What makes for a great hotel?


What makes for a great hotel? Nowadays I’m not so sure. As a kid it was clear that travelling anywhere from my home town was difficult. Impossible by road, limited by sea and expensive by air. The few times we went abroad my parents wanted us to top up on culture as much as possible. Like any other parents they were very keen for us to be as well-educated as possible. Thus we saw as many cathedrals, churches, museums and art galleries as possible. The hotel experience was just the means to an end.

Today the hotel facilities do matter. We seem less drawn to more learning whilst on holiday and prefer to find adventure, sports, some local culture and relaxation. Cruises are good for this, however cruises are not for everyone. For me it depends on the expectation you have. High expectations can lead to disappointments. Whilst I love dressing up for formal evening meals and having the opportunity to meet other diners, I don’t do well with the race for a breakfast table and a sunlounger… and the crowds! So even the luxury of a cruise can fail to please.

The perfect hotel is probably not perfect for everyone. I don’t even think it depends on the number of stars it has been given, it’s location, amenities, or friendly services. I firmly believe that it all depends on the memories we have attached to the place. I have often chosen one particular place with my heart and ended up going back to the Atalaya Park Hotel in the Costa del Sol, located between Estepona and Marbella, Spain.

 They describe themselves as a Golf Hotel and Resort. For me it’s where I spent one Christmas with my entire family (seventeen of us at the time) and Santa made an appearance with presents for every child. We went back to celebrate a surprise weekend for my father’s 65th birthday. I’ve been with my kids as toddlers and as teenagers. They always want to go back.

So what is the charm of this hotel? It isn’t part of a chain of hotels. It’s not modern. It hasn’t been renovated to the level of some 5 star modern hotels and the air conditioning is not up to everyone’s standard. However the grounds were aquired in the 1960’s, when land was cheap and it has been a hotel ever since. It therefore stands on a plot of 50,000m2.  There is space and no other buildings around it. The beautiful grounds have very mature palm trees, a mini-golf, 9 tennis courts (with a professional tennis coach available to give classes), a football pitch and a basketball pitch. They have their own 18 hole golf courses (2 of them). I’ve seen people doing PADI diving courses in the pool. I’m not ashamed to confess to having seen most of this from the comfort of my sunbed. My kids have stayed in the pool the entire time and have therefore opted out of archery, rifle shooting and other activities. Neither did we hire canoes and kayaks, but we liked to think we could…

In some areas the hotel has moved into the 21st century by going all-inclusive. More’s the pity. The area around the pool sometimes doesn’t drain well and the lawn gets soggy and muddy. But to me this hotel is like a grand old dame, beautiful, with an elegant lobby and bar area, with a faded air of grandeur that would be so difficult to re-create. And yes, she probably has seen better days, but I don’t think it would be easy to match this hotel in most other 4 star establishments.

Few places are perfect, but all things considered I think the Atalaya comes close. What is your idea of a perfect holiday stay?