A lovely chap called Peter Fritz from Bulgarian website Milliard City got in touch with me to do a Q&A session about luxury and hotels having watched our TV programme currently broadcasting in Eastern Europe. The intro (very roughly translated) says along the lines of ‘When you want to travel, and you want to get some information where do you go? The Discovery Channel, and particularly the The Smiths’ Hotels for 2… ‘
Peter Juliet, it is a very tough to find right questions for you. Your activities are so ample and you must to have many amazing experiences that it is a very challenging thing to choose some element from your life. But, really I have found some interesting fact what I would like to ask you at first. I have read some info about you and your positive connection to bed. It can be great job to allow you to spend a lot of time in the bed. At other side, let me congratulate to so positive results of this activity as Mr & Mrs Smith TV and many great articles for major newpapers and magazines. Can you write me how is possible to do it?
Juliet I know – it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. Ironically I’ve always been an insomniac – too much to see and do to waste time sleeping in. Although having had a baby a year ago I now dream of being able to stay in bed longer! I really love my job and when you’re passionate about something it’s hard to switch off. I realise how lucky I am to travel to some incredible places and so I am always keen to share some of our boutique hotel discoveries with the rest of the world so when I’m not travelling I spend as much time writing about my trips that I can.
Peter Sorry, I am going to be serious. You began at a dance-music magazine and you are editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith hotel guidebooks and website as well as presenter of The Smiths’ Hotels for 2. How is your reflection to last time in music business? And why did you choose music world?
Juliet When I graduated from university I loved music and clubs and wanted to be a journalist so I guess it was the logical progression. It was really exciting being part of the dance scene in the Nineties – it was still underground and there were so many new emerging music genres. So much of Britain’s youth lived for the weekend and it was a place of total escapism — you could be stuck in a really boring office job and then recreate yourself as someone totally flamboyant in a weekend fantasyland. Monthly parties in London which really exemplified that were Come Dancing which had a fancy-dress theme and were totally tongue-in-cheek and the guy who ran these was my friend James Lohan (MD of Mr & Mrs Smith). I was on holiday in Ibiza with James when he met his wife-to-be Tamara, and they’re the couple who originally came up with the idea for our hotel guidebooks, Mr & Mrs Smith. It was almost a natural move from the world we came from… just look at hip über-hoteliers Andre Balazs and Ian Schrager who ran club nights then pretty much invented the boutique hotel. Whereas parties and clubs in London were at the centre of our lives a decade ago, next it was cocktail-fuelled nights in style bars, and chic retreats. (Now it’s finding hip hideaways that are also child-friendly.) There was a massive gap in the market when we first decided to publish Mr & Mrs Smith – it was either glossy photo-led coffe-table publications or black-and-white all things-to-all-people handbooks. We tried to bridge the gap with something that looked good but which was also helpful when planning every element of your weekend away from the hotel, to what you get up to when you’re there.
Peter You were travelling from your childhood so I think you have found great taste for this thing. You spent some time in USA, India or Greece. You live in London, now. During your travel experience you can know some of most attractive places and luxurious hotels. How can you find positive motivation in your ‘travelling work’ yet?
Juliet I have always travelled a lot, so I guess it was only logical that this would one day combine with my love for writing about my adventures… My Dad was a Canadian diplomat so I moved around a lot as a kid – I was a baby in Algeria, a toddler in New York and a fifth grader in DC, I then spent my teenage years in the Home Counties in the UK followed by spells living and working in New York, Greece and India… I’ve been a journalist and editor for 14 years, which has allowed me to see and do all sorts of things. I’ve eaten my way around London as editor of a London restaurant guide, I’ve covered celebrity weddings for OK! magazine, I slept in a former prison cell (now youth hostel) in Ljubljana for Time Out, and as a dance-music scribe I partied long and hard with many a world-famous DJ in Miami and Ibiza – but now that I get to sample breakfast in bed and critique the odd spa treatment for a living you can be sure that I regularly say a little thank you to whoever’s upstairs – I feel very lucky.
Peter I know your TV show Smiths’ Hotels for 2 but I would like to present it to our visitors and readers. Many of them can replace the name of your TV show with US movie with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Can you introduce Mr & Mrs Smith?
Juliet Actually we were around first but they’re not the worst pair to have as a poster couple for your brand are they? When we had the idea for a hotel guidebook aimed at recommending stylish hotels for romantic escapes it was a wink to couples who fancy checking into a fabulous hotel under this classic dirty-weekend pseudonym.
More info on that: https://www.mrandmrssmith.com/about-us
Peter Wow, it’s nice to know the Smiths. Now, I want to ask you about the show. What is the essence of the TV show?
Juliet It’s about being on the road with us as we determine whether hotels will make the cut and join the Mr & Mrs Smith hotel collection.
Peter Simply, you are travelling to most beautiful places, you can stay in most luxurious hotels and to drive Porsche or Ferrari and to exploit concierge services…. What a fantastic message! I think it can be interesting info for our successful visitors, for financially responsible and independent people – so for our visitors. What are most important facts to choose concrete place and hotel?
Juliet I pretty much sum it up here on our Blog: https://blog.mrandmrssmith.com/2008/08/what-makes-a-boutique-hotel/
Peter Did you have some experience that you have chosen some place or hotel with great fame and reality was not too positive?
Juliet Of course. All the time. Places that look nice on the website often end up too corporate and business-traveller oriented. I’m completely put off somewhere if I walk in and they have one of those boards telling you the “Men & their Microchips” convention is in the main ballroom. You want somewhere special that feels like a home from home. Obviously I find myself really examining the quality of fixtures and fittings more and more, and will write off somewhere because it’s got cheap taps/ MDF chest of drawers in the room – especially as your average hotel guest has seen so many interior design programmes talking about Egyptian cotton threadcount, they too are quality conscious. I recently stayed in a minimalist supposed temple to design, but sloppy grouting in the bathroom, a small black TV and a cheap plastic phone had made me wondering why anyone would be happy paying a few hundred dollars a night. (Cheap-chic is one thing, but cheap is another.) If a hotel has an impressive historical heritage, hi-tech accessories are less relevant, but you still want everything to work properly and be of a high quality. It’s a balance though, because if it was family-run and the owners were super-friendly and it was great value for money and there were lots of other plus points, eg they served fabulous food you might be forgiving. I’dd heard great things about the cocktail bar at MARINA ALL SUITES on fashionable Leblon in Rio. Supposedly a favourite with the world’s most famous Carioca, Gisele, it was hardly a setting befitting of supermodels. The tacky decor felt more like the product of someone who’d been given £50 and a couple of hours at Homebase and Camden Market. The bedrooms were bizarre too. Not quirky in a cool or innovative way, instead kitted out with low-grade furnishings more Travelodge than trendsetting boutique hotel. We’d gone there in the hope that we could film it for our Discovery Travel & Living TV show but left feeling it was a location better suited as a TV set for an Australian teen soap. Such a disappointment in one of the world’s most vibrant and visually breathtaking cities.
Peter Can you choose some very special hotel for our visitors? What do you offer them?
Juliet As someone who’s lucky enough to experience some of the hippest hotels around the world, I see some special and unique stays, but nothing prepared me for Dar Ahlam in Ouarzazate: little wonder its name means ‘House of Dreams’. A friend described this luxury Moroccan hideaway created by a Parisian party planner as ‘hotel theatre’ and that’s exactly what it is. Mealtimes at this extraordinary fantasyland were the best surprise. Always carefully choreographed, each banquet is in a new private spot, set with an inspired array of china, glasses and cutlery. We had breakfast on a rose petal-strewn table by the pool; fresh pomegranate lassis for elevenses; a rosé-enhanced, three-course lunch on safari-style tables in the vegetable garden; and our candlelit supper was a tasty tagine in a jewelled corner of the kasbah. Makes my mouthwater just remembering it.
This summer I was lucky enough to visit its brand-new sister hotel in the Douro Valley, Romaneira. Relaxing massages, port tastings, river cruises – this high-concept hotel treats guests to the high life amid understated luxury and spectacular sun-kissed scenery in utter seclusion. 19 rooms and apartments are set across two chic villas hidden in 990 acres of sprawling vineyards on the banks of the Douro. Thierry Teyssier took three years to perfect this working wine estate fantasyland and a stay in Quinta dos Sonhos (its Portuguese name) is cleverly choreographed from the get-go. Fancy a stroll through the grounds – they’ll steer you to just the spot. Crave a robe and lemon-tinged mineral water by the heated indoor pool? Someone reads your thought bubble and places them to hand. Included in the price is the showstopper dining. Guests are ushered somewhere new for each meal – perhaps a river-vista herb garden for local red or white wines and tapas or a traditional tiled dining room for a more formal feast. Most beguiling is the Chocolaterie (pictured), their take on high tea. Drool over secret-recipe hot cocoa and home-cooked cakes from the celebrated pastry chef. A brand-new destination restaurant, Redondo, takes the gastronomy to dizzy heights.
Peter You meet luxury in your show, in your articles. May I ask you what is your definition of luxury?
Juliet Everyone defines luxury differently. Of course excellent service is a given and elegant surroundings are fairly mandatory but for some it’s just being able to switch off and tune out – maybe no mobile phone signal. Others might crave space, space, space. For me, luxury is an unforgettable experience in inspiring surroundings: sipping rosé on the rooftop of Dar Ahlam watching the sun set behind the Atlas Mountains… Eating salted, fried rosemary admiring the vineyard-studded valley views of its sister Romaneira… Another fabulous luxury these days is being able to stay somewhere really grown-up such as Chewton Glen in Hampshire – but be able to take my baby! The hotel provided a baby monitor in the room so while she snoozed in her cot in our suite we enjoyed an amazing supper downstairs.
Peter I would like to ask you at special question. What places do you prefer during your holiday? What is your the best relax?
Juliet I’m not the best at relaxing – I tend to try and squeeze the most out of every possible trip. The perfect South of France sanctuary which combines an exciting city break with a beautiful intimate peaceful little hotel is Jardins Secrets in Nîmes. There I can sit in the pretty garden and read while dipping my toes in the pool and then when I get itchy feet go to a café or a gallery…
Juliet Kinsman is editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith