words laura house | images courtesy of smith hotels
We’ve already let you in on some of the mystery as to what makes a hotel a Smith Hotel. Although there may not be a precise formula to finding a truly exceptional stay, what all Smith Hotels have in common is a one-of-a-kind experience. The type you could only indulge in, say, at that design den cast out on a remote island where you’ll steep in a hot tub as you watch whales spouting just offshore. Or the meal-of-a-lifetime found at the unassuming, yet elegant, country inn with a Michelin-starred chef in the kitchen.
Just as the boutique hotels in our collection are unique, so is the way in which we give travelers the true inside edge about a stay. We don’t rely on a vague rating system or a series of fuzzy stars to tell you if a hotel is truly best in class. Rather, we send an actual couple to bunk for two nights at a hotel and then review it. What’s more, it’s all done anonymously. When a hotel joins our collection, they agree to welcome a reviewer duo, but they never know who will show up or when.
So, just who gets to bounce on those plush four-posters or unwind with a hot stone massage in the name of research? We seek out curious, like-minded travelers with a distinct sense of style. We definitely have globetrotting professional writers in our rolodex, but we’re also drawn to musicians, directors, artists, designers, actors and DJs; in other words, creative thinkers and enthusiastic explorers of all stripes who we consider worthy travel partners.
We’ve been to lucky to keep very good company, too – Stella McCartney, Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett, Natasha Law, Dita von Teese, Kal Penn, Robert Tagliapietra and Jeffrey Costello have all gone undercover for Smith. Checking out everything from an ultra-luxe lodge in the Australian outback to a cotton-candy-pink art-filled mansion in Italy.
As for the anonymous bit, we don’t require reviewers to plaster on a fake mustache and slip into a stealthy trench (unless it’s a personal style choice), but they are booked into a hotel under their name without any connection to Smith. We do this to ensure that reviewers aren’t receiving extra-special treatment (Smith members are entitled to a lovely list of perks). This way, the experience is as genuine and independent as possible.
More than just a sketch of the room, we crave details. Don’t you? Which is why co-editor, Kate Thorman, and I made sure to conduct a thorough investigation of the stately Corinthia hotel in London when posing as Ms and Mrs Smith. We sipped cocktails and sampled Cornish oysters in the Gilded-age bar, called up breakfast from room service (exemplary soldiers and toast and a perfect latte – highest compliment in an otherwise tea-focused land) and soaked in the room’s massive marble tub.
We even put the polished, top-hatted doormen to the test when they helped us from our cab late one night following our company holiday party where we had all but danced our feet off. Not even breaking a smirk, they were completely buttoned-up, by the way. Now that’s exceptional service.
The smith style is irreverent and witty, and a review should come across as if you’re being regaled with an intimate post-trip tale over cocktails. We look to our reviewers to share the real lowdown – from what to order (house-made charcuterie plate or grass-fed burger – or both) and not-to-be-missed local finds.
When a stay at the hotel comes to an end (farewell, private plunge pool… ciao, duomo views) it’s then time for the big reveal. Upon check out, reviewers take off their masks, so to speak, and present a Mr & Mrs Smith review voucher. Most concierges regard this as business as usual, but I did set an innkeeper at the quaint nine-room Captain Fairfield Inn in Maine into a fit of schoolgirl giggles when she learned of my true identity.
I can’t deny that it was lovely to be a quasi-celebrity for a moment – especially following a spoiling stay. Beyond that, though, with my little reviewer secret retained for the weekend, I knew that I could report back without influence about the well-stocked honesty bar, curative three-course breakfasts, expert local picks per the innkeepers and a few things that I thought needed improving, too.
So, the next time you’re planning on checking into a Smith stay, be sure to have a read of the review for the full inside scoop. Really, what would a trip to Capri be without a pair of hand-made sandals as a souvenir from that teeny shop tucked down a narrow no-name lane? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you how to find it.