Pomp and Pampering: London

Stephanie Miller-Murphy is the owner of Travel With Stephanie, and helps clients in Mandeville, Covington, and New Orleans, LA plan their perfect luxury vacation.

April 20-25, 2014

I have just returned from a wonderful five-day jaunt to London.  This educational trip included a perfect combination of top attractions and tours of luxury hotel accommodations.  Accompanying me was my very efficient assistant, who happens to be my 12-year old niece. London was a wonderful choice for both of us.  It is home to a fascinating mix of history, people and experiences.

I partnered with the Virtuoso Onsite Destination Specialists at NoteWorthy to create our itinerary and smooth the way as NoteWorthy creates exquisite British experiences that cannot be found in the pages of a guidebook.   It was a great opportunity having a first- hand British experience from my client’s eyes.  All NoteWorthy experiences are escorted by a top rated private guide and driver. They provide fast track, skip the queue access to all the must-see visitor attractions. NoteWorthy can also arrange numerous private appointments with London’s most luxurious shops, venues, antiques shops and fashion designers.

Our first two nights in London were at The Goring. Tucked away in charming Belgravia and within a 10 minute walk to the gates of Buckingham Palace, The Goring has been run by the Goring family for more than a century. In 2011 the Middleton Family reserved the entire hotel in the days leading up to the Royal Wedding.  You may remember the visions of Kate Middleton walking out of The Goring under a covered walkway so not to reveal her wedding dress to the world prior to her arrival at Westminster Abbey. I was thrilled to be extended the invitation to see The Royal Suite which is the very suite that Kate and her parents resided in.

There are 69 bedrooms including 7 suites all individually decorated with Gainsborough Silks and hand-crafted antique pieces mixed in with modern technology and comfort. Our room was a beautiful Deluxe Room with Twin Beds overlooking the The Goring Gardens. We took a walk around the pebbled path and found a cozy bench tucked in the trees were we sat for a while admiring the sunny day we had and all of its surroundings.

The Dining Room serves three meals a day and the service is excellent. Guests and locals enjoy cocktails or a light dinner in the Living Room near the fireplace.

As I am a Travel Advisor affiliated with Virtuoso my clients will receive Daily Complimentary Full English Breakfast for Two, Early Check-In and Late Checkout and Room Upgrade upon Arrival (based on availability at time of arrival) and a Value-Added Special Virtuoso Amenity of GBP 70 Food and Beverage Credit for The Goring Dining Room. The Goring has a wonderful history tab on their website that chronicles several interesting events in the hotel’s history.

Upon checking into The Goring on our arrival day we ventured out for the afternoon.  Our first stop was The Royal Mews which is a five-minute walk from the front door of The Goring.  Upon paying a nominal entry fee we embarked on a 45-minute guided tour.  The tours are led by the Wardens, dressed in their striking red and navy livery, and depart at regular intervals throughout the day at the start of the visit. The Royal Mews houses the royal collection of historic carriages and coaches. Among the vehicles on display are the Irish State Coach, in which the Queen travels to the State Opening of Parliament, and the Australian State Coach, which combines traditional craftsmanship with 20th-century technology to provide heating and remote-controlled windows.

The most dazzling vehicle of all is the Gold State Coach, which was built for George III in 1762. Weighing almost four tons and requiring eight horses to pull it, it has carried every monarch to their coronation since 1821.

Visitors to the Royal Mews can also see the fine livery worn by the Queen’s coachmen. Apart from a few small details, it remains much the same as it was in Victorian times. Remarkably, some of the tailors used for production of liveries today are the same companies employed during the reign of George III in the 18th century.

We then walked a few more minutes from The Royal Mews to the front gates of Buckingham Palace and were fortunate enough to catch the tail end of the Changing of The Guard. Buckingham Palace is only open for inside visits to The State Rooms and Gardens from late July through the end of August.

Day Two began with a lovely English breakfast in The Goring Dining Room.  We were then met by our wonderful driver John and our very child-friendly guide Ann-Marie and headed to the Tower of London.

A visit to the Tower of London presents a real opportunity to understand the history of the monarch and its important place in British history. Dating back to 1066, the Tower of London is a product of the Norman Conquest and has been inhabited by many reigning Kings and Queens in the centuries that pass afterwards. More than a royal abode, the Tower of London has also acted as a fortress, a menagerie, a prison, an arsenal and a jewel house. Today, the castle looks every bit as grand and impressive as it did all of those centuries ago, comprised of a complex of several buildings set inside two defensive walls and a moat. Most famous today as the home of the Crown Jewels, estimated to be worth $20 million dollars, the Tower of London is an extraordinary place that tells a fascinating story of British history.

Our second stop of the morning was to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  St. Paul’s is the seat of the Bishop of London. It is the church of commemoration and celebration in the old City of London. Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was held here in January 1965 and Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer here in July 1981. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren it is filled with glittering mosaics and intricate stone carvings.

After Anne-Marie took us through the ground floor of the cathedral we headed up over 500 steps stopping first in the Whispering Gallery. We admired the exquisite 18th century paintings by Sir James Thormhill and 19th century mosaics. We then continued to climb to the Golden Gallery at the very top of the dome where we enjoyed incredible views across London.

We paid tribute to some of Britain’s greatest national heroes including Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington who are buried in the Cathedral’s Crypt. We also visited the American Memorial Chapel that commemorates members of the U.S. forces who gave their lives in Britain during the Second World War.

Our next stop was Claridge’s hotel for a light lunch and a tour.  A London mainstay for over a century, Claridge’s is within easy reach of Hyde Park, Bond Street and Regent Street, making it a favorite for my savvy travelers. This is a truly glamorous hotel with original art-deco features.

The two dining areas are The Foyer and The Reading Room.  These two rooms are connected and it is a matter of preference where you sit when you dine.  The Foyer is open and airy and very much the place to see and be seen. The Reading Room has more subdued lighting and décor with comfy velvet banquettes and a more exclusive, private dining experience. The rooms and suites combine glamour and comfort.  The hotel has a small spa and gym.

My Virtuosos guests receive an upgrade, early check-in and late check-out (based on availability at time of arrival) and a GBP60 Spa or Dining Credit, with each stay.

We then continued on for Afternoon Tea and a tour at The Savoy.  This iconic hotel is situated along the banks of the Thames River in the heart of the West End. There are 268 bedrooms, 73 of which are suites. Guests have a choice between Edwardian-style accommodations overlooking the water or art deco styling with a view of the Strand.  The Savoy offers incredible value to guests that book one of their One-Bedroom Suites and above including butler service, complimentary airport transfers and many more perks.

The Savoy 2014 Virtuoso Amenities include Daily Breakfast for Two, Early check-in/Late Check-out, an Upgrade at the time of check-in (based on availability) and a special added-value amenity of GBP85 food and beverage credit, with each stay.

We began our third day in London with a tour led by Anne-Marie of Westminster Abbey. There is no church in Great Britain that is more iconic than Westminster Abbey. The building’s grand, Gothic architecture is breath-taking. Westminster Abbey becomes a site of even greater significance when its connection to centuries of Royal events is considered. Since 1066, Westminster Abbey has been the primary location of a great many royal functions including coronations and Royal weddings, such as the recent wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in the Spring of 2011.

We then took a leisurely 10-minute walk past House of Parliament and crossed the Westminster Bridge to take a ride on the London Eye.  We had fast pass tickets thanks to NoteWorthy and were the envy of many when we bypassed the long queue.  London is a beautiful city and it was breath-taking to see the views from 135 meters above the ground.

Next stop for us was the elegant and stylish Kensington Palace.  Prince William and Princess Kate now joined by Prince George reside in this Palace.  In fact, generations of successive monarchs and members of the Royal Family have lived at this residence since 1689, when King William III and Queen Mary II commissioned Christopher Wren to expand the building.  Since then, Queen Anne, King George I and Queen Victoria have resided at Kensington Palace.

The Palace was also the last home of Diana, Princess of Wales. There is a collection of Princess Diana’s dresses on display that are thoroughly enjoyable.

After sightseeing this day we toured two hotels in the Dorchester Collection portfolio, 45 Park Lane and The Dorchester.  Dorchester Collection owns and manages all ten of their hotels, three of which are in the United Kingdom.

45 Park Lane is only three years young and is located in the heart of Mayfair directly across the street from its sister property The Dorchester.   It has 45 rooms and is an all-suite hotel.  The suites are very spacious and sophisticated with a number of them having their own private terraces.  All décor elements of 45 Park Lane offer a contemporary design with warm, natural tones complemented by crisp chic lines. This hotel appeals to a high-net worth Generation X crowd and the contemporary art scene. All rooms face Hyde Park and have amazing views.  They also all have unique works of contemporary art adorning their walls.

The hotel’s fine dining restaurant is Cut at 45 Park Lane, the only Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Europe located on its first floor. There is a Sunday Brunch with live music that is popular with the locals. Bar 45 on the second floor has a very sleek design and is popular for its delicious sliders and exotic cocktails. A small library is attached that can be reserved for private functions. Guests at 45 Park Lane will enjoy access to The Dorchester Spa’s facilities and priority reservations at The Dorchester’s bars and restaurants.

My Virtuoso Guests will receive an upgrade and early check-in/late check-out (based on availability at time of check-in), Daily English Breakfast for Two and a GBP85 Food and Beverage Credit, with each stay.

The Dorchester is a fabulous hotel with 250 rooms and suites and is self-described as Opulent Extravagance and Timeless Glamour.  I completely agree! From the moment you walk in the door and look down the expansive Promenade you truly get the “I have arrived” feel.   It has a slightly lower price point than 45 Park Lane but is truly a luxurious gem appealing to a well-traveled, upscale Baby Boomer audience as well as a popular local following of all ages.

The rooms are spacious and elegantly decorated. All accommodations provide views over Hyde Park or the hotel’s landscaped terraces.  The suites range in size from the Junior and Stanhope Suites to the generous Dorchester Suites and the famous Oliver Messel Suite. Bathrooms are appointed with Italian marble and designed in the classic art deco style which takes you back to the hotel’s 1930’s origin.

There are many restaurant and bar options at The Dorchester.  The Grill serves fine British cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere.  Regarded as the heart and soul of The Dorchester, The Promenade is where you will discover iconic grandeur, with marble pillars, silk draped and striking floral arrangements that lead you to an oval champagne bar at the far end.  Live piano music fills the air.  The Promenade is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner although it is famous for its award-winning Afternoon Tea where over 200 guests are served daily. Alain Ducasse is the only UK hotel restaurant with three Michelin-stars, specializing in contemporary French cuisine. China Tang showcases the creative genius of Sir David Tang, offering authentic Cantonese cuisine. The restaurant is designed to evoke a romantic sense of the art deco look and feel of the thirties.

My Virtuoso Guests will receive and upgrade, and early check-in/later check-out (based on availability at time of arrival), Daily Breakfast for Two, and GBP85 food and beverage credit, with each stay.

Later that afternoon we were then dropped off at Brown’s Hotel to experience one of the Rocco Forte gems. Located in the heart of Mayfair, near theaters, galleries and shopping on Bond Street, Brown’s Hotel offers a quintessential British experience with a contemporary twist. Brown’s Hotel was London’s first ever hotel. It opened its doors in 1837. Made up of 11 Georgian townhouses, Brown’s Hotel has a rich and intriguing history.

Brown’s Hotel has 117 rooms including 29 suites offering  multiple options for families.  This hotel is the most family friendly luxury option I saw this week. Children receive a particularly special welcome with their own check-in area and personalized amenities. Even the breakfast buffet has a special area just for children. I would recommend this hotel for my well-traveled Generation X clientele, particularly so for those traveling with their children.

My clients receive Daily Complimentary Breakfast for Two, Early Check-in/Late Check-out and Upgrade at time of arrival (based on availability as well as a GBP 85 Food and Beverage Credit, with each stay.

Dinner this evening was at HIX Mayfair where we dined on British classics including the most delicious asparagus we had ever tasted.  April is peak of asparagus season in Britain.  We were surrounded by contemporary British art throughout the restaurant.  We then peaked in the Donovan Bar where guests were sipping cocktails while listening to live jazz.

Our final full day was kicked off with a tour of The Stafford London by Kempinski.  Just behind Green Park in St. James’s off Piccadilly, The Stafford is has a surprisingly discreet and peaceful setting. The Stafford was the most charming hotel I saw this week providing elegance and luxury in a country-house setting.  There are 105 rooms including 12 suites that come in three contrasting styles.  Guests experience traditional elegance in The Main House, contemporary furnishings in the Mews Suites and comfortable elegance in the Carriage House. I found the Carriage House rooms’ particularly charming with their original stable doors and quaint outdoor seating in its own courtyard.

The Lyttelton restaurant in The Stafford was named after the historical residents of the Main House, Lord and Lady Lyttelton. This restaurant is beautifully furnished with ivory, purple and grey furnishings in floral fabrics, bespoke artwork and an exquisite chandelier.  There is a small lounge with a fireplace.  The Lyttelton is a perfect spot for Afternoon Tea for those looking for a more intimate experience complete with a solo harpist every Thursday to Sunday. The American Bar is a real gem serving the famed Stafford Burger and the “best martini in London”.

My Virtuoso Guests received an upgrade on arrival, early check-in and late checkout, all subject to availability. They also receive daily full breakfast for two, and a complimentary lunch or dinner for two in The Lyttelton, with each stay.

Our next stop was Harrods Department Store. Harrods is a bit overwhelming for the first-timer but the staff is very friendly and willing to give directions.  The store occupies a 5-acre site and has over one million square feet of store in over 330 departments making it the biggest department store in Europe. We loved the Food Court and the Harrods Store which sells everything you could possibly imagine branded with the Harrods logo at a price point that was perfect for my niece to do some shopping.

We spent our final night in London at The Connaught.  The Connaught occupies a quiet corner in the heart of Mayfair overlooking Mount Street.  It is self-described as “Tradition meets Innovation”.  The Edwardian lobby’s centerpiece is a stunning mahogany staircase that goes up to the top of the building.  Ralph Lauren, once a distinguished guest of the hotel offered to buy this staircase as he wanted to place it in one of his stores.  Of course the hotel declined his offer so Mr. Lauren built an exact replica of the staircase.

The 121 rooms including 34 suites combine classic elegance and contemporary style. We were upgraded to a beautiful Connaught Suite complete with our own Butler.

Helene Darroze’s is the The Connaught’s two-star Michelin restaurant.  Each day, Hélène selects the very best and freshest ingredients from the network of suppliers she has spent a lifetime gathering, and cooks them with precision, honesty and passion. The result is a thrilling expression of French Cuisine.

Beneath the lobby lies a portal from England to the East. The Aman Spa at the Connaught is the first Aman resorts-branded facility built outside of one of the company’s own hotels. The result is an oasis of tranquility that reflects the hotel’s inimitable style and Aman resorts’ Asian-inspired aesthetic. This intimate spa is truly one of the most amazing hotel spa’s I have ever seen.

Espelette offers a more informal, brassiere-style setting.  The restaurant served three meals a day in addition to Afternoon Team with quaint views of the hustle and bustle of Mount Street.

I particularly loved the look and feel of the Connaught Bar. Ultra-stylish décor and mouth-watering cocktails put the Connaught Bar into a league of its own. Inspired by English Cubist and Irish 1920s art, with textured walls shimmering in platinum silver leaf overlaid with dusty pink, pistachio and lilac, designer David Collins has produced a gem of a London bar. Another beverage gem, hidden in the heart of the hotel, the Champagne Room is a beautiful yet intimate place, perfect for drinks for two or a party of 25. Choose from a selection of eight prestige champagnes, fine wines and rare spirits, exclusive to the Connaught, all served in bespoke crystal Baccarat glasses.

My Virtuoso Guests receive Daily Breakfast for Two, upgrade and early check-in/late check-out (based on availability at time of arrival) and GBP 60 Spa or Dinging Credit, with each stay. After a light dinner in Espelette we headed over to the West End and enjoyed Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theater.

Flying home the next day we reminisced about our wonderful time in London and already started planning our next visit.

Miller Murphy Travel is an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso member
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