Saturday, December 10, 2016

London Calling! A stay at Europe's First Grand Hotel, the Langham Hotel

Y'all knew I couldn't go to London without staying at the Langham, knowing my addiction and passion (some say obsession) with the upscale brand.  But to stay at the flagship property, where Afternoon Tea was invented, where royalty stayed, where Allied planners first brainstormed the D-Day invasion to liberate Europe...well, I wasn't about to say no.  No way, no how, no chance.  Besides, it's a Langham, I knew I was going to be taken care of, and have an unforgettable stay.  The best part about this trip, I had my family in tow, so I they can see for themselves just how good Langham is.

A little history about the Langham.  It was built between 1863 and 1865 and is one of London's largest and best known Grand Hotels.  In fact, the Langham was the original Grand Hotel of Europe, with a fabled past, and very colorful future ahead of it.  It had the first hydraulic lifts in England, not to mention the first in a hotel, period.  Prominent figures such as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Napoleon III, and Toscanini have held residence here.  The hotel was a landmark during war as well, serving as first aid post and an armory during World War II.  The BBC ended up moving part of its broadcasting to the Langham after their broadcasting house across the street was bombed.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set some of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at the Langham.  Princess Diana was a frequent visitor, as were heads of more than a few Royal Families from around the world.

So here we were, in London, after a 7 day trek across the Atlantic on Cunard's Queen Mary 2.  A marvelous ship it was, and the crossing went by without a hitch.  So, why not stay at the original Grand Hotel of Europe at the end of the cruise?  Of course we will!  Plus, it would be my parents first time in luxury hotel, so it better be a Langham.  Our driver took us right up to the front door and the bellhops quickly got our luggage, greeted me by name (they must've read the 1865 tag on one of the suitcases), and gave us our luggage tag to give to the front desk for delivery to our room.  We've only been here a minute, and we're already being taken care of.  That's one of the hotel's trademarks, bespoke and all-encompassing care and service.

The package I had booked for this trip was the Family Getaway package, and it's a heck of a value.  You have accomodations in either a Family Room that sleeps 4 people on 3 beds (the third is either a rollaway cot or the pull out couch), English breakfast at either restaurant for the whole family, complimentary wi-fi (Susie's favorite reason for staying at a Langham), a VIP Tour of Hamley's, one of the oldest toy stores in the world (tours were not available the dates we were in town, though), complimentary Kidzania tickets for stays of 3 nights or more (Susie wasnt up for that, she wanted to see the city itself), and the London pass, which allows entrance to London attrations for discounts of up to 15%.  I liked everything about this package, but was slightly miffed that Hamley's wasn't running a tour this time around, as I seriously love old toy stores.  Oh well, there's always next time.

Check-In was a breeze, since I was already a Gateway-level member of the 1865 Loyalty Program. The room wasn't ready, so we decided to hang out in the award winning Artesian Bar, which has recently won the coveted "World's Best Bar" award on top of the other accolades.  About an hour later, they came and got me, handed me the keys to the room, and had me sign in and took my baggage slip.  Even though I travel to Europe somewhat frequently, I was slightly taken aback from how small the elevators were as we piled in.  I laughed and reminded myself this was Europe, everything is much smaller on this side of the pond.

Luckily, the room was not a far distance from the elevator, and walking into the room I was surprised by how spacious it was upon first glance.  The bedroom area is around 420 square feet alone, and there was plenty of room for the two Queen beds, plus a pull out couch that my Teenager said was one of the most comfortable she's EVER slept on.  High praise coming from someone I've molded into a world traveler in her own right.  Next to the TV was a plate of fruit and a huge bottle of water that Langham provides to all elite-tier 1865 members.  The view out the window was look right across Regent Street onto the All Souls Church to one side and the BBC headquarters next to it.  This particular part of London was incredibly blasted and damaged by the Axis towards the end of the Battle of Britain in October of 1940.  At that moment we found out the room had a doorbell, as it rang, and first the bellhop delivered our luggage AND set it up for us where we wanted it.  Next one of the housekeepers came and delivered a plate of snacks and drinks for the four of us.  What a hell of a way to start off our visit to London!  We unpacked what we needed for the 3 days in town, and stowed the rest of the luggage in the large closets hidden away in the entry.  The bathroom was nice as well, with marble throughout, the signature Langham bathrobes and slippers, and toiletries from the Chuan Spa. Even my parents were impressed, this was their first true multi-night stay in a Luxury Hotel.  We were exhausted and still trying to get our land legs back, plus it was going to be an early day the next day, so we grabbed a quick bite of fast food from McDonald's across the street and hit the sack.

Before heading out the next day we got to try breakfast in the also acclaimed Roux at the Landau, run by the superstar chef team of Albert & Michel Roux.  The breakfast didn't disappoint, fluffy omelettes and half dollar pancakes, in addition to the large bread, cheese, and yogurt buffet, and the ever-present English scones with clotted cream and various jams and preserves.  Just right for a long day running around London and spending hours at Harrods fighting our way through the crowds and leisurely browsing through a good majority of the departments.  Upon returning to the hotel room, we found the room turned down for bedtime, with chocolates on the bed and bottles of water on ice for us.  A very nice and classy touch.  With all the hubbub of the day and yet another early and busy day tomorrow, we passed out quick, myself still trying to overcome the sea legs from the cruise to the UK just days before.

Monday morning we woke up at 6:00 AM, readied ourselves for the day ahead and went down to the Palm Court for breakfast.  This was more to my parents and Susie's liking, as they prefer buffets, while I like portioned servings.  But, I have to hand it to the Palm, the buffet they had was exceptional, even for my tastes.  But the room the Palm Court occupies is sheer elegance.  Pillars all the way up to the high ceiling (the original Palm Court was an open air space, covered over in the massive restoration in 1991), and a large, plush, high-backed couch makes for a hell of a comfortable centerpiece and photo op.  After breakfast, I stopped at the front desk and concierge to exchange some US Dollars for the Queens Currency, and tickets to the Hop-on Hop-off Big Bus for our tour around the London sights.

Upon our return, the parents rested while Susie and I got ready for the new Holiday Tea service in the Palm Court, created by in-house celebrity chef Cherish Finden in conjunction with luxury house Asprey.  Today was the first day of the new holiday tea service, and I was lucky enough to be given a menu commemorating the service.  There are three seating times for Tea, at 1:00PM, 3:15PM (our time), and 5:30PM.  There is a certain amount of Tea Time Etiquette that must be adhered to, otherwise you would be labeled an uncouth slob.  By the way, the tradition of Afternoon Tea first began at the Langham, over 150 years ago, and is still a staple of British culture today.

The Festive Asprey Afternoon Tea menu includes a seriously delicious Eggnog, Duck Egg and Oscietra Caviar, 3 different types of finger sandwiches, consisting of Balvenie Whiskey smoked salmon & fennel brioche, Stilton, red onion, and relish on Walnut Bread ( I really liked this one), the Classic Cucumber, cream cheese and chives, and a smoked turkey and marjoram stuffing on cranberry bread that was absolutely divine.  Next came the iconic warm scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry preserves, of which me and Susie could not get enough of.  The dessert round was a seriously festive (and seriously purple, as befits Asprey's house colors) plate of a mini gingerbread house, snowflake macaroon, a pistachio and cranberry slice, Asprey bauble, a tiny glass of rosehip and hibiscus topped with a white chocolate reindeer.  You also had 30 different tea blends to choose from, along with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne.  A seriously fantastic setup, and something that was on my London bucket to-do list.  At 62 GBP, it was well worth it, and I recommend it for everyone who visits during the holiday season.

After Tea I was in our room with Susie checking emails and beginning my writing process for this trip.  when the doorbell rang.  It was the hotel's resident Langham Service Stylist, Jessica, ready to show me around the property.

We started off at the Roux, and its massive wine collection and tucked away private dining room.  From there it was a quick view of the Palm Court, where I had spent considerable time today, and was just finishing up its third seating and gearing up for dinner.  From there it was up to the ballrooms, and I was shocked at how large the spaces were, considering I didn't think the building was THAT big.  Another case of appearances being deceiving!  From there it was down to the lower level meeting rooms and business center, one of the largest I've seen in a while.

Next up was the famed Chuan Spa, winner of many accolades, and is one of the highest rated spas in the West End.  The spa itself is in the building adjoining the hotel, connected by corridor, and includes a private couples spa suite, pre and post treatment relaxation area, full size male and female changing areas, herbal steam rooms, and a full size salt sauna.  From there I was taken to the large and state of the art fitness center, the 16-meter pool, built into what used to be a vault from the bank that used to occupy the building.  Since the hotel was completely full that night we couldn't see any of the other rooms, but hey, I'm not above making another trip.  Especially if I can take a peek at the Sterling, Infinity, or Wedgwood Suites...

As a Travel Agent, I tend to book the Langham, London as much as I can for my clients (I average about 4-5 bookings a month for the property) .  The average rates are decent for the upper level of luxury hotel the Langham is, considering she's the original "Grand" Hotel of Europe.  Now that I've seen her in person and stayed there, it'll be far more easier for me to sell.  Being located in the West End at the top of Regent Street doesn't hurt either, and is a great place for shoppers to stay.  All in All, aside from being down by the Thames, you cant beat the location, the style, or the bespoke care you'll receive at the Grandest Hotel of them all, the Langham, London.

 * Photos courtesy the Langham, London, or the author.

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