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I’m based in London – as regular readers will know.

So I tend to think about things in a London way. Naturally with this blog being read all over the world I have to make sure I don’t focus on things that are only relevant to those people who happen to live near me. So I won’t be telling you how sad I am that a famous coffee chain has appeared where until recently there was an independent café a couple of minutes’ walk from my flat. I also won’t bang on about the potholes that pepper my street and threaten to destroy my car suspension every time I go for a drive. Yes I love talking about potholes and my neighbours never tire of the topic – but you might.

However, there is something that I have to think about in a London-centric way that might be of interest to you. And that thing is travel.

Because wherever I go, I go from here. My journeys invariably start from a London airport so the decisions I make about where to go are shaped by how long it will take me to get somewhere. If you live in America on the west coast for example then getting to the new famous coffee chain I’ve just been complaining about near my house is going to be a serious and expensive undertaking. I would recommend you don’t bother, even if you are going to be in London anyway – it’s not worth the cost of a tube ticket never mind a flight.

If I am going to Italy or Spain it’s a couple of hours in a plane. If you go from the west coast it’s going to be closer to 15.

I live in a cold place so am constantly seeking out the sun. If you live somewhere like Dubai your idea of an escape might be Scotland because you can almost guarantee it’s going to be cold and rainy (sorry Scotland – I should add extremely beautiful to cold and rainy).

Another important thing to remember is there are incredible places to see within 50 miles of where you are sitting right now. Wherever you are sat on the planet. Places I would pay a lot of money to see and spend a long time getting to. How many of you non Londoners dream of coming here and if you haven’t been yet would place it high on your bucket list? Huge numbers of you. And yet I live here and haven’t ever explored the place properly.

If you decide to take my advice here are my top tips for this particular type of trip:

Dukes Front

1. Make sure you don’t sleep at home. Pack your bags and check in to a hotel. I’m going to be staying at Dukes in London and I’m going to act like I do when I’m staying in a foreign city – up early and explore, explore, explore.

2. Take your best clothes. The one’s you save for holidays. Maybe even buy some new ones.

3. Save up and spend as much as you would in another place. We tend to wait till we are away to really treat ourselves. I say blow the bank and go to the best show in town with supper at a restaurant you’d never consider in your day to day life.

4. Make sure you take one day off work. Monday perhaps. So you are enjoying yourself with the rest of the tourists while all the locals slave away in the office.

The Best Hotel in the World is…

Many of my friends tell me about a hotel they once stayed in that really blew their mind.

A hotel that stands head and shoulders above the rest and is, they insist, the best hotel ever.

But the hotel they think is the finest that has ever been can’t possibly be the best hotel ever. Because each of my friends tells me somewhere different deserves this accolade.

Granted they are all very pleasant indeed and when I look at them online I am able to confirm that my friends have excellent taste.

However it is, in a way, a little sad that they think one hotel is the best. Because it suggests they don’t know enough hotels. There are, I can confirm, LOADS of amazing ones. I know this because I spend as much time looking at them as train spotters spend hanging around at railway stations. It’s a bit of an obsession.

If I ask someone which hotel is the best their answer should be: “I have absolutely no idea Melissa there are far too many incredible places to stay for me to be able to choose just one.”

That’s the right answer. After all I am a massive hotel geek and I can’t tell you. I am forever unearthing new ones that look so amazing I want to weep a little when I realise I may never get to visit.

And no matter how much of a geek you are new ones will appear. I can’t do what bird-spotters do and learn all the birds and then try to find them all. The thing about birds is that new ones don’t just appear. Evolution doesn’t work that way and therefore any new species that may emerge are not going to turn up any time soon.

New hotels however pop up all the time and in the time it takes me to tick one off I know several more will have opened. And of course, unlike birds, hotels do occasionally get a revamp and then look entirely different so warrant another visit.

As if to prove my point for me a load of new hotels have joined Small Luxury Hotels of the World recently. And I had only heard of two of them. As I scrolled through them I had mixed emotions. Half of me was chastising myself for not knowing about them before now. And the other half was getting excited about new potential places to stay.

Below I’ve listed a few that have made me excited about travelling in 2015. And made me worry that even if I live till 100 I’m just not going to have enough time so see them all!

Campo Bahia Resort

Campo Bahia Resort in Santo Andre, Brazil

Maison Souquet 2

Hotel Maison Souquet in Paris, France

Hotel Regency 7

Hotel Regency in Florence, Italy

Hunas Falls by Amaya, Sri Lanka

Hunas Falls by Amaya in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Lijiangs Patio

Lijiang’s Patio in Lijiang, China

Londa Beach Hotel

Londa Beach Hotel in Limassol, Cyprus

Movich Casa del Alferez

Movich Casa del Alferez in Cali, Columbia

Hotel Sant Fransesc 2

Sant Francesc Hotel Singular in Palma, Mallorca

Vitamin D and broccoli

People are so predictable. Me included.

I’m currently watching television with my mother after our fourth enormous lunch in a row. But all I can think about is the weighing scales in the bathroom.

I don’t know when my brain switched from delighting in the extravagance of Christmas and New Year to craving a diet of broccoli and lentils. But the change has struck – I don’t want to see any more roast potatoes or sausages wrapped in bacon. Or Yorkshire puddings coated in gravy. I don’t even want to drink red wine and fall asleep in front of the fire! All the things I spent weeks looking forward to, and indeed spend every December dreaming about, are now my enemy. And the enemy of quite a few of my clothes that complain as I stretch them to fit this new Christmassy shape.

Luckily my jogging bottoms have an elasticated waist so they will fit me when I drag myself out of bed tomorrow morning and try to remember how to run.

Ever since I hit 30 and couldn’t rely on a young metabolism to do my dirty work for me this transition from feast to self enforced famine has quietly come about just in time for expensive gym memberships to strike.

Because they know this happens too. They know January is their month to make a killing, the month when hot cakes don’t sell like hot cakes but gym memberships do.

So my New Year’s resolution is to be less predictable in 2015. I’m not going to join the gym, go a few times and then get bored. I’m not going to give up alcohol and potatoes for a month. And I’m not going to feel guilty for enjoying the festive period.

I’m going to be an advertisers nightmare by refusing to do the things I always do.

Although there’s one predictable New Year ritual I’m not going to give up. Because there’s one thing in life (especially a life in London where it’s freezing for the next four months) that I can’t give up and that’s a strong dose of vitamin D in mid winter.

Santhiya Koh Phangan Resort & Spa 6

Santhiya Koh Phangan in Koh Phangan, Thailand

I’m very happy to do exactly what the airlines and hoteliers expect of me in the next few days and book some sunshine. Is there anything as exciting as stepping onto the sand for the first time in ages, laying a towel on a sun bed and feeling the sun’s rays on your back? I can feel my batteries recharging and sit back while the warm light breathes life into pale skin that’s been hidden under layers of jumpers and coats for months.

There’s not much I can’t do without. But warm sunshine is probably at the top of that list.

So you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to steam some broccoli and start looking for hotels.

Happy New Year to me! And to you of course.

Christmas without the washing up

There’s very little I like more than to spend Christmas with my family. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about it, getting excited and taking phone calls from my mother every five minutes.

She’s what I like to call a planner. So what should be a simple occasion – lunch for six people – becomes a month long military operation.

The discussions actually started in November. The big question was where shall we eat? An odd question really considering we’ve eaten at her and dad’s house every Christmas since I was born.

From there we moved on to who is coming, what time they are coming, what should those people who are coming bring with them, what we should eat for lunch, what time we should eat the lunch, should we open the presents before or after we eat, what should we eat in the evening… the list goes on.

I pointed out that, other than the presents, it’ll be just like the dozen or so Sundays each year that we get together for lunch. She didn’t agree.

So the build up has continued, the calls keep coming and my dad and I roll our eyes gently as mum winds herself up into a Christmas frenzy.

I think she enjoys it but it’s hard to tell. There’s no way of knowing though really as it’s what we’ve always done.

But next year I’m going to do an experiment. I’m going to call mum in mid November, just before she sees a Christmas advert on television and begins winding herself up, and tell her not to worry.

I’m going to tell her it’s all taken care of and all she has to do is turn up where I tell her to and when I tell her to.

Of course it’s perfectly possible she’ll miss running around organising everything for the big day. But just in case she finds it tedious and would rather put her feet up I’m going to take care of everything and see what happens.

I say take care of everything… I don’t mean it. In fact I’m going to let other people take care of everything and join my mum so we can both put our feet up. Perhaps in a Jacuzzi, while someone else does the washing up!

The only question for me will be where?

Well actually even though it’s a year away I’ve narrowed it down to three.

I don’t want to go take the family too far from home so two of them are in the UK. Here are my potentials… where would you take your family?

The Ampersand Hotel

The Ampersand Hotel – South Kensington, London, England

This hotel, which is a 19th century townhouse, clearly takes Christmas seriously. They have created a special Christmas afternoon tea with traditional treats like mince pies, mulled wine, jelly, turkey and cranberry gougères. I like all these things so I’m tempted to book us in for it. Along with the Christmas lunch and Christmas cocktails.

HULTNLH_42117725_HULTNLHLuton_Hoo_In_The_Winter_400x400

 

Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa – Luton, England

To the countryside now and not just any old countryside. Here we have a former haunt of movie stars and royals. This place is just as serious about December 25. And December 24 and December 26 for that matter. They have three days of food and frolics planned. Why have one Christmas lunch when you can have three?

Le Grand Bellevue 3

Le Grand Bellevue – Gstaad, Switzerland

My curve ball for 2015 might be Le Grand Bellevue in Gstaad. It’ll take a little longer to get there of course but when we do there’s almost certainly going to be snow. And Christmas and snow belong together. When I read this hotel has a 35m tree that they decorate with 40,000 lights I knew there were some Christmas lovers working there. And how better to earn the goose and salmon Christmas lunch than a couple of hours on the slopes in the morning?

Which one shall I choose?

Me and a mean mini-bar

Mini-bars are spectacularly annoying.

Well, some mini-bars are annoying.

It’s like a weird form of torture having a cold little fridge packed with nice things like chocolate and wine sat in the corner.

‘Open me’ it taunts.

I’m not complaining about the potential increase in calorie intake. If I can’t, or don’t want to, resist temptation that’s my problem.  My issue is that in the rather famous and rather expensive chain hotel I was staying at, the chocolate bar was almost £10 and the tiny bottle of wine was almost £20.

The prices were crazy. These prices have moved past crazy and become strangely arrogant. Like some of the people who work in the mega expensive shops in places like Cannes in France and the Kings Road in London who look at you and dare you to ask how much something costs so that they can laugh at you. It seems to me that if you’ve paid a lot of money to be in this room they shouldn’t punish you by multiplying the price of the chocolate bar by seven.

It’s not as if you’re in the beautiful bar enjoying great service and wonderful décor. You’re in the room that you have already purchased for the night. Part of the service of paying for a room, expensive or otherwise, should be the right to have cold things available at a maximum of twice the price you’d pay in a shop.

This particular mini-bar was even more intent on stealing my wallet than most. There were sensors underneath things so that when I finally caved in and opened the fridge I was charged for my wine before I’d even decided to drink it. Despite being the most expensive glass of wine I’ve had (excluding special occasions) it wasn’t even that nice.

It’s this behaviour by big international hotels that puts me off. Rather than feeling like a guest you feel like a pawn in an evil accountant’s business plan being hurried around a chess board. I know accountants are important and that hotels must make money as well as looking after their guests – and that is a tricky balance to achieve. But the moment I feel like I’ve come second to profit in a hotel the most important rule in hospitality has been broken.

Charge me good money for good quality and great service by all means. But don’t ever charge me £10 for a Mars Bar because it’s mean. And counter-intuitive. If the baby fridge were to be packed with reasonably priced drinks and snacks I’d embrace the little box and probably empty it. But as it is I fear it and almost wish it wasn’t there.

4.1.1

Château d’Isenbourg in Colmar, France

Small, luxury hotels like those you find in the SLH brand lead the way at making guests feel like the centre of their universe because on the whole they are genuinely pleased to see you. I’ve never walked out of an independent hotel feeling like I’ve been mugged. Last week at this big hotel – I most certainly did. The mini-bar started it and the 24 EURO BILL FOR WIFI FOR ONE DAY finished it. The capital letters are designed to express annoyance. I’d underline them too if I wasn’t quite so terrible at using computers.

Seats in the Sky.

I spent this morning talking about planes.

It was sparked by a Buzzfeed link that appeared on my Twitter feed called 12 First Class Cabins That Will Make You Hate Flying Economy.

The photographs are predictably impressive. Flat beds all round of course. Lots of smiling air hostesses (and hosts) some lovely looking canapés and some very smiley people enjoying their space in the sky. One airline has even created a three room suite on board for those who have $20,000 to spare. That’s the price for a one way ticket by the way.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t base a blog post on Buzzfeed. But then ordinarily Buzzfeed has posts entitled things like 17 Cat Reactions For Every Thanksgiving Situation and 46 Reasons We Should All be Thankful for Leonardo Di Caprio.

This piece was a little more my scene. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of, flying on these flat beds in business or first class. I’ve certainly not had my own three-room suite! But I, like so many people, see these chairs and dream of flying on one of them  – stretched out with a movie and a glass of champers. Somehow it has become one of the ultimate experiences around.

Which is strange when you think about it.

Imagine for a moment that you took that chair and put it anywhere else. It would be a thoroughly unimpressive photo that wouldn’t make any of us bat an eyelid. If it were billed, for example, as a budget pod hotel you’d expect that space to cost less than a meal for two in a chain restaurant.

Pop it in the sky and we’re talking serious money. And unless something goes very wrong you’ll be in that seat for an absolute maximum of 24 hours and most of the time far less time than that.

Whereas when you reach wherever it is your flying to you could be there for anything from a couple of days to three weeks.

Yes economy seats are not as comfortable and yes it would be lovely to have a duvet and not have to ask anyone to move when you want to go to the loo. But I think I’d rather hang on to that money, sit upright for a few hours, and then arrive in my destination knowing the bulk of my holiday cash has been invested in the place I’ll be living in for a few nights. That, for me, is when the holiday begins and ends. The getting there is the price you pay for wanting to see a new place (or revisit an old favourite) and stay in a beautiful little hotel.

Perhaps there’s an idea for a new Buzzfeed article there: 12 Small Luxury Hotels You Can Stay In for a Week – For the Price of a First Class Plane Ticket. That one would really get me excited about my next trip.

12 Small Luxury Hotels of the World You Can Stay In for a Week – For the Price of a First Class Plane Ticket to

1. Casa Colonial Beach & Spa in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Casa Colonial Beach & Spa Small

 

2. The Granary – La Suite Hotel in Wroclaw, Poland

The Granary Small

3. Hunas Falls by Amaya in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Hunas Falls by Amaya, Sri Lanka

4. Hotel De las Letras in Madrid, Spain

Hotel De las Letras Madrid, Spain

5. The Margi in Athens, Greece

The Margi 2

6. Petasos Beach Resort & Spa in Mykonos, Greece

Petasos Small

7. Southbridge Napa Valley in Napa Valley, California, USA

Southbridge Napa Valley 6

8. Tiamo Resort on South Andros Island, Bahamas

Tiamo Sunset Blog

9. Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola au Lac in Lugarno, Switzerland

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10. Columbia Beach Resort in Limassol, Cyprus

HUPFOCB_30311553_Pool_and_suites_4368x2912

 

11. Grand Hotel Cocumella in Sorrento, Italy

Grand Hotel Cocumella 7

12. Pallas Athena Boutique Hotel in Athens, Greece

Pallas Athena Boutique Hotel

To be honest you can stay in pretty much every SLH hotel given the cost of first class travel these days, and they’re the best hotels you’ll ever stay in…

Say no to skyscrapers

I work close to Victoria Station in London. And it’s a total nightmare. It has been for a few years now and will be for several more because the whole place is a building site.

Going from A to B used to be a simple process involving pointing yourself in the direction you want to go and then putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly.

But now it involves going via C, D, E and occasional F while penned into a small rat route along with every other poor Victoria worker and a bucket load of tourists trying desperately to get to Buckingham Palace.

New buildings are erupting from the ground, old ones are disappearing and no doubt we’ll have some very shiny and very tall offices and shops and flats in 2020 when it’s all done. Along with a train station that is much cleverer than the last one.

But I felt a twinge of sadness as I sat on a bench and watched it all for a while. Victoria Station is a beautiful old building. I forget that fact for long periods, but am reminded in moments of calm or when I see holidaymakers taking photos of it.

There are a huge number of beautiful old buildings in London as you who have visited or live here will know. But we’re not going to get any more. The number we have is the maximum number there will ever be. The future is full of efficiently created steel and glass monsters. Maybe floating hover-buildings eventually. Who knows. And while I realise change and development are good things and important for infrastructure, jobs etc etc blah blah… I just think the old ones are much prettier.

And as time goes by we’ll have less of them while the new ones get bigger and cover more and more of the city.

Which is why I think I’ll always try to stay somewhere old while on a city break in future. I saw an article about flats in a new New York skyscraper going for tens of millions of pounds. But for some reason the photos left me feeling a bit flat and I really don’t want to stay in one of them. The views are nice and the furniture looks very snazzy but next time I cross the pond I want an old brownstone house and to revel in the historical beauty of one of my favourite towns.

The Inn at Irving Place

The Inn at Irving Place in New York, USA

So I did a little search and found The Inn at Irving Place. Two 1834 brownstone houses with grand staircases and rooms furnished with New York antiques. It even has a tea house. And fireplaces. And cherry wood floors. And most importantly of course no building works or remote control curtains.
Right. It’s 1130am now. I’d better set off in search of lunch because it’s going to take me a while to get there!

Don’t make people wear shoes on holiday.

When I go on holiday I like to relax.

That may sound like the most obvious statement anyone has ever made but strangely enough it’s not obvious to some hotels.

I’ve just returned from a trip to Sri Lanka and almost everywhere I went and everything I did helped me fall deeper and deeper into a peaceful and relaxed state of mind. Even the craziness of the bustling stalls, bartering with locals passionately trying to make a sale only served to make me feel like I had well and truly escaped my every day life.

But there was a moment when my serene state took a bit of a turn for the worse and oddly enough it was a hotel that did it. One of the most expensive hotels in the city in fact, where you’d think they would understand what hospitality looks like in 2014.

I arrived at the hotel with Henry beside me to meet some friends in the lobby before heading out for a bite to eat. Henry was wearing a lovely blue striped shirt, a beautiful new pair of chinos and some sandals.

And believe it or not the hotel wouldn’t let him in. They said they had a no sandals policy at the hotel.

I was astonished. Here we were in a country where the temperatures often reach high into the 30s and yet a hotel that only exists, like all hotels, because of the people that stay in it, has this ridiculous and antiquated policy.

I would hate to stay in a hotel that forced its guests to wear shoes at all times. Poor Henry didn’t seem to mind; he just laughed and said he’d wait outside. But, as ever, I was a little less calm.

For Henry shoes are an annoyance. Prisons for feet he calls them. He wears them for work and when it’s cold but the second he’s in a sunny climate socks and shoes disappear and they don’t go back on again until he’s back in the office.

So what message does this sort of archaic policy send out to people wanting a holiday? It says that guests are not the priority. The priority is something else, something from a 20th century gentlemen’s club that values policy and pomp over hospitality and comfort.

I won’t say which hotel it was as I don’t like to be mean. But what I will say is that when hotels get too big and too full of themselves it is the clients that suffer and this will always lead to a drop in bookings eventually.

We had the complete opposite experience when I stayed at Serene Pavilions in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka.

Serene Pavilions 2

Serene Pavilions in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka

It was beautiful, luxurious, had wonderful food, was tastefully decorated with every whim catered for. But the service was warm, snobbery non existent and every member of staff had a deep understanding of what it means to make people feel welcome.Most importantly for Henry of course was that they couldn’t have cared less what was on his feet, only that there was a smile on his face.

That’s what running a hotel is really about.

I bet I’ve made you want to go to Sri Lanka now haven’t I!

Win the perfect proposal…

As you can hardly have failed to notice, if you read this blog regularly, I was recently proposed to by Henry.

It was the perfect moment and I shall remember it forever.

I’ve told the story so many times that I suspect every member of my family, all my friends and quite a few people who don’t know me particularly well will remember it forever too.

But they don’t know what that moment looked like. They don’t know the expressions my face took on when Henry asked or how he looked when I said yes. And oddly enough even I’ll never know what my reaction looked like and Henry will never know his.

Because, annoyingly, this competition I’m about to tell you about didn’t exist yet. If I’d known it was coming I might have told Henry to hold his horses for a few months.

Alas it’s too late for me. But not for you chaps.

And I do mean chaps. Because this competition isn’t going to work for women unless it’s February 29. Which it isn’t for a while.

Twitter Promo

SLH has teamed up with Flytographer, a company full of very cunning and stealthy photographers across the globe who are able to take photos of you without you knowing.

They can also take very lovely pictures without being sneaky of course. If you a) are terrible at taking photos, b) hate selfies or c) don’t like carrying a camera around on holiday these local photographers take the holiday snaps for you. Much better than you could ever do too. And much much better than the waiter you’ll probably ask to take one of you.

But for the sake of this prize the idea is that you (chaps) propose and the photographer hides and captures the moment for you. Unless she says no of course in which case I assume the photographer will run away. But she won’t say no because she loves you. And she’ll love you even more when she sees a beautiful professional shot of one of the most important moments of her life.

On top of the secret Flytographer you’ll also win two nights at an SLH hotel. So that’s quite nice.
And I’d imagine if you decide it’s not the right time to propose you could ask the photographer to capture the moment you push your girlfriend in the pool instead? Although, I should warn you, she’s unlikely to pop that photo on the mantelpiece or say thank you when you present it to her.

To enter is easy peasy. In two sentences tell SLH your idea of the perfect proposal…

http://www.slh.com/partners/flytographer/

But before I go a few proposal pointers from me.

  1. Don’t make it too perfect – if it’s too staged the surprise can be ruined.
  2. Don’t make it too casual – we want it to feel like you’ve made an effort
  3. Make sure the backdrop is beautiful or romantic – this story is going to get told a lot and the best stories have a great setting.
  4. Don’t do it in front of a huge audience – especially not in a sports arena on the big screen. That’s not fun.
  5. Always on one knee. That’s a tradition that should stay around forever hopefully.
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