by Sarah Ferrier
Britain has always excelled at luxury – Rolls Royce cars, Connolly leather, Harris tweed, Wilton carpets, Paisley shawls – most of it aimed at a small elite of aristocracy and arrivistes, it must be said. These days, though, the whole world wants luxury, so Britannia has shaken her skirts, booked in for a facelift and upped her game. There has been an unprecedented rise in luxury hotels, bars, shops and spas, many of them in gorgeous historic buildings, others in exciting new builds. Plans are afoot to bring luxury shopping to the heart of the City (London’s financial centre), companies such as Dhillon Hotels and Crazy Bear are renovating historic coaching inns, and the Italian designers Missoni will open their first UK hotel in Edinburgh later in 2008. But that’s all to come. Here’s a thumbnail guide, for the man – or woman – on a mission to luxuriate now:
SKYLON, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, LONDON
This airy, light-filled contemporary restaurant was the final flourish in last year’s energetic re-design of the 1951 Royal Festival Hall, which now finds itself on one of the liveliest stretches of the Thames. The Skylon was a steel, aluminium and wire sculpture that came to symbolise the re-energising of post-war Britain; the restaurant has taken the colours and design features of the period and updated them, with bespoke standard lamps, finned bronze chandeliers, walnut floors and a glamorous raised bar. Book a table with a river view, order from the formal restaurant or from the grill (the menu is European with a nod to traditional British) and watch the north bank light up at night. Magic.Skylon,Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 (020 7654 7800; http://www.skylonrestaurant.co.uk).
THERMAE BATH SPA, BATH, AVON
Around 2000 years after the Romans recognised the quality of Bath’s mineral waters, Bath’s baths re-opened in their modern incarnation. The architects, Grimshaw, had to work with five historic buildings – including the Cross Bath, an open-air thermal pool fed by its own hot spring and once used by Celts and Romans – as well as designing a modern one, the New Royal Bath, on the site of the city’s old indoor swimming pool. The result is a pleasing jumble of old and new, golden stone, glass and steel, offering treatments that the Romans certainly never enjoyed: dry flotation, body wraps and Shiatsu massage, to name but a few. Loll about in the steaming pool on top of the New Royal Bath, admiring wonderful views of the abbey and city.Thermae Bath Spa,The Hetling Pump Room, Hot Bath Street, Bath(0844 888 0844; http://www.thermaebathspa.com).
HIGHGROVE SHOP, TETBURY, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
The Duchess of Devonshire started it all with a grand farm shop at Chatsworth, her enormous stately home in Derbyshire. That was followed by the hugely successful Daylesford Organics in Gloucestershire, opened by the Bamford family (of JCB digger fame), which now has several London outlets. Now the Prince of Wales has joined in, opening a shop in the pretty village of Tetbury, near his Gloucestershire estate of Highgrove. The shop is in a grey stone listed building, with shutters painted Provencal blue, and sells everything from stationery and homewares to gardening tools and the Duchy Originals organic food range. Opened in March by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, all its products are ethically and environmentally sourced and, wherever possible, locally produced. All profits go to charity.Highgrove Shop, 10 Long Street, Tetbury, Gloucestershire (01666 505 666; http://www.highgroveshop.com – online shopping from July 2008).
LOCH NESS LODGE, SCOTLAND
Until now one of the top sports for visitors to Loch Ness was probably monster-hunting. But with the opening of the purpose-built, exclusive-use residence of Loch Ness Lodge, there are many more opportunities including fishing, shooting, golf on nearby championship courses and walking, kayaking and mountain biking. The Lodge, which opened in 2007 can cater for up to 14 guests in the seven individually styled en suite bedrooms, with additional accommodation in the neighbouring Loch Ness Cottages, has its own spa, and aims to combine the latest technology with traditional luxury facilities. Just 15 minutes by road from the Highland capital of Inverness, with its air and rail links, the lodge also has its own private helipad.Lodge at Loch Ness, Brachla, Loch Ness-side, Inverness, IV3 8LA (01456 459469) http://www.loch-ness-lodge.com
FORTNUM & MASON, LONDON
Mess with a 300-year-old much-loved London landmark at your peril – but the management at Fortnum & Mason, the classy food emporium on Piccadilly, celebrated their tercentenary with a £24-million transformation. After a little initial grumbling, it’s widely recognised as a success: the glass-domed atrium brings in light, there’s a new fresh food section (featuring fish and game from some famous British estates) and a wine bar, 1707, on the lower ground floor. The four restaurants include the revamped – but pleasingly recognisable – brasserie, The Fountain, where you can indulge in anything from Darjeeling tea to Champagne. Other floors groan with clothes, china and glass, bed and bathware, stationery, games and gifts. It must have worked: it’s packed.Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1 (020 7734 8040; http://www.fortnumandmason.com).
TITANIC SPA, HUDDERSFIELD, YORKSHIRE
What the original workers at this Yorkshire textile mill would do if they could see it operating today we can only imagine: they came into the Colne Valley in Linthwaite from outlying villages to put in a long day’s work at the rather forbidding Victorian mill, while today’s visitors check into the ground floor spa – all contemporary slate, tile, wood, leather and glass – to use the saunarium, mud chamber or ice room, float to heaven in one of the treatment rooms, or use the hair & nail bar. The mill’s eco-credentials are impeccable, with its own borehole, solar panels and heat system using woodchip technology. There are rental apartments if you want to stay and a spa hotel is due to open in 2009.Titanic Spa, Colne, West Yorkshire (0845 410 3333; http://www.titanicspa.com).
THE LANDAU AT THE LANGHAM, LONDON
The Langham hit the headlines a couple of years ago when it opened the most expensive suite in the world – complete with its own colossal Sharon Marston fibre-optic chandelier – and has been quietly completing a David Collins Studios re-design of the whole hotel, which was originally built in 1865. The latest addition, opened in late 2007, is The Landau restaurant, which has its own entrance and can also be reached from the hotel, through a corridor lined with wine bottles. The restaurant has walls of soft, brushed gilt panelling, timber floors, antique brass chandeliers and Chinoiserie silk screens. The chef, Andrew Turner, specialises in cosmopolitan food and regional British produce.The Langham London, 1c Portland Place, London W1 (020 76361000: http://london.langhamhotels.co.uk).
FFYNNON TOWNHOUSE, DOLGELLAU, WALES
The appetite for turning lovely Welsh buildings into boutique hotels hasn’t abated; this little three-suite hotel in a Victorian rectory at the foot of stunning Cader Idris, on the southern edge of Snowdonia, has all the luxe credentials (Egyptian cotton sheets, goosedown duvets, spa baths, TV/DVD, wi-fi), and also welcomes families. A fourth suite is just about to open, there is a butler’s pantry with fridge and a room service menu, including children’s options. It must run in the family; the owner’s brother-in-law has an eight-bedroom art hotel called Manorhaus in Ruithin (www.manorhaus.com).
Ffynnon, Brynffynnon, Love Lane, Dolgellau, Gwynedd (01341 421774: http://www.ffynnontownhouse.com).