London Hotels Insight provides up-to-date, independent advice for your perfect stay in London. We research guest feedback, meet management and identify hotels at the top of their game.
London hotels become British.
Once upon a time, travellers wanted to feel at home wherever they went.
English tourists wanted fish and chips whether they were in Barcelona or Bodrum, Tenerife or Thailand and chain hotels offered total consistency whichever continent you were on, with the same colour carpet, the same ‘international’ menu and pretty much the same room, give or take a picture.
Now that’s changed completely. Travellers want to feel that they’ve arrived somewhere different – and wish to get the maximum out of that difference. So G Adventures has started to feature ‘local living’ tours which enable tourists to get close to the life of the country. Whether that’s hiking the lemon groves and volcanic slopes of the Sorrento coast or living with the Maya on Lake Atitlan, the tours aim to show travellers what the places are really like. And London hotels have caught onto these trends, aiming to captivate travellers by creating an authentic British ambience.
The quest for authenticity has impacted hotels in numerous ways. For instance, where back in the bad old days ‘cuisine’ meant ‘French’, the last decade has seen the rediscovery of British food. Fergus Henderson and Mark Hix have opened trailblazing restaurants and the Cavendish Hotel‘s Petrichor showcases local ingredients – including an English sparkling wine rather than champagne and a real British breakfast.
While the boutique hotel in London isn’t authentic in itself, the increasing number of such hotels shows that customers have got fed up with the attractions of consistency – identikit, corporate-modelled banalities. They are definitely looking for something with more character. One luxury hotel in Covent Garden in tune with the new mood is the renovated Mercer Street Hotel which has SMEG fridges with Union Jacks in its suites.
And more often than not, guests seek something authentically British. Something that truly represents London for them, whether it’s Trooping the Colour or the Routemaster bus or black cabs. Or proper afternoon tea.
But what is ‘authentic’ for London? The Goring could perhaps stake a claim as one of the few remaining family-owned hotels which recently celebrated its 100th birthday - its authenticity residing in its family tradition and service as well as the fine details of its décor. Or The Savoy, which retains many of its original features despite the recent refurbishment – or the Draycott Hotel with its Victorian furnishings and luxurious period feel.
Though of course the above is a 5 star interpretation of authenticity – whereas for some of us, a fry-up in a greasy caff or eel pie and mash is also part of London’s traditional character and perhaps more affordable as well!
The growing popularity of home swaps may also have something to do with this desire for ‘local living’. After all, a 5 star hotel in the West End insulates you from the reality of the city – above all the shopping, the nipping out for a coffee or a pint of beer, the tapestry of urban life that really gives London its flavour. Stay in a terrace in Stoke Newington or a flat in Smithfield on the other hand, and you’ll actually end up seeing the local neighbourhood – though you won’t get a concierge, or the towels changed.
Ironically, three of the most ‘authentic’ London hotels are actually fakes. Hazlitt’s and The Rookery offer a quirky re-enactment of ancient gentlemanly style through their antique-filled rooms and gloriously period design but both are relatively recent entrants. The Zetter Townhouse is also an imaginative reconstruction of how its sibling – the contemporary Zetter Hotel – might have looked a few hundred years ago and there are even gloriously concocted fictions about how various items got there.
And yet the vein of fantasy in all three hotels arguably brings us closer to London and its authentic feel than an unreconstructedly ‘authentic’ hotel would – just the way Dickens’s novels bring us closer to the London of his day than any number of census entries.
Photo credits: The Rubens at the Palace Hotel, Cavendish Hotel, Draycott Hotel, Rookery Hotel.