Sleep - October 2012
16 High Street, Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England
+44 (0)1494 721541, thecrownamersham.com
Words Jane Wright
At the end of the London Underground's Metropolitan Line lies a very English town, flanked by rolling countryside and sweet rustic cottages - all very picturesque in this season of mist and mellow fruitfulness. Amersham is so quintessentially English that its local coaching inn was used for filming the key love scene between Hugh Grant and Andi McDowell in Four Weddings And A Funeral.
And the Crown is indeed romantic. Dating back to Elizabethan times, this reinvented coaching inn has lots of little nooks and crannies to sit in cosily à deux, an open fire and comfy chairs in the bar. Gorgeous bedrooms are thoughtfully designed and spare no expense - the floors alone in the Bailey rooms cost €25,000. From standalone baths in front of modern four-poster beds to vintage lamps and rustic-chic decor, the Ilse Crawford design stamp is unmistakeable. And there are delicious-smelling Aesop toiletries too.
Enjoy a pre-dinner drink in the courtyard if it's a mild autumn evening then savour a menu of beautifully executed English classics - watercress soup, Cornish mackerel with fennel and thyme, juicy rib-eye steaks from the superb Josper grill and Eton Mess for dessert (smashed up meringue with berry fruits and cream). Staff are warm and exceedingly helpful - testament to a company that takes the comfort and enjoyment of its guests seriously.
Breakfast is a generous buffet affair from a long wooden table in the morning room, offering everything from smoked salmon to porridge with whisky and all sorts of breads, hams and jams in between. A lovely weekend bolthole. Rooms from £95 (€118).
The Gem Hotel Soho
135 East Houston Street, New York 10002
+1 212 358 8844, thegemhotel.com
Words Anna Szpunar
Perching on the edgier edge of SoHo on East Houston Street, The Gem Hotel nevertheless offers a warm and friendly welcome and staff who are more than happy to help you find your way around.
The location itself is a gem, right next to the 2nd Ave subway with a direct line south to Brooklyn, or north to the Rockefeller Centre and Central Park. A short walk from the hotel allows you to experience myriad NYC delights, such as watching a local game of basketball or strolling through the heart of trendy Nolita and SoHo where you can enjoy some of the city's hippest eateries. This, in fact, is the epicentre of British restaurateur Keith McNally's cool brasserie empire: try Balthazar (on Spring Street), the Minetta Tavern (on Macdougall Street) or the fun Schiller's Liquor Bar (on Rivington Street). This area is also home to designer-label shopping and an eclectic range of quirky gift shops and boutiques.
The Gem is a simple, straightforward set-up with no additional facilities. But with SoHo on your doorstep this is hardly a problem.
Ask the front desk about the GEMwalks experience, which is a complimentary iPod walking tour of the neighbourhood. Choose from three new distinctive neighbourhood programmes called Your Corner of the World. Each room offers a wide-screen LCD television, free high-speed WiFi and an iPod docking station. Rooms from $269 (€214).
Le Domaine de l'Ardoisière
Rue de Sedan 2, 5550 Alle-sur-Semois, Belgium
+32 06 127 1917, compagniedesbois.be
Words Emma Beddington
You can tell a stay at the Domaine de l'Ardoisière will be a proper escape from the minute you arrive: cars aren't allowed at this diminutive 'suite hotel' in the wild heart of the Ardennes, so you arrive on foot down a pine-scented pathway, accompanied by birdsong and sunlight filtering through the branches.
The Domaine is composed of five vast suites (another smaller, two-person cottage will be available this year) in a long low converted barn that manages to be both very modern and completely attuned to its surroundings: there's lots of local wood and slate, with large windows on all sides looking out on to the hillside. The view is everywhere - even the well-equipped kitchen looks on to a woodland glade.
While there's plenty of traditional luxury - woodburning stoves, blissfully comfortable beds, Molton Brown toiletries and huge breakfasts of local produce - it's also endearingly quirky. Our Hamptons suite had vintage American magazine clippings on the walls and an alcove filled with plaid blankets and soft sinky cushions to curl up and doze in. The Wonderland suite has striking Cole & Son birch tree wallpaper and a hot pink kitchen. There's even a swimming pool with a riotous 1970s mythological mural.
Beyond the hotel, the local area is outward-bound heaven. You can ride the owner's Camargue horses, go canoeing on the Semois river or wander the forest trails. After, you can justify the rib-stickingly delicious meals (fondues, stews, giant trays of local charcuterie) delivered to your suite. Two-night-stay €625 per suite (accommodates up to seven).