TRAVEL: Live it up at London’s original grand hotel The Langham
West End girl Maria Breslin samples the good life at London’s original grand hotel
WILL'S wedding to Kate and his granny's Golden Jubilee may have got the patriotic party started. But it was a summer of superbly-staged sporting excellence that showed the world exactly why Britain is great.
Athletes such as the magnificent Mo Farah helped reclaim the union flag for all right-thinking citizens while the Olympic and Paralympic games did more to unite our nation than the half-hearted attempts of successive governments. Even cynical, dyed-in-the-wool northerners like myself had to admit London was looking rather lovely.
Virgin's excellent hourly service from Liverpool Lime Street to Euston means the Big Smoke is little more than two hours away and an ideal weekend-break destination.
Sadly the coalition's bidding blunders have left the West Coast mainline in chaos. Whoever eventually takes over – you’ve got some mighty big shoes to fill.
Because racing south at speeds of up to 125mph enjoying Virgin's first-class complimentary perks is the perfect way to get the mini-break show on the road.
London boasts thousands and thousands of hotels to suit all budgets.
But if it's 5* luxury you're after look no further than the capital's first purpose-built grand hotel and the birthplace of afternoon tea – The Langham. This West End landmark first opened its Portland Place doors in 1865. And a recent £80m restoration has left it looking more regal than ever.
If The Langham could talk then it would surely have some tales to tell. Wallis Simpson checked in during her controversial courtship of Edward VIII. Other notable guests have included playwright Noel Coward, writer and wit Oscar Wilde, the exiled Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassi and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
The hotel is immortalised by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes books. It stars in James Bond movie Goldeneye and comedy acts such as The Goons were recorded at The Langham when near neighbours the BBC moved in. The Langham boasted the world's first hydraulic lifts and was the first London hotel to install air-conditioning while a 365-ft artesian well supplied fresh water.
All this, and much more, I learn while relaxing in our beautifully-furnished, rose-hued, fifth-floor bedroom my head buried in a captivating coffee table book outlining The Langham's illustrious history. Recent renovations may have propelled this 147-year-old hotel into the 21st century but its revamp is sympathetic and its décor unashamedly traditional.
Today guests expect free wi-fi, sizey flat-screen satellite TVs and fluffy gowns. But it's the little touches which make The Langham so special. Recommended jogging routes are sadly neglected but the exotic fruits are devoured and the luxury toiletries in our exquisite marble bathroom do not go to waste.
Downstairs the chink of china and the tinkle of ivories echo from the hotel centrepiece and art-deco inspired Palm Court – billed as the birthplace of afternoon tea and the hangout of choice for the cream of Victorian society.
Foodies can get their kicks at Roux at the Landau – a collaboration between father and son Albert and Michel Roux Jr and their protege Chris King, it boasts a vaulted wine corridor with rare and unusual wines from around the world.
And a tipple at glamorous cocktail bar and celebrity hang-out Artesan before heading out for a night on the town comes highly recommended. Specialising in rum its pricey, but perfect, caipirinha goes down a treat. Keep-fit fans should head to the basement where a former bank vault now houses a 16-metre indoor pool, salt sauna, gym and Europe's first Chuan spa steeped in the traditional values of Chinese medicine.
For a weekend visitor The Langham is a destination in itself. But, should you wish to venture outside, Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street are on your doorstep, dinner in Soho just a short walk away and a leisurely Sunday morning stroll to leafy Regent's Park the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs.
The best things in life are not free and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous comes at a price. But for a sophisticated weekend in one of the world's greatest capital cities The Langham is surprisingly affordable – and most definitely worth it.
A LUXURY weekend break in a Langham Club room costs £249 per night.
The deal includes access to The Langham Club lounge with complimentary breakfast, all-day snacks and drinks, an evening premium bar and hors d'oeuvres. The club has just 47 rooms housed in its own wing and boasts a private reception and concierge.
There is free, pre-booked car parking and a 3pm check-out. Guests booking a minimum hour-long treatment in the spa receive a complimentary gift. Rates are per Club room per night, exclusive of VAT, and are valid Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Your stay must include a Saturday night. To book go to www.london.langhamhotels.co.uk or call 0207 636 1000.
Virgin trains run an hourly service between Liverpool Lime Street and London Euston. Go to www.virgintrains.com for details and the best deals or call 08719 774222