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Hotel guru Melinda Stevens on her favourite secret spots in the world

Meson Hidalgo features in Melinda Stevens’ new coffee table book, Secret Stays (Assouline)
Meson Hidalgo features in Melinda Stevens’ new coffee table book, Secret Stays (Assouline)

Professional globetrotter and former global editor of Conde Nast Traveler Melinda Stevens selects her secret stays.

The one hotel in the world you would stay at again and again

Hotel Esencia in Mexico. We’ve gone there over the years and the beach, which sometimes looks pink, and the food, which is exceptional, and the charm of the staff, is hard to beat. If I want to recharge and stare at the most beautiful sea in the world, this is where I come.

Most breathtakingly beautiful place

I love a desert. The Atacama in Chile is wild and lunar. The Kalahari in Botswana is extraordinary, salt pans that go on for miles and miles, crusty and rough like elephant skin.

Melinda Stevens (Melinda Stevens)
Melinda Stevens (Melinda Stevens)

Best hotel loos

The Lanserhof in Germany. Firstly they feed you tiny portions of exquisite food – you’ve never had a potato like it – secondly, they knead you and fix your bones with some of the best therapists in the world. And then the loos, those Japanese ones that heat and wash and wobble. Oh my gosh, I tried to find out how much they cost so I could have them at home. Turns out, a lot.

Favourite un-discovered destination

A huge swathe of my most exciting trips over the last few years have been here in the UK. Cornwall should argue for independence immediately! The food, the landscapes, it’s a wonderland. Cornish Gems have amazing properties on its books, like Molesworth Manor. Looking at what we have under our noses and relishing that would be a good step forward.

Favourite hotel in London

The Connaught. It has a very twinkly bar which makes everyone look like fairy dust. It’s smart and established, not too big, but also naughty and illicit.

Favourite UK hotel

I’m mad about Cliveden House. I always get looked after beautifully and I always order the cheese souffle for lunch and supper every day. Cliveden is my sanctuary, with cheese.

 (Cliveden House)
(Cliveden House)

Most impressive new hotel

I’ll go anywhere Eleven Experience founder Chad Pike goes. Deplar Farm in Iceland, Bahama House on Harbour Island, he catches the mood of adventure, nature and style pretty well.

Most beloved grand dame hotel

Umaid Bhawan in Jodhpur in India, there is nowhere like it. A massive, art deco construction with peacocks, and dancing ladies and a glamour that is just India’s extra extra extraness. The Maharaja and his family still live there, we had tea with him one afternoon and my children scribbled notes to him on tiny pieces of paper because they were too shy to address him directly.

Chicest hotel bar

I’ve got my eye on The Flying Stag at the Fife Arms in Scotland. I thoroughly respect what Artfarm (founded by Manuela and Iwan Wirth) are up to. They’re eally pushing the agenda on local skillsets, supporting farmers and fishermen, doing it in a way that’s bold and independent and about proper action rather than just the chat.

 (Sim Canetty-Clarke)
(Sim Canetty-Clarke)

The affordable hotel that feels luxurious

Sometimes all you want is a $25 a night shack on the beach. I’ve stayed in many shacks on many beaches over the years from Jamaica to Honduras, but they are harder to come by now.

Favourite Greek island hotel

I’d love to go The Rooster in Antiparos. I’ve sent some very discerning, wonderfully demanding people there, and they just loved it.

 (The Rooster Antiparos)
(The Rooster Antiparos)

A hotel that is truly — or as close as possible — to sustainable

The Habitas properties do a good job of letting their environments do the talking, and value engineering themselves for efficiency. Trying to minimise impact and innovating continually.’

Your travel hit list for 2024

I’m flying to the Galapagos imminently. I’m really looking forward to being in a world in which the human-animal dynamic is a bit squiffed, not the usual. I like oddness.

Best place to take young kids

Luang Prabang in Laos felt adventurous enough and contained enough when my children were little but we wanted to dial it up. We went to the markets, we wandered the streets and explored the river. We stayed in the gorgeous Residence Phou Vao at the top of the hill and all the staff were very sweet with my girls. There was this big moment every night when they’d reveal the rice by lifting an upturned bowl and the children couldn’t get over how clever it was.

 (Atul Pratap Chauhan)
(Atul Pratap Chauhan)

A crucial detail that hotels often forget

To be generous. Small acts of generosity go a long way. So, include that morning newspaper in the bill, provide free water. Pitch the room cost to cover these things, but in the meantime go about the day with an open attitude that does away with petty incremental costs that make guests feel like they’re being nobbled.

Why is travel so important to you?

It teaches you respect. That other people are not like you. And you would do well to listen, and tread lightly, as you move about the world.

 (Assouline)
(Assouline)

Best travel memory

Motorbiking around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala with a group of friends, some old, some new. I mean, there were barely any roads.

Worst travel memory

I have a really weak stomach so I’ve ended up in a lot of hospitals in a lot of challenging scenarios – in Jakarta, in Delhi, one time in Bali I got so sick and weak I had to be rope-tied to my petite, oldest friend in the world, while she drove this scrambler bike down a volcano. Plus, we had barely any clothes and were freezing. Plus, we’d already had a road accident, so we were covered in burns.

First thing you do when you check into a hotel

Have a bath. I put my Floris Seringa bath oil in, run it as hot as possible and heat myself up like a boiled chicken.

Secret Stays by Melinda Stevens is out now, £85; assouline.com