If you’ve found yourself desperate to hop on a plane to Cuba, Tulum or Tel Aviv right now, you’re not alone. Since communist-ruled Cuba opened up for tourism this year, it feels like just about everyone with an Instagram account has made the trip over to Havana (Chanel included). And, well, with Tulum, let’s just say there’s a reason NY Magazine dubbed it the Williamsburg of Mexico…
The reality is, we’re all on the hunt for ‘new’ and it makes sense. Why settle for the familiar when there’s a whole host of culture-rich destinations brimming with new hotels and hotspots to discover? The difficult part though is knowing where to start, and that’s why we turned to Mr & Mrs Smith for help. The travel website are OGs in the boutique hotel space and Carla Melmoth is the woman tasked with travelling across the world on the lookout of new hotspots and hotels to add to their roster. What she doesn’t know about travel, isn’t worth knowing. Here she talks travelling for a living, life-changing trips and the four destinations you need on your radar.
ON HER ROLE: Primarily, I’m responsible for researching new hotel openings and checking out up-and-coming destinations, so I’m often out on the road visiting hotels and making the call on whether they’d be a good fit for our members. I always try to put myself in the shoes of a couple discovering a hotel or city for the first time and consider what they’ll be looking for. Is the tub big enough for two? Would I actually want to raid this minibar? Can they mix a decent martini? No one really cares that much about amenity listings or linen thread-counts – it’s the details of the experience itself that matter most. When I get back, I share my findings with everyone at Smith HQ (we have offices in London, New York, LA and Singapore), get the hotels contracted and work with our amazing editorial team to ensure we can share the very best tips and insider insight on each hotel, from which room to book to what to order on the cocktail menu.
EPIC ADVENTURES ALL IN DAYS ‘WORK’: I try to explore new destinations as the locals would so that I can really get to grips with the area. I’ve found myself cycling to meetings in Amsterdam, zipping down the Grand Canal to the Aman Venice on a 1930s speed boat (felt a bit like James Bond), or getting lost among flamingos and guanacos in the Torres del Paine National Park trying to find a set of very well hidden log cabins in Chilean Patagonia (I promise to give better directions when we launch them on site. There is never a dull moment on a research trip, and although they’re totally exhausting (it’s back-to-back meetings, honest), you do meet the most fascinating hotel owners, find yourself in some very bizarre situations and experience some of the most beautiful places in the world.
WHERE HER LOVE OF TRAVEL STEMS FROM: My mum has a phobia of flying and my dad suffers from seasickness, so family holidays were almost always to Cornwall. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cornwall, but I strategically developed a passion for modern languages, which I studied at university (French, Spanish and Italian) to enable me to start travelling around Europe as part of my course. After that, there was no stopping me. I lived in Milan for a year, and spent summers in Barcelona and Paris too. I was amazed at what was out there, and ever since I’ve had the travel bug, making up for lost time.
ITALIAN GEMS: I love travelling to Italy; it’s always a lot of fun! Italians are so proud of their food (quite rightly so), and I’ve often been ushered straight into the hotel’s restaurant to taste the owner’s mother’s famous cannoli or their homemade limoncello before seeing any rooms! One of my favourite Italian finds is Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, high up in the Italian Apennines and dotted around a restored mediaeval village. It’s owned by the eccentric Swedish-Italian philosopher Daniele Kihlgren who wanted to bring this crumbling and earthquake-damaged village back to life, and involve the local community too. You’ll find hand-woven woollen bedspreads coloured with locally sourced saffron and natural plant dyes, bath mats made out of potato sacks, and soap trays made out of chopped-up traditional washing boards. Although in many ways it’s a throwback to the Middle Ages, there are plenty of cutting-edge design features built in too (i.e. giant egg-shaped freestanding Philippe Starck baths) and all the luxuries a modern traveller expects.
ON WHY YOU NEED TO VISIT DAS STUE IN BERLIN: Who would have thought you could stay in the heart of the city and be woken up in the morning by the trumpeting of elephants or interrupted mid-beer by ostriches popping their heads up at the bar window? Das Stue backs onto the zoo and Tiergarten – not only is the location absolutely beautiful, but you feel as if you’re on safari. The impressive building was once the Royal Danish Embassy and I loved all the amazing design features inside: Benedetta Mori’s chicken-wire sculptures, the hand-made angora throws in the rooms, and the amazing photography all around. One of the owners has a collection of over 80 photographs by the likes of Richard Avedon, Horst P Horst, Irving Penn and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
MOST MEMORABLE TRIP: A road trip around Oman, when we went to check out The Chedi Muscat, was an unforgettable journey. There are so many things that make the Chedi an incredible place to stay (the dramatic Omani architecture, inspiring Asian-inflected interiors, beautifully manicured lawns and palm-fringed gardens), but it’s the Long Pool that really stands out for me. They weren’t kidding with the name – it’s twice the size of an Olympic pool – and stretches right down to the beach, with a dramatic black-slatted cage feature standing tall in the water at the seafront and elegant day beds all around. I always get excited about a hotel breakfast, and the Chedi’s was one I won’t forget – a vast buffet stretched around the glass walls of four open kitchens, with everything you could possibly want – a cornucopia of fresh fruit, beautifully prepared pastries, dim sum, charcuterie, cheeses, eggs every way, American-style pancakes… Sometimes I really, really love my job.
CARLA’S SUMMER GUIDE
Just a 120-mile hop from Manhattan, the Catskills Mountains is fast becoming the weekend destination of choice for hipster New Yorkers and the gallivanting A-list. The scenery is a big draw, naturally, but when you combine it with a buzzing creative scene (musicians and artists discovered the region decades ago) and an abundance of top-flight restaurants with a staunch farm-to-fork philosophy (head to Peekamoose for homemade goats’ cheese gnocchi and braised short ribs), you have all the ingredients for a soul-enriching mountain jaunt.
If you’re visiting New York, slap on a couple of extra days and swing over to the Catskills for a perfect city/country break. My personal prescription would be starting off at the newly opened 11 Howard in Lower Manhattan – a slinkily cosy Danish design den with vintage touches throughout – before heading out to the mountains and bedding down at one of the Catskills’ enticing new arrivals…
Scribner’s Lodge in Hunter is slated to open in next month. The building is incredible, with floor-to-ceiling windows in the restaurant, breath-snatching views across the mountains, huge open fireplaces throughout and enchanting rustic interiors. The lodge is run by a former Mr. & Mrs. Smith employee, so we’re all especially excited to see the finished result.
Foxfire Mountain House opened in May this year and is already making waves. Set in Mount Tremper, surrounded by acres of woodland laced with walking trails, it’s a classic clapboard inn with 11 bedrooms and a laid-back bohemian feel. Antique tile floors, capiz pendant lights, stag skulls on the walls… it’s like wandering into an Elle Decoration interiors shoot. There’s also a brilliant brunch place nearby, the Phoenicia Diner – perfect for a long and lazy Sunday afternoon.
Easily one of my top cities to visit this summer, Tel Aviv is a thoroughly modern metropolis with a wonderfully rich history – a place where gleaming skyscrapers overshadow beautiful ancient buildings. The city has a cultured, contemporary outlook, with a thriving art scene and a host of hip hangouts. You can relax on the beach (the surf scene is pretty good here), sample coffee and local cuisine in the old market town of Jaffa, sift through the flea market for antique treasures, or plunge headfirst into the wild nightlife that Tel Aviv has become famed for. Jerusalem is roughly 45 minutes away, so it’s easy to spend half a day exploring its historic relics before coming back to the capital for the evening.
We’re launching two new hotels in Tel Aviv, and possibly another two later in the summer. I have two favourites. The first is The Norman, which has 50 individually designed rooms spread over two thoughtfully restored buildings. The front is a flashback to 1920s Bauhaus, whereas the rear has a much more modern look. My favourite feature is the roof terrace – a hidden paradise in the bustle of the city, with an infinity pool lined with sun loungers and the best iced coffee you’ll find in the Middle East. The Norman also has two great restaurants to shout about – a French brasserie and an Izakaya-style Japanese place. It was breakfast that did it for me, though – the shakshuka eggs are heaven!
Cucu Hotel is new on the Tel Aviv boutique hotel scene, and has managed to encapsulate the essence of the city in one bright and colourful space: quirky, fun, free-spirited and welcoming. It’s a hard hotel to miss: the front is dotted with rainbow-hued enamel balloons. The bedrooms are simple but full of character: wood-panelled walls with bright pops of colour, and bathrooms that combine raw concrete walls, gold panels and ice-white tiles. Downstairs there’s a cool coffee/deli bar where locals hang out; the staff feel like friends more than hoteliers, and the whole place has an endearing sense of humour, with bold cartoonish murals and a set of sparkly-collared china poodles that are constantly cropping up in different places. As well as being a great budget option, it’s also one for the creatives – hosting arthouse film nights and mini exhibitions of Israeli artists.
Known for its cosmopolitan feel, laidback beach clubs and the bric-a-brac stores that snake round the old cobbled lanes, ‘London-on-Sea’ has been a weekender’s hotspot since the 18th century, but this year, Brighton has been turning heads all over again, thanks to the arrival of Russell Norman’s Polpo in the city centre, and rumblings of members’ club Soho House taking a spot on the seafront.
Right now, Artist Residence Brighton is one of the hottest hotels in town, offering a playful take on seaside style with reclaimed wood-panelled walls, flashbulb lighting and exposed brickwork. As the name suggests, it’s packed with unique works from local artists, with amazing murals in the bedrooms and hallways. It’s also home to the Cocktail Shack – a Caribbean-inspired bar, where mixologists whip up rose-infused cocktails and icy rum punches in copper cups – and two restaurants, the Set where the inventive chefs rustle up a daily changing menu, and the Set Cafe (make sure you’re there on a marshmallow brownie and doughnut ice-cream day).
Tulum has been on the rise for the past couple of years, with a fresh wave of boho boutique hotels springing up alongside the sugar-white beaches and jade waters. This part of Mexico is less about mega-luxe resorts and all about authentic local food, yoga at dawn and snooping around Mayan ruins. There has been a bit of a boom in cool bars and restaurants opening on the scene recently – my tip is to venture into the jungle and dine to Casa Jaguar (the garlic camarones are delicious). Mind you, Tulum’s beaches are famed for being the most pristine in Mexico, so if all you want to do is sprawl on the sand in the sunshine, this is certainly the place to do it.
Sanara translates as ‘you will heal’ – which is appropriate, given everything about this hotel is dedicated to soul soothing and body betterment. The wellness centre offers everything a self-respecting spa should and then some, with crystal healing and biomagnetic therapy among the more esoteric options on the exhaustive menu. The vegan-friendly Real Coconut café serves every variety of juice imaginable and can do things with coconuts you wouldn’t believe, and if you’re into yoga, there are few better places to salute the sun. It may in fact be medically impossible to leave this place not feeling healthier than when you arrived.
Coqui Coqui Tulum Residence & Spa is a long-standing favourite of both Smith and the bohemian branch of the jet set, beloved for its super-chilled atmosphere, and intoxicating blend of rusticity and relaxation. Itself resembling a Mayan ruin, the six-room hotel is all billowing drapes and bare stone walls, with four-posters in the bedrooms, bath tubs for two and hammocks for lolling around in when the effort of lounging on the beach gets too much. It’s pure, shameless escapism with a sea breeze.