Bypass the bed, ignore the TV and forget the minibar: it’s the shelving in the shower that really matters. Guy Woodward unpacks his washbag
The first thing I like to do, at that magical moment when the bellboy (do they still call them that?) finally completes the lighting demonstration and vacates my new hotel room, is to spend some time in the bathroom.
This is not – entirely – a euphemism. Being somewhat OCD, I like to immediately unpack my stuff and arrange it around the sink, just so (even though, in ‘top’ hotels, staff will inevitably feel the need to re-arrange it the way they think best – a back-and-forth which can turn into a daily stand-off). But yes, while I’m there I may also use the facilities (I’m territorial as well as, er, anal.)
This brief initial insight provides a barometer of the property, shining a spotlight on the overall level of comfort and attention to detail. A roomy, well-appointed space cannot fail to relax body and mind. (I still remember, with its centred, stand-alone bath, affording fine views over the hectic city, the bathroom at Raffles Istanbul being a sanctuary I barely wanted to leave.)
A great hotel bathroom doesn’t have to be palatial, though. It’s all about providing a step up from the norm. Take the shower – to my mind, the most integral element. At the very least, this needs to be better than the one I have at home. By which I mean firmer pressure, wider dimensions and certainly not in a bath.
Decent shelving space is also key – most people have their own kit to take into the shower in addition to the hotel’s products – as is having a door or screen that actually repels water and doesn’t lead to a biblical flood.
Based on the above criteria, the Premier Inn Hall Green in Birmingham, with its simple-to-operate, gushing jet, fares better than the more lavish La Florida Barcelona, with its convoluted leveraged head system and ineffective, widely dispersed stream. The non-pareil of hotel showers, though (and, sad type that I am, I have started documenting these – check out #ShowerHour on Twitter) came at Hotel Eden Rome. The water cascaded down like a waterfall, the shower mat actually fitted underneath the door and the towel rail was directly at the end of the cubicle rather than halfway across the room (I don’t know about you but I like to huddle into a towel and robe straightaway on leaving the warmth of the water, not have the cosy feeling wear off as I traipse across the tiles, dripping as I go).
And while we’re on the subject, no-one wants a towel that survives only one use before being as damp as a Wales weekend; or those nasty, scratchy things you get in a cheap gym; or, worse still, the thin, continental sheet-like affair that seem to be de rigueur in provincial France. Give us soft, absorbent towels that are substantial enough to wrap once around the waist (I may be firmly into middle age, but I get the impression that some hotels delight in telling you that you need to lose weight).
Fancy products are a bonus – the Rome Cavalieri recently impressed with Salvatore Ferragamo face mask and lip balm (the Eden had Bottega Veneta) – but not a necessity. A decent bar soap, shower gel and moisturiser will do – though it must be said a hotel own brand always betrays something of a cheap mindset, as does an all-in-one ‘hair and body wash’ (especially if bolted to the wall – an facility where the Premier Inn shows its true colours).
More important is the lighting – and not just so you can shave/apply makeup without causing personal injury/ending up looking like Krusty the Clown (delete according to sex, or personal proclivity). Finding the bathroom – and then the light – when you wake, disoriented, in the middle of the night, shouldn’t be like navigating an army assault course. For some reason, the otherwise impeccable Westbury Hotel in Dublin, has the bathroom switch by the main entrance door, in a line-up with all the other switches, meaning either flooding the whole room with light by hitting the wrong button, or, on the off chance that you can remember which one is which, semi-flooding it with light as you open the bathroom door. The sumptuous La Reserve Paris has a neat solution, in the form of recessed floor lighting to guide you safely to your destination without blinding yourself (and your partner) or stubbing your toe on the ottoman that you’d forgotten was there.
As for shaving/applying makeup (and my wife will tell you that, for a woman, a separate make-up area trumps any calibre of shower), the lighting plays second fiddle to the mirror. Or, more specifically, the distance the sink is from the mirror. You wouldn’t think this would be a difficult element to master, but I have stayed at hotels where the sink is set on a counter that leaves you so far from the mirror as to require a map to find it. And it’s all very well having a cool, shallow basin, but the aesthetic soon loses appeal if you can’t actually fill it with water.
While we’re on the subject, if you’re going to go to the trouble of installing a bath, please put the taps in the middle. Most couples don’t have time to share a bath at home, and even if they do, it’s not quite so romantic when faced with the family’s personal detritus and the likelihood of being interrupted by the dog/kids/local MP canvassing for your vote at the seemingly perennial election at any stage. A hotel getaway, on the other hand, is prime opportunity. Gentleman as I am, though, the seductive effect is somewhat negated if you’ve got an alternatively cold and scorching taps constantly searing into your back…
Finally, the toilet. My gran used to have a sign on hers that simply said ‘This is it’. Since it was a well-kept, fragrant space with a furry seat, I always associated it with a moment or two of blissful solitude – and I guess the association has stuck. If, on the other hand, you are of the mind that such a facility is purely functional, and to be inhabited as briefly as possible, you obviously haven’t experienced either my gran’s loo or the ‘Japanese’ style models installed at Shangri-La The Shard, Peninsula Paris and La Reserve Paris, among others, in recent years. A heated seat, a lid that opens to greet you and a ‘power deodoriser’ are all part of the service, as is an impressively accurate and effective, bidet function, adjustable for pressure and direction of its electronically powered jet. I have never felt so fresh.
I could go on. Instead, a final suggestion those for those hotels that can’t afford the £7,000 bill for each one… At least put the can a decent distance away from the bed – ideally with a well-insulated door. New couples, in particular, will thank you – as will their thigh muscles. Oh, and one last thing – has anyone ever used a bathroom phone?