Hardly anyone books a hotel these days without checking it on Trip Advisor first, which is why, when Shelly Stokes heard Castle Durrow had been voted one of the Top 10 Hotel Castles in the World, she celebrated: “Everyone in the dining room got a Prosecco - and I burst into tears!”

The fact that the accolade is based on guest reviews makes it particularly important to her. While the no holds barred site may be a thorn in some hoteliers’ sides, Stokes has always been a fan.

“I love Trip Advisor.  I think it provides a great service, not just to guests but to hotel managers. It gives me invaluable feedback from which to learn. If someone, for example, posts that they were woken by a dog barking, I know I’ve left the dogs out too early.”

No hotel gets off scot free. There will always be someone unhappy with some element of its service. The key is to listen and learn from your guests and address their concerns, she said.

 “The absolute best way to make sure you get consistently good reviews on Trip Advisor is to be nice to every person that comes through your door,” she said.

“Of course things happen, there will be negative feedback as well as positive, but the important thing is to hold your hands up and apologise,” said Stokes who, with husband Peter, bought Castle Durrow in 1998 and set about restoring it to its current, world class, glory.

“We’ve come through a terrible recession. Luxury spending, such as on four star hotels, was always going to take a hit at a time like that. The best way you can respond to that challenge is to make sure everybody coming to your hotel has an incredible experience.”

It’s a recipe she has perfected. “It means providing beautiful food, full of flavour and served in an unstuffy environment. It means constantly replacing and upgrading furniture, freshly re-painting, putting new silk panels on the walls and replacing curtains. It means taking on an extra gardener to ensure everything in the garden is that bit crisper, right down to buying our roses from David Austin Roses. And it means being super friendly. The single most important thing we do is smile.”

The friendly atmosphere here is aided by the fact that Castle Durrow is not just a – did we say already? – top 10 Castle Hotel but the Stokes’ family home.

“We have raised our four girls here and it is home to our horses, dogs, chickens and our turtle too. And when one of our daughter s returns home from abroad, everybody gets a glass of Prosecco then too. It’s just that kind of atmosphere.”


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