Smith Travel BlogTravel tales and hotel news from the boutique hotel experts at Mr & Mrs Smith

From the suitcase of… Baiba Grase

Posted by Rachel Juarez-Carr on December 20th, 2014

Senior honeymoon expert Baiba Grase

Baiba – our London HQ’s resident multi-lingual Latvian holiday-planning superstar – is one of the Smith Travel Team’s top honeymoon experts. She’s travelled more than almost anyone else we know.

Sri Lanka on InstagramLast trip Sri Lanka. I went absolutely everywhere, but some of my favourite spots were Kandy (beautiful lake), Trincomalee (rugged beach), Bentota (best beach), Galle (most atmospheric world heritage site city on the planet), Yala (leopard watching!) and Koslanda (amazing waterfalls).

Next Trip Canada. I am going to Vanvouver, Vancouver Island, Fogo Island, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Niagara, and staying at all the Smith hotels there!

You never leave home without… A bikini. A pool is never too far away!

Best souvenir Tango shoes from my time in Buenos Aires. Sentimental and practical.

Quintessential London I love the ever-changing cultural scene. There’s nowhere else like it in the world. You always need to know where to look.

Lake Garda on Instagram, by Baiba GraseFavourite in-room treat The NinjaBread I found in my room at QT Sydney. It’s like gingerbread… but ninja-shaped.

Favourite destination All of California, for the wine, the scenery, the beaches, the drives, the wine, the national parks, the spectacular postcard-perfect San Francisco… and the wine again.

Favourite hotel Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. There are no words.

Destination you’re dying to visit Indonesia and Montenegro are at the top of my very long list.

Best meal you’ve ever eaten Lunch at Hôtel de Nell in Paris. I still dream about the squid-ink risotto.

Most memorable encounter I met a border-control agent in Brazil who didn’t believe Latvia was a real country. First he insisted I say something in Latin, then he asked me to show him where Lapland is on his 17th-century map. He also asked if I was related to Santa. I never did get into Brazil.

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Coach House Hotel, Yorkshire: hotel of the week

Posted by Kate Weir on December 19th, 2014

After the last champagne cork pops on New Year’s Eve, we’ll want a winter break in a cosy boutique hotel where we can pig out on estate-to-plate cuisine and work off our Christmas excesses rambling o’er the Yorkshire Dales – bundled up in thermals, of course. And afterwards, we’d like to snuggle up in a room on a charming Georgian estate… luckily, Coach House Hotel in Richmond fits the bill nicely. 

Hotel of the week | Coach House HotelHotel of the week | Coach House Hotel Hotel of the week | Coach House Hotel Hotel of the week | Coach House HotelStyle Gastro coaching inn
Setting Georgian country estate

Why this week? Because who wants to make the start of the new year duller with dryathlons, guilt-induced exercise regimes and detoxes? We say take that leftover Christmas spirit and treat yourself to a weekend of chef Gareth Rayner’s trad-Brit dinners – pepped up with yuzu and wasabi – and a breakfast of comfort foods, including eggs Benedict and pancakes. With our two nights for the price of one offer, you get a gastronomic treat twice.

Our favourite bits Honey-hued stone walls and exposed beams make this the quintessential Austen-esque pad – you’d barely bat an eyelid if the dress code was bonnets or britches here. The black-panelled bar has a fireplace to dry your wellies by after touring the grounds and local real ales to sip as a restorative, and rooms are snug and stylish, with blanket-piled beds and deep tubs to soak in. It’ll be too cold for your Mr Darcy/Smith to even dip a toe in any nearby bodies of water; instead, gaze over the dales from the peak of Roseberry Topping as a twosome.

Mr & Mrs Smith say… ‘It’s the kind of story us boutique-hotel-lovers are always a sucker for. The Allison family bought this Georgian estate in 1980 and, over the last three decade, have brought this Palladian beauty back to life. The main house is still a private home, with James Alison living there with his architect Mrs Smith, Becky, and their daughter Daisy. So generous are they in spirit, they love nothing more than to let folks borrow this award-winning venue for wedding parties and private events. The opening of the Coach House in autumn 2014 heralded an exciting stage in the estate’s restoration, with great eco plans afoot now for the rest of these green and pleasant lands.’ Read the full Coach House Hotel review.

If you feel all a’flutter over Georgian grandeur, why not find more historic hotels in our Smith vintage collection?

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Winter-sun wardrobe wonders: Penny Klein’s packing tips

Posted by Lucy Fennings on December 18th, 2014

Sunny, stylish destinations call for a scorching-hot holiday wardrobe. Heidi Klein co-founder Penny Klein sorts out your winter-sun style dilemmas with her guide to looking good around the world – and exclusive shopping discounts to help you get your new-season capsule wardrobe…

Winter-sun packing tips for JamaicaJAMAICA
Where to go
Make like Bond and his girl at the filmic Goldeneye resort in Jamaica: there’s a spa you can swim or kayak to; villa-style accommodation on a soft sandy beach; torch-lit dining under a full moon, and an alluring literary pedigree – all giving this Caribbean idyll the edge over its hammock-toting neighbours.
What to pack Above, from left: Havaianas, £25; Santa Fe bikini, £180; Corelli jersey slub top, £130; Cassis crochet bikini, £190; raffia fedora, £95, all Heidi Klein.

Penny’s style tips ‘Jamaica’s tropical climate and stunning landscapes call for bright bikinis and lightweight cover-ups. Channel laid-back luxe with this beautiful powder-blue number from the Santa Fe collection; or opt for vibrant yellow crochet– the wooden beading is a nice detail. My favourite cover-up is a lightweight white cotton shirt – you can style it with a variety of swimwear and it will always keep you cool and looking effortlessly chic. Accessorise with a natural raffia hat (for sun protection) and minimal Havaianas (for comfort).’

Winter-sun capsule wardrobe: DubaiDUBAI
Where to go At One&Only The Palm Dubai, you’ll get a double-hit of indulgence thanks to the amazing shopping on your doorstep and the ultimate in poolside pampering: a ‘sunglasses concierge’ is on hand to wipe those pesky smears of sun lotion from your shades… Hit the beach by day, one of Yannick Alléno’s restaurants for dinner, and the city’s cosmopolitan bar scene by night.
What to pack Above, from left: Bimini silk mini-dress, £180; Ashiana bracelet, £39; halterneck swimsuit, £190; raffia shoulder bag, £220; St Raphael strapless dress, £260, all Heidi Klein.

Penny’s style tips ‘In Dubai, sleek evening dresses are a must-have; pack at least one or two glamorous flowing maxi dresses for after-sunset chic. The St Raphael red maxi dress with gold embellishment is a must-pack graceful style for cool evening cocktails – just add a little bling, like this gold Ashiana bracelet, and pair of raffia wedges. The lightweight silk mini-dress in mink is my favourite of the season; it exudes effortless elegance and can be worn from day to evening. You’ll also need a sleek black one-piece for glamorous pool-side drinks, and an oversized bag for all the shopping!’


Winter-sun capsule wardrobe : MarrakechMARRAKECH
Where to go Famously palatial, La Mamounia has long attracted those seeking a bohemian take on luxury: it can’t be beaten for poolside glamour, it has one of Marrakech’s best restaurants, and the spa is to die for. Step outside and into the excitement of the souk for a taste of travel exotica.
What to pack Clockwise from above: Bimini jumpsuit, £240; St Raphael bikini, £180; ikat-print kaftan, £260; halterneck swimsuit, £195; Ligne St Barth Roucou Tanning Oil, £34, all Heidi Klein.

Penny’s style tips ‘Marrakech is a vibrant, visually arresting holiday spot – so pack a wardrobe that matches. The rich red St Raphael bikini comes in a luxurious textured fabric, has removable straps, and is perfect for poolside lounging with a pair of oversized Tod’s sunglasses. Add some elegant ikat prints to your wardrobe with the Little Dix Bay collection: here, I’ve chosen the plunging trendy one-piece matched with the floaty kaftan. Get a golden glow with high-gloss Ligne St Barth Roucou Tanning Oil. And later, for sundowners and dinner dates, all you need is this sophisticated off-the-shoulder jumpsuit. Add a wrap or simple jacket when the temperature dips.’

Winter-sun capsule wardrobe: VietnamVIETNAM
Where to go Make a beeline for Smith Hotel Award-winner Fusion Maia Resort in Hoi An – a honeymoon haven with a superlative-garnering pampering programmes. The day spa is the largest in Central Vietnam, with steam rooms, saunas and 16 treatment rooms. Better yet, all spa services are included in the room rate.
What to pack Above, from left:Havaianas, £25; Porto Vecchio bandeau bikini, £170; Porto Vecchio shirt dress, £140; canvas beach bag, £250; Cassis batwing dress, £130, all Heidi Klein.


Penny’s style tips ‘A selection of bright bikinis is a must for winter-sun getaways. The Porto Vecchio bandeau bikini is great for working on an all-over gorgeous tan; I love the statement geometric print for chic ocean-side style. Cover up with the relaxed matching button down. An oversize bag will take you to the beach and beyond, with plenty of room for all the necessities. Choose day dresses that are lightweight and breathable for humid climates. Finish with a pair of classic Havaianas: indispensable for any beach retreat.’

Shop the Heidi Klein collection online with 10% off when you use the code ‘firstshop’ – or, if you’re signed up to Mr & Mrs Smith, check out the exclusive Smith member discounts of up to 20%. Happy holiday shopping!

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Hotel La Semilla, Riviera Maya: hotel of the week

Posted by Amelia Mularz on December 16th, 2014

Hotel La Semilla room | Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotels

Call it rough luxe; call it shabby chic. Either way, the hand-plucked antiques that fill this boutique hotel in Mexico’s Riviera Maya are charmingly retro. At Hotel La Semillaenjoy pastries and house-made jams in the copal tree garden, and then grab a beach kit (packed with towels and umbrellas) and stake out a place in the sand.   

Style Modern Mexican flea market
Setting Playa del Carmen garden

Hotel La Semilla garden | Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotelsHotel La Semilla suite | Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotelsWhy this week? With the New Year just around the corner, we imagine you’re in a resolution-making mood right now. Lay off the greasy chips. Travel more. Spend less. Enjoy a sunset aperitif on a private Playa del Carmen balcony after exploring Mexico’s bewitching cenotes. As it turns out, we can help you with all of these (except maybe the chips… stay strong): get five nights for the price of four at Hotel La Semilla if you book before 31 January – you just have to enjoy that aperitif by 30 April.

Our favourite bits The unique-to-each-room decor, the free-to-borrow vintage bikes and the sea-view loungers on the rooftop terrace are all delightful. But it’s La Semilla’s hosts, Alexis and Angie, who make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Not only do they endearingly stock the kitchen with your favourite drink, they also see to it that you get a home-made organic breakfast each morning.

Mr & Mrs Smith say… ‘Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera. Well, your smartphone, really, because you’re going to want to Instagram (and pin) every vintage-inspired, rustic-chic tableau at Hotel La Semilla, a former plant nursery that two Playa del Carmen locals have lovingly reimagined as the boutique B&B of our dreams…’ Read the full Hotel La Semilla review

Browse more Mexican getaways, or view all our hotel offers

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Festive party playlists: sound advice from Music Concierge

Posted by Lucy Fennings on December 8th, 2014

Xmas party music by DJ Rob Wood, Music Concierge

Having a Christmas party? (Yes, that drinks-with-neighbours thing counts.) Need a playlist, pronto? Our resident TuneSmith, dazzling party DJ and audio animateur Rob Wood – founder of Music Concierge – lays down sound advice about background music and puts together a jingle-bells-free Top 10 Xmas Tunes soundtrack for your seasonal shindigs, be they New Year nibbles or Christmas Eve carnage…

There’s an art to throwing a great party and music is at the heart of it. If people are going to really enjoy themselves, the music needs to be thought through. Preparation is everything. Don’t think whacking on any old CD will do. It won’t. Craft a playlist that fits the party, and use the art of surprise…

Judge the crowd
The music needs to be tailored to the type of party you want it to be, and the type of people attending. Is it a refined chic Champagne affair for clients or neighbours perhaps? If so hide your stash of gangsta hip-hop CDs and keep the music refined and background. Do you want the party to really go off? If so, curate an eclectic playlist of funky upbeat party tracks and play it loud. Or are you hosting a festive event in Hoxton, or at a fashion label perhaps? If so, find the latest bleeding-edge obscure minimal techno album from Slovenia, nod your head in time, but be careful to look appropriately moody by never dancing or smiling. Do you run a software company and have you invited your entire team of long-haired coders? If so get the latest Slipknot album, press play, and then run and hide in the toilet.

Create the right ambience
Piece the music together like a story. It needs: a beginning which warms people up – mid tempo music is good for this; a middle which is the key sound/atmosphere that keeps people at the party – the music should create a buzz and make them feel great to be there; and an end which goes off with a bang – use uptempo music that gets people dancing on all available furniture. If you have done this correctly you should still be finding people asleep in the bath and cupboards for at least the next 36 hours.

Sound good
Use decent speaks that have some power. Don’t expect your PC speaks/home hi-fi/sound dock to be able to cope with delivering audible music to a room full of drunken revelers. You won’t be able to hear it, and the speakers will distort, if not blow. Instead, hire a good-quality sound system and make sure they understand how big the room is, and how many people are attending. The sound-equipment supplier will then give you the right system spec. If you ask them nicely, they might even set up and dismantle it for you. But don’t poor beer in the speakers. Beer doesn’t sound good.

Jingle bells
99.9% of Christmas music is bobbins. Fact. Unless you are hosting the party in Bluewater shopping centre, or on a roundabout in Slough, never play Christmas albums by mainstream purveyors of pop ballads. They will invariable be appalling and conducive to people losing the will to live, let alone party. Instead opt for a limited amount of Xmas music sticking only with the greats such as Sammy Davis Jnr, Dean Martin, James Brown (who did the best Xmas album ever – another fact, pop pickers), or if you are feeling brave you could try festive punk by the Ramones. If someone suggests the Mariah Carey Christmas album, ask them to leave immediately, and/or have them arrested, and, if it is a staff party, have HR fire them in the morning.

Be original: use the element of surprise
Music should be exciting, not bland. Don’t be dictated to by fashion. No one wans to hear your obscure ambient gabba collection at a festive party. Play music that is unquestionably great, and drop brilliant surprises that people love. It’s also a good idea to have a fail-safe playlist as a back-up, full of tried and tested classics, in case your first choices go down like a turd in a swimming pool.

Always leave them wanting more
The golden rule of show business applies to your party as well…

Xmas party music: Toots &Xmas party music: Kurtis BlowXmas party music: Eartha Kitt_____________________________________________________________________
Ten tracks that get most people with a pulse dancing…

Eartha Kitt – ‘Santa Baby’
No one knows how to get Santa in the mood better than Eartha

Ella Fitzgerald – ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’ (Mangini Vs Pallin Mix)
Cool remix of a seasonal song from jazz’s first lady

Talking Heads – ‘Once In A Lifetime’
Good track for cranking the party up

Ananda Shankar – ‘Jumping Jack Flash’
Adds spice to any party

Toots & The Maytals – ‘Funky Kingston’
Dancefloor mayhem guaranteed

Bobby Womack – ‘I’m A Midnight Mover’
Bobby shows Strictly how it’s done

Kurtis Blow – ‘Christmas Rappin’
Mr Blow with tips on that dreaded task of present wrappin’

Prince – ‘Let’s Go Crazy’
No explanation required

Rolling Stones – ‘Miss You’
The Stones at their funkiest and a great end of night record

Nina Simone – ‘To Love Somebody’
A mistletoe smoocher for any illicit canoodlers

Rob Wood is Mr & Mrs Smith’s go-to music expert. He is creative director and founder of the award-winning music agency Music Concierge, which designs and manages the music of leading boutique hotels around the world. Follow Rob on Twitter @MusicConcierge_

*Photograph by Rachel Juarez-Carr

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Luna2 Studiotel, Bali: hotel of the week

Posted by Sarah Jappy on December 5th, 2014

Ever dreamed of travelling to space? Forget astronaut training, we’re going to Luna2 Studiotel, earth’s answer to the cosmos. A stroll away from Seminyak Beach, this boutique bolthole couldn’t be further away from traditional Balinese styling, with space-station interiors, a bold colour palette and features plucked from a sci-fi trilogy. luna2 pool 556

Style Space oddity
Setting A saunter from Seminyak Beach

Smith Extra An ‘in-flight’ dining experience for two, including a glass of wine each, delivered by a Luna2 hostess

Why this week? A stone’s throw from Seminyak Beach, Luna2 Studiotel is the closest you can get to space on Earth. Designer Melanie Hall has created an ode to the cosmos in this retro-futuristic den that hovers somewhere between boutique hotel and international space station, with appropriately-named communal areas and interiors inspired by the accommodation of astronauts. We’re making space travel a reality with 40 per cent off over the New Year.

pop lounge luna 300pOur favourite bits The black and white decor is enlivened by hits of colour – the Sunset Studio features bursts of blue and boasts two balconies for star-gazing and pool-perving as well as its own bar and on-loan bartender. The bright colour scheme continues to the Mondrian-inspired pool. When the sun starts to set, journey to Space, the rooftop bar with sweeping ocean views, for daily canapés. Continue to Orbit restaurant, where reworked nostalgic British classics – bombe Alaska and fish and chips – share menu space with more sophisticated offerings: scallops with smoked pork cheek, black pudding, cranberry air and apple is just one example. Lunaplex, the hotel’s 16-seat cinema, screens old and new flicks daily. Get comfy in one of the Luna lounge chairs and let your ‘flight attendant’ treat you to popcorn, home-made ice-cream, popcorn-inspired cocktails and icy champagne. On December 31, party 2014 away at Pop! lounge bar, decorated with retro shades of purple, shocking pink, Pan Am-blue, postbox-red and silver from the sunken ‘circle of love’ right down to the illuminated dance floor. The DJ will be playing Lunatunes to suit the mood until the early hours of the morning.

luna2 sunset sudio 300Mr & Mrs Smith say… ‘Ground Control to Major Smith: ever wanted to go to space camp but missed out on the mission? Luna2 Studiotel is your chance to live out your futuristic fantasies (Princess Leia not included). More NASA-chic than beachside bungalow, Luna2 ditches understatement for bespoke furnishings, metallic accents, a Panton-esque façade plucked from a sci-fi trilogy and refreshingly simple architecture. As far away from Balinese tradition as you could get in this cosmos, pads at Luna2 Studiotel have bold hypnotic optic art, whizz-bang wizardry and balconies overlooking the pool. Have an out-of-this-world request? Give your private studio butler a buzz and go back to working your way through the champagne and Chupa Chups in your in-room mini Smeg fridge. Travelling through the studios to the mosaics lining the pool and the restaurant interior, the bold primary colour palette is a not-so-subtle nod to Luna2’s fun nature, playful nostalgia and ‘funked-up modernism’ design ethos. Prepare to launch, Lunatics.’ Find out more about Luna2 Studiotel

Browse more Smith hotels in Bali or see all our Smith hotel offers

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Venice: foodie walks, cult recipes and gourmet secrets

Posted by Lucy Fennings on December 4th, 2014

Venice gourmet walks, cult recipesStrike out from our favourite Smith hotels in Venice and you’ll find hidden food markets, gourmet delis and quirky enotecas – if you know where to look. Part cook book, part travel guide, ‘Venice: Cult Recipes‘ is Italian food writer and stylist Laura Zavan’s new insider guide to eating your way around Venice, packed with local tips and mouthwatering recipes. Here, she shares an excerpt from the book, with her itinerary for foodie walks around the Dorsoduro and Giudecca districts, tips on what to buy, and where to find it…

Mission base: Palazzina G, or Palazzo Barbarigo

Dorsoduro gourmet map VenicePalazzina G, Dorsoduro, VenicePalazzina G hotel in VeniceGourmet Venice: cult recipesVenice: Caffe Santa Margherita

Route one
Head to San Tomà on foot or by vaporetto to visit the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. This confraternity is one of the oldest in Venice (1261). In Calle San Pantalon is the Tonolo pasticceria (1), my favourite patisserie in Venice. Tonolo is a compulsory stop for a coffee (standing at the counter) and a pastry. I love their bign (choux puffs) filled with zabaione, the meringhe (soft meringues filled with whipped cream), the cannoncini (puff pastry rolled into a cannon shape and filled with cream) and, of course, the fritole and crostoli during Carnevale! Heading south you come to the great Campo Santa Margherita (2), where Venetians meet to have a drink, standing up or sitting comfortably on the bar terraces (go to Il Caffè, and for a cicheto there’s Osteria alla Bifora; both pictured above). This Campo is one of the few places in Venice (along with the Fondamenta Ormesini and Misericordia) where there’s a bit of life at night! During the day, you will also find fruit and vegetable bancarelle (stalls) and fish bancarelle, including the one owned by Il Signor Silvano.

For other gastronomic discoveries, continue towards Campo San Barnaba (3) after the Ponte dei Pugni. At the quay, Barca, a superb boat filled with magnificent fruits and vegetables awaits you. Campo San Barnaba: a visit to the Pantagruelica food store is imperative. Sommelier Maurizio and his wife Silvia offer the best regional products, wines and rare alcohols… They know all the producers. There you will find the finest hand-made pastas, reserve hams cured for 36 months, Montegalda goat’s cheeses, Sartorelli biscuits, and Orto, the wine of Venice… Go to Grom gelateria in the same Campo and enjoy an ice-cream cone with the flavours of the season.

Nonno Colussi pasticerria VeniceVenice gourmet arancini and wine: Ai AristiTake Calle San Barnaba, where you will find friendly little family trattorias that serve traditional regional cooking. La Bitta (9), for example, specialises in meat (in the evening), and La Furatola (10) in fish from the Adriatic. For a focaccia veneziana, the classic Venetian brioche-style cake, go to Nonno Colussi’s pasticceria (11; pictured above) in Calle San Barnaba. Franco Colussi, nicknamed ‘Nonno’ (grandpa), will explain how his focaccia takes 30 hours to make (including three for rising and two for kneading). If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to admire a multitude of foccace hanging from the ceiling. Call to check his opening hours, which change according to his mood.

From Campo San Barnaba, head towards the Fondamenta and the Calle de la Toletta. You can stop at Ai Artisti (7) wine bar and osteria for a midday aperitif or even have lunch there after a tour of the bookstores in the area.

Route two
To relax and fully appreciate the view of the Giudecca canal, there’s nothing better than sitting on the terrace of Gelati Nico (8) on the Fondamente Zattere dei Gesuati and enjoying a gianduiotto – a slice of gianduja ice-cream drowned in whipped cream! For a cicheto or to buy sone wine, on the Fondamenta opposite the church of San Trovaso you’ll find the Cantinone-Già Schiavi (9), an historical institution where mamma Alessandra makes her famous rustic cicheti ‘live’ behind the counter – every Venetian knows this place… You could also decide to eat in a lovely location on the Fondamenta Zattere, such as La Riviera (10), with its beautiful terrace facing Giudecca and the Molino Stucky.

Mission base: 
Ca Maria Adele or DD724

Giudecca gourmet mapVenice hotel Ca Maria AdeleVenice aperitivo: Giudecca spritzAi Altanella, Giudecca, Venice

If you are looking for a little peace and quiet, go and discover the island of Giudecca. This is an island in the lagoon opposite the Zattere, away from the tourist trail. Take the vaporetto and get off at Palanca, then go left and turn into Calle delle Erbe. Stop at the trattoria Altanella (11; pictured above): you will be welcomed by the fourth-generation owners! In a family atmosphere, Roberto presides over the dining room while his brother Stefano is in the kitchen. I ate the best cuttlefish ink gnocchi of my life there. The rooms are lovely and the terrace is charming; it feels like you’re in the country.

Near the Palanca vaporetta stop, you can do your fish shopping at Fabio Gavagnin’s fishmongers (12). He will give you good advice with a smile! For bread and grissini, stop at the bakery Il Panificio Claudio Crosara (13), opposite the beautiful Gesuati church on the other side of the canal, which is reflected in the window. Finally, stop at Fortuny (14), for some beautiful arts and fabrics. Leave a little room in your suitcases for your shopping (at bargain prices), because you’ll want to buy everything! That way, you’ll be able to continue your gastronomic voyage back home…

The Venetian foodie finds you can’t go home without…

Gourmet Venice: asparagus in Giudecca– A good bottle of olive oil from Lake Garda. It goes without saying that when I recommend an olive oil, it must be extra virgin, first cold pressed and produced from Italian olives. Thanks to the lake’s microclimate, this olive oil is very delicate and refined. It is perfect for dressing fish.

– Ask advice on a good balsamic vinegar that’s been aged for a few years or the traditional balsamic vinegar that is aged for at least 12 years, a real nectar to be used sparingly, in drops.

– I always bring a few kilos of vegetables home with me in my suitcase! In springtime, I buy ones grown on Sant’Erasmo (an island of the lagoon), such as artichokes and the little castraure available in April–May, sweet little zucchini for eating raw, grated in a salad, and sweet and tender peas. I also don’t forget the delicious white asparagus from Bassano and the agretti for enjoying in a salad.

– Make the most of being in Italy by buying a parmesan cheese that’s been matured for 36 months. It will be perfect to enjoy as is or grated over risotto or pasta. I also learned from my mother to use latteria instead of mozzarella on pizza. It has noticeably more flavour than a mass-produced mozzarella.

White polenta is typical of Venice. It’s made from a very old variety of corn. Ask for Bianco Perla polenta, the variety considered to be the best quality; it’s finer and tastier than yellow polenta. It is the essential accompaniment for the fish of the lagoon.

Sopressa is a good Italian pork salami. Fresh and tender, it melts in the mouth, and has a full delicious flavour. It is only cut by knife (never sliced in a machine) and is perfect for filling a piccolo panino ( a small sandwich). Ask for it to be vacuum-packed for you.

– Make certain you take home a bottle of Venetian white wine, a real rarity! Also remember some prosecco, an artisan grappa (a grape marc eau-de-vie) and aperitifs (Ramazzotti aperitivo, Select, Aperol…): all essential for a home-made spritz.

Artisan crispbreads, like the extra-thin figuli from Visnadello (Treviso) or the irresistible grissini bibanesi made from olive oil and kamut flour, sold in supermarkets. Try the very thin artisan Sartorelli biscuits with hazelnuts or almonds… once you start eating them, it’s hard to stop.

Venice: Cult Recipes by Laura Zavan (£20; Murdoch Books) is out now. Featured photography by Gregoire Kalt.

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Hotel Yasmin, Prague: hotel of the week

Posted by Richard MacKichan on December 2nd, 2014

Hotel Yasmin, Prague

Christmas markets calling! Chic, contemporary and unusual, Hotel Yasmin in Prague is the ideal base for style-savvy travellers to enjoy svařené víno-aided strolls around the city’s seasonal markets. It’s great value, too, leaving you plenty of euros to splash out on gifts for others (or yourself). 

Hotel Yasmin, Prague – travel offers Hotel Yasmin, Prague – trave offersStyle Graphic-design hotel
Setting Nigh on Wenceslas Square

Why this week? The squares of Prague have trees up, lights on and mulled wine a-bubbling – it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The none-more-festive Wenceslas Square is a snowball’s throw from Hotel Yasmin, and at this time of year it’s crammed with wooden stalls selling traditional crafts and local delicacies. It’s the ideal get-you-in-the-mood escape – with 10 per cent off if you book three nights or more before 1 January…

Our favourite bits Looking like the love child of Edward Lear and Jeff Koons, interiors toe the line between fantastical chic and loopy kitsch, with oversized cat’s tails springing from the floor, and a cosmos of dazzling Tom Dixon orb lights hovering over the noodle bar. Guest rooms are restfully plain and pared back (you don’t want that crazy conceptual stuff interfering with your bedtime, anyway): it’s a delightfully daring date-night destination.

Mr & Mrs Smith say… ‘Our bedroom is stylishly minimal, but it’s a decent size, with blinded windows onto the street and a flatscreen telly mounted on the wall. There’s a break from shades of olive and sage in the monochrome bathroom; every shred of the Yasmin’s design is contemporary, and it is welcoming and comfortable. And with so much culture awaiting us beyond these walls, it’s hard to imagine wanting to stop indoors for too long…’ Read the full Hotel Yasmin review

You say… ‘I liked the very friendly welcome; quiet, spacious Junior Suite; excellent breakfast; Noodles restaurant; and the fact that I didn’t need public transport once in a day’s sightseeing’ Mark, BlackSmith, stayed May 2014

Browse more stylish city breaks, or view all our hotel offers

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Meet Mr & Mrs Smith’s anonymous hotel reviewers: #14 Oli Beale

Posted by Kate Weir on November 24th, 2014

Meet Smith's anonymous hotel reviewers | Oli BealeHis was the Virgin complaint letter heard around the world: when ad man Oli Beale penned his distaste for Richard Branson’s in-flight cuisine, his ire earned him internet glory. Smith saw potential in this part-time karaoke critic, creative who worked on the Kaiser Chiefs’ album launch (with fellow anonymous hotel reviewer Ricky Wilson) and frustrated commuter, so we secured his unflinching eye and mightier-than-the-sword penmanship for boutique hotel reviews. Since then, he’s inhaled canisters of oxygen from the minibar at The Standard, East Village (while wearing a scandalously bum-skimming bathrobe), inelegantly baptised Pembrokeshire stay The Grove Narberth with red wine, and somehow ended up in ‘Shagaluf’ while reviewing Mallorca’s Hotel Cort (below).

Meet our anonymous hotel reviewers | Hotel CortSurely, such a well-seasoned traveller would have a wealth of tips to hand, so we quizzed Oli on his travel disasters, bribing policemen, and airplane food, of course…

First things first, which Smith hotel have you most enjoyed reviewing?
The Standard, High Line (below), the first review I did for Smith. It’s a bastard of a building – brutal and ugly – but there’s just something about that hotel that keeps me coming back.Meet Mr & Mrs Smith's anonymous reviewer | The Standard, High LineExcellent choice, do you have higher expectations for hotels since you’ve been reviewing for Smith?
Yes, definitely. Mrs Smith hates it; if I don’t like a room, I’ll try and get an upgrade or check out and go to a nicer hotel. I know that makes me a bit of a tosser, but hotels are one of my greatest pleasures, so I like them to be just right.

A man after our own hearts… If there was no limit, what would your dream Smith extra be?
I’ve never stayed in a honeymoon or presidential suite or similar; a proper Richard Gere sort of stay. I’d love a surprise upgrade to one of those, somewhere like the Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris (below).

Erm, we’ll look into it for you. Aside from airline food, and booking six flights for one trip, have you had any travel disasters?
I’ve experienced some mental stuff: I saw police firing guns at a beach rave, I lost my passport in Thailand and bribed a police officer, I checked into a room one night and woke up in a hornets’ nest; however, these mishaps are interlaced with the funniest and happiest moments of my life.
Meet our anonymous hotel reviewer | Le Royal Monceau Raffles ParisCripes – we’re glad you survived to review for us… You’re a hi-tech traveller, would you stay somewhere  off-the-grid, like Les Jardins des Douars?
I would have to go there specifically to switch off. It sounds soul-cleansing, but I would probably get a bit bored. A few years ago I stayed at a yoga retreat in Tulum, where there was no WiFi, TV or anything. Luckily I’d packed three series’ worth of Breaking Bad box-sets and lay in my hammock for days watching them on my laptop – the yoga enthusiasts looked at me like I was a total loser, but I was in my own state of Nirvana. I’d have to bring my trusty Bose Bluetooth speaker too, which I take it everywhere.

Let’s talk airplane cuisine: what would your ideal in-flight meal be?
I actually really like airplane food. I love the ritual of it: the little foil lids, the cuboid of cheese, the bread roll, the little bottle of ice-cold red wine…

Have you flown with Virgin since, and has the food improved?
Yes, loads. I was invited on the flight to launch the new Virgin Upper Class, and they interviewed me about the food afterwards – it was great!

Read Oli’s Hotel Cort review, or catch up on his past anonymous Smith reviewer exploits

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From Lisbon to Porto: a gourmet cheat sheet

Posted by Madevi Dailly on November 22nd, 2014


Prepare to put some time in on the treadmill: you’ll need legs of steel and a ravenous appetite to tackle Portugal‘s finest foodie cities. Perched on picturesque – if treacherously steep – hills above glistening rivers, our boutique hotels in Lisbon and Porto are within easy reach of tumbling houses, cobblestoned lanes and azulejo-tiled churches. A quick two-and-a-half-hour train journey separate the two cities, making a twin-centre getaway a tantalising prospect. You’ll need more than a long weekend to stray from the obligatory (custard) tarts-and-port action, but if time is tight, read on for the cities’ best eats and boutique stays…


Lisbon boutique hotel stays | Where to eat


A short walk from Cais do Sodre – Lisbon’s trendy riverside district –  Palácio Ramalhete‘s elegant lounges and tranquil courtyard welcome the weary urban explorer home. Its palm-shaded pool may well be the sweetest in Lisbon, but we also fell for its peaceful bedrooms, alfresco breakfasts (above) and secret nooks and crannies (look out for the revolving bookshelf by reception). You’ll be perfectly poised to explore the stretch of buzzy bars and restaurants winding their way up the hill towards Bairro Alto, or to hop on the train to Belém or Cascais for a whiff of salty sea air.


Custard tarts Extensive empirical research points the finger at Pasteis de Belém (+351 21 363 7423), but if you don’t fancy the schlep out to the historic riverside suburb, there are plenty of other options in town. Just off Camões Square, Manteigaria (+351 21 347 1492) churns out fresh-from-the-oven tarts throughout the day: get your hands on moreish morsels of flaky pastry and silky orange-scented custard without having to endure a soul-destroying queue.

Rustic delights Tucked away on an unassuming street downhill from Bairro Alto, Taberna da Rua das Flores (+351 21 347 9418) is a blink-and-you’d-miss-it eatery dishing up a daily-changing menu of simple, inspired fare made from impeccably sourced local produce. Turn up as early as you can to secure a table – they don’t take bookings, and the wait at weekends can be three hours long, but it’s worth the effort for a taste of their barely seared sesame-encrusted tuna, grilled black pig and grappa-steeped chocolate mousse.

Star-worthy fare In the atmospheric Alfama district, Boi Cavolo‘s chefs are busy at work in their tiny open kitchen (+351 93 875 2355), dishing out fine dining in friendly, laid-back surroundings. You’ll need a couple of food-obsessed-friends to order one of everything from the menu; expect crispy squid, melt-in-the-mouth duck and fabulous reductions and emulsions.


Porto boutique hotels | Where to eat


A hop and a skip from Sao Bento station’s impressive tiled murals, Hotel Teatro lives up to its name with dramatic stylings and a seductive atmosphere. Rooms are dark and sultry, with plush velvet banquettes, vast beds and smoked-glass bathrooms. Downstairs, Palco is one of Porto’s finest eateries, but it’s worth venturing out for a taste of Porto’s honey-flavoured wines, freshest seafood and hearty street food.


Francesinha Rumour has it a Portuguese expat brought home the croque-monsieur from his travels in France and gave it a Porto twist. This ‘little Frenchie’ is an impressive stack of bread, ham, steak, sausage and cheese, topped with an egg and served in a beer-infused tomato sauce. Round the corner from the hotel, Café Santiago (+351 22 041 7880 ) makes some of the best in town – just the thing after an arduous climb up from the riverside.

Rubies and tawnies Across the bridge in Gaia, the riverside is lined with port houses and traditional rabelo boats, once used to ferry casks across the Douro. Take a seat in Ramos Pinto‘s airy tasting room (+ 351 22 370 7000) to sample their sweet white wines and aged amber-hued ports; order a platter of meats, dried fruits and chocolate to really make the flavours sing.

Hipster-friendly fare On a winding lane behind the Clérigos Tower, Miss Opo is the sort of trendy, concrete-and-exposed-brick artist’s hangout that would feel equally at home in London or Berlin. The day’s menu is scribbled out by hand on stray sheets of paper; look out for the goat-cheese-flecked fig salad and toothsome black pudding.

Did we whet your appetite? Check out the new Great Global Chefs iPad app we’ve cooked up in partnership with Great British Chefs for more inspired gourmet tours. Or browse our other boutique hotels in Lisbon to book a sun-kissed city break.

Photos by Ross Duncan.

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