40 WINKS IN A HOTEL BED
What is it about hotel beds that make them so wonderfully slumbersome? We’ve pondered this question many times – mostly while in bed. In fact, we’ve spent a lot of 2020 undercover – the squishy barrier to an uncertain world – and we’re still loath to leave it (it’s freezing outside, for God’s sake). But, even the most hibernatory of us might peel off the duvet for the chance to once again feel the caress of linen with a thread count in the hundreds, feel the loving support of a Hypnos or Hästens mattress, and peruse a menu of pillowy delicacies (buckwheat! Memory foam! Lavender-infused!). We’ve done our fair share of bed-hopping and slept soundly in each we’ve snuggled into, but the bed that we dream most of is that at Six Senses Yao Noi. And, for good reason – the hotel teamed up with sleep doctor Michael J Breus to create a god-tier space for slumbering. It’s soft, sustainable and ergonomic: the handmade mattress is filled with lamb’s wool and coir fiber, plus a latex layer that’ll put your posture right (all from certified-organic plantations); the moisture-wicking, hypoallergenic sheet keeps bitey uninvited guests at bay; pillows are engineered to stay plump and regulate temperature; and superfine linens are strokably smooth. There are few lovelier places to wake up too – villas are open to the elements, so beds face the serene blue waters and rocky outcrops of Phang Nga Bay, a sight for sore eyes at any time, but best viewed from beneath the covers.
CATCHING A SUNNY DAY IN EDINBURGH
As much as its proudly-born-and-raised-there citizens might try to argue otherwise, you can’t escape the fact that Edinburgh can be a bit, well, soggy. If you’re lucky you’ll encounter ‘smirr’, that refreshing spritz that’s little more annoying than the continuous bagpipe whine of ‘Scotland the Brave’ wheedling down from the castle. But, there’s a fair chance it’ll be ‘greeting’ or ‘pishing doon’ with the violent showers that we’ve genuinely seen snap a brolly clean in half – yes, the metal bit. In fact, with an average 250 days of rain a year, the Scots have coined an ASMR litany of terms to cover all the nuances of precipitation (drookit, sump, oorlich…). So, when you see the Gothic medieval high-rises of the Royal Mile start to lighten, and Sir Walter Scott’s countenance brighten from its sooty gloaming, it’s a rare treat. When the sun finally shows up, the whole city feels as if it’s downed a couple of pints and shaken off its trademark stoicism. Diners spill onto terraces in the Grassmarket, students stretch out in Holyrood Park and the witchy wynds with tragic histories lose much of their eeriness. The dark heart of Gillian Galbraith’s potboilers and Irvine Welsh’s smacked-up nightmares becomes the fairytale its castles, spires and heroic legends promise it to be. And, honestly, it makes wandering hilly streets all the easier. Of course, pinning down Edinburgh’s fair-weather fair weather is impossible; but with every visit, many sadly nixed this year, there’s hope for that glint on slick pavement that opens up the city’s possibilities.
SEASIDE SEAFOOD FEASTS
As much as Deliveroo might argue otherwise, seafood is not something that should travel to you. The very best seafood is, however, worth travelling for. After a restricted 2020, we’re dreaming of a few salty pilgrimages in 2021. There’s seafood’s A-listers, of course, such as Nobu’s black-cod miso, now available on the White Isle. Over in Venice, the absence of cruise ships means not only fewer tourists but the return of sea critters to the lagoon. That’s got us yearning for the fried moeche (soft-shell crab) at 16th-century Palazzo Venart, available only a few days a year – when these giant crustaceans shed their otherwise rock-hard exterior – and served to your table in a private courtyard overlooking the Grand Canal. Padstow in Cornwall is the UK’s unofficial seafood capital, where the town’s National Lobster Hatchery works hard at ensuring sustainable fishing. It makes eating fruits of the sea at the Lobster Shed, restaurant at the nearby Pig at Harlyn Bay, a less guilty but no less of a let’s-do-this-every-weekend affair. Its chargrilled whole lobster and Harlyn thermidor are reasons alone to head to the Cornish coast.
SARTORIAL SNOOPING IN FLORENCE
In a year of athleisure, we’re rather missing the well-turned cuff and crisp collar of a freshly dry-cleaned suit and dazzling pour-into designer dresses. WFH just doesn’t feel worth the effort for this kind of not-a-hair-out-of-place dressing, but for the sort of silhouette that we enjoyed before enforced hibernation, Italy brings it. And Sunday brunch at Villa Cora is one of the most head-swivelling fashion shows you’ll find off-catwalk. Hosted in the hotel’s Ritz-rivalling ballroom, with all the Baroque trappings thrown at it (gilding, frescoes, rich velvets), this is a lavish feast that meanders through the hotel. There’s cheese, charcuterie and salads in one room, hot dishes in the vestibule, and desserts spread over a neon-blue table in the lounge (plus a popcorn cart for good measure). And yet, the locals who attend and indulge look as if they’ve arrived fresh from a cleanse, with blazers that button just-so, colourful pocket squares or socks that draw the eye, proportional handbags and heels and an air of unwavering fabulosity. It’s to be expected in a country that churns out top designers at the same rate as fresh pasta, but it would be all the more uplifting to revisit this proud peacocking – it might, at least, motivate us to embrace the art of dressing once again.
UNPLUGGING, PORTUGUESE STYLE
Sometime around April this year, relaxing became a bit of an effort. When your favourite remedies went out the window, you concentrated on ‘keeping it simple’ instead. You lapped your local park. You took a crack at The Really Long One by that Russian, then tried not to bulldoze through a whole Netflix series instead. All too often, our attempts to relax amounted to Orwellian doublethink. It was emergency sabbatical. Crisis repose. Little wonder, then, that we’re craving a return to places that are inherently restful. Places like São Lourenço do Barrocal, a 200-year-old farmstead in Portugal’s Alentejo, one of the least densely populated regions in southern Europe. It’s been in the same family for eight generations, and no matter where you turn, things always lead back to the land. There’s an overriding sense that Nature’s schedule is the only one that matters here. Out in the fields, the ear attunes to the buzzing insects and the eye fills with the colours of the wildflowers, which burst into bloom year after year. In the farmhouses, the monastic atmosphere is built up from a foundation of terracotta, oak and whitewashed stone. When you eat in the restaurant, you can be sure that what’s on your plate came from a farmer who knows this soil like an old friend – someone who thinks in seasons and rejoices at the first shoots of green. At São Lourenço, calm will seek you out as surely as the grass grows.
PERUSING PROVENÇAL MARKETS AND PERNOD BARS
Oh, to be in Provence, wandering the winding streets of a mediaeval village like Grasse or Gordes, on the hunt for the platonic ideal of the Pernod bar. It’s not a definitive term, rather one we coined ourselves to describe that uniquely French outdoor café, preferably on a corner, that has circular chrome tables, ashtrays, and bistro chairs; the type of place where you slowly sip un demi of icy beer and watch the world saunter by. After our bracing bière, the second thing we’ll be seeking in this sun-blessed corner of southern France is a market – it could be antiques, flowers, food, clothing or ceramics, we’re not fussy – just set us down amid the calling hawkers and we’re in heaven. Our straw baskets will be stuffed full of lavender sachets from the Luberon, hand-painted pottery and exquisite earthenware, then we’ll gallop (as fast as our new espadrilles can carry us) back to our cypress-shaded hotel to toast our purchases over a bottle of Bandol.
BREAKFASTING IN SANTORINI
In Santorini, breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day (although the straight-off-the-grill fish, feta Saganaki and succulent souvlaki you’ll have later in the day will come a close second). Menus read like a Homeric epic and often change with each sunset to keep things interesting. Hotels know that the honeymooners and romance seekers wish to wallow in their suite’s luxury and are in little hurry to leave bed come morning, so laden trays discretely dropped off let them linger. And, these aren’t your average fry-up – take, for example, Mystique hotel, whose mornings start with bougatsa filo-cream pies, strapatsada eggs with tomato, platters of Grecian cheeses and cold cuts (feta, manouri, louza from Timos, bacon from Mount Olympus, tzoumagias sausages), fresh breads and cakes, superfood bowls, pancakes savoury and sweet and an array of bracingly fresh juices and smoothies. Or, Vora Villas’ decadent devourables: caviar bruschetta; tsoureki French toast with sour cherries and cream; pancakes with Graviera cheese, beurre noisette, honey and egg… All feasts fit for the gods, and even better, most come with a side of glittering caldera view.
LA MAMOUNIA’S SIGNATURE SCENTS
Marrakech is a city that demands all your senses, whether you’re following the flare of fire-dancers in Jemaa el-Fna, walking the gamut of cries from souk sellers, being scrubbed briskly in a hammam or dunking syrupy chebakia biscuits into savoury harira soup. There are innumerable experiences that elicit Proustian flashbacks, and yet somehow the scents of legendary hotel La Mamounia cut through them all. It’s a canny hotel that secures a signature scent to greet guests, and French perfumer Olivia Giacobetti drew on city-evoking scents – fresh palm, sweet dates, Atlas cedar and rich rosewood – to create the alluring aroma that infuses the air when footmen in fezzes and red capes throw open the heavy arched doors. It’s this heady signature scent that follows you to your room, lingers in your suitcase when you pack and calls you dreamily back if you catch a whiff back home (after all, they sell it in various guises in their boutique). But La Mam’s perfumes tell a more complex story, that unfurls with the herbaceous mint tea you’re met with, the delicate citrus-y scent of argan oil that permeates the spa, the Berberian spice floating from its restaurants and the floral whammy of the gardens’ 5,000 rose bushes and 700 orange trees. Even the pungence of the lit Romeo y Julietas in the cigar lounge sends us into rich Moroccan reveries, making us all the more excited to follow our nose back there.
THE HAZY CHARM OF THE BUSY BAR
It’s been a bad year for the humble bar. All around the world, mankind’s most steadfast crutch was hit with a once unimaginable nightmare: lockdown. As a result, anyone remotely partial to a tipple will relate to hopeful 2021 vision: to find yourself sitting (or standing, we’re not fussy) in a busy, noisy bar, barely able to hear the person you’re talking to and bloody revelling in it. Are you a disciple of the sacred pint? Get thee to the Swan Southwold, joined at the hipflask to the Adnams brewery and distillery. If you like your martinis garnished with skyline splendour, slink onto a velvet sofa in Popinjays, which crests the roof of the Murray in Hong Kong. For those craving live music, we’d recommend the debonair Django Jazz Club at New York’s Roxy Hotel. And for the committed drinker? The anything-goes spirit of the Groucho Club in the louche heart of London. You know all those times you said ‘I’m never passing on a trip to the pub again’? Well, now’s the time to get planning…
A RESTORATIVE SPA STAY
If you emerged from 2020 feeling fighting fit, well-rested and bright-eyed, well, we doff our cap to you. But if your nerves are shot and the last time you stretched was when you half-finished a YouTube yoga video in, um, October, then we’d say you’re in need of a soul-soothing spa break. If nothing but a full overhaul will do, deliver yourself to the experts at the Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives – you can choose from one of the spa’s multi-day tailored wellness programs, each focussing on a different area of health that may need tending to: mindfulness, immunity, fitness, sleep or detox. For the spiritual searcher, Mexico’s ethereal Chable Yucatan has a menu of Maya-inspired spoiling: shaman-led ‘rebirth’ ceremonies, reiki and chakra-aligning treatments, as well as more traditional massages, facials and top-to-toe beautifying. And, for a break that balances hedonism with health, scamper to Surrey where Beaverbrook’s Coach House spa is equipped with indoor and outdoor pools, a hammam, steam room, sauna and a top-spec gym (but there’s just as much joy to be had sipping a Spitfire Collins in the Twenties-style Sir Frank’s bar, if we’re being honest).