Hotels Provence James Lohan: We were commenting on a couple…
Well. Take a deep breath, everyone. We can’t believe we’re saying this… We are 10 today!
Little did we know that, when the first Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotel guide hit shelves, we’d have so much to celebrate a decade on. It’s been quite a ride (an emotional one at that), and although you probably know our official story, we thought you’d enjoy hearing some behind-the-scenes tales of Smith life – like the time we got a guided tour of ‘the chicken’; booked a suite for a Siamese cat; had a complaint about ‘shabby camels’; offered B&B at Buckingham Palace; and read about ‘an explosion in Tricia Guild’s knicker drawer‘. Here are a few memorable moments from our 10-year Smithstory…
WE LOVE… HOTELS
First and foremost, we are about finding (and celebrating) great places to stay, from our first loves to our newest arrivals. Needless to say, we’ve climbed mountains, forded streams and followed every rainbow to bring you the best of the best – and it doesn’t always go to plan. Like when…
… a dog swallowed and choked on the paperclip from a sales pack during a research-trip meeting in Vaucluse. (The dog was fine in the end.)
… we had to try not to laugh during a hotel show-around on a Balearic island when the owner insisted on calling the kitchen ‘the chicken’, even after being corrected (politely)
… we had to pay a local farmer to pull our hire car out of a ditch in heavy snow with his tractor
… we had to pay £2,901.40 for a hire car to complete an epic Italy–London road trip during the volcano ash-cloud flight groundings
WE LOVE… OUR MEMBERS
It’s all about you – if you’re not happy, we’re not happy. We want to get every detail of your trip right, and our amazing Smith24 team has pulled off some incredible feats (and more than a few strings) to meet member requests, including:
• A page-long list of room requests that included 3 organic bananas, 8 gallons of water and 2 tubs of epsom salts
• A request for a hotel room, anywhere in the world, with the sole proviso that it overlooked a town square
• Two suites in Paris for a client, his girlfriend, a labrador, a Siamese cat and their pet-nanny
• A GoldSmith email titled ‘Urgent Cupcakes!’ – we responded by personally collecting and delivering six specially decorated cupcakes to a New York hotel before the client checked in at 9.30am
WE LOVE… A GOOD PARTY
We’ve had much cause to celebrate over the past 10 years; and ain’t no party like a Smith party (believe us when we say not a single person came to work the day after the first-ever office sortie). Some of the most memorable are…
• The Italy book launch party: opera singers, Vespas, hand-carved Parma ham and prosecco at B&B Italia’s London showroom
• Our stateside Scope-supporting art party at Miami’s Sunset Lounge: Asia de Cuba canapés, a sipping-rum station and drum and bass from DJ DB
• A musical soirée at Rough Luxe in King’s Cross to launch our In bed with… compilation album, soundtracked by VV Brown herself, and featuring a pretty glittering guest list (last man standing: Howard Marks).
• Our Melbourne office’s second-birthday bash: Asian-brewed beer, boutique-label wines, great music and new copies of our Australia/NZ guide book for all
• And we’re pretty sure we’ll be adding the inaugural Smith Hotel Awards party to this list next month once the hangovers recede. Watch this space…
WE LOVE… A CUNNING STUNT
We like to think we’ve got a GSOH (you need one when you turn up at a maybe-Smith hotel to find chintzy pelmets and a china unicorn collection). Over the years we’ve played some so-believable-you-tried-to-book-it jokes for April Fool’s, including…
By royal appointment Buckingham Palace announces its launch as the ultimate boutique B&B with Mr & Mrs Smith
We can build this thing together… Build your own boutique hotel room with Mr & Mrs Smith’s DIY ‘HomeSmith’ kit. This generated so much genuine interest, we think the joke was on us for not putting it together! Though we do make paint now <ahem>
Round the bend? Boris Johnson’s Bendy Buses become Dubai’s latest hotel gimmick
WE LOVE… A GOOD COMPLAINT
Ok, we don’t really like complaints (because that means something’s gone wrong), but we’ll bend over backwards to fix any problem we can. But some stuff is beyond our control. Like the tides, for example. Or the phases of the moon. These are things we’ve had complaints about…
• ‘Hot sand on the beach’ in Bali
• Reception staff in unironed shirts
• Dogs barking
• The weather
• Shabby camels in Marrakech
• Finding ‘a human poo’ on a valet-parked car (but… how did they know it was human?)
World’s best complaint letter? A great Virgin Atlantic complaint letter once had us laughing so much, we invited its author Oli Beale to review hotels for us. His hilarious plea to Richard Branson (‘Look at this, Richard. Just look at it’) surely ranks as the world’s funniest critique of in-flight food.
WE LOVE… OUR SECRET REVIEWERS
Our tastemakers and tale-tellers don’t sign in as hotel inspectors: they book in as anonymous, real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths; we then share their irreverent recollections with you. Our panel has included: sex symbols (Immodesty Blaize, Dita Von Teese), rock ‘n’ rollers (Ricky Wilson, Jessie Ware), designers (Erdem Moralioglu, Faye Toogood, Martha Freud), broadcasters (Myf Warhurst, Rove McManus), comedians (Rory Bremner, Sue Perkins, Rufus Hound), novelists (Joe Dunthorne, Kathy Lette, Nick Harkaway), artists (Gavin Turk, Quentin Jones, Hello Von), chefs (Paul Qui, Tom Aikens, Allegra McAvedy), critics (Pat Nourse, Marina O’Loughlin), adventurers (Alastair Humphreys) and former drug barons (Howard Marks).
WE LOVE… AN ENTERTAINING STORY
Instead of conventional critiques conveying the look and feel of our hand-picked hideaways, our reviewers share cheeky anecdotes and relay eyebrow-raising diversions. You can quote us on that.
• Lisa Goldapple declared holiday photos from a Spanish trip made her look like ‘Lady Godiva-meets-Shania Twain on the cover of a Sixties’ bonkbuster’.
• Stephen Bayley likened the colourful mayhem of an Amalfi Coast hotel to ‘an explosion in Tricia Guild’s knicker drawer’.
• Dan Stevens opened with ‘Beach holidays? Not for me. Vying for a patch of abrasive sand amid thousands of oiled, semi-naked strangers in the vain hope of a path to the open sewer of the sea – that’s not a holiday, it’s a concentrated, distilled hell.’
• David Grant revealed his Ningaloo Reef guide almost cried ‘when he narrowly missed a kamikaze emu heading for our four-wheel drive. Me? I was thinking, “Could you get a belt and a wallet out of that? Or do we need to run over two of them?”‘
• Jack Peñate, meanwhile, in the absence of a Mrs Smith for his romantic stint in Venice regaled us with a weekend away with his 6’2”, baseball-capped, bearded, tattooed friend called Gabriel.
• As chef Stefano Manfredi put it: ‘Travel is a mixed bag. With it come many delights, great adventure, a measure of disappointments, small mercies and insights, some of which only make sense when you’re back home.’
More bedtime reading… A few of our all-time favourite reviews include Oli Beale’s ‘hot’ account of Maison MK in Marrakech, and his recollections of ‘turbo-brilliant’ Maison Matilda in Treviso; Anthony Leyton’s invention of ‘Brown-Sign Bingo’ in his take on The Grosvenor Arms in Dorset; and the wet-eyed nostalgia of ol’ romantic Adam McDougall at Châteaux la Thuilière in the Dordogne.
WE LOVE… A DECENT PROPOSAL
Romance: it’s what we’re all about. And as surely as strawberries go with cream, our hotels have set the scene for many a proposal (often with a little help from our Smith24 team).
• Our own Mr Smith, James Lohan, proposed to his Mrs Smith Tamara at Hotel 101 in Reykjavik – in her words: ‘He spent three days with the stone burning a hole in his pocket, but he kept chickening out when it was ‘not the right time’ (dog sledding was too smelly; skidooing was too extreme; the glaciers were too glacial… then, on the last night of the trip, we set out to see the northern lights but were scuppered by a snowstorm; we went dark-blizzard off-roading in a 4×4, ending up on a black lava beach with the breakers brining in lumps of black ice. “Let’s get out,” he says. “Are you mad?” I say. We get out. He gets down on one knee. I say yes… just to get back into the warmth of the car!’ Mr & Mrs Smith later got married at C’as Xorc in Mallorca – with lots of Smith team there to help them celebrate.
WE LOVE… A CHALLENGE
There’s nothing we like more than proving people wrong: almost every Great Smith Thing has involved blood, sweat and tears from our resilient, spirited team, despite naysayers’ cries of ‘But you can’t!’ and ‘Nobody’s ever done that before’. For example:
• The first Smith book was turned down by countless expert publishers, who thought it was a bad idea. So we decided to publish it ourselves (cue steep learning curves aplenty). Our first print run of 10,000 sold out; that first title in total has sold more than 100,000 copies.
• In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, downtown New York had no power for five days, which meant the Soho office – and most of our staff’s homes – was in the black-out zone. So we set up temporary office space in the lobby of the Ace Hotel NY, who supplied us with electricity, running water and cocktails to get us through the working day. Cheers!
WE LOVE… HEARING FROM YOU
Feeling inspired? Got something to tell us? We’re always listening. We’ve had a lot of fun – and fulfilling moments – making your holidays happen, and you’ve been kind enough to send us your suggestions, testimonials and feedback, in our hotel Guestbooks, on Facebook, via Twitter and Instagram @Smithhotels, and even on Pinterest and by good-old-fashioned snail mail. Today, why not wish us a happy birthday – you might even win a £250 Smith hotel voucher. How? Just tag your travel tales #smithbday and we’ll pick our 10 favourites to send a celebratory 10th-birthday gift to.
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