How do you choose a hotel when you travel?
I am a hotel photographer, so of course, I would choose a hotel on the imagery – if the photography can “take me there”, in other words make it irresistibly attractive and appealing, then I’m prepared to go.
I do also have favourite hotels around the world, where I love to check in because of fond memories, friendships and exceptional experiences
If you had to choose 3, which were the most special hotels you have ever stayed at?
Only three? That´s a tough one – here are three that spring to mind.: Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, Thailand; Hurricane Hotel, Tarifa, Spain; and The Oberoi Amarvilas Agra, India.
What made them so special?
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is my favourite hotel in the world. I have always thought that if I ever became sick, The Mandarin Oriental would have the cure. Architecturally its higgledy-piggledy, with a mix of styles, but the rooms are so cosy, the butler service impeccable – I have to pack scores of cases every year, and when the butler unpacks mine for me, that´s pure luxury. They greet you by name, the food is superb, the spa is divine, they have a well-earned historic legacy, and they don´t pretend to be anything they aren’t.
Hurricane Hotel Tarifa, this Andalucian hotel is at the other end of the five-star scale. The owners and staff have become friends over the years – this is a shabby chic, no frills, surfers’ paradise, frontline to the Atlantic, beautiful swimming pool. Their gardens are mature, the ambience upbeat, the staff have grown up with the hotel and their alfresco summer dining is second to none. It doesn’t matter how much has time has passed since my last visit, when I check in, it always feels like coming home.
The Oberoi Amarvilas Agra I was on a photo shoot when I visited this hotel – it is just magical. For years I had dreamed of visiting the Taj Mahal, and to have a room overlooking it was beyond words. I never once closed the curtains – how on earth could you block out that view? I remember going to brush my teeth late one night, then heading to bed and momentarily forgetting where I was. Then I looked out of the window and I just stopped in my tracks – there was the Taj Mahal, that mythical, mystical monument built for love. Unforgettable.
If you had your own boutique hotel, what 3 things would you make sure existed?
- A view – nature, landscapes, and even cityscapes are in continual flux. You can never tire of a good view, anything from the ocean, to a modern city skyline or pure wilderness; a room with a view is a feast for the eyes and my camera.
- A huge freestanding bathtub, where you can soak and dream.
- Beautifully designed coathangers with the crest of the hotel, I would like 30 of them in each wardrobe.
Name 3 things you loved in hotels you stayed in before…
- The name thing makes a huge difference – a personalised welcome note on arrival and the staff who can address you by name.
- An abundance of fresh flowers, beautifully displayed from the exotic to the local, the more the better.
- A good-sized swimming pool, where you can have a really good swim.
Name 3 things you wouldn’t want to experience in a hotel ever again.
- Sloppy staff who are totally uninterested in their job – I won´t be naming and shaming, but all travellers have seem this trait somewhere along the line.
- Those daft thread needle coat hangers (where the hook part stays on the rail, and you take the hanger part out).
- Hotels with bad photography, there is no excuse.
How do you feel about the Amberlair concept?
I think it’s a fantastic concept. The more input you have from fellow travellers and hotel-lovers, the better. From my perspective, the importance of photography – not only to document the hotel, but to capture the essence of the establishment – is paramount. Everyone can see the hotel from their own perspective – it’s like one huge brainstorming project and with the passion of all those fellow travellers, the hotel has a head-start from the outset. Money can buy the property, but the management and day-to-day running that has to be really carefully thought out. I wish the Amberlair project every success.
Where are you off to next?
My next stop will be a very interesting one, I adore hotels with history and Dromoland Castle in County Clare, Ireland dates back to the 5th century.
Michelle Chaplow is a luxury hotel photographer who has spent the last two decades photographing a huge variety of travel destinations, and some of the world’s finest luxury and historic hotels. In 2010 she founded Hotel Essence Photography, whose mission is to capture the spirit, the very essence of a property.
Born and educated in Britain, she attended Manchester University, and relocated to Spain in 1992. Hotel Essence Photography has been commissioned and published by highly prestigious hotel groups such as Mandarin Oriental, Paradores de España, Kempinski, Oberoi, and numerous independently-owned hotels.
As a keynote speaker, Michelle Chaplow has delivered speeches on the Importance of Photography for Luxury and Historic Hotels at a number of events, including TEDx and the annual conferences of both Historic Hotels of America, and Preferred Hotel Group.
Michelle Chaplow prefers to work with natural lighting for her photography. She has perfected several innovative cutting-edge photography and lighting techniques for capturing signature hotel shots. Michelle loves the finer things in life, including traveling on assignment to exotic locations and artisan chocolates.