Until relatively recently I could take or leave a hotel. Once upon a time I didn’t ‘get’ the point of one. Why would you not have self-catering when you can eat when you want? And breakfast in bed? The crumbs! Give me a table and chair any day…
I suspect this was largely due to my experiences as a child: my Dad having to wear a tie to dinner (it was before smart/causal existed as dress code you were either smart, or you were casual. Ah. The 80s.); only being allowed to eat with my parents at breakfast and lunch (you don’t go on hols to spend TIME with your children do you?); the outside unheated swimming pool (this was Cornwall. In June, so you know, didn’t get to use it much). And so this was pretty much my experience of hotels: somewhere that you can only eat when you’re told you can, somewhere that you fear drowning thanks to the gasp reflex as you hit the freezing cold water (and hit it I did, thanks to my ever so kind younger sibling who pushed me in just as I was quite literally dipping my toe in the freezing cold water deciding that I would not be submersing myself anytime soon), and well, formality for formalities sake.
Then two things happened:
1) I went to a good hotel
2) I had children
These things also coincided (it now transpires) with what Tamara Heber-Percy, co-founder of Mr & Mrs Smith describes as a revolution in boutique hotels. “It all started with Babington House; in the early noughties, there was this real desire across home and hotel design to chuck out the chintz, encapsulated perfectly by the Ikea advert at the time. A lot of hotels haven’t caught up, but those that have realise that what we want from a weekend away is to be able to relax, not to think about formalities, but to have amazing, wonderful service. And frankly, to walk into a hotel room and feel a little bit sexy.”
So, it turns out that actually, a good hotel is not just, on occasion, an amazing thing, it is a necessary thing (Tamara says so, and that’s enough for me). It’s an absolute important must-do-on-a-regular-basis thing (regular can be once every 6-months, or once every 5-years, you know, as regular as you can). It gives you time to take a moment to, reconnect, relax. Eat nice food (when you want more often than not), drink good wine (with breakfast if you want to), lounge round in a fluffy bathrobe (if you fancy), or get out in the great outdoors knowing that on your return there will be a fire roaring with delicious morsels and tea on tap, or an elegant balcony overlooking an infinity pool with luxurious rattan seating where you can lounge sipping something sparkly whilst you look out over the veranda. And, being as we are a wedding based journal, when is better than to live life to the hotel experience maximum than on honeymoon?
In our last Getaway feature we bought you a selection of beautiful UK based idylls – there was something for everyone. Today we’re not offering you anything other than pure, unadulterated luxury in some of the Europe’s finest hotels, these are locations to put on your honeymoon list that you may not have thought about before. As Tamara eloquently puts it “there is a horrible industry phrase in the travel industry that honeymoons are simply “fly and flop”. We don’t believe that’s good enough, we encourage our team and our customers to think outside the box when it comes to their honeymoon, think holistically, about what they want, not just about flying to the Maldives or Caribbean and doing nothing for a fortnight.” And my goodness do Mr and Mrs Smith enable you to do just that with their European Coast and Country coffee table book (though they have destinations all over the world). – a book, dear reader, you can win on Tigerlily… read on….
Check out the Tigerlily twitter feed at 11.30am today to see how you could win this “oh so lovely book.”
Mr and Mrs Smith is all about luxury – the name captured the imagination of the press when they started up eleven years ago: and what timing they had. When hotels all over the country were starting to realise what people wanted from a weekend away there was Mr & Mrs Smith, poised with a memorable (and very sexy) name, not to mention their self-published guide to Boutique Hotel heaven.
The books and website are essentially a lesson in hotel luxury: We love that they give packing tips on every pick (bubble wrap for a French Chateau trip may seem obvious, chances are you’re going there in part because of your love of fine wine but let’s be honest, how many of us have had to overloaded a 1EURO supermarket plastic bag with our bottles, only to have the handle snap and literally have to carry your bounty home like a child. Not just me I’ll wager). There is also a ‘Smith Extra’ with every booking – a little sumptuous something to look forward to when you arrive, not to mention that as a booking service you get points every time you book which can take you from the fabulously named Blacksmith to Silversmith to Goldsmith. So you actually save money AND get a little something extra alongside those packing tips just be using them. We love it, and, you know, hats off to the team it must have been *such* a hardship shortlisting all these beauties. I mean imagine *having* to check our luxury hotels to recommend… what a chore. Who’d do that out of choice (for the record, typing one handed, arm raised, waving, wildly. Just in case you ever need me. I can be available. Please send me somewhere my children are not allowed to come).
I digress. We had the ever so exciting opportunity to catch up with co-founder Tamara about the company, how it started, and what the future holds. And we’ve picked our top ten destinations from their wonderful book for you too. What’s not to love?
We are huge fans of the Mr & Mrs Smith guides and website – how did the business start?
“It started all by accident really. James [Tamara’s husband and co-founder] and I were both working in London and dating. We worked really hard, and so our weekends away were so special and valued. Babington House had really captured the imagination as a boutique hotel offering something new and special, but of course it was booked up a year in advance. After numerous disastrous weekends away in old fashioned, stuffy hotels, we came up with the concept of our first guide: a guide to UK boutique hotels.
“Armed with this idea, and really knowing the public wanted great hotels, we tried to sell the idea to publishers, none of whom wanted it. So we decided that we would take time off, travel the length and breadth of the country and find 52 exquisite hotels – one for every week of the year – and self-publish. So we did. But we could only find 41. And we worried about the fact that the very premise of our book was now completely pointless as there simply were not enough hotels that we could mark out as special.
“But the idea really turned on its head, as it hit us, if there are only 41 hotels, then we have to make sure people know about them. It makes them all the more special. And so we self-published, struggled to get distributer, but really had a product that we believed in. It was never meant to be a business, but Mr & Mrs Smith captured the imagination, and we found ourselves riding a movement that had started where people cared where they stayed, and wanted to know about them. A couple of years later we digitised, and now offer hotels all over the world, but still have exactly the same ethos that we always did – which is that only the best will do.”
Your guide is full of some of the most amazing hotels in an array of locations – all of different styles. How do you source these fabulous gems?
“We get approached by about 500 hotels a month, but we will only add those we believe in. It’s such a cliché, but less really is more. We would rather have two amazing hotels in Verona,that we have a wonderful booking relationship with: we are committed to them, they will listen when we tell them a guest is honeymooning could you please give them an upgrade.
“We will go to each hotel ourselves and have a tour. We see all the bedrooms so we can recommend which are best – in Venice we can tell you that a corner room will still get you a canal view, without the added premium. After we’re given the official tour, a member of the team will book and attend as a genuine customer: they will get a true experience of what that hotel has to offer. Only then will we list it, along with tips on what to pack, a dress code, any must do trips. We want to help our clients feel prepared and relaxed about their booking, and that’s what we aim to do.”
What excites you about finding new hotels to add to your guide?
“Finding something new and unspoilt is a privilege. I recently went with my family to Bali and stayed at Alila Villas, and the hotel was right on the coastline. It was rugged, totally unspoilt, and for the first twenty minutes I was there I was speechless. You could walk down a trail to a beach that was only uncovered half the day. The rock-pools were full of crabs and fish, and it was just an idyll. From this to the exquisite architecture, it is a true gem. To have that reaction and enable your clients to experience it too, is very special.”
What is next for Mr & Mrs Smith?
“Well, we have our Little White Book coming out – it’s a taster of honeymoons we’ve booked – my own to South Africa is in there, suggested road trips, places to eat, places you can stay, everything you could need to know. We are really growing the honeymoon side of our business, and everyone who books their honeymoon through us is automatically made a Goldsmith member, meaning you save on your next stay. We have a gift list service too so that your guests can contribute towards your honeymoon.
“And we are also working hard on a sister site, www.smithandfamily.co.uk. Mr & Mrs Smith has always been a company about luxury, and it’s always had a little bit of a cheeky nudge-nudge-wink-wink feel, as the name suggests. We realise that if you’re planning a honeymoon or a weekend away, you don’t really care if there is a babysitting service, or you can heat bottles in your room. In fact you probably want to know that you can’t! So we have set up a separate site which tells mums and dads exactly what they need to know – that the pool has shade for their kids, that there is a gate so they can’t fall in. The stuff we want to know. Oh, and we make sure that even though they are family friendly they still serve a very good bottle of wine!”
Thanks to Tamara for taking the time to, well, to basically make all at Love Scarlett want a good weekend away… so what better way, you know, aside from actually going somewhere, than taking a look at our top 10 picks from the European Guide, though, you know each to their own, pick and choose as you like. We suspect you can’t go wrong…
1. You had me at Chateau….
Look, I could tell you about the drawbridge, and the sumptuous furnishings, and reiterate that it’s a chateau. But I won’t. Because it’s all of this. And this is the one you need to take bubble wrap to.
2. Not to be too stereotypical but…
There’s money off golf for the boys, and there’s a spa for the girls. Or vice versa. Or golf together. Or spa together.
3. You get a complimentary cocktail…
And there’s a Hammam onsite. And a pool. And a bit of culture if all that relaxation is too, you know, relaxing.
4. Not one, not two, but three…
Pools. And yoga on request. And Andalucía. And loads of outdoor based pursuits (but there are three pools, so why would you? But it you were to want to, you could)
5. This view quite literally encapsulates the image that the name ‘Greece’conjours.
And there’s an infinity pool too. Did we mention the view? And the white wash? What’s that? The view you say?
6. The Amalfi coast
I feel no more need be said, other than pack your floppy straw hat (to wear with your Pucci prints), take a boat trip, go to Pompei.
7. A Fort. With its own private Yacht.
Also, a haven for seafood lovers (I myself adhere to a See Food diet. I see food, I eat it).
8. The rolling hills, the olive groves… the culture…
There is simply nothing not to love about Florence. But stay in this little gem and you will never ever want to go anywhere else. Ever.
9.Driftwood chic with hammocks over-looking the Aegean.
The pool is strictly adults only, so they’ll be no little darlings causing a splash (DISCLAIMER: as a parent I’m allowed to say this)
10. Sea views that do all the talking
But there’s luxury everywhere at this Riviera gem.
Words by Harriet Rouse Tigerlily
All Photography Mr & Mrs Smith