I packed in about five minutes. It took 30 minutes to get there. I stayed for just two nights. And it was one of the most blissful holidays I have ever had. You've heard of speed dating. Well, welcome to speed holidaying.
You see, the problem with mini-breaks and weekends away is that they can prove more stressful than the stressful week they are supposed to alleviate. Last year, for example, I booked into a smart hotel in the Home Counties for the weekend, but the drive across London to reach my glamorous destination took more than three hours (I had been told to count on something closer to an hour). Then much of the weekend was spent fretting about getting caught up in the same snarls and roadworks on the way home - which I duly did. Then, of course, when you do get home late on Sunday evening, there's no milk in the fridge, you've got to quickly do a pile of work and you've missed The Antiques Roadshow. Where's the fun in that? Your getaway ends up feeling more like an episode of Challenge Anneka than the well-deserved break you had been yearning for.
This time I decided on a new strategy: pick the hippest hotel I could find within a short Tube journey from this paper's Docklands offices. The Soho Hotel fitted the bill perfectly. Owned by the ever-expanding Firmdale group (its portfolio also includes the Charlotte Street and Covent Garden Hotels), it is tucked in between Dean Street and Wardour Street in Soho on the site of a former car park and has a jumping bar and restaurant, a gym, private lounges, oh, and a free neck-rub when you check in. I would stay only two nights, and check out as soon as I had finished my Sunday lunch. That way I would have the rest of the weekend to get my house and life back in order to face another week. I would even have time to get the milk in.
When Friday afternoon arrived, I had none of that going-away-for-the-weekend anxiety of whether I would finish work on time. In fact, I left the office late, got on the empty Tube and, half an hour later, was in my room having a glass of champagne and standing on my own private terrace looking across the rooftops of London. This was more like it.
I had a bath, read my book, turned on the Tivoli Pal radio and just, well, relaxed. My other half arrived from attending a friend's leaving party - there had been no need for us both to be on the same schedule. We managed to venture downstairs for dinner and then, as we knew they were in the West End, phoned friends and asked them to drop by our room for a drink. They jumped at the chance to nose around the hotel and we managed to polish off lots of the tasty minibar offerings. And, of course, we could just leave all the dirty glasses to be cleared up by someone else.
Despite being in the centre of the city, there was a remoteness, a sense of being detached from the hurly-burly of life on the streets outside. Not a single beery conversation in the alleyways of Soho drifted up to our plush eyrie during the night. It was quieter than staying at a Cotswolds inn.
The next morning it was wonderful to see the sun rising over Soho - to have, literally, a different perspective on a city I live in and love. At breakfast we sat surrounded by a group of smart Italians reading their guidebooks, some German fashion queens, and a table of senior-citizen Swedes preparing for a day of culture bashing. The feeling was exactly like being on a long holiday, even though we knew it would all end the next day.
After breakfast we headed off to look around the shops and even found time to visit the National Gallery, something we hadn't found time to do for years. I was almost lured into the tourist trinket shops. Then it was back to the hotel for an afternoon nap, followed by cocktails and a trip to the theatre.
Our final morning was spent holed up in the room, reading the papers, having breakfast in bed and talking about (but utterly failing to go to) the gym. And then after a lovely lunch, we picked up our bags and began the journey home. Twenty-five minutes later and we were there, reminiscing about our great trip.
It's all too easy for our holidays to become hectic timetable-driven affairs when all we are looking for is a break - a break from the everyday. You don't always have to get on a plane to achieve that. And now that hotels all across Britain are busy building spas, gyms and good restaurants, you have to wonder why you are not making more of what's on your doorstep. Next we are planning a cruise on a Thames taxi and a safari in Regent's Park. We are happy to go anywhere in the world - as long as we can be home in time for tea.
Double rooms at the Soho Hotel (020-7559 3000; firmdalehotels.com), 4 Richmond Mews, London W1 offers a special weekend rate available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from £258 per night including breakfast.
10 more stylish breaks near home
Four High Petergate, York
Situated by York Minster, this 18th century townhouse hotel has hand-made beds and Indonesian teak furniture (01904 658516; fourhighpeter gate.co.uk). Double rooms start at £90, including breakfast.
Lace Market Hotel, Nottingham
Overlooking a 14th century church, the Lace Market's 42 rooms are individually designed with contemporary furnishings (29-31 High Pavement; 0115-852 3232; lacemarket hotel.co.uk). Doubles start at £115, room only.
Part of the Eton Group, this boutique hotel has Victorian oak furnishings and stained glass windows, and is well placed for strolling around the city centre (9 Quebec Street; 0113-244 8989; theetoncollection.com/hotels/quebecs). Doubles start at £165, room only.
Opened in December last year, the Malmaison Belfast is the latest addition to this hip string of city hotels. The building is converted from a 19th century seed warehouse (34-38 Victoria Street; 02890 220200; malmaison.com). Doubles start at £135, room only.
Hope Street Hotel, Liverpool
Bang in the centre of town, the building that houses the Hope Street Hotel was built in the grand style of a Venetian Palazzo in 1860 (40 Hope Street; 0151-709 3000; hopestreet hotel.co.uk). Doubles start at £125, room only.
Alias Rossetti, Manchester
The ultra-hip Alias Rossetti, minutes from Piccadilly train station, combines iconic art with original features from this 19th century cotton mill (107 Piccadilly; 0161-247 7744; aliasrossetti.com). Doubles start at £110, room only.
The Scotsman Hotel, Edinburgh
Sited in the former offices of The Scotsman, this hotel is one of Edinburgh's most fashionable boltholes, with rooms decked out in estate tweeds (North Bridge; 0131-556 5565; thescots manhotel.co.uk). Doubles start at £250, room only.
Hotel du Vin, Bristol
Based in the former Sugar House refinery, dating from the 1700s, this wine-themed hotel is near the rejuvenated waterfront district (Narrow Lewins Mead; 0117-925 5577; hotel duvin.com). Doubles start at £130, room only.
St Davids Hotel and Spa, Cardiff
All the rooms at this five-star hotel have views across Cardiff bay. Guests also have use of the spa (Havannah Street; 02920 454045; thestdavids hotel.com). Doubles start at £260, room only.
One Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow
This grand yet cosy hotel has 38 rooms, some with four-posters and roaring fires (Devonshire Gardens; 0141-339 2001; onedevon shiregardens.com). Doubles start at £135, room only.
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