London’s boutique boltholes

Unbeatable locations, historic buildings and individual character – London’s small hotels offer some of the capital’s top places to stay.

Park Hotel, Bayswater

Until the 19th century, London’s hotels were often considered to be disreputable establishments. There were few large hotels and wealthy visitors to the capital usually rented a house for their stay. Mivart’s, the precursor of Claridge’s, opened its doors in 1812 but, until the middle of the century, London hotels were generally small.

Today of course you can find every sort of place to stay in the capital – from huge, grand edifices on Park Lane to historic pubs with rooms and chic designer hotels visitors are spoilt for choice. But the smaller ‘boutique’ hotels remain popular, and there are some real gems to be found.

If it’s indulgence you’re after then look no further than the Baglioni Hotel London. The Italian group, which has nine exclusive hotels mainly housed in period buildings in the historical centres of some of Europe’s most attractive cities, focuses on luxury and location. Their London hotel, an original Victorian building situated opposite Kensington Palace and Gardens, could hardly be better placed for visitors to Britain’s capital.

With the 242 acres of Kensington gardens on your doorstep, bought by King William III in 1689 from what was originally part of Hyde Park, you can visit the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial and the Sir Christopher Wren-designed redbrick building that is Kensington Palace. For excellent shopping and restaurants, Kensington High Street stretches to the west and the historic concert venue of the Royal Albert Hall is less than half a mile to the east.

The Duke of Monmouth Suite at Hazlitt’s Hotel in Soho

But you’ll be loath to leave the luxury of the hotel behind at all – the glowing golden walls, waterfall fountain, silver and gold velvet armchairs and stylish Murano glass candelabras in the Brunello Lounge and Restaurant simply exude elegant extravagance. The baroque decoration continues in the 67 rooms and suites, too, with black marble bathrooms, clever lighting and inviting, sumptuous fabrics. The service is charming and very Italian and, as a five-star hotel, nothing is too much trouble, from a chauffeur-driven car to a personal butler.

If you like a more down-to-earth experience, an old Victorian pub in Clerkenwell in the east end of the city offers the perfect mix of traditional boozer and luxurious retreat. For more than 100 years, The Fox & Anchor has served the neighbouring butchers of Smithfield Market, opening at 7am with huge full English breakfasts, Bloody Marys and ale. The centuries-old meat market is now the last surviving historical wholesale market in the centre of the capital.

Food at The Fox is served all day (including oysters at the bar) but dinner is a real treat, and, given that this is a pub, surprisingly intimate. At the rear of the bar there is a small restaurant that is divided into cosy little candlelit nooks with wooden panelled walls, decorated with plenty of Victorian antique ornaments.

A beautiful bathroom in The Fox & Anchor

The bedrooms are in contrast to the historic touches of the rest of the pub – they have a modern contemporary feel and are decorated with striking black and white photographic portraits of some of the characters who work at Smithfield. The bathrooms are spacious and offer deep roll top baths and huge showers with delicious-smelling Miller Harris products.

The pub is a favourite with workers from the capital’s financial centre, the City, and it gets rowdy as the night wears on. Light sleepers are advised to request a room at the back, rather than facing the street. But this location is wonderfully distinctive and has a fascinating if rather gruesome history.

Smithfield was for centuries the main site for the public execution of heretics and dissidents in London. The Scottish nobleman William Wallace was executed here in 1305 and the market was used as a meeting place in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. During the 16th century, Smithfield was also used to execute swindlers and coin forgers who were boiled to death in oil.

At the other end of the scale, in a rather more gentile location, Belgravia is one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, nestled between the glamorous shopping areas of Knightsbridge and Sloane Square with Buckingham Palace to the south west. The area still retains a village feel, albeit an extremely upmarket one, brimming with designer boutiques. The international Jumeirah hotel brand has two hotels here – the Jumeirah Carlton Tower and the smaller Jumeirah Lowndes, both situated in the heart of Belgravia.

An opulent suite at Baglioni Hotel, Hyde Park

To match its chic location, the Lowndes offers the epitome of discreet refinement. The 87 rooms and suites are stylishly furnished in subtle colours with luxurious textures and kitted out with every mod con. A relaxed atmosphere and all-day dining can be found in the Lowndes Bar and Kitchen, which also has an outdoor terrace where you can sit and watch the area’s glamorous residents go by.

When you venture out, Harrods and Hyde Park are a pleasant, easy walk away and the West End takes only minutes either in a black cab or via Tube.

On the other side of Hyde Park, in Paddington, the Royal Park Hotel is another class act. Hidden away opposite a leafy square the hotel spans three carefully restored, mid 19th-century Grade II listed townhouses. Inside is the perfect quiet retreat from the busy city. The hotel is small, with no restaurant, but there is excellent room service on offer and delicious breakfasts and afternoon teas are served in the two downstairs reception rooms. At 7pm complimentary champagne and canapés appear, and there’s an outdoor garden area for when the sun is shining.

Embracing a quintessentially English décor, The Royal Park has carefully selected genuine Georgian antiques, sourced within the UK and sensitively restored by antiques expert Jonty Hearnden of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow to furnish its 48 rooms and suites. Treat yourself to the Deluxe Four Poster Suite for a spacious yet homely room with a large inviting bed, a separate sitting room with an extra television and comfy settee and balcony overlooking Westbourne Terrace.

Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel

One of the most elegant streets in London, Westbourne Terrace has long been fashionable – John Constable, son of the famous landscape artist, once lived there, and Oscar Wilde married at St James’ Church opposite The Royal Park Hotel.

If you are looking for something truly unique and with lashings of quirkiness to boot, Hazlitt’s hotel in the heart of Soho takes its name from English essayist and critic William Hazlitt who lived and died here in the 19th century when it was a boarding house. Hazlitt knew all of the literary figures of the day, including Wordsworth and Coleridge, and the hotel retains that literary heritage. It is a favourite of authors, who will typically leave a signed copy of a recently published book in the small ground-floor sitting room at the end of their stay.

Hazlitt’s is furnished in an opulent Georgian style. There is 18th-century panelling throughout, although each room is unique. Many of the bedrooms in Hazlitt’s are named after people who lived in or had some connection with the building in the 18th and 19th centuries.

However, The Duke of Monmouth Suite is dedicated to King Charles II’s illegitimate son who led a rebellion against his uncle James II, and designed to his imagined taste. It is a spectacular and sumptuous two-story maisonette that manages to be both grand and cosy. The bedroom boasts a gigantic four-poster bed with a sturdy dark wood frame that is like something straight out of a fairytale.

Old-fashioned levers and pulleys operate the bath, with the water pouring out of the beak of a huge bronze eagle that is perched on the side, flanked by indulgent REN toiletries. Upstairs there’s a cosy sitting room and a private terrace complete with a retractable glass roof where you can relax after a busy day exploring the West End.

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