The Amazing Life and Times of

Edward Carter – Unique Entrepreneur

"A Site to Behold" - It's a Book, and a Blog!

In Memoriam:

Edward G. L. Carter 1940-2020

Chapter Nineteen – 1988–1989

Creating and Launching the
British Airways First Class Hotel Selection

(Equivalent to 102 pages in hard-copy)

The Cast:

James Myhre, Roger King, Oscar Wilde,

Victoria Buchanan, Sue Hunter,

Mike Levin, John Seaborne, Richard Mound, Mike Larkin,

Bruce Bolton,

Peter Herbert, William Robinson, Leigh Stone Herbert, Michel Roux,
Bob and Wendy and Gunther Payton,
Lord Gretton, Jean Monroe, Max Pike, Lindka Cierach,

Duchess of York, Annie Charlton, Martin James, Mustapha Serrakh, Richard Carr,
Robin Roux, Michel Roux,

Peter and Christine Smedley, Barbara Cartland,

Dolly Fritz, Newton Cope, Anthony Hail, Alistair Cooke,

Isadore Sharp,

Stan Bromley, Sammy Cahn, Joe Alioto, Mohammed Ali,

Cary Grant, Ron Jones,

Jon Bannenberg, Reginald Ansett, Sir Arthur Fadden, Sylvia Cook, John Fairfax,

Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch,

Seiji Tsutsumi, Mrs. Momo Ohno, Shigeyo Mackawa, Makiko Hirai, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Hiroyuki Ito, Bruce Weber,

Khun Akhahaphat (Tan) Sitthiphan,
Joseph Conrad, Kurt Wachtveitl,

Alec Waugh, Sir Noël Coward,
Somerset Maugham, Romain Gary, Bobby Short,
Khun Somsri (Susie) Hansirisawasadi,

James Bond, Long John Bawdry, Bernie Cornfeld, David Hicks,

John Galliher, Coco Chanel, Hubert Givenchy,

Lauren Bacall, The Duchess of Westminster, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote,

Kanee Nuengtawee, Khun Thavorn Champihom, Andreas Augustin, Andrew Williamson,

Cole Porter, Jim Thompson,
Jason Friedman,

Robert De Niro, Herr Kienzler, Andrew Young,
Rupert and Barbara Jeffries, and Andrew and Sharon Clarke.

Moments from Chapter Nineteen:

The trip would cover 55,000 miles in 55 days.

I traveled incognito, covering more than 1000 miles a day for nearly two months, scrutinizing the candidates, investigating the alternatives, and re-evaluating every one of my favorites.

What I may expect in Dallas, I don't want on safari!

Attitude is even more important than aptitude.

"Rich, Beautiful and Dead at 40!"

"My whole life's an anecdote.”

The opportunity of probing the spiritual depth of a race that doesn’t.

The Oriental is a Vortex of elegance with a cavalcade of starry moments.

If you’re lucky, your Private Lives there can become shared memories that will always produce Present Laughter.

Under canvas at Governors’ Camp, you're not only in the depths but at the soul of Africa.

It will stir yours and turn your heart.

Update from Chapter Eighteen…

It is the autumn of 1988. As of the end of Chapter 18, James and I are living in our new home on Eland Road, south of the river, in London.

James is attending London International Film School and I am writing and publishing Letters from Abroad©, my monthly, subscription-only, 12-page, travel newsletter.

I am also a consultant to Roger King regarding his hotel, Alexander House, and to his various companies in advertising, hospitality, and travel.

During the summer, I had met one of the top executives of British Airways who oversees revamping BA’s First Class brand. He said, “I’m one of your subscribers and, as one of my jobs is to revitalize First Class, I think providing Letters from Abroad© to our passengers would add just the touch of class we need. Available only by subscription, its sophistication is just what BA’s First Class passengers are looking for.

He went on, “We’d like you to publish special BA editions of Letters from Abroad© and also create a really special hotel guide we could call the British Airways First Class Hotel Selection by Edward Carter.” The anthologies and the Selection will be seat-pocketed on all flights and placed in our First Class lounges around the world.”

I agreed, and we worked on the format and the itinerary of a trip BA would finance for me to determine and confirm my selections.

Chapter Nineteen - 1988-1989

My draft criteria for inclusion in the BA First Class Hotel Selection:

The establishments in this Hotel Selection not only provide the highest relative levels of personal service and comfort in and around some of those destination cities to which British Airways flies, but also have what I can only call the "C Factor."

The "C Factor" results from my own tangible and intangible evaluations of professional competence, design and décor, compatibility of the clientele, and sensitivity to the overall ambiance of the establishment.

And, just as you, the British Airways First Class passenger, represent the smallest possible percentage of travelers in the world, the number of places I can honestly recommend is disappointingly small. In fact, I could make no recommendation in several of the cities my brief included, and can only ask that you refer to the British Airways CLUB Hotel Selections which list the obvious best choices in which the international businessman is so well served.

Thus, my Selection is for the hedonistic but sensitive, quiet but appreciative connoisseur of good taste, of things that taste good, and of things that are fun to do.

While it would be so easy to quote Oscar Wilde who said: "My tastes are very simple, I only like the best," let me try to explain my highly individualistic, idiosyncratic, and subjective process of selection.

Hotels: I only consider those establishments that provide the highest level of quality in their class. Pretentiousness is a waste of everyone’s time. Therefore, the management must have a precise awareness of where its establishment fits into the overall market and then dedicate itself wholeheartedly to sensitively serving that sector in as competent and natural a manner as possible.

Ultimately, I am searching for pure comfort - the kind of comfort that allows me to really relax. ¬¬So, when I'm in a good hotel, I expect a sufficient number of waste-baskets, proper (stealable) hangers, good reading lights, a bathroom with modern plumbing and a supply of soft towels, and adequate facilities to enable me to be in touch with the rest of the world – just like home.

When I'm in a top hotel, I expect even more: I'd prefer the towels white and there should be linen ones as well (nothing is better for cleaning eyeglasses). I'd also hope for a magnifying, shaving mirror but I wouldn't expect the floor (Brenner's Park-Hotel, Baden Baden) or the toilet seat (Tawaraya, Kyoto) or the mirrored walls (Seiyo, Tokyo) to be heated, but there are places where you'll find that and more!

But everything is relative: what I may expect in Dallas, I don't want on safari. I can be just as comfortable on a tatami mat, or under canvas in the Masai Mara… if I know there are caring professionals at hand who enjoy helping me to be comfortable. For it's really the people who matter and, to me, their attitude is even more important than their aptitude.

Restaurants: I look for a restaurant with subtle lighting, equally subtle and well-mannered service, and food that looks and tastes good. My selections only took into consideration the hotels’ own restaurants. I had to scratch two major destinations off the list because the hotels’ food was unacceptable and there were no nearby alternatives.

Service: While personal service is easier to provide in hotels of less than 50 rooms and most of my favorites around the world are much smaller than this, size was not a consideration in my selection process.

Cost: We all have a healthy respect for money and expect reasonable value. Consequently, on behalf of all of us, I am very sensitive to the difference between something that is costly (not a consideration) and something that is expensive (unreasonably too much). While some of my choices are much costlier than others, I consider all to be of reasonable value.

The Bottom Line:

  • The establishment should be architecturally distinctive and sympathetic to its purpose.
  • One should be cordially welcomed.
  • It should have:
    • Direction that is urbane,
    • Management that is affable, and
    • A staff that is professional, showing a sincere respect for your privacy and thus producing an atmosphere of natural comfort in which you can sense a genuine appreciation for your visiting, and where you can be unselfconsciously at ease with both the surroundings and your fellow guests.

• In all cases the cuisine should be delicious, and,

  • Your visit should be a rare and memorable experience.


  • The establishments were not told the purpose of my visit and assumed I was an ordinary guest.
  • My choices were not influenced by anything commercial.
  • I accepted no consideration of any kind from the establishments listed.
  • They paid nothing to be included.
  • BA has accepted no advertising, and
  • I am not indebted to anyone.

As the Selection had to go to press before I returned to London, James and I and Victoria, our secretary, worked out the procedures for researching, writing, and editing. Remember, there was no internet or email in 1988/9.

Creating the Hotel Selection:

  • I would fly into a city and find my way to my chosen hotel, usually arriving in the evening.
  • I’d wander the facilities,
  • Dine in the hotel’s restaurant,
  • Make notes of my experience (remember, I had carefully chosen this hotel from my personal travels, and didn’t expect any surprises) and go to bed.
  • The next morning, I’d have breakfast in my room (a test for room service) and create my first draft of about 700 words on the hotel.
  • I’d fax the draft to London,
  • I’d send the latest brochure to Sheffield, England by FedEx so Sue Hunter could make the drawings, and
  • Head for the airport for my flight to the next destination.
  • Arriving in the next city, I’d find my way to the hotel, pick up the fax from James that he had typed from my written report that I had faxed him that morning.
  • Wander the facilities, edit the report during dinner, and go to bed.
  • The next morning, I’d have breakfast, create the first draft of about 700 words on today’s hotel and fax it to James.
  • I’d send the latest brochure to Sheffield by FedEx, so Sue could make the drawings, and,
  • Head for the airport for my flight to the next destination.
  • Arriving in the next city, I’d find my way to the hotel,
  • Pick up the fax of the re-typed report James had sent me yesterday that I had corrected and sent to him this morning and,
  • A second fax—the report he had typed from my written report of last night’s hotel that I had also faxed him this morning.
  • Wander the facilities, and, during dinner, agree the final version of the day before yesterday’s hotel report, edit the new typed report, go to bed, have breakfast, create the first draft of about 700 words on today’s hotel, and fax it to James.
  • I’d send the latest brochure to Sheffield by FedEx so Sue could make the drawings, and,
  • Head for the airport for my flight to the next destination.
  • Arriving in the next city, I’d find my way to the hotel,
  • Pick up the fax of the report James had typed from my written report of last night’s hotel that I had faxed him this morning,
  • Pick up the fax of the re-typed hotel report of the second night’s hotel James had sent me yesterday that I had corrected and sent to him this morning and,
  • Pick up the fax of the re-typed final report he had re-typed of the first night’s hotel that I had also faxed him this morning.
  • Wander the facilities, and, during dinner, agree the final version of the second night’s hotel, edit the new typed report of the third night’s hotel, go to bed, have breakfast, create the first draft of about 700 words on last night’s hotel.
  • Fax James: The final version of the second night’s hotel, the edited third night’s hotel, and the first draft of last night’s hotel.
  • Send the latest brochure to Sheffield by FedEx so Sue could make the drawings, and,
  • Head for the airport for my flight to the next destination. Whew!
  • And, except for a ten-day Christmas and New Years break at home in London, so on until I finished.

Collating existing stories into anthologies for British Airways was just an editing exercise, but producing the definitive Hotel Selection for the world’s most discerning passengers was another challenge entirely, and the effort that British Airways and I made to compile the British Airways First Class Hotel Selection is quite a story…

The interesting thing about this whole project was that BA had no interest in editorial matters. What I wrote was my business. The fact that they appreciated that my opinions would affect ticket sales and hotel bookings for years, was flattering.

As the Selection had to be published to coincide with the new launch of First Class, all materials had to be ready by January 15, 1989 – not a lot of time! What with all the activities associated with this project, it was only possible to meet initially once every two weeks or so as we refined our objective, but, as the time started to run out, we began meeting once a week, and in the last days before the “off,” every day.

Down to the wire - it’s November 14 and I’m due to leave for my round-the-world trip in three days! Meeting Mike Levin of BA, we go through the labyrinth of walkways and corridors of Speedbird House to British Airways Central Reservations. This enormous room is filled with a couple of hundred people each manning a video screen and wearing a combination headset-microphone. I sit with John Seaborne and, for two hours, select the flights that would take me the equivalent of two times around the world in just over forty days – 45,750 air miles!

As he works, the computer plots the itinerary and instantaneously confirms the flights. It wasn’t that many years ago that it was done manually out of the standard manual.

When he was done, he turned to me and said,
“Now, all we have to do is hit these two keys and we’ll have the fare quote.”

Click, clunk… the screen went blank, then flashed “Itinerary too complicated, use manual.”

We just looked at each other as other operators came over to gape; no one could remember this ever happening before!

John finally split it up into separate segments – December 1988 and January 1989 - and the huge computer winked its relief and totaled the fare.

Nov 15 - The next afternoon, I went around to the BA Sale Office at Grosvenor Gardens to collect the 1988 ticket. By the time the fourth page of my itinerary emerged from the printer, everyone in the office had stopped to watch. The manager tapped in the retrieval code to print out the ticket, and, again, the computer stopped in its tracks.

An hour later, nearly everyone agreed that the only way out would be to write it out by hand… “Could I come back in the morning?”

Nov 16 – After the Australian Consulate and the South African Consulate, I went back to BA and was greeted with big smiles – the computer had done its job – the 1988 leg was finished. One of the BA sales staff had stayed behind after closing and, using this quirk as an opportunity, improved his understanding of the complex program, produced the ticket for my first leg, and shared the experience with his colleagues the next morning.

So, my “first” will probably be the last. It was sort of fun, however, when everyone felt they were more important than the machine and took great satisfaction in knowing they could have done it all by hand – just like the old days.

In fact, that is what this project is all about – to bring back the personal service and obvious caring that used to make First Class international globetrotting such a privileged experience. If the staff at Grosvenor Gardens is anything to judge by, it still is. No one there knew my mission, they just wanted to do their job as professionally as possible and inconvenience me the least.

Richard Mound arrived and took me to the bank. 150 signatures later, I walked out with the Traveller’s Cheques BA provided for the trip! I’d get the ticket and Traveller’s Cheques for the second tranche of the trip when I returned to London for my Christmas break.

Nov 17 - Up at 7:15, off at 8:15, arrive at London Heathrow at 9:10, change money, and in the lounge at 9:50. Mike Larkin, Richard Mound’s assistant, came to see me off, and I start on my BA round-the-world trip.

Suffice it say that right up to the day we went to press, I traveled incognito, covering more than 1000 miles a day for nearly two months, scrutinizing the candidates, investigating the alternatives, and re-evaluating every one of my favorites.

All told, I covered 55,000 miles in 55 days, as follows, and the British Airways First Class Hotel Selection by Edward Carter was launched the day I returned home to London on January 12, 1989.

Here's my itinerary...

The link to the full Hotel Selection is at the end of this chapter; here are some highlights of the adventure:

Dateline: November 1988 - Gravetye Manor, Sharpethorne, U.K.

Bruce Bolton, who used to help cook at The Point, recently flew in from New York to stay with us for a couple of weeks. London had long been his home after the war, but it had been almost twelve years since Bruce had set foot on British soil. We looked forward to carting him about his old neighborhoods and watering holes and especially to showing him the new, prosperous façade of Thatcher's England. With Bruce, that sort of thing is fun — his philosophy is that while things inevitably change, they more often than not change for the better. He is often teased by his friends for his indomitable optimism, but one can't help but enjoy being with someone who welcomes change every day of his life.

Not surprising, the first and biggest eye-opener for Bruce was the fact that James and I had made our home in Battersea, on the south side of the Thames. He had known my homes in Grosvenor Square, Hyde Park Gardens, and Chester Street, just to name some of the fourteen I've had in London over the past twenty years or so, and south of the Thames was, until recently, "not the place where one actually lived." Perhaps you'd pass through now and then en route to Sussex or Kent but to a real Londoner, the names "Clapham" or "Brixton" or "Putney" were but checkpoints on the roadmap. Bruce was amazed at the transformation and ended up spending most of his time enjoying this part of London he never knew existed.

In fact, the changes in London turned out to be more dramatic than I ever imagined. One doesn't notice them as much when living here but to Bruce, who was last in London when Heath was Prime Minister, the changes rendered some parts of town completely unrecognizable. Eventually, we decided that we'd do Bruce a favor and show him a part of England that never changes, the English countryside.

I had put together a rough itinerary of the places James and I liked and that I wanted to consider for the BA Selection. I was running out of time and asked James to do the trip with Bruce. His report follows:

We spent the next week visiting a series of wonderful country house hotels set against the timeless backdrop of Sussex, Leicestershire, Wales, Avon, and the Cotswolds.

We packed up the car and began our trek southward towards Sussex. I had told Bruce much about the devastation of the southern forests after the 1987 hurricane but as we drove deeper into the autumnal recesses of the woodlands, I was surprised by the amount of work already done to clear and replant the forest. Some areas where trees had lain like fallen dominos were now tilled over to give tomorrow's ‘Capability Browns’ the opportunity to redesign vistas for future generations.

We stopped for lunch at a pub called The Bell in the town of Outwood in Surrey. This charming, Lilliputian village is several miles off the main route and is crowned with a striking white windmill and a vast village green. The Bell itself is a fine, simple, country cottage brightened with flower boxes and shrubbery. Inside, the low-beamed front bar and the scent of burning firewood is an invitation one can barely resist. Bruce and I enjoyed a pint of the local ale and gandered at the choice of fresh sirloin, fish, and sausages that were displayed, ready for the gas barbeque, behind the buffet. I chose delicious grilled sardines with garlic and herbs while Bruce opted for a meaty steak and new-potato pie. We dined on a planked, oak Jacobean table. Our lunch, with a couple of glasses of wine, was only £10 ($17).

We made our way through the winding back-roads of Sussex over grassy rises and lazy pin-turns until we arrived at our first destination, the marvelous Gravetye Manor in Sharpthorne.

Bruce often speaks of a cottage in the wilds of Connecticut that he calls "The Quintessential Country House." How often I see that phrase in the countless hotel brochures that pass over Ted’s desk. Unfortunately, most turn out to be pretentious parodies, especially when compared to Gravetye.

Ted discovered this lovely, Elizabethan manor-house several years ago after meeting its charming owner, Peter Herbert, in New York City. Since then, Ted and I have often enjoyed its many charms, and the understated care that both Peter and his staff show to the few, always contented, houseguests.

On arrival, Bruce and I were given a copy of The Times, some home-baked biscuits, and a pot of Lapsang to sip in front of the crackling fire. The lovely, oak-paneled room was filled with flowers and comfy slip-covered furniture and, enraptured by the Turner-like view over the hazy meadow, I was almost reluctant to leave a few minutes later when told that our rooms were ready.

Reluctance, however, quickly vanishes when you enter any one of Gravetye's fourteen, warm and welcoming rooms. Named after trees, each is designed so as not to feel "decorated" — they are wonderfully roomy and wonderfully English without being either tatty or uncomfortable. The furniture and fabrics are simple yet sophisticated; the attention to detail, precise. Lights are at proper levels. Pens and writing paper are always within arm's reach. Towels are plush and plentiful; there's even a thermal carafe of chilled Gravetye Spring Water next to the bathroom basin.

Some rooms have fireplaces, properly laid and stocked. All the rooms overlook views of Gravetye's beautiful gardens which range from the pastoral Alpine Meadow, bearded with a fringe of vibrant azaleas, to the classic English natural garden designed by William Robinson. Alas, much of the wooded gardens were damaged in the hurricane but are presently being re-landscaped to their former splendor.

Equally wonderful is the kitchen run by Peter's son, Leigh Stone Herbert. Leigh, who trained at Michel Roux's three-star Waterside Inn in Bray, uses produce from the manor's own kitchen-garden, and local fish and game to create delicious, truly memorable meals. Tender, veal sweetbreads braised in a demiglace sauce is a particular favorite, and I admit a weakness for the restaurant's superb sweets menu. Served in the warmly-lit, paneled dining room, dinner is the delicious cap to each magical day.

Bruce and I spent the rest of the evening in the high-ceilinged bar sipping Armagnacs and speculating as to whether anywhere else in Britain could possibly be better than this.

A manor with manners indeed, Gravetye is a story-book house in a truly story-book setting and has replaced Bruce's Connecticut cottage as his "Quintessential Country House".

After a delicious breakfast the next morning, we headed north, picked up the M25 Orbital motorway which circles greater London, swung onto the A1 and, after only three left turnings in less than two hours, were crunching in the drive of Stapleford Park.

Stapleford Park is set in an estate of five hundred acres and dates from the Domesday Book. It was acquired by a descendant of William the Conqueror in 1402, was refurbished in 1633, remodeled in the seventeenth century and acquired by John Gretton in 1894. Bob Payton, purchasing it from Lord Gretton about two years ago, became its fourth owner in 500 years.

Ted had heard of various reports in the British press about Stapleford — not all of them encouraging. Some said that American Bob Payton, the owner of many American-style theme restaurants in Great Britain and across the Continent which serve 30,000 meals each week, was just too hearty a host at his 'Disney World' hotel and that therefore, the place would only appeal to the worst sort of nouveau-riche, American tourist. Others inferred that Payton was parading around in hunting drag imitating an English gent, alienating his neighbors and only pretending that his hotel was 'home'. Having felt the yellow probe of Fleet Street myself and well aware of the jealousy often caused by what appears to be the 'easy' success of those Americans whose natural characteristics of imagination and ambition are accompanied by flair, talent, and style, I knew I had to find out myself. Even so, I arrived sniffing, with a jaundiced eye.

Let me say right here that the reports are hogwash. On the contrary, Stapleford is one of the most humanly-majestic, country houses in Britain and Mr. & Mrs. Payton are charming, amusing and dignified hosts who genuinely welcome paying guests into their home and work harder at making you comfortable than any other couple in this exceedingly demanding business.

Bob came from Chicago as an advertising executive — the emphasis is on executive. Unable to find what he considered a decent pizza in London, he tried to raise the necessary funds in the City to start a pizza restaurant of his own. The City, lacking imagination, as usual, turned him down: "You're an advertising man. What do you know about pizza?" Anyone could have told them that every American knows more about pizza than anyone in the City... Bob funded it himself.

After twelve years in the restaurant business which now serves 50,000 patrons per week producing a cash flow of about $600,000 a week, he discovered Stapleford while riding with the hounds. (He's been a respected member of Britain's most important hunts for nine years — another arrow shot down.) Going back to the City to help fund his planned $ 7 million refurbishments, the retort was the same ('natch): "You're a restaurateur. What would you know about hotels?" Anyone could have told them that any ex-patriot, American executive, especially one with businesses in several countries, knows more about hotels than anyone in the City... Bob funded it himself.

What he and his lovely wife, Wendy, have created at Stapleford is remarkable. As this report expounds, there are many other lovely country house hotels which we find delightful: most have charming owners, some may have more formal service, others may have more remarkable antiques and still others have a more intricate cuisine. But the combination of the Payton’s unobtrusive and genuine hospitality, the large, exceedingly thoughtfully-designed and furnished bedrooms, the unpretentious and wholesome staff and the deliciously uncomplicated cuisine makes me feel more at home at Stapleford than at any other. And it isn't just because I can get my fix of CNN in every guestroom; what I find so familiar is that they run Stapleford along very much the same lines that we ran our home — The Point.

I have always thought that the most flattering thing in life is to be a house guest in a beautifully run home and be left entirely to one's own devices. We've always honored our guests that way and so do the Paytons: everyone is treated as a trusted friend, neither over-pampered nor stiffly ignored. Bob answers the phone himself, Wendy arranges the flowers every morning, bandana'd Gunther will even pretend to be your dog, but only if encouraged, otherwise he's never underfoot. While Bob and Wendy can usually be found in the library at cocktail time and in the dining room for dinner — it is their home remember (down goes another arrow and a sling) — your privacy will always be respected unless you encourage their company.

There are thirty bedrooms. Funny thing: Ted was asked to consult to another hotel whose bedrooms were really in need of work. In his preliminary report, he suggested that the owner take a leaf out of the book of The Boys' Club of New York who every year sponsors a 'Decorators' Show House' to raise money for this deserving charity. All the best decorators in town do a room at their own expense and the public pays to view them. The result is that the building is fabulously decorated for free, the resulting PR is great for the decorators and the owner, and lots of money is raised for charity. Poo-pooing it as an 'American idea', the hotel Ted looked at still has dowdy rooms and the owner is still suffering an unacceptably-low occupancy rate. Bob Payton, on the other hand, came up with the same idea on his own. The results are terrific, as has been the PR.

The rooms have been done (but certainly not for free as Stapleford is not a charity) by nineteen, renown, interior designers. Among others, they include Jean Monroe, Turnbull & Asser, Max Pike, Crabtree & Evelyn, and Lindka Cierach (who designed the Duchess of York's wedding dress). Annie Charlton, a terrific London talent, coordinated the project and was responsible for the reception rooms, the library and three bedrooms: my favourite is "Lady Gretton" (strange world — her son, sadly too soon gone up to the big country house in the sky, used to be a friend of Ted’s). It is gi-normous and is all done up in muted greens and splashes of red with a gorgeous, high, four-poster which looks out over the lake and the rolling green fields and woodland beyond.

Details: All the rooms are equipped with remote control color TV with CNN by satellite and channel seven has re-runs of video editorials on Bob and Stapleford which have appeared on U.S. and English TV, and provide a fascinating insight to the tremendous work that went into transforming this historic hunting lodge into what has become a remarkable home for P.G.'s.

The bathrooms have big tubs and wonderfully powerful showers (as supplied by Max Pike who proves that someone in Britain, besides us and Bob, understands bathrooms) and acres of 'Made in the USA', white (is there any other color?) towels.

Of course the curtains are lined and interlined; of course there is more than one waste-paper basket in each room; of course there are fresh flowers and fruit and of course, the hangers are civilizedly free to move about at will. But there's more: an electric trouser-press hangs on the wall in the closet, a tin of freshly-made chocolate-chip cookies sits next to the bed, and, in the morning, your favorite newspaper awaits quietly under the door. If you've been a guest before or if you've selected one of the very best rooms, you'll also find a wax-sealed jar of Blue Stilton, a small bottle of port, and a pair of comfy slippers peeking from under the bed. Hey kids, this is our kinda house!

But don't take any of this too seriously, remember the idea is to relax and have fun. The 'please don't disturb' door-knob notice reads, "GO AWAY. I am/we are (choose one) having too much fun!" and the brochure starts, "The home that Edward, The Prince of Wales, wanted to buy but his mother, Queen Victoria forbade him because..." I'm not going to tell you; send for it.

Outside, there is even more fun. Wendy took a 2-acre, walled garden, put in 250,000 (count 'em) plants — nearly 8000 box trees alone including fanciful, topiary peacocks, thankfully silent — and created a wonderful Victorian folly of a nine-hole, miniature golf course, and croquet lawn. There are two tennis courts, basketball, and clay shooting but the pièce de resistance is the magnificent stables which English Heritage has recognized as perhaps the finest extant.

The staff is young, motivated, and dedicated. The other morning at 8, Chris, who has several responsibilities, came into the old kitchen where one has breakfast, if not in bed. It's a delightful, high-vaulted-ceiling of a room, in which the sun's morning-yellow competes with the most free-ranging, poached eggs I've ever seen. Noting that he had been head-waiting in the dining room the night before, I remarked on the long hours he puts in. He said he never went to bed until the last guest had retired, and last night that was 3 a.m. — he'd had three hours sleep and that afternoon was racing horses. The whole bunch is like that: they know your name within minutes of your arriving and never forget any particular preference. (The computers behind the scenes ensure that the next time you visit, everything will be just as you prefer it.)

The menus, like the house, and Bob and Wendy for that matter, are honest, uncommon, unpretentious, straightforward, and my kind of elegantly simple.

Bob's a big man from a big country with big ideas that work... anywhere. Why shouldn't he be at the forefront of gracious hospitality here too (and teach other hoteliers something about business as well)? ... Stapleford Park broke even in its fourth month — we know a pretentious parody that after three years hasn't had a profitable month yet!)

One other thing, the house was full but, besides Bruce and me, there was only one other American there. There go the last sling and arrow... but the quiver you feel won't be empty, it will be of real admiration for the terrifically warm and wonderful new friends you will have made for life.

As I gazed out my window the next morning, some Canada Geese whirled in and landed on the lake. Watching them glide across the surface, I was reminded of my new friends, Bob and Wendy: they too seem to move effortlessly along but underneath, one knows the feet are going like hell.

After such luxurious attention the past two days, neither Bruce nor I were quite ready for the long haul that we had ahead of us. North Wales was our destination and to make matters worse, a young couple whom we had met the night before, unhesitantly decried the northern Welsh shore as "desolate" and "dreary." Keeping our upper lips firm, we puttered slowly down Stapleford's stone drive into our first real rain storm.

We headed due west, cutting across the Midlands, wended our way through the busy township of Shrewsbury and into Wales. Only one-and-a-half hours north of Shrewsbury, past miles of beautifully overgrown woodlands that line the rushing Conway River ("desolate" and "dreary"?), is the Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno. Just on the outskirts of town is the very popular Bodysgallen Hall. As we drove up the hilly lane through manicured flowerbeds and sentinel-like trees, both Bruce and I winked at each other and quickly forgot the despondent duo at Stapleford.

The pink sandstone manor house, with parts dating from the 13th-century, stands boldly atop a rising promontory overlooking formal lawns and gardens of the 17th- and 18th-centuries. Its detailing is cleanly austere; its several rooflines jutting like hands toward heaven.

It's a grand setting indeed but as we entered the Hall through the front sitting-room, I sensed something much more casual and comfy than that which the exterior exudes. Charming, well-worn couches and a crackling fire await you in the cozy, mahogany-paneled room. Flowers, old books, and china are strewn casually about and a young smiling receptionist, in tartan skirt and waistcoat, leads you to the reception desk and then up to one of Bodysgallen's guest rooms in the Main House.

The rooms are charming and tastefully-decorated and share the same casual air as downstairs. Pretty wallpapers and simple country curtains and upholstery are highlighted throughout by good English antiques. The brass-fitted baths have plush towels, fine showers, and assorted toiletries, even firm-bristled, nail brushes. A trouser press, direct-dial telephone, and color TV are the only nods to the present. The rooms are not stylish or elegant in the same way as, say, Buckland Manor, and the bath is in dire need of extra shelf space, but all in all, are in keeping with the relaxed air that is evident at Bodysgallen.

Adjacent to the Main House are eight "cottage" rooms that frame a vivid country garden. Wonderfully done, I particularly like the Gingerbread House with its compact, split-level bedroom/sitting room and large, walled-in private garden. Each "cottage" room is appointed similarly to those in the Main House and also each has a tiny kitchenette for which you'll probably have little use.

Drinks in the evening are served in either the front, sitting room or the quieter first-floor, drawing room with its magnificent 17th-century carved fireplace. Dinner, prepared by ex-Dorchester chef Martin James, is a particular delight with a traditional Welsh and English menu including such delights as a savory potted shrimp, smoked trout quenelles, wonderfully-hung Welsh lamb with a viscous red wine reduction, or a marvelously-gamey breast of mallard with red currants. The fare, like the rest of Bodysgallen, is straightforward and simply delicious.

The house is not run by a family or couple as most of the country house hotels in Britain but is under the management of an organization called Historic House Hotels Limited. The lack of a visible host is a definite disadvantage here but the amiable staff do their best to make up for the deficit. The front manager, Deryn, was of great help during our visit as was the friendly assistant manager, Mustapha Serrakh, who spent time each evening chatting with guests after dinner; Richard Carr, the general manager, enthusiastically took me on a tour of the house the next morning and waved us good-bye. Welcoming management doesn't come better and with that winning formula, Historic House Hotels plans to open up another great manor home, Hartwell House in Aylesbury, in the Spring of 1989 (they already manage Middlethorpe Hall in Yorkshire).

Simple style in a grand setting — Bodysgallen Hall was certainly worth the trip.

After breakfast, Bruce and I wandered southward for many beautiful miles and stopped for a much-needed pint in the town of Knightwick in the county of Hereford and Worcester. We had a good pub meal at Knightwick's Talbot Inn on the banks of the River Teme while watching migrating birds fly en masse over the old town bridge. The house itself dates back to the 14th century and sits amid clusters of bumpy wooded hills. Inside, the manila-colored walls are hung with humorous prints while old-fashioned chairs are poised in front of an enormous wood-burning stove. Cozy and civilized, the heavy-beamed room is also the best spot in town to eat. I loved my trout baked in newspaper and a plate of cashew croquettes; Bruce had cauliflower soup and a grilled bacon sandwich. For calorie's sake, we had to pass on some delicious-smelling fruit dumplings but finished our meal with a couple of glasses of good house white. Lunch was about £14 ($24) for two and worth every shilling.

Bath was next on our list and as per a recommendation by Robyn Roux (Michel's wife), I had booked us into two rooms at Ston Easton Park.

Bath has to be one of the most beautiful cities in Britain and Ston Easton, the fabulous country house hotel just minutes away, the ideal base from which to explore this delightful region. However, one quickly discovers that Ston Easton is such a marvelous little world unto itself that you could be quite content to stay within its borders and luxuriate in its extraordinary comfort and remarkable cuisine. Bath, in that sense, becomes but an added bonus to an already special treasure.

Ston Easton is the love-child of Peter and Christine Smedley who bought the Listed Grade I Palladian mansion in 1977 when it was shortly due for demolition. Their scrapbook traces the laborious restoration that required not only extensive interior work but repairs to structural and roof damage. What remains today is an exquisite example of an 18th-century manor house, lovingly restored to its former glory.

Jean Munro designed the interiors with an eye for the past but a keen sense of modern comforts. The front drawing room is a triumph of Palladian scale and structure. Vast Corinthian columns and trompe l'œil murals mix gently with floral slip-covered sofas and delicate French antiques to give the room an odd sense of grandness and intimacy. The cozy library, with striéed walls and dark mahogany bookshelves, is warm and inviting — the lure of the fireplace and the scent of old leather books is irresistible.

Bedrooms are equally attractive and spacious. Fabrics are very-English country and the furniture, a mix of fine French and English antiques. Every item — from flowers to stationery, from biscuits at bedside to lamps at chairside — has been chosen with the utmost care. Bathrooms are about as American as one could desire with real showers (and plenty of water pressure), large mirrors, radiator-heated towel racks, and lighting by which one can actually shave. Some rooms have marble fireplaces and Chippendale four-poster beds; all overlook the 18th-century parkland with its terraced gardens, aged oaks and willows, rolling hills, and running stream. I particularly liked my room called, quite simply, Blue — a twin-bedded room with a large sitting area and a lovely draped dressing cupboard all Bruce's room, Pink, was equally attractive in a pink sort of way (doubtless Barbara Cartland would feel very much at home there).

The dining room, decorated with pastel colors, Chinese Chippendale-style chairs, and fine crystal and linens is arguably the focal point of the entire house. The room, light and cheerful, lends itself to entertaining; the mood is truly festive and the audience, a-twitter in anticipation of a memorable meal. With Welshman Mark Harrington at the helm of the kitchen, one is not disappointed. The freshest-possible produce, meat, and game are handled with great skill; he foregoes culinary excess for simpler, straightforward preparations, perfect sauces, and beautiful presentation. I loved my tender collops of sautéed venison served with cranberries and a melange of cabbage and bacon; Bruce had to fend me off his velvety mandarin orange charlotte. The cheese tray, with several local choices, was perfect; the wines, even better, and dinner is the smashing climax to any visit to Ston Easton.

In an enchanting world all its own, Ston Easton is in a class all its own.

The next morning, we picked up the M4, then the M25 and got on to the M40 and headed home. As I pulled the car to a stop, Bruce commented on how truly attractive he thought our neighborhood was. The terraced houses, which run down both sides of a sloping tree-lined lane, are each painted differently in pale, pastel colors that create an almost polychromatic wave as one peers down the length of the road. And though very similar, he thought they each had their own wonderfully individual characters.

That, perhaps, is the best description of the country house hotels in Britain. Each shares the same desire to create a comfortable home-away-from-home that reflects the best of their region's history and traditions; yet each is highly individual and spirited, mirroring the owner's personality, taste, and enthusiasm.
How very English... and how very fortunate we are to have such treasures to explore and enjoy.

Dateline, November 28, 1988 – The Four Seasons Clift, San Francisco, California

The rumors of the Huntington's demise have not been exaggerated but rejoice, there is a very special replacement at the top - a hotel for all seasons.

Wonderful, wonderful San Francisco - how clear the light is! The big red bridge pokes up through the ubiquitous morning fog-bank to landmark the Golden Gate and below, in Huntington Square, oriental gymnasts solemnly stretch-dance to an inaudible song.

In 1972, one look at this same view from the 12th floor of The Huntington Hotel upped my stakes from London to San Francisco and my life became a glittering social whirl centered here on Nob Hill. Today, while the hill's still here, most of the Nobs have either gone up or away.

The beginning of the slide of that particular set and setting was the day Dolly died.

The Huntington was a gift from old man Fritz to his daughter Dolly. He bought it for her in the midst of the depression when she was a babe. Growing up to own darn near half of Nob Hill, Dolly was the quintessential hostess with the mostest and The Huntington the center of it all. However, back stage, mole-hill problems became as steep as the streets of her home town and soon she was going to three different doctors without telling any of them. The conflicting pills were naturally counter-productive and after a particularly glittering dinner party, she died in her sleep. The morning headlines said it all, "Rich, Beautiful and Dead at 40!"

The Huntington has always been the choice of the city's most distinguished visitors but with Dolly gone, widower Newton Cope can't.

The housekeeping is sloppy, the decor is tired out, room service doesn't answer, the laundry doesn't work on weekends and the bedclothes look like J.C. Penny.

On top of that, Tony Hail and I were rudely served badly-prepared dishes we hadn't asked for in L'Etoile, the hotel's restaurant which he has supported for 25 years and which has always been one of my favorites.

The hotel is still home to Alistair Cooke, who was there yesterday, and old regulars like me who just don't want to believe it ain't what it used to be. But after only 24 hours, I checked out this morning - probably for the last time... Dolly, you are sorely missed.

You've heard of Eloise at The Plaza; can you believe Sammy at The Clift?

Fed up with The Huntington, I decided to try The Four Seasons Clift. I normally avoid hotels that are part of a big international group, but I love dining at The Four Seasons in London and I'd recently read a fascinating profile on Isadore Sharp, Chairman, and President of Four Seasons Hotels.

I checked in quietly and spent the day out and about poking into the rest of San Francisco's 'top' hotels. They were either too big, too glitzy or their rooms were too small. You know I love the Rosewood HotelsThe Mansion on Turtle Creek, The Bel-Air, etc. — but I doubt the wisdom of their new association with Campton Place. The rooms look like the decorator had a check-list that started with a hair dryer and a robe and ended with two armchairs and a sofa. It may look good on paper or from one camera angle but there ain't no room for the proverbial cat, let alone enough to swing it. Also, they've built much of their reputation on the terrific chef of their restaurant which has become one of the most popular in town. Unfortunately for them, Mr. Ogden's leaving to strike out on his own. Struck out or left in the lurch, either one's a worry.

So, what about The Clift? It used to be filled with rich geriatrics — I once knew a room service waiter here who got adopted by one and ended up inheriting a million and a half! Today the crowd is younger, chic-er, maybe even richer and the hotel is more vibrant than ever.

Everyone says Stan Bromley, the general manager, is the secret; he says it's Karma.

Talk about Karma, Stan grew up in Lake Placid. His parents owned Lake Placid Manor, one of only two hotels on the lake, and he was sent off to Lausanne to learn the hotel business. Take it from me, he knows the hotel business better than most, but he knows the people business even better than that.

Being a fellow Adirondacker, he invited me to lunch. He showed my Letters from Abroad© to his other guest who, as we shook hands, burst into song: "It's very nice to go traveling, but it's so much nicer to go home." It was the author of the song, one of America's best-known songwriters, Sammy Cahn himself.

He said, "My whole life's an anecdote. I've received some pretty terrific awards in my day but the one that tops them all was when I came down to check out of here a while back. I stepped out of the elevator to find that all the staff, and I mean all from bellboy to the chef, had assembled and were applauding me. What could I say?... I said, if I thought you were going to be so happy to see me leave, I'd have left weeks ago!"

Karma — I asked for a Virgin Mary, more than one publication has said I make the best in the world — well this one's a close second; Gleneagles' ranks number three. At that moment, former mayor Joe Alioto's daughter (see what I mean about the goings-on at The Clift) came up to thank Stan for his help. Seems that Mohammed Ali took it upon himself to take a stroll at 5:30 one morning. When his assistant woke to find he was off on his own (he's not a well man these days), he panicked; Stan asked one of his staff, whose husband was on the police force, to help. An all-points-bulletin went out across the town and in minutes Mohammed was found and was soon back home at The Clift, safe and sound.

We talked about travel ('natch). Sammy said he and his wife have a fool-proof technique: always try to find out where English actors stay, they always get the most for the least and always with respect.

He twinkled, "In London, my wife always wanted to stay at Claridges, but I found out that Cary Grant always stayed at The Atheneum. So, for years we've gone to The Atheneum, we stay in the back in the flats."

"Ron Jones, the manager, and I have become great friends over the years and our visits have always been delightful. Then one day Ron called to say he was leaving. We were so sorry, but we said we'd follow him wherever he'd been moved."

"I guess it's not so bad after all, my wife always wanted to stay at Claridges..."

Quoting one of his most famous songs, Sammy sang of The Clift, "I like it, how about you?"

I like it too, a lot. I don't know how they do it but everyone knows me by name. Oh, I know about the telephone computers that flash your name on the screen when you call room service, but how did everyone know me downstairs? Mr. Sharp may have been surprised that Stan knows all his employees' names, I'm not. It has a little to do with growing up in the North Woods and a bit to do with Lausanne, but the real answer lies in someone loving what they do and inspiring everyone else to feel the same.

The Clift is just two blocks from Union Square right next to the famous theatres of Geary Street. The Redwood Room Bar has a terrific piano player as well as Joe, my favorite Bloody Mary maker. The French Room Restaurant is tall and elegant and its clientele as dazzling as its great French chandeliers. The menu is both classic and innovative and the dishes beautifully prepared, attractively presented and delicious.

The rooms are up-to-date, conservatively dignified and very comfortable and while I rarely pay much attention to other people's ratings, The Clift is the only hotel in San Francisco to earn both the Mobile Five Star and the AAA Five Diamond awards for service and overall excellence.

The service really is outstanding. My à la carte breakfast arrived within 12 minutes; the bellmen, each one more polite than the one before, were at my door to collect my faxes within two minutes of my ringing; even my toiletries were carefully arranged next to the sink. The quality of personal attention is among the highest I've experienced anywhere in the world and considering that such congenial service is to be found in a 320-plus room, city hotel, in America, is downright amazing.

I don't know whether anyone told you this before, Stan, but besides being a nice guy, you're the hotel industry's benchmark.

Dateline, December 2, 1988 - Hayman Island, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

There are a few places in the world I've yet to visit but in the geographic parameter of my resort experiences, Hayman Island may well be the most fantastic.

The fantasy begins as your Ansett jet touches down on Hamilton Island, a two-and-a-half-hour flight north from Sydney. A gasp of delight - at the dock burbles a 120-foot gleaming-white, Jon Bannenberg-designed yacht. As its twin jets spirit you away, the blond, white-ducked crew take your preferences for the bar in your room on the island and hand over the key. Less than an hour later, Hayman appears - a small, rolling-hilled island of brilliant white sand and translucent, turquoise water.

Ahead a palm-treed island with a small lake is surrounded by clear blue water...

wrong, it's just one of the swimming pools! The "island" is an umbrella'd bar, the "lake" a fresh-water pool, and walk-ways bridge the saltwater perimeter - fantastic fantasy!

A motorcade of golf-carts winds you through a dense, wildly-varied, tropical landscape to an open atrium bounded only by a shimmering waterfall and its meandering stream.

Your bedroom is a marble-floored, pastel pleasure. TV without commercials, 24-hour room service, tons of fluffy towels, grain-matched, marble bath, and a terrace whose awning extends and contracts electrically according to the sun. In addition, there are 11 truly fantastic 1, 2, or 3 bedroomed penthouse apartments with upholstered walls, good antiques, and terrific bathrooms.

In addition to the mini-mokes and golf carts, there’s a sailing yacht for midnight cruises, Hobie-cats, windsurfers, a first-class dive ship for visiting the Great Barrier Reef, and water-skiing, tennis, and badminton.

There are six restaurants: the formal, elegant, French La Fontaine; La Trattoria, an authentic Italian spot whose open-flung doors allow al fresco dining to a wandering accordionist; the Beach Pavilion for snacks or Shima-Teien for superb, traditional, Japanese cuisine; the Polynesian Planters Restaurant and the Viennese Coffee Shop with its own chocolatier. Chic boutiques for ladies and gents, his and hers gyms, a library of videos and a full-size state-of-the-art disco and nightclub complete the diversions.

The executive management team of Lausanne-trained, long-experienced Swiss experts is supported by 420 resident staff, each one young, bright and motivated.

This long, low, foliage-covered complex of sybaritic delights would be positively extraordinary on any continent - the fact that it is here in the middle of nowhere on an otherwise desert island is unbelievable. All I can say is that it is a marvel of good taste and perfect execution with which I can find not one fault (except the water disappears down the drain counter-clockwise)!

Sounds like a dream? Well, if such a fantasy-island really were to exist, would you tell anyone about it?

It does, I visited it in 1988 when few international travelers had heard of it and included it in my British Airways First Class Hotel Selection.

Here are some details of this interesting place:

From Google, etc.:
Hayman Island is the most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands, part of the Cumberland Islands, which are located off the coast of Central Queensland, Australia at 20°03′S 148°53′E. Hayman is a private island open to the public, most famous for its luxury resort which was built in the 1950s by millionaire Reg Ansett, who also founded Ansett Australia. The island is a significant drawing point for tourism in Queensland.

The island is small at just 400 hectares (988 acres) in area.

In 1947, Australian aviation pioneer, Reginald Ansett acquired the island. Work began on the Royal Hayman Hotel, which opened in 1950 by Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Arthur Fadden in anticipation of a royal visit to Australia, for which Hayman was granted a Royal Charter.

Hayman Island contributed to Australian popular culture when the television series Barrier Reef began filming at Hayman in 1969.

In 1972, the first people to row unaided across the Pacific Ocean, Sylvia Cook and John Fairfax arrived at Hayman Island after spending 361 days crossing the ocean.

Hayman soon earned the reputation as Australia’s foremost leisure and honeymoon destination and attracted widespread international recognition. Arrival on Hayman was by Catalina and Sandringham flying boat. These days, guests to the island arrive by Hayman's private fleet of luxury motor yachts, and private charter helicopter or Air Whitsunday seaplane.

By July 1985, a two-year, A$300 million project commenced to transform the island into a "true luxury lifestyle destination" and in 1987 Hayman was invited to join The Leading Hotels of the World. In 1995, then-New Labour Party leader Tony Blair addressed Rupert Murdoch and the leaders of News Corporation at Hayman Island, laying the groundwork for Murdoch's eventual support of the party in British parliamentary elections.

The resort undertook another significant renovation in 2001 and received many of its modern five-star luxury amenities.

In June 2004, Mulpha Australia Limited acquired Hayman, and, in January 2010, after almost six years of planning, design and environmental consultations, the final approvals were granted.

Hayman re-opened on 1 August 2011 after five months of extensive restoration on the island, due to the severe impact of Tropical Cyclone Anthony and cyclone Yasi earlier that year. This period of closure enabled Hayman to complete the repairs required to landscapes, guest and accommodation areas, activity facilities and essential infrastructure as well as undertake other planned projects.

Dateline: December 4, 1988 – The Seiyo Hotel, Tokyo

Tokyo and Kyoto - the letters are the same, but that’s all.

I flew into Tokyo at 11:30 p.m. and scanned the crowds for the driver I'd asked the hotel to provide.

I hadn't been here since 1960 but the officious-looking immigration people were wearing the same serious-gray uniforms. I nonchalantly handed over my passport to be met with an imperious stare.

Where was my visa? Visa? I didn't need a visa.

Yes, I did; I had a six-day itinerary planned—longer than the allowed three-day grace period. Pulled out of line—it was now well past midnight—I hoped that my intrinsic respect for Japan and the Japanese would somehow show and that I'd be allowed to stay the full six days.

By way of background, I'd been stationed in Okinawa for two years in the early sixties. When I had only two weeks of my tour of duty left, the Berlin Wall went up and I my tour was extended indefinitely. To fight the disappointment, I embarked on the organization of "The First Annual Okinawa Grand Prix" which I coordinated with the sponsorship of an Okinawan lad to the Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. I had done a bit of SCCA sports car racing and like everyone at 20, felt I was the cat's meow. Halfway through all the preparations, the Berlin crisis eased, and I was to be transferred back to New Jersey for my honorable discharge. Obviously, I felt I couldn't desert my "magnificent obsession" in mid-stream. Thankfully, the powers that were agreed, and I was discharged over there. Eleven months from conception, the Grand Prix took place: 250,000 spectators, 30 entrants (most of whom I had taught to race), and when I took the victory lap, the local hero who had arrived back from Akron that morning sat next to me, undoubtedly the happiest boy in the world. That was my effort for the People to People program.

Now, real-time at the Tokyo airport: I had learned enough of the language to be able to teach English to the Okinawans but sitting rather forlornly in the immigration officer's office, I could only manage a deeply-felt bow. He looked at my tickets and hotel confirmation faxes and soon a quizzical lift developed in one eyebrow. He informed me that he would shortly make a decision, to which I would appeal in three days.

"Do I have to appear somewhere for the appeal?" I asked.

I could hardly believe my eyes: he winked and smiled. Then, brandishing several intricate red stamps, he filled out a form written in both Kanji and English:

"NOTICE OF DECISION. You are hereby notified that the following decision has been made on your application for landing. Decision: You do not conform to the conditions for landing provided for in Article 7, Paragraph 1, Item 1 of the Immigration-Control and Refugee-Recognition Act, because your passport is not validly visaed. If you do not agree with this decision, you may appeal to the Minister of Justice within three days from the date you receive this notice."

Thunk, thunk, thunk and the stamps made everything official. He stood and handed me the form, then sat down and... winked again! He handed me another form, this time for me to fill out. It read:

"APPEAL. I hereby appeal to the Minister of Justice against the decision that I am not eligible for landing etc." He helped me with the reason: "I live in England and did not know the requirements for a Visa."

He smiled again and said, in perfect English now, "Dr. Carter, I have been in this position for over 30 years and have had to disappoint many visitors who were not aware of the requirements. Tonight, however, is special, for you are the last American to go through the procedure. From now onwards, the visa requirements of the governments of Japan and the United States are relaxed, and thus I present you with these documents as a souvenir of the Japanese government. Enjoy your stay and good luck."

I had only been delayed for about 45 minutes and my luggage was on the carousel as I breezed through the passport control proudly waving my "souvenirs". Just beyond the barrier was a uniformed chauffeur holding a placard with my name on it; I chuckled when I saw the car. Whatever attributes you may have already awarded the Japanese, you can now add style—the car was a fully stretched Cadillac limousine!

A little more than an hour (and $350) later, we pulled into the most sophisticated hotel in Japan and one of the finest in the world.

There really is nothing inscrutable about the Japanese, they just do everything with more care than anyone else and there is nothing inscrutable about why—it makes them proud, deservedly.

Everyone can understand that; remember German cameras, English motorcycles, and American cars? Everyone cared at one time or another, it's just that the Japanese care more today.

Therefore, you certainly shouldn't be surprised to learn that the one hotel in the world with the highest level of ultra-personal service is in Tokyo—the Japanese have been the most caring innkeepers in the world for centuries.

The Hotel Seiyo Ginza is an all-suite, 80-room masterpiece just off the Ginza in the middle of everything.

[It is owned by Seiji Tsutsumi, one of the world's wealthiest men. My cousin, Matt, gave me a heads-up – they were classmates at Dartmouth College. Seiji-san is also a member of five Tokyo golf clubs, each with an annual fee of approximately $1m! He and his wife took me out to lunch. We ate on high stools at a street stall – grasshoppers! (I had to!)]

The accommodations include simple basics like perfectly shaped wooden hangers whose cross-bar is covered with velvet to keep the trousers from sliding off.

The marble bathrooms (the largest in Japan) have separate walk-in showers, a very deep tub, TV, and mirrored walls which are constantly heated so as not to fog.

Each suite has a large separate dressing room with a beveled-mirrored make-up alcove.

There's a TV programmed to turn on to CNN and a VCR for viewing any of the library of over 200 tapes.

The air conditioning is also humidity controlled; there's a 'do not disturb' button that illuminates the warning outside in the hall, and the curtains open and shut at the touch of a button.

But all this and the beautifully-coordinated, internationally-contemporary, absolutely top-of-the-line furnishings fade to insignificance in the face of the personal service that will knock your socks off.

A personal concierge is provided for every guest. She will greet you in your language and will be at your disposal throughout your stay at the touch of a button on your phone.

Mine was Mrs. Momo Ohno who lived in New Zealand for three years to learn English, was a flight attendant for JAL, and now takes great pleasure in looking after her clients.

I wondered about doing some sightseeing. I explained I didn't want a big tour and while she emphasized that this wasn't a regular service, she would see what could be done. Remember, I always travel incognito and, as far as they were concerned, I was just another guest (not someone who was going to write about the place).

The next day, Mrs. Ohno introduced me to Shigeyo Mackawa who had managed to free herself for three hours, organized a car and driver and showed me some of the nearby shrines.

Typical of the caliber of the staff here, she was educated in Switzerland, cared about her responsibilities, and was proud to assist. I asked her about some new department stores that weren't on our route.

By the time we returned to the hotel, I'd already forgotten I'd asked. But five minutes later, one of the many gray-suited bellmen brought me a map on which Shigeyo had marked the best walking routes to the stores I'd asked about!

The next day I was going to visit Kyoto and was a bit concerned about getting the bullet train. When I went down to get my taxi, Mrs. Ohno had already hired one, got in herself and escorted me to the station. She had even arranged for an official of the railway to meet us who, in turn, introduced the charmingly demure lass in charge of the trip attendants to me.

She showed me to my reserved seat and looked after me for the rest of trip even ensuring I got the best shot of Mt. Fuji! These are but two examples of the level of service at The Seiyo. No matter what your request, the response is always a polite bow and a sincere smile, and immediate action.

There are several alternatives for dining: Repertoire is the main restaurant, Kitcho may be the best Japanese restaurant in Tokyo; Attore is a terrific Milanese restaurant. In addition, Members Bar G1 is a cozy hideaway for hotel guests and members.

There are only so many elements that contribute to perfection in a hotel and the Seiyo has them all. In any event, an hotel whose lobby gift shop is Harry Winston can't be all bad! But be warned, while this kind of genuine personal attention may spoil you for anywhere else, no one can afford life in Tokyo for very long.

Dateline: December 4, 1988 – The Tawaraya, Kyoto

I really couldn’t get over our arrival at the station. As our car pulled up, three gentlemen bowed; the youngest opened my door. Mrs. Ohno had arranged everything to ease my way in this very foreign environment - as anyone would for a cherished house guest but not the way any hotel has ever treated me before. The Customer Service Representative of the National Railway and his two assistants who had met our car, acknowledged bows on all sides as Mrs. Ohno breezed ahead leading the way and making a path through the scurrying travelers. Astounded, I was carried along in their wake.

We arrived on the platform just as a phalanx of uniformed stewardesses stopped, turned, and bowed… at me! I was expected to inspect “the troops;” I bowed.

The platforms have two parallel lines painted perpendicularly to the track at even intervals; a short queue of passengers stood in each set. As the train slid to a silent stop, each queue was precisely in front in front of the car’s doors.

I was shown to my window seat on the upper level of car 8 - a “green” car reserved for First Class. Downstairs were private rooms and a sparkling stainless-steel cafeteria with video-screened cash registers.

A whistle sounded and looking out to wave goodbye, all I could see were the tops of the heads of Mrs. Ohno, the Railroad official, and his two assistants bowing. I tried to bow as deeply in return; Mrs. Ohno peeked up and waved; my heart welled.

I put my head back on the starched, white, linen antimacassar, and looked for my seat belt. The car’s interior was seamless, like a shiny, carbon-fiber, executive jet. There were absolute silence and immaculate cleanliness.

As we gained speed, there was no sense of motion and clickety-clack from the tracks; the outside just slipped by like a rolling Hollywood background. Soon we were whooshing through the suburbs banking more steeply around the curves than any plane. On the front bulkhead, just like on Concorde, a digital read-out gave our speed - 216 km (135 mph) was the highest we reached. There was also a rolling display of Kanji characters; I could only guess what it might be announcing.

The head stewardess bowed forward, “Dr. Carter, would you like anything to eat or drink?” Imagine remembering my name!

We had left Tokyo that morning as the second hand moved off 11:12, precisely on time, and arrived in Yokohama at 11:28. As we pulled out of the station, the stewardess came by again. She asked if I had a camera with me. Explaining that while one rarely gets a clear view of Mt. Fuji - one of the most revered spiritual guardians of the Japanese, it was due off to the right in 16 minutes. Fuji appeared at 11:44 in all its glory; not a cloud in the sky, and unlimited visibility. The stewardess said that it was a remarkable sign of good fortune.

From 11:45 we were in tunnels nearly all the time, just popping out every now and then to take a breath of air, and each time, Fuji was reassuringly watching over us.

A recorded announcement in Japanese was suddenly followed by the rasp of a hand-held microphone and the English translation followed. I looked around; there were no other occidentals on the train; at the rear of the car, the stewardess put down the mike, smiled, and bowed.

Just think about that for a while. Where in the world would a foreign traveler receive such treatment? Many places, fifty years ago maybe; only in the Orient today. We’ll have to regain the ethics of our heritage, and our sense of values before the West will compete successfully again.

We shot through bamboo forests, and past acres of crops being grown under plastic. In the valleys, the houses were locked in mortal combat with the fields for space, while the hills were totally undeveloped.

I immersed myself in a guidebook of Kyoto which Makiko Hirai, another of the Seiyo’s brilliant personal secretaries who can usually be found at the information desk on the first floor, had, on her own initiative, especially photocopied for my trip.

“Blessed with land made fertile by the Kamogawa and Katsuragawa Rivers, the Kyoto area has been inhabited since the prehistoric era. Emperor Kammu chose it as his capital in 794 and had the city laid out in a Chinese-style grid with broad streets running east to west, and avenues north to south.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the period of Japan’s civil wars, Kyoto was the scene of almost constant violence and many of the city’s cultural treasures were destroyed.

“When Hideyoshi Toyotomi finally succeeded in unifying the nation at the end of the 16th century, Kyoto was rebuilt.

“Modern Kyoto retains many of the structures and much of the charm of that era and is today the home of more than 200 Shinto shrines and 1500 Buddhist temple...”

The guidebook recommended six one-day itineraries...I was here for two nights!

I poured through the book and selected seven representative sights. I was to be met at the railroad station by a chauffeur that Mrs. Ohno had arranged from the Seiyo; I’d see what he thought of my choices.

We arrived at 13:59 precisely. As I stepped onto the platform, Hiroyuki Ito, resplendent in an all-white uniform with brass buttons, was holding a placard with my name on it. We exchanged bows, smiled, and immediately he was “Ito-san” and I was “Ted-san.”

On the way to the hotel, he proved to be much more than a chauffeur. He was an expert on Kyoto’s history, a bit of a philosopher, and full of fascinating trivia as well - all in a well-honed, east-coast, American accent. I asked him why the Japanese drive on the left.

“The first cars were imported from England.”

As we passed the Holiday Inn, he said, “That’s the economic inn, for foreigners; they can’t afford what we can.”

“Cremation is the law, but they save the ‘Adam’s Apple’ - it looks like Buddha.”

We passed some school children. Ito-san said, “My country has the happiest children in the world. No one is starving; boys and girls have clean school uniforms; all the cars are shiny.”

He went on, “The Japanese may appear western but inside they are the same as always. They resent the war, not for the obvious but because so many traditions were obliterated.”

As we drew up outside the little-heard-of but most renowned, 300-year-old ryokan - my home in Kyoto, we arranged to meet early in the morning for our selected tour of Kyoto.

Without being condescending, The Tawaraya allows one to experience and appreciate the sense of tradition of Japan and, in a mystical and gracious manner, gives one the opportunity of probing the spiritual depth of a race that doesn’t. In ignoring the modern bustle that is the million-plus city of Kyoto, The Tawaraya eases one’s understand of the essence of relationships Japanese - the serenity of individuality. I felt humbled and honored to be there.

For eleven generations, the same family has nurtured those wise enough to pause to seek their own sense of being, their own moment of place. The timelessness of this true ryokan, Kyoto’s oldest, certainly gives one pause to reflect.

One reads there are nineteen rooms; one would never know. Slipper-polished corridors pass lanterned pools; hand-laced bamboo, a ladle’s rest. Silent sliding shojis open to tatami tradition - this is a place preserved for rituals of respect.

Your individual, kimonoed maidservant will help you acclimatize. No language need be spoken, this is a shrine of perfection guardianed by intelligent sensitive souls - everything is understood. You will be guided by the graciousness of the bows; slippers will appear as you instinctively leave your shoes and… your ego, at the door.

Since, at first, there are no visible concessions to recent centuries, you will be surprised to find a television set hidden beneath an obi cloth cover; a telephone is similarly concealed. There is a modern sink and a western toilet (with a heated seat!), sterilized glasses and toothbrushes, even bathroom scales; but soaking in the steaming, cedar ofuro will quickly recall why you’re here.

After your bath, select from the immaculate stock of folded kimono, and with paper and pen, gazing out at your lantern-lit garden, you too might phrase a few surprising thoughts.

Dinner is a six-course masterpiece of one exquisitely presented dish after another - a celebration of Japanese classics:

I was presented with delicious tidbits on teeny lacquer trays, and a tall bottle of Kirin beer.

Sashimi, from pale transparent slivers to deep carnelian slices, was the freshest and most tender I had ever had; even the shrimp was delightful in its rawness.

A poached fish was followed by a bowl of tofu and broth - not normally my choice, it was exquisite.

A tempura of shrimp and vegetables made every Japanese restaurant I’ve enjoyed, a disappointing memory.

A small, square hibachi, glowing with charcoal so pure as to be translucent, was placed on the low table along with a flask of sake.

Bowing out backward, the mama-san left me alone on the tatamis to grill the wide slices of perfectly marbleized, Kobe beef that virtually evaporated on my tongue.

Mangos and tea completed the ceremony.

Now the lacquered table and brocade armrests move down-stage as your maid unfolds the foam futon and the tatami becomes bed.

The garden lantern calligraphs a maple branch on the shoji; serenity approaches.

In all things, luxury is simplicity; at The Tawaraya, simplicity is sublime.

Ito-san picked me up the next morning. Kyoto is worth many days of study but we visited some of the most important that should be part of everyone’s itinerary:

We started at the Nazen-ji Temple. Kyoto’s most important Zen temple was built in 1264 and has a wonderful Zen garden and the famous “Tiger Drinking Water” by Kano Tanyu.

Ginkaku-ji Temple. The Silver Pavilion was built in 1472 as a counterpoint to the Gold Pavilion; it remains one of the most beautiful temples in Kyoto.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple (below) is supported over a cliff by 139 giant wooden pillars. There is a “love garden” here whose walls are covered with talismans. I chuckled on seeing one signed by Bruce Weber, the great photographer who was my neighbor in the Adirondacks.

In the 390-foot long Sanjusangendo Hall, there are 1001 statues of Kannon-Bosatsu.

I lunched on tempura at the Yoshikawa Inn in the center of town. It is a less costly, less mystical version of The Tawaraya, and the shrimp bore little resemblance to the night before. Nonetheless, it is an attractive traditional-style, alternative.

Ito-san and I then went to Ryoan-ji Temple with its famous Zen garden.

While much smaller than it photographs (11 yards by 32 yards), the garden is awe-inspiring. Only 13 of its 15 much-photographed rocks can be seen at any one time as, wherever you move, at least one blocks the view of another. Ito-san said this illustrates the frailty of humanity.

Our last stop was Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. It sat on the far shore of an absolutely still pond that perfectly reflected the shimmering temple. Unforgettable.

The next day, I bulleted back to Tokyo; changed forever.

Best wishes,
Uncle Ted-san

(The hand-drawn sketches are by Sue Hunter.)

Dateline: December 14, 1988 – The Oriental, Bangkok

But no, not the 1988 story yet; let’s start in 2012…
Two weeks ago, on the spur of the moment, I called The Oriental Bangkok and booked a table for me and Khun Tan, my life partner, at Lord Jim’s. This famous restaurant had had a US$ 2 million renovation recently, and I wanted to see how it looked.

Named after the seafaring hero created by the novelist Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim’s reputation for seafood is almost as well-traveled as its namesake. It is renowned worldwide, particularly for its sushi and sashimi dishes.

After a complete and total transformation, the newly renovated restaurant’s concept focuses not only on the freshness and vastness of the sea which is reflected in the variety of exciting seafood dishes but also on aquatic themes which are prevalent in the sophisticated and stylish décor.

But the magic of the restaurant, as in the whole place, is the shimmering Chao Phraya River—The River of Kings—that slides by the windows carrying dinner cruisers, rice barges, and thoughts of exotic travel to forever distant lands.

We shared a large “Ice Tower”—all matter of cold seafood goodies: oysters, prawns, mussels, crawfish—it was more than I ever would have ordered for a whole dinner! Of course, everything was squeaky fresh and delicious.

We followed with a whole Mediterranean Sea bass baked in a salt crust as big as a shoe box and served with selected dips and sauces. I’d say it was 15 seconds over-cooked, but then I’m pretty particular. The spinach that we ordered wasn’t cooked enough.

Nothing wrong with the chocolate-raspberry dessert; and the house wine is extraordinary.

Dinner including cocktails and house wine came to Thai baht 12,647 which is about US$340.

After dinner, we went down to the Bamboo Bar. It has the best sax player and the most delicious drinks in town. It also has the coolest drink menu filled with color illustrations of exotic libations and bound with bamboo.

[A few years ago, I asked the waitress if I could keep the menu. The smile was genuine but the answer was “No.” Having had a drink or two, I asked if I could buy it. She conferred with the manager, a deal was struck (I don’t remember for how much), and I still have the menu, casually perched on an old Vuitton suitcase in my black-mirrored bar here at home in Bangkok.]

Finally calling it a night, we headed for the front door, and there, striding the lobby after almost forty years as one of the world’s most celebrated hotel general managers, was Kurt Wachtveitl… still at the helm!

I had never met him before. We exchanged cards, and I said, “My name probably doesn’t mean anything to you but I’ll email you tomorrow to see if I can jog your memory.”

Here’s the story…

While I have visited The Oriental for more than 40 years, the last time I spent the night here was in December 1988. I was half-way through a 55,000-mile, around-the-world, 55-day odyssey to compile a Selection of my favorite hotels for British Airways, to be seat-pocked in their First-Class sections for more than a year.

For the previous three weeks, nearly every night I had been in a different country, and a different hotel. My schedule had not allowed time for any of the hotels to do my rapidly accumulating laundry. But while tonight I was to be in the River Wing of The Oriental, and tomorrow I was off to Amanpuri in Phuket, I would return to stay in The Oriental again, the next night. Finally, time to get my laundry done!

I arrived from the airport late in the evening. I asked the lad who showed me to my room to wait a moment, so I could give him my laundry, and explained that I wouldn’t need it until the day after tomorrow when I would be back to stay in the Authors’ Wing. He took it with a smile.

An hour later, as I was about ready to turn out the light, there was a knock on my door… same lad, bigger smile. He handed me several tissue-paper-wrapped boxes, each with an orchid where the ribbons met… my laundry! Amazing, but it was The Oriental after all.

This was the entry I wrote for my British Airways Hotel Selection:

The Oriental Bangkok

I arrived at sunset and it was completely dark by the time I was in my taxi. There was no familiar landmark that I could expect to recognize. My heart contracted. Whatever else had changed, I prayed that The Oriental would be the same… my prayer was granted.

“Eleven years before, when I had stayed in the old wing, I had had a broad balcony with large chairs and a desk at which I had done my writing. I believe that the room I had then is now refurbished as a luxury suite, with Thai silk hangings. Yet the feel of The Oriental is still the same. I love my first-floor room. I was working on a novel; the difficult early stage was past.” From Alec Waugh’s 1969 biography of Bangkok.

I love my first-floor room. I’m in the Noël Coward Suite. It’s full of books of his lyrics, his memories, and autographed photographs inscribed to The Oriental he loved so much. The décor is as outrageously chic as he was. I am working on a hotel collection; the difficult early stage has passed.

The Oriental has always inspired; not only Waugh and Coward, Maugham and Gary; but also, Conrad and Michener, and Green and le Carré. In such company, my pen slows; the setting is mystical…

“Long after the sun set, there was a blood-red glow in the background, and the trees were silhouetted against it. They were lace-like and graceful and unreal. The picture reminded you of a Japanese print. At last the fitful breeze swayed them a little more, and there sprang into sight, only to disappear again, a white star…” Somerset Maugham at The Oriental.

“Wide is the river and it flows swiftly, brown, and moody, through the heart of the city. Both the old village and the old hotel seem to be watching the wild waters with the serene detachment of those who have survived so many worlds, so many passing ships. The city is Bangkok, the river’s name is Chao Phraya, and the hotel is The Oriental.” Romain Gary.

More recently, nearly every person who writes about travel has voted The Oriental ‘The Best Hotel in the World.’ They praise the truly distinguished cuisine in each of its seven beautiful and diverse restaurants, rave about its fascinating shops, and describe its very comfortable rooms.

But to me, The Oriental isn’t an hotel at all. It’s a blithe spirit* materialized by the most beautiful and gentle people in the world, just to give them the opportunity to coddle me in unselfconscious affection and perfection. All else is irrelevant, each detail mundane; The Oriental simply couldn’t exist anywhere else.”

[End of the entry]

[*Noël Coward wrote “Blithe Spirit” during the London Blitz in 1941.]

When my British Airways Hotel Selection was published, I sent a note to the general manager, Mr. Wachtveitl, to give him a “heads-up.” He replied:

At the time, I thought, how charming, how polite, how humble… I wish I had met him.

And now I have! After bumping into Mr. Wachtveitl the other evening, I emailed him to say how wonderful it had been to finally meet him. I said that I was in town and doing a story on my dinner at Lord Jim’s. Then I attached his letter of March 19, 1989, to me and closed by saying, “Now that was quite an invitation, is it still on offer? I’ve a birthday coming up this month and a night in the Authors’ Wing and dinner at Le Normandie would be beyond the dreams of this sometimes-jaded traveler—as Bobby Short used to sing, “I’m world-weary.” It would be a magic elixir to stay with you!”

(The next morning, re-reading what I had sent him, I could only think that the libations in the Bamboo Bar had made me overly bold!)

But, if you’ve ever been a guest at The Oriental, you won’t be surprised that a day or two later I got a call from Khun Somsri (Susie) Hansirisawasadi, Director of Public Relations, who said, “Mr. Kurt would be delighted to have you stay as his guest in the Authors’ Wing and give you and yours a birthday celebratory dinner in Le Normandie. What date would be most convenient?”

Granted, my email had been rather brazen, but I was thrilled!

So, last Wednesday, I checked into The Oriental with Khun Tan and we were taken to the twin-bedded, Noël Coward Suite—the same one I had stayed in on my British Airways odyssey in 1989, sixteen years ago!

I must digress:

Noël Coward – Bitter Sweet

Just to remind you (from Chapter Seven, herein), I digress:

In 1970, I lived in London and gave terrific parties. Every Sunday night about 400 people would come and go, filling the house, dancing to the latest pop group or steel band, and cavorting at the bars staffed by seven East-end brothers.

One Sunday, a silver-haired, very elegantly-dressed, American gent was introduced to me. He was John Galliher, a living legend in both café and Nescafé society all over the world with two houses in London.

The next day, he called to invite me to lunch. Ingenuously, I asked who else was going to be there.

A momentary pause, “Well YOU’RE not!” and he hung up.

A month later he called again. Would you like to come to lunch?

“Yes please, thank you,” I said.

He lived on Chester Row. I pushed the bell. The door lock buzzed open and, through the little loudspeaker, John said, “I’m upstairs dressing. Go in to the living room and make yourself a drink.”

I went across the hall and down a few steps into the living room. At the far end, reclining on a yellow leather sofa, cigarette holder in hand, was Sir Noël Coward; I knew it had to be… the morning papers had been full of the photographs of his investiture by the Queen yesterday!

I approached. He glared at me and said, “I know who you are! You are that brash, young American who was invited here last month and dared to ask who was going to be here. Well, I was here, the Duchess of Westminster was here, Andy Warhol was here, Truman Capote was here, and… YOU WEREN’T. It’s a fucking good thing you didn’t ask what the menu was or you’d never be here today. Now go make yourself a drink and sit down.”

And that’s how I happened to lunch with Noël Coward.

Back to 2012...

Noël Coward – Sweet Suite

So, Tan and I were escorted to the Authors’ Wing. It is in the original hotel building which is now 130 years old.

We sauntered through the lounge filled with shiny white wicker, then up the Palladian staircase to the first floor, off limits to all but residents.

The Noël Coward Suite is number 103. I notice the teeny white stick on the polished teak floor, leaning against the door—the secret sign to the butler that the door has been opened and the guests are inside. (In the newer wings of the hotel, the sticks have been replaced with electronics.)

There’s a welcome note from Kurt; another from Kanee Nuengtawee, Executive Housekeeper, says: ‘Dear Prof. Edward Carter. With every good wish for a most enjoyable Birthday with us at The Oriental.’

The bags arrive. Then a knock… it’s the butler.

Not only is it the butler, but it is the very same butler who looked after me 16 years ago! Khun Thavorn Champihom and I nearly embraced.

He said, “Welcome home, Doctor. It’s my honor to serve you again. May I unpack your bags?”

I smiled, “No thank you.” Quite frankly, I was rather overcome.

Sixteen years is a long time, but the suite looked the same:

The décor is still as outrageously chic as he was—the peacock-blue, silk-covered walls are even gayer – from every point of view - than I remember, and the rest remains as perfect as it was when I first saw it.

It’s still full of books of his lyrics, his memories, and autographed photographs inscribed to The Oriental he loved so much. My favorite is the wonderful lyric from his marvelous musical ‘Sail Away:’

Why do the wrong people travel, travel, travel, when the right people stay back home?

In my opinion, this is one of the few hotels in the world to which this perspicacious lyric does not apply.

The view to the wide, sepia and swirling river is still framed by lush palms outside, silvery silk inside.

The ceiling still soars higher than any other hotel room in which I’ve stayed.

And now there’s a plasma TV, and theatre-sound by Bose, a fax machine with one’s own private number, and a clever checklist of locations in the hotel you can leave with the concierge, so he knows where to find you if someone telephones or comes to visit.

The brass claw feet on the tub shine and the platter-sized, rain-making showerhead must surely be gold plated.

And how tempted I was to ‘borrow’ a peacock-blue, silk-covered, clothes hanger or two.

We went to the pool. A new one has been added since I stayed here last. It’s like a long reflection pool perpendicular to the river. It’s edged on one side by five, open-sided, pillowed pavilions, the mattress-covered floor covered with the signature, cinnabar-colored beach towels. Here one (or two or more) can lounge in the breeze that is pulled off the river by the rising sides of the River and Garden Wings of the hotel…very clever engineering indeed!

We order Sun-Downers, riveted by “the sight of the red fireball sinking majestically behind huge monsoon clouds which parade over the horizon like a herd of mighty white elephants.” (This is from the Epilog to “The Oriental Hotel Bangkok” by Andreas Augustin and Andrew Williamson.)

The Singapore Slings were brought by a lad celebrating 5 years this week as a member of the permanent staff. I was proud when he said he was a graduate of Bangkok University - I was currently the professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Bangkok University International College

When we returned to our suite, flowers and fruit, and a small, two-candled birthday cake waited on the coffee table.

We headed for Le Normandie...

Once again, I hadn’t been to this renowned restaurant for 16 years. Tan had only heard of it. On the top floor of the Garden Wing, Le Normandie’s windows look both west to the river and east over the city.

Happily, Susie had reserved a table on the river side and designed a special menu of extraordinary choices. Among several offerings, we chose:

Sautéed frog’s legs with shallot puree and parsley sauce

(We skipped the melon or pumpkin soup)

Pan-fried, duck foie gras from the Landes, Armagnac, and grape sauce

Roast sea scallops with onion confit and black trumpet mushrooms, and

Samplings from the Chariot de Desserts

When we were about to take our leave, the brilliant (blind) piano player changed the tune from Cole Porter to ‘Happy Birthday’ and as the fabulous chocolate concoction arrived, everyone in the dining room applauded, and the people at the neighboring tables said “congratulations.” I normally hate public birthdays, but I assure you, at Le Normandie in The Oriental, everything takes on a sincerity not found anywhere else. The waiters took photographs and brought the digital prints to the table even before I cut the cake.

On our way back to the suite, we stood at the top of the Palladian staircase in the Author’s Lounge and exchanged rings. Khun Thavorn, our butler was our witness, and we have been married ever since.

And so, nearly every person who writes about travel still votes The Oriental ‘The Best Hotel in the World.’ They still praise the truly distinguished cuisine in each of its many beautiful and diverse restaurants, rave about its fascinating shops, and describe its very comfortable rooms.

And still, to me, The Oriental isn’t an hotel at all. It is both Blithe Spirit and Present Laughter,

conjured up by Kurt Wachtveitl, the most brilliant hotel manager in the world, and staffed by the most beautiful and gentle people in the world, just to give them the opportunity to coddle their guests in unselfconscious affection and perfection. All else is irrelevant, each detail mundane; The Oriental simply couldn’t exist anywhere else.”

As the Mandarin Oriental Group’s ads say, “I’m a Fan”—a play on words of the corporate logo in the shape of an oriental, folding fan.

I’ve been a fan for a long time. I was one of the first guests of The Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong that opened in 1963, and I was in the lobby on November 22, the day JFK was assassinated—one of the white-pill-box-hatted bellboys ran through the lobby holding up a newspaper with the horrible headline.

A few days later, I was in The Oriental, Bangkok waiting for my parents to arrive for a ten-day stay. It was my first visit to Bangkok; The Oriental was magic, and a couple of days later we dined with Jim Thompson in his home on the klong—heady days indeed.

As you read above, The Oriental was still magic in 1989; and it’s still magic in 2006!

How is it possible?

From the dazzling The Oriental Hotel Cookbook, 130th Anniversary, New Edition, that I bought yesterday, page 162 says it all:

[Following its purchase of The Oriental in 1967,] “Italthai immediately set out to raise The Oriental’s standing, not just among Bangkok hotels but internationally. One of the first steps was to find a new general manager. A likely candidate turned up in the person of Kurt Wachtveitl, who was then managing one of Italthai’s hotels in the seaside resort of Pattaya. Young and full of ideas, he accepted the challenge and came back to Bangkok.”

He’s still there—living proof that an organization doesn’t always need to refresh an hotel by bringing in a new GM every three or four years.

As the professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Bangkok University International College, my course on Resort Development and Management is largely based on how my home in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, The Point, developed into one of the world’s favorite resorts, often voted Number One in America. The course reflects on the enormous influence of the General Manager, and extraordinary men like Stan Bromley, recently retired from the Four Seasons Group, Jason Friedman, and of course, Kurt Wachtveitl, are studied and revered by me and my students.

The Oriental is a Vortex of elegance with a cavalcade of starry moments. If you’re lucky, your Private Lives there can become shared memories that will always produce Present Laughter.

Dateline: December 15, 1988 – Amanpuri, Phuket, Thailand

I was the first person to write internationally about the island of Phuket – virtually putting it on the map.

I was met by a driver in a white uniform who said I was the first person to come to the resort alone. He was a Thai-boxing champion.

As I strolled along the black-bottomed pool, a familiar voice rang out, “Do you own this place too?” It was Robert De Niro who had stayed at The Point when I was last there.

Everything about Amanpuri is perfect – the food, the beach, the pool, the evening musicians, the gift shop, and especially the staff.

The same driver took me into Phuket Town that evening to visit somewhere he was sure I would like. It was a laid-back whore house. I didn’t stay.

The next day, he took me to James Bond island; then the airport.

Amanpuri made the cut.

December 19 - A hiccough in Bombay...

Dateline: December 20, 1988, Brenner’s Park Hotel, The Black Forest, Germany

James flew down from London to meet my plane from Cairo to explore a part of the world where fable and history mix to create a truly alpine arcadia — The Black Forest in the southwestern tip of Germany.

I had decided to spend our first night at the famous castle-resort, the Wald und Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe, just outside the town of Ohringen to sample its renowned luxury and plan my weekend assault on the southern territories.

The aim of my trip was to find the ultimate gemutlich inn for my BA Selection, brimming over with folk-charm and the lull of a soothing zither — a place with the kind of colorful abandon that is both spirited and cheery but not a contrived 'Heidi-land'. While the Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe does not fall into that category, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try it.

Nestled in the woods near the Neckar River Valley, the carmine-roofed mansion was built in 1712 by the Count Friedrich Zu Hohenlohe II (and remains in the family under Prince Kraft Zu Hohenlohe-Ohringen). The heavy-gabled, white-walled home stands in formal wooded gardens like a noble sentinel. To one side, slightly shrouded in a tuft of trees, is the less-formal "Torhaus" and to the other, a modern chalet-like extension on the old stone-and-half-timbered hunting lodge which houses the reception desk and restaurants. Even though located right off the town road and less secluded than I had imagined, the complex is impressive indeed, and once inside the gates, one feels magically cloistered in a world of another time and place.

A polite, reserved young bellman in a painfully-starched white uniform, escorted me into the mansion through its formal drawing room, up a small winding staircase, past fine family portraits and stag mounts, to a pleasant bedroom. Accoutered with Regency antiques, a pair of very large sleigh beds and a crystal chandelier, this corner room had enormous, sun-filled windows and a charming carved-plaster ceiling. The adjoining bathroom was modern and efficient.

Sitting at the Regency desk with roadmaps and notepad, I sipped a small pitcher of blood-orange juice that the maid had left, and James and I began planning our gemutlich tour.

That evening, we had drinks in the stylish, coffered-ceilinged bar. There are two very traditional restaurants: one with peg-legged chairs and bright colors; the other with vermeil walls and gilded sconces and chandeliers. We were shown into the latter where the service was relaxed and efficient. We enjoyed the first course of tuna carpaccio with a rich tuna sauce but thought the recommended roast suckling pig was rather flavorless and the portion, downright stepmother-ish. However, very good cheeses and a scrumptious dessert of caramelized pears en feuilleté with a Poire William sorbet made up for the deficit. Surprising was a local Riesling (privately bottled in Ohringen for the hotel) that was marvelously dry and tasted of crisp, green apples. Delicious.

Before departing the next day, we inspected some of the newer rooms in the hunting lodge. Though most first-time visitors would prefer those in the mansion, I found many of these rooms even more attractive. One suite, in knotty pine, was decorated in blue-and-white while wooden wall sconces and country-cozy furniture replaced the crystal chandeliers and mahogany antiques — a charming change.

As pleasant as the Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe certainly was, I was in search of gemutlich and had been assured I'd find it in the Black Forest town of Triberg.

Wrong. Reputed to be a charming and the center of the cuckoo-clock industry, Triberg turned out to be a touristy trap catering to tour bus groups with a dozen or so shops that sported hundreds of machine-made clocks. The only nice looking restaurant in town had a diner's menu and even the waterfall which tumbled noisily down a rocky river bed had been turned into a signposted tourist attraction.

We had booked a room in the Parkhotel Wehrle — "scrupulously managed in old-fashioned style" it was reputed to be one of the best small hotels in Germany.

Wrong. Run by the Wehrle/Blum family since 1707, it must have been a charming Black Forest hostelry some 80 years ago but now it feels to me that something has gone seriously awry.

The very pleasant staff had no record of our reservation that I had confirmed by credit card but, even though there was a business convention underway, they still had a couple of rooms available. We chose one overlooking a quiet side street on the marketplace. The room was certainly old-fashioned in style with nondescript antiques and although the bathroom had plenty of heat and hot water, the lighting was murky, the 'old-fashioned' bath was plastic, and the towels translucent. Strangest of all for a member of Relais et Châteaux, they failed to turn down our beds at night nor change the towels — understandable, perhaps, in a country hotel, but requirements in a Relais et Châteaux member.

Another reason I'd picked this hotel was the Michelin-starred dining room... charming but disappointing food.

Although there were some thoughtful touches throughout - various German newspapers in the lobby and umbrellas for guests' use, the Parkhotel Wehrle is, sadly, overrated.

We had no set itinerary for the next couple of days and as we climbed out of Triberg, upwards towards the imposing peaks, the vistas became more and more dramatic. All I needed now was an Oma and Opa-run chalet and my fantasy would be complete. The task, as it turned out, was tougher than I ever imagined.

We stopped in Schönwald where, atop a lonely, hilltop road, stood the simple Hotel Dorer. Though perfectly nice with paneled walls and some pretty stenciled furniture, its pub-like atmosphere, non-existent reception and poor location eliminated it from the contest.

The Alemanhoff outside of Hinterzarten was even less interesting. Situated on a hillside on the banks of beautiful Lake Titisee, this hotel suffers from a cave-like dining room and motel-like rooms, none of which had a view of the lake, if you can believe that.

In the village of Hinterzarten is the Relais et Châteaux favorite, the Parkhotel Adler.

Degustibus non disputantum est, but flocked velvet upholstery, bus tours, Holiday Inn bedrooms, and a busy roadside location do not make a charming hostelry.

As the afternoon sun drew long shadows across the forested hills and several other inns we visited were unhesitantly crossed off my fast-shrinking list, I thought I'd have to compromise. Just then we shot over a hill and, off a narrow lane, next to a lazy barn flanked by a low stand of spruces atop a silvery meadow, was a colorful, almost radiant little chalet hotel which peeked from behind a gaily-decorated pine tree. I floored the brakes, skidded into the gravel entranceway and slid to a stop in front of the gabled building.

Attractive young couples were unloading their cars. Hotel Kaisers Tanne-Wirtshus Breitnau was painted in big white letters on the side of the building and as we walked past a long wooden bench and through the front door, we knew instantly that we'd finally found "it".

Kitschy props, family portraits, and local handicrafts absolutely filled the foyer. At one end of the tiny lobby stood a receptionist and an attractive bearded chap who was busy on the telephone. Preparing for the worst, I looked anxiously at the young girl and quietly asked if there was, by any extraordinary chance, a room at the inn. She smiled widely and nodded. Amazing!

Up the angular staircase to the second-story, our Weisstannenblick room turned out to be a traditional suite that looked out on the pines and captured the last rays of the setting sun. Newly refurbished, the rooms were charming and terribly comfortable. The sitting room was simply furnished with an upholstered sofa, pine coffee table, librarian's desk and, in one corner atop a bracket shelf, an ancient wooden radio that worked! A well-stocked, hidden minibar and a color television were comfortably squeezed into the well-designed space, and the bedroom had a pine armoire and double beds with sheets and duvet cover that were sweetly embroidered with a single pine tree.

The linen towels in the modern bathroom were similarly embroidered. There was a shower stall with a super shower head and plenty of extras such as stacks of fluffy towels, scales and the usual assortment of toiletries.

We had a peek downstairs after unpacking and discovered a small heated pool, ping-pong table and excer-bikes in the basement. The hotel was obviously geared toward families and younger children though on our visit there were none in sight.

In the lobby, I perused the family mementos — the hotel is owned by the Kaiser and Kienzler families — displayed proudly in almost corner and toyed with silly Bavarian souvenirs. I saw something on an upper shelf that looked like an old weather forecasting toy. You know the type, Hansel is out when the weather is foul, Gretel when fair; I pulled the little string to pull down the drawbridge that hid them from view and... was doused with a squirt of water! I guess the forecast was rain.

Sure, some of the flowers are fake and the decor pure kitsch but who cares? It feels just like a scene from Santa's workshop and one can't help but get caught up in the festive goings-on.

To top it all off, the food was some of the best we've ever had in Germany. I was greeted by the same man I'd seen at the reception; he was one of the owners, Herr Kienzler. Dressed in traditional alpine garb, he led us through the German menu in great detail and suggested a nice Riesling that he thought we might enjoy.

The dinner was a real surprise with dishes such as Kämmeli-smoked trout mousses, Barbary duck with a full-bodied truffle sauce, fluffy spaetzli or well-hung venison with winter berries. And to top it all off, Uncle Sepp sits in the corner plucking a wonderful zither...

Gemutlich beyond fantasy, the Kaisers Tanne-Wirtshus is this romantic's dream come true.

Feeling that anything else in the Black Forest would probably be a let-down, we drove to the stylish spa town of Baden-Baden, and Germany's ultimate luxury hotel... Brenner's Park-Hotel.

Brenner's Park is one of those very few hotels which set the standards to which all others who wish to achieve truly international recognition must strive.

For 140-some years this has been the spot to which the most discerning dignitaries, sophisticated socialites, and trendy tourists return year after year to rest, recuperate, and renew friendships while taking the famous waters that established this urbane town as Europe's premier spa.

The hotel is remarkable for it constantly takes every opportunity to revitalize itself in much the same way its generations of guests have enjoyed its hospitality for the same purpose.

While its latest face-lift reflects the ever-evolving tastes of modern travelers, each careful tuck has been made with great respect retaining the hotel's definite old-world charm. While wonderful new suites have been created by combining some of the smaller old rooms, the grand, old-style suites are as glorious as ever.

And why not? The furniture and detailing are kept in wonderfully pristine condition and the gorgeous, original bathrooms with their Edwardian yacht-heavy, chrome fixtures are in sparklingly perfect order; even the tiles look as though they were installed yesterday. Brenner's Park knows that everyone loves familiar surroundings, and how wonderfully comforting it is to come home to "your" room. So, while everything is always being subtly renewed, all appears to remain the same and, as each accommodation is quite different in layout and arrangement, regular guests insist on their favorite.

As for the new rooms, they are absolutely charming and have been designed with an extraordinary eye to detail. Chintzes are English; the antiques, 19th-century German, and the Italian, marble, bathroom floors, thermostatically heated from below. Best of all, the bedrooms are herculean in size averaging over 500 square feet of floor space.

Not surprisingly, the standard of the rooms is matched by the appeal of the hotel staff - they are efficient and sincerely warm without ever being deferential or distracting. Many have been around for ions and even the youngest members are very professional and very elegant. Once, as we entered the lift, we were met by a smiling, mink-wrapped beauty of indeterminate years, her legs casually crossed, one wrist extravagantly flopped over the top of a gold-handled cane — the lift lady?... actually no, but at Brenner's, we wouldn't have been surprised.

What more can one say? All the legends are real: the glorious lawns and gardens with hundreds of varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas that burst into vivid bloom each Spring; the opulent Beauty Farm that pampers and rejuvenates you from legs-to-locks; the resplendent indoor pool, all columns and murals, in which views of the verdant parklands are reflected; the modern, diagnostic clinic in the enchanting Villa Stephanie run by a team of eminent specialists; the 18-hole golf course; the 8 championship tennis courts; the stables; the skeet-shooting fields; the concerts; and all those fabulous dinners with Black Forest (and Spa) specialities, followed each evening by dancing, dating, and dreams.

Brenner's Park-Hotel is the best of its genre — an elegantly-formal, old-fashioned, European grand dame whose caring heart will warm your soul as its waters restore your spirit.

I selected it for the Hotel Selection.

Back to London, then fly to South Africa on January 2, 1989, enroute to…

Dateline: January 3, 1989 - Cybele Forest Lodge, White River, Republic of South Africa.

We climbed out of Johannesburg and headed east. I was in the right-hand seat of a Magnum Airlines, twin-engine, 8-passenger Piper trying to look nonchalant even though I hadn't piloted in four years and that was in my J3-on-floats—no starter, no radio, one engine and no wheels! Soon we were punching holes in the clouds at 11,000 feet and while I began to really enjoy myself, the four passengers behind us were showing increasingly pale knuckles.

As we flew into the Eastern Transvaal, the clouds cleared, the lush green veldt slowly rose to meet us and less than an hour from take-off, we stubbed down on the very narrow, very short paved strip at Nelspruit, the area's capital.

A hearty, khaki-clad young man smiled forward and took my bag. It was Greg, my guide from Safari Services based in Nelspruit. He had been brought up in this part of the bush and filled me with facts and philosophy as we drove north, climbing all the time, to White River and beyond. Speaking five Black African languages, he savors the richness of his happy life and his many friends of all colors who are prospering in this unique land.

[I had been in South Africa ten years ago to bid on establishing a shipping container factory. The Government had agreed to allow the South Africans to buy individual containers that would be leased to international shipping lines. The business community in Jo'burg saw this as a terrific hard-currency earner as well as providing much-needed employment. On the other hand, the non-moving shakers in Capetown saw the concept as a great way to move their capital out of the country and onto the high seas (just in case). During the final bidding (which I lost to Nissan), nearly everyone thought I was related to the then President of the United States and, in their curiously parochial way, the more I denied it, the more they believed the opposite and the red carpet got longer every day.

In the middle of it all, Andrew Young, then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., started the outcry which today has become a deafening scream. I said it then and I say it today: before anyone joins in this now-fashionable chorus, go and see the place first hand and talk to everyone you can – there are many harmonies to the score which certainly isn't going to be settled very soon.

While Capetown is undoubtedly South Africa's most attractive place to spend a holiday—it looks the way Beverly Hills ought to, a visit to a private game camp in the Eastern Transvaal is one of those experiences without which your life won't be complete. And as the world turns, the camps may become as endangered as the game you see and they play...]

The road turned from paved to clay as Greg and I wash-boarded our way to 3,000 feet. Then rounding a bend, we were suddenly in the midst of a lush rolling coffee plantation.

We turned into a long tunnel of tall trees and at the end, nearly hidden by Frangipani, Bluegum, and Flamboyant, was the sprawling old farmhouse main building of Cybele Forest Lodge.

On the wide verandah lounged two boxers, two colonials, one kitten, and an African Grey parrot. I said, "Hi, Alfie" to the parrot. It looked the twin of the twenty-year-old pet of an old friend of mine; they both used to live in London. I thought how strange it was to see one here until, embarrassed at my own bend of time and place, I realized with a jerk that he was the only one of us that didn't need a visa.

You see, you'd never think you were in Africa at Cybele (pronounced Sigh BEE lee). In fact, you'd never think you were anywhere but at home. That is if your home is comfy cozy with spreading lawns, luscious flowers (the head gardener's name is Ivy, of course), and chintz-slippered sofas.

Even better, the place is brimming with smart English and South African gals who welcome you like a familiar houseguest who's just returned from the village with the day's papers.

It took me until cocktails to discover that the perky, tee-shirted treasure was Barbara Jeffries who with her husband, Rupert, owns, lives in, and manages Cybele, and that gent helping to bail out the fish pond was a London G.P. on his second visit in as many years.

I tried reading by the swimming pool and ended up counting butterflies. Open-faced sandwiches under a huge Jacaranda tree were accompanied by that kind of local white wine that you can never find at home. Was it the company, the charm of the serving girls, the ease of the house party atmosphere? I don't know but I was instantly relaxed and very pleased simply to be here.

I'd come 8000 miles to be in what feels almost exactly like an English country cottage filled with charming people. It is different though. When you focus in on anything, just for a moment, you know at once this is a little unlike anywhere else.

The blades of the lawn are just that little bit different, the rolling green isn't Rhododendron but coffee, the thatch on the cottages is cut just a mite strangely, and the staff is that much more gracious and friendly. And while the rooms are filled with charming antiques and lots of English chintz, there's always a subtle nod to the sub-equatorial setting even if it's just the unidentifiable firewood in the big basket next to the hearth. At 3,000 feet, it's cool enough to be able to wear a jacket to dinner in mid-summer and come home to a welcome fire in your room.

Twenty-four guests are the full complement and the compliment is yours when you discover how utterly comfortable are the accommodations. There is a variety of studios (I was in no. 3), suites (the "Private Garden Suite", No. 6, is tops for two), cottages, and two completely separate houses, Paddock Suites 10 and 11. Many have their own swimming pool and each has efficient modern bathrooms, delightfully designed decors, very comfortable beds, and a private verandah.

For the first time in weeks, I was so comfortable and at home, I hadn't given a thought to dinner.

I'd been invited to cocktails along with my new friends, John and Sonia from London, and would have been perfectly happy dining on anecdotes, experiences, and just desserts. But after a starter of what I can only describe as a Bloody Mary in a soup bowl, I was presented with a phyllo pastry strudel filled with fresh vegetables and mozzarella served with hollandaise!

I was so surprised and delighted, I didn't even notice the almighty downpour that had arrived uninvited. I shared my bottle of Allesverloren Tinta Barocca with John and Sonia who had kindly asked me to share their table, and just as Sonia was describing another of Barbara's starters that they had had on their last visit—locally smoked trout, wrapped in spinach and baked—our main course of leg of lamb, casseroled in red wine and fresh rosemary, arrived to two double thunderclaps.

There were claps all around as the chocolate roulade filled with fresh peaches and cream arrived—heaven.

We retired to the little bar to fetch a ten-year-old, South African cognac and colonialised in squishy sofas and chairs in front of the fire.

Greg showed up at ten the next morning. John and Sonia were off to Sun City "to play golf" (it also has the wildest casino outside of Las Vegas); another couple were off to try their hand at catching rainbow trout from the river that is stocked for the sole use of Cybele's guests; two others were off to the paddock to pick their mounts for a day's riding in the low veld; and two were off for a day in the Kruger National Park. There are other fascinating day trips to the Blyde River Canyon and nearby Pilgrims Rest. If there'd been more time, this pilgrim would simply have done the latter and watched Ivy adorn the walls.

No number of miles is too far to come to experience this level of relaxed comfort, delicious cuisine, and caring hospitality. You'll love it.

Dateline: January 6, 1989 - Governors' Camp, Kenya

We wafted over the Mara River. It turns and twists back on itself endlessly as it heads out of Kenya, across Tanzania into Lake Victoria, flows into the White Nile and finally on to the Med. It's a long way… "Out of Africa."

Under canvas at Governors’ Camp in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, you're not only in the depths but at the soul of Africa. It will stir yours and turn your heart.

This is Maasai territory. Tall, aloof and serene, these noble people obdurately maintain their customs and beliefs, but the vast savannah is, like everything else on Earth, changing.

When my mother and father safari-ed here 60 years ago, they carried their tent with them and saw no other vehicles. (Inside the Land Rover was a wire cage containing a bottle of gin, a bottle of vermouth and two glasses. It had a glass panel with the inscription, "When Lost, Break Glass". Bruce, the Ranger, explained that all one needed to do was to start making a Martini and inevitably out of the bush would rush at least one person shouting, "That's not the way to make a Martini!")

In January it had been raining so hard the seasons were out of synch; even the 4x4's were deep in water.

Happily, at Governor's Camp the ballooning operation is the largest in the world; the morning I went, three were flying. At times descending to the treetops then rising to catch a different-vectored breeze, we saw more animals than you could imagine.

Finally, after more than two hours aloft, we landed on the only dry spot in miles.

As we drank champagne and the chasers fried sausages over the inverted hot-air burners, a dozen elephants arrived uninvited!

Actually, there are seven luxury safari camps and lodges in the "Governors’ Camp Collection." Main Governor's has 40 tents and a couple of traditionally-dressed Maasai natives wandering in and out of the gift shop to oblige your camera - too contrived for me.

I stayed at Little Governor's - seventeen tents, each with comfortable beds, a desk, a rack for your clothes and, behind it, a tile-floored bathroom-tent with a basin, a shower with hot and cold running water and a modern flush loo.

The camp half-encircles a lily-pad-covered lake; hippos, giraffes, and elephants are frequent visitors. After a few drinks in the open-sided bar-tent, followed by a delicious dinner in the adjoining mess-tent, one drifts off to sleep to the night-noises of frogs, clicks, screeches, and whoops. It's fabulous!

(Sadly, while I was here, James telephoned to say that Bruce Bolton had died.)

Dateline: January 8, 1989 – Le Meridien Fisherman’s Cove, Seychelles

This is the last stop on my itinerary.

Here is the unvarnished story of my visit as published in Letters from Abroad, July 1989…

…but, in January, when Richard Mound received my draft for the BA Selection, upon which the above story is based, he was shaken and, for the first time, asked if I could modify it without corrupting my integrity. I complied as best I could, and produced the following…

So, my odyssey furled its sails and we came to rest. Then, after 55,000 miles in 55 days, I made my final choices.

Here are what I consider the best on the routes British Airways gave me. There are 37 establishments. 37 is a funny number but the digits add to ten, and BA is “a ten” in my book. So, while you may be surprised by some inclusions and shocked by some exclusions, the data is up to date.

Cybele Forest Lodge, South Africa
Governors’ Camp, Kenya
Le Meridien Fisherman’s Cove, Seychelles
Mala Mala, South Africa

Hayman Island Resort, Great Barrier Reef
Hotel Inter-Continental, Sydney

The Millcroft Inn, Toronto

Boyer, Reims
Brenner’s Park Hotel, Germany
Falsled Kro, Denmark
Le Moulin du Roc, France
Lord Byron, Rome
Vila Joya, Portugal

Far East:
Amanpuri, Phuket
Goodwood Park, Singapore
The Hotel Seiyo Ginza, Tokyo
The Oriental, Bangkok
Pousada de São Tiago, Macau
The Regent of Hong Kong
Tawaraya, Kyoto

Bodysgallen Hall, Wales
Buckland Manor, Worcestershire
Claridge’s, London
Gravetye Manor, West Sussex
Knockinaam Lodge, Scotland
Ston Easton Park, Bath

The United States:
Auberge du Soleil, California
The Bel Aire, Los Angeles
Four Seasons Clift, San Francisco
The Inn at Little Washington, Virginia
The Jefferson, Washington, D.C.
The Lancaster, Houston
The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas
The Ritz-Carlton, Boston
The Stanhope, New York City
The Ventana Inn, Big Sur
The Whitehall, Chicago

My final checklist

Now, the choices having been made, James and Victoria finalized all the edited copy, collated Sue Hunter’s illustrations, and messengered everything to Richard Mound who sat with the entire British Airways art department to produce the Hotel Selection.

I arrived back home at Heathrow on January 12 and James presented me with the first copy of the published, 48-page Hotel Selection. It was indeed beautiful.

I hope you enjoy it; follow the link...

The British Airways First Class Hotel Selection by Edward Carter

All hand-drawn illustrations throughout this book and site by Sue Hunter

End of Chapter Nineteen

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