Tamara Heber-Percy has one of those jobs you wish you’d thought of first.
Having launched Mr & Mrs Smith back in 2002 with her husband James, Tamara – mum to Tom, 6 and Alexandra, 4, has just launched Smith & Family – focusing on the very best child-friendly hotels in the world.
Gearing up for school holiday time, MMM decided to pick Tamara’s brains to discuss everything from the perfect family break destination to her must-have holiday wardrobe.
What was your favourite type of holiday destination before having babies? James and I used to go on a lot of city breaks – I love Florence in particular, and also Hong Kong, for the buzz and excitement. We also used to holiday a lot in Ibiza, where I was born. We spent a lot of time visiting romantic boutique hotels for Mr & Mrs Smith.
Has this changed since you had a family? Completely, although of course we still travel a lot for work. When we take the kids, my number-one priority is to not be on edge, so that means finding places where kids are actively welcomed. We were recently at a hotel being shown around by the general manager, and another family had a toddler who whipped off his clothes and ran to the pool – the GM got angry and actually wagged his finger at the parents! Needless to say, that particular hotel will not be joining our collection! I don’t have perfect children who sit quietly when they’re told to (who does?), so for me a relaxed vibe is critical. As they get older – and seem to have more energy than ever – it’s also becoming more about the activities. City breaks are out, and our holidays are all about surfing, water skiing and the like and perhaps some gentler things too, such as cookery classes… something we can enjoy as a family.
What is your best advice for families who want to find a destination that works for everyone? Work out what’s going to make everyone happy and relaxed. It’s no good if the hotel is great for kids but there’s nothing for the grown-ups in the evenings: I don’t want to sit at sticky tables and drink terrible wine once the kids have finally gone to bed. It takes time to plan, but it’s always worth it. Greece and the Algarve are usually great for families – they are so welcoming, and are always pleased to see the children dine with you. I especially love Pine Cliffs Resort in the Algarve: we’ve had great fun there.
Can you tell us about the best family holiday you have been on? Last year we went to Bali – it had everything! Our 6-year-old learned to surf, our 4-year-old learned to make kites, and we had amazing meals both with and without the kids. All the hotels we visited were so welcoming, but our children fell in love with Luna2 Studios because it’s so very quirky and really fun… and it’s right by the beach, which pleased us grown ups, too! Waterbom was the cleanest water park we’ve ever been to (and I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face as he dipped his feet in the Garra Rufa fish tank and they started nibbling his toes). Book a private cabana to use as a meeting spot and you won’t have to lug your stuff around all day.
What was it that prompted you to start Smith & Family? Having children makes you realise just how few hotels there are out there that really get it right. There are plenty of hotels that are fabulous for the kids but leave me as an adult totally cold and longing for my own bed at home! We realised that there was a demand for hotels that have found the holy grail: they keep the children entertained but don’t compromise on the adult appeal, whether that’s through a fantastic restaurant, stand-out interior design or a super-special spa. We wanted to create a standalone collection of hotels that Mr & Mrs Smith guests could turn to and trust once they’d had kids.
What would be your absolute fashion must-haves for a beach holiday? I love Lily and Lionel scarves for the plane journey and breezy evenings: its designs are like your secret, because they make great patterns when they’re around your neck and then when you open them out, it reveals a striking image; I’ve actually started wearing them as sarongs, too. We worked with them to create our own designs with images of Santorini, Scotland and Venice, which we now sell in our online shop (shameless plug over!) If I had all the money in the world, my entire summer wardrobe would be filled with Tory Burch. I love its patterned shorts, amazing kaftans and the swimsuits that have a throwback glamorous feel.
And if you’re glamping or having a staycation in the UK, what stylish pieces will your suitcase hold? My new travel essential the Amaranta Black weekend bag by Bottletop; it’s big enough to carries all the kids’ bits and pieces, but also looks entirely chic – and, Bottletop bags use recycled ringpulls and (obviously!) bottletops, so it’s eco-friendly, too. I never leave home without my cashmere Travelwrap and Dr Lipp lip balm – both handy when the UK wind bites – and AlexandAlexa has a great collection for something special for the children, who also love their Paddlepaks from Trunki: the one piece of luggage that I never end up carrying!
What would your children say is their dream holiday? They love Italy for the food and the welcome we always get there – Italians are so warm with children and they really notice it. We just got back from Borgo Egnazia, where the staff were so incredibly nice. The kids were totally pampered.
Is there anywhere in the world you’re still desperate to visit? Japan. James and I have never been so it’s definitely on the list for the culture and variety of its landscape. I think it would blow the kids’ minds as well. We’d also love to drive the coast of California – we did it as a couple many years ago, and would love to do it in a campervan with the kids. I’m desperate to stay at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, which won Best Smith Hotel in our very first Smith Hotel Awards last year.
What is the most fashionable family destination at the moment? It’s hard to beat the South of France for style and sophistication, and we know a couple of wonderful properties there. I love Le Mas de Chastelas in St Tropez and Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle in Provence – gorgeous gardens and a Michelin-starred restaurant, but there are just 10 rooms and it’s totally child friendly. Perfect!
Sign up here to receive your free copy of the new Smith & Family Annual 2014. Smith & Family match best available rates and offer loyalty money back on every booking and a free extra on arrival. To book any of the hotels mentioned, visit smithandfamily.co.uk or call Smith’s family travel specialists on 0845 313 9007.