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Style writer and journalist Lucia van der Post writes about travel and luxury for the Financial Times's How To Spend It. The secret to a wonderful holiday is accommodation you fall in love with – and below, Lucia offers her own personal definition of what makes a truly great hotel

You know a perfect hotel almost before you hit the reception desk. You see it in the look of the flowers, scent it in the fragrance in the air and feel it in the subtlety with which they welcome you. They greet you warmly but not obsequiously and nobody appears to be hovering for tips.

You’ve flown what seems like a zillion miles and they know that you don’t want a sugary drink, a fistful of forms to fill in and aimless chitchat with somebody you’ve only just met. The best hotels know this and they usher you straight to your room and your very own bathroom and the forms come later. You don’t have to wait aeons for your luggage either.

In a really great hotel, when you arrive in your room it has charm and an air of individuality as if somebody has given it some thought (and that somebody doesn’t have a weakness for cookie cutter identikit cells). It has been designed to please, to capture the essence of the place it is in, to give solace to the traveller, to comfort and surprise. And always, always there should be something to beguile the eye. Some books to read, a little jar of biscuits, some fresh fruit and something for a nightcap are all warm and generous touches.

In the perfect hotel, there’s somewhere to open both your suitcases out flat, soft hangers that aren’t welded to the coat rail and plenty of them. There are two basins in the bathroom and space to lay out your creams and unguents. You don’t need a manual to find out how the taps work and come the night you don’t spend a quarter of an hour padding round to turn the lights off.

The bed is wide and spacious, the sheets silky soft, there are no craters in the middle and the pillows are neither too soft nor too hard. Curtains should be lush and gorgeous and the windows should open wide.

Meanness is never attractive and hotels that charge for WiFi in these interconnected days (and yes, some still do) are not places to which one would ever willingly return. Nor is one charmed by prodigious charges for the phone. A little generosity is always remembered.

And then we come to the matter of the key. Give me a nice old-fashioned one that turns in the lock and keep your electronic bits of plastic that at least once in a stay refuse to work.

Beyond all this, there is something intangible that makes a hotel great – the sense, perhaps, that somebody loves it and cares for it. There is a sense of arrival as your car draws to a halt. The views are spectacular, the rooms are airy and gloriously individual. The staff don’t intrude, they don’t ask a trillion times a day if you’re having a great time but have a knack of being there just when you need them. It’s not rocket science after all. Just remember what nanny used to say – do unto others as you would be done by.

Picture La Suite Impériale, Shangri-La Paris

Visit our Destination Guides Hotel Guides to find our editor’s picks of hotels in our featured destinations. Click ‘Book your trip’ now to browse thousands of hotels at great prices

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American Express Europe LLC (AEELLC) trading as American Express Travel, Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 9AX, United Kingdom is a member of ABTA (ABTA number C4330) and ATOL (ATOL number 0151). Being a member of ABTA (ABTA number C4330) means you have the benefit of ABTA’s assistance and Code of Conduct and this allows you to book with confidence. All the package and Flight-Plus holidays we sell are covered by a scheme protecting your money if the supplier goes out of business or is no longer able to provide the intended holiday. Other services such as hotels or flights on their own may not be protected and you should ask us what protection is available. American Express’s ABTA membership does not cover cruise bookings and should therefore not be relied upon when booking cruises or cruise packages. These bookings are covered by our third-party provider, ICE Cruise’s ABTA membership (ABTA number L6366). Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are also protected by the ATOL scheme, this ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: Please contact us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking.
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