We have asked Gabriella Truman, founder of Explorateur Journeys, an international travel concierge service, to share her thoughts with us about her love for hotels, and Amberlair, of course. And before you ask, a #BohoLover is a Boutique Hotel lover… just like us!
How do you choose a hotel when you travel?
For me, it’s all about a hotel’s personality. I have to feel some sort of emotion when looking at a property- naturally location plays a huge part especially when I am traveling on business, but overall I search for a place with a soul, that reaches me in some way. Perhaps it’s the décor that appeals or the vibe that comes across in the way they present themselves. Being an avid traveler for most of my life, I’ve learned to develop an immediate sense whereas I am struck right away by a hotel’s character and ability to be flexible, entirely consumed with a guest. All the while not taking themselves too seriously, I love bit of a cheeky sense of humor in a hotel’s attitude. I love being pampered, but in a relaxed atmosphere that isn’t extremely stiff or formal.
If you had to choose 3, which were the most special (boutique) hotels you have ever stayed at?
Illyria House in Pretoria, South Africa
This hotel simply cannot be accurately described, it’s one of those true experiences that is only completely understood once felt, touched, and seen. The hotel is a former residence of a local artist that has been transformed into a majestic Victorian-era retreat with so many special touches it’s difficult to list them all.
An ever-smiling staff that cannot do enough for you is what you see right upon arrival, all the way through until they are singing warm African songs to you as you depart. There are magical gardens and an open, grand yard at the back where the outdoor tables overlook, with small spa treatment rooms carefully hidden in the vegetation, and every room in this property is uniquely decorated with special elements hand selected by the owner.
Bath baubles in crystal glassware, an antique scale carfully balancing fruit and nuts to enjoy with a glass of brandy, even small little inspirational notes and Shakespearean quotes carefully tucked under your pillow when you return in the evening and once in a while, a local pianist coming in to perform for the guests on the property’s special piano. Just incredibly unique.
Casa da Calcada in Amarante, Portugal
What I experienced here was complete and total relaxation, with a dose of disconnection even for a short period and that is what I remember most. It was for many reasons, starting with a stunning pool area with impressive views of the colorful buildings and orange-tiled rooftops in the hills surrounding the area, the beautiful rooms with gorgeous little touches and sitting areas with impressive pieces of art and history reflective of the grandeur of centuries past, as this is a former palace.
The service is excellent but when you get to the food, it’s a whole other level. We indulged in a wonderful tasting menu at the Michelin-starred restaurant and were even treated to a visit to their esteemed wine room which really rounded out the experience. Regal and royal without feeling too overly formal, they achieved the perfect balance of luxury and comfort in a fairytale-like village.
Villa Spalletti Trivelli in Rome, Italy
Just about everything made this experience so special- the staff was extremely warm and the service was so personalized, we were all greeted by name every time and the décor, including the room product is just over the top stunning without being too formal. It’s housed in a former residence so you instantly feel regal upon walking in, and there are so many touches that I recall so fondly.
One being a small doorbell on various tables throughout- in the sitting rooms, in the breakfast room and so forth with little signs that reuest you “ring for service”, and they are truly at your beckon call no matter where you are on property. Nightly, a complimetnary bar service is set up, with lovely snacks – all meant to be enjoyed in a lovely private garden or one of the gorgeous drawing rooms and it just makes one feel quite fabulous.
If you had your own boutique hotel, what 3 things would you make sure existed?
I’d take everything I have ever loved both at home and in properties around the world, and pour it into my boutique hotel experience with things like:
- I’d create a signature scent for my hotel…which could only be acquired at the hotel. It’s something that guests would get used to smelling while on property, and we’d send them home with a small bottle of it. When they return home, they’d be able to experience it and daydream about their memories of the hotel experience, and we’d remain present in their minds, hopefully making them happy each time.
- A true sense of place- depending on the location , it would be extremely critical for me to have the guest feel like a local, and be able to experience the culture whether the stay is brief or extended. Things like complimentary tastings of local specialties would be offered, perhaps we’d bring in a local dancer or musician for a traditional performance, and so forth. I would want them to really be able to remember how they felt and what they learned during their stay with us.
- Fantastic child-friendly amenities. I’m a mom and nothing makes me happier than when my daughter is happy and treated like a VIP. Small robes, little gifts left in the room, surprise toys and things of this nature make a child smile and feel so extremely welcome…
Name 3 things you loved in hotels you stayed in before…
- Feeling like a rock-star…nothing makes me feel as good as when I walk around a property and I am greeted by name when someone says hello…it shows they have taken the time to see me, learn who I am, and acknowledge me as an esteemed guest no matter how long or short my stay. It’s always impressive and surprising, and makes me happy every time it happens.
- Surprises that make life so much more convenient while in a hotel- this could be from fabulous complimentary coffee and fruit water flowing freely in the lobby with a great soundtrack playing in the background, to little gifts being left in your room “ just because “ , ample charging stations or electrical outlets in convenient locations in the room to charge all of one’s devices, to unexpected upgrades on arrival. Hotels that mix it up and surprise me, remain in my mind and are the ones that I tend to talk about the most.
- Complimentary mini-bar filled with fun items. Most guests find it ridiculous to pay $8 for a bottle of water, or $5 for a pack of M&Ms and I am no exception. These are little touches that, when provided as part of the standard boutique hotel experience, make a guest feel almost giddy and it’s such a simple thing to do….
Name 3 things you wouldn’t want to experience in a hotel ever again.
- Wi-Fi that isn’t free. It’s not the money, it’s the concept- it’s something we all need, it helps encourage us to share our experiences at a hotel and should always be complimentary in my opinion.
- An uncomfortable bed. To me, hotels should offer an elevated sense of your normal everyday life- there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep and absolutely critical to have ultra-comfortable mattresses and fabulous sheets. A hotel bed should at least be as good, or better than the one you have at home!
- A bad welcome and poor first impression… a smiling, warm, friendly staff makes all the difference and when that’s not there, the entire guest experience is altered from thereon in. The first moment is critical and I love it when it’s done right.
How do you feel about the Amberlair concept?
I am enchanted by the concept and it goes along with everything I believe about the hotel experience- so much of it should be driven by the guest- what they want, what they demand, listening to their needs and working to build the experience centered around that idea. I actually can’t wait to see the first product come to fruition and to experience it myself. Quite revolutionary- well done!
Where are you off to next?
Well, right now I’m actually in London, after this I’ll be headed to the Galapagos in December which I am incredibly excited about…to submerse myself in such an otherworldly destination. For New Year’s, I’ll return to London with my family to enjoy some festivities with dear friends and of course bit of shopping, high tea, we’ll take in a performance and likely head out to the Cotswolds for a bit as well.
Gabriella Truman was born, quite simply, with travel in her blood. Literally! With Portuguese and Italian ancestry and a firmly American state of mind, the spirit of adventure defines her. That’s why it makes perfect sense that she’s founded Explorateur Journeys, an international travel concierge service that plans dream trips and unforgettable experiences for its globetrotting clientele.
Gabriella is also an avid travel blogger in her own right, sharing insights from her travels that take her around the world year after year for both business and pleasure. Nevertheless, she still finds time to work actively with an orphanage in South Africa, raising funds and assisting with securing volunteer doctors to provide medical care for children in need.
What Gabriella can’t resist? The New York Yankees, James Bond thrillers, family and great food, international spy novels, Sunday night dinners, soccer, 80’s throwback movies, bulldogs, and — of course — an unforgettable adventure.