Jon turned 31 this month, and his present from me was an ultra-fancy weekend away at one of his favorite hotels in London, the St Pancras Renaissance. And I don’t use the word luxurious lightly – it was, without a doubt, the fanciest hotel I have ever stayed in, and our 36 hour get away was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life at this point. It was wonderful, and a stay there was everything we were looking for, having only viewed its imposing Gothic-Revival architecture from the outside. (Everyone has favorite hotels that they’ve never actually been in, right?)
We stayed in one of the Junior Suites in the Chambers Wing and it was stunning – our room overlooked the Eurostar terminal, which is maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but Jon loves a bit of trainspotting.
The hotel has a long and storied history in London, and started life as the Midland Grand Hotel all the way back in 1873. Unfortunately it was built just on the cusp of a load of changes to what hotel visitors expected (for example, people started expecting a private bathroom in their suite, that sort of thing) and it sadly closed its doors in 1935. It sat vacant, derelict and crumbling for years, and was nearly razed to the ground until a campaign in the 1960s found it given Grade 1 Heritage listing. While that saved the building from being torn down, it didn’t mean that anyone had plans for it….so the hotel crumbled some more, this time with heritage-listing protection. Eventually, the exterior was restored at a cost of nearly £10 million in the 1990s (and the Spice Girls filmed “Wannabe” on the grand staircase in 1996!), but it wasn’t until a full restoration was begun in 2004 that the hotel really came back to life, better than ever. It was officially opened as a 5-star hotel in 2011. And here we are! What I’m saying is, the Spice Girls and I have been in the same place!
You can see I’m a little obsessed. You could fill a book with the history of this place – and they did. And they left it in our room, and I read it. Fascinating!
And here’s the aforementioned Grand Staircase.
Also, check out this huge radiator. I’m not that tiny, I promise. Victorians, man. You were either living in a Dickensian hovel or in the very lap of luxury, as far as I can tell.
Besides taking advantage of the amazing Turkish-style spa, pool, and steam room that’s hidden in the bowels of the building -multiple times, because we wanted to ring every penny out of our stay – we spent a lot of our time hanging out the in the private (oooh la la) Chambers Club. Access came with our room, and the Chambers were accessible through a private staircase as well, so it was a hidden space where they served complimentary food and drinks at all times of day and evening, and the staff were all very, very sweet. They also served up bite-sized macarons and the best tiny scones and jam and tea sandwiches I’ve had.
After checking in we had to be led to our room. We were getting antsy waiting for the bellman to lead us – the receptionist had asked us to wait, and we were sure we could just find it on our own – but it’s a good thing we waited. This place is huge, and our room ended up being in the wing furthest from reception, near the clocktower, down a corridor that is truly as wide as our living room at home. Our kind concierge informed us that the hallways were so wide to ensure that the huge bustles of the Victorian ladies who stayed in the hotel in its early years never ran into one another. The ceilings were also deliciously high. I’ve become so accustomed to how small most things are in England that it was astonishing to find ourselves in this cavernous, decadent building, meticulously restored to its former glory.
Another highlight of our stay was our dinner at The Gilbert Scott Restaurant. Named after the architect who dreamt up this whole dreamy building, the restaurant made me feel as if we’d stepped back in time – it was yet another one of those feelings where I could picture people just like us eating and drinking just like we were 150 years before. No pictures I could have taken would have served it justice, so I’ve included this one from their website.
Our stay was mostly about generalized chilling…we sat and laid around a lot, and drank a lot of wine and champagne (birthday!), and hung out in the pool, and I took two bubble baths, which was quite a feat for one overnight stay, but I really miss having a bath! Also they set up a little “bath ritual” for us that included bathtub snacks, a bottle of Veuve, and a golden rubber ducky so I basically had to.
In the morning we had breakfast in The Booking Office, which is part of the hotel, but open to the public (and any London-based folk, you should go to it as quick as you possibly can, particularly if you’re taking the Eurostar anytime soon). They had the most amazing buffet, with basically the best version of everything you could want for breakfast. And you got to eat it in a room that looks like this. If you didn’t guess already by the name, this is the actual former booking office of St Pancras railway station, and the bar and buffet is built up against the former booking tills.
After one last round in the steam room, followed by a swim, we eventually checked out. But we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave just yet, so we whiled away our afternoon drinking cocktails and reading in the Booking Office for another few hours.
But eventually we had to say farewell to our short-lived life of luxury and go pick up our fluffy monster and eat a takeaway curry with Jon’s parents to carry on the birthday celebrations. Our little flat never felt so small (but I don’t mind, I promise!). We don’t have any more fancy luxury holidays in our near future, and on our train home we took this picture – I feel like our faces make us look like two people who feel like they’ve really accomplished something. Ha! See also: awkward hand clasp. We are INCREDIBLY photogenic.
And one final thing – people live in the hotel year round! The whole top level is luxury flats. Can you even imagine?? Here’s an article with a fella that lives in one of them. Swoon. Also, no surprise, he’s a banker.
If you’d like to read more about the building, or book a guided tour, you can do that here. I may have to go back for the guided tour!