By Jana Jones
But I am not a Claridge's kind of person," I said to my friend, writer Durant Imboden (Europe For Visitors) as we discussed my London itinerary. I am certainly not wealthy, I am not chic, I'm not famous, I am hardly elegant and I am anything but refined. So it was with some trepidation that I arrived in front of this most legendary of London hotels, with its liveried bellmen and porters standing just outside the revolving art-deco doors, waiting to take your luggage to your room or suite before you even check in.
Guess what I discovered...
I AM a Claridge's kind of person after all, because the ingenuous staff is so warm and so friendly that anyone who walks through these lovely doors is welcomed as a valued guest, and the profile is determined by the guests' preferences rather than by the guests' fame, financial standing, couture or brand of luggage (mine comes from Wal-Mart.)
Looking as though he had just stepped from the pages of GQ magazine, Tobias at the front desk set about checking us in. "We have a lovely traditional room set aside for you on the fifth floor," he said, "but it's still occupied."
"I understand," I said, because it was, after all, only 9:30am. Check-in time was almost six hours away, at 3:00pm. I told him that we would go for a walk and come back later.
"Ooooh," said Tobias, tapping away at the keyboard in front of him. One eyebrow raised, an impish smile just forming. "What do you think of this one?" he said to his colleague Julia. "Ahhhh, yes!" she said, smiling too.
"Which do you like better, traditional or Art-Deco?" he asked.
"Art-Deco," said my daughter, at the same time that I said "Traditional."
Tobias' smile broadened as he grabbed two small keys and put them in the slots provided in the key envelope. With a flourish he handed it to Julia, who would accompany us to our room.
"So which did you give us?" I asked
"Both!" he said, grinning with pleasure.
(It impressed me greatly that Barbara Walters had also arrived at the reception counter; he could have left us to help her, but he didn't, he gave us his full attention.)
Julia led us to the elevator just opposite reception. When its doors opened I was surprised to see a space much larger than the door would indicate, with a most proper gentleman to run it, and a sofa. We were taken to the fifth floor; Julia turned right and we followed her to the end of the hallway where she showed us how to use our key to open our door.
We were escorted into a foyer, which didn't surprise me much since I had heard that many of Claridge's rooms have entry foyers, but when I looked up, I realized that we had entered a large salon, and through a door to the right was a bedroom; there was a second foyer and some doors going off in different angles, and at first I was most confused.
And then I realized that we had been accommodated in a huge one-bedroom suite.
Now if someone had told me that I would walk into a space where the first thing I saw was a leopard-spotted wallpaper in a dusky blue, a dark red carpet with a slight plaid to it, two cotton-candy pink striped chairs with curlicues embroidered into them, a teal striped sofa and Rorshach-test paisley drapes with pink, coral and teal as the primary colors, if someone had told me this and had said it was classy looking, I would have laughed. Hard. And had someone told me that the bedroom would have three different types of plaids, in reds and browns, the same paisely drapes, a country-inspired bedspread design and turquoise chairs to go with the burled maple Art-Deco furniture, scalloped and coved walls and ceilings, I would have laughed again. Harder.
But to my surprise, it all worked. It was delightful and fun.
And then Julia led us through another foyer in which was a door to a small toilet, and then another door to a dressing room with closets, a chest of drawers, and a small plush chair; and beyond that to a set of French doors which led into a glorious bathroom.
There may be some who have never heard of Claridge's famed "dinner plate" shower heads. I knew about them, but until I actually saw one, I didn't quite comprehend just how huge they are. Just below it is a "shoulder shower," with another showerhead that's large but more in line with what we would expect. Use the two together and it's like being in a tropical rain forest. The tub is deep, perfect for soaking; it fills from the bottom and is a bit disconcerting when full because you can't see the faucet.
The bathroom itself was a study in sybaritic indulgence. A heated towel rack stacked with pure white towels, a marble counter with a deep sink, Floris toiletries designed specifically for the Savoy Group of hotels, a bidet, a make-up mirror, two heavy, heavy luxurious terry robes hanging side by side. A vast space of marble floor and a huge window for natural light. If I had had nothing else to do, I would have cocooned myself in the bathroom for my entire stay.
Little buttons were scattered around the rooms, either at bedside or on the wall; touch one and you summoned your personal butler. Touch another, a maid came calling. Touch a third and your room was assured privacy; the phone wouldn't ring and no one would knock. This actually extended to pulleys in the bathtub; you could summon your maid or butler by pulling a cord.
I have enjoyed many hotel beds in my day, from the exclusive "Four Seasons Bed" to the trademarked "Heavenly Bed®" by Westin, but it would take someone with a more poetic soul to describe the luxury of the Claridge's bed. It wasn't just the crisp Frette linens or the overstuffed down pillows or the down duvet; there was something, something so sinfully RICH about nestling down into it that it defies description.
After thoroughly examining the rooms, we set out to discover the delights of breakfast in the hotel's Foyer.
This lovely space, central in the hotel, filled with green leather settees and beautifully covered tables, serves breakfast, lunch and tea everyday. Pastry racks are set beside the tables; the fresh muffins, croissants and breads come from Claridge's own bakery. The crockery, made by Limoges for Claridge's, is done in a whimsical circus stripe of pale green; the shape of the mugs and tea and coffee pots is slightly offbeat, oversized and off center. The effect is charming beyond words: "We might be Claridge's," it seems to say, "but we aren't stuffy, no Sir!"
Breakfast is also served in the exquisitely beautiful Gordon Ramsey restaurant located adjacent to the foyer, through the Macanudo Fumoir, a small space with a few tables and chairs set against eggplant-colored suede walls decorated with etched glass panels.
After breakfast we visited the hotel's fitness center and spa. Located on the sixth floor, it was built in 1998 and has the most modern of workout equipment, a men's and women's shower and changing room, a treatment room for spa services and a little "waiting room" where one can order tea and visit with friends. Complimentary fruit, juices and bottled water are provided; the fitness center is available to hotel guests at no charge.
It's no wonder that Silversea Cruises, the premier luxury cruise line in the world, chooses Claridge's to host its treasured guests when they sail from London. I really had thought that my visit to Claridge's would be intimidating and awkward, but except for trying to figure out what tips would be appropriate, it was anything but. After just a short time I felt very much at home, helped greatly by staff such as Tobias and Julia, Emily and David - the head waiter who has been at the hotel for 18 years - and Michael, our "elevator manager" who has been with The Savoy Group for 34 years and at Claridge's for 29. You see? I know them by name, which is what they encourage, just as they knew me by name. And my profile won't be "tips poorly, cheap luggage." It will be "likes morning coffee, lots of natural light, needs outlet for laptop." That way, when I return, everything will be ready for me.
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