Stay loud, stay proud


Stay loud, stay proud

Pride-ready travel tips from the in-the-know LGBTQIA+ hotel owners

Kate Weir

BY Kate Weir1 July 2022

As we march loudly and proudly into London’s Pride parade, here at Mr & Mrs Smith, rather than chase rainbows we’re pausing to appreciate the full LGBTQIA+ spectrum and reflect on how travel can be exciting and enriching for hotel lovers of all orientations.

Since our inception we’ve been sending couples of myriad persuasions across the globe (see recent dispatches from writer Rosa Rankin-Gee in Cambodia, memoirist Nadja Spiegelman in Amsterdam, and style director Teo van den Broeke on the Amalfi coast), but we also know that even though the LGBTQIA+ community has travelled far, there’s farther to go.

To help keep things moving, we’ve teamed up with the Human Dignity Trust to support their impressive work for equal rights around the world, and we’ve spoken to three of the talented Mr & Mr and Mrs & Mrs Smiths behind some of our favourite boutique stays to learn their stories, hear their thoughts on inclusive travel and grill them on where the party’s at.


The terrific twosome behind fabulous Tuscan stays Villa Fontelunga and cheekily named Borgo 69

What’s your story?
We met on the 3 October 1990 in London and had a wonderful 10 years there (London in the Nineties was amazing), going to clubs all over town any day of the week. We were both from very different industries I (Paolo) worked in finance and Philip as a production designer for film and TV; when I was made redundant we took some time out to travel Australasia before Phillip convinced me to open a hotel in Tuscany and the rest is history!

Have you faced any challenges as an openly LGBTQIA+ hotelier?
When we started with Villa Fontelunga 22 years ago, we were very green, entering the industry without any background in the hospitality business. We knew that of course we wanted the stay to be openly gay-owned, but not necessarily a gay hotel – we didn’t want to limit ourselves. So we had many challenges, but none that arose from being part of the gay community.

From your perspective, how has the gay scene in Italy evolved?
The gay scene has changed quite substantially in Italy – it’s become more open and relaxed. Unfortunately the church is still a problem in a country that’s theoretically a secular state – and I won’t get started on the politicians… It helps that the younger generation is more carefree and out and about; and, of course – it might have been 20 years behind the rest of Europe – but civil partnerships are now recognised here: a huge step forward.

Favourite places to travel to (and any you’d avoid)?
South Africa is one of our favourite destinations, especially Cape Town; I believe they have the most liberal and equal constitution…well done, Nelson Mandela! We also love Isla Holbox in Mexico, any of the Thai isles (with a stopover in Bangkok for the street food), and one of my favourite travel memories is Port Douglas in Australia, where Phillip and I found a perfect deserted beach. As for Pride celebrations, Madrid, we’ve found, has the wildest. As for destinations to avoid, we won’t travel to any country that persecutes civil liberties.

What changes would you like to see in the future of travel?
I would like to see Utopia, where people of all religions, races and sexual orientations are treated the same. Unfortunately it seems that instead of progressing forward we are moving backwards.

Essential travel kit?
A Kindle loaded with books, sun-cream and a credit-card. The rest you can usually get wherever you are.

Best travel advice you’ve received?
My mum taught me to always travel light with just the essentials. And my advice would be to travel as much as possible, always be street wise, and explore this wonderful world.

And where’s the party at?
Now that we are (a bit) older we would rather have a good dinner with close friends and there are many places that we like all over Tuscany. Say La Dogana Enoteca in Valiano, Le Chiavi D’Oro restaurant in Arezzo or Trattoria 4 Leoni in Florence and an amazing winery called Avignonesi. They might all be pretty ‘straight’ places but they’re very gay friendly.


The creative couple behind Cuban art gallery, event space and hip hideout A|S Residence, in the heart of Havana’s Old Town

What’s your story?
I (André) am a Netherlands-born abstract artist with a background in the fashion industry, and my partner Sandy – a native Habanero – is a professional dancer and musician. He was working at a private school in Moscow nine years ago, and I was also there on business as creative director for a globally renowned fashion label; we met, fell in love and started thinking about the possibility of starting a small design-led boutique hotel in Cuba, a concept that didn’t really exist there at the time.

We’d both travelled a lot, and I had stayed all over the world, with production trips to the Far East, and inspiration trips to New York, Milan, London, Tokyo, Paris and many other metropoles. I was always in five-star hotels and I learned what I liked. We wanted to do something different from those experiences – something authentic and full of character, which connected guests with the locals people – something completely unique in Cuba.

With my background in design we were sure we could create something very stylish from one of the Old Town’s monumental mansions. So, we started a great adventure in 2016, involving over three years of intensive renovation of a Unesco-protected colonial-style residence. A huge challenge, since – apart from complicated bureaucratic processes – nothing can be bought in Cuba and imports are largely restricted, so many materials and furniture had to be sourced from and created by local craftsmen.

The result is a hotel that stands out in many ways, with a panoramic roof terrace, six intimate rooms and suites, gallery and restaurant, that feels both historic and modern at once. We’re proud to own a beautiful retreat, where abstract art, sleek design and authentic Cuban heritage merge seamlessly.

Have you faced any challenges as an LGBTQIA+ hotelier?
No, no specific challenges – in general Havana is very much LGBTQIA+ friendly, so everywhere we go, we feel welcome.

From your perspective, how has the gay scene in Cuba evolved?
Cuba is still trying to get same-sex family rights implemented into their constitutional laws. Unfortunately this is still not set in stone as yet. Secondly, although the culture is very relaxed towards the LGBTQIA+ community, the church does have a strong conservative influence and promotes traditional family life instead. So emancipation processes are still needed and there are several communities actively involved in that process.

Favourite places to travel (and any you’d avoid)?
We travel frequently to our home base Amsterdam, and for my art exhibitions I return to Europe a lot. We’ve been to many of the world’s largest cities (London, New York and Madrid are some favourites), so we tend to choose calmer locations such as Tulum and Mérida in nearby Mexico and the Côte d’Azur. Spain we’ve found to be the most welcoming for LGBTQIA+ travellers, and as for where we’d spend Pride, Amsterdam’s Canal Parade and week-long celebrations have given us some of the best – and wildest – memories.

What changes would you like to see in the future of travel?
The best would be a natural approach, with complete acceptance everywhere and no-one being seen as an exception in a negative way. So, for example, the exclusively gay hotels that have more recently opened in Havana, we see not so much as a signal of gay emancipation and integration, but rather as a confirmation of being an exception. To be exceptional is great, but that should be based on personality, character and identity instead of having a different sexuality.

Our philosophy, which is strongly anchored in our hotel concept, is that the world should be a free place without judgement and there should be space for everybody with free expression of thought, for all genders, races and religions. We are a place where the liberated individuals and free spirits can meet and connect or just exist together.

Essential travel kit?
A good outfit, of course.

Your best travel advice?
Always follow your intuition and stay true to your personal taste and standards.

And where’s the party at?
We love rooftop eatery Yarini Habana (the views are fantastic), super-cool arts space and club FAC (Fábrica de Arte Cubano), and watching gigs at Casa de la Música and the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center. As for bars, you’ll find us at Melodrama (very cosy but good fun) and the rooftop of El De Frente.


The dynamic design duo who revived a palazzo in Ostuni to make elegantly eccentric pad Paragon 700

What’s your story?
We met in Santorini in September 1993, and it really was love at first sight. The first year we were dating, we had to travel up and down between Geneva (where Pascale was living) and Paris, where I (Ulrike) was; and from our second year together onwards we’ve lived and worked together to this day. We both loved Puglia and by the time a friend showed us around Palazzo Rosso (which was to become Paragon 700), we’d spent time in the region restoring a masseria and an old farmhouse. As soon as the palazzo’s carriage door opened, we knew it was already our home.

Have you faced any challenges as an LGBTQIA+ hotelier?
None. We behave like we are anyone else in the world.

Favourite places to travel (and any you’d avoid)?
South America, Asia, and South Africa – specifically Cape Town, where we lived for 13 years. There, equality for everyone is part of the constitution, which means whichever race or religion you are, you’re considered equal in the eyes of the law – and you can truly feel this when you’re there. One of our favourite travel memories is riding a hot-air balloon over the Namib Desert at sunrise, and for Pride, we have the most fun at MCQP party in Cape Town (there’s a different theme each year). Obviously, we avoid all homophobic countries.

What changes would you like to see in the future of travel?
No discrimination!

Essential travel kit
Pencils and paper for taking down new design ideas on the road.

Where’s the party at?
We don’t look for specific LGBTQIA+ hang-outs – we like a simple osteria, but it does seem that Ostuni and Puglia have become an on-trend place to be.

Find out more about – and donate to – the important and extensive work done by the Human Dignity Trust around the world

Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity