I’ve never been keen on big international hotels. They are huge, anonymous, impersonal, often unfriendly, have many ways to extract large money from guests, and simply don’t allow you to relax. Then there are the budget hotels, Premier Inn and Travelodge for example – the Ryan Air and EasyJet of the hotel world. If you simply want a bed and no extras, this is your best option, and they even use the same yield management systems to govern pricing, but it will be basic and impersonal.
Bed & Breakfast establishments are generally the reverse: small and friendly, offering a highly personal service. You may not get the wealth of services offered by the hotel, but they can generally tell you where and how to get the best deal locally, where to eat and drink, what to do and where to go. This was why I did the entire USA-Canada fly-drive tour with my children stopping, where possible, at B&Bs. Some were quite pricy but they were uniformly fun, quirky and much the better option than, say, cheap motels.
So it was that a recent trip to Marlow and Henley, an Internet search and a few calls found us staying at Granny Anne’s B&B in Marlow – a sensible option given that Henley was chock-a-block courtesy of Regatta week. Booking was easy enough, and a link on their website to a map and directions made it a cinch to find. The street is unprepossessing, but quiet and a 10 minute walk from the centre of town. GAs also had enough room to park, which is not always the case at smaller establishments.
It took a short while to attract co-owner Roger from his office, though it seems that he, like me, is hard of hearing (we later swapped stories about hearing aids, which would certainly not happen in any international hotel!) Roger greeted us warmly and made a cafetiere of strong black coffee while chatting about Marlow and its assorted eateries. We also met the eponymous Granny Anne, who, I’m pleased to report, is equally charming and sincere! No doubt a longer stay would elicit more conversations and more suggestions.
We then saw the room, which proved comfortable and well-equipped without being overly ostentatious. It proved quite warm for sleeping comfortably, so the open window and powerful fan were of some use. Our bathroom next door had a fine, efficient hyper-modern shower, which is what you really want first thing in the morning.
Roger also proved adept at breakfast, which was smaller than some but hit the spot, with particular plaudits to the mushrooms, perfectly fried egg and splendid home-made bread that went towards our toast. If I were being critical, the sausages could have been higher quality but as full English goes this was not at all bad.
GA’s is not seeking to rule the world, but is happy with what it is – warm, comfortable and friendly, pleasant without ever trying to be the height of luxury. What was most welcome about our stay at GAs was that we were not subjected to an endless stream of corporate marketing. To feel like you’re staying as a guest in an English couple’s home is what counts (albeit a paying guest), which ambience gets the owner all the good word of mouth they could wish for. And that is precisely what they have here!
PS. Sorry to report that Roger and Anne have now retired and GAs is therefore closed down. I wish them a long and happy retirement!