Travel & Getaways

Grand hotels are generally survivors of an era when world travellers moved stylishly from the Savoy in London to the Norfolk in Nairobi, to Raffles in Singapore and the Alvear Palace in Buenos Aires.

They were places offering the most comfort, the best food and concierges who knew the schedules of flying boats and where to find a stout camel.

Mandarin Washington

Up to now one of my favourites has been Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental, opened in 1876 by two Danish sea captains. Since then this former royal palace has hosted novelist Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Graham Greene, James Michener, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, Boris Becker, Bill Clinton and enough influential bankers for the Oriental, as it is usually known, to be listed best hotel in the world for 10 years by Institutional Investor magazine.

Unlike many other great hotels, it is not stuffy. Every week the general manager, and currently it is a woman, throws a cocktail party for her guests, and the concierge’s restaurant recommendations do not overlook inexpensive local restaurants and a thrilling longtail boat ride to get there.

As a group, Mandarin Oriental has a big presence in Southeast Asia, Europe and North America, and as it happened my next trip took me to Washington, DC, and the Mandarin Oriental there.

As I expected, it was incredibly well located and sumptuous, but there was something else that took me completely by surprise. Just a little thing, but very important – size of the print on the amenity bottles in the bathroom.

Ever stepped into a shower and found you could not tell which bottle was which? Fact is that the better hotels are often frequented by guests of a certain age, who frequently need glasses but take them off to shower. So they have to get out again, find their glasses and check which is the shampoo.

Top housekeepers also make sure that belts on bathrobes are through the loops so the belt does not fall on the floor, and hangars are independent and not the motel-style ones that have to be clipped on.

Get these things right, and a hotel can work from there to being a special place.

By David Wishart