With a royal wedding and the Olympics on the horizon, London is one of the world’s hottest travel destinations. Here is what’s making news in the city this spring.
"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." When Samuel Johnson penned this line in the 18th Century, London was a glorious world capital, a sprawling hive of activity, and so it remains today. With its luxury shops, burgeoning culinary scene, world-renowned museums, and vibrant art galleries, not to mention the remarkable historic sites and enormous parks, London still live up to Johnson's words today. As the city prepares for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey on April 29 and the 2012 Olympic Summer Games, London is more energized than ever.
"The royal wedding will create a fantastic vibe in the city in the spring," says Roland Fasel, general manager of The Dorchester and the U.K. Regional Director for Dorchester Collection, which ill open the contemporary 45 Park Lane hotel this summer following the group's fall 2010 openening of Coworth Park, a country estate property just outside the city in Ascot. "I expect an incredible energy to emerge this spring, and then the Olympic momentum will build."
This year marks the 80th birthday of The Dorchester hotel, one of London’s most famous grande dames. Though she remains a classic, The Dorchester is no fusty dowager. A few years ago, the hotel renovated its rooftop suites, including the Audley Suite, where you’ll feel like a movie star lounging in a glamorous art-deco-infused penthouse with a terrace overlooking the city. The hotel’s new spa is another showstopper with its decadent deco flair.
While The Dorchester exudes the flamboyance of a big hotel featuring premier eateries, including Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester and China Tang, the Dorchester Collection’s upcoming 45 Park Lane, located across the street, will present a different option for those who prefer the clublike intimacy of a chic boutique hotel. Food is also a highlight at 45 Park Lane, which will host CUT at 45 Park Lane, Wolfgang Puck’s first restaurant in Europe. The modern American steak house will serve prime dry- and wet-aged beef, pan-roasted lobster, and sautéed and roasted fresh fish, complemented by an extensive international wine selection.
For years, London was mocked for subpar cuisine, but the city has shaken off that reputation with dozens of Michelin-starred restaurants, neighborhoody gastro pubs, and a zesty array of ethnic eateries. As is evidenced by Puck’s entrance onto the London scene, the city is attracting the world’s most famous chefs and restaurateurs. “If you go back 10 to 15 years, there were a handful of good restaurants in London, but by no stretch was it considered a food city,” says Fasel. “With the energy, creativity, and incredible talent that have come to town, London is now one of the top five food cities in the world.”
The dramatic transformation of the culinary scene has also impressed Kiaran MacDonald, general manager of The Savoy, a London landmark which reopened last fall after a three-year, $385 million restoration and renovation. “London is now a food emporium, which it wasn’t five years ago,” confirms MacDonald, who believes the rebirth of The Savoy has recaptured the glamour and vitality of its illustrious past. “In yesteryear, The Savoy was known and acclaimed for the dynamic life and energy of its public spaces, such as the famed American Bar and River Restaurant. That waned 10 to 15 years ago, but today when you visit, you’re not only met with the beautiful physical transformation of the space but also a revitalized energy.”
At one point, says MacDonald, 1,000 workers were on site performing tasks ranging from upgrading systems to pain-stakingly restoring the intricate plaster moldings and stripping a century’s worth of polish off the now-lustrous mahogany paneling in the lobby. “We treated it as a restoration — protecting the character and feel of the hotel,” says MacDonald, who believes the hotel’s waterfront location is one of its greatest assets. “We are on the most glorious part of the Thames, the only hotel on the river, and the views are truly spectacular.”
In nearby Covent Garden, One Aldwych puts a modern spin on British afternoon tea (pictured right) in the hotel’s Indigo restaurant. Executive chef Tony Fleming (pictured below), has updated the quintessential English tradition by developing lighter versions of both sweet and savory favorites. The restaurant showcases a number of contemporary artworks from the hotel’s private collection of some 400 paintings and sculptures that are displayed throughout the property. Located across from The Courtauld Gallery, which exhibits a number of famed masterpieces, One Aldwych can assist you with planning a memorable London art experience. The concierge can arrange private museum tours or gallery walks guided by experts who will introduce you to the city’s art scene — from the avant-garde galleries of the East End to established West End venues. For a distinctly art-centric dining experience to end a day of gallery and museum hopping, venture off the beaten path to The Wapping Project, a unique restaurant and gallery space housed in the former Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, a Victorian-era power plant.
London does indeed offer, as Samuel Johnson put it, “all that life can afford.” Jacqueline French, a spokesperson for Visit London, says the hardest question to answer is: What should I do? “People can really make their own itinerary to suit their own tastes and do whatever they like doing,” she says, with one bit of advice: Do some research before you land to make the most of your time. “The worst thing would be to get here and then ask ‘What should I do?’ With so much to offer and so many choices, you’ll want to find out what’s going on and make plans before you get here.”