‘The thing about the Cayman Islands is that the best sights are underwater,’ said my taxi driver as he drove along the dusty road from the airport. ‘There’s just not a great deal above sea level.’
After a week in the Caribbean exploring the trio of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman islands which make up the Cayman Islands, I wasn’t sure I agreed with him.
While the Cayman Islands – the name comes from the word for crocodile, although they were originally named Las Tortugas by Christopher Columbus due to all the turtles he saw swimming there – lack the ‘bling’ factor of their Caribbean neighbours such as Barbados and St Lucia or the flamboyant night-life of Jamaica or Cuba, it is certainly not just a diving-only destination.
It’s just as well that an overnight stay at St Martin’s Lane hotel comes with complimentary membership of the gym next door.
By the time I finally checked out after what seemed like 24 hours of continuous eating, I would not have been at all surprised to find that I had doubled in size.
Dinner the night before had involved a pretty huge amount of food on its own, but added to a hefty breakfast and a frankly massive amount of food which I dutifully sampled as part of its signature ‘Cafecito‘ afternoon tea and I felt as I rolled down St Martin’s Lane towards Trafalgar Square that I wouldn’t need to eat again for at least a week or two.
I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in some lovely country house hotels recently – sadly, Tylney Hall was not one of them.
To clarify: as a building, the house is really impressive, a massive 300-year old pile in 66-acres of Hampshire countryside. The ceilings are high, the rooms are oak-panelled and hung with portraits, and as a structure goes, it is everything you could ask for if you want to stay somewhere that really looked the epitome of a country estate.
Unfortunately, the experience of staying in Tylney Hall was somewhat different. Its website claims, rather ungrammatically, that: ‘Hampshire hotels simply don’t come any grander or offer such heights of luxury anywhere in the UK.’
This doesn’t actually make much sense, which is fitting as a lot about Tylney Hall didn’t make much sense. I had arrived really looking forward to a lovely overnight stay with my mother and left feeling as if Fawlty Towers was alive and well and had just relocated 200 miles east. Continue reading Tylney Hall: great building but not a great stay→
Staying in a hotel just half a mile from your house inspires some unlikely behaviour.
If I were at home on a Sunday evening, I would probably make myself a drink and something to eat and happily settle down with a good book or in front of the telly.
Check into a hotel however and it’s a very different story. Even though I pass through South Kensington every day on my way to work, all of a sudden I’m infused with the spirit of adventure, of exploration, of discovery. I’m on holiday! Somewhere new! What’s outside? Quick, let’s go and find out!
So when I spent a couple of nights in two of its hotels – MyHotel Chelsea and the Ampersand – I ended up spending my Sunday evening having a very pleasant time walking around the streets of South Kensington, Knightbridge and Chelsea, discovering all sorts of places I never knew existed, and wondering why I would never get inspired to do this kind of thing at home, even though it was precisely 10 minutes walk away.
And what I discover is that South Kensington, far from being the fairly dull district dominated by a tube station that I’d previously dismissed it as, is actually incredibly lively on a Sunday evening.
The Swan at Lavenham is located in one of those villages where you catch yourself thinking; ‘Is this actually real?’
The chocolate-box gorgeousness of some Cotswold villages for example: Bampton (the real-life Downton Village) and nearby Burford can look exactly as if imagined by an American director making a film about quintessential England, or Clovelly in North Devon which ticks all the boxes of a beautiful fishing village.
Lavenham in Suffolk is much the same. After a perfectly fine if mundane journey along the A1141 or whatever road has taken you there, you suddenly find yourself in a village so packed with crooked cottages and half-timbered buildings that you feel as if you have been suddenly transported back to medieval England. (Or magical England – some of the Harry Potter films were shot here).
A short walk down the High Street – in which you expect to see horse-drawn carts and straw everywhere – turns into a succession of picture-taking and marvelling at ‘Why have I never been to this place before?’