There’s an art to spontaneous travel… even for those like me who are control freaks. I find out first hand, when I try out the new Booking.com App with enlightening results.
By the time I’d got to the airport, I was already stressed-out. This was not my usual way of travelling. I had no itinerary, no paperwork, no idea where I’d be staying that night. This was spontaneous travel and I didn’t much like it. As a travel writer, I’m used to going away at quick notice but I’m also a bit of an obsessive planner. I work out my wardrobe ahead of a trip, I read up on my destination and I pre-book restaurants and activities in advance. Call me boring, but I definitely don’t hot-foot it out the door, last minute.
Then I was asked to trial Booking.com’s new App – Booking Now. Based on their research, the travel website had discovered that 50% of global hotel reservations are booked using mobile devices within just 48 hours of someone’s stay. (Who knew!) With products – such as the Apple Watch – offering users easy, speedy booking, it means that spontaneous travel is a growing trend. Consequently, the new App aims to encourage last-minute getaways with users able to book their accommodation– from basic B&Bs to grand five-star hotels – in just two taps. It was enough to strike fear into the heart of any control freak.
“It will be fun,” said my other half, who was being particularly gung-ho about the weekend away. I eyed him cautiously, employed friends to have our children and ripped up my to-do list. I was to receive our plane tickets a day before departure and I had agreed to book accommodation via the App on arrival. There was nothing else to do, except worry.
All thoughts of an adventure in an exotic land fell away when the tickets to Nice in the South of France fell out of the envelope and I must admit my heart sank a little. This was not what I had expected. I’ve been to Nice a few times and it’s not exactly the most thrilling place to escape to. But in the spirit of spontaneity, I reminded myself to go with the flow. See what happens.
Two hours later we touched down on the Côte d’Azur and my fingers were itching to turn on my phone and get booking somewhere half-decent. Scrolling through the options, nothing exciting jumped out – a Radisson, a Hyatt, bland apartments – and I began to wonder why I had agreed to do this.
“Why stay in Nice? Let’s hire a car and go further afield – to Cannes or Cap D’Antibes,” said my husband, gesturing expansively around him, Gatsby-like.
Well, why not! And by swapping my chosen destination on the App from Nice to Cannes, the outcome of our weekend changed course in an instant. I couldn’t quite believe it when I spotted an affordable last-minute deal (€590 for two nights, for both of us) at Le Mas Candille (www.lemascandille.com), a renowned Relais & Chateaux hotel (www.relaichateaux.com) in the arty little village of Mougins, in the hills surrounding Cannes. I was impressed – it was a place that I’d always wanted to visit and I knew the hotel had a lauded gastronomic reputation in an idyllic location, not to mention a stellar Shiseido spa. Within a few clicks, it was booked, hassle-free, and after hiring a car, we were on our way.
Anyone with kids will know that spontaneity and parenthood are not natural bedfellows. It was a liberating feeling therefore to pootle along the steep roads in our Fiat 500 without the little ones knowing we had no set plans ahead of us (sorry, boys). There was no need to eat at a sensible time, no need to stop for emergency loo breaks and no cries of ‘are we nearly there yet?’ Freedom beckoned.
“We can dance to the early hours, we can drink champagne in a field, we can mingle with the jet set – the world is our oyster,” I exclaimed, warming to my subject, the dappled sunlight lighting up the entrance to the hotel.
“Shall we check-in first?” the hubbie answered staidly. And so we did. Lunch was eaten beside a chic 1930s-style infinity pool and afterwards we decamped to the loungers in the immaculate gardens, the breeze heavy with rosemary and lavender. Soon it was early evening and time to retreat to our room, which was a re-imagined take on the Provencal-farmhouse style. White shutters, sorbet-coloured textiles and panelled walls were elegant and unfussy.
That evening we explored Mougins as many have done before us. Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Christian Dior are just a few of the artistic big-hitters who have lived here at some point during their lives – enchanted no doubt by the arty vibe and culinary heritage the village is known for and the picture-perfect countryside it sits in, the turquoise waters of the French Riviera a permanent backdrop.
Booked up weeks in advance, we told ourselves that it would have been predictable anyway to eat at the celebrated La Place de Mougins (www.laplacedemougins.fr), with its walls lined with masterpieces by Matisse, Warhol and Picasso. Instead we chose the charming Aux Trois Etages (tel: 04 93 90 01 46), a crooked house of a restaurant, and ate our moules on a wrought-iron balcony, watching the evening passers-by below us.
The next day, we got up when we wanted, ate breakfast in silence (a luxury) and then ventured to the medieval town of Saint Paul de Vence, just a 20-minute drive away. We popped into little galleries, ate pistachio ice cream under an olive tree and I bought too many scented lavender bags from tiny boutiques. En route back to the hotel, we decided to make a detour to Grasse to see the historic Fragonard perfume museum, where I also took the opportunity to stock up on bottles of Bleu Riviera (www.fragonard.com). Then – because we could – we made a pit-stop in Cannes for window shopping with the glitterati.
That night, our last, we dined at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Le Candille restaurant overlooking the foothills of the Alps, our everyday stresses long forgotten and I realized that I’d left it too long since the last time I had done something for the first time.
The new Booking.com App has over 600,000 properties in more than 70,000 destinations and automatically generates hotel suggestions based on your location and individual preferences.