I visited a new hotel this week. It was my birthday on Wednesday and I usually try to get away for a few days around my birthday, but with it falling in the middle of the week it seemed a better idea to just take a single day off and to check in someplace relaxing.
Because I didn’t want to spend a long time travelling, my wife found a place quite close to our home. It might be close, but it’s still nice to getaway and to let someone else do the cooking and cleaning for a day.
Fortunately our house is in the countryside anyway, so there are a lot of nice places nearby. We chose the Lake Villas Charm hotel at Amparo. It’s actually about halfway between two towns called Amparo and Morungaba in rural São Paulo.
I had vaguely heard of this hotel because I see signs for it on the main road near Amparo. It’s about 25km from our house so I see the signs fairly often, but I had never seen the hotel.
It was quite remote so that’s no surprise. To access it, you need to leave the main road and enter a dirt track that runs for about 10km into the countryside. The hotel is not really as you might imagine a normal hotel to be – a big building containing hundreds of rooms.
Arriving there, it was more like entering a golf course. The reception building was close to the entrance, but it was a separate small building just for the purpose of greeting visitors. The hotel itself is laid out in enormous grounds featuring lawns, woods, waterfalls, and forest – as far as the eye can see is basically all the grounds of the hotel.
Various buildings are dotted around the grounds. A spa and gym, a café, a restaurant… they are just scattered around and are usually placed next to features such as a lake or waterfall.
The rooms are not rooms at all. Each guest basically gets a house – an entire house that is so well equipped they look like something out of a home decoration magazine. Each house has a terrace with hammocks and beautiful furniture.
The place is so big that you need bicycles or golf carts to get around – we opted for a golf cart. After arriving and checking in we headed off to an enormous lake and swam in the water with a black swan. We drove around the grounds and explored a waterfall and some islands, then went to the spa to swim in the pool and relax on the terrace watching the waterfall.
But aside from this being probably the largest and most enjoyable hotel I have stayed anywhere in the world – and I’ve been to a lot of hotels – what I really noticed at this place was the dedication to customer service. It’s funny that the best customer service I have ever experienced turns out to be at a place that is just a half-hour drive down the road from home.
Here are a few examples:
- When we arrived at the room, there was a letter from the manager of the hotel with his personal mobile phone number saying we could call or text him directly at any time if there was anything he could help with.
- When the booking was made, my wife had mentioned that I’m vegetarian. When we arrived at the hotel restaurant the evening for dinner, the waiter greeted me by name and explained how the chef had prepared five off-menu options especially for me in case I wanted more choice of vegetarian dishes. This was not just an extra risotto – they had some really special options.
- When my wife told the waiter that the mint in her pre-dinner Mojito tasted incredible, he arranged for the hotel gardener to show her where it was grown – and he pulled out a few entire plants for her to take home.
- My wife had mentioned my birthday when booking the hotel, but had not made any specific plans for a cake, yet after our dinner the waiter arrived with a delicious chocolate cake and a card offering birthday wishes from the team.
Of course, any hotel could copy these actions. For example, a policy could be created to always bring a cake to a guest when the restaurant team is aware of a birthday, but what struck me at this hotel was that nothing appeared to be forced – it was an attitude rather than a policy.
I have never seen a general manager offering to accept messages via Whatsapp and the gardener did not have to go around pulling out plants, but if these people work within an environment where the culture is to try helping guests however possible then why wouldn’t they do that?
Great hospitality depends on the level of service to customers and hotels are in the frontline. Travelling guests are often tired on arrival and require service 24/7, which can often lead to situations where the old adage that the customer is always right just plainly wrong. The customer is not always right when he is jet-lagged, exhausted, and light-headed after some chilled Chablis.
The motto of the Ritz Carlton group is: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This strikes me as the perfect attitude for the hotel business. The guest is not more powerful than the waiter because he is paying the bill. The hotel team can make your stay memorable for the right or wrong reasons and I’m pleased to say that for my recent birthday the team at the Lake Villas in Amparo made it a fantastic stay.