I want to be an Italian man. I’d live in Maison Matilda permanently. I’d definitely be less bald. I’d wake up every morning, pour balsamic vinegar all over my sturdy torso, run my hands through my thick black forest of equine hair, argue passionately with Mrs Smith, then I'd make love to her like I’ve never made love before. (Longer than two minutes.)
Maison Matilda is turbo-brilliant. Hang on – we’ll get onto this hip little hotel – let’s start with the town of Treviso in northern Italy. Why would you want to go to Treviso? I’d never heard of it. Gentle research revealed it’s the birthplace of tiramisu. That in itself is a perfectly good reason to visit a place. And, it turns out, Treviso is actually a clever person’s way of going to Venice. It’s 20 minutes into the centre of Venice by train but you don’t have to hang around with any horrible shouty-shuffling tourists. (We’ll come to that later. This is getting a bit disjointed: I’ve already got two stories on hold. Stay with me. I’m just a bit excited.)
So, why is Maison Matilda so brilliant? It’s small, which I like. There are only six rooms. It’s the perfect display of modern Italian design. It makes you want to steal things. I was walking around working out what I would fill my suitcase with. (I calculated two lamps, if I went for the smaller vase and threw out my socks and underwear.) Would it be ridiculous to check-out sweating and sobbing under the weight of a hat that looks suspiciously like a solid marble horse? It’s got to be worth a go.
There are even secret doors. You know the ones – where it just looks like a bit of wall? Maison Matilda has loads of them. Our rooms were behind one of them. Yep, you heard me: ROOMS. Plural. We had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a dressing area and a little study all behind our secret door. The bed is massive. There is literally prosecco coming out of the taps. (I actually mean that unliterally. But you do get a free glass on arrival). They make you breakfast whenever you wake up. There’s a little area with free biscuits. (I love the way even though it’s €280 a night I still feel like I’m winning if I can stuff three complimentary biscuits in my mouth without anybody seeing.) There’s a beautiful terrace, chandeliers, wooden beams, opera on a little stereo in the room. What else could you want? Turtles swimming in a tank? Well, they’ve got them too.
Treviso itself is pretty good. I confess I feared it was a bit rubbish as we first drove into it. Don’t be deceived by the big retail park look, as you get inside the old wall everything comes over all Godfather. We went to Antico Ristorante alle Beccherie – meaning butcher's if you're interested – on the first night, and our meal was delicious. It’s also the restaurant where tiramisu was invented. The creamy coffee dessert was created here as a little snack to perk up prostitutes between shifts, to give them a ‘sexy energy boost’. (I find this very hard to believe as it seemed to have the exact opposite effect on Mrs Smith.)
After supper, we went to the bar opposite where they only serve wine and ham. If you go to Treviso you must spend a night here. I’m not sure exactly what happened but at three in the morning I was slow-dancing to David Bowie with a very affectionate man (he had a great head of hair), while Mrs Smith was being serenaded by a slightly scary Italian version of Il Divo outside (all with great heads of hair). Things started to turn quite surreal after that so we staggered home where I fell asleep to the chiming bells of Treviso and the belching of a woman who’d eaten too much tiramisu.
I can’t express enough how pleasant it is to wake up in Maison Matilda. There's no set time for breakfast: you just pad out of the room in comfy clothes whenever you like. We were properly hungover and so thirsty that I'd have paid €50 just to have a damp cloth dragged over my lips. The waiter couldn’t press oranges fast enough. And we met the owner of the hotel who was lovely – I assume she is Matilda – and she told us the amazing furniture had all been picked up at auctions across Italy and France. (Damn, we can’t copy her by buying any of it from Habitat when we get back.) Matilda gave us a timetable for trains to Venice and waved us off for a romantic day in the sun.
You know that thing where you’re running for a train with a hangover and the words ‘Venezia’ and ‘Vicenza’ suddenly look exactly the same? Annoying isn’t it? ‘Trust me, this is our train,’ I rasped at Mrs Smith as I hurled her onboard. 20 minutes later we were expecting to see some water. Venice is an island right? (‘Archipelago, actually,’ sighed Mrs Smith.) Outside we could only see fields. After half an hour we realised we were heading in the wrong direction. We ploughed into mainland Italy for well over an hour before alighting at Vicenza. Not a lot goes on in Vicenza, as we found out. By the time we got to Venice, the 20-minute journey had taken four and half hours; Mrs Smith and I by now only communicating with hisses.
I won’t bother banging on about Venice – you’ve seen the films. It’s lovely. Except, well, it’s just the tourists. They’re everywhere. It’s like a long stream of leafcutter ants holding up huge cameras and cooing at anything with a gargoyle on it. Why stay in among that when you could be in Treviso only 20 minutes away (or four and half hours if you’re a complete moron)? And it's pretty pricy. Our previous night with the affectionate dancing meanwhile had been cheap as anything. The longer I spent in Venice the longer I wanted to be back in Treviso. This could well have been because Mrs Smith kept going on about a stolen kiss she had with a Spanish man called José while she was interrailing. ‘It was definitely on this bridge… oh no, actually I think it was that bridge.’ And so on. There are over a hundred bridges in Venice. I hate José.
So we headed back to Maison Matilda. Is it embarrassing to admit we watched X-Factor on my laptop curled up in our beautiful bed? No, I think it’s fine. It’s probably more embarrassing to admit that we had to wake up the hotel manager to get the WiFi password in order to do so. It’s awful being English. He didn’t mind. He’s got such a thick head of hair, I’m sure he doesn’t mind anything.
So our story ends with the two of us curled up in a bed bigger than my flat, in a sexy chrysalis of Egyptian cotton. Simon Cowell’s beetroot face cast dancing shadows across the marble ornaments while the gentle tapping of charming Italian men striding home in leather shoes occasionally drowned out the awful singing. On a holiday that offered gondolas, architecture and fine dining, that was the bit I’ll remember forever. Grazie mille, Matilda, for your beautiful hotel.