Seventy-two hours in London. It doesn’t sound like a lot. But, if your only previous trips to this foggy city have been to take in Royal nuptials, spend a day at Harvey Nichols, or simply endure a long layover at Heathrow, you’ve probably missed out on more relaxing accommodations and a deep dive into the one of the world’s most historic cities.
Where to Stay: Check into Blakes Hotel. Located in tony South Kensington and decorated by the world-renowned designer Anouska Hempel, Blakes is widely regarded as the world’s first luxury boutique hotel. And while much has changed to keep this gem updated, the level of service and extravagance have only bested their original levels. To be sure, you know you’re someplace old world but chic when you walk through the front door and are greeted by an upscale safari motif replete with what seems to be dozens of vintage Louis Vuitton steamer trunks and other eye-popping décor. The aroma of Molton Brown permeates every inch of the property, reminding you that this is patently London.
Blakes may be the grande dame of boutique hotels, but it’s certainly not the dowager queen. Upon our arrival, the rumor among the guests was that Beyoncé had just checked out. While we weren’t able to have that gossip confirmed or denied (the hotel has a strict confidentiality policy), we were assured that the property continues to be a favorite among the very rich and notable.
The rooms are stunning, evoking India, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt, and Italy, with luxurious accessories, furniture, and artifacts from around the world. For something on the small and intimate side, request a luxury double, which is roomy by any standard. Each of several luxury doubles is individually designed and features various style beds, luxurious bathrooms, high ceilings, and a touch of eccentricity to appeal to any taste.
For ultimate indulgence, attempt to book a signature suite. A favorite is the Library Suite, which Blakes describes as “dark and mysterious, like an exclusive traditional Gentlemen’s Club with walls lined with bookcases filled with antique books, a wooden hand-stenciled floor, a magnificent four poster bed, luxurious abundant fabrics and a myriad of beautiful pieces of antique furniture.”
The Corfu Suite Blakes describes as a “stunning king size four poster white French Provençal suite with abundance of gossamer nets, white fabrics and exquisite mother of pearl furniture. High ceiling, white on white on white, trompe l’oeil walls, hand painted white flooring, and light and airy, it’s a favorite for honeymoon couples.” The Corfu Suite leads out to one of the Blakes’ many areas for repose, the famous courtyard — one of the property’s best-kept secrets. A stunning green oasis discreetly nestled between the hotel and its Mews House, it is a perfectly tranquil retreat for privacy and comfort to enjoy breakfast, lunch, refreshing afternoon teas, or even an early evening cocktail. Newly added conservatories are fitted with stylish yet comfortable furnishings and are surrounded by bay trees and boxwoods. These spaces remain cool during summer and warm during winter. Of utmost importance is guest privacy and comfort, and the conservatory exemplifies this promise.
Being as you’re on a schedule, and visiting Blakes is a little like a trip through wonderland, eat here and then take in a cocktail or two in the chic Chinese Room and Bar, both situated in the property’s subterranean level. The Chinese Room and Bar is decidedly East. Slipper orchids abound among candles and books stacked on squat tables. The room is known for attracting sophisticated and culturally influential guests.
Take a Look Around: Big Ben. Westminster Abbey. The Tower of London. Buckingham Palace. These are icons of English history and figure prominently in your favorite James Bond flick, but what you hardly ever get — even when sightseeing on your own — is an insider’s peek into nooks and crannies and legends of old London. Enter Richard Liddle, owner of Capital Taxi Tours. Established in 1976, Capital Taxi uses only licensed London taxi drivers who operate licensed taxis, and who are qualified and registered professional guides. If you’re lucky enough to get Richard himself (certainly, you should request him), you’ll be led from the front curb of Blakes in a well-appointed and roomy Mercedes. If you have a time crunch, take a half-day tour: You’ll see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly Circus in Westminster before heading to the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the modern financial district. Shop where the Royals have been getting their togs for decades, and snap enough photos to fill more than a handful of thumb drives.