Tattershall Castle is a 15th century structure in Lincolnshire, tended by the National Trust and, according to all accounts, a magnificent example of its type.
‘Tattershall Castle’ on the other hand, dates only from 1934 and began life on the River Humber, ferrying London and North Eastern Railway passengers from Kingston to New Holland. She now serves as a floating restaurant, moored on the Thames, hard by Charring Cross station.
You can probably guess, then, which of the two Tattershalls is the location for an annual party organised by a long-time friend to celebrate the fact that other long-time friends are in London to attend the World Travel Market and its many social functions.
If you need a clue, then “Hello sailor” might serve.
Elderly though she may be, the vessel is lively and welcoming, and for several years I have enjoyed Douglas’s parties, and this is due in no small measure to the excellence of the company, as well as that of the food and wine.
A special pleasure has been to meet a Spanish gentleman named Martin Xamena. Impeccably tailored and well groomed, he is a man for whom the word ‘dapper’ might have been invented. He has the demeanour (and beard) of a diplomat, and an enviable command of languages. He and his English wife, Lorraine, travel to London from their home on Majorca.
That home also happens to be an hotel. The Bon Sol at Illetas, some five miles from the centre of Palma.
For around half a dozen years we have shared wine and tapas, laughter and conversation as part of a November ritual. Latterly I have met their son Alejandro and his fiancée Cristina. Our conversations covered all manner of topics, but during all those years I never managed to find time to visit the Bon Sol, though regularly pressed to do so.
Having recently returned from a trip to rectify that omission, I have to confess that I was very stupid not to have made it before now. The place is an absolute delight and the Xamena family are every bit as courteous and hospitable and charming as they are when we meet in London.
I’ve written here before of our escapades on Majorca, but Carole and I were determined to take it a little easier this time. For a start, we decided against hiring a car. (The one we had on our previous visit turned out to be a surly beast, determined to mow down the hordes of Lycra-clad ‘seasonal’ cyclists infesting the mountain roads. It was as much as I could do to keep it under control.)
Going car-less was a sensible decision. Because our travel arrangements had been made by Classic Collection Holidays, a very smart limousine was waiting our arrival at Palma airport, and an equally smart vehicle whisked us back there at the end of the stay.
In the meantime we took the option of strolling to a nearby bus stop, paying €1.50 each and travelling effortlessly into the heart of the island’s capital, the Placa del Rei Joan Carlos, whenever we chose. It couldn’t have been simpler.
The Bon Sol is rated ‘four star superior, but a truly good hotel is much more than a rating. This one soars high above its official designation and, apparently without even trying, provides a memorable holiday experience. Its decor and antique furnishings bring to mind many of the Paradors located throughout Spain.
Incidentally, though these (formerly Government-owned) hotels are located throughout the mainland from Galicia in the north to Andalucia in the south, on the Canary Islands and even in Spanish Morocco, there is not a single one on any of the Balearic Islands.
There are several very good hotels on Majorca, and I have been fortunate enough to have stayed in some of them, but the Bon Sol is the closest I have come to experiencing the special quality of a Parador.
Our arrival gave us an indication of the pleasures to come. Having signed the usual forms and surrendered our passports, we were invited to enjoy a welcoming drink on the wide, sun-drenched terrace beyond the lounge/bar. “Just leave your cases with me,” the receptionist told us. “They’ll be in your rooms when you need them.” They were.
Feeling decidedly decadent we lounged in the sun with our sparkling wine and superior crisps, listening to the conversations of other guests who had arrived a little before us. Clearly, they were regulars and, equally clearly, were delighted to be back.
The Bon Sol began life as a family home, and it was Martin’s father who had the idea of transforming it into a superior hotel. Over the years – around 80, as far as I can tell – it has expanded on its original site and on one located across the road, closer to the sea. Lifts and a tunnel give easy access to a private beach with its own bar and restaurant.
Though the Bon Sol has adopted the ‘self-service’ system for breakfast, as have most hotels, its selection is varied and more than ample. And available in a restaurant designed for just that purpose, being informal, light and bright.
The main dining room is a heavier, slightly darker, location with the sumptuous drapes and antique furniture that gives it the ‘Parador’ style I mentioned earlier. Service was impeccable, and it probably goes without saying that the food was excellent.
We lunched lightly, usually on a selection of ham and cheese tapas and usually in one of the many small restaurants in central Palma. Of these, the Bar Ca’s Caparrut on the Carrer del Palau Reial provided us with a memorable experience. As the day was warm we sat at one of several tables located in a small park on the opposite side of the road.
There, a young man was playing a guitar. He played it well and for his own enjoyment rather than as a busker. Though my Spanish is poor and his English worse, we managed to establish that he was a music teacher who lived nearby and was taking a break before going to his next appointment. I offered to buy him a drink as thanks for his music. He asked the hovering waiter for a diet Coke. An odd choice, I thought, as he was as thin as a rake and the last person you imagine would be on any kind of diet.
But his music had lifted our hearts.