Best hotel ever

Someone posed the question in a national newspaper the other day “What is the best hotel you’ve ever experienced?”

The gut reaction is that “best” equals luxury – the sort of environment and opportunities for pampering that you’d never get at home. Bit like the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong – where, lest you get entirely the wrong idea, we spent just the one night because the loo in the son’s apartment was blocked.  Huge hotel room, big stone-tiled shower area with smart lighting, a bed the size of Australia, flat screen TV the size of a door, under-cupboard lighting ( popular in the Far East though why you’d want to crawl to the loo or lie and read a book under the cupboard is beyond me) and a drawer with a cable for every conceivable techie device stored neatly in their own little labelled pouches.

And yet…and yet…  Is it all about smoothest sheets and thickest-up-to-your-ankles shagpile? Is luxury a sufficient benchmark? While it might knock your socks off with its smooth, no-expensive spared glitziness initially, I think luxury gets a bit corporate, and embarrassingly OTT. I’m thinking hotel desks and antiseptic lobbies where everything is shiny and there are beautifully lit objets yet it all seems alien; there’s no comfort, no friendliness and to be honest, it makes me feel a bit guilty.  A little voice in my head is saying “So you can afford to stay here and eat at exhorbitant prices? So what about the little children in Africa, huh?  Actually aren’t you spending money on self-indulgent pointlessnesses to make hotel chain fatcats even richer? Think that’s a good plan?”

I watched a short vid yesterday of a glossy upmarket Chinese hotel featuring a wall of water, a pool and cascade in the foyer.  I think it was in the foyer. It could have been a very posh urinal but there weren’t any visible Percys or porcelain to point at so it was difficult to tell.  I distinctly remember seeing a grand piano in the corner of the room, though. It may be that’s the origin of the phrase “a tinkle on the ivories.”  Apologies if you’re having breakfast but I hope you’re still following my stream of consciousness…  that ultra-decadence leaves one cold. Buckingham Palace isn’t officially a hotel so this anecdote has no place here, really, but when I took my mother there on a visit, she noted “Too much gold leaf on everything.  It just looks tacky. I’d rather be at the Brighton Pavilion.”   You can take the woman out of South Wales…

Returning to hotels though, it can be the small things that make the difference between average and jolly lovely. Staff at a hotel in Barcelona – fabulous architecture (see pic of stairs below) –  had the good sense to put a bottle of chilled cava on the breakfast table.  Capt Sensible said you were meant to add it in your orange juice but he was surely just kidding. Breakfast is much improved with a bit of sparkle.

Some hotels earn brownie points by having the good manners and consideration to provide your dog with biscuits on arrival in a little bowl in the room.  Look, I know what you’re thinking and no, it wasn’t the kennels.  The Calls hotel in Leeds did that too – provided a nice bowl of luxury chocolates on the coffee table which Rolls the springer fell upon with enthusiasm before we had even got our cases into the room.

So I’ve had a good think and the gong for the best hotel I’ve ever visited goes to a little place in Cumbria at the head of the Langdale Valley. It started out as a farm and in the 19th century became an inn. It’s built of local slate and the converted cowshed which adjoins it is the Hikers Bar. The big timbers of the cattle stalls are still there and there were old black and white pics of climbers hanging on the walls, which is appropriate because that’s what climbing types usually do.

There are no fancy interior water features or artfully arranged rocks inside The Old Dungeon Ghyll. There’s a crystal-clear water-crowfooted stream running under a humpy-back bridge 500 yards from the gate and the hotel stands at the foot of a magnificent slab of rocky cliff where you might see climbers clinging precariously very very high up.

When we stayed there about eight years ago, it got nil points for stylish fripperies. No ‘Molten Brown’ sic (I love hotels mis-spellings) in the bathroom, no nicely-lit objets in the hall – just a grandfather clock ticking loudly. It had no pretension to be anything other than homely, hearty, relaxed and traditional.

Our room was on the second floor more or less up in the roof. We lugged our cases up several flights of patterned Wilton carpet that had seen better days. The room was the smallest we’d ever stayed in. There was hardly space for the dog basket beside the wardrobe. The ensuite shower, washbasin and loo had been shoehorned into a corner.

The bed had a big brass bedstead and a patchwork quilt. Fantastic.  Just like sleeping in my nan’s old bed, which was so high that when I was a nipper, she had to give me a leg up. No chamber pot beneath this one, though. I checked.

There was Victorian-style flowery wallpaper on all the walls and a picture rail with a few faded views of the Langdales.  There was no room to swing a World Traveller Executive Suitcase but I didn’t give a stuff when there was a stunning view of green pastures, the streamand the soft contours of the lower Langdales. You could see it all while sitting in bed with the morning cuppa.  The ridge, I knew, led along the valley to the more challenging Pike O Stickle, Pike O’Bliscoe, Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and the daddy of them all, Scafell Pike.

What’s more, when I took doggo out into the early dewy fields, I could see our little bedroom window from at least half a mile away, there at the top of the solid slate square beneath the fell.  Getting nearer, I could wave and see Capt Sensible waving back from the comfort of the bed.

But the view wasn’t the main thing. The big thing at the ODG was breakfast.  Breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental was a restaurant full of smart people dressed down in expensive smart clothes or dressed up for business meetings. There was a big buffet and a chap making omelettes to order with diamond-encrusted chipolatas on the side if you so wished.

At the ODG you got fantastic doorstops of wholemeal fresh-baked bread, fragrant, yeasty and hot from the toaster and pots of coffee and tea to be going on with while the kitchen prepared the best cooked breakfasts I’ve ever tasted including excellent quality sausages and really good bacon. The tables were generous enough to be able to spread your OS map out while you started on the second pot of coffee, planning the activities for the day ahead.  All around us there were discussions and negotiations and comparings of notes on the local walks, climbs, expeditions.  The weather – posted daily in the hallway – was the most important consideration.

People were friendly, comparing notes on where they’d been and interested in hearing about the routes and exploits of others.  There was an easy sense of cameraderie. These were people who were anticipating a moderate to strenous day of adventuring – for some a little too strenous.

One guy talked about doing the whole circuit that included Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Skiddaw while we were only thinking about tackling a couple of Pikes or preferable, pikelets.  He made me feel a little inadequate, to be honest and I though maybe we should be stretching ourselves a little more but Capt Sensible often refuses point blank to be stretched.

Just as well, really.  Much, much later – around 7pm that evening – we sitting at a picnic table outside the Hikers’ Bar, in recovery with a pint of cider and a pint of Black Sheep recalling the highlights of the Stickle O’Pickle or the Harrison Pickle or whatever those scary-high places were called,  when a lone figure appeared in the gateway and trudged slowly up the driveway. It was the Keen Hiker.

He politely refused our offer of a drink and something to eat and wasn’t in the mood for good-humoured banter. He looked totally wiped out.

“I can’t sit down. I won’t be able to get up.  I think I’ll just go straight to my room.”

His face said it all. Sort of pale as if on the point of collapse. Capt Sensible was quite concerned.

“He needs to eat. He hasn’t even taken his rucksack off.”

“Never mind him, what about me?” I said.  “Our room’s on the top floor. I’m going to have real problems making it up there…”

I had been fantasising about an elevator but fat chance of that at the unpretentious ODG.  If  you were capable of climbing the Langdales, they assumed you’d be more than capable of four flights of stairs.

“Why? Are you that knackered?”

“Iss the cider..” I admitted.

“Gone straight to my legs.  Any chance of a fireman’s lift?”

Gratuitous Roly picture. Butter wouldn’t melt but he’d burgle your picnic hamper as soon as look at you.


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Dogs, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Best hotel ever

  1. earlybird says:

    The ODG sounds just great. I haven’t been to the Mandarin since 1984, I guess, but the ODG looks more ‘me’ these days. Although I don’t think I could make it up any of those mountains!

  2. janh1 says:

    Hi Earlybird. There’s a lovely variety of terrain in the Langdales so I reckon you could definitely do some – and Blea Tarn is a perfect spot that’s not a difficult hike. I love most of the things about Cumbria except the congestion in the “tourist trap” towns in the summer – but it’s always possible to lose yourself on the fells – sometimes literally! 😉

  3. I’m all for a bit of fizz at breakfast!
    John Mortimer (and no doubt many others!) never started the day without it, I believe.
    The pike-side hotel sounds perfect.

    • janh1 says:

      Hi WFTE! Sorry for delay and thanks for the heads up on Isobel’s blog or I’d never have found it. Oh me too. What a very fitting way to start the day. Even if it’s all downhill thereafter, at least you started well. 🙂

      I loved John Mortimer, the man and his writing. We were talking about him the other day and how he spent many happy times at his villa in Italy drinking champagne and excellent wines amusing a coterie of adoring females with beautifully-told anecdotes and reminiscences.

  4. Pseu says:

    I seriously feel that Captain Sensible is a good match for you. 🙂

  5. IsobelandCat says:

    Imh knowledge of hotels is a bit limited. I loved all three I’ve stayed in in Sweden, mainly because of the breakfasts. Then there was one in Munich where you got your own little kitchen in a cupboard so if you wanted you could self-cater. They also did brilliant breakfasts. The Hotel Balcon in Competa was clean and friendly, but I remember nothing about the food at all. My experience of lower end British ones is dire; dirty and unashamed. The top range ones, as you say, luxury but impersonal.
    The one I stayed in on Uist with the dog, was threadbare and friendly. The owners rescued greyhounds and the dog loved it, so so did we.

  6. janh1 says:

    Hi Isobel. Breakfasts seem to be as important to you as they are to me when I’m away on hols.
    Thanks for mentioning the Hotel Balcon. Competa looks very interesting and I love the sound of its Noche del Vino on the 15th August. August is the birthday month for me and two good friends so a long weekend away might be in order next year!

    Uist with the greyhounds sounds nice. Maybe my next blog should be dog-friendly hotels… 😉

    • IsobelandCat says:

      Too right! Food is important to me. But I especially like breakfast. My best party was a breakfast party.
      Competa was lovely, high in the hills, and you can easily walk over to the neighbouring village.
      I was on a walking holiday with the Ramblers. The group was fantastic. I don’t think I have ever laughed so much. There is an expat British and Danish community, but they are completely integrated and don’t live apart like in some places.
      It was a terrible culture shock when we went to the airport which is huge. We stuck together like a bunch of refugees.

      • janh1 says:

        Sounds perfect for a long weekend, Isobel, especially as we usually have a joint Leo birthdays celebration around that time of year.

        Isn’t it good when you find yourself with a bunch of like-minded people? 🙂

  7. valzone says:

    Hi Jan, lovely blog, as always. I’ve stayed in hotels at the top of the ladder, and a few on the bottom rung, but I think the best I stayed in was in Ireland, several years ago. It was a guest house, which in many ways, shouldn’t even come under that title. It was a family run establishment, where everyone, guests and family, lived and ate together. I was placed in a room with the eldest daughter, and between us, we stayed awake most of the night laughing our heads off. She even got out the family photographs, and shared so many treasures with me. In the morning, after a sensational bath in an old cast iron job, I went to the kitchen where breakfast was being served. A huge table, no tablecloth, and just about everything was being baked, fried, boiled and stewed. Steaming mugs of tea, home made bread, home made jams, and best of all, a welcome like no other. I came to stay at this place because one of my Irish family said “You must go and stay one night at this place (the rest of my family stayed with the family). It was fabulous, I loved it. The Hilton and the likes are great, but you don’t get to learn how to do an Irish jig in your bedroom, like what I did. 🙂

    • janh1 says:

      Cor Val, thanks for sharing that. A guest house where you’re not so much a guest but an honorary family member? That’s a new one on me!

      I adore the sound of that breakfast scene, Val, and the people themselves. They obviously love having guests like you. 😀

  8. Steve says:

    The Royal Horse Guards, Westminster. It is precisely the sort of establish you rail against, but it was fantastic nonetheless, with a view of the Thames, heated bathroom tiles, a TV in the wall above the tub, traditional doormen in their proper garb, and gorgeous gardens with 20-foot tall statues of dead Englishmen.

  9. janh1 says:

    Laughing here at 20 foot statues of “dead Englishmen” !!! 😀 But you had me at the TV in the wall above the tub. Now that’s some luxury! We’re not allowed to have TVs in domestic bathrooms here in case we suddenly get suicidal watching X-factor and drag it into the bath with us.

  10. Ant says:

    Yo Meganekko. What fun.
    I stayed in that hotel, The White Swan in Guangzhou. Yes, it could be renamed the Golden Shower if you ate the One Ton soup it offers for breakfast. Heavy. And dog friendly too, looking at the menu.
    Your ideal hotel reminds me of cycling training to Youth Hostels, every day an adventure amongst self reliant people. Good food too, even if you did have help wash up. Love the picture of Roly the Conqueror, about to plant his flag no doubt.
    My fav; sorry but it is a combination of luxury and the memory of happy experiences. The Hotel Intercontinental, Chicago, where I had a room on the Egyptian level. Business meeting with someone from the university who influenced my life afterwards, then a chance late night visit to Buddy Guy’s Legends Club. The blues music was washing over me when someone seemed to just get up from the audience and take his chair onto the stage, and there was Eric Clapton.
    Back to my room for fabulous room service from sassy, happy staff. And those cool cotton sheets; and how much should you tip a maid for such well folded jim jams?

  11. janh1 says:

    Konbanwa, Ant. Are you psychic? Next Thursday we be mostly in Tokyo!
    I hear they are very keen on dogs in Guangzhou but not in a Kennel Club-type way. Eeurgh. I’ll have you know that Rolls was a paragon of doggy propriety in hotels, apart from the nicking chocs thing – oh and the burgling his own food supplies thing.

    Self-reliance isn’t really me. I carry a tenner instead of a puncture kit, Ant and at the ODG, I couldn’t even face the stairs, remember. Although I’d still be there now if I’d waited for that fireman’s lift 🙂

    The Egyptian level? Were you in the Howard Carter room-with-a-tomb? That night sounds amazing. Clapton, eh? You can’t plan stuff like that. 🙂

    Hey did you hear about Steve Winwood headlining the Jazz Fest at Chelters? Quite jolly excited about that one… all together now Valerieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee 😉 Ok, just Keep on Runnin..

  12. Ant says:

    All work and Noh Play, then, Jan? keep waving that tenner, or spend it cider.
    I forgot to say, it was the hotel receptionist who got me the tickets, part of the service she said.
    Stevie W, isn’t wonderful when a musician becomes part of the instrument? Here’s something part Japanese to scramble your eggs to on a Sunday morning,

  13. janh1 says:

    Yay, that was an excessively merry tune for a Sunday morning but at least it drowned out the frog chorus for a bit. That was above and beyond from your hotel receptionist, then Ant. We had one who arranged tickets for a Vivaldi concert in an old church in Venice but quite frankly, I think I prefer your evening 🙂

    Noh theatre planned, Ant, not even any Sumo as the big boys are all away in Osaka but who knows, we may venture out to Mt Fuji or, if I can whip up sufficient enthusiasm within the ranks, journey to see the snow monkeys at their spa.

  14. Cider goes straight to my legs too.And the rest of me.

    The hotel sounds just fab. Bookable in the extreme. It’s gone on to my list!

  15. janh1 says:

    Ooops, sorry folks. Thought I’d posted a short “away from office”-type note but my connection must have failed. Back to Blighty very soon now but first, must wave my blow-up daffodil at the Welshboys at the Hong Kong Sevens tomorrow. All together now…”Mae hen wlad fy nhadau….”

    Greetings Kate. Legs and shoulders with me. Anyone else have alcohol shoulders? No? Thought not. Only one other person I’ve ever met gets alcohol shoulders. The good thing is that with care, you can work through it.

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