Play tourist or take refuge from London’s chaos? You can do both at this swanky urban retreat.
Late British real estate tycoon Lord Harold Samuel is often credited for coining the popular expression: “There are three things that matter in property – location, location, location.”
Admittedly, historians have discovered the same cliché in print years before Samuel could have first said it. But it’s easy to see how the London-born baron, whose career kicked off in the English capital, became known for it.
London is a vast city. Its cobblestone streets and marble buildings have been trodden, inhabited, burned down and rebuilt for more than two millennia since Roman times. This history, and London’s modern status as a key economic centre of Europe, has cultivated a long list of “must-see” attractions riddled across 32 boroughs and 1500 square kilometres.
The most important decision you will make when planning a trip to London is not which museum to attend or which pint of lager to order. It’s where you should stay. As Samuel said, “location, location, location”. Fortunately, there exists one hotel to answer all three of these concerns.
The five-star May Fair Hotel boasts arguably the best location of any of its counterparts in central London. It is a two-minute walk from Green Park underground station, a five-minute walk to Buckingham Palace, and a stone’s throw from the designer shopping boutiques of Bond and Regent Street. The theatres of the West End, and the lively bars and restaurants of Covent Garden and Fitzrovia, are 15 minutes away by foot.
Walking can be faster – and is always more scenic – than squeezing through hordes of tube commuters to travel one or two stops from the May Fair. An added benefit is knowing I’m never too far from a bed, a sophisticated meal, or a stiff drink when my feet begin to ache from stomping London’s cobblestones.
In the early 1900s – when Mayfair was still spelt as two words – the hotel was a grand mansion hosting a succession of British and American aristocrats including, most recently, the Dukes of Devonshire. The hotel opened in 1927 with King George V and Queen Mary on site to cut the red ribbon; a gesture that hinted at the glamour that was to ensue. Almost a century on, guests still receive the royal treatment.
Penguin-suited butlers are on standby at all hours to swing open heavy, brass-handled doors for me each time I return to the hotel. Honking black cabs, rattling underground trains and hissing bus brakes cut to black as the doors swing shut behind. Even on London’s busiest streets, the hotel’s double-glazed windows do remarkably well to absorb the bustling situation outside.
Inside, the décor is a chic fusion of glass and leather, marble and gold leaf. Glimmering chandeliers and warm, woody tones nod to the hotel’s rich history. Splashes of colour (think hot pink sofas) and loud patterns cut through with modern edge. Little wonder that the May Fair is the official hotel partner to London Fashion Week and the British Film Institute. The place has a trendy, New York-meets-Asia vibe and – like the double glazing – it works.
If location comprises your top three concerns in a London hotel; food, drinks and a comfortable bed soon follow. Fortunately, the May Fair has these well covered.
All 404 rooms and 40 suites are fit for royals with their lavish marble bathrooms and plush pink sofas. A “large” suite by London standards will seem small to most Australian travellers. But we all know the sizes of the bed and bathroom are what really matters and in this case, both are vast.
Mayfair has enough Michelin stars to feed a village, but it was the May Fair Hotel’s flagship restaurant, May Fair Kitchen, that earned the title of “Best Luxury Restaurant in London” at the LUX Life Magazine Global Hospitality Awards in 2019. Share plates of enormous chilli and panko-crumbed tiger prawns, smoky short-rib tacos and lobster ravioli jostle for attention on a busy menu. Thank goodness there’s an equipped gym downstairs because it’s hard to stop ordering.
One evening in a margarita-infused daze, I step out of the elevator below ground to find myself in cave of stone buddhas and smooth marble massage beds. Sounds of trickling water, smells of incense and tea fill a warren of saunas and treatment rooms. I’ve discovered the May Fair’s luxury spa. I sign up for a one-hour treatment and through some form of ye olde English witchcraft, I’m blissfully transported to a Chinese rainforest. All the while lying just a few metres below central London.
There’s a reason why Mayfair is the priciest property on the Monopoly board. Yes, there are cheaper hotels in the outer suburbs – but those require more travel time crammed into hot underground trains, ferrying back and forth between tourist sites. Checking into the May Fair is transformative. Like Morpheus offering Neo the red pill in The Matrix: “you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes”.
GET THERE: Take the underground on the Jubilee Line from Heathrow International Airport to Green Park station. The hotel is a two-minute walk around the corner.
STAY THERE: Rooms start from 375 pounds (about AU$740) per night in low season.