We arrive in time for traditional afternoon English tea, unaware that The Dorchester was recently named London’s top tea venue by the Tea Council of Great Britain. I also admit I didn’t know this hotel was among the top ten in the world when I booked our rooms. They say you’re either smart or lucky. If that’s true, I’m on a Royal roll.
It was all arranged in a bit of a hurry. We postponed this trip several times, finally deciding to “just do it” - two and a half days each in London and Paris . Stolen time; from work, from family, from friends. But it was now or never.
And now, I’m flanked by waiters serving Earl Gray and finger sandwiches. My husband joins me in The Promenade with our good friend Lowell, who quite coincidentally is visiting Europe at the same time. His wife Deborah is soon seated beside me sipping tea from Wedgwood cups of eggshell-thin bone china, and nibbling on scones and petit fours.
The Promenade is the focal point of the Dorchester, a sweeping lobby with potted palms and towering fountains of flowering plants. Marble columns the color of apricot parfait rise from the floor, crowned by gilded Corinthian capitals. A pianist serenades us as we sink into plush couches with pillows as soft as marshmallows. Just off the lobby is The Dorchester Bar — designed by Parisian designer Alberto Pinto in a soothing combination of natural light, mirrors, bleached wood, pale leather chairs and blue and white La Morinerie ceramic tile murals. An exuberant glass and rhinestone baby grand, previously owned by the late Liberace, gleams in the corner. The hotel’s award-winning Oriental Restaurant and traditional Grill Room restaurant are also off The Promenade, as is the Art Deco full-service spa.
It’s tempting to spend the rest of the day ensconced in this opulence, but the clock is ticking – in this case Big Ben; though the name refers not to the famous clock tower, but to the 13-ton bell hung within. The resounding gong echoes through the streets just as we step through the Great North Door of Westminster Abbey, the tallest Gothic building in the British Isles. This architectural masterpiece was designed in the shape of a cross, its pointed style strongly influenced by contemporary French cathedral architecture.
Over 3,000 people are buried or memorialized inside these walls, among them some of the world’s greatest kings, queens, scientists, musicians and poets. The Abbey has held every English coronation for the last 900 years, a tradition that began with William I on Christmas Day, 1066. Today it is a living church dedicated to worship and to celebrating great events.
We celebrate our fortuitous reunion with our friends at Rule’s, London’s oldest restaurant. Its convenient Covent Garden location in the heart of the theatre district makes it perfect for pre- or post theatre gatherings. Established in 1798, the restaurant still specializes in game, oysters, pies and puddings. Not quite ready for venison, quail, rabbit or partridge, we share a variety of Irish and native oysters, unfamiliar in both appearance and taste, but quite savory. “We do not recommend the drinking of excess alcohol with oysters,” the menu clearly states. Interesting disclaimer.
The ambience is that of an upscale lodge … quiet, dignified and sporting, so much so that we feel like mounting our horses and trotting off to the hunt. But instead, we don our capes and scarves and take a brisk walk to the theatre for an ingenious production of the current hit, “Stones in His Pockets.”
The next day we spontaneously hitch our American stars to “The Big Bus Company,” a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city. The bright red double-decker busses seem to be everywhere, offering a variety of mix and match routes and attractions. A bus tour is not normally my cup of tea, but for an informative, entertaining and comfortable tour of the city, this one hit the spot. We hop off at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and the Thames river cruise. By the time we meet our resident English friends, Mike and Dee for dinner, we are more expert than they in London history and lore.
Ah, dinner. The Dorchester’s Grill Room offers traditional British cooking in a sumptuous Baroque setting. We decide to sample all the wonderful fresh ingredients from around the British Isles … succulent Scottish beef, sweet Welsh lamb, firm-fleshed wild salmon from the Severn and the Dee; crabs and lobsters from the rocky coasts of Cornwall, superb farmhouse cheeses from all over the islands. And apéritifs, digestifs and properly paired wines with each course.
The following morning, we share tea and crumpets in our extra long claw foot tub while reading the London Times; declining Mike and Dee’s invitation to join them back at their English country home, declining Lowell and Deborah’s invitation to spend a day in Greenwich. Instead, we hit the streets of the city. Like veterans we navigate our way through town via the Tube, finding our way from Hyde Park, across from our hotel, to Covent Garden to the marvelous shops along Bond Street. Evening finds us quite unexpectedly at the National Theatre, enjoying a production of “Noises Off,” thanks to George at the Dorchester’s Theatre Desk who miraculously found front row seats at this “sold out” performance. Good show.
The Chunnel, a high-speed, clean and efficient train delivers us from London to Paris within three restful hours. Our hotel, the Royal Monceau, is just off the Champs Elysees. We stroll the avenue and pick up some vin, fromage and a baguette to tide us over until our dinner cruise with Les Yachts de Paris. The hotel concierge had recommended this company above others for an intimate gourmet dinner and tour of the City of Lights.
The Eiffel Tower presents an hourly halogen light show, like sparkling fireworks reflecting on the waters of the Seine. Between courses of foie gras, lobster salad, filet mignon and lamb medallions, we stroll the teak deck of what feels like our private yacht, and revel in this true, life highlight. Paris may be the only city built on a river, and there may be no better way to experience it than from a luxury yacht under a canopy of stars. And don’t forget that snifter of Armangnac before disembarking.
Montmatre, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, The Left Bank, Latin Quarter, The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, we fit it all in. What a romp – London, Paris, Sarasota. Full, fast, fabulous, fatiguing.
Worth it? You bet.
If you go:
For rates, information and reservations at the Dorchester, call 44 (0)20 7409 0114 or visit www.dorchesterhotel.com. For rates, information and reservations at The Hotel Royal Monceau, call 01 42 99 89 90 or visit www.royalmonceau.com.
Reprinted from Style Magazine