I stayed at the RAF Club in London this week. The location is super, on Piccadilly at the Hyde Park Corner end and overlooking Green Park, it’s steeped in RAF culture, my room, albeit a single, ticked all the boxes and breakfast was excellent. It isn’t a hotel of course but it got me thinking about the hotels I’ve stayed at and which ones I’d consider in some list of 5.
It can’t be the 5 best of course because I’ve stayed in so many and forgotten more experiences than I can remember. But some have been notable, for good reasons, so that’s my list. It’s the 5 which I remember and of which I have the best memories.
Of course I’ve been staying in hotels for 60 plus years now and as a child I went on my summer hols to Llandudno for a week or two and we always stayed in a hotel. Those were different days and I remember the three meals a day and being served by waiters and waitresses even in quite modest places. There was no bar, few of the rooms were en-suite and the TV was downstairs in the lounge. I remember names like the Meirion, the Belvue and the Regent Court. Not exactly memorable hotels but good honest businesses meeting a very specific need at the time and doing so to the standards which were then expected.
I also remember the posh hotels we used to look at admiring the Rolls Royces parked outside. One of these was the St George’s and we stayed there off season a couple of years ago courtesy of my Tesco vouchers. I’m pleased to say that it’s still a good hotel,
I got back into hotel staying when I started work and I’m fortunate that I’ve always worked for companies with an international perspective which by and large expected their people to stay in good hotels.
1 the New Otani in Tokyo
My first such employer was Shell and early in the 70s it sent me to Japan where I stayed in the New Otani. First time on a long haul flight, first time outside Europe and certainly first time I’d stayed in a hotel of this class. Subsequently I’ve stayed in other hotels in Tokyo including the Imperial (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) and the Okura (beloved of American presidents and now being rebuilt ready for the 2020 Olympics) but it’s the New Otani which is the first hotel on my list of 5 because of the all round gob-smacking impression it made on me at the time.
2 the Oriental in Bangkok
I stayed in and around Asia for most of the 70s and got to stay in most of the top end hotels, old names like Raffles in Singapore and the Peninsula in Hong Kong, and modern luxury chains when the Hilton, Sheraton and Hyatt names made such hotels stand out. But the one with the most class and number 2 on my list is the Oriental in Bangkok. It’s now a big multi-story modern with the original hotel in the garden like a sort of annexe but that was the magic part and I stayed there when that was all that it was. Nowadays it’s a part of the Mandarin Oriental chain which gives you real class hotels all over but it’s the original Oriental which sets the standard for me.
After my time in Asia I was based in Switzerland. I was working in the chemicals industry with Europe wide responsibilities and although I was still staying at good hotels I didn’t tick off the names in the same way as I did in Asia.
3 the Nassauer Hof in Wiesbaden
I never really warmed to hotels in Paris or London and found those in Italy, mainly Milan but sometimes Rome, failed the ‘efficient administration’ test. Fortunately I visited Germany more than any other country and that’s where I find number 3 on my list viz the Nassauer Hof in Wiesbaden. I was visiting Hoechst and they’d booked my room. I guess they got a special deal but whatever it was it was worth it. The hotel sparkled and as my colleague noted ‘if you leave a thumbprint on the lift button there’s immediately someone there to polish it off’. I remember especially a rooftop swimming pool with a glass surround, a splendid experience on a dark winter’s morning.
4 the Esplanade in Fremantle
Three down and two to go and both of these are from last year. Because I’m no longer in business my opportunities for staying in memorable hotels is reduced but twice last year I had super experiences. The first and memorable hotel number 4 was at the Esplanade in Fremantle. We had three weeks in Australia visiting my son and when you go that far you want to enjoy yourself so I chose the Esplanade in Freo. It was a good choice and I described the Esplanade on tripadvisor as just about the most pleasant hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I said:
‘I’ve stayed in a few hotels and I really can’t recall one which I like quite as much as the Esplanade. It’s a bit of a Goldilocks hotel, small enough to be friendly, big enough to offer what’s needed’.
5 the Majapahit in Surabaya
And finally we were blessed last year with two super holidays. The second was a bonus and took us to Indonesia where we stayed in two exceptional hotels. The first was the Tugu in
Malang (pictured above) and staying there is a bit like being an extra in an Indiana Jones
movie. But it’s the second one which is number 5 on my list and that’s the Majapahit in
Surabaya. Not only does it tick all the boxes of excellence today but it’s also got a history. It had a link with Raffles in its early years and one with modern Indonesia as the site that the Dutch flag was torn down and replaced by that of Indonesia in the lead up to the Battle of Surabaya and Indonesia’s struggle for independance.
Bringing everything up to date maybe the Risorgimento in Lecce, Italy was close to making the list and, changing the context completely, the Seagrave Arms in Weston Subedge near Chipping Campden is maybe the first on a new list relating just to boutique hotels.