It's a shore thing
PUBLISHED: 10:41 10 June 2010 | UPDATED: 11:49 28 February 2013
Chic hotel expert Lulu Townsend talks about her work and her two Suffolk homes
It's a shore thing
She specialises in sending people to smart hotels across the world, so its no surprise that Lulu Townsends two Suffolk homes, one on the coast and one in the country, while quite different, are very stylish indeed
Often its little contradictions in character that can interest us in someone. For instance, Lulu Townsend, the driving force behind the international boutique hotels company, Chic Retreats, admits to a fear of flying. Thats something of a handicap when you have to travel the world discovering new places to stay.
I hate turbulence, I grip the seat and wont talk to anyone. Luckily I have a rescue remedy that helps calm me down, she says.
This is also someone who, when young, lived for sport and soon got bored of studies (she left European Business School after a term) and was ambivalent towards secretarial college at St James in London. Yet she now runs a fast expanding, niche travel business company . . . see what I mean about those contradictions?
Then again, looking closer at that love of sport playing lacrosse, tennis and hockey to county standard - reveals a competitive streak and a will to succeed.
Ever since my parents bought a hotel in Italy I have loved languages and travel, and I lived in Florence for six months to get an O level in Italian, she says, adding that she also spent time in Madrid and Paris to broaden her horizons.
My father went to Oxford and had a traditional English education whereas I suppose I can say I have a degree in life. My parents were always very understanding and supportive telling me ; you can only do your best. I think my careers advisor said I should be a nurse or social worker and I wasnt interested in either!
I also had meningitis at 11 and 13 and as a result never fulfilled my dream of being a tennis player. That knockback has made me more determined in later life.
Lulus first step on the career ladder had her working for a sports marketing company which bought the rights to advertising at the Monaco Grand Prix. She was inspired by her part French, part Italian boss there who tragically died in a car accident at the age of 32. Then I worked at Barclays Capital as a brand and marketing manager, a complete contrast to my last job . . . all suits and the tower blocks of Canary Wharf.
While in London this local girl (the family have had homes in Alphamstone and Thorpe Morieux) met her Sudbury born husband Hamish, now head of global foreign exchange at a Dutch bank. He was on gardening leave between jobs when we met and I resigned from my job and we went travelling together. They married in Italy in 2000.
Her love of travel suggested a career in that industry but there was another clue v v to her eventual vocation. I loved hotels and always kept lots of scrapbook cuttings of the places I had read about and liked and then we went on a holiday in Barbados and I was critical of the hotel we stayed at . . . I suppose I can be a nightmare guest!
It wasnt about the luxury, or the mini bar, it was simply the bath didnt have a plug in it. I asked if we could move and they found us this other smaller place, the Lone Star.
There wasnt a pool, or great facilities, but the service was just wonderful and the place was so laidback and charming. It got me wondering how can people find these genuine, lovely, hidden away hotels that are usually privately owned?
Anyway, I got home, did a presentation on how I was going to market and promote these forgotten hotels, sent off 300 letters and got 87 replies. We launched at the end of 2002, with just under 20 hotels, enabling me to present them all on a series of cards in a box. Seven years on we have 370 hotels meaning we now send out a book and also have a constantly updated website.
With Hamish helping her to create and constantly update that database of hotels, and a new editorial assistant now on board, the business has gone from strength to strength and, she adds, there are no main competitors out there. We choose genuinely small hotels with no more than 30 to 40 rooms.
While EADT Suffolk was interested to see whether Lulus residences in Suffolk fit the chic retreat criteria we also recognised, as someone always on the move with a business and young family to look after, (her daughters are Tilly three, and Maddie, five) they would not be dont touch immmaculate, show homes.
Their thatched cottage in Button Green, Cockfield, is a delightful, off-the-beaten track rambling home with beams everywhere and real character. There is a room for an office up in the rafters but only just! However, Lulu get all the blue sky thinking she needs by just gazing out of the window at the trees and gently rolling farmland.
The other Townsend retreat is by the sea at Aldeburgh. Its an Edwardian brick building, a town house, so quite different from Button Green, says Lulu.
I like its tall ceilings, quite large rooms and big kitchen . . . its perfect
for the children and summer holidays
and bank holiday weekends by the sea when we can get the portable barbecue v
v out and eat and relax.
She adds: Both houses are full of pieces from my travels handmade silk lampshades from hotel Les Jardins Secrets in Nimes, handmade Spanish tiles from my trip to Casa La Concha, Marbella; Diptyque candles from La Maison du Village and tasselled towels from Dar Zemora in Marrakech...to name a few I never return from any trip empty handed!
And when this livewire no longer has itchy feet and the need, if not the desire, to keep travelling, what next? Well my dream would be to have my own place, my own little hotel somewhere. You sense that it is going to happen, and, wherever it is, it will be a rather good hotel.
-For more infortmation on Chic Retreats go to www.chicretreats.com or call +44 (0) 20 7307 2797
Lulu picks her favourite hotels on page 21