TV star Monica Galetti goes behind the scenes in some of the world’s most luxurious hotels

WE’RE all dreaming of white sandy beaches, tropical scenery and basking in the sun, sipping a cocktail.

For Monica Galetti that dream has been a reality, thanks to the jet-setting TV travel series Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond The Lobby.

In it, the MasterChef judge joins food critic Giles Coren to explore behind the scenes in some of the world’s most luxurious hotels.

The BBC2 show is back with a new series this Thursday, but of course with the pandemic, things are very different.

The first episode on St Lucia was filmed in late 2019 but the closure of borders meant the final hotels of the series were far closer to home, in the UK.

Monica says: “We were just finishing up in Macau in late February when everything started to shut down. When we got to the airport everyone was wearing masks and taking our temperature. We had no idea what was about to happen.

“This damn Covid is a reminder we need to look out for each other. I really do feel for everyone in the industry. It’s now the survival of the fittest when it comes to who’s going to make it out of this crisis.

“I think it will be a case of seeing who is able to adapt. It will be really tricky, especially for hotels where it’s the occupancy rates that keep them running.”

Temple ruin

This week’s episode explores the luxury resort of Jade Mountain on the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

The hotel, which is an ambitious attempt to blend architecture with nature, has just 29 rooms with one unique feature — there is no fourth wall to spoil the view.

Open to the elements, they offer unparalleled views of the exquisite scenery including the dramatic Pitons, two mountainous volcanic spires that tower over the south-west coast of the island.

Monica says: “It’s not often I’m speechless. It looks like an old temple ruin and the 600 acres of forest is about to claim it back.

“Despite rooms being open to the elements, privacy is guaranteed because there are thick stone walls to the rear and sides and there’s no way to see round them. You even have a water pistol to ward off any over-friendly wildlife.

“I can see why people go there to switch off and be spoilt. It feels so open and you feel exposed but there’s no one looking back at you so it’s very private. I love it.”

In contrast, Monica’s second stop was Swinton Park in North Yorkshire, a 17th century castle set in 20,000 acres of land owned by Lord and Lady Masham.

There are just 32 bedrooms and guests can enjoy a host of outdoor activities, from pony trekking to fly fishing.

But for Samoan-born chef Monica it was the hotel kitchen staff’s creativity that really caught her attention.

She says: “I don’t think we’ve ever been to a hotel that owns so much of the land around it. The estate has such a huge variety of landscapes that the hotel’s kitchen has unusual opportunities for new ingredients.

“Every month a plant ex­pert takes the chefs out looking for new plants they can use. It’s my idea of heaven.” Monica’s final stop of the series is the Shangri-La hotel at The Shard, Britain’s tallest building.

Occupying 18 floors, its rooms offer unsurpassed views of London, Monica’s home town. She says: “Because it’s in a very modern glass building you think it might be quite cold or corporate, but that could not be further from the truth.

“It’s actually really cosy inside and the team there work so hard to make their guests feel special. While I was filming, there was a family whose little boy really wanted to go on a safari for his birthday but obviously because of the pandemic that’s not possible.

“So the staff turned a room into a jungle theme, with loads of stuffed animals and all sorts. It was a very special moment.”

Monica adds: “The hotel has bath butlers who can tailor-make scents for your bath, whether that’s specific oils or even rose petals.

“I could relax in the tub in my room while looking out over the Tower of London. The views are incredible from every room.” And where will Monica go when the world opens up again?

She says: “I’ll be heading straight to Samoa. I want to be around my people again, get stuck into the food and immerse myself in the culture.

“Having your ability to travel taken away from you just makes you realise how important it really is. It’s so good for the soul.”

  •  Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond The Lobby, BBC2, Thursday, 9pm.

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