Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Disappointments of the Year
By Hideaway Report Editor
January 22, 2019
Glamorous websites and artful publicity materials regularly conspire to deceive. Despite detailed research and preparation, every year Hideaway Report editors find themselves at the point where the brochure and reality collide. Here are a few of the most egregious disappointments of the past 12 months.
No. 5 Maddox St.
Numerous travel publications have gushed about this 12-room hotel’s exclusivity, style and “five star” concierge. But as is often the case, the experience is quite different. Our apartment in this elevator-free building was on the fifth floor, making it a long walk up past the scuffed walls and dated ’90s décor of the stairwell. Inside, the wrinkled slipcover of the armchair appeared to be coming apart, the worn kimono-style robes had faded and the beige-tile bath looked straight out of a nursing home. Black stains on some of its floor tiles didn’t improve matters. Nor did service dazzle. Room-service hours were limited (there was no restaurant), and on Sundays, room service was entirely unavailable, aside from a complimentary morning breadbasket. I requested a copy of The Sunday Times, which failed to appear (the concierge made vague excuses). And there was no turndown service. It was a relief to check out.
Despite its high price, the 72-room Hotel Park was disappointing on several fronts. Most frustrating was the concierge, with whom I began corresponding a month before my arrival. But it was only after we checked in, following a face-to-face conversation and three more phone calls, that he finally confirmed the arrangements I had requested a month earlier. That’s not how I like to spend my time while traveling. In the restaurant, when I asked the waiter to see the list of wines by the glass, he responded, “We have red or white.” I’ve been to bowling alleys with better wine lists. The breakfast menu was more memorable, offering to “enlighten [my] experience” with quail eggs, snails and donkey milk. My corner Junior Suite didn’t compensate for the clumsy service, with its cheap-looking light fixtures, small closet and scratchy towels. At almost $900 a night — in shoulder season — I’d expected a great deal more.
Setouchi Aonagi is a seven-room design hotel that has a lot going for it: friendly staff, a creative restaurant and impressively spacious accommodations. However, the minimalist décor was unforgiving, and stains and scuffs were visible on the carpet and walls. It was photos of the rooftop pool overlooking the inland sea that had prompted my visit, and I’d hoped that swimming there would be the highlight of our trip. Alas, the reality left me deflated. The view was impressive, but the pool water was filled with swimming insects and algae. Later, we were told that it was closed until “swimming season.” Apparently, 90-degree heat does not qualify as being in season and the pool is treated as a pond until summertime.
It’s probably unreasonable to expect too much of an ecolodge surrounded by a vast tract of Borneo rainforest. But as is so often the case, the website had made the place look extremely inviting. Unfortunately, the Rimba Ecolodge turned out to be adequately comfortable, but nothing more. On arrival, I found a network of rickety boardwalks crisscrossing a swampy riverbank. These connected the reception area, restaurant and office to a number of elevated wooden pavilions. My room was clean and came with a functioning shower, but it was charmless and utilitarian. “Look out for snakes after dark,” my guide remarked as he departed. “There’s lots of them around here. And if it sounds like the roof is about to collapse, don’t worry, it’s just the macaques.” Looking forward to a restorative cocktail before dinner, I wandered over to the restaurant, only to discover that the sale of alcohol had been forbidden by a pious local administration.
British designer Jasper Conran’s conversion of this 19th-century mansion is visually striking, and because it has so few rooms, L’Hôtel feels rather like a private palace. Unfortunately, small problems added up, including unreliable Wi-Fi and a lack of luggage racks and slippers. I especially missed the latter, because the two portable heaters in our suite were totally inadequate. We felt quite cold even in the main lounge, wearing sweaters, while seated a few feet from a roaring fire. L’Hôtel’s location is also not ideal for a first-time visitor to Marrakech. The five-minute walk down a narrow, winding alley to the property offers a glimpse into local life — for better and worse. We encountered both a group of cheerful teenage girls playing soccer and a resident beggar, who grasped my elbow and started kissing my shoulder while we waited for someone to unlock the hotel’s front door. Such experiences may be memorable, but I suspect that most travelers would be willing to skip them.
Parisian chef Yannick Alléno may have three Michelin stars at his Pavillon Ledoyen restaurant in the gardens of the Champs-Élysées, but there was little evidence of the talent that won him these gastronomic laurels during a lunch at his new Left Bank restaurant, the pretentiously named Allénothèque. This place is tucked away in the newly opened Beaupassage that runs from the Rue de Varenne to the Boulevard Raspail and is ostensibly devoted to good food, since it’s lined with restaurants, bakeries and patisseries. Alléno’s place has the best location, but the dining room itself struck us as cold and overlit, while the service was robotic. There was an absence of a real welcome by the maître d’; our waiter neglected to outline the daily specials; and the sommelier failed to explain that all bottles ordered from the wine list are subject to a €25 corkage, because the wine cellar is apparently run independently of the restaurant, or some such unconvincing nonsense. The food was peculiar, too: The dashi gelée and pickles served with oysters made no sense, and baked butternut squash with mashed dates and argan oil was frankly unpleasant. Steamed rouget with fermented cherry leaves was just plain odd, while baked salmon with potato was dull. Fortunately, the cheese course was supplied by Barthélémy, the famous shop at the Rue de Varenne entrance to Beaupassage, which proved the one redeeming feature of an otherwise expensive and disagreeable meal.
Majorelle Garden & Museé Yves Saint Laurent
Like the Majorelle Garden, the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent seems to be on the itinerary of every tourist visiting Marrakech. And why wouldn’t it be? All the travel magazines seem to think it’s a must-see. Alas, the museum is dark and airless, and it took me less than 10 minutes to take in the exhibition of the designer’s gowns. A second exhibition, of paintings by Jacques Majorelle, was sabotaged by the dim, claustrophobic space. The overrated Majorelle Garden nearby provides little relief. I suppose the electric-blue colonnades and fountains look pretty, contrasted with the green bamboo and cacti, if you can actually see them through the thickets of selfie sticks. The interesting Musée Berbère and stylish gift shop aren’t reason enough to battle your way into the gardens. I recommend skipping the entire complex.