Travel

By Kimberly McDonald

Have you noticed that more than ever, Americans seem to be obsessed with being treated like royalty? I mean, we have a president not a king, yet hardly, if ever, do you see cute tee shirts or pillows embroidered with “Elected Official Sleeps Here”. What you see plenty of is “The Princess Sleeps Here” or “Queen of Everything”. Let’s be honest, there is a secret part of us that is fascinated with royalty. But look down our nose as we may, touting the overall greatness of a free and democratic society, we’ll lift that nose back up at the sight of a crown, or even the prospect of being treated like a queen. I know some people who’d even jump at the chance to be treated like a dutchess!

What’s with all this talk of outdated elitist bloodlines and illogical entitlement, you ask, after all this is the Travel Section. Well, mes amies, I’m getting there! If being treated like royalty does it for you (as established above, it ‘does it’ for lots of us) then Claridge’s is the place to stay when you’re traveling to London.

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Over Christmas this past year, I decided to fulfill a long-time desire to spend the holidays in London. Charles Dickens, Tiny Tim, Scrooge…the idea of it was too good to pass up. So I booked a room at Claridge’s and headed across the pond.

The first thing that strikes you about the hotel is its proximity to some of the best shops. Nicole Fahri, Graff, Burberry, the list goes on. You can’t walk two blocks without seeing some chic woman clad in Luella Bartley and Zandra Rhodes (who can imagine that there was a time Britons were considered frumpy?!). I even felt a little outdated sporting my Marc Jacobs bag and last winter’s Jimmy Choos. But I got over that in about three seconds. How…you ask? How I weathered my momentary insecurity? Simple. The Staff. Before I could even think, “Should have worn this year’s boots even if I had to limp through the lobby because they aren’t broken in yet,” the doorman greeted me with a fantastic (and very straight) smile. He was warmer than I am used to from Londoners, but hey, doesn’t everyone evolve?

Once inside, you fall in love, totally in love with the place. The pillars, the stately fireplaces, the charm and history woo you from first glance. Its just like you’d expect, if you knew ahead of time that Claridge’s is host to royals and dignitaries, society mavens and (cough) celebrities on pretty much a daily basis. Yes, that’s Jackie O’s picture hanging to your right. A crowned Yugoslavian prince was born in suite 212. And of course that really is a photo of Audrey Hepburn at tea with Princess Diana and yes, you’re sitting at that same table. Pass the clotted cream, please.

The original plans for the hotel began in 1812 when James Mivart opened a home away from home for long term travelers to stay. By 1817, the idea was so popular he purchased a second home on the same street, and by 1838 Mivart had a row of five houses that hosted the likes of Russia’s Grand Duke Alexander. Then in 1854, neighbors and hoteliers by the name of Claridge bought the Mivart project and added it to their own hotel. Unlike some other hotels of its age, Claridge’s has been kept up quite well.

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In fact, for the most part, it has all of the modern conveniences you could ask for – Internet access, updated bathroom facilities, in-room fax. They even have Gordon Ramsay (hellish Hell’s Kitchen host and one of the hottest chefs on the planet right now), whose onsite restaurant is run by the Michelin-starred chef. Of course, Claridge’s also retains the charm of an old hotel with great features like your own hall captain. He/she is basically there to see that your every need is met. Just press a button, and they’re right there. But please don’t be an annoying American and buzz the hell out of them. These are my peeps and I plan to go back.

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If you’re a size queen, you’ll swoon because the hotel is absolutely enormous. So what you have here is a virtually impossible feat, fantastically accomplished: friendly British staff, central London location, spacious accommodations, ridiculous pedigree, and posh surroundings equals comfortable, cozy, subtly luxurious oasis where you can retreat from the world into total obscurity. I think Heaven must be a little bit like Claridge’s. More clotted cream please, darling.

This is one American Queen of Everything who has found her castle.

www.claridges.co.uk/claridges/

Originally published March 2006
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