London's Red Carnation Experience
While I was in London recently I had the opportunity to spend a day touring four wonderful hotels. They are all 5 Star properties belonging to the Red Carnation Collection and I have to admit, I was blown away by these beautiful hotels; each of which was unique in its own way. As you know, I am very discerning about which companies I choose to partner with and I am sure that some of you might not have heard about Red Carnation so let me tell you a little about them. To start, Red Carnation is family owned and operated. Now, to be fair, there are plenty of family owned companies out there - but the staff at Red Carnation is genuinely proud and fond of their founder and president, Bea Tollman, and their passion comes through in every aspect of their work. Everyone I met was excited to share all they could about not just the hotels, but also how fabulous the company is and how well Mrs. Tollman takes care of everyone. The staff also takes a lot of pride in making their guests feel not just welcome, but completely at home in their hotels. I enjoyed hearing numerous stories about what they will go out of their way to do in order to make every stay with them extra special - they even seem to have a bit of friendly competition for who can think of the best ways to make their guests feel welcome. So, honestly, why wouldn't I work with this company? Incredible attention to even the smallest detail, luxurious hotels in the finest locations, and staff who are genuinely passionate about their work.
Oh, and did I mention that these properties are all pet friendly? I saw staff filling water bowls with fresh bottled water, afternoon tea for your dogs, and even heard a story about someone who called ahead to let them know he was bringing his 'piglet' with him. Then he showed up with an enormous, fully grown potbelly pig!
So now, without further ado; a bit about these four hotels...
The Rubens at the Palace
My first stop of the day was The Rubens at the Palace. Aptly named, to be sure, since this hotel quite literally faces the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace. The Palace Lounge has plush loveseats facing out the large window so if you want afternoon tea with a view of the goings-on at the palace, then this is the place for you. The Rubens felt larger than some of the other hotels I visited later in the day, though this is probably due to the fact that there are several restaurants and bars on site; The Leopard Bar, The Palace Lounge, The English Grill, bbar, The Curry Room, and The New York Bar. My favorite might be The Leopard Bar, named by Mrs. Tollman in recognition of the conservation work they are doing to protect endangered species in Africa. They have a curated selection of over 200 whiskeys (and 50 types of gin!) which makes this the perfect spot for whiskey lovers. I also rather enjoyed the intimate Curry Room with its clubby seating and small size. While I did not get a chance to taste the food - a modern combination of South African and Indian cuisine - I admit it sounds delicious and I know I will have to return.
Touring the rooms was a treat as well. I love a hotel where every room is unique, and this one (though the same goes for the other Red Carnation properties) is no exception. The walls are covered in sumptuous fabrics in all manner of colors and patterns while the artwork are all authentic originals personally collected by Mrs. Tollman. From modern minimalist to vibrant reds and cool blue, there is a room to suit every taste. One touch I rather appreciated was the glazing on the windows. Even those facing the street were incredibly quiet! From here we headed into the adjacent Hotel 41 (which has its own private entrance into The Rubens should anyone there wish to pop in).
Hotel 41 is one of those rather mysterious places that you've only heard about. You know that it is exclusive and was recently named the best hotel in London in Travel and Leisure's 'World's Best Awards' but it certainly doesn't have the imposing street view of somewhere like The Ritz. I think that is what I like so much about it. You enter a gorgeous little lobby which sets the tone with its white and black décor and wood paneling, but there is nothing on this floor other than the lobby. You proceed to the elevator and head straight to the top floor of the building. All of the rooms and facilities are spread out across this one floor, which once again adds to the exclusive feel. Though I rather liked how it certainly does not feel pretentious in any way. The clubby atmosphere is, instead, very friendly and welcoming. I simply loved the Executive Lounge with its large skylight; not to mention the honesty bar and large spread of complimentary canapes and candy available all throughout the day. I was also intrigued to hear about how they take their guests up to the roof for New Years Eve to watch the fireworks. While it was not finished at the time of my visit, I was told that they are creating a lovely rooftop space for their guests to enjoy. You know I love a good rooftop lounge! I honestly cannot wait to come back and experience this.
The rooms here are, naturally, gorgeous. Though one thing I found particularly interesting is just how much I loved the décor. A black and white color scheme is not really my cup of tea but I absolutely LOVED the interiors here. Maybe it was the wood paneling? Hard to say why, but the black and white in here really worked for me and felt much 'lighter' and welcoming than these colors often do. The dual-level Junior Suite was my favorite room. A sitting area with working (!!!) fireplace on the first level and the bedroom and bath upstairs. Another little luxury is the 2:1 staff to guest ratio. That really says it all.
The location is hard to beat as well. Across from Buckingham Palace, a short walk from Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and of course both Green and St James' Parks. I also love the convenience of being easily accessible to Victoria station via a newly opened entrance so if you are doing a day trip somewhere you will have easy access to National Rail services from there.
The Milestone Hotel
It was at this point that we realized we had best get moving since we were expected soon at The Milestone Hotel in Kensington. Upon arrival at The Milestone you immediately recognize this it too has a wonderful location; though instead of looking out at Buckingham Palace, you have views across Kensington Gardens to Kensington Palace. A collection of private homes that have been tastefully brought together into one beautiful hotel, The Milestone certainly has a number of unique features. I rather liked the original chapel where they will hold small wedding ceremonies as well as the lovely conservatory. This bright and airy room had a lovely couple taking tea seated in the corner, and their three dachshunds were quite friendly and seemed happy to see us when we stopped by. I also rather enjoyed The Stables bar, its equestrian décor made me feel right at home! Plus, there is the option for a picnic or even afternoon tea in the park; though since I visited in January I will have to come back to experience this particular amenity.
The rooms and residences at the Milestone were exceptional as well. I rather liked the Kensington Gardens Suite and the Hermes Suite. Both have views across the gardens but the Kensington Gardens Suite has a spacious dual-level design that I really loved. The bright interior was complimented by the enormous windows which let in a great deal of light. I could just see myself getting work done at the beautiful desk which faced out these windows. The Hermes Suite, on the other hand, is all one level though it features a stunning art deco décor with sumptuous emerald green and gold accents. Mrs. Tollman decorated the walls with her collection of vintage Hermes scarves which only adds to the rich colors found in this room. I also rather liked the private patio, which would make this a lovely room for visits in warmer weather when you could take advantage of this.
After the tour we sat down for Afternoon Tea which was simply divine. Afternoon Tea might just be my favorite thing in the world and there is no lovelier way to pass an afternoon in my opinion. So what a treat it was to take tea here at the Milestone! We were attended to by the absolutely charming Thomas, who was eager to answer any question or fetch refills of anything we wanted. The standout tea of the afternoon was the Souchong Serendipity. I love a good traditional Lapsang Souchong so was intrigued by the Souchong Serendipity - smoked over cinnamon wood instead of pine branches. The result was a pleasantly light and refreshing version of the rich, smoky Lapsang that I love so much.
The Egerton House
As you may know, afternoon tea can go on for ages even when you are keeping an eye on the time! So at this point we said our goodbyes to the staff here and headed to our final stop of the day, The Egerton House. Egerton is a delightful and intimate little hotel which is nice and quiet as it is just off the main road. We were once again greeted by enthusiastic staff who, you could tell, rather enjoyed the opportunity to show off their hotel. In the heart of prestigious Knightsbridge and only a short walk from Harrods and the V&A Museum, Egerton is perfect for those who are looking for a boutique hotel that still allows for easy walkability to many shops, restaurants, and sites in the area. The rooms are cosy, welcoming, and again are all individually decorated. Since this is a small hotel there is no restaurant, though breakfast and Afternoon Tea is served in the Drawing Room.
I would say that the star attraction here is arguably Esley. Esley is the barman and will enthusiastically serve up anything you would like, though I highly recommend you try the Signature Martini. Esley has elevated this martini to an art form, and he loves to share everything about the process with you. From chilling both the gin and the glass to -22 C, to his careful dash of vermouth, it is truly a joy to watch him in action. Though I (and Esley himself) suggest savoring that martini and perhaps trying something else for your second drink...he admitted that he only gets four and a half martinis out of every bottle of gin! To go along with the martinis we were brought a selection of canapes and what they casually referred to as 'cheese on toast.' This cheese on toast was SO good it was all I could do to not simply devour it all at once. (It was rather reminiscent of another favorite of mine, welsh rarebit) By this point the bar and Drawing Room were filling up with guests enjoying pre-dinner cocktails and we figured we should head out to get our own dinner. How fortunate we were that Egerton House is so convenient to a large number of fabulous dining options! This hotel is great for those who want to explore all the surrounding area has to offer with the knowledge that they will be welcomed 'home' every evening.
So what do you think? Do any of these hotels sounds like something you would like to experience? Or maybe you would like to hear about Red Carnations other properties? Drop me a line! I cant wait to share London and these beautiful hotels with all of you because I just know you will love them.