Ta’ Cenc, Gozo

What constitutes a good hotel experience? This question animates a certain subset of travel writing. It’s just popped up for me again in light of the buzz around the launch of Ritz-Carlton’s new marketing campaign. (Check out the campaign’s quite captivating video.) “Let us stay with you” is the tagline of the Ritz-Carlton’s campaign, which is designed to capture the idea that experiences are more important (and in fact more desirable) than objects within the context of luxury hospitality. I like that theme, even if I’m plugging into travel at a vastly lower price point.

Frankly, the realization that this was Ritz-Carlton’s intention came as a relief. Originally, I interpreted the “stay” in the tagline to mean “cohabitate.” The idea of a hotel’s staff moving in is a bit disconcerting, the physical version of a social media nightmare in which Facebook likes and Foursquare check-ins take over and define us. And then of course there are some other uncomfortable interpretive dimensions of this marketing campaign, especially in light of the ongoing bedbug epidemic in parts of North America, which might make some readers cringe at the prospect of a hotel “staying” with them past checkout.

Potential misinterpretations aside, Ritz-Carlton’s campaign hinges on the idea that a hotel can create memories. This is fine, of course, but there is also something here that grates on my nerves and, I’m guessing, the nerves of other tourists and travelers–namely, the idea that the work of memory-creation would ever be outsourced to hotel staff. I’m not sure I want anyone I don’t know making memories for me. And shouldn’t travel be driven by advance research, personal obsessions, and the odd planning mistake, anyway? Travel isn’t an all-encompassing cloud of good feelings. There are ecstatic moments as well as stressful moments.

All of this was on my mind when I stayed at Gozo‘s Hotel Ta’ Cenc this past weekend. Ta’ Cenc a beautiful property occupying a considerable piece of cliff top land on Gozo, on the edge of the village of Sannat. Ta’ Cenc is not terribly expensive by European resort standards, at €186 per night for two, though it’s far beyond my standard budget, which averages just a fraction of that.

My stay at Ta’ Cenc was an indisputably good experience. A beautiful location, nicely-kept grounds, friendly staff, and capacious room were all points in the resort’s favor.

The physical setting of Ta’ Cenc is absolutely lovely. The single-story hotel rooms snake through flowering gardens and alongside two outdoor pools, one for families and one for adults. There is an attractive small spa as well, with an additional pool, gym, and sauna, all complimentary for guests. Treatments are quite reasonable, with body massages beginning at €25.

Several buildings are Trullo-style, with conical roofs. Beyond is a beautiful plateau that stretches to cliffs that drop right down to the sea. The plateau, which includes hiking trails, affords striking views over Gozo and across to Malta.

Ta’ Cenc is undergoing a renovation. Our suite (a gratis upgrade from a standard room) was clearly mid-renovation. Consequently, the bathroom was old school, while the bedroom and lounge were smartly done in understated blues and beiges. The bed was very comfortable.

Was it perfect? No. Had I been terribly fussy, the unrenovated bathroom would have bothered me. More substantively, the hotel’s restaurant did not thrill me, with its very bland Italianate dishes that didn’t really reference Gozo’s local culinary heritage. (Malta may produce little of its own agricultural products, but what it does produce is very tasty.) Lastly, the hotel advertises a private beach on its website, despite the fact that the beach is not currently open for use. I’d count two of these issues (bathroom and beach) as minor.

Will Ta’ Cenc “stay” with me? The dry heat, the pleasant pools, the architecture, and the surrounding cliff top were all absolutely lovely, and I won’t soon forget the sweetness of several staff members. I’m happy to leave it there: a hotel experience that was far better than most, with a few mostly minor hiccups.