You never quite know what you’re getting when you book a hotel room.
Sure you can specify sea view but is it a full on view of the ocean or a glimpse from a narrow angle that gives you a couple of inches of sea reflected in a mirror?
And is it really the sea or a mosquito-ridden foetid river running into the sea uncomfortably near the bathing area?
We were supposed to have a sea view on our honeymoon in Petrovac, then Yugoslavia, now Montenegro. It turned out to be a side sea view if you leaned over the balcony and craned your head around the corner. But it overlooked a whole estate of apartments and housing and gave us a grandstand view of Yugoslavian life with noisy kids playing, dogs barking and occasional loud, incomprehensible rows.
A friend sent me a snap recently from his hotel room window; a view of the South China Sea – a huge expanse of uninterrupted blue-grey calm under a soft misty sky. It was a scene of complete serenity. Just what you need when you’re seeking a little r&r.
It made me think about hotel views and how important it is to have a view, even if it’s an unattractive view. I’d much rather any view at all than the feeling of sleeping in a box that you get in a windowless cabin on a ferry. It’s hard to get to sleep feeling trapped and packaged like a piece of freight.
We stayed in a hotel in London recently with a non-descript yet fascinating view of a barbed-wired enclosure full of rubbish which included the wreck of a car. There was absolutely no way the car could have been driven there, so we assumed the fencing and walls had been added afterwards. The view from the corner of the building near the lift more than made up for it, though, looking out over the stunning London cityscape that with the Eye, the Gherkin, The Shard, St Pauls and Tower Bridge in the distance.
Another disappointing view was from the back of a Scottish hotel (they generally have magnificent frontages overlooking lochs with mountainous backdrops). This one looked on to one field which gave way to forestry. The field was empty and dead boring except for one thing – a hare, which every morning sat bolt upright in the centre of the field like a sentinel.
I don’t think you can beat a sea view – and the absolute nicest I’ve ever experienced was a complete surprise, which made it better still. I’d booked a little hotel in a tiny French seaside resort not far from Cancale. My French being more Franglais than Francais, I wasn’t even completely confident of the booking, let alone what the place looked like.
It was a kind of short cycle tour; one of those cycling trips where, after a long lunch with seafood and excellent wine, we found we were only ten minutes ride from our destination and freewheeled down a short steep hill to the quiet road along the sea front.
On our left, a small clean sandy beach with boats anchored out in the horseshoe shaped bay. To our right, two small hotels, side by side. The furthest hotel, which had a sign on the front in a font that was immediately both very French and welcoming, was ours.
I sat on the wall overlooking the beach letting the sun warm my legs and keeping an eye on the bikes while Capt Sensible went in to make enquiries.
I heard a low whistle from somewhere and looked up to see him leaning on the little wrought-iron railed balconies of one of the first floor rooms.
“This is our room.”
Oh joy. We locked up the bikes and found that it was Good; a small but adequate room with a matching tiny ensuite comprising a loo and shower. There was old-fashioned flowery wallpaper and picture rails and the bed had a classic black bedstead with a mattress that dipped slightly in the middle.
It was nowhere near as bad, but it reminded me of the first French bed we experienced, in the mis-named Hotel Progres within earshot of the Gard du Nord, with a scary rattling old-fashioned lift and plumbing that woke you up in the night with deafening gurgles and rushing water that sounded like a dam giving way. The mattress was so old and dipped that you had to cling like a limpet to the very edge of the bed all night long to avoid rolling into an unwieldy, sweaty, snoring, dribbling heap in the middle with the other half. I was 22 weeks pregnant so passion was limited both by my condition and by the bed.
But this balconied room had French windows and tall wooden shutters – and first thing in the morning, you could slide out of bed, tiptoe over and peep out at the little fishing boats and cabin cruisers gently shifting in the glittering blue bay.
Later, in the cooler early evening, we sat at the little table and thin metal chairs on the balcony, listening to the chatter of people on the beach and watching children paddling and playing – observing their characters so easily from their free, unselfconscious behaviour.
It was during the first night there that we heard, at 2am the echoing sounds of youths going for a dip, shushing each other a little drunkenly and messing about out there in the dark gently lapping waters.
So lovely. Of course, we can never go back. It would never be as good again.
What’s your favourite room with a view?