The Milestone in London serves traditional tea with cakes, cookies, and finger sandwiches in the afternoon.
The purpose of international travel is to immerse yourself in other cultures. That’s why I had to laugh when I asked a friend where he ate during his recent trip to London. “Cut and Nobu,” he responded proudly. Why, I asked myself, would you take the trouble to fly ten hours just to eat in places you can easily enjoy in Los Angeles or New York? When I go to London, I want to fully experience English culture. I want to eat authentic English food and stay in the best traditional English hotels. I don’t want to stay in a massive, impersonal place, either, so before I set off on a trip late last year, I found that every reliable source I researched pointed to two smaller options: The Milestone and Hotel 41. Read on for an account of my stays at these impeccable London lodgings.
Close your eyes and imagine the perfect English city in a place where Churchill might go for a nightcap or the Duchess of Cornwall would show up for tea. Now open them: You’ve officially arrived at The Milestone.
Upon entry, you are greeted by a fully-liveried doorman and welcomed into the richly-paneled lobby; there, you are warmly received yet again by the uniformed staff. For the duration of your stay, the hotel’s personnel will always greet you by name.
After a welcoming glass of Sherry, you will be escorted to one of the Milestone’s 44 rooms or 12 suites. During our recent visit, my wife and I stayed in the huge, two-level Viscount junior suite, the centerpiece of which was an ornate four-poster king bed festooned with silk curtains.
The room has three large soundproofed windows that overlook Kensington Gardens, as well as a selection of carefully-chosen furnishings and art. There are bright flowers everywhere and fresh fruit is always on hand. In the marble bathroom, you’ll find enough Penhaligon toiletries to open your own boutique.
Despite this luxurious and traditional ambience, all the modern technology is there. A huge flat-screen television faces the bed, and there’s Wi-Fi, an iPod dock, and international video conferencing available. The basement, meanwhile, houses a fully-equipped gym.
A full English breakfast is served in the handsome Victorian Cheneston restaurant with a buffet of meats, cheeses, breads, and fruit. You can also order the signature eggs Benedict or some traditional kippers. In the evening, the restaurant offers fine, modern British cuisine with an extraordinary wine list, while an elegant tea is served—complete with an amazing display of cakes, cookies, and finger sandwiches—during the afternoon hours. You can also sip your way through the excellent selection of single malts in the evenings at the charming jockey bar. Needless to say, The Milestone definitely provides the complete and thorough English experience. For more information, visit www.milestonehotel.com
Located opposite the Royal Mews and behind Buckingham Palace, Hotel 41 holds the top rating out of 1,077 London hotels (The Milestone is number two) on TripAdvisor. The 30-room hotel sits atop another hotel, The Rubens at the Palace (a sister operation that is also highly rated). The street-level, mahogany-paneled lobby gives a hint of what’s to come. You are greeted by a charming young woman who offers a colorful selection of sweets to nibble on while you check in. She already knows what you expect during your stay, since you were sent a comprehensive questionnaire a few weeks before your arrival that allows you to provide your pillow preference and select your choice of amenities, including a yoga mat or an exercise bicycle in your room. You can also opt in for a pickup at Heathrow when you land.
After check-in, it’s into the elegant elevator and up to the fifth floor. Before going to your room, it’s essential to check out the executive lounge—the epicenter of Hotel 41. It’s like a fine English club, only better: There’s always upscale snacks and copious glasses of Champagne available, and a small freezer holds individually-packaged flavors of Jude’s ice cream. There’s a comprehensive collection of single malts and other spirits available, and special requests are cheerfully fulfilled by the charming and professional staff spearheaded by the gregarious Chief Steward. On Sundays, an English roast with all the fixings is served.
Each morning, a superb breakfast spread is laid out. As you settle into your big leather armchair with your freshly-brewed mug of coffee and plate filled to the brim, you’ll believe—rightfully so—that you’re in paradise. And then there are the rooms, each done up in chic black and white and offering all the amenities you can imagine. The Conservatory Suite, where we stayed, is on two floors with a sitting room downstairs and the bedroom and large bath above. The ceiling of the bedroom is glass and open to the sky; electronic shades can be drawn instantly to block out the morning light, but nodding off to sleep under the stars is a special experience.
The ratio of staff to guests at Hotel 41 is two to one. At any time of the day or night, any reasonable and most unreasonable requests will be fulfilled. Check in here and you may never want to leave the hotel. However, should you wish to venture out, the genial concierge will smoothen your experiences throughout the British capitol. Restaurant reservations, museum schedules, and theatre tickets are yours for the asking. For information, visit www.41hotel.com