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London, England

by Debra C. Argen
London Outpost Exterior
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Stafford Carriage HouseBest of London!


When I was thinking about our December 2003 issue, Charles Dickens and holiday traditions came to mind. At once, I knew I had to write a Best of London article, since London is a city full of rich traditions. London, always enchanting at any time of the year, becomes almost magical at the holidays; the shops are all decorated, the trees are lit, and the stockings are hung with care. However, traveling to a large city can sometimes seem like a daunting task to many travelers, and so for this article, I decided to look at smaller hotels, smaller restaurants, and shops, where intimacy and warmth prevail, and as the saying goes, “good things come in small packages.”

My husband and I began our trip by flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (www.virgin-atlantic.com) from Newark to Heathrow. Virgin Atlantic knows how to start the pampering before we even left the ground. Once we checked in, we went to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, where we were warmly welcomed at the Reception desk. After settling in, we were able to have a buffet dinner and enjoy a selection of wines and spirits, before our late departure. Another perk is that we were able to use the Internet, to do a last minute e-mail check. They have a very nice working area, as well as a private music room, where guests can relax on a leather sofa and watch VCR movies or listen to music. Before we knew it, we were ready to board.

Once we were on the airplane, and our drink orders were placed, we were asked if we would like to receive a treatment sometime during our flight, consisting of back or hand massages. We eagerly signed up for back massages, but after being offered and accepting a “sleep suit” to change into, I promptly drifted off to sleep in my extending bed, under my duvet with a very comfortable pillow. My husband though, stayed awake long enough to receive his back massage and proclaimed that it was wonderful, relaxing and soothing, and reminded me that I missed out on mine every chance he got! We both loved the “sleep suits”, which allowed us to sleep comfortably, and arrive looking fresh and crisp, instead of having that “slept-in-your-clothes” look. Virgin Atlantic staff is definitely first-rate, and made us feel very pampered. When we heard that there were the new flatbeds on our return flight to JFK, we looked forward to being able to experience the new seating.

After quickly passing through Customs, we made our way to our first hotel, The London Outpost, (www.londonoutpost.co.uk), located at 69 Cadogan Gardens, London, SW 3 2RB, is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. This very discrete, former 1880’s private residence charmed us from the onset, with its vintage 1950’s taxi in front of the hotel, to its 11 very special and beautiful guestrooms. The London Outpost has 4 floors, with 2 or 3 guestrooms per floor. Each guestroom is different, and elegantly furnished with period English antiques. The hotel also has a wonderful collection of 18th and 19th Century English master paintings and prints.

London Outpost Sargent Room We were shown to the Sargent room, named after the artist, John Singer Sargent. All the rooms are named after famous artists or writers that lived in the area. Our very large Junior Suite consisted of a queen-size bed tucked into an alcove, and had a sofa set in front of a working gas fireplace, which was lit and warmly welcomed us to our new home, at least for the next 2 nights. To the right of the fireplace, there was a small drinks table, which held 3 crystal decanters with Scotch, Gin and Vodka for guests’ pleasure. There was also a bookcase with books, should you like to curl up and read by the fire. There was a vanity table, as well as an octagonal table decorated with fresh flowers, and a fruit basket, which was perfect for partaking of a refreshing pot of filter-coffee, which we did upon arrival. Our coffee arrived on a silver tray with white linen; a single white rose bud in a crystal vase, and set with Spode china in the Marlborough Sprays pattern. There was a mixture of those fabulous brown and white sugar cubes, and shortbread cookies to tempt us.

The bedroom had a television, combination CD and radio, and a safe large enough to accommodate a laptop. All rooms are air-conditioned, and there is an elevator to access all levels of the hotel.

The bathroom had 2 fluffy terry robes, and a heated towel bar, to keep the Floringo towels cozy and warm for the guests. They pamper their guests with full-size Crabtree & Evelyn amenities, which you will want to use in the deep tub adorned with a brass bath rack.

London Outpost ConservatoryBreakfast is served in the delightful Conservatory, and there is a library with a hand-painted ceiling, where guests can read, play games or even enjoy a game of snooker. Each evening at 6:00 pm champagne is served in silver goblets in the Drawing Room overlooking Cadogan Gardens, a perfect end to a perfect day, and a wonderful beginning for the evening. For the holidays, there will be a Christmas tree downstairs decorated with all the trimmings, with the fires burning in the fireplaces. There will also be Christmas cocktail parties for their very regular guests and members.

The hotel has a key to the private Cadogan Gardens, across the street, where guests can enjoy a walk, or even play a game of croquet. The London Outpost’s butlers will happily serve Afternoon Tea, a Champagne Picnic or cocktails to its guests in the Gardens if requested. The Gardens are open 24 hours for guests’ pleasure.

The London Outpost is perfectly located, close to shopping at Harrods in Knightsbridge, and only minutes away from world-class shopping on Sloane Square. If you prefer to get your workout from a fitness center, rather than from shopping, the hotel has an agreement with The Peak Health Club, in Cadogan Place, for guests to receive a specially reduced rate.

When it is time to leave, you can do so in style in the hotel’s Chauffeur-driven, 1950’s Rolls Royce that is available for hire for day use or for a trip to the airport.

London is full of unique shops, so when I was asked to buy a very traditional rolled umbrella, I found a perfect one at James Smith & Sons (Umbrellas) Ltd., 53 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1BL, www.james-smith.co.uk. The shop was established in 1830, and is the oldest and largest umbrella shop in Europe. This family owned and operated shop continues to make high-quality umbrellas, walking sticks and canes. Their umbrellas are still hand-stitched and stretched, and come in a variety of price ranges. They can repair umbrellas on site, as well as cut down walking sticks to the correct size. This quaint shop is full of treasures, waiting for exploration.

Milestone Prince Albert SuiteNo trip to London would be complete without partaking of Afternoon Tea; that perfectly civilized tradition of enjoying a break in the afternoon from 3:00 pm until 6:00 pm. We chose The Milestone, Hotel and Apartments, part of the Red Carnation Hotels, 1 Kensington Court, London W8 5DL, www.redcarnationhotels.com, as the perfect venue. The hotel consists of 2 combined former residences, with just 45 rooms and 12 suites, and has views of Kensington Gardens, Palace and Hyde Park. Afternoon Tea is served in The Park Lounge, which is an elegant and charming, wood-paneled room, with ornately carved moldings, a working fireplace to chase away the chill on cold afternoons, with intimate groupings of tables and chairs, as well as sofas and tables to provide each guest with their own perfect spot for a tête-à-tête. The tables are set with fresh red carnations, the owner’s favorite flower and the hotels signature. Traditional English afternoon tea is served 7 days per week. Paul, our waiter, attired in a white dinner jacket brought us a selection of Finger Sandwiches including Smoked Salmon on Honey and Sultana Bread, Egg Mayonnaise on Buttermilk Bread, Cream Cheese and Cucumber on Rye Bread, Cheese and Tomato on Sun-dried Tomato Bread, and Ham and Mustard Mayonnaise on Nut Bread, Freshly Baked Scones with Clotted Cream and Strawberry Preserves, French Pastries (including Fruit Cake and Ice Cup Cake) and A Pot of Tea served with Milk or Lemon.

We did take a peek at a hotel room, how could we not? The hotel takes pride in its level of detail, right down to the fresh red carnations in the elevator. We saw the Prince Albert Suite, which is a master suite, with a king 4-poster bed that was draped with what seems like miles of creamy taupe silk for its canopy and bed curtains. The room has a working gas fireplace, and there is a large television that is hidden until needed inside a large hydraulic console. The marble bathroom has another smaller television, a walk-in shower and separate Jacuzzi tub. Guests will certainly feel pampered with Penhaligon’s amenities. There were fresh flowers, this time in white, to complement the room. All Suites and Junior Suites receive a gift and a fruit basket. Rooms have DVD players and VCRs. There is a free library at Reception with DVDs, CDs and videos for guests to enjoy. There is also complimentary tea and coffee in the guest rooms.  

Fitness enthusiasts can enjoy a 24-hour health club on the premise, with a sauna and Jacuzzi. For those seeking more leisurely pleasure, the hotel has a pianist that plays from 6:30 pm, 7 days per week.

British cuisine has taken on a new gourmet polish, so we decided to have dinner one night at Axis Restaurant & Bar, at, One Aldwych, located at One Aldwych, London WC2B 4RH, (www.onealdwych.com). The Covent Gardens hotel once housed The Morning Post, and was built in 1907. In July 1998, it made its metamorphosis into One Alywch, a very sleek and modern 105-room luxury hotel that holds a private contemporary art collection.

We started our evening off at The Lobby Bar, a large and lively bar, with great service. The focal point of the room is a large sculpture of “The Boatman” which has oars soaring towards the 2nd floor ceiling. It is a great place to see and be seen. After enjoying our pre-dinner cocktails, we made our way to Axis Restaurant & Bar, a 120-seat restaurant, situated where the former newspaper press was located. The dining room is sleekly elegant now, and bears no trace of its former use. It evokes memories of 1920’s and 1930’s design.

They have an eclectic mix of Modern British/European food, and we had a hard time selecting from so many wonderful choices. After much debate, we decided on caramelized cauliflower and scampi risotto, and seared diver scallops with sautéed mushrooms, bacon, caper and raisin sauce for starters. The scampi risotto arrived hot and was served with a cool cauliflower quenelle served on top. It was at once an enchanting mixture of flavors, textures and temperatures. We especially liked the combination of cool sweetness on the warm and creamy risotto. The diver scallops were a nice balance of sauce and the brine of the capers. The flavors melded together nicely, and absorbed the flavor of the sautéed mushrooms with sea salt, and bacon crisps.

For our main courses, we selected organic salmon served with cheese mash, spinach and green beds, and one of the evening’s specials, pheasant with a pumpkin risotto. The salmon was perfectly cooked and was buttery and flaky, and was presented on a bed of spinach and green beans. The cheese mash, (mashed potatoes with cheese), were very tasty and smooth. The pheasant and pumpkin risotto proved to be a delightful combination.

Since no dinner would be complete without a bottle of wine, we selected a Chilean Chardonnay “Reserve”, Casa Silva, Colchagua Valley 2000. The wine had a nice floral bouquet, crisp with essence of pear and vanilla, with a smooth finish.

Although we were amply satisfied, we were too tempted by the desserts to let them go untried. We selected a baked whole peach with vanilla mascarpone. The peach arrived warm with a cool vanilla mascarpone, which was a perfect ending to a fabulous dinner. Please see our Chefs' Recipes section, for Axis recipes that will tempt you.

This small hotel has some large-size amenities – a 56-foot swimming pool, complete with underwater music, state-of-the-art Techno Gym exercise equipment with special slots for inserting aromatherapy sachets, sauna and steam rooms, and a personal trainer. There is a 300-seat blue silk and leather interior Screening Room, where guests can enjoy a dinner and a movie with their “Give Me Movies” promotion.

The guestrooms have Frette linens, robes, slippers, fiber optic lights for reading, televisions in their bathrooms, special Living Nature amenities from New Zealand, DVD, CD and Wireless Internet through the television. The safe is tucked away behind a picture frame. 

For the holidays, there will be traditional Christmas menus at both Axis and their other restaurant, Indigo, with and without Christmas crackers. The Lobby Bar will be festively decorated.

The Franklin Hotel ExteriorIt was time to move on to our next hotel, The Franklin Hotel, located in Knightsbridge at 28 Egerton Gardens, London, SW 3 2DB (www.franklinhotel.co.uk). This is another small, intimate hotel with only 47 rooms, and is also part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. This hotel has been open since September of 1992, when it gracefully combined four Victorian townhouses to create a townhouse hotel. It is under the same ownership as Dukes Hotel and The Egerton House Hotel.

The Franklin Hotel RoomWe were warmly welcomed, and were shown to our room, which was a large and sunny room with three large windows overlooking the private gardens. The large marble bath had 2 fluffy robes, Kenneth Turner amenities and a bidet. The air-conditioned room had a 2-line direct dial telephone with data port and voicemail, a private bar, large safe, and satellite television.

After settling into the hotel, we decided to have a look-around. The hotel has a Drawing Room, which opens directly out to the private gardens, where guests are free to take a stroll or to have tea in the gardens.

The Franklin Hotel BarThe Bar has a selection of wines offered in the evening, along with chips, nuts and olives. The room is elegantly appointed with burgundy striped upholstered walls, small tables and comfortable hunter green leather club chairs. It is a cozy place to relax at the end of the day, and a great start for the evening. There is also an Honor Bar area where guests can help themselves to a large selection of whiskeys and alcohol, and just sign a chit with their room number. For cigar lovers, there is also a Cigar Honor Box, where guests can partake of the cigars by also signing a chit.

They have a 2-tiered dining room, which can be closed to create 2 separate rooms for private parties, and serves breakfast, and sometimes lunch and dinner as well. The setting is intimate and cozy, with antique china on the walls. Breakfast is elegantly served with a wide variety of menu choices.

The hotel has a great perk, a Business Center complete with a computer and printer, offering free Internet access for the hotel’s guests. We really loved this feature, which allowed us to check our email without having to go up to our room. For Christmas, the hotel will have special rates that include accommodation and breakfast.

Champor Champor Restaurant

We continued our London gastronomic exploration at Champor-Champor Restaurant, London Bridge, located at 62 Weston Street, London SE1 3QJ, (www.champor-champor.com). The restaurant takes its name from the Malay word, which loosely translates into “mix and match.” This 3-year old restaurant is a feast for the senses the minute you walk through its door. The very creative Chef, Adu Amran Hassan, is also an artist, and has a few of his paintings hanging, and has even hand-painted the walls. There is fabric, sculpture and Asian artifacts that Adu and Charles Tyler, the Managing Partner, have found in their worldwide travels. This tiny Malaysian restaurant has a seating capacity of 38. The intimate setting allows for the staff to be especially attentive, making each guest feel like they are the only ones there.

Our table for 2 was set with a gold Buddha, and on the table was a tiny red place card with my name, Debra, artfully written. Our waiter, Zeq Ross, guided us through the innovative and creative menu, which is definitely not your typical Malaysian food. Chef Adu Amran uses Malaysian spices, flavorings and ingredients in interesting and very appealing ways, and changes the menu 6 times per year.

We began with sticky rice balls with coconut and chilies, and seared venison with a black Soya and chili garlic sauce. The sauce was an explosion of flavors and heat in perfect contrast to the cool sticky rice. The thinly sliced, seared venison was tender, and again excellent with the chili sauce. There was also an assortment of fruit bread, and tofu skin bread, which was sprinkled with cumin and sugar.

For our starters, we selected Baby octopus and sun-dried octopus sambal salad, with soft-boiled quail eggs, and shrimp serunding, and creamed butternut squash red curry with chestnut mascarpone. The octopus was a perfect harmony of flavors, combining spiciness with a heat that builds in your mouth, and complements the food. The butternut squash was a flavorful soup, with essence of lime. The cool mascarpone was the perfect companion to the rich and spicy red curry.

When our mouths thought it couldn’t get any better, Zeq brought us palate cleansing granitas of aloe vera and rock sugar, and “Dutch durian” and cow’s milk. The aloe vera granita had a delicate flavor, and the “Dutch durian” granita was sweet and creamy, and we finished every delightful spoonful!

We selected Stir-fried kangaroo fillet, with Borneo green peppercorns, pan-fried foie gras, and salted duck egg rice, and Banana flower in Minangkabau curry, with snake bean and Soya sprout urab, with kerabu (mixed herb) rice for our main courses. The kangaroo was a tasty and interesting combination. The banana flower was beautifully presented, as were all the selections, and was served in a creamy, spicy sauce.

The restaurant has a global selection of wines, and we selected a Tamada 2000, Mitsvare (Kakheti) Georgia. The wine had a slightly smoky taste, with a peppery finish that that held its own and complemented the food.

Usually we “just say no” when it comes to desserts, but we had to sample the steamed chocolate and banana cake with Korean pepper and plum sorbet. When the cake arrived warm with thinly sliced banana layers, we were glad that we said yes! (See Chef's Reicpes) To accompany the cake, we had a Malaysian coffee that is supposed to be good for the libido. Was it? Some things you just have to experience on your own.

Please note that the restaurant will be closed from the 24th of December until the 9th of January. We only had two regrets after experiencing Champor-Champor, 1, we did not have the opportunity to return to sample the rest of the menu, and 2, that I didn’t get to try on the Siam headdress. Perhaps next time!

Small hotels while intimate and charming, also fill-up quickly, so when we were looking for yet another hotel, we thought we would try a Bed and Breakfast, The Claverley Hotel, located at 13-14 Beaufort Gardens, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1PS, (www.claverleyhotel.com). Although not a five-star property, it truly is a little gem of its own, located on a quiet residential street, so close to Harrods, that if you were any closer, you would be sleeping in the store. This 33-room hotel is privately owned, and the attentive staff makes guests feel most welcome.

The Claverley House In addition to the large Reception area, there is a comfortable Reading Room where complimentary coffee, tea, hot chocolate and biscuits are available 24 hours per day, for whenever guests need a little pick-me-up. There is a large desk to write a postcard or two, and various newspapers to catch up on the news. A morning newspaper can also be delivered to your room. There are wonderful paintings, sketches, and prints throughout the guestrooms and the hotel.

The Claverley House RommOur room had a 4-poster bed covered with lace curtains, with a bench at the end of the bed, a desk, sofa and chair. All rooms have safes large enough to accommodate laptops, wall hairdryers, televisions and direct dial telephones.

The lovely Dining Room has just been refurnished, and the staff makes guests feel very welcome. There is a full English breakfast included in the price of the room. Their breakfasts consist of everything from fruit and cereal, to homemade waffles, eggs, bacon and Cumberland sausages, to their specialty of fresh Salmon Kedgeree, on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

When I asked General Manager, Gavin Blair how The Claverley Hotel would be celebrating the holiday, he stated that there would be a huge Christmas tree in the Reception area, and another smaller Christmas tree in the Reading Room, both luxuriously decorated including lights. The trees in front of the hotel will also be all lit up. Crackers, (with those wonderful hats and surprises inside), and mince pies will be served during their sumptuous English breakfasts to its guests.

London does not lack for nightlife, and whenever we find ourselves in London, my husband and I take the opportunity to go to The PizzaExpress Jazz Club, 10 Dean Street, Soho, London W1, www.pizzaexpress.com/jazz. We have been going to this jazz club for several years, and have had the opportunity to hear some extraordinary jazz. The club is small, intimate, and serves some incredible pizza, as well as a varied menu. The club always attracts high-caliber musicians, and the night we went there was no exception. We had the delightful opportunity to hear the Jazz singer and pianist, Liane Carroll. Every now and then one comes across a truly rare jazz talent, and Liane Carroll, definitely has that talent. She is a performer who really connects with her audience, first charming them with her stories, and then seducing them with her voice. Liane has a smoky, whiskey voice that seems destined for singing jazz. Liane, accompanied by her husband, Roger Carey (double bass), and Mark Fletcher (drums) was able to handle everything from her own songs, Dublin Morning, to jazz standards, You can’t take that away from me, and In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. She has a new album out, Billy No Mates, which she named because she is alone on the album, on Splash Point Records, www.SplashPointRecords.com. With Liane’s talent, she won’t be without any mates for long.

Stafford Carriage HouseOur next hotel to stay at was The Stafford, located at St. James Place, London SW1A 1NJ, (www.thestaffordhotel.co.uk), also part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. This gorgeous hotel, located just “39 steps from Green Park”, which was renovated 14 months ago, has 81 rooms and suites including their Carriage-house rooms and suites and the Guv’nor’s Suite, which is a duplex suite. The hotel consists of what originally were three 17th century town residences that were purchased and joined over the years. The hotel later turned the Carriage-house into rooms and suites.

Our new home for the next 2-nights, was a lovely 2-room Master Suite. The large Living Room had a sofa and 2 comfortable chairs positioned around the fireplace, as well as a desk and chair, and a table with 2 chairs set in front of the bay window, perfect for partaking of tea in our room, which we enjoyed. There were 2 Bose Radio/CD players, one in the Living Room and one in the bedroom. They conveniently had a selection of 5 CDs in the room to choose from. Attention to detail is most apparent at The Stafford, and on the desk, we found an ink blotter and a roller. Hidden behind a cabinet in the Living Room, there was a television, and mini bar. On the table was a fresh and lovely fruit basket.

The spacious bedroom had another desk and chair, large closets to hold all your shopping purchases, and another television. The chocolate brown marble bathroom had a tub/shower combination, a scale, a shaving or make-up mirror, a stool, and 2 robes and slippers. Guests feel pampered with Floris of London amenities.

We did take a tour of the Carriage-house rooms and suites, which have been wonderfully renovated, but still bear remnants of their former use, with a “horse” door, and with a horse’s head medallion. There are 6 rooms and 6 suites including the Guv’nor’s Suite, which is a duplex-suite. After entering, you walk down steps to a sitting area complete with fireplace, and also a full kitchen. The marble bathroom has a special walk-in shower with a showerhead at each end. Walking back upstairs, there is a loft bedroom, with 350-year old beams. There is another large bathroom with a tub and hand-held shower, as well as a bidet.

Stafford Wine CellarLord Godolphin owned the wine cellars, and there is a room named in his honor. The large room is upholstered with black and white toile fabric on the wall, ceilings and furnishings. There is a fireplace in the room.

The American Bar, voted the 2nd best bar in the world, is very quaint, and filled with personal mementos from guests sent to Charles, the former barman who ran The American Bar for 42 years. The “clubby” bar atmosphere extends to the hunter green leather sofas, chairs and bar stools. The dark green walls are adorned with photos of yachts, to autographed photographs, horse ribbons, ties, and football helmets, and there are Ballet-slippers hanging from the ceiling, along with toy airplanes, baseball caps and even war mementos. Since 1946, The American Bar staff members have been French, and Ben is no exception. He has been with The Stafford for 14 years, and ably manages the bar with a flourish.

Stafford Dining Room CeilingBreakfast is served in the Dining Room, a beautiful room, with carved moldings and a beautifully hand-painted ceiling.

When I met with the General Manager, Terry Holmes, to ask him about the hotel’s holiday traditions, he told me that they would have 250 Christmas trees! For a hotel that only has 81 rooms, that’s a lot of trees! Every room will have a Christmas tree, and there will be trees along the front of the hotel, on the balcony, in the courtyard, in the Dining Room, and even in the 350-year old wine cellar. For very special parties, there is a dining room off of the wine cellar, a perfect spot for a very romantic dinner.

As for tradition at The Stafford, on Christmas Eve everyone goes down to the wine cellar around 6:00 pm to have a glass of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and sing a few carols. Sometimes, they even have a local choral group come in. Later everyone comes up to have dinner, which is a big, family-affair. After dinner, Terry and anyone who would like to join him goes to the Guard’s Chapel for midnight mass. When they return, they are offered a glass of port.

On Christmas Day, the party gets going at 11:00 am, when around 140 guests and residents arrive to have lunch. Guests will wear elaborate paper hats, and will receive crackers with a piece of real solid silver. At 3:00 pm, everything stops, when guests gather in the lounge around the television to listen to the Queen’s speech, and then return back to lunch when the speech is done. Our only regret upon leaving is that we will miss the Christmas celebrations!

Since we could not leave London without partaking of Afternoon Tea at least once more, we chose The Rubens at the Palace, also part of the Red Carnation Hotels, 39 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0PS, (www.redcarnationhotels.com), so close to Buckingham Palace that you can watch the Changing of the Guard.

Unfortunately, on the afternoon we arrived, there was a special event being held at the hotel, and we were not able to have Afternoon Tea there. All was not lost though, because Paul Hemmings, the General Manager for The Rubens at the Palace, as well as for its sister hotel, 41, took it all in stride and brought us next door to have Afternoon Tea at 41, 41 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0PS, also a part of the Red Carnation Hotels, (www.redcarnationhotels.com).

41, is a lovely five-star property, only 4 years old, with just 18 rooms, consisting of 4 suites and 14 king-bedded rooms. Not ones to let an opportunity to tour a hotel slip by, when Paul graciously asked if we would like to see the hotel, of course we said yes.

All of the Red Carnation hotels have an African theme, and 41 is decorated in black and white, and zebra prints. We toured 2 rooms, room 4110 has a marble foyer, a corner working gas fireplace. The rooms have Philips palm-pilot to remotely control the DVD/CD player, complimentary tea and coffee trays in the rooms, as well as irons and ironing boards. The black and white marble bathrooms have a dinner-plate showerhead, in the combination tub/showers. Guests will be pampered with Penhaligon’s amenities; slippers and have a choice of terry or waffle weave robes.

Room 4104 is indeed very special, with a view that overlooks Buckingham Palace Mews. Upon entering the foyer, you step up into a small dining room set with 4 chairs and a corner fireplace. There is a television in the dining room, which can also be used as a meeting room. There is also a powder room off the foyer.

Upstairs there is a loft bedroom, which has a draped curtain ceiling. We were utterly surprised when with the touch of a button, the curtains pull back to reveal a pyramid shaped atrium window, to allow guests to sleep under the London skies. There is a pop-up television that is hidden in a chest, although with that remarkable view, who would want to watch television. The bathroom has a walk-in shower, with a mirrored ceiling, a small television and a scale.

After our tour, we had a delightful Afternoon Tea in the wood paneled 2-level Drawing Room, furnished with a roaring fire, and an enormous globe, with a selection of finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones with Devonshire clotted cream and preserves, selection of fruit tartlets and chocolate éclairs and a choice of specialty teas. We chose to sit on the second level that has several small games, and a beautifully carved chess set. There is also a Business Center on the second level.

London famous for its antiques has fabulous rare books and rare prints shops. We had the great opportunity of finding Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books, located at 32 Saint George Street, London, W1S 2EA, www.shapero.com. The shop is an antiquarian rare and out of print bookseller, specializing in Travel, Natural History, Continental, Modern Literature, Color Plate Books and Maps. The shop is located on 3 floors, with each floor having its own specialties. As we browsed the shelves, we were totally fascinated by the beautifully bound and illustrated books. The next time we are in London, we will plan on spending several hours or perhaps a day in the shop, dreaming of faraway places to visit.

Bernard Shapero also owns a gallery, Shapero Gallery, 24 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6QQ, www.shapero.com that features rare prints, photographs and maps. The day that we visited the gallery, they had a Japanese print and photograph exhibition, which was a truly remarkable display. They also had on hand a very good selection of botanical prints. This is another place where we could happily wile away the hours gazing at their vast collection.

Our next home was Dukes Hotel, located at 35 St. James Place, London, SW1A 1NY, (www.dukeshotel.com), also part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. This beautiful 89 rooms and suites hotel is literally around the corner from The Stafford. When it was time to move to Dukes Hotel, the Bellmen merely pulled our luggage over to the hotel, since a taxi would have laughed at the distance.

This very charming small hotel, offers guests the use of Dukes Health Club, which has a steam room and treatment rooms for facials, body treatments and hand and foot care. The Dukes Gym offers a variety of state-of-the-art exercise equipment. For runners, the hotel has a complimentary Dukes Hotel Jogging Map, to guide you through your runs.

The hotel’s small cocktail bar is like being in a friend’s home. There is a quiet Drawing Room on the other side of the hotel, which opens onto a Courtyard with a small fountain, a perfect place to escape and relax.

There is a Business Center that has free Internet access and a printer for guests’ use, perfect for when you feel the need to check your email, but hate lugging your laptop around.

Dukes SuiteOur large room had a king-size bed, a comfortable sofa, a computer modem point incorporated into the telephone, radio music was available via the television, there was a large safe and a stocked mini bar in our room. There was also a lovely gift of Dukes chocolates and Dukes Tea to welcome and pamper us.

The green marble bathroom rewards its guests with a large showerhead, plus a hand-held shower. There was a heated towel rack, fluffy robes, and Kenneth Turner amenities.

Dukes Hotel tempts its guests at breakfast with fresh brioches, pastries and rolls, and fabulous Eggs Benedict.

Dukes Bedroom When I asked Karen Marchant, Director of Sales and Marketing, what Dukes Hotel would be doing for their holidays, she told me that there will be Christmas carolers in the lobby room, and mulled wine and mince pies will served by the barmen. A harpist will enhance an a la carte dinner menu, served in the restaurant.

On Christmas day there will be special Christmas Luncheon Menu, which begins with pre-luncheon Champagne and canapés served in Dukes Bar. There is quail consommé flavored with Truffle, foie gras, asparagus with miniature salad leaves, a timbale of Scottish salmon with a tarragon mouselline served with grilled scallop, leek and caviar cream. If that is not enough to tempt you, there will be roast breast of Norfolk turkey, peppered loin of venison, or wild field mushrooms “en croute.” For desserts that there will be a flamed Christmas pudding with Brandy sauce, a glazed Mandarin Napoleon tart with mixed berries, a selection of farmhouse cheeses, and of course, Dukes blend coffee and Petits Fours. After reading the menu, we wished we could spend Christmas there!

Egerton House Welcome ChampagneWe spent our last night at The Egerton House, located at Egerton Terrace, Knightsbridge, London, SW3 2BX, (www.egertonhousehotel.co.uk). This intimate and very charming 29-room hotel is under the same ownership as The Franklin and Dukes Hotel, and is also part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection.

The hotel pays special attention to creating a special ambiance for its guests, and on the fireplace mantle in the Reception area, there is always a scented candle burning. There is a large Drawing Room with a fireplace to relax by, as well as a small room for drinks in the evening.

Egerton House Bedroom Our large king-bedded room had a floor-to-ceiling bay window with a desk set in front of it, as well as an upholstered chair. The mini-bar was discretely hidden under the tablecloth of the round table. There was a television and a telephone with modem access. All the guestrooms are air-conditioned, have 2-line direct dial telephone with data port and voicemail, satellite television, room safes, and hairdryers. A bottle of champagne, a fruit basket and The Egerton House Hotel chocolates warmly welcomed us to the hotel.

Our marble bath had 2 fluffy robes, a heated towel rack, and Kenneth Turner amenities.

The Egerton House Hotel’s dining room is small and smoothly run. There was a marvelous assortment of fresh breads, brioches and hot palmiers to tempt us at Breakfast, as well as incredible Eggs Benedict.

Egerton House Drawing Room When I asked the Rooms Manager, Sandra Anido what the hotel will do for Christmas, she stated that there would a large tree in the lobby with presents. There will be postcards from their former guests, and special oranges on the desk. Upon arrival, there will be a bottle of Champagne in the room, as well as a box of Charbonnel et Walker chocolates. Guests will also receive a surprise Christmas gift. Rates include a full English breakfast each day.

Although the hotel does not have a Business Center, the hotel can make arrangements to have their guests use the Business Center at The Franklin Hotel, which is conveniently close-by.

Alas, our time in London had ended, and it was time to head to the airport. Our sadness was diminished though by the thought of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, as well as Duty Free shopping, that awaited us. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow airport is enormous, with every amenity a traveler could possibly want. There are showers in each of individual WCs, and the Reception Desk has toiletries on hand should you like to freshen-up before take-off. The very long bar is well stocked with an eager staff ready to bring you a drink or a dinner.

There is a shoeshine stand, and even a barber, as well as game machines, and a beauty and treatment center that can provide a variety of services. After a light lunch of soup and a crawfish salad sandwich, it was time to board the plane.

Virgin Atlantic’s Flight VS#3 from Heathrow to JFK has the new flatbeds, part of the Upper Class Suite that everyone is talking about. This cleverly designed seating, allows you to share a meal or chat with a friend who sits in an accompanying ottoman. There is a large table to work on, and even has laptop power access. Although with multi-directional 10.4” TV screens, a huge choice of films, TV programs and games, you may not want to work.

The soft leather seats even recline for take-off, so relax, put your feet up, and be ready to enjoy the flight. When you are ready to go to sleep, just touch the button, and the passenger seat flips over to make a flatbed that will accommodate passengers up to 6’5”, with 33” of room at the shoulder. Of course, there is a mattress pad, sheets, and a comfy duvet and pillow to assist passengers in having pleasant dreams. Another benefit of this design is that every passenger has direct access to the aisle.

We had an exceptional trip to London, and of course, we cannot wait to return. Santa, is it too late to please ask for a trip to London to be put in our Christmas stockings? We promise to be very good this year, and we will be very happy with whatever hotel you select for us!

© December 2003. Luxury Experience. www.luxuryexperience.com All rights reserved.

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