Books, Tour de France, toys make for hotel summers
Books, Tour de France, toys make for hotel summers
06 AUGUST 2018 7:39 AM

Looking for a summer activity that will make your hotel stay memorable? Some hoteliers in Europe have some innovative ideas.

All of Europe is on holiday.

I know this because I have tried and failed to reach industry colleagues who I believe are made of 100% good intentions, capable handling and granite rock in the face of journalistic deadlines that passed two hours before.

All are on holiday.

I also know this because I myself have just returned from six days away (more of that next week).

Summers in Europe—and this one has been absolutely superb, with one English week never dropping below 30°C (86°F)—are days of long evenings and August completely off.

It is time for adventure and reading, and hotels have noticed, at least from what I see this year.

Grace Hotels, which has two open hotels and three in the pipeline in Europe, has instigated the Grace Picks program in cahoots with the Short Story Project.

This is a wonderful idea and allows guests to put together a digital and audible book and reading list so the written word and the landscape, culture, food and welcome of a place can take on a new dimension.

I have chosen books that relate to the places I am travelling to for many years, although I stopped for some reason two or three years ago after my wife, Francesca, gently teased me for it or teased me because I could not find a novel written by a Burmese person and translated into English when we visited Myanmar.

So I have read Jorge Amado’s “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon” (original title: “Gabriela, Cravo e Canela”) in Brazil; Lars Gustafsson’s “Stories of Happy People” (“Berättelser om Lyckliga Människor”) when I was in Sweden; Kenzaburo Oe’s “The Silent Cry” (“Man’en Gannan no Fottoboru”), and Nella Larsen’s “Passing” when I was in Denmark.

On my last trip, to the islands of Kastellorizo and Chalki in Greece’s Dodecanese islands, I also loved looking out from my balcony at the islets of Nissos and Alimnia while reading about their island peers off Iceland in the Halldór Laxness’ novel “The Fish can Sing” (“Brekkukotsannáll”).

I could imagine swaddled lumpfish fisherman from Reykjavik warming their hands in the small, white Greek chapels on Chalki, and Greek priests waving incense burners through the steam off volcanic hot pools surrounded by ice floes.

Grace’s initiative is available in 40 languages. Details here.

The Hotel Crillon le Brave has gone the extreme sports route, and good for them.

They have put together the Mont Ventoux Cycling Weekend. That might sound like a gentle pedal around the lavender fields of Provence with regular breaks for croissant, champagne and crêpes. Unless, like me, you are obsessed with the annual three-week Tour de France cycle race and know that Mont Ventoux is synonymous with misery, the smallest chainring and hernia-producing breakaways from General Classification rivals.

It was on Mont Ventoux that British rider Tom Simpson collapsed and died in July 1967 during Le Tour, although in those days there was not the medical testing that goes on today (well, we hope it does) and all manner of illegal things were in his system.

Since that year, this mountain—known as The Beast of Provence—has grown in legendary status, a 6,300-foot-high peak, the top of which resembles the moon more that it does France.

The hotel begins this three-day package with a cocktail, so it starts well, and on site is a restaurant called Bistrot 40K. The last part of its name refers to the kilometer distance from within which all its dishes’ ingredients derive, not the distance of the first of the cycle weekend’s time trials. Actually there are no time trials.

On the last day, the hotel says, “Saturday will see the cycle enthusiasts take on the 22km-long mountainous climb to the peak of Mont Ventoux, a challenge not for the faint hearted and one that many professionals have completed before them.”

So, a nice mix of all a good holiday can bring.

Lastly, one summer hotel idea that does not require concentration, besides pondering sandwich choices, is Waldorf Astoria’s partnership with famed toy shop Hamleys, which opened its largest store to date in Beijing last December.

The store has two others in China, too.

This is definitely a more placid adventure, and for the younger at heart.

Afternoon teas, themed accordingly, will compliment toys left in guest rooms, gigantic teddy bears and a Kids Edutainment Club combining fun, games and education, apparently.

I say “apparently” as this initiative might just be my idea of agony, but I add it in as undoubtedly it is a summer activity and I thought best if I added one that does not require days and days of staring at Garamond 12 point, 120%, or raising my heart rate to quasi-ridiculous levels.

Enjoy the rest of the summer.

Here in England the heatwave is not expected to end until 2022.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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