge surges of tourists now that they have reached the pinnacle of the awards world with a spot in the top five of the Melissa Best Places For Christmas Markets Awards. Or MBPFCMA for short.

I’d love to hear where your favourite Christmas market is… tell me so I can check it out next year!

Melissa. x

 

The power of a personal shopper

A friend of mine (me) has a slight problem and she (me) is not sure what to do about it.

My ‘friend’ (you get the idea) has a fiancé who she loves very, very much. He is wonderful in so many ways. I won’t list them because we’re not talking about the positives today we’re focusing on a negative.

So this friend’s other half (oh stuff it, it’s my fiancé Henry and I don’t mind if you’re reading this, Henry) has an attitude towards clothes that one could argue is admirable. He just doesn’t care. If he gets a free T-shirt he’ll wear it. However ridiculous the slogan, colour or even if it’s quite clearly too big for him, it’ll stay with him till it literally falls off. His shoes look like they’ve walked the Sahara twice and then been run over by a freight train. Trousers, shorts and jumpers have holes of varying sizes in them and his two suits are so old they will probably be back in fashion again soon.

Now I’m no fan of a vain man but he has gone far too far the other way!

His rebuttal is that clothes are designed to keep him warm and protect his modesty. Therefore there’s no point getting new ones because his current clothes do the job. The real reason is that he hates shopping. I’ve watched him walk into a shop, pick up one item, put it straight down again and then walk outside in search of a long lunch to recover.

This week he made the mistake of saying he doesn’t buy new clothes because he has no idea where to go or what to buy. Some shops make him feel too old because they are littered with skinny jeans, others make him feel too young because corduroy trousers abound.

“What if someone else chose the shop for you and then told you what to buy? A professional?” I asked.
He was tired so agreed that in those unique circumstances he would participate. He felt safe in the knowledge that that situation would never occur.

DUKES Personal Shopping14258 copy

But have I got news for him! SLH has collaborated with Hackett and partnered with the lovely Dukes London to create a personal shopper experience.

He thinks we’re going there for a couple of nights (and a couple of cocktails in one of London’s very best cocktail bars) when really a clothes-filled trunk will be waiting on the bed and he won’t even have to leave the room to enjoy the Personal Shopping Service.

One of the qualities I failed to mention earlier is that he is so polite to strangers he won’t be able to say no or avoid showing huge enthusiasm as his personal shopper makes suggestions. And what’s more he’ll be so keen not to offend anyone that he will end up buying sackfuls of wonderful clothes!

I don’t feel even a tiny bit bad. Maybe I should but I don’t. I’m already planning on a small bonfire upon which to place his moth eaten antiques!

Right, I must dash it’s time to go book a sneaky stay at Dukes London.

See you next week!

Melissa. x

The trouble with Winter is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Racha

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

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

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

Where would you set your feet free this winter?

See you next week.

Melissa x

Five Riads are better than one

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

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

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

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

La Sultana Marrakech

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

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

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

The best après ski ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

outdoor sauna

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

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

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

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

See you next week.

Melissa.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 200,956 other followers

%d bloggers like this: