We have asked the one and only, travel writer extraordinaire, and possibly the person after which the word #BohoLover was invented Juliet Kinsman, editor of Mr & Mrs Smith, 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?
I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker first for how a hotel looks: outside and in. Obviously I’m privileged to hear about lots of fabulously stylish hotels through Mr & Mrs Smith — if they’ve made our cut to get into the Smith Hotels collection that means they’re likely to be exactly my cup of tea: stylish and boutiquey. Or perhaps I’ve seen a hotel in a magazine — but that can deceive thanks to a flattering brochure-style shot. One chic image doesn’t truly reflect the feel of a hotel. I tend to be informed by friends who work in travel and whose taste I know is like mine.
Daisy Bird, Carla Burt, Andria Mitsakos and Lysbeth Fox all run their own PR companies, and they are people whose opinions I really rely on: in the same way some people look to style bloggers. I also really trust the New York Times when it comes to travel recommendations, and of course Condé Nast Traveller (I am biased as my food-lovers guide to the Isle of Wight is in the current July issue). I always forget to look at TripAdvisor — until when I’m a hotel and I feel let down in some way and I check to see if others had a similar disappointment and usually someone’s shared my sentiments.
Name three most special hotels you have ever stayed at…
Brody House, Budapest is very special for me. I first fell in love with this cool independent city stay on a press trip last spring 2014 — then fast forward a year to when we had our wedding at its arts club, Brody Studios. Lots of friends wondered why we’d chosen this Hungarian rendezvous… and I got great pleasure from introducing so many to this beautiful city and its delicious food and drink, and in particular this characterful bohemian boutique hotel and its members club. I absolutely love the decor — upcycled in their own colourful, imaginative way, with lots of original art from local creatives. Bravo, Brody. They have a fabulous palace-style hotel opening soon: Kinscem.
Jade Mountain, St Lucia is a Caribbean property with a unique knack of bringing the outside in: my suite had a swimming pool half in the room and half uncovered; one suite still has a red gommier tree growing through the floor and up through the roof. At the top of a hill above his original hotel Anse Chastanet, the architect owner dispensed with as many walls, windows and doors as possible — the suites are all open air! Walkways lend a sci-fi feel while coloured Aztec-y glass sculptures enhance its other-worldliness. Each of the 29 15ft-high-ceiling suites at Jade Mountain is truly individual, and this a get-away-from-it-all paradise a world removed from could-be-anywhere homogenous chain hotels. Even the five lowest-category pool-less rooms are high on charm, sporting the signature raised-up ensuites and convivially proportioned Jacuzzi tubs that are blessed too with that grandstand Piton-facing look-out.
Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland was the perfect destination for our 4-day minimoon adventure. Originally it piqued my interest architecturally when I saw the bold plans for this remote island off the eastern coast of Canada (where I was born)… Then I met Zita Cobb, its inspiring founder. The sixth of seven children born to an illiterate cod-fishing family (and the only girl), Zita left this at 16 to study business in Ottawa; the Newfoundlander then retired aged 42 as one of Canada’s richest women – and she created this community-based business. The rest of the world should take note of this incredible social enterprise. No detail has been overlooked and its comfortable luxury like nothing else I’ve experienced. Designed by architect Todd Saunders (from across the water in Gander Bay) every practice is eco friendly and ethical right down to the light features made from fishing net ropes by locals. Boat-builders were re-trained as furniture makers and a guild of quilters stitched the bespoke bedspreads found in every room and the in-house chef is committed to foraged, caught or grown food that’s as locally sourced and seasonal as possible. Every meal was so delicious: from the salt cod an buttermilk scones at breakfast to the lobster platter at dinner and parsnip ice-cream dessert! I urge everyone who works in the travel industry to watch Zita’s D3 talk.
If you had your own boutique hotel, what would you make sure existed?
- Ridiculously comfortable beds with quality linens. An excellent boutique hotel can actually be very simple and still excellent by investing in this particular luxury.
- Maxi minibars which reference local produce: Wythe in Williamsburg has seasonal treats such as gourmet cheeses and exotic sodas from meta-deli Marlow & Sons which hails from the same owner.
- Its own stylish travel magazine like the one I just edited for LUX* Hotels & Resorts designed by & Smith
- Klaus Haapaniemi crockery
- A book or culture night like Damian Barr’s Literary Salon at the Tom Dixon-designed Mondrian’s Rumpus Room on South Bank. (I loved hosting a book event with Bookomi for the Reading Agency charity at the Zetter Townhouse.)
Things you’ve loved in hotels you stayed in before…
- Vinyl you could play in the sitting room at La Bandita Townhouse in Pienza, Tuscany.
- The girls’ night in package at The Berkeley in Belgravia! Perfect night with a pal: enjoyed the best room-service dinner ever, then watched the Diana Vreeland documentary The Eye Has to Travel, ate Hattie Sweets and Propercorn, enjoyed a Benefit goodie bag filled with best-seller make-up, put in hair rollers, went for a roof-top swim in the Bamford spa in the morning. Dream staycation!
- A beautiful library like the one at Fellah Hotel, Morocco.
- The art at At the Chapel in Bruton; I also ended up at the sister restaurant Roth Bar & Grill up the road which treated me to a whirl around the Hauser & Wirth gallery it’s in.
Name 3 things you wouldn’t want to experience in a hotel ever again.
- Being woken up at an ungodly hour by an alarm clock set from a previous guest. (Dear housekeeping — please double check those little digital tickers by the bed. This has happened a few times.)
- A giant crow suddenly flying out of the fireplace into the breakfast room after getting stuck in the chimney. A most Hitchcockian start to the day.
- Having a fire alarm go off in the middle of the night when I was staying in a room at the top of a high-rise hotel I had an early morning TV appearance. Pass the Touche Eclat.
How do you feel about the Amberlair concept?
My first reaction to anything crowd-sourced that I am slightly suspicious of any creative project that is created by committee as I think some of the strongest hotels have a true visionary at the top — however I also think if you take the intel and wisdom from discerning travellers all over the world you could indeed create the perfect boutique hotel. Having read this article by Kristin and Marcus, it chimes with my sentiments exactly:
“A true boutique hotel is also one-of-a-kind and independently owned.”
Where are you off to next?
I am heading to the Lower East Side in New York to write a guide to this, the oldest neighbourhood in NYC. I’ll be happy to be able to celebrate the Ludlow there — one of my favourite new hotels from Sean MacPherson.
Luxury travel expert and founding editor at Mr & Mrs Smith, and a journalist for two decades, Juliet Kinsman’s travel tips appear in Condé Nast Traveller to The Independent. She’s co-presented a travel show for the Discovery Channel, and she’s been a speaker in many a travel panel and a judge for awards from architecture to boutique hotels.
There’s nothing Juliet loves more than inspiring people to squeeze the most of time in a new destination, from the hyperlocal to the glamorous, and she couldn’t be happier about the invention of Twitter and Instagram as she loves evangelising about the inspiring places she sees along the way.