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

In the diary: Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials

Posted by Lucy Fennings on July 14th, 2014

Burghley Horse Trials 2014 event guideSTYLE Riders and Rovers
SETTING Lush Lincolnshire landscape

When? 4–7 September 2014
Where? Burghley House, Stamford, Lincolnshire 

Tell me more… As much social gathering as sporting event – attracting equine enthusiasts, passionate spectators, and plenty more who come along for a grand day out with family and friends – the award-winning annual Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials is a highlight of the international equestrian calendar. This prestigious and popular leg of the global Grand Slam of Eventing brings the world’s top riders and horses together to test their skill, stamina and speed across three pulse-quickening equestrian disciplines at the highest competition level: CCI 4*. Away from the thundering hooves and gleaming tack, there’s a weekend’s worth of eating, drinking, shopping and people-watching to enjoy, with doggie displays and other fun distractions spread out in sight of magnificent Elizabethan manor, Burghley House.

Event highlights There’s the poised elegance of the dressage, and the technical flair of the show-jumping – but you can’t beat the drama of the cross-country course: 31 idiosyncratic fences (including picnic tables, boats, Land Rovers and other oddities) designed to test competitors’ mettle are fiendishly sprinkled around Capability Brown parkland more used to hosting herds of deer than neck-craning crowds. Gatherings in the Members’ Enclosure are lively and sociable; and you’d be forgiven for spending more time browsing the shopping pavilions than admiring mounts.

Burghley Horse Trials 2014 event guideIN THE KNOW

Head count Some 160,000 visitors and 80 competitors gather for the four-day spectacular.

Best view Aficionados book their grandstand tickets as soon as they are available: in the covered East Stand, central blocks F and G provide prime positions for dressage; and also for the show-jumping finale, when the North Stand will garner great views, too. For cracking close-up cross-country action, station yourself at the Trout Hatchery (where there’s also a giant screen), or the Leaf Pit. Check the course map for other options; there are plenty.

Packing tips Any UK native knows how unpredictable the weather can be, so be prepared with sun hats and sou’westers – you can leave the least likely options in the car. Practical footwear is must unless you plan to take root in the Members’ Enclosure, and choose pack-a-macs over parapluies: the atmosphere is very laid-back, but you won’t be popular if you stand at the front with a giant golfing umbrella…

Burghley Horse Trials 2014 event guideCrowd control When you’ve had your fill of the throngs lining the cross-country course on Saturday, or when standing room in the Main Arena on Sunday is in short supply, join the visitors happily mingling and soaking up the atmosphere by the big screen in the Exhibition Village, from where you can dip in and out of the action, or raid the Food Walk stands and find a quiet patch of parkland to escape to – there’s plenty of it.

Bar chat Land Rover Burghley has been named Best Horse Trials Event in the World by L’Année Hyppique an astonishing seven times: will 2014 be the eighth win? Course designer Captain Mark Phillips has changed the cross-country course over the years: hold your breath as horses and riders negotiate what is now considered the most challenging course in the world. Will world number 1 Andrew Nicholson be ‘Mr Stickability’ again, or will Sam Griffiths snaffle a coveted second leg in the Rolex Grand Slam after his recent win at Badminton?

Tickets Available for individual days, or for the whole event, they’re cheaper booked in advance online than at the gate. For ticketing and membership (which you’ll need for access to the Member’s Enclosure), go to Check the timetable if you’re only going for one day: dressage kicks off in the Main Arena on Thursday and continues through Friday; Saturday is cross-country day; and the event culminates with the show-jumping on Sunday.


Burghley Horse Trials 2014 event guide• Do behave yourself near fences, unless you want to spook the horses.
• Don’t rush: there’s plenty to see and do, food to eat and shopping to be done, and – unlike blink-and-you-miss-it days at the races – the sporting action continues all day.
• Do keep your pooch on a lead. They’re not allowed in the grandstand or the Member’s Enclosure, but there is a dog crèche (book in advance).
• Don’t expect to visit Burghley House itself: it’s closed for the duration of the event.
• Do revv up for a go on the specially designed ‘tetrapod’ offroad course, where you can test drive a brand-new Land Rover; and keep an eye out for exclusive offers for Land Rover owners.
• Don’t drink and drive!


Food & drink Anything and everything, from formal champagne lunches at the Winners Enclosure restaurant to world street food from stands sprinkled across the showground, as well as great British produce along the Food Walk: duck-fat roasties, saddleback pork pies and sloe gin, anyone?Burghley Horse Trials 2014 event guide

Shop Even if you eschewed every single display of equine prowess, you still wouldn’t get round all 630+ of the exhibitors in the incredible shopping pavilions and avenues: shy away from the gleaming saddlery and tip-top horsey trappings, and you can pick up something unique at the Country Living or Rural Crafts Association pavilions, where hundreds of artisan producers showcase quirky, hand-made and one-off pieces. Luxury-label lovers will find plenty to please, too, with Hermès, Barbour and Boodles among the offerings.

Getting there Stamford in Lincolnshire is less than two hours’ drive from London up the A1, and the event is well signposted, but allow extra time for driving, especially on Saturday, when the last 10 miles can eat up an hour. Stamford station is served by trains from Birmingham, Leicester, Nuneaton or Peterborough; from there, it’s a 20–30 minutes to walk into the event.

Parking Plentiful, though you’ll need to purchase car park passes – it’s best to do this when booking tickets.

Children Accompanied under-13s are admitted free of charge (though over-3s will need their own Grandstand tickets). There’s plenty for families to enjoy at Land Rover Burghley, with dog-agility displays, Pony Club competitions and more, but little ones’ attention may wander if ponies, pooches or 4WD vehicles aren’t their thing. No crèche, but baby-changing facilities are available.

Sleep Local accommodation gets booked up very quickly, but there’s plenty available elsewhere in the area; just a 25-minute drive away is the charming restaurant with rooms, Oundle Mill in Northamptonshire. Alternatively, consider making a long weekend of it by basing yourself in nearby Cambridge, less than a hour away.

Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2014The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2014 takes place 4–7 September. For more information, or to book tickets, go to

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North Bundaleer, Clare Valley: hotel of the week

Posted by Sarah Jappy on July 11th, 2014

North Bundaleer, Clare Valley, Australia

Ancient outcrops of the Flinders Ranges, ordered rows of ripening grapes on vines and rolling pastoral hills are what you’ll find in the surrounds of opulently restored homestead, North Bundaleer. Just 30 minutes from the Clare Valley in South Australia, this property will have you resting on the verandah, sipping on riesling and fondly watching the resident Jack Russells, Archie and Tilly, scamper around the rose bushes.

Style Vintage Victorian North Bundaleer, Clare Valley, Blue Room bedroom
Outback plains and pastures

Why this week? The next couple of months are jam-packed: the Sevenhill Producer’s Market on 26 July promises to exhibit the best of Clare Valley cuisine, arts and crafts. From 1 August, the South Australian Living Arts Festival (SALA) will open its doors in North Bundaleer, Clare Valley, Australia, sceneryvarious locations throughout the Clare Valley, too. Trips to local galleries, wineries, cafes and bars will allow you to experience unique works and collaborations from thousands of artists. Many of the region’s wineries, restaurants and cellar doors support the Eat Local initiative and are supplied by growers, farmers and gourmet providores from the region – so it’s literally a feast for the senses, all year round.

Our favourite bits North Bundaleer, Clare Valley, Red Room Suite bathroomBreakfast, dinner and drinks are provided in this all-inclusive homestead, so you’ll be living like a lord or lady, but treated like one of the family at North Bundaleer. Every night’s a dinner party at the 18-seater Irish Georgian table, so be prepared to eat some delectable in-season meals such as baked Archie the jack russell with sticklocal peaches with prosciutto and Gorgonzola, or pork belly confit with scallops. The private Clare Valley wine tour organised by the hotel shouldn’t be missed. You’ll get the opportunity to taste local favourites, riesling and shiraz, learn the different varietals and see the process from vine to wine. The Riesling Trail is spectacular, too. It’s a 35-kilometre section of the Mawson Trail that runs through historic townships Auburn, Sevenhill, Clare and White Hut, which are surrounded by some of the Australia’s most jaw-dropping rural landscapes.

Mr & Mrs Smith say…‘From the hill that crowns 160-hectare grounds – the perfect sundowner spot – the sandstone chimneys of North Bundaleer peek through the blue gums. The house, built in 1901 in the Victorian Queen Anne style, is one of the grandest in the district and has shades of wild folly about it. Above the front door sits a fabulous tower that serves no purpose. At the property’s core, there’s a ballroom where I could imagine the ladies of Longbourn coquettishly munching ices while waiting for Darcy to ask them to dance.’ Read the full anonymous review of North Bundaleer by Margie Seale…

Browse more of Mr & Mrs Smith’s stylish boutique hotels and offers now or call the expert Travel Team. Smith guests enjoy exclusive extras at all stays.

*Copy compiled by Katherine Williams

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A tale of two cities: a 48-hour stay in Florence and Verona

Posted by Juliet Kinsman on July 9th, 2014

salviatino-snaps-fanIt’s remarkable how much you can see and do in just one weekend away to Italy. A night at Il Salviatino and then a night at Palazzo Victoria treated me to a concentrated hit of two of the world’s most cultured cities with a restorative whirl in the countryside, plus a good measure of cocktails, and even a pilgrimage to my namesake’s balcony…

Florence, the original Renaissance city, doesn’t hang about when it comes to treating foreigners to the kind of scenes that make city breaks in Italy so appealing. Pastel-painted palazzi peeping around almost every corner and cultural landmarks as historically significant as they are a delight to look at. The best part of visiting this Tuscan city today is that the main piazzas have been pedestrianised so you can stare gormlessly in awe without fear of being mown down by a Vespa. (Check out this video of the Duomo.)

Il Salviatino

Poker-straight cypress trees on Fiesole’s hilltops stood sentry as we climbed Firenze’s green, green outskirts up into its most distinguished neighbourhood. Here the pristine 15th-centuryvilla presides over perfectly groomed Italian gardens. Still, you never forget your coordinates; gaze out of the bedrooms down to the terracotta roofs below and you can admire the whole of Florence in wide screen, complete with the Duomo’s mighty noggin poking up. Inside the feel is of easy elegance, where nothing is too shiny or too showy, but you know this oak-floored haven has been created with the most discerning travellers in mind. Double rooms from £398.03 (€501), excluding tax at 10 per cent

Eating and drinking

Aperitivo hour is always enjoyable in Italy, but especially so when the hotel’s resident barman is one of the country’s leading mixologists. It was almost as much fun being taught how to rustle up an Aperol Spritz (half a glass of prosecco, a generous glug of neon-orange Aperol, topped off with a couple of fingers of soda water) as drinking them. Cin cin! Set out along the main terrace in full red-checked-tablecloth glory was La Tavola Toscana, Il Salviatino’s new communal-dining experience every Tuesday night, which treats eaters to a parade of traditional flavours and dishes. Plied with local Veroni wine, we felt as though we were lucky guests at the wedding of a local dignitary… such as bruschetta on a spoon, panzanella dumpling, tempura of buffalo ricotta cheese, gnudi ricotta e spinaci, Mora Romagnola sausage, beef sirloin steak and much more.

Swimming and spa time

Ahem. And what better tonic the morning after being duty-bound to try so much local food and drink than an amble down to the spa? Here the rectangles of heated turquoise overlooking the valley and its pine trees aplenty beg you to slip fully into holiday mode. The swimming pool is reason alone to schedule an afternoon staying put at this hotel with duties no more taxing than being asked by your therapist to choose from house-blend aromatherapy potions based on organic olive oil themed ‘energy’, ‘balance’, ‘relax’. If you don’t have time for a massage, frankly the ablutions in your own ensuite are likely to feel a cut-above with sit-down rain showers with white LED installations which are more art installation that common-or-garden bathroom fitting… add to that Frette bath sheets to swaddle yourself in after.

We got to Verona by train: Campo di Marte is less than 15 minutes’ drive from the hotel. The journey to Verona Porta Nuova is only 90 minutes…

The Romans once rested their shields and spears in Verona, leaving behind an impressive cultural and architectural footprint: mediaeval palaces, fresco-festooned churches and of course, the ancient Arena. Shakespeare chose to set his tragedy, Romeo & Juliet, in this historic city, and no wonder: these are streets to fall in love in.


Palazzo Victoria

Positioned at the original Roman entrance to this northern Italian city, the Porta dei Borsari, are these three (actually, in a way, four) mediaeval villas. Recently transformed by the same family behind Il Salviatino,  here are original eye-popping frescos, parquet wooden floors and beamed ceilings all brought back to life. Marco Pigozzo is one of the brothers (along with Marcello) breathing new life into the hotel and enhancing it with bespoke designer furniture. He remembers playing here as a boy, and then after an international upbringing, decided to make Verona his family’s new base splashing out a significant amount on the properties, and lavishing a lot extra too on the renovations. Double rooms from £233.29 (€294), excluding tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €3.00 per person per night on check-out. 

Strolling and Shakespeare

Verona exudes culture, but it never feels riddled with tourists, even in high season. As someone named Juliet, I couldn’t resist heading towards the spurious landmark that is ‘her balcony’, especially as it’s only a few minutes’ walk away. Boutique-lined cobbled street Corso Porta Borsari was alive with street performers, somehow of a higher calibre than in other destinations. Even if it’s peak season the sugar-almond-coloured mediaeval facades surrounding market stalls and showmen in Piazza delle Erbe are what steal the show. Yes, I know Romeo and Juliet are fictional, but it was still fun seeing the stone balcony at Casa di Giulietta, a 14th-century house said to have belonged to the Capuleti family. Love messages scrawled across a graffiti-riddled wall and padlocks left as tributes are part of the romance – I skipped the €20 charge to actually head up to the balcony itself and saved most of my breath to have it taken around the corner at Verona Arena. Here, the first-century Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Brà is almost as impressive as Rome’s and in summer, opera lovers hit these benches for Verdi to Bizet.

Wine-sipping and wonder

Venturing out to Valpolicella for a lunch and tasting at Allegrini Wine Estate proved the ideal edifying (and edible) excursion from Verona. A perfectly preserved Roman villa, where the staff talked with a captivating amount of knowledge about the reds the family here produces from its vines. Villa della Torre’s ancient Roman heritage has been pristinely revived, and as tourist-friendly as it is, it’s soothingly free of anything as tacky as signs for the gift shop. It’s a sophisticated authentic window into Allegrini’s wine production. Our lunch was teamed with tastes of delicious full-bodied vintages including a very special Brunello and Amarone as moreish as the pile of nutty local crumb cake, sbrisolona.

 To plan a two-stop stay in Italy at these two hotels, contact our Travel Team.


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Travel gallery: Areias do Seixo hotel in Portugal

Posted by Madevi Dailly on July 9th, 2014

Lately we’ve been daydreaming about Portugal. We’ve fallen a little bit in love with Areias do Seixo: an easy hour’s drive from Lisbon, right on the coast, it’s the sort of laid-back and breezy boutique hotel that has you kicking off your shoes within minutes of arriving.

Fresh from a recent visit to this gorgeous concrete-and-glass stay, Smith editor Madévi Dailly recommends just giving in to the glamorous earth-child vibe: take a dip in the mirror-smooth pool, breathe in the scents of rosemary and lavender in the bountiful kitchen gardens or tag along on a mussel-picking expedition to the beach. And what a beach it is: a golden, unspoilt stretch of crashing Atlantic waves, framed by peaceful dunes and meandering clifftop paths. Once you’ve worked up a thirst, order a mojito, if only for the pleasure of watching the barman wander off into the garden to pick some fresh mint for your glass.

Fancy a taste of Portuguese bliss? UK Smiths, you’re in luck: this month, we’re giving away five nights at Areias do Seixo and £1,000 to spend at Harvey Nichols. Enter the competition before 24 July 2014 but hurry – we’re right on your heels.

All photos by Ross Duncan.

Areias do Seixo beach | Portugal

Areia do Seixo boutique hotel | Portugal

Areias do Seixo gardens | Portugal

Areias do Seixo boutique hotel | Portugal

Areias do Seixo boutique hotel | Portugal

Areias do Seixo pool loungers | Portugal

Areias do Seixo restaurant | Portugal

Areias do Seixo beach | Portugal






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Santa Teresa Hotel in Rio de Janeiro

We’re a little bit in love with Brazil this month, and I promise it has nothing to do with men kicking balls around. Rather, it’s the sleekly sexy style of Santa Teresa Hotel in Rio (above) that’s stolen our hotel-obsessed hearts – we’re thrilled to add it to our carefully curated collection.

The Ludlow hotel in New YorkHam Yard Hotel in LondonAnother new addition in the Americas is California’s classic Ventana Inn & Spa, sprawled down a dramatic ocean-view hillside in spectacular Big Sur; it’s the sort of stay that epitomises ‘rustic chic’. Over on the other coast, The Ludlow in New York (right) towers above the hip Lower East Side; to the south, Miami’s Hotel Victor South Beach is a central spot for surfers and sun seekers.

On the European front, the long-awaited opening of Firmdale’s Ham Yard Hotel in London (right) has design fans delighted, and another of our new favourites in the capital is Notting Hill’s Portobello Hotel. Next, we got out of town and headed for classic beachy break The Idle Rocks in Cornwall. On the Continent, we loved lounging elegantly at chic city stays Portrait Firenze in Florence and Palácio Ramalhete in Lisbon.

We ended our global adventures in Thailand – Koh Samui, to be precise – where Anantara Lawana Resort & Spa won us over with its fine dining, perfect pools and Chinese-inspired decor. Join us again a month from now to see where we’re off to next…

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La Mirande, Avignon: hotel of the week

Posted by Kate Weir on July 4th, 2014

This week we’re craving Provençal cuisine in palatial surroundings. La Mirande boutique hotel in mediaeval Avignon – a regally rustic stay housed in a 14th-century cardinal’s mansion – is ideal for a restorative sojourn to the south of France, and this month thespians, dancers and musicians flood the commune’s cobbled streets to perform at the Festival D’Avignon… Hotel of the Week | La Mirande, ProvenceSouth of France boutique hotel | La MirandeActivities in Avignon | The Festival D'Avignon Provence boutique hotel | La MirandeStyle Mediaeval Provençal grandeur
Setting Ancient heart of Avignon

Why this week? The Festival d’Avignon, a month-long cultural celebration, takes place 4–27 July 2014. Join the throng of international art appreciators to watch Shakespearean plays in the papal palace’s floodlit courtyard, and catch avant-garde recitals in Rue des Teinturiers and quirky ‘Off-Festival’ pageantry in the Place de l’Horloge. Festival organisers have 11th-hour tickets for fashionably late culture vultures, and there’s last-minute availability at La Mirande – but not for long…

Our favourite bits Ooh là là, where to begin? The noble architecture and art- and antique-strewn boudoirs, superb cookery school where impassioned chefs guide guests to Michelin-star-decorated greatness (well, almost) and the hotel’s deliciously debauched past as a cardinal’s party den all charmed us to check-in.

Mr & Mrs Smith say… ‘All before us is dressed in ardent devotion to 18th-century detail – sage panelling skirts the room; golden wall fabrics, printed with exotic flowers and pigeons, beg for stroking; wooden herringbone floors creak satisfyingly underfoot. We gaze out windows that open up to the garden below, where on balmy evenings guests sip wine amid blooming roses. An exquisite marquetry writing desk whisks me away: I am writing a Voltaire-esque masterpiece – by the flicker of candlelight; to the tone of Avignon church bells; with a feathered quill that drinks deeply from a pot of jet-black ink before scratching rhythmically upon the parchment.’ Read the anonymous review of La Mirande on the Mr & Mrs Smith site…

You say… ‘The chef, Jean-Claude Aubertin, is absolutely fabulous. Dinner in the restaurant was an absolute delight. I can’t wait to go back! The place has been renovated in exquisite fashion by the present owners, who you will find are very present at La Mirande. They manage to make it grand and cosy at the same time. I wish we had stayed more than one night.’ Lisa, GoldSmith, stayed on 2 February 2014.

Find more boutique hotels in Provence, or browse our collection of hotels with cookery schools

Copy compiled by Laura Brassett.

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Best ski resorts in New Zealand and Australia

Posted by Sarah Jappy on July 3rd, 2014

Best ski resorts in New Zealand and Australia, The Spire, Queenstown, New Zealand

Looking for the best ski resorts? Itching to ski New Zealand or ski Australia? Good timing: as you read this, snowflakes are falling in flurries across the ski fields. It’s set to be one of the best snow seasons, so whether the snow gums of Falls Creek are beckoning or the Remarkables’ impressive mountain ranges near Queenstown tickle your fancy, Mr & Mrs Smith will get you there. We even have a bunch of hotels in winter wonderlands with 30 per cent off. There’s no better time than now to don those long johns, sip mulled wine and set off on an alpine adventure.

Best ski resorts in New Zealand and Australia, Azur Lodge, Queenstown, New ZealandAzur Lodge, Queenstown, New Zealand
‘Mind-bogglingly beautiful’ is the only way to describe this corner of the world. Azur Lodge’s free-standing stone and silver beechwood villas offer uninterrupted views of Lake Wakatipu’s smooth expanse, all the way to the mountainous horizon of the Southern Alps. Aromatherapy burners and soothing essential oils in bedrooms set the mood for a relaxing respite amid nature. The double spa baths and rainforest showers hint at seductive soaping; the floor-to-ceiling windows let the outdoors in. Choose number 5 for maximum seclusion. There’s no restaurant, but breakfast is served from 7am to mid afternoon and the sociable drinks bar that pops up in the main lodge more than makes up for you having to venture into town – alternatively, just order in with the help of the concierge. View offer

Best ski resorts in New Zealand and Australia, QT Falls Creek, High Country, AustraliaQT Falls Creek, High Country, Australia
A change from its calmer summer self, Falls Creek in winter sees adventure-seekers flock to QT Falls Creek to play amid the freshly powdered scenery. Embrace your inner chef with the in-room kitchenettes or sample international cuisine at Bazaar, the hotel’s restaurant that dishes up Asian-influenced cuisine and organic salads. Stingray bar (only open in peak season) will entertain you with local musicians and DJ sets while you sip a hot toddy and nibble Mexican-inspired snacks. Almost all rooms have hot tubs stationed on private balconies for watching skiers slalom down the mountain – it’s not a bad setting for a glass of bubbly, either. East Tower rooms offer the best vistas, but for your own fireplace and a roomier Jacuzzi, the Two-Bedroom Penthouse E306 is a must. No need to pack the Uggs, there’s underfloor heating in these swish abodes, so your tootsies can get some air after being booted-up all day.

Best ski resorts in New Zealand and Australia, The Spire, Queenstown, New ZealandThe Spire, Queenstown, New Zealand
Nestled in Queenstown’s CBD, rubbing shoulders with boutiques, bars and restaurants, you’ll find The Spire. Set a peaceful distance away from the excitement and crowds on the ski fields, this is the perfect destination to enjoy the town’s adventurous activities before retreating to sophisticated cosiness. This boutique sanctuary is home to 10 suites, each one graced with stone-clad fireplaces, private balconies and L’Occitane toiletries. Choose Room 6 for its views of the hotel’s namesake spire. Settle in at No5 Church Lane, the hotel’s restaurant and bar, where you’ll be plied with warming tipples and Thai tapas. View offer

Best ski resorts in New Zealand and Australia, Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown, New ZealandMatakauri Lodge, Queenstown, New Zealand
Incredible alpine and lake views teamed with energy-saving practices and locally-sourced, seasonal and organic produce set Matakauri Lodge apart from the competition in Queenstown. Executive Chef Dale Gartland will let you order tailor-made creations on a daily-changing menu – he’ll even source fresh seafood and game on request. Deluxe Suites 7 or 9, located at each end of the lodge, give a bit of extra privacy, but really, every single one of the 11 rooms is blessed with flawless flashes of mesmerising mountains and velvety Lake Wakatipu – not to mention fireplaces and soaking tubs by floor-to-ceiling windows. Adventure is in the air here, so don’t forgot that instead of staring at the view, you should get amongst it – ski down Coronet Peak or jet-boat through ice-cold water that’s trickled down the Southern Alps. View offer

See the full list of stylish hotels in Australia and hotels in New Zealand with 30 per cent off, browse more of Mr & Mrs Smith’s stylish boutique hotels and offers or call the expert Travel Team. Smith guests enjoy exclusive extras at all stays.*

*Copy compiled by Kat Williams


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War Fare: Ellenborough Park’s Great British Menu

Posted by Anthony Leyton on July 1st, 2014

David Kelman, head chef of Cotswolds country house Ellenborough Park, marks his TV appearance on The Great British Menu with a limited series of dining events (the next one’s on Wednesday 9 July). Smith sent managing editor Anthony Leyton along for a taste of what promises to be a unique gourmet getawayGreat British Menu

‘So the menu’s themed around the D-Day landings? That’s, er, novel.’  Reassuringly, it emerges that the menu planned for chef David Kelman’s showpiece dinner at Ellenborough Park isn’t the result of some nutty culinary militarism on his part, but rather dictated by the bigwigs on The Great British Menu – the TV show on which he appeared earlier this year. If you’ve not seen it, it’s a sort of chef-on-chef telly smackdown, in which professionals from kitchens David Kelman, Ellenborough Parkacross the country compete to create dishes that best represent the flavours of modern Britain (Nice ’n’ Spicy NikNaks excepted).This year, in commemoration of the Normandy landings 70 years ago, the show challenged the chefs to mark the anniversary through the medium of food, with the winning recipes served to WW2 veterans on 6 June. David – a former reservist from a three-generation military family, whose own cherished nan spent WW2 working in a Welsh munitions factory – couldn’t have been more qualified to take part.

Before we all get too excited, he didn’t win. But he trumped his fellow Welsh contenders, topped his heat and fought with honour in the final, creating a fabulous four-courser that ingeniously and sensitively paid homage to the British war effort and turned plenty of gastronomes’ eyes on the kitchens at Ellenborough Park.

Ellenborough Park hotel, CheltenhamOn the cusp of the Cotswolds, just beyond the thatch-topped old village of Prestbury (‘the most haunted in Britain’, the taxi driver pronounces, although he’s a little short on details), Ellenborough is Cheltenham’s pet country-house hotel, luring London’s weekend-awayers, Cheltenhamite spa lovers and equestrophiles seeking prime positioning for the Gold Cup racecourse (the finish line can be seen from some rooms). Handsomely constructed in clotted-cream Cotswolds stone, and swaddled in 90 rabbit-hopped acres of National Trust parkland, the 16th-century main building was restored five years ago, acquiring a handful of new wings and annexes that now sit, quite comfortably thank you, alongside their Tudor sibling.

It’s also a damn fine spot to have dinner.

Beaufort Dining Room, Ellenborough ParkThe local foodie press and scene have been whooping lyrical over Kelman’s cooking for a couple of years now – it’s about time he garnered some serious national attention. Thanks to the Great British Menu, he’s got it. So, when you get the chance to be one of 80 or so guests sampling the actual dishes he served up to the judges on the show (with wines to match), all in the wood-pannelled aristocratic loveliness of the triple-rosette Beaufort Dining Room, you jolly well take it.

Each of the courses offers a gastronomic snapshot of Britain at war from a different point in history, inspired not by the soldiers themselves, but by the supporting cast of framers, fishermen, entertainers and factory workers who also did their bit for Britain…

STARTER Run, Rarebit Run

Run, Rarebit, Run – Ellenborough Park's Great British MenuIntroduced by a gramophone rendition of Flanagan and Allen’s wartime favourite, Kelman’s petite rabbit pies are, for me, the highlight of the meal. Using farmed rabbit meat (more tender and mild than their wild cousins, David explains afterwards), and a soft and flaky suet pastry, the pies are flanked by a nest of delicately pickled veg and sat beside a slick of ale-spiked Caerphilly sauce that, with its refined umami punch, absolutely conjures the essence of rarebit (the judges felt it was ‘unnecessary’; the judges were wrong with bells on). For the TV show, Kelman served his rabbit pie in a miniature hutch – a mildly macabre joke with Fatal Attraction  undertones, thankfully omitted from the Ellenborough event (the hutches housed the bread rolls instead).

FISH COURSE Deadly Catch

Deadly Catch – Ellenborough Park's Great British MenuIt may not be the most inviting name for a dish, but ‘Deadly Catch’ does give an appropriate nod to its inspiration – the work of the trawlermen who risked life and limb to keep seafood on the tables of Britain during WW2. Consisting of a seabass fillet, mussels and clams atop a rich and rewarding brown shrimp chowder, the dish is composed entirely of seafood from Conwy in North Wales, where parts of D-Day’s Mulberry Harbour were constructed – and also where Kelman’s from. A couple of cheffy flourishes give it all a bit of character – a crunchy potato ‘net’ and, offering a strange and sombre reminder of the dangers of the wartime sea, a gelatinous ball of agar agar-treated fish stock, coloured with squid ink and resembling a naval mine. It’s inventive, to say the least.

MAIN End of Rationing and the Return of Forgotten Foods

End of Rationing – Ellenborough Park's Great British MenuIt’s generally with some trepidation, if not plain terror, that one tackles a plate purporting to contain ‘chicken and banana ballotine’, but this maverick affair – a celebration of the foodstuffs restored to the British larder by the repeal of rationing – somehow manages to make the demented combination work. The rolled chicken breast’s buttery banana core adds a welcome sweetness that doesn’t overpower the poultry and the addition of a quail’s egg bhaji, spiced potatoes, roast cherry tomatoes and – oh joy – crispy, onion-seeded chicken skin results in a bold, slightly madcap dish of remarkable exuberance. The whole caboodle is served with a shot glass of velvety chicken jus that is, frankly, a meat-packed wonder potion so good I’d happily drizzle it over a whole fruit salad.

DESSERT Lemon and Poppy

Lemon and poppy dessert at Ellenborough ParkIt’s a tough job to make a dessert poignant and melancholic (especially when there’s something as inherently chirpy as a brandy snap involved), but this tangy trio of lemon mouse, raspberry sponge and lemon and poppy shortbread is intended to symbolise the act of remembrance (a point underlined by the addition of a white chocolate Union Flag). Compared to the showboating drama of the other dishes, this has an elegance and modesty to both its appearance and flavour – entirely in keeping with the theme.

The notion of ‘meal as memorial’ is a decidely odd one, of course, and there will always be people who object to the idea of something as solemn as war being interpreted through a ‘frivolous’ medium such as cooking. However, as David Kelman demonstrates, inspiration can come from the darkest corners. By the end of the evening, Ellenborough’s diners have had a history lesson, attended a commemoration service and eaten at one of the best restaurants in Gloucestershire. Not bad for a night out.

David Kelman and Ellenborough Park are hosting their second Great British Menu dinner on Wednesday 9 July. To book dinner (and an overnight stay if you fancy it), get in touch with the Smith Travel Team on 0330 100 3180 (from the UK).

(And, if this has got you hankering after a gourmet stay, check out our new collection of the best hotel restaurants.)


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Metropolitan by Como, Miami Beach: hotel of the week

Posted by Kate Thorman on June 27th, 2014

Private beach, art deco architecture and sublime spa: Metropolitan by Como, Miami Beach has upped SoBe’s blissed-out, oceanfront-decadence game.

Metropolitan by Como, Miami Beach | Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotels

Style Modern deco spa retreat
Setting Heart of historic district

Why this week? These days, it feels like the word ‘Miami’ can barely leave your lips before someone is asking if you’ve been to the Metropolitan by Como hotel yet. And it’s no wonder why: between the rooftop spa with its free yoga classes for guests, sun-soaked pool just steps from the ocean and fresh-juice bar with its revitalising tonics, there’s nowhere more relaxing and decadent in South Beach. All summer long, until September 30, the hotel is offering 20 per cent off stays of three nights or more, just for Mr & Mrs Smith members, so grab your swimsuit.

Metropolitan by Como, Miami beach rooms | Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotelsOur favourite bits At this spa retreat overlooking the ocean just outside the SoBe fray, the focus is on total relaxation. The private beach, daily yoga classes, special wellness menu and sublime spa all certainly help you unwind.

Metropolitan by Como, Miami Beach lobby | Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotelsMr & Mrs Smith say… ‘…the hotel’s private stretch of sand – a refuge of simplicity and chic design in what is otherwise sprawling South Beach. You’d think there was no space left to build on Florida’s most overpopulated sand pit, but the hotel has somehow carved out an idyll of calm right in its centre.

Strolling waist-high into the sparkling clear Atlantic Ocean, I glanced back at the hotel glimmering in the sunlight and wondered why you would ever step out of this shawl of comfort into anywhere else in Miami. Bouncy nautical servers even brought oranges for us to suck on in the heat, alongside incredible lunches of humungous prawns, kale and beat salads and all manner of healthy and not so healthy (Mr Smith, ahem) treats.’ Read the full anonymous Mr & Mrs Smith review…

Book the Metropolitan by Como, Miami Beach now, browse more Miami hotels or search all Mr & Mrs Smith hotel offers.

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Go Brazil! Feed that football fever

Posted by Laura House on June 25th, 2014

Fasano Rio / Mr & Mrs Smith

Maybe it has something to do with the enticing Brazilian setting – those sugary sand beaches, jungle-clad hills (oh, and the equally easy-on-the-eyes players) – but our fever for ‘the beautiful game’ is at an all-time high for these World Cup games. Despite the fact that some of our most beloved teams have been knocked out already, you’ll still find us not-so-secretly watching on the job and shouting at the telly until the final game.

To satisfy our appetite for all things football, we’re keeping up with our reading, too. With that, here are a few of our favourite finds from around the web….

  • Commentators around the globe bring their own flair to calling a goal. The New York Times compiled audio bits of some of the most colourful announcers and their signature battle cries.
  • ‘Beautiful, Terrible, Funny’ – this segment of the BBC’s Match of the Day round-up brings together daily highlights of the best, most dramatic and silliest footie moments.
  • Even if you don’t care much about football, we know that you, like us, have an appreciation for good style. Hazlitt‘s satirical rundown of uniforms is your definitive guide. 
  • Need a soundtrack to keep your energy up for the remainder of the games?  Here are two playlists to pump you up, one from Conde Nast Traveler and one by DJ Monk-One.
  • Spoiler alert: for those who wait to watch, we can relate to this Hyundai commercial.

If that’s not enough to keep you entertained you between matches, you can find more links here. And, if all those beauty shots of steamy Rio, the remote beaches and tropical terrain beyond have sparked your wanderlust, now is a brilliant time to start planning your South American escape to a Mr & Mrs Smith Brazilian boutique hotel, of course.

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