Cosseted in the British countryside

I’m a big fan of The Four Seasons, not the four violin concerti by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, but the hotel management group. I’ve been fortunate to either stay in or visit a number of their hotels over the years – far too many to mention. You may find this surprising since I’m usually banging the drum for small, family-run businesses and these guys are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Or are they? I find that thanks to their excellently trained staff and philosophy, I always feel cosseted in their hotels.

The hotels they run are oases of tranquility with all the bells and whistles one’s little heart could desire. Despite the large throughput of guests, staff miraculously remember your name, and particular likes and dislikes. Nothing is ever too much trouble, not even my regime. The hotel whipped me up a scrumptious vegan afternoon tea at the drop of a hat!

I booked the hotel over a year ago because the wedding we were attending, which was a short car ride away, clashed with a Classic Car event at nearby Goodwood. I was also pretty certain we’d be the only wedding guests staying at this hotel thereby obviating the need to socialise further. I wanted a restful and relaxing week-end with my beloved which would serve as an early celebration of our (41st) wedding anniversary – where have those years gone? And, I think it’s fair to say, we achieved that.

We did however bump into someone we knew. Spookily, we’d only been talking about him five minutes before and were surprised to see him. I think that surprise was reciprocated though, of course, he may’ve wondered why his ears were burning.

The hotel grounds were enormous and despite my beloved’s leg, which was still painful, we had a very pleasant meander. We also enjoyed looking at the car porn. A number of guests had driven their Classic Cars to the event and you could see by their immaculate state that these were their pride and joy – all that gleaming chrome and immaculate paintwork.

We were not familiar with this part of the country, so spent an afternoon pottering around nearby Farnham, a pretty market town with bags of history, lots of interesting buildings and a good selection of shops and restaurants, the latter with many vegan options. Having eaten in the hotel restaurant on Thursday evening, we ate in Farnham on Saturday. No need to eat dinner after the mid-afternoon wedding luncheon on Friday, though we did have a couple of glasses of Rioja in the bar before retiring.

A copious breakfast was included in our room rate and my beloved enjoyed a full English most days while I enjoyed the selection provided for the hotel’s Middle Eastern guests. Fresh fruit, moutabal, salad and hummous for breakfast may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it certainly floats my boat.

A late check out allowed us to fully enjoy the hotel’s facilities, particularly in the Spa, before tucking into Sunday afternoon tea in the library ahead of our departure. It was a lovely three-day break and we enjoyed chatting about France, in French, with some of the staff, one of whom came from Nice.

When we checked out the receptionist asked me which other Four Seasons we’d visited. It was only as I started rattling them off that I appreciated just how many of them we’ve stayed at, or eaten at, and I thought about why. Largely because it’s a brand I trust. I know what I’m going to find, that’s often very comforting because I so don’t like surprises.

Postcard from the Big Apple

Another day, another town – the same procedure as before. Yes, I’m now pounding the pavements of Manhattan. We had a great flight over on one of the new Air France 380 super jumbos. Arriving at JFK we queued for over 45 minutes to get into the immigration queue only to be greeted by the message that US Customs welcomed us to New York. Well boys, that’s not my idea of a welcome. It took almost 3 hours for us to emerge from the airport. I felt hugely sorry for anyone travelling with small children or anyone of advanced years.

While my beloved has been busy working from dawn until late, I have been enjoying myself. Even if you don’t know New York like I do, it’d be difficult to get lost within its grid system. My most pressing problem, with only two days at my disposal, what was I going to see?

It’ll be no surprise to my reader(s) that I spent almost all of yesterday morning in Barnes & Noble perusing first the Cookery and then the Sports sections. As usual, I found far too many must have volumes and had to ration myself to just a few tomes to slip in my luggage.

The weather’s incredibly mild and conducive to just wandering around, as is my want. Yesterday, I quickly exited the busy Midtown section and headed south to SoHo, the Meatpacking District and Union Sq to avoid the holiday shoppers in search of bargains.

I have had no luck in my search for some trousers. It’s oh so skinny legs over here too. I know US sizes are seriously out of whack but I derived huge enjoyment from discarding a pair of size 10 trousers for being too large. Despite the amazing bargains on offer, I have not been persuaded to part with any money. It looks as if running amok in the book shops is going to be my only extravagance.

Despite my short stay, there’s still time to fit in some of my favourite things: a quick trip to The Frick, breakfast at The Four Seasons, meals at two of my long time preferred New York eateries for some typical Mexican and South Western US fare, catching up with my French friend who now works in NY and with whom I ate lunch at a recently opened, hot location. My choice, not hers.

It’s been a fun trip but I’m now ready to head back to where my heart is: home. This evening, I shall follow my usual red-eye flight procedure: glass of champagne, eye mask, cashmere shawl and sleep. I am lucky that I can slip into the land of nod pretty much anywhere. We’re flying back via Paris and should be home late afternoon.

Postscript: I skipped the glass of bubbly and was asleep before the plane left the gate.