When it comes to living the life of a lord, there’s nowhere like London, whether it’s sampling super luxury in Bond Street’s boutiques or following in the footsteps of royalty at the opera
It was esteemed dictionary writer Dr Samuel Johnson who noted that London had “all that life can afford”; he might well have been referring to the experience of being measured by an expert tailor on Savile Row or sampling tastebud-awakening gâteaux in a lavish hotel. Because London has always been a magnet for skills and crafts, trading and visiting, meeting and celebrating and it now offers some of the most refined, gracious and hedonistic delights there are to be had in life.
London is Europe’s unchallenged retail showpiece, parading the cream of international and British brands in some of the most seductive shopping quarters. Take Mayfair, for example. It’s not the priciest property on the Monopoly board for nothing and has been the capital’s most moneyed address since it was set out in the 1680s.
Today it boasts some of the highest rents on the planet. Bond Street is its undisputed focus, displaying more Royal Warrants than anywhere else, along with dizzying designer names: Chanel, Ferragamo, Hermès, Aspreys. It’s also home to the largest concentration of fine jewelers in the world, esteemed art dealers, and the famous Sotheby’s auctioneers, whose sale of a Giacometti sculpture for £65 million in 2010 set a world record for a work of art sold at auction.
A snapshot of pure Mayfair sophistication is Mount Street, an exclusive coterie of hand-chosen boutiques: you can shop for Roland Mouret, Louboutin and Vivienne Westwood before taking a well-earned breather at Scott’s restaurant, famous for oysters and its celebrity clientele.
You once needed to be introduced by a friend to a tailor on Savile Row, where the word bespoke was coined, as cloth was said to be ‘spoken for’. Its pedigree is undisputed: Gieves & Hawkes measured up Nelson and Wellington, Davies & Son shod Harry S Truman, and Henry Poole & Co invented the dinner suit. It’s gratifying to see new designers such as Ozwald Boateng and Richard James continuing the tailoring tradition.
A hop away is busy Regent Street, and if you can bear to leave Apple’s 23,500-square feet of technical wizardry, you can take in Burberry, Church’s, Penhaligon’s and Hamley’s – still the largest toy store in the world.
South of Piccadilly, St James’s owes its existence to Henry VIII’s red-brick palace; shops catering to courtiers sprang up from the 1690s, and still offer products for the very discerning: fine cigars at J J Fox and Dunhill; rare wines at Berry Bros & Rudd; and specialist antique and art dealers for some old masters. Jermyn Street is the official nerve centre of gentlemen’s shirtmakers for those who know their shank buttons: visit Hilditch & Key, TM Lewin and Eton school shirtmaker New & Lingwood. You can find shaving requisites at Geo F Trumper and Taylor’s, plus superb shoes at Tricker, John Lobb and Foster & Son.
A young upstart in comparison, leisurely Sloane Street isn’t paved with gold: just the season’s most desirable couture. The ‘Sloane Rangers’ of the 1980s have been replaced by chic fashionistas. And a hidden gem nearby is Belgravia, which offers a stylishly intimate shopping experience, with renowned designer to the Queen Stewart Parvin and headwear supremo Philip Treacy – as well as one of London’s finest cigar shops at TomTom.
If you like everything at your fingertips, London’s department stores offer mammoth selections of international brand names. Top of everyone’s wishlist is Harrods, their 1.2 million square feet devoted to the best of everything; the 1907 Doulton-tiled Food Halls are the closest you get to a religious experience in retail. Book the personal shopping suite that discreetly caters to the whims of royalty and movie stars.
Nearby Harvey Nichols is a scaled-down version that’s best known for fashion, and the city’s second biggest store, the hipper Selfridges, is as renowned for its high-quality designer brands as it is for ground-breaking window displays. More intimate still is Liberty, the deliciously rambling mock-Tudor building that used timbers from two 19th century warships in its interior. It has been selling London’s most adventurous and exotic objets d’art, furniture, fabrics and fashion since the 1870s.
If it’s old England you’re looking for, Fortnum & Mason has been politely supplying British royalty with food for 300 years, and is famed for the sturdy hampers it sends to the Ascot races every season. Equally genteel is Burlington Arcade, London’s first shopping centre. Dating back to 1819, and still patrolled by liveried beadles, it showcases old British brands from cashmere to leather and antiques.
London’s luxury scene is not all about your shopping experience. The capital’s hotels are some of the best in the world, with the vast monuments to the Victorian and Edwardian periods superbly renovated to offer old-world grandeur, impeccable service and 21st century convenience and often outstanding gastronomic experiences. The names of London’s great hotels are spoken with hushed reverence. The Savoy introduced luxury to the capital in the 1880s and, after a £220 million restoration in 2010, the original interiors gleam again – including the gorgeous lobby where Vivien Leigh fell in love with Laurence Olivier. Its service is impeccable, its location central and its views stunning; Monet painted the Houses of Parliament from one of the windows.
Following on its heels in 1906 and impossibly glamorous, The Ritz was modelled on a French château. The cavernous mirror-clad and gilded Louis XVI halls are sumptuous, and the restaurant overlooking Green Park is one of the grandest dining rooms in Europe, with so many chandeliers that the ceiling had to be specially reinforced.
Built to be modern and efficient in the Art Deco 1930s, The Dorchester still has three-to-one ratio of staff to guest bedrooms: book the listed Oliver Messel Suite, created by the renowned theatre designer and a favourite of Marlene Dietrich. Around the corner is the imposing red-brick façade of Claridge’s, known as an ‘extension of Buckingham Palace’ for the frequent royal parties. It’s been in royal favour since Queen Victoria was entertained here by French Empress Eugenie during the 1860s.
You couldn’t tell that the stucco-fronted Lanesborough started life as a hospital in 1827, as it is now one of the great hotels of the world. Minutes from Harrods, its antiques and art are underscored by the intimacy of its interiors and service, with a 24-hour personal butler for all rooms. And, finally, the city’s the most exciting new hotel opened in 2011 following 50 years of neglect. The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is now the city’s most romantic building; the riot of neo-Gothic windows, wrought ironwork, hand-stencilled wallpapers and grand staircase are as dazzling as the day the hotel opened in 1873. It has a superb Marcus Wareing restaurant, 38 luxurious suites and is mightily handy for hopping on Eurostar to Paris.
More discreet options are favourites of shy celebrities and billionaires, so it was no accident that the Middleton family chose the Goring Hotel for the night before the royal wedding: it has the ambiance of an intimate English country house. Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing is a good enough reason to visit the chic Berkeley Hotel, a discreet celeb hangout (Madonna left “I adore the Blue Bar” as feedback on the hotel website).
Urban chic choices have been springing up over the past few years, such as Philippe Starck’s sophisticated St Martins Lane Hotel. There’s no sign outside, just a clutch of designer doormen ushering you into the minimalist lobby. One Aldwych is less aggressively hip, but offers contemporary art-laden interiors plus suites with private gyms or terraces – and a private screening room, health club and swimming pool with underwater music. And over in the financial district, the new-concept Andaz Liverpool Street challenges the norm with no reception desk or queuing, just a member of staff tapping on a tablet while you relax.
London is a city of superlatives and there are scintillating experiences to be had if you know where to look…
The most exclusive suite: The Lanesborough Suite is London’s most sumptuous, offering 4,000 square feet with four bedrooms, two drawing rooms, dining room and kitchen. There are panoramas over Hyde Park, a personal butler on hand and a chauffeur-driven Rolls thrown in. £14,000 a night.
The operatic experience: Enjoy the opulent 1850s auditorium of the Royal Opera House from the private Royal Box, dinner for 10 in the Royal Retiring Room with a personal butler and a pre-performance backstage tour. £5,000 plus catering.
The luxury shopping tour: The London Luxury Collection arranges bespoke three-hour tours led by designers and art historians who give expert insight and take you behind the scenes of Britain’s luxury heritage brands, whether fashion, jewellery or fine art and antiques. Extras include a private driver, lunch or afternoon tea. From £26.
The private dining room: Anton Mosimann, OBE – the man who brought nouvelle cuisine to Britain – offers the private Bentley Room in his restaurant in a restored 19th century Presbyterian Church. It seats up to 14 on green leather dining chairs at the burr oak table, hand-crafted according to the original designs of a 1926 Bentley Mulsanne.
The ultimate afternoon tea: The Ritz’s sublime champagne afternoon teas in the Palm Court are symphonies of fizzing bubbles and clinking china, with 17 types of loose leaf tea to wash down freshly cut finger sandwiches, newly baked scones smeared with clotted Devonshire cream, and a sinful stream of cakes and pastries. Gentlemen must wear a jacket and tie, and book three months in advance. £54 per person.
The ultimate spa: London’s only spa bedroom at the InterContintental allows complete pampering from Elemis spa therapists, who give a wide variety of massages, manicures and facials, and endless glasses of champagne – before allowing you to collapse in the next-door junior suite. £2,000 for an overnight stay.
The connoisseur’s wine tasting: Beneath The Stafford Hotel lie 360-yearold vaulted wine cellars, a unique setting for wine tastings led by Master Sommelier Gino Nardella, who draws on one of the most complete and impressive collections in London – around 20,000 bottles of the world’s greatest wines.