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?



La Sagrada Familia; the old and the new.


I have only ever been to Barcelona once and even then only for a few hours. We were on our way to start a cruise of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea in the month of August. It was to be our first ever family cruise and we were all excited and really looking forward to it. Good weather was guaranteed, everyone said wonderful things about cruises so seven days of predictable contentment were bound to ensue. Or so I thought.

This holiday took place almost 3 years ago and changed the course of my life, ending in marital separation. And no, I can’t possibly blame it all on cruises even though I’ve learnt they are not everybody’s idea of a dream vacation. (Just ask the ex!)

La Sagrada Familia was right in front of our little boutique hotel. And even though I had promised the kids there would be no sightseeing I really could not justify not crossing the road to see this beautiful building. It was without a doubt amazing. I knew nothing about it other than the fact that it was in the centre of Barcelona. For me, tenderly and with a touch of sadness, it remains a metaphor of what all our lives are about. The old and the new coexisting with unbelievable grace, beauty and resilience. Still a work in progress even though it was started 130 years ago. It has been in the hands of different architects; starting with Francisco de Paula del Villlar in 1882, then Gaudi until 1926 and various architects since. They have all influenced and shaped the design, adding character and individuality. It remains unfinished but it stands strong.

It has been built entirely from donations. Gaudi famously said that it’s future is “in the hands of God and the will of the people”, aren’t we all….

Juzcar – A white village, turns blue.

What could possess me to spend a precious Sunday travelling inland from Malaga in search of a tiny white village simply because it has been painted bright blue? Previously unheard of, Juzcar was selected for marketing purposes to promote Sony’s 3D movie premiere about the Smurfs. Sanity would usually have me heading towards the sunny coast without a second thought. However, my daughter’s Facebook page was brimming with photos and comments from frenzied teenage friends who had already visited Juzcar. And thus guilted into thinking she was missing out and I that I might be a horrible mother, I agreed to undertake the hour and a half hour car journey up winding mountain roads in spite of a propensity towards car sickness.

 I was under the impression that we would be the only visitors to this tiny village with less than 250 locals. I was expecting a ghost town. But the two police officers directing traffic at the entrance to the town were a surprise.  And the sheer volume of visitors and cars was quite confusing. Clearly this marketing gimmick has been hugely successful. Eighty thousand visitors have dropped in on Juzcar in a period of approximately six months. Two tiny bars/ restaurants have done their utmost to offer refreshment to the curious masses who await their turn patiently outdoors. We saw two locals dressed as Papa Smurf and a Smurfette. We took photos against the walls of houses adorned with pictures of Smurfs and toadstools. And the mountainous landscape, so green at this time of the year was amazing.

A couple of kilometres before you reach Juzcar there is a roundabout with a couple of shops on the roadside. About 20 Harley Davidson bikers, all of them in full leather gear, were parked in front of one of the shops which was also a manufacturer of leather goods. I kept expecting to see them in smurf town but this never happened. Instead I spotted a different group in what appeared to be cream combats, walking boots and small wicker baskets in hand. They appeared to be collecting different shaped mushrooms. And judging from the identity tags hanging from their necks they must have been a nature group studying the local produce. Each to his own! Who am I to judge? I have just bought tickets to see One Direction in concert next year. So why would I choose to fly over to the O2 to see these boys at considerable expense? Once again my daughter’s Facebook page……