On a sweltering London summer’s day, NICK HAMMOND seeks shade in the cool interior of The Milestone Hotel…
THERE was a time when sheep grazed out the front of the hotel and weary travellers looked for the white stone waymarker (hence the Milestone) which showed them they were nearly in central London.
Nowadays, Kensington High Street thunders ever onwards and today, gangs of pedestrians – most of them clad in summery wear – throng the streets.
It’s only a short walk down from the madness and bling of Knightsbridge and yet somehow feels like a busy market town. The back streets are quieter, more reserved. There is a distinguished air.
It seems thoroughly appropriate that the Milestone Hotel resides just where it does. It stands grandly one bottom corner of Kensington Gardens, within whistling distance of the Palace itself.
A long history lies behind this magnificent old building, each room with a personality and story of its own and when I’ve cooled sufficiently, I make a beeline for a signature Old Fashioned in the small but clubbable Stables Bar. The famous old whiskey cocktail has been given a new theatrical entrance here, including bell jar, pneumatic pump and orange flavoured molasses as well as the hotel’s own blended whisky. Smoke from the lit molasses is pumped into the bell jar to give the liquid and its accompanying orange peel one last extra tang of smoky citrus. I must confess, it’s darned good. One of the best in living memory, in fact.
My bedroom suite overlooks Kensington Gardens too and in the bliss of air conditioning, I sit with a thoughtfully provided bowl of strawberries and watch the people and traffic come and go on the searing streets outside. Some recline peaceably under the shade of cooling beeches. Most, however, look jaded as they slog along the cooking pavements, wait impatiently for the metronomic traffic to pause at the lights so they can cross and slog on.
If you’re a guest at the Milestone, such things won’t worry you much though. If you fancy a picnic in the park, the hotel will provide it and even set it up for you in some cooling spot. A swim? Believe it or not, there’s a resistance pool here so you can take a dip. And there’s a gym, in-house personal trainer, yoga tutor and more to keep you in the peak of physical condition. Or at least try. All in the best possible taste.
Spa treatments are also available in-house; in fact everything you could think of is here to help you recover from travel, relax in style, get ready for a night on the town or simply indulge yourself.
The marble bathroom and large, soft bed are all I need to find solace with an afternoon nap before an evening engagement takes me away, so sadly I am unable to make proper use of the hotel kitchens. But I did allow myself a pre-event straightener in the form of Posh Fish and Chips, which settled the stomach admirably for an evening of what promised to be liberal quantities of excellent Champagne.
Another benefit of being at ‘this end’ of town is the ability to indulge in yet more people watching as your chosen chariot whisks you off to your next engagement. Knightsbridge, Hyde Park, Mayfair, Piccadilly – all open up to you as your cab dashes past. It must have been wonderful to see it from the back of a Hansom, but it’s still pretty good to witness it from a Hackney Carriage. I find it fascinating to see these places at different hours of the day and at differing times of year. Whatever the hour and whatever the weather, they always seem packed to the gunnels to me, but then they would; I’m a country bumpkin at heart and more used to seeing recreational horse riders, the occasional dog walker and a few peacefully munching sheep.
But after a night of revelry, it’s with an affected air of insouciance that I direct my cabbie to the Milestone and soon I’m back in the bosom again and making my way, inexorably, back to The Stable Bar.
Here, I sluice down a couple of Scotch and sodas, make friends with the barman (Italian) and two of the young guests (a holidaying San Franciscan fireman and his wife). And finally to bed with a sigh and one last click of the aircon temperature control.
The morning repast in the high-ceilinged elegance of Cheneston’s Restaurant is tackled with a fair degree of vim in the morning, despite the industrial quantities of Champers served last night. An excellent eggs benedict and some apple juice prepares me for the oven that is London in June. And I don’t even spill any of the unctuousness down my crisply starched shirt.
It’s reassuring that the classy London hotel still remains, even if you have to do a little sleuthing these days to find it. But then, if your sleuthing leads you to new and unexplored parts of town, what’s not to like?
Mark the Milestone on your map. It’s worthy of investigation.
Prices for a double room in The Milestone Hotel start from £405 per room per night, including full English breakfast. Contact www.milestonehotel.com, Tel 0207 917 1000.