London is, without doubt, one of the greatest cities in the world and it is a destination that is often overlooked by Irish people — partly because of its proximity to home but also because of that phenomenon of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. It is also an expensive city to visit, particularly when it comes to hotel accommodation, but I think that I’ve found the ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to a hotel that represents that optimum mix of location, price and comfort.
Since the 70’s, I’ve probably stayed in at least 40 or more hotels in the London area, not including airports and they’ve ranged from the Ibis in Shoreditch to the Royal Garden in Kensington with a little bit of everything else in between and whilst most of them have been perfectly adequate (The Intercontinental near Scotland Yard is particularly nice), in my experience, finding a hotel in central London has always been a case of compromise — location over room size or price over comfort. When your budget is limited (as most peoples are), it’s quite hard to find a hotel that delivers on all three criteria of price, location and comfort levels.
The reason why I’m bringing this up is because I’m travelling over to London again in a few weeks’ time to do a ship visit for a new super yacht that the French luxury cruising line, Ponant, are bringing to the English capital. The Laperouse is the first of five new vessels that Ponant are building and if you’ve ever seen photographs of Roman Abramovich’s yacht Eclipse, then you get an idea of what Ponant’s hardware is like. Ponant sits above Silversea in the cruise pecking order and a typical week’s cruising will cost from €5,000 per person upwards, depending on the itinerary being undertaken and the size of the stateroom booked. That is excellent value for money when you think of it as everything is included and how else can mere mortals like you and I ever get to experience what it’s like to sail aboard a super yacht? One of the unique features of the Laperouse and its other five siblings is an underwater lounge called the Blue Eye which sits below the water line and where guests can sit and enjoy their cocktails while watching live scenes like something straight out of a Jacques Cousteau documentary. Sophisticated, and then some!
Anyway, I digress. I was looking for a hotel that was located as near as possible to where the ship is going to be docked which is down by the HMS Belfast on the Thames but the more I looked, the more I became dismayed at the prices of many of the properties on offer — most of which were quite pedestrian, to say the least. I then remembered a hotel that I had come across by accident a few years ago and which I loved — The Grand Royale hotel which is in the Bayswater area. OK, no way near the Thames I must admit but then beggars can’t be choosers! I looked it up on online and sure enough, it is still competitively priced, given what other properties are charging in London right now. The Grand Royale is located at the end of a terrace of quite beautiful Edwardian townhouses and was built for King Edward VII to house his mistress Lilly Langtry. The building was designed by none other than Charles Mews, the renowned French architect who also designed the Ritz.
The interior décor of the public rooms in the Grand Royale is ostentatious and features loads of oak panelling and deeply quilted leather furniture, so it almost feels as if you’re in a gentleman’s private club. It is located less than 200 metres from Queensway tube station and Notting Hill with all its quirky boutiques and restaurants is only about 15-20 minutes’ walk away. The on-site facilities are minimal but then again, who spends time in their hotel when they’re visiting an amazing city like London?
So, the next time you’re visiting London and need somewhere nice to stay that is comfortable, well located, reasonably priced and has a bit of history thrown in for good measure, then you could do worse than book yourself into the Grand Royal hotel — a class act for a not so classy price of just under £200 per night!