Text Naomi Larkin Photographs Getty Images/ Gallo Images, Catwalking/ Chris Moore, Christopher Hunt, Andre Wepener Ditch any notions of stuffy: London’s ‘quintessentially English’ hotels are all about pedigree, glamour, celebrities and million-pound makeovers. They are also about location and superb service. Here are our top five. The Dorchester Day or night, make your grand entrance through the front doors of The Dorchester sporting a pair of Jackie O-style sunglasses and a lot of swank and swish. This is the bastion of heritage meets rock ‘n’ roll and the haunt of celebrities since it opened in 1931, so there’s no room for flakiness. After you’ve checked in (keep those sunglasses on for the gobsmackingly loud floralpatterned hall carpet) take time to get your bearings. The hotel is in the heart of London’s fashionable Mayfair on Park Lane and close to the high-end shopping areas of Knightsbridge and Bond Street (the Monopoly board properties everyone wants). The 194 rooms and 51 suites overlook Hyde Park or Mayfair. This is prestigious real estate on a global scale. It’s the hotel where Prince Philip hosted his stag night before his marriage to Queen Elizabeth II. At the height of their fame it was the chosen London bolt hole of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Guests have included The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Charlton Heston, Judy Garland, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Karl Lagerfeld. Guestroom decor will fit most people’s idea of typically English with its mix of traditional florals and stripes, pleated lampshades on brass standing lamps, fabric-covered headboards, and heavy drapes on the windows, behind the headboards or hanging from four-posters. But it’s undeniably five-star luxury. The bathrooms are enormous with a separate shower and extra-deep bath. It’s a bliss- filled world of Italian marble, huge fluffy white towels and specially commissioned Floris toiletries. The Dorchester Spa emerged late last year from a six-month refurbishment, costing approximately R39-million. The 1930s-inspired interior includes a chandelier made of more than 75 000 South Pacific pearls, a relaxation room you won’t want to leave and a Spatisserie offering light bites. A coup for beauty hounds is the inclusion of signature facials by Vaishaly, dubbed the ‘superfacialist’ with ‘magic hands’ by magazine beauty writers. Her treatment and products are reason enough to visit, and her facials will take five years off your dial. The Promenade is a great place to enjoy the popular afternoon tea. Expect to spot somebody famous. Otherwise, liquid refreshments are best enjoyed in the revamped The Bar At The Dorchester, where the impressive drinks list signals the return of the cocktail hour. The decor is contemporary, the Martinis are sublime. Likewise, food options don’t come much better than at the two-Michelin starred Alain Ducasse At The Dorchester. A masterful contrast of dark tartan and deep red, The Grill offers modern British fare. China Tang, decorated in the theme of 1920s Shanghai, is allegedly Kate Moss’s favourite. One of the outstanding features of The Dorchester is the service. Staff number roughly three to every guest, so your wish is their command. thedorchester.com The Langham, London A R970-million makeover of this landmark London hotel guarantees unbridled glamour within a listed building. Officially opened by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, last year, following a five-year restoration programme, it has since become party central for financiers, fashionistas, country aristocracy with business in the city and generally those with lots of cash to splash around. The combination of location, luxury and history ensures its place as a destination hotel. You will find your Prince Charming here. At the epicentre of the West End between theatreland and the buzzing retail precinct of Regent and Oxford streets (Topshop’s mega-store is a stone’s throw away), it occupies a prime spot. Originally opened in 1865 at a lavish ceremony presided over by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), it was known as Europe’s first ‘Grand Hotel’. You’ll feel like a superstar when you enter the enormous, exquisitely marbled lobby, so affect a swagger and head to Palm Court, the heart of the hotel. With its reputation for having invented the traditional afternoon tea, it’s a dazzling place to enjoy this perfectly British institution. Secure a dinner booking at The Landau restaurant, which, along with the exotic Artesian bar (named after the deep well under the hotel), will have design fundis swooning. Both are the work of interiors guru David Collins and a study in how to successfully blend ‘modern Orientalism with the romance of Victoriana’. The Landau menu focuses on European dishes with the best of British seasonal ingredients. Expect memorable food-and-wine pairings. Toss in the impeccable service and you have one of the city’s finest dining establishments. Grace and elegance sum up the 380 rooms and suites, which are spacious and fitted with supremely comfortable beds. Decor varies according to the different room levels but retains an overall cohesive modern-classic look, with touches of the hotel’s signature pink throughout. You could happily live your entire life in the 232m2 Infinity Suite without leaving – except to tone up in the in-house gym or try out the 16m-long swimming pool. langhamhotels.co.uk Draycott Hotel This is a natural home away from home for South Africans, because the hotel owner is one of us. The Mantis Group, headed by Port Elizabeth-based CEO Adrian Gardiner, bought Draycott Hotel in 2003. So if you’re feeling homesick and want to chat to a compatriot, check the boardroom, as this dynamic entrepreneur operates much of his growing empire from the hotel when he’s in London. Indeed many South Africans do make this their regular port of call, not least of all because of its convenient location and tranquillity. The staff, many of whom have been there for more than a decade, take pride in providing hospitality that is warm yet unobtrusive. Minimalism is passé at the Draycott Hotel. It is a symphony in stylish clutter, giving it that homely feel. The 35 rooms and suites are named after famous theatre personalities such as playwrights (Richard Brinsley) Sheridan, (Noël) Coward and (George Bernard) Shaw. Rooms are amply furnished with large, custom-made beds, comfy couches and armchairs, writing tables, collectable china, small libraries and vases brimming with flowers. Covetable antiques and art are the order of the day. It’s old-world luxury that never dates. Occupying what was originally three red-brick Edwardian townhouses, the building’s conversion to a hotel produced a snakes-and- ladders layout of stairs and landings, which adds to its charm. And in every room there is the Draycott Hotel teddy bear, smiling at you from the bed and resting against the mountainous down-filled pillows. A big draw card, particularly for guests with children, is the large back garden. This is true luxury for any property in the city that isn’t Buckingham Palace. There’s room for a jolly good game of cricket and privacy for a romantic picnic. It’s an added plus for the rooms and suites that have views overlooking it, especially when the cherry trees are in blossom. Shopaholics take note: the Draycott Hotel is a half-block from Sloane Square, where the two famous shopping strips of Sloane Street and King’s Road converge. When you’re spent (in both senses of the word), recoup with complimentary tea and homemade biscuits or a glass of French bubbly in the drawing room. draycotthotel.com Brown’s Hotel This is a sexy hotel with a past. Perfect to hole up in with your lover. And its chi-chi Mayfair address means the premier designer stores of Bond Street are on your doorstep and the vibrant West End theatres are a stroll away. A member of the prestigious Rocco Forte Collection of hotels, Brown’s epitomises the group’s mantra of ‘the art of simple luxury’. The ‘simple’ came at a price – a R293-million renovation in 2005 – but the result is English charm at its most refined. Initiation into what the hotel has to offer should begin in The English Tea Room (it was voted ‘Top London Afternoon Tea 2009’ by the prestigious Tea Guild). First decide: with or without champagne? Nominate your tea from the choice of 17 varieties, then contemplate the exquisite assortment of delicacies: Victoria plum cake, raspberry macaroons, finger sandwiches or scones with clotted cream. Brown’s has a colourful history. Opened in 1837, it was London’s first hotel. Alexander Graham Bell secured its place in the history books when he made the first telephone call there. It’s also believed to be the hotel where Agatha Christie penned At Bertram’s Hotel and Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book. More intoxicating refreshments can be had at The Donovan Bar, the walls of which are decorated with black-and-white prints from celebrated photographer Terence Donovan. The Bill Amberg-designed leather bar is just plain cool. Upstairs, the 117 guestrooms, including 29 suites, are chic and sophisticated. Each one has been individually designed by Olga Polizzi, Rocco Forte’s director of design, in a contemporary style that is a perfect counterbalance to the hotel’s Georgian-townhouse exterior. The two Royal and two Presidential suites offer the ultimate in luxury, while the Kipling and Hellenic versions are impressive. The suite life includes 16 different types of pillows, and soft colour schemes with fine fabrics and angora throws. Bathrooms are chic limestone with baths and large walk-in showers. Technology throughout the guestrooms is top of the range. Dining at The Albemarle is another reason for you and yours to stay indoors. The menu of great British classics is outstanding, the service faultless. brownshotel.com The Goring It doesn’t get more quintessentially English than The Goring, complete with the royal nod. It is the city’s oldest family-owned hotel (now in the fourth generation), due to celebrate its 100th birthday in March this year and minutes away from Buckingham Palace in Belgravia. Indeed, so close was the royal connection that The Goring’s pastry chefs apparently baked Prince Charles’ christening cake, and the late Queen Mother was no stranger. In 1990, the then head of the hotel, George Goring, was awarded an OBE from Queen Elizabeth for ‘services to the hotel industry’. Most recently the Queen’s nephew, designer and cabinetmaker Viscount David Linley, refurbished The Dining Room. The Goring was also reportedly the first hotel in the world to install private, en-suite bathrooms and central heating in every room. Top British interior designers Nina Campbell, Russell Sage and Tim Gosling have had a hand in decorating the 71 rooms and suites, some of which have been renovated especially to mark the forthcoming birthday. The Splendid Silk rooms feature lashings of Gainsborough silks, including walls covered in the deep blue that bedecks royal carriages, with heavy cream silk curtains embroidered with gold butterflies. There’s a glamorous detail: hand-painted silk-covered walls inside the wardrobe. A strange quirk is the inclusion of faux, almost life-size sheep in every room… The Dining Room’s revamp has produced an ‘oasis of gentility’. Its quiet whiteand-gold palette is given a zing with the pretty cherry blossom-style Swarovski crystal chandeliers that stretch overhead. The menu is ‘very English’ – think marrowbone and roast beef – and the wine list extensive and considered. The hotel’s back garden, onto which many of the rooms look, is a hefty chunk of land. Although predominantly lawn, it’s a calm retreat from the bustle of the city, so enjoy the peace and quiet from the Garden Bar. The Goring is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brand. slh.com This article was originally featured in the March 2010 issue of House and Leisure.