In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Hotels offer unusual amenities to lure guests
Hotels are going to extraordinary lengths to cater to a guest’s every imaginable need. Think a fragrance or tanning butler, a dog surfing instructor and a sleep concierge.
Among the amenities:
• Some Rosewood Hotels, including The Carlyle in New York, have a 24-hour fragrance butler. When summoned, he appears with a selection of perfumes and colognes on a silver tray. If the scent wears off, call again. The butler won’t cut you off.
• The Benjamin Hotel in New York has a sleep concierge who assesses your sleeping habits and helps you choose from an extensive pillow menu. Still having trouble sleeping? The concierge will send up a peanut butter-and-jelly banana bread sandwich and warm milk.
• Some hotels have employees whose only job is to plan dates and proposals. The Opus Hotel Vancouver in Canada has the Cupid Concierge. The Rendezvous in St. Lucia has the Romance Concierge. And the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston has the Proposal Artist.
• The Ritz Carlton has a tanning butler at its property in South Beach in Miami, a guacamologist in Dallas and a vibe manager in Palm Beach.
• Loews Coronado Bay Resort in California has a dog surfing instructor as part of its Su’ruff Camp. As part of a package that includes a one-night stay, canine guests get doggie board shorts or a surfer bandana.
Chef’s best breakfasts
From smoked salmon in Tasmania to a proper sausage sandwich in London, here’s how and where Britain’s top chefs and restaurateurs like to start their day.
Bar Italia, London
Chosen by Fergus Henderson, chef patron, St John
In an ideal world, my favourite way to start the day would be a plate of devilled kidneys washed down with a black velvet (a cocktail made of Guinness and champagne). But that’s just not the kind of thing you should do very often. Normally my morning “meal” is an espresso and a few cigarettes – as a chef you’re handling and tasting food all day, sobreakfast often isn’t a priority – but at the weekend I make an effort for the kids and get crispy croissants from Maison Bertaux in Soho, or make bacon and scrambled eggs – cooked slowly in lots of butter. I do love butter. I had some interesting breakfasts when I was last in India, including a deep-fried squash croissant, which was all kinds of sweet, buttery unctuousness. If I have a morning off in town, I’ll nip into Bar Italia– my favourite breakfast pit stop – on Frith Street in Soho and get a sausage bap. I’m very partial to them.
22 Frith Street, London W1D 4RP
Twenty Three Cafe, Auckland
Chosen by Anna Hansen, chef patron, The Modern Pantry
I’m a massive fan of Twenty Three Cafe. They do my favourite breakfast – grilled sardines on sourdough toast with gremolata and smoked tomato salsa. If I really want to push the boat out I’ll have their ginger marinated scallops on toast with black pudding. They also make a mean coffee and are super friendly – both essential ingredients for a good breakfast experience. I try not to miss breakfast, although sometimes sleep takes priority. On a usual day, I’ll have porridge with wheatgerm and manuka honey, or some of the granola we make at Modern Pantry. Breakfast was an important meal growing up, and one we enjoyed as a family. Porridge was a major fixture: mum would serve it either with butter and salt – sounds odd now, but it was delicious – or brown sugar and milk. In which case, in the days before homogenisation, my brother and I would pay tribute to our Danish genes and fight over who got the top cream.
23 Mount Eden Road, Eden Terrace, Auckland, NZ
Rambling through ruins – discover the charms of Europe’s lesser-known castles
Most of Europe’s castles have long been discovered by travellers. These can be fun, offering battle re-enactments, sound-and-light shows, catapult demos, dress-up costumes, fake garden parties, wagon rides, medieval banquets, tourist accommodations — even Disney-esque amusement park rides.
But beyond the touristy castles are those I prefer — the forgotten ones. These are evocative, stony husks without plaster or furnishings — where you’ll see broken stairways and open skies rather than rooftops. Their massive chunks of stone no longer guard anything from anyone. The lichen grows on walls seemingly to cushion stones for a fall they’ve been expecting for centuries.
Castle ruins invite you to fill-in-the-moat, ramble the ramparts, and let your imagination roam. Climbing through waist-high weeds on rubble corralled by surviving walls, you can break off a spiky frond and live a sword-fern fantasy.
In France’s Dordogne region, I like to hike to Chateau de Commarque near Sarlat. It’s a 20-minute walk through a forest of chestnut trees to a clearing, where the mostly ruined castle appears like a mirage. The owner, Hubert de Commarque, bought the castle in 1968 and has been digging it out of the forest ever since.
Along Italy’s Amalfi Coast in Ravello, the ruins of the 13th-century Villa Rufolo impressed Richard Wagner enough to place the second act of his opera Parsifal in a setting inspired by the villa’s magical gardens. With its commanding coastline view, the ruins create an operatic experience that doesn’t even need music.
In the scenic foothills of the French Pyrenees is a series of surreal, mountain-capping castle ruins. Like a Maginot Line of the 13th century, these sky-high castles were strategically located between France and the Spanish kingdom of Roussillon. The most spectacular is the Chateau of Peyrepertuse, where the ruins seem to grow right out from the narrow splinter of cliff. The views are sensational — you can almost reach out and touch Spain.
Along the coast of Northern Ireland, the romantic remnants of Dunluce Castle perch dramatically on the edge of a rocky headland. On a stormy night in 1639, dinner was interrupted as half of the kitchen fell into the sea — taking the servants with it. That was the last straw for the lady of the castle, who packed up and moved inland. Ever since, the forces of nature have had their way.
That’s Ridiculous! The Travel Experience is Improving — Isn’t It?
Are travelers experiencing better service than a decade ago? Or do all the ridiculous fees and travel scams indicate that things are worse than ever before?
The world is going to hell in a handbasket, as my dad used to say.
Or is it?
Consider the overall travel experience, which I write about every day, and which my readers experience every day. It’s easy to assume that companies are getting more aggressive about pushing their ridiculous fees, surcharges, and other scams on the masses.
But then I hear from Jeff James, a reader from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, about an experience he had a few years ago when he rented a car from National (www.nationalcar.com) in Denver.
When he returned the vehicle, a representative claimed there was a dent on the bumper.
“I couldn’t see it,” he says. “After arguing with the guy for a few minutes, he suggested if I paid him $20 that he could take care of the problem. I gave him a $20 bill and rushed to catch my flight. I never rented from National again.”
I checked with National, which was understandably concerned about this obvious scam, and learned that the alleged incident took place more than a few years ago. In fact, it happened in 2001.
And that got me thinking: Do we just assume that the travel experience is getting worse?
Is it possible that the “good old days” were actually the bad old days, when it comes to the quality of travel?