People often presume that I am incredibly spoilt and demanding when it comes to my holiday accommodation, with an endless list of requirements and unreasonable expectations.
Actually, I think that those of us who work in the hospitality industry make rather better guests than civilians, simply because we know how much everything costs and how damn hard it is to make money, especially in the luxury sector, at least in countries where the regulatory yoke is tight, wages are fair and competition is fierce.
As my husband Marcus’s bakery has become more successful and I have become better paid, we have chased luxury holidays all over the world, and they have become eye-wateringly expensive. And it’s clear that I am not the only one spending more than ever on my leisure time.
Last year, I took the kids on a simple all-inclusive Mark Warner week in Rhodes and it cost me £8,000– and that was before I ever raised a glass of wine to my lips. I am not boasting when I say that was the cheapest week’s holiday we have had in years; it is merely an astonishing statement of fact.
We have been to wonderful hotels all over the Caribbean: Sugar Beach in St Lucia, GoldenEye in Jamaica, Jumby Bay in Antigua.We have had holidays in Barbados, Mauritius, Florida, Brazil and Europe. There have been many places that came close to my ideal of luxury but just missed, whether by fault of geography, location, service or décor.
Tamarind Falls in Mauritius CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
For example, although the lodges at GoldenEye are beautifully designed and extremely comfortable, you can’t have a decent swim in the sea, as it is right on the reef. You have to swim in the lagoon, which doesn’t suit us. Sugar Beach has pretty individual huts, all furnished and painted in white, and you have the majestic Pitons on two sides: but they have a number of petty, irritating rules such as insisting that you must wear shoes to their sandy, beach-front restaurant, even at lunchtime, when most of us have barely thrown on a sarong.
Jumby Bay has frankly ugly architecture – think suburban America – which detracts enormously from its lovely, palm-fringed beach. We loved Mauritius, but our chef was terrible and I spent half my holiday trying to make our dinners more palatable.
But then, luxury is in the eye of the beholder.
Throughout my 10-year search for the perfect experience, I have come to realise that finding my utopia is harder than I could ever have imagined. I am constantly astonished at how shabby the service is, how meagrely I am treated, however much I spend.
My family’s perfect holiday includes a long sandy beach, just steps away from a pool; thoughtful and appropriate décor; friendly, relaxed, attentive but unobtrusive service; wonderful food; activities for all of us.
After the hurricane hit Turks and Caicos last year and our villa owner cancelled at the last moment, my amazing travel agent, Kim at Travelwise, managed an upgrade, while true luxury came in the form of a five-bedroom private rented villa with chef, housekeeper and butler, on a glorious 10-mile stretch of sandy beach.
Coral House in Turks and Caicos
Since then, I have booked to go again, and it is easily the most expensive holiday we have ever bought. You won’t get change out of £50,000 for a week with flights, food and watermelon martinis.
Marcus went bonefishing and kite-surfing; we took a boat out with a skipper and snorkelled outside the reef (with Big Blue); we ate varied but consistently delicious meals three times a day. If we felt like a change, the daily visit from our in-house concierge provided us with some suggestions and then booked us some fabulous restaurants.
I have struggled with my conscience – because, honestly I would rather keep this to myself – but Coral House in Turks and Caicos has finally provided us with it. The cost would be painful if it wasn’t so damn amazing. Fortunately, we have friends who have decided to share the extravagance with us.
It sounds bonkers, I know, but all I can say is: if, like us, you have become disillusioned with luxury holidays, take your kids out of private school and do this at least once in your lives instead. Marcus rightly laments that I have been ruined for any other holiday. Thank goodness it only took me over 45 years to find something that is worth all the hard work it takes to earn such a treat.