I consider myself a semi-organised traveler. While I like having certain elements prepared in advance, going on the ‘bonnefooi’ as the Dutch expression says is also my thing. Not knowing where we'll spend the night and entering the first cute little town that we spot on the map during a road trip to Italy is the ‘adventurous' side of traveling that I enjoy. It gives me a unique sense of excitement, and it's really liberating.
When I started making short business trips to Berlin a few years ago, I decided it was time to treat myself to a cabin luggage from Rimowa. I adore the aluminium look and the brand's approach to design. And I just love it when I spot some really old ones at the airport, dressed all over in travel tags and stickers from around the globe. I'm sure that each scratch, bump, and sticker on them has a lovely little story to tell about where the bag has been.
My best packing tip is that I always put my socks into my shoes and roll my jeans to make as much use of the limited space as possible. If I'm going away on a short weekend or for business, my luggage has almost nothing in it. When traveling for holidays, though, things get trickier. As it's hard to know what we'd like to wear in advance, on these occasions we really reach limits of the maximum allowed weight. However, we always end up returning home with half of the suitcase's contents left untouched.
I love flying with my husband, since traveling together means that we are going to spend time in a well-deserved relaxation mode. When I fly for work, I prefer to be alone because it makes life easier. As I don't have to look after anyone, it allows me to work or close my eyes for a bit when taking a very early morning flight.
I deal with jet lag by adapting to the local time immediately and do what I'd normally do at that hour. I also try to stay as hydrated as possible during the flight. But the key thing is to adapt to the ‘normal life’ of the destination according to local time.
London is the most overrated destination in the world. This city is accessible almost exclusively to the high net worth individuals, which is a real shame. There are locals who really struggle to survive and have to stay far, far away from the centre because property prices have skyrocketed by people who flooded the city with money out of vanity. They barely even visit London, let alone live there.
British Columbia in Canada is certainly underrated. It has some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. With its Columbia Icefield Glacier in the Rocky Mountains, the magnificent sequoia trees, and the rainforest on Vancouver Island ending up in the Pacific Ocean (beware of the black bears) are just some of the gems available if you fancy the tranquility of true nature. BC is truly a must-see destination.
Sixteen years ago my husband brought me for the first time to Sint Maarten, a French/Dutch island in the Caribbean. Ever since, we come back every other three years, not only because we have a loving girlfriend living there but also because of its ‘scent.' This intriguing, distinctive scent coming from a certain tree or plant brings back so many happy memories. But it’s also the food and the people. And then it’s the weather which forces you to calm down, to take life easy and as it is. There’s something inside you that makes you want to come back to the Caribbean way of life, and we oblige.
I immediately forget the places that I never want to visit again. Or as I'd like to say: ‘seen it, done it, but got NO t-shirt’! Places that don’t put any soul into their business, have staff that ignores you or puts on this arrogant look of ‘who are you?’, are not the kind of places I go back to. I'm allergic to negative energy, regardless if it comes from a hotel, restaurant, or a shop.
A few years ago, we traveled to Mitzpe Ramon in Israel, where we stayed at the Beresheet Hotel overlooking the famous crater. An early wake-up call to see the sun coming up above the crater was a truly breathtaking and unforgettable experience. The early morning silence and the power of the sun creating another beautiful day in the desert is a magnificent experience. The views at Table Mountain in South Africa are also stunning.
While I love being in big cities like Paris, London and New York, the first thing I do is to find out what’s hidden in the little backstreets. Most of the time, and really by accident, we stumble upon some really special boutiques… which are impossible to locate when visiting the city for the second time! We were in London recently and explored Marylebone with its cute, little boutique shops. I just loved it — personal attention to guests, unique craftsmanship, young and interesting entrepreneurs. All the above have a much greater impact on me than any big department store. Also, Shoreditch, where you can find a lot of ‘pop-up’ stores intrigued me a lot. The vibe of Barber and Parlour and enjoying a good cappuccino among the locals was great fun.
I recently had the opportunity to stay and experience the Chiltern Firehouse in London which to me is the best hotel ever. Their genuine interest in people and impeccable service combined with its well-thought design, delicious food and their relaxed and exclusive scenery make it one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed.
I also love the Hôtel Costes in Paris for its catchy burlesque scene, magnificent courtyard (it’s a great place for curious people…) and their always recognisable scent. Another hard to forget hotel is the beautiful Rachamankha in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The location and the people are amazing, and I adored the design, its tranquility, and its distinctive tropical scent; it was a truly memorable experience. On top of my list are also the Hotel Daniel in Vienna (very relaxed atmosphere) and the Mamilla in Jerusalem. Speaking of Jerusalem, I just love its unique energy; you should pay a visit.
I don't think that I'm difficult to please as a hotel guest. If the staff is genuinely interested and friendly, make me feel that I'm welcome and I get to sleep in a clean room with a nice bed, crispy fresh linen and a good shower I'm happy. Due to the many travels and being married to a hotelier, I've seen quite a few interesting hotels. Some of them really wowed me; others did not.
If I were to have my own hotel, it would be a very cool, modern luxury but still cosy looking boutique hotel or B&B with maximum ten rooms. In a way, it would be very similar to Hotel Brouwer, the project we are currently working on. It's a historic building from the 17th century of unique beauty and has an exciting story to tell as we are bringing it forward to the ‘modern world.' But to continue describing my ‘dream project’, it would be located either in the city (close to an edgy and funky neighbourhood) or in a more remote location (like La Granja in Ibiza, a very inspiring hotel). What’s most important, though, is that it would be a place where my staff would be genuinely interested in our guests, no matter where they came from. Making them feel like staying at their best friends’ place, we would exceed their expectations by knowing all about their personal preferences. It would be a place that would master the art of making people feel welcome; a place where I would stay myself.
Try to travel and explore as much as possible. Acknowledge the beauty and the cultural norms of the places you visit and bring back memories, probably more than you can remember. But above all, and I can't stress this enough, be curious! The great restaurants, bars, and boutiques that you are looking for are usually located in a little-known street or neighbourhood. There's a reason they are called 'hidden gems'.