Enjoying a complimentary drive through London in a gleaming Rolls Royce or ordering a shot of 18th-century Cognac at the bar for a mere 5,000 dollars – such are some of the luxurious possibilities at The Wellesley hotel in Knightsbridge.
Built on an abandoned metro station close to Hyde Park Corner, this five-star, 36-room boutique property designed by Fox Linton Associates and opened four years ago has enjoyed many previous lives, from townhouse to office block to pizza joint-jazz club venue. Awash in Art Deco design, it features bronze front doors, crystal chandeliers above a shimmering marble lobby and a concierge desk in studded ostrich leather. A mirrored back wall gives the impression the short entrance corridor is longer than it actually is.
Just inside, off the lobby, an estimated 1.5 million dollars of assorted cigars line shelves in the largest hotel humidor in Europe, with a portrait of Winston Churchill drawn delicately on tobacco leaves as its decorative centerpiece. With framed photographs of former US President Kennedy and Fidel Castro staring at each other across the room with Churchill between them, it seems as if the ‘British Bulldog’ is quietly attempting to mediate a peace agreement between the two arch enemies. Cigar aficionados can enjoy their stogies either inside or on comfortable seating on a nearby terrace bordered by a privacy hedge.
Many of the hotel’s rooms and suites are named after artistic luminaries such as Cecil Beaton, an English photographer and Academy Award–winning stage and costume designer; Ivor Novello, a Welsh composer and actor; jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Chaplin. Our room, 101, was named after English playwright, director and actor, Noël Coward, and featured a full floor-to-ceiling window that granted us generous views over the rich, leafy foliage of trees lining the street opposite and the winding pathways of Hyde Park beyond, frequented by joggers, walkers and cyclists. It proved a delightful place for bouts of people-watching.
Room furnishings were lavish with Art deco style doors, framed vintage sketches of fashion icons vintage photographs from Vogue decorating the walls, ornate table lamps, a lush gold-colored crescent-shaped couch, a lacquered coffee table, 52-inch wall-mounted TV and a veined Carrara marble bathroom with a large shower and Hermès toiletries. Modern amenities included electronically-operated curtains and a Samsung tablet device providing local information, newspapers from around the world and Internet access. Wi-Fi was fast, reliable and complimentary. A bedside drawer contained a control panel permitting us to pre-set lighting moods.
Aside from the smoking room, other relaxation options included the ‘Crystal Bar’ fronting Knightsbridge, highlighted by glass-fronted shelves filled with fine liquors such as Cognacs dating from 1789. It offered bar and roofed terrace seating options with an outdoor fireplace and heaters to help keep British damp chills at bay. In a room tucked away at the rear of the lobby, afternoon teas are served with a live jazz pianist entertaining guests. As the hotel was home to the ‘Pizza on the Park Jazz Club’ in the 1930s, this room features live performances every Friday and Saturday night with popular drinks from the speakeasy era and weekend special tasting menus. Directly across the lobby is the ‘Oval’ restaurant, where high-end Italian fare is served in an intimate, tranquil setting.
The Wellesley, named after Sir Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, offers a private butler service for tasks ranging from personal shopping to packing and a free chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce for journeys less than 1.5 miles. We took full advantage of the latter, enjoying a smooth and comfortable ride to Victoria Station where we had special reservations aboard a 1920s Belmond British Pullman train as it arced its way around London.
Aside from its glittering ‘Gatsby-like’ luxuries, The Wellesley is a convenient location – in glamorous Knightsbridge – from which to enjoy the English capital’s many museums, restaurants and theaters.