Destination: England: London
If you want to live large, this is the place to do it. Popular with presidents, kings, prime ministers, and movie stars, the 203-room hotel artfully combines history, Art Deco charm and top-notch service, all under one opulent roof. The English Old Guard especially love it. My mother left the hotel for a few years, staying at the Ritz instead, but one day walked into Claridge’s lobby. The first thing the head porter, Thomas, said was, “When are you coming home, Mrs. Bowes?” Have a glass of Champagne at the bar, enjoy the few modern touches, such as Dale Chihuly’s fantastical light sculpture in the foyer and the sleek Reading Room by renowned designer Thierry Despont, and you’ll see why the hotel has such loyal fans. Rooms from $500.
2010 update: Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg is venturing into brand-new territory: for the first time, she will tackle interior design at Claridges, one of her long-time favorite London hotels. Twenty suites were unveiled throughout 2010; they feature von Furstenberg’s signature bold prints and bright-colored fabrics, as well as original one-off furniture pieces, like vanity tables, cocktail cabinets and drawer sets all of which will enhance the hotel’s classic Art Deco design.
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Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
This wonderful Knightsbridge institution, with its views of Hyde Park, was taken over by the Mandarin Oriental group in 2000. Mandarin brought its Asian standards to bear on the service, and now the hotel compares to the best in London—but what really got the buzz going was the bar and the spa. The Mandarin Bar has become one of the coolest places to meet for a drink after work or before or after dinner; its sleek stools and sitting corners seem to be constantly draped with pretty young things in Jimmy Choo heels. Maybe even hotter than the bar scene, though, is the Mandarin Spa. An afternoon appointment for one of its Asian-influenced mind-body-spirit rituals immediately became one of the toughest reservations in town and remains so. When I last stayed there, two years ago, I found the very traditional room decor a bit at odds with the chic of the bar and spa but was impressed with the service and loved the central location. If you have a few minutes free, you can dart across to Harvey Nichols for a quick fix of cool Britannia shopping. Double rooms from $611.
This is the kind of discreet, elegant hotel preferred by people who like to be well taken care of but don’t like a lot of fuss. When the staff call up to a room to tell a guest that a lady is there for a visit, they often mean a titled Lady. You will see elegant women of a certain age who remain loyal to the hotel even if they mourn the loss of their dowagers’ watering hole, which has been replaced by more modern cuisines and scenes. (In the early 1900s, the Berkeley’s main dining room was one of the only places in London where respectable young women could eat unchaperoned, and their fondness for it has remained for decades.) To keep up with the changing times and to draw a younger, more fashionable crowd, in 1995 the hotel invited Jean-Georges Vongerichten to open a branch of Vong there. Then, in 2003, Vong was replaced by Gordon Ramsay’s vision of an understated urban eatery, in the form of the Barbara Barry–designed Boxwood Café. Those who check in, though, are less concerned with the dining options than with the old-fashioned comme il faut service, which guarantees that a stay there will be one with few surprises. The 214 rooms were recently redone but remain conservative and comfortable. As a third generation of regulars now stays at the property with children in tow, rooms can be outfitted by request with everything from high chairs, Game Boy Advances and bottle warmers to child-size terry robes and slippers. Another appeal for families, especially those visiting in the summer months, is the fantastic rooftop pool. Double rooms from $1,007.
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The Savoy, A Fairmont Managed Hotel
Having undergone one of the most laborious and ambitious restorations in hotel history, the Savoy reopened its doors recently to rave reviews. The genius behind the revitalization of this iconic property, designer Pierre-Yves Rochon, seamlessly blends the Savoy’s storied past with the present. Many original details have been preserved and beautifully refurbished. Original moldings, fixtures and furnishings bring to life the Edwardian and Art Deco eras of its heyday, while such fabled public spaces as the American Bar, Savoy Grill and River Restaurant have been stylishly updated with a modern twist.
Once the stomping grounds of celebrities and heads of state these areas now bustle with more energy than ever before. Weekend tea times are booked 4 months in advance. At the same time, the Savoy also boasts new over-the-top additions, including the Beaufort Bar, the Shop at the Savoy and £10,000-a-night Royal Suite. Rochon has created a harmony between tradition and innovation that is unique to the London hotel scene. Travelers who want to experience a true piece of English history without sacrificing contemporary amenities, should book the Savoy.
WHO SHOULD STAY: Families and first-timer visitors. Reminiscent of New York’s Plaza Hotel of yesteryear, the Savoy is very grand, very opulent and buzzing with action (envision tourists snapping photos of the lobby). Its location on the Strand in Covent Garden is ideal for sightseeing, with most major sites – National Gallery, Big Ben, House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and London Eye – within walking distance.
WHO SHOULD NOT STAY: Anyone seeking a more intimate experience. Covent Garden is very commercial, often likened to New York’s Midtown or Times Square. Travelers looking for a posh, residential vibe should skip the Savoy and settle in Mayfair or Knightsbridge.
ROOMS TO GET: While maintaining their original Edwardian and Art Deco aesthetics, the Savoy’s 268 rooms have been completely refurbished and outfitted with such luxurious amenities as Mascioni bed linens, flat screen LCD televisions, Murano chandeliers and 24-hour butler service for suites. Designer Pierre-Yves Rochon introduced nine Personality Suites, honoring a few of the Savoy’s high-profile guests of the past. Suites in the Art Deco Wing are dedicated to Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Frank Sinatra and Richard Harris, while the Edwardian Wing celebrates Maria Callas, Katherine Hepburn, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Monet, who painted a number of works from his bedroom window. I stayed in the glamorous Hepburn Suite, filled with photographs, portraits and sketches of the actress, as well as memorabilia collected during her stays. My favorite touch: A life-size sketch of her above the claw-foot bathtub. The 38 river-view rooms and suites, meanwhile, have been reconfigured to offer more space and spectacular vistas of the River Thames and London Eye.
INDAGARE TIP: Guests of the Savoy should not miss The SHOP, a unique personal shopping experience introduced last February. With a black book of retail contacts, the SHOP’s team can arrange everything from half- and full-day personal shopping itineraries to behind-the-scenes access to leading designers and artisan showrooms. Whether looking for a limited-edition Birkin Bag or Ipad 2 the SHOP can obtain it, often within twenty-four hours.
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