I’ve just returned from a whirlwind weekend in London. Knowing I would be traveling solo and wanting to cherish the little time I had for some R&R (and a little shopping of course) while in London for an event, I chose the stylish but discreet Saint James Hotel & Club as my home away from home. A SLH hotel housed in a beautiful Victorian townhouse, St. James is tucked away on a quiet side street off of Piccadilly.
The location (around the corner from The Ritz) could not be more ideal. Being in the heart of Mayfair & Piccadilly, the hotel is steps away from sublime window shopping at the pricey boutiques of Bond, Oxford and Regent Streets as well as the mod restaurants and shops of Carnaby Street (famously photographed in 60’s swinging London – very Austin Powers) in Soho. Want to do a picnic? Green Park is behind you. Need to take the tube? Just steps away. A quick shot of culture? The Royal Academy of Arts is a 2-minute walk (I timed it).
It’s also a few blocks away from Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla’s official residence, the Clarence House, should you want to swing by. Brilliant.
St. James Hotel & Club, I learned, has quite an interesting history. Founded first as an exclusive mens club for aristocracy back in 1857, the building was briefly the home of Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond). In 1981, it opened as a hotel in partnership with Sir Sean Connery and Sir Michael Caine. In 2006, it came under new private ownership and management and reopened its doors in 2008 after a two year head-to-toe renovation. There is still a private club element to the hotel (which reciprocates with 400 other private clubs around the world, including the Relais & Chateaux St. James in Paris) which includes Cher, Robert Redford, Liza Minelli and the like to its roster.
You will not be disappointed once you step inside. The guest rooms and public spaces are appointed in soothing palettes in what I would describe as a “contemporary chic” design – comfortably stylish but not trendy. Impressive works from the owner’s private art collection can be seen throughout the hotel.
Of the 60 rooms in the hotel, ten are suites and I was fortunate enough to get a peak at a few of the different room categories. The Executive Suites are best for families and offer the opportunity to adjoin to a connecting room for extra space. The two Penthouse Suites were quite impressive – they are often booked by celebrities as they offer privacy (you need a key to get to the floor and can take over the whole floor if you wish). Nike, as an interesting note, took the whole hotel over for the summer Olympics.
If it is just the two of you (or if you are solo, as in my case) I would recommend the Executive Rooms. My room, #301, was not as spacious as others in this room category only because it had a private terrace – perfect (if I had the time) to enjoy breakfast or tea when weather is behaving. I particularly enjoyed the super comfortable bed (Hypnos mattresses I am told), heated towel racks and i-pod docking station in my room.
Ok, so we can check off location and comfort/design. What about service? For me, this is what differentiates a good hotel from a great hotel. And in this, the St. James did not disappoint.
I immediately put the service team to the test within the first hour of my stay by promptly losing my i-phone in a nearby cafe (which I would do several times during my two night stay – must be the jet lag!). Realizing this after I returned to the hotel in a panic, one of the members of the front desk walked to the cafe to retrieve it for me. The next night, John the front of house manager, literally walked me to Cecconi’s (must go-to restaurant). I am not sure if this is standard service (or they just thought I was ditzy after losing my things so many times they thought I would get lost in the 2 -block trek to the restaurant) but it was VERY appreciated. The team, quite frankly, go the extra mile to make your stay a wonderful one. (Post note: Not to disappoint, I left my i-phone at the front desk upon checking out and rushing to the airport. Ten minutes later, I arrived back at the hotel by taxi only to have a staff member waiting outside, with phone in hand…smiling). See what I mean? They got me.
Regrettably, I did not have the time to eat at the hotel’s Michelin-star 27-seat restaurant, Seven Park Place – one of only 7 restaurants in London to be bestowed with this honor – run by head chef, William Drabble (formerly of Aubergine). It looked stunning. All the food served at the ahotel – tea, room service, catered business affairs at either of the two conference rooms – is overseen by him. I did get to enjoy the delicious breakfasts and teas at the bar & tea salon (pictured below) during my stay.
What about price? Well, we all know London can be pretty expensive, particularly for Americans with the unappealing USD/£ rate at 1:1.5. Fortunately, the St. James Hotel has some appealing packages for Americans specifically guaranteeing the U.S. Dollar rate. Packages include breakfast, and chauffeur-driven car from and to Heathrow Airport – worth checking out!
If you have a bit more time, head to swank and grand The Wolsely across the street. Definitely worth it for the setting and people watching alone.
Skip Harrods and go to Liberty of London which has a well-edited selection of everything. The outpost on Regent Street (see photo on right) is smaller and easier to navigate.
Top Shop was a waste of time – frenzied and confusing. Not sure what the fuss is about here.
If you are desperate to hit the Portobello flea market (located in quaint hood of Notting Hill), as I was, you should know that the main day to go is Saturday (NOT Sunday as I read in one of my guidebooks). Despite being told otherwise, most of the stores on Portobello Road are open on Sunday as well but I was not that impressed. If you head to this area, make sure to walk along Westbourne Grove – a street of fashionable boutiques. 202 is wonderful place to enjoy Sunday brunch and observe – everything in this Nicole Farhi eatery is also for sale.
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