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Glamorous Hotels in London

Looking for the perfect place to stay?
A visit to hotels in London takes us to the utmost romantic and most delightful destinations. Exclusive and quaint, they swathe your stay with a touch of British grandeur of the past.

By Simone Zarmati Diament

Where traveling is concerned, we are not shy about trumpeting the advantages of wonderful cities and sites.

And when travel leads you to London, be they amazing restaurants, opulent stores and glamorous hotels, one has to know where to look.

The hotels we stayed at in London are the utmost destination when looking for the perfect place to stay, and they swathe the entire stay with a touch of British grandeur of the past.

One morning, in Leicester Square, the heart of London's theatre district where thousands of people per second go about their business, we had fun watching a TV crew at work, interviewing passer-bys with the question: "Sir/Madam, are you British?" All answers were negative.

Then again while some people may grumble that cosmopolitanism is taking the fun out of British tradition, the fact remains that since Great Britain's incorporation into the European Union, this city has absorbed the best from the people who flock to London from all corners of the world, and is now teaming with exquisite stores and fabulous new restaurants.

We were very lucky; it was cold and gray, but it didn't rain, and we were escorted all the way by the comfort and pleasure we found "at home," starting with The Capital Hotel, in Knighstbridge, London's Mecca of shopping.

The Capital, a haven on Basil Street
With the only Two Michelin Star restaurant in London

The Capital Hotel
Basil Street, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1AT
Tel: 020-7589 5171 - toll free: 1-800-926-3199; Fax: 020-7225-0011
Restaurant: The Capital, Two-Michelin stars. Chef Eric Chavot.
The Capital, around the corner from Harrods, and a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is an exquisite haven on Basil Street, very much in the old English tradition. A liveried doorman greets you, a fire burns in the reception hall, and if you get there at 7:30 a.m. after an all-night flight and your room isn't yet ready, you are offered one of the best breakfasts in London; a treat with crusty homemade jams and marmalades, freshly-baked baguettes, croissants and pains au chocolat.

A family-owned hotel, it is an end-of-the-century townhouse with 49 rooms and suites, each different with specially selected fabrics, original paintings, and where every piece of furniture is an antique or a work of art.

Its intimate restaurant, The Capital, earned a score of awards and is the only restaurant in London to have two Michelin stars. Chef Eric Chavot, who previously worked at the famous Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, is French, and his menu is outstanding with dishes like crab lasagna with langoustine cappuccino; roasted turbot with truffle gnocchi and mushroom ravioli. The wine list is likewise outstanding, an ongoing input from the Scottish proprietor, David Levin, who has recently purchased a vineyard in the LoireValley.

After a day of museums, shopping and just walking to take in London's bonanza, the perfect way to unwind is with an Afternoon Tea at The Capital, with finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, and freshly baked pastries.

Things to do... Where to go

Harrod's was glowing. We went to the Food Hall, an entire floor with five huge halls laden with foods and wines from around the world, showcased like jewelry, and some even priced like jewelry.

Walking up Picadilly: the Caviar House is on the corner of St. James and Picadilly, across from Davidoff, the cigar temple; and De Beers the diamond expert. A little further up there's Fortnum Mason, a venerable department store for specialty foods open since 1708.

Sloane Street is a fairy tale with rich and festive store windows and restaurants. On the night we arrived, all the restaurants had set tables on the side walk and waiters in tuxedos were offering hot wine, punch and foods to shoppers.

Draycott Hotel, An exquisite wonderland of British tradition

Draycott Hotel
26 Cadogan Gardens, London SW3 2RP
Tel: 020-7730-6466 - toll free: 1-800-747-4942; Fax: 020-7730-0236
Restaurant: The Capital, Two-Michelin stars. Chef Eric Chavot.
Our next stop was the charming boutique hotel, Draycott, in the heart of Cadogan Gardens, an elegant and quiet residential neighborhood at the end of Sloane Street, between Chelsea and Knightsbridge.

The 35 room hotel which occupies three Edwardian homes dating back to the 1890's is so exclusive that there is no marquee or sign. Only a Union Jack marks the entrance to the mansion. All rooms and suites -- with high ceilings and carefully selected antiques, are steeped in Edwardian splendor but with all the modern amenities, and are all named after theatrical and literary personalities.

Our two-room, two-bathroom suite was the Lewis Caroll. We felt in a British Wonderland in the elegant drawing room, the fire place in the library, the large French windows overlooking the garden. A full breakfast is served in a cozy drawing room, and complimentary champagne is offered before dinner; all complemented by a warm and affable hospitality. But best, you can order a traditional English dinner, with roast, venison, fireplace and an English butler in a private dining room; and ask the concierge to organize shopping and sightseeing tours.

The Draycott's Valentine's Special: Since the Draycott is part of the Mantis Collection of Luxury Hotels, all guests staying on Valentine's Day weekend, from Friday, February 11 to Monday February 14, automatically qualify to be entered into a prize draw to fly out to Johannesburg, with a two-night stay at The Saxon, one of South Africa's most exclusive hotels; and transfer by small plane into Kruger National Park for two nights at Jock Safari Lodge.

Things to do... Where to go

We went from the Tate Britain Gallery to see the Turner Exhibition. Magnificent! It was fun to take the ferry to the Modern Tate on the other side of the Thames, a couple of miles from Westminster Abbey. That's where the docks used to be, and where Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is now located.

Walking in London is fabulous, and so is public transportation. And what can be better if your hotel is right around the corner from an underground station. Like the Mandarin Hotel.

Sumptuous Mandarin Hotel Hyde Park

Mandarin Hotel Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
Tel: 020-7235-2000; Fax: 020-7235-2001
Restaurant: Foliage (Michelin Star); The Park; Mandarin Bar.
The Mandarin Hotel Hyde Park is a sumptuous home away from home -- given the fact that the Mandarin Hotel Group which operates 20 exclusive hotels all over the world, with six more on the way, has branches in New York and Miami. After a $120 million renovation, it remains a grand hotel , with floors of colored marble and frescoed ceilings inherited from the old Hyde Park Hotel. They've kept the old Royal Entrance used in days gone by for guests like the Royal family, the Japanese Imperial family, foreign statesmen and stars.

Smack on Knightsbridge, the breakfast and dining rooms overlook the Park, where you can see people riding their horses in the mist while you're having breakfast.

The view from our room on the 7th floor was spectacular. The suite - one of 177 rooms and 23 suites - was luxurious and extremely comfortable with modern amenities covered in old charm. We were greeted with handmade chocolates and a bottle of grand cru from Bordeaux.

With so much to do in London we didn't have time to enjoy the state-of-the art spa, or The Mandarin Bar, an "in" late-night hangout flanking the lobby. But we didn't miss dinner at Foliage, the exquisite restaurant which has maintained a Michelin-star for three consecutive years.

London is full of new and great restaurants, but Foliage, is one of the best, including the service. Chef Chris Staines contemporary cuisine offers dishes ranging from an extraordinary white truffle risotto with scallops and a caramelized endive tart tatin with pan-fried foie gras to turbot in a velouté of artichokes, and lamb with sweet breads and morels canelloni. Desserts end dinner in crescendo with hot chocolat fondant, amaretto parfait, vanilla and pearl barley sorbet, poached red wine pear, black sesame ice cream and hot chocolate soup, a lemon polenta cake and an extravagantly good selection of British and continental cheeses.

The Theatre Season in London

As for theatre, other than the fact that on Leicester Square you can get half priced tickets, the season was disappointing, because what you could see were mainly musicals anyone can see on Broadway: Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, the usual suspects…

We managed to get tickets to see Holly Hunter in a new play, The Bog of Cats, in Charring Cross; it was mediocre. "Old Masters" a comedy with Edward Fox, directed by Harold Pinter himself was as tired as its main actor and unexciting to say the least.

But give me the Capital, the Draycott and the Mandarin and I'll hop back to London at the drop of a hat...

The Bath Priory Hotel Restaurant
New British Cuisine in Historic Roman Spa Town

The Bath Priory Hotel and Restaurant
Weston Road, Bath
Tel: 0-1225-331922; Fax: 0-1225-448276
Restaurant: The Bath Priory (Michelin Star)
But we didn't stay all week in London. Bath is a lovely city an hour and a half by train from Paddington train station in London, built around natural hot springs and Roman Baths, called Aquae Sulis during the Roman conquest..

After being administered by the Crown and the church in the Middle Ages, The Roman spa town became very fashionable in the 18th and 19th centuries, turning into one of Jane Austen's favorite hangouts. Other notable visitors include 18th century playwright and journalist Henry Fielding, the author of The History of Tom Jones, and astronomer William Herschel, who discovered Uranus in 1781.

Modern day Bath is a delightful town, a 15 minute walk from the Bath Priory Hotel, with narrow winding streets, gardens, charming cafés and antique stores, and the famous Roman Baths and Museum. It is about half an hour away from Bristol.

But what made our stay in Bath truly exquisite was our stay at the Four AAA Stars Bath Priory Hotel, another Member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Built as a private residence in 1835 in the middle of an immaculate garden, and with a state-of-the-art spa, each one of its rooms and suites, named after a flower, is differently decorated with fine antique furniture and traditional British fabrics.

You really feel like an English Lord in the gorgeous sitting rooms filled with objets d'art, paintings and plush sofas overlooking the garden and the orchard where Executive Chef Robert Clayton grows his own herbs and vegetables.

Chef Clayton, general manager Sue Williams and restaurant manager Vito Scaduto have maintained a Michelin star for five consecutive years, making the Bath Priory Restaurant a destination for high end tourists and locals who get a whiff of what's happening in the world of gastronomy with the monthly wine dinners at the Restaurant.

What's interesting about Chef Clayton's nouvelle British cuisine is that he uses mostly English and local ingredients like Seabass from Dorset, venison from Salisbury, partridges from Devon and estate beef from Scotland to create a well executed menu.

We had a cheese tray from English cheeses only… Well, the proprietor of The Bath Priory Hotel owns the international cheese store Paxton and Whitfield.

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