The hotel lover

I’m a faithless lover.

Of hotels, that is. In Paris, for instance, I can never stay loyal to one hotel for long, for the simple reason that there are so many wonderful ones to try. 

My latest squeeze is a stunner on the Left Bank, 200 yards from the Seine, a hop, skip and a jump from Boulevard St. Michel. Well, how could you not fall head over heels in love?  Dating from the 13th century and built on the site of an Augustinian monastery, the privately owned Relais Christine might sound just a teensy bit fusty, but enter its enchanting courtyard and climb the few steps to the hotel’s reception and what overwhelms you is the sense of contemporary Paris chic. 


The Dining Room at Grace Mayflower Inn & Spa. Photograph by Serge Detalle.

A young decorator by the name of Laura Gonzales (remember her name, because you’re going to be hearing it a lot) has recently carried out a renovation of the common parts. As a result, Relais Christine just brims over with palpable good taste. Pierre Frey, Hermès and Ananbô fabrics — silks and brocades so scrumptious and decadent you can’t keep from running your hands over them — are the backdrop for individual pieces gathered from flea markets. Meanwhile, the coffee table tomes so artfully displayed in the hotel’s salon are so heavy you feel they must have been lowered in by crane. The honesty bar sets the tone for a relaxed informality and will make you feel right at home, the essential difference being that in my home we are always running out of essentials like tonic for my gin, which at the beautifully run Relais Christine would never happen. 

With only 48 guest rooms and suites, this hotel always feels intimate. The rooms with private terraces opening onto a magical garden may be the plum choice, but the spacious duplexes offer great value for the money.  And I love the four courtyard rooms, which perhaps more than any others give the feeling of living like a local in the City of Lights. Many of the guest accommodations, by the way, come with complete kitchens, ideal if you’re planning a longer stay. Plus, if fitness is your thing, you can head to the basement for “sport in the vault,” in the hotel’s fully equipped fitness center, complete with Jacuzzi and sauna, or you can be pummelled and primped in the hotel’s gorgeous Guerlain spa. Whatever would those Augustines have thought of it all?

A faithless lover (of hotels) I may be, but that doesn’t mean I’m not an old-fashioned romantic. And one of the most romantic spots on earth has to be the fishing village of St. Mawes in Cornwall, England — magical, mystical, redolent of pirates and cloaked in Arthurian legend. 

At the end of a picture-postcard seaside village, The Idle Rocks hotel is one of the most romantic small hotels on “this sceptred isle.” With its scrubbed furniture, pale pastels, blue and white Ikat textiles and driftwood sculptures, it sits right on the water with views of the surrounding peninsula and out to sea that are utterly breathtaking.

Above, the front desk at Relais Christine, Paris; and right, the courtyard room terrace at Relais Christine, Paris. Courtesy Relais Christine.

In midwinter, the Cornwall sky is a steely blue, the temperatures are mild (that’s the Gulf Stream for you) and the Idle Rocks’ wood-burning fireplaces and Cornish cream teas make for the cosiest of retreats. But it’s in the spring and summer months when this property really comes into its own. Sit on the hotel’s wide terrace overlooking the water, under a cobalt blue June sky, drinking a gin fizz (made with Plymouth gin, naturally) or sip Black Ewe Dry White wine from the nearby Trevibban Mill Vineyard & Orchards and all care seems to slip away.  

Feast in the hotel’s restaurant, where the emphasis, as you might expect is on all things piscine, and you will fall for The Idle Rocks, hook, line and sinker. Chef Guy Owen says he likes to keep it simple. Well, so did Marie Antoinette. There are local Helford oysters, plump and minerally, silver mullet with brown shrimps, the freshest crab, scorched mackerel with apple and oyster, judiciously curried cod and Moorland lamb with pickled cockles and seaweed. Heritage fruit and vegetables come from The Lost Gardens of Heligan up the road (which is worth the journey to Cornwall alone) and fish and shellfish is landed on the quay right here in St. Mawes, or along the coast at Looe. It doesn’t get fresher.

There is love and romance and then, of course, there is sex. Back stateside, The Surf Club was for years the sexiest address in Miami. Everyone hung here — Churchill, a clutch of Kennedys and half of Hollywood, including Elizabeth Taylor and the entire Rat Pack — and what they all got up to, not to cast aspersions or anything, one can only imagine and smile. But its heyday was long gone. Then clever developer, Nadim Ashi, got architect Richard Meier to slap a sleek white cube of a hotel on top of the original Mediterranean-style club and persuaded Four Seasons to run it. 

The best of all possible worlds — huge guest rooms, easy on the eye; two sleek, symmetrical pools to play in; the beach just steps away. Plus, an all-white spa so fresh, so — well, frankly, sexy — it doesn’t seem entirely decent. Last but not least is The Surf Club’s glamorous restaurant, a one-off branch of Le Sirenuse in Positano, Italy. Overseen by Sirenuse owner Antonio Sersale himself, the food is utterly divine and every bite has you right there on the Amalfi Coast.  It’s heaven, and if you don’t leave home for one of those smooth, white-jacketed, Italian-American waiters, chances are you will stay home forever. 

The courtyard room terrace at Relais Christine, Paris. Courtesy Relais Christine.

Funny, isn’t it, how the best things in life are sometimes on the doorstep. The Grace Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington, Connecticut, is not only one of the loveliest inns in New England, to my mind it also boasts one of the top half-dozen spas in the country, all 20,000 square feet of it. Peace of mind, serenity and general wellness are the focus here in addition to familiar treatments such as massage, cranio-sacral therapy and lymphatic drainage — many of which use the resort’s exceptional New York-produced Red Flower products. Mayflower is also a North American pioneer of Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing. This involves direct, physical contact with the earth by means of curated walks in the woods, with exposure to phytoncides, the airborne chemicals and oils emitted by trees. These restorative hikes are then complemented by spa therapies to release blocked energy. 

For breakfast the Grace does a wonderful smoked salmon benedict, and lunch in the cosy Tap Room or the prix fixe dinner in the main dining room delivers some of the best food for miles around. And the Mayflower offers nourishment for the mind as well as the body, because there are books everywhere — in the inn’s atmospheric library, of course, with its wood fire always burning, in the games room, in the great room at the spa and in the guest rooms. Accommodations range from vast suites in the Speedwell or Allerton Cottages, with marble-surround fireplaces, beautiful stencilled wallpapers and two balconies looking out to the woods, to equally sumptuous rooms in the main house.  

With so much on offer both at home and abroad, you can see why I’m a serial hotel adulterer. I hope this month that you’ll be committing some hotel adultery, too.

For more, visit relais-christine.com, idlerocks.com, fourseasons.com/surfside and gracehotels.com.

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