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Three Over-the-Top London Hotels

One thing I learned in writing my book Life at the Top: Inside London’s Grand Hotels (a wm-London-teacompanion volume to Life at the Top: Inside New York’s Grand Hotels) is that hotels some people wouldn’t consider staying at because they have a reputation for being too expensive, often offer surprising values.

These impressions are wholly apart from the wonderful, once-in-a-life time experience that incredibly posh hotels offer each and every guest each and every visit.

Here are three five-star hotels I recommend for a special one-night stay, for afternoon tea, drinks or dinner.

The Lanesborough

Located at the corner of Hyde Park, this 95-room hotel (43 are suites) was originally an 1820s hospital built of Portland stone. Now this stunning landmark, like a lavish country palace, is a favorite of Jim Carrey, Leonardo DiCaprio and Madonna.

Rooms are decorated with lush fabrics and Regency period antiques; windows are triple- glazed, cutting out all traffic noises. The hotel, which derives its name from Viscount Lanesborough, who built his country home on this spot in 1719, is part of the St. Regis Hotel group and has the highest ratio of staff to rooms of any hotel in Europe, with 270 full-time employees. There’s even a motion detector computer which tells housekeeping when you've left your room so you won't be disturbed needlessly.

Surprising savings:

  • Complimentary land line phone calls anywhere in the world
  • butler service (packing, unpacking, clothes pressing, restaurant and theatre reservations)
  • bowl of flowers
  • bottled water
  • Internet access
  • unlimited movies
  • shoeshine
  • personalized stationery and business cards
  • a mobile phone for use anywhere in the hotel

Afternoon Tea ($55), served from 3:30 to 6 in the Conservatory, is so bounteous that you may not need dinner!

TIP: Rent the royal suite and you’ll have access to a chauffeur driven Bentley 24/7, so you can save on bus and taxi fares!

Geoffrey Gelardi, the general manager of the Lanesborough, is a third generation hotelier. His beloved late father was a top executive with Truse House Forte and his grandfather was manager of the Savoy Hotel in London and the Waldorf Towers in New York.

Said Mr. Gelardi, "When one travels a lot, it’s very annoying that every time you want to go on the Internet, you have to fill in your name and your room number and 'I agree to this' and 'I agree to that.' And then the hotel charges you anything from 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 30 pounds! So our whole philosophy at the Lanesborough is based not on 'nickel-and-diming' people -- but on giving great value."

Singles from $580/night
Doubles from $780/ night

Walk to: Apsley House, Harrods, Sloan Street
Tube: Hyde Park Corner

The Milestone Hotel

The Milestone is another wonderful, over-the-top hotel with Kensington to its left and Knightsbridge to its right. Overlooking Kensington Palace and Gardens, it occupies two mansions of architectural significance that date back to the 1880s.

Part of the Red Carnation hotel group, The Milestone, both pet and child friendly, has a staff of 100+. Its 57 rooms (12 suites) are not only luxurious but full of character, decorated in styles ranging from African safari to traditional Tudor. There are also six long-stay apartments.

Surprising savings:

  • Complimentary glass of champagne (or green tea) upon arrival
  • Bose MP3 Players and docking stations in all rooms and suites
  • Guests in suites receive canapés every evening

The Milestone periodically runs a special that for every 2 nights you stay in a suite, the 3rd night is free. Its "Showtime Package," which includes full English breakfast, dinner and 2 tickets to a theater of your choice, starts at $680/double.

Afternoon Tea, served from 3 to 6 pm in the Park Lounge and the Conservatory, is $20 for tea and scones and $40 for tea, scones, finger sandwiches and pastries.

Singles & Doubles from $330/night.

Walk to: Hyde Park, Harrods, Victoria & Albert Museum
Tube: High Street or Kensington

The May Fair

The 406-room, 12-suite May Fair, a favorite of Penelope Cruz and Jess Metcalfe -- and going way back, Frank Sinatra -- is between Berkeley Square and Stratton Street. The hotel’s 1927 stone exterior stands in wonderful contrast to the state-of-the-art rooms, each of which is equipped with Bang & Olufsen entertainment systems.

TIP: Ask for a room on the back facing Berkeley Square, one of London’s most beautiful squares. At night it turns into a mini-fairyland when the old-fashioned street lamps are lit.

Surprising savings:

  • periodically offers an "Advance Purchase Program" which must be paid for 10 days prior to arrival, and includes a 20% discount; no cancellations
  • it intermittently has a 2-for-1 lunch or dinner deal at the hotel’s delightful Amba Bar & Grill

Afternoon Tea, served from 3 to 6 pm in the hotel’s Amba restaurant, is $17 for tea and scones and $32 for tea, scones, finger sandwiches and pastries.

Rates: Singles & Doubles from $360
Walk to: Green Park, Buckingham Palace, National Gallery
Tube: Green Park

The Lanesborough
Hyde Park Corner
800- 999-1828

The Milestone Hotel
1 Kensington Court

The May Fair
Stratton Street
800-333- 3333

To order Ward Morehouse’s book, Life at the Top: New York’s Grand Hotels, go to: and click on "Books" in the left-hand menu

Life at the Top: London‛s Grand Hotels, by TravelSmart’s "Checking In" columnist Ward Morehouse III, will be published later this year.

Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem

The Mayans got it wrong: 2012 won't mark the end of the world so much as the opening oflb-WAstoria The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem hotel in Israel.

A mere hop from Jerusalem's Old City, this luxury joint rises over the busy corner of King David and Agron Streets. Its history is just as eventful.

The Waldorf's prior incarnation, the Palace Hotel, was built in the 1920s by the Supreme Muslim Council, helmed by the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Grand and opulent, the Palace was the Arab answer to such Jewish-owned delux hotels as the King David. That it was partially built on the remains of a Muslim cemetery only added to its mystique. After opening in 1931, the Palace was soon leased to the British authorities; later it would house the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Still today one of the jewels in Jerusalem's crown, the building has undergone a nip/tuck restoring its original façade with the soaring arches and arabesque flourishes. A mix of Greco-Roman, Renwaldorfaissance, Gothic, Romanesque, neo-Moorish and Mamluk elements, it boasted private bathrooms (unheard of in the country at the time), three elevators and central heating.

What didn't original architect Nahas Bey include in his designs? The Waldorf Astoria's new fitness suite, two spas, two restaurants and a lobby bar -- not to mention 223 rooms spread among five extra floors, bringing the total to ten. If you're tempted to book a room or merely to fantasize that you could, head over to

The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
30 Agron Street
Jerusalem, Israel 94130

Barn On The Pond: Woodstock's Premier Destination for Vacation Rentals and Special Events

Barn in the Pond

Woodstock's Premier Destination for Vacation Rentals and Special Events

Woodstock, NY (June, 1 2011) - The upstate New York Catskill region welcomes its newest addition and premier year-round country destination, Barn on the Pond. Nestled between popular and historic locales Saugerties and Woodstock, the rustic and uniquely elegant barn-style vacation rental and event space sits perched on approximately four acres of lush private property overlooking magnificent mountain views. Whether staying for a meditative yoga retreat or a quaint country wedding, Barn on the Pond offers guests endless possibilities in rural entertainment and leisure by combining modern luxuries and amenities with Old-World charm - redefining the country getaway experience. 

Read more: Barn On The Pond: Woodstock's...

Virginia's Luxe Inn at Willow Grove Grand Opens

The Inn at Willow GroveFive-star accommodations arrive in Virginia's horse and wine country as The Inn at Willow Grove grand opens its doors

ORANGE, VA – April 2011 – After enjoying a fall 2010 soft-opening, The Inn at Willow Grove, which borders the Blue Ridge Mountains in the heart of Virginia’s horse and wine country, has unveiled the final touches of a nearly 24-month restoration and renovation. Here, exceptional accommodations, replete with butler service, welcome the most discerning of travelers seeking sophisticated, yet understated five-star services and accommodations.

The Inn at Willow Grove, owned by David and Charlene Scibal, rests on a 37 acre estate dating back to 1778 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Inn’s extensive renovation included a complete refurbishment of existing facilities, as well as the creation of 11 stunning designer guestrooms and cottage suites and a fine-dining restaurant, Vintage, that has been garnering rave reviews.

Interior designs, created and vetted by Charlene Scibal, a former chef and art gallery owner, reflect an “urban meets plantation” vibe with crisp, elegant décor infused with 18th century architecture and heritage. Guestrooms and suites feature Anichini linens, wet-bars, gas fire places, Jacuzzi soaking tubs, private sitting rooms, serene porches, king size beds, flat screen televisions and complementary Wi-Fi. Brilliant artwork adorns the estate’s walls and pairs perfectly with textiles that blend leather with burlap and stripes with graphics.

Read more: Virginia's Luxe Inn at Willow...

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