By: Fiona Duncan
Daycation hotels offer the chance to spend a few discreet hours with someone without staying the night - a boon for modern city-hoppers
In my day.… oh dear, it's hard to believe I've started to use that dreaded phrase, so often on my mother's lips as she bemoaned the changes wrought by modern life. But when it comes to highly respectable hotels now advertising themselves as the perfect venue for
daytime assignations, I can't help it. In my day, and my mother's, there was no easy, cut-price or fail-safe way of spending a discreet afternoon in a classy hotel (we're not talking dives). Couples choosing a venue for their assignations had to book a room for the night, regardless of whetffer they would be there in the morning, and a lot of nervous, loved-up pairs called Smith would then check in, or a gentleman would check in under his own name, later joined by a lady who preferred to slip upstairs unobserved.
It was all very cloak-and-dagger, costly and fraught with danger, that sort of carry-on. Serves them right, my mother would have said, and decried the advent of a website called Dayuse, a hotel-booking service that makes illicit rendezvous a whole lot easier, as yet another passport to perdition.
Created in Paris - where else? - Dayuse lists more than 7,000 hotels in 25 countries, offering up to 75 per cent discount on overnight rates for daytime stays as well as maximum discretion: cash payment, reservation confirmations reduced to the minimum (by text if preferred), no-fee cancellation up to the last minute and only the guest's name and arrival date communicated to the hotel. Paris, home of the cinq à sept, has always had a more laissez-faire attitude to extramarital liaisons and in that city really quite respectable establishments have been known to offer hourly rates discreetly. A friend of mine once worked in a small but smart Left Bank hotel, where three afternoons a week, a well-known politician would appear at reception. "When he comes in, just hand over the key to room 20, my friend was told by the manager, "and say nothing." Naughty. And not for me, thank goodness. I love the rhythm of my life - married for 43 years to the same bloke, still working and travelling but also into gardening and being a hands-on granny - and I can think of no worse hell than tarting myself up and creeping into a hotel by the back stairs in order to spend time with someone who belonged to someone else.
But hang on, am I really so past it? Looking at the Dayuse website, a thought began to percolate and romantic memories were at first stirred and then ignited. An afternoon in a luxurious hotel with a lovely man - what's not to like? I took the plunge and made a phone call; an email exchange followed; diaries were compared and a plan to meet was hatched. It was decided that I would choose the hotel from the website. I felt the undeniable thrill of a clandestine assignation and the heady scent of romance.
Are you in suspense? Or suspenders, as we used to say at school? Let me let you down gently: the man with whom I made the liaison was... my husband of 43 years. If Dayuse is primarily used for romantic assignations and secondly for people on the hoof to work or
catch up on sleep, why can't it also be used by legitimate couples for the pure pleasure of doing something deliciously different with their day? I started to explore the website's listings for London. We had no desire to go to any old hotel - it needed to be somewhere special - and at first glance, I feared that none of the 197 mostly chain hotels, all wanting to maximise their revenue by selling rooms twice in 24
hours, would do.
Happily, I was wrong. Jotting down all the featured hotels that I either knew and liked or would like to know, I ended up with a total of 30, from which I made a shortlist of six, finally plumping for the Londoner, which opened with a splash in Leicester Square in September and describes itself as "the world's first super-boutique hotel". It would do very nicely and frankly, it's a relief that my all-time favourite London hotels have not seen fit to join Dayuse. Claridge's? Heaven forfend. It would be like Peter Jones selling sex toys. Booking (we opted for a Deluxe King Room for £325, generously offered from 10am to 6pm) was as swift, easy and covert as the website promised
The great day dawned. As we nervously approached the hotel's reception, text confirmation open on my phone, I felt a wave of embarrassment, ready to blurt out: "Actually, he's my husband," lest I should detect any dirty looks or sniggers. I needn't have worried: receptionist Thomas could not have been more friendly and helpful, even personally showing us to our room. But I could tell he was puzzled by the elderly pair rocking up via Dayuse. Now you know, Thomas. We had eight hours to play with, several of which were spent alone together in our coffee- coloured bedroom. But our plan from the outset was also to enjoy the facilities of the hotel and get our money's worth, and this we really did. Sipping champagne cocktails at lunch in the calm mezzanine Residence, reserved for hotel guests, while listening to an excellent singer/pianist in the lobby below certainly made a change from a dull Saturday afternoon at home, as did basking in the sauna and steam rooms and swimming in the huge pool in the subterranean Retreat spa, and later watching the sun set over London from the rooftop bar. As the day wore on, we could feel the Londoner's party vibe begin to swell and it put us in just the right mood for the 70th birthday dinner that we were off to that evening, in nearby Covent Garden. "What have you been doing today?" asked our friends. "We spent the afternoon in a deluxe bedroom in a five-star hotel in Leicester Square." Looks of astonishment and knowing winks all round. "It was really good," we told them, "we got all our Christmas cards done." My mother, at least, would have approved. And we had a lovely day - you should try it, too.