Elizabeth Perrée owns La Sablonnerie hotel on the island of Sark, which is popular with guests who want a peaceful break. Andy Morton reports
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For Elizabeth Perrée, La Sablonnerie runs in the blood. Her parents opened it in 1948, transforming the tumbledown farmhouse into a three-room hotel. Her earliest memories are intertwined with the hotel and an idyllic childhood on the island of Sark.
"It was like an Enid Blyton lifestyle," she says. "My brother and I used to ride our ponies to school. It was really such fun. You couldn't get run over because there were no cars. Those sorts of things made it even more special."
Her first taste of the hospitality industry was working as a kitchen porter in the family business and at 18 she studied cordon bleu cookery at the Tante Marie School of Cookery in Woking, Surrey. By her mid-20s she was running La Sablonnerie.
"I wanted to be a teacher but I wouldn't have been a very good one," she says. "I think hotels are much more fun."
La Sablonnerie now has 22 bedrooms and a string of awards to its name, including Les Routiers Hotel of the Year 2012.
There is no airport on Sark and visitors must first fly to nearby Guernsey and arrive by boat. They then travel to the hotel by pony and trap because no cars are allowed on the island. It's no surprise then that most guests are looking for a place to get away from it all. The hotel was nominated last year for the Condé Nast Johansen Most Romantic Hotel award and has two cottages that are popular as secluded honeymoon suites.
Perrée says she also has a core of regular guests drawn to Sark's old world charm and abundant flora and fauna.
"Sark is such a special place; I think that pulls people in," she says. "It's beautiful and it's remote. We have the lovely gardens and the tranquillity, and the masses of birds, butterflies and flowers just add to it all."
With an occupancy rate of about 90%, La Sablonnerie doesn't have to do much marketing. Perrée says word-of-mouth helps to grow her customer base, a job made easier with the hotel website, which features video.
Award success has also helped boost the hotel's profile, especially the recent Les Routiers win. "My phone hasn't stopped today," says Perrée.
Perrée has a motto at the hotel - nothing is impossible, and everything must be tickety-boo. So when guests make a request for a special food or item, she works hard to comply, despite Sark's straitened transport links.
"People ask us for very strange things sometimes, and you would think, 'Oh we can't get that'," she says. "But you can. You can get things flown in to Guernsey and get a little boat to pick them up, so people can have most things if they want something a bit different from the norm."
Many of La Sablonnerie's customers are returning guests who like the hotel just the way it is. So instead of overhauls, Perrée concentrates on maintaining the standards guests have come to expect.
"We can always do little things to improve the place, but it's in very good condition as it is," she says.
"It's important, though, to always be refurbishing. You don't want to leave it until it gets tatty. You must make refurbishment an ongoing process so that the hotel is always looking smart."
Spotlight on the Garden
The waters around Sark are famous for their lobster and Perrée is adamant the best place to sample it is in her garden, with its dramatic views and aromatic flowers. It's an old cottage garden, with lupins, hollyhocks and lavender.
"You could call it a chocolate box garden," Perrée says. "Guests love to eat their lobster and take in the lovely aroma from the flowers.
"It's the whole thing together that makes it special. You could sit in the garden at the Dorchester but you wouldn't hear the bird song or see all these nice things, would you?"
Elizabeth Perree's revelations
Favourite hotel Table Bay hotel, Cape Town
Favourite restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Favourite book The Iris Syrett Cookery Book: Collected Recipes of the Tante Marie School of Cookery
Who do you most admire? Raymond Blanc
Motto Nothing is impossible
Describe your hotel in five words A real joie de vivre
Name one thing you hate in other hotels Dead flowers
Facts and stats
General manager Elizabeth Perree
Head chef Colin Day