The Bee’s Knees: a Tour of Prestigious Addresses in London and Beyond
Written by Heather KW Brown
Forget the beach. And the mountains. When I grow up, the address
to my summer home will be found in the fabulous folds of the English countryside. This I professed as I reached for yet another scone, debated between a dollop of compote or clotted cream and sipped a quite lovely spot of tea.
Wrapped by windows overlooking a meadow of winsome wildflowers, my girlfriend and I relished the experience of Afternoon Tea in The Drawing Room at Coworth Park, a luxe country house hotel perched on 240 amazing acres of Berkshire parkland. How very British of us, indeed!
Lured across the pond for a peek at London’s privileged side, we wasted little time. Over the course of five days, we stayed in three of the city’s top properties, ate in several renowned restaurants, and basked in the bucolic background of an estate manor.
Whether you fancy a stay in London’s town or country scene, here are our picks for when you “pop over.”
Chic and discreet is what you can expect from a stay at The Halkin by COMO. Said to be one of central London’s original boutique hotels, The Halkin is tucked among the columned residences and international embassies in the gorgeous Georgian neighborhood of Belgravia.
Just as upscale as its location, the hotel interior is attractive with polished wood and Asian-inspired black lacquered surfaces that create an unmistakable Zenlike sensibility. We were wowed by the crescent-shaped arc of the halls, where the doors to each room are all but hidden in the clean design.
Belying every bit of its quaint public spaces, the 41 rooms are surprisingly spacious, complete with separate dressing area, closet and a large marble bathroom. My personal favorite was the control center, where in my jet-lagged state, I could turn lights off/on, call for the butler, check the weather, and change the temperature without leaving my bed.
My laziness lasted only so long. The Halkin is less than a 5-minute walk from Hyde Park and knowing the best way to see a city is before everyone else is up, we laced our running shoes and headed for local landmarks. Our royal run included parts of Hyde Park, past the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, around Buckingham Palace to St. James’s Park and back.
Our search for fabulous stops later led us to dinner in a landmark restaurant. Though the outside divulges little, the book-lined gallery around the main dining room at The Cinnamon Club is one of the many original features preserved from its stunning setting within The Old Westminster Library. Since opening the doors 12 years ago, Executive Chef Vivek Singh continues to revolutionize how Indian cooking is viewed. For us, it was a culinary adventure, challenging us to try new flavors then rewarding us with haute cuisine starters like crisp zucchini flower with spiced vegetables and slow cooked marrow, followed by innovative main dishes like Tandoori wild Spencer Gulf king prawns with Goan curry sauce, pandan and coconut rice.
It’s true. I do wish I had an English accent. Then I could say things like, “Cheerio!” when departing our first hotel and “no need to cast about” while making our way to the next. Maybe I would even sound like a local when saying The Berkeley, standing sentry in Knightsbridge, is “spot on!”
With our luggage whisked away by attentive staff who greeted us by name, we wandered aimlessly, finding copious reasons to love this hotel. The rooftop swimming pool — one of only two in London — is where in hindsight, we should have taken advantage of the synchronized swimming classes available to guests.
Alas! The moment was fleeting as we looked beyond the pool at the beautiful solarium courtyard. On days when the sun might not care to share its warmth, guests are unaffected, as the retractable rooftop quickly renews every inclination to linger longer. At a Forbes four-star hotel like The Berkeley, luxury is a standard amenity, and one that, like the ever-changing floral arrangements, continues to impress.
When the sun dips behind Big Ben, the Blue Bar downstairs steals the show, and considering its undeniable blue color and striking white onyx bar, the David Collins-designed space is hard to ignore. Not that you would want to — the hip and trendy scene at this top celebrity hangout will have your head spinning before you’ve even ordered the first cocktail.
I suppose one becomes used to such star-studded sightings at a hotel where the chef is a luminary — with two Michelin stars, Marcus Wareing is the namesake behind the hotel’s restaurant, Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley — and the afternoon tea has a following of its own. Fashionistas favoring catwalk collections of the edible kind don’t miss the signature afternoon tea creatively called Prêt-à-Portea. Imagine runway-inspired cookies and cakes resembling purses and shoes by famed designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Christian Louboutin.
While its doormen, bedecked in top hats and coat tails, add an air of authenticity to the already decidedly elegant atmosphere, The Berkeley boasts not only first impressions, but lasting ones.
The Metropolitan by COMO
Although it felt like we were making our way across the city, our third hotel was a mere 3 minutes and less than a mile away from our first.
This sister property to The Halkin by COMO is not tucked or nestled or anything remotely synonymous. In fact, The Metropolitan by COMO is perfectly perched at a prestigious position on Old Park Lane. Here in London’s Mayfair district, Elizabeth Taylor enjoyed all five honeymoons, Prince William had his bachelor party, and The Metropolitan won hands-down for best room with a view.
Finding the right platform in London’s busiest train station qualified as a challenge, but we successfully minded the gap and anxiously awaited our next destination, 45 minutes outside the city, in Ascot.
And here at the quintessentially English and downright dreamy retreat of Coworth Park, said to be the only UK hotel to have its own polo fields, is where I let loose, though I can ride a horse much better if I’m not holding the reins for dear life while leaning over to swing a mallet and strike a ball, so a polo lesson was out.
Surrounded by hues of oranges, browns and creams, a well-trained, tweed-clad staff attended to our every whim while whimsical lights that spell “love” jockey for space in prized decor mostly dedicated to Coworth Park’s equestrian heritage. Pieces of pop art work surprisingly well with country manor touches like deep copper tubs, and smart design elements like mirrors on windows accomplish a theme of bringing the outside in.
Guest rooms in the Mansion House are crafted with strokes of sophistication and tend toward more traditional tastes, as if relaxing at a friend’s summer house instead of a hotel. Home to fine dining, a handsome bar and high-style afternoon tea, the Mansion House is essentially the hub for most happenings.
More accommodations outfitted with leather accents and equestrian-inspired linens are found in converted stables, providing a playful nod to its former state yet maintaining a modern flair expected from the Dorchester Collection’s country outpost. From our sophisticated stable, we wandered around the property, exploring the estate’s exclusive eco-luxury and hyper-modern Spa with indoor pool, gym and healthy Spatisserie before finding The Barn, which we would soon revisit for a relaxed dinner.
The fields of flowers beckoned and we could no longer resist. Having spotted a rare clearing in the colorfully patched playground, I jumped as high as I could in the air and my girlfriend did cartwheels. I can’t remember the last time I went from feeling grown up to giddy but Coworth Park happily caters to all.
The only rule around here is if you cross paths with a celebrity, be cool — this pastoral paradise also plays the role of hideaway for many household names. (I would tell you who we saw running one morning if I could but I can’t, and you shouldn’t even ask because then I might give it all away by telling you who she was and who she was with.) At least it’s not just me who wants a Coworth Park address.
To plan your own trip, visit londonpartners.com.
The Journey Continues…
Our journey to discover more gems continues in Chelsea, one of the most affluent and beautiful boroughs of London. Here, we found the delightful Draycott Hotel, a five-star townhouse hotel occupying three adjacent red brick Edwardian homes that have been transformed into a single property loaded with character and charm. Read more here!
Bespoke Travel with Hudson + Brown
What would you do if you could travel anywhere and do anything? The more impossible, the better. Posed this question during dinner with Philippe Brown, owner of the London-based bespoke travel company Brown + Hudson, I surprisingly stuttered, stumbled and searched to find an answer.
It’s one thing to miss a math question, but not using my imagination to come up with the trip of a lifetime? Suddenly, calling myself an adventurous soul seemed like a farce. Then again, bringing dreams to life and crafting an experience that might otherwise go unimagined is what logistically untethered Brown and his team of creative masterminds do for a living.
“We are not a standard travel company. In fact, we tend to reject most of the conventions of the travel industry. We know various corners of the world and understand our clients’ world,” Brown said, adding, “The art is in bringing the two together in the best possible way.”
Over dinner, I heard stories of personal experiences so implausible, I was more impressed by how they did it than what they did or why.
For example, Brown + Hudson once took a client fascinated by all things 007 Bond and his wife, who loved playing the piano but suffers from a condition with severe short term memory loss, epileptic seizures and hypersomnia, to Iceland. There, the company arranged for the couple to spend time with the line producer from “Die Another Day” and for the client’s wife to play the piano just for her husband on the main stage of Eldborg Auditorium at Reykjavik’s iconic Harpa Concert Hall (home to Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera). The whole event was filmed so that the memory could always be recaptured for her.
“We understand that the more original thinking we do, and the more original sources we involve, the more creative the result and the less comparable it will be,” Brown said.