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Keeping it in the family

I’ve always loved family run hotels. Somehow I can usually tell when I’m in one within the first five minutes.

It’s a range of things that give it away. The way you are greeted, the look and feel of the place, even the name of the hotel gives little clues that this place you’re staying isn’t about pure profit, it’s someone’s life.

Walking into Carmo’s Boutique Hotel in the north Portugal last week I got that feeling. The personal touches were everywhere. The communal areas were clearly put together by people with great -as opposed to professional – taste. And the tour given by the heavily involved daughter of the owner (who also works as a dentist) was free of the clipped and rehearsed sentences that litter the spiels of trained hotel PR people who have learned their script and repeat it 10 times a day.

It’s passion versus training, love versus hospitality and warmth versus customer service. I should add here that I’ve been to plenty of big hotels owned by giant multi-nationals with staff who were wonderful and caring. But however much those people love their job, are proud of where they work and are desperate to please their guests it’s impossible to compete with a person who has invested their time, money, heart and ambition into a family hotel somewhere they love.

Carmo’s opened just three years ago but already looks bedded in. The concept is to be a boutique hotel in the truest sense of a word that is thrown around rather too much these days.

There will never be more than 20 rooms for example. Apparently that’s a French rule that ensures guests get personal attention. There are 15 at the moment although the grapevine tells me there may be two rather luxurious glamping ‘tents’ with a view being built at some stage. Bagsy first sleep in one of those!

As a wine lover (Portuguese wine is yummy btw if you haven’t tried it) I was very pleased to hear they do tastings, arrange visits to vineyards and have even harvested some of their own grapes. If you get there at the right time of year (around about now) you can climb in a giant tub and squish them with your feet. Now that’s a guaranteed afternoon of laughter right there.

Carmo's Boutique Hotel

I was particularly happy to hear this family love baths as much as I do. In the spa there’s one where you get to soak in 280 litres of goats milk while drinking champagne. Very Cleopatra. And if you like (and I do like) the hotel will prepare the bath in your room and arrange chocolates, candles and fruit accordingly. When Henry runs my bath for me I am close to tears of joy. And that’s without any chocolate, candles and fruit. The person who ran my bath for me here will be getting a Christmas card for the rest of their lives.

I had a family-style welcome at Carmo’s and I left with family-style affection that will stay with me for life.

Have you ever stayed at a family run hotel? If so I’d love to hear about your experience!

Melissa. x

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