The sexiest seaside stays and rural retreats
Independent boutiques are fast-replacing massive corporates in the market for affluent travellers’ money, and it’s not hard to see why, says Mr & Mrs Smith editor Juliet Kinsman
Isn’t the point of escaping to a hotel to enjoy a surroundings and service more special than you have at home – otherwise why bother? And as this is your leisure time, who wants a whiff of the corporate world? Jaded by the global homogenization of culture and design, we crave quirky, and we demand quality, nowhere more so than in our holiday destinations. Nothing is more seductive than the feeling that you’re staying somewhere unique. In an attempt to win back the discerning hotel-lover, multinational chains are resorting to more and more gimmicks; the more clued-up dazzle us with iPod stations and imply attention-to-detail with pillow menus and pet concierge services. While these are cute sweeteners, nothing beats that truly personal touch, from one-off furnishings to hands-on hoteliers. That’s why, for our third guidebook European Coast and Country (Spy Publishing, £19.95), we scoured the continent for rural and beach hideaways bursting with personality.
When bombarded with trend reports and wow-factor imagery, it’s hard for originality to exist. No matter how ground-breaking an interior is, you can bet your faux Baccarat chandelier that any stylings – be they modernist or maximalist – will be carbon copied and transferred to a wine bar near you before the style pages they first graced have reached the end of their shelf life. The big-boy boltholes and high-street hang-outs can do all they can to emulate the charm of a boutique stopover, but for a hotel to be really special, nothing beats an element of surprise. That’s what we hope awaits you with our recommended retreats. Chosen for their size, looks and location, we sent taste-makers and renowned scribes such as Giles Coren, Howard Marks and Ilse Crawford to visit some our favourites anonymously and share their adventures with us. Here are some of the footsteps you could be following in...
For more information on Mr & Mrs Smith’s guidebooks or to book any of their recommended hotels from around the world, go to www.mrandmrssmith.com
101 Hotel Reykjavík
Style Art-lovers’ ice-cool hibernicum
Setting Harbourside in the capital
Rates ISK 25,900–ISK 59,900 (apartment suite).
Our favourite rooms Ask for a room on the side of the hotel that overlooks the harbour. Junior suites have double-aspect views of the harbour and the old town.
Located on the edge of the
Masseria Torre Coccaro
Style: Fortress refinement
Setting: Among sea-scented olive groves
Rates €242–€1,176, breakfast included.
Our favourite rooms Room 35 is a junior suite in an ancient tower, with beautiful sea views and cosy fireplace. Room 6 is the
Located in Italy’s sunny south,
Style Moorish but modern
Setting Cobbled streets of Costa de la Luz
Rooms Four; two have private terraces.
Rates €75–€130, including breakfast, excluding seven per cent tax.
Our favourite rooms Room 1 is a spacious duplex with large verandah on the uper level. For a sexy stay, book room 3, the Red Room.
Tenette Ludlow and her partner, Nigel Anderson, are two British refugees from urban servitude who brought this former chapel back from the dead in 2004. They have made of it something that, depending on how you look at it, is either a tiny, intimate and quite stunning boutique hotel or a private home with four rooms set aside for paying guests. And that is the great thing about it. For as long as you are in Vejer – whether it’s a month or just a night – this is your home. And it’s not some shonky self-catering duplex with a view of the petrol station; it is a dream of the Spanish Golden Age. The drama of black wrought iron against white walls looks as attractive inside as it does out in the village streets. But here there are many-coloured tiles, too, restored and relocated, and rich fabrics, and gently pulsing music – ambient house and trip-hop never seemed so Moorish. It was like going to stay with one’s very posh Andalucían friends – except that if it belonged to any posh Andalucían friends of mine, it would probably still be falling down. Travelling can so often be about simply observing a foreign lifestyle and environment, about witnessing historical continuity and low-key exoticism, rather than living it; somewhere like Escondrijo (meaning ‘hidden place’), couldn’t be more life-affirming.
Farol Design Hotel Cascais
Setting Left of
Rooms 34, including one suite and 11 rooms styled by different fashion designers.
Rates €100–€400, including breakfast.
Our favourite rooms For a modern influence, plump for the new wing; for high ceilings and more space, go for the old building. Ask for a balcony overlooking the sea. Room 216, black and gold, is very rock ’n’ roll. Room 215, all-white, is sleek with breathtaking views
Once a small fishing village, Cascais has grown in size but kept its laid-back atmosphere. Weekend lovebirds mingle happily with holidaying families and sunbaked surfers. Perched on an outcrop of rock a few feet from the
Jardins Secrets, Nîmes
Rooms Four (with more planned).
Rates €190–€260, excluding breakfast.
Our favourite rooms All four rooms are individually styled, and have views over the garden. Room 1 is exquisite, with antique turquoise paintwork. Room 2 has lofty ceilings and bold black-and-white prints.
We reach a nondescript sidestreet in a nondescript part of town. There’s a dreary grey door in a dreary stone wall. Then we are buzzed in and those unsettling indicators prove to be wildly misleading. What greets us is little short of magical – it feels like we’re entering an entirely new world through that Narnian wardrobe of a grey door. Boutique-hotel lovers everywhere should salute Christophe and Annabelle Valentin who opened up their family home and garden to paying guests in 2005. On the edge of the ancient town centre of Nîmes in southern France, this pink-hued 17th-century city villa has just four guest rooms. There are more, we are happy to reveal, on the way – although not too many, of course. The grounds are what blows us away first. It banishes our mental cobwebs and ignites our enthusiasm from the moment we step through that unremarkable gate. Rich, lush, colourful, full of olive trees, giant palms and bougainvillea. There is a soft, dappled light, and wooden loungers are here and there, in areas of inviting shade. The water gently laps the sides of the small but beautifully formed stone swimming pool, which is partly shaded by more evergreens. In this garden, we will have breakfast, read, swim, talk, doze, drink wine, debate whether to return to bed, eat olives, drink more wine and genuinely relax for the first time in months.
These are edited extracts from Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: European Coast and Country, published by Spy Publishing, priced £19.95.
All photographs by Adrian Houston, copyright Mr & Mrs Smith