Travel Buzz - London, Paris and Rome

London, Paris, Rome

London Calling

Hotels

Arguably the biggest news—and biggest development—in London is The Shard, one of the highest structures in Western Europe. A viewing area opened earlier this year on floors 68, 69 and 72 with special telescopes known as Tell: scopes that allow visitors to get a real bird’s-eye view of the city. (These telescopes, which are actually high-tech cameras, either show a real-time scene or can display pre-recorded footage of the scene in daytime or night.)

The Shard will also be home to the UK’s first Shangri-La Hotel, which is expected to have more than 200 rooms when it opens later this year, along with heated floors in the bathrooms and butler service in all suites. The hotel will have three restaurants, including a gourmet deli on the ground floor, a destination restaurant (which we hear will serve “locally inspired dishes with an Asian twist”) on level 35 and a signature bar on level 52. A lounge will offer an Asian-inspired afternoon tea with what is expected to be one of the largest menus of Chinese teas in London. Signature dishes will include Hainan Chicken Rice, Laksa, Nasi Goreng, Char Kuey Teow and Wonton noodle soup among others.

The other big buzz this year is more of an honor than a major development: For the first time ever, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed a Royal Warrant for hospitality services. The recognition went to The Goring where the erstwhile Kate Middleton stayed with her family the night before she became Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in 2011. Royal Warrants mean that a satisfactory trading arrangement is in place between a company and the Grantor, who could be The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh or The Prince of Wales. Companies can only apply for a Royal Warrant once they have supplied goods or services for at least five years to one of the three Grantors. The granting of The Royal Warrant signifies that the company receiving it is the one that HM The Queen has selected and prefers to use. Warrant holders may display the relevant Royal Arms and use the words “By Appointment” in their signage.

In other hotel news, Forbes released its first-ever rankings of London hotels, with inspectors reportedly spending more than 80 nights in the bedrooms and more than 30 hours in the spas. When the dust settled, quite a few hotels came away with the coveted stars. The Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane received five stars for both its hotel and spa, and other five-star hotels included The Savoy, The Lanesborough, The Dorchester, Claridge’s and 45 Park Lane. The other five-star spa was at the Mandarin Oriental. In all, eight of the city’s hotels and spas earned five stars, while 23 earned four stars. 

Entertainment

London is the biggest theater city in the world, with everything from the classics to experimental productions to old-fashioned musicals all over town. Here’s what's going down in the West End and beyond: 

The annual London theater initiative Kids Week runs for the full month of August, allowing one child age 16 and under to attend participating shows for free when accompanied by an adult paying full price, and up to two extra children can go for half price. There are also free activities and events on stage and backstage at many of the West End theaters.

Every bedroom at The Goring in London
Every bedroom at The Goring in London is individually designed using a range of color palettes.

 

A stage version of the hit 1997 film The Full Monty will be playing at the Noel Coward Theatre for 16 weeks in the spring of 2014. Based on the story of six steelworkers-turned-strippers, the stage production is currently on a UK tour. More details will be released in the coming months.

The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has extended its run and is now offering tickets through October 2014.

Theatre group Punchdrunk returns to London with their biggest production to date, a collaboration with the National Theatre. The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable is inspired by Buchner’s fractured masterpiece Woyzeck and “set in a seedy Hollywood underworld.” 

Food

Jokes about English cuisine became passé decades ago, and fine dining has evolved into an art form with top-notch restaurants throughout London. With celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver opening establishments all over the city, foodies are never lacking for a great meal. 

Ramsay is expected to open a restaurant on Union Street in September. The Union Street Café will reportedly be backed by sports star David Beckham. Last month, Ramsay’s eponymous restaurant at Claridge’s closed after more than 12 years.

 

Thames River
From its perch along the Thames River, the London Eye affords spectacular views of the United Kingdom’s capital city.

 

Meanwhile, Jamie Oliver’s popular restaurant Fifteen has just reopened its doors after a major renovation, and has a new head chef, Jon Rotherham. The celeb chef will also open an offshoot of his popular Italian restaurant, called Jamie’s Italian Trattoria, in London’s Richmond neighborhood. 

We’ll Always Have Paris

Hotels

This year is the centenary for The Dorchester Collection’s Hotel Plaza Athenee, so the historic hotel will be closing in October for a restoration and an expansion. And that expansion sounds exciting: The hotel’s owners purchased townhouses on 29 Avenue Montaigne and on rue Clement Marot (as well as the building where Le Relais Plaza is located) to add to the hotel. 

When the project is completed in May 2014, it will have six new guest rooms, eight additional suites designed by Marie-José Pommereau, a ballroom and two event spaces. A makeover of the Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee restaurant and Le Bar is also in the works by the Paris-based Jouin-Manku agency; as is a redo of La Galerie des Gobelins, La Cour Jardin and Le Relais Plaza by Bruno Moinard.

In May, Hotel Prince de Galles, a Luxury Collection Hotel, reopened after a two-year renovation. Pierre-Yves Rochon re-created the lobby as well as the hotel’s 115 rooms and 44 suites. Those suites, we hear, have been reimagined as private apartments that evoke the Art Deco style from the 1930s. The rooms and suites have swank touches like Macassar ebony wood, St. Laurent marble floors and intricate mosaic artwork that are created by top luxury French “maisons” and top craftsmen. The hotel’s 1,776-square-foot penthouse has panoramic views over the city from a private terrace. Interior designer Bruno Borrione, working with Chef Stephanie Le Quellec, recreated the hotel’s signature restaurant and bar. A show kitchen, with a chef’s table next to it, is the center of attention in the restaurant, as guests dine at minimalist white-marble tables. The restaurant will be led by Executive Chef Le Quellec, and we hear that the seasonal dishes will focus on the flavors of the south of France.

 

Château de Champs sur Marne
Le Royal Monceau-Raffles Paris has been awarded the rare and prestigious “Palace Hotel” distinction. Pictured is the elegant Presidential Suite.

 

Le Bristol recently unveiled 29 renovated rooms and suites, which wraps up a four-year makeover that reportedly cost $196 million. The suites were decorated by Maja Oetker, wife of hotel owner Rudolf Oetke, and we hear that the best is the revamped fifth-floor Royal Suite, which has views over the hotel's garden. It sprawls out over an impressive 3,230 square feet (two bedrooms, two lounges, a dining room for 12 and a private hammam) and is decorated like an 18th-century town house.

Hotels in the city are earning some notable honors and recognitions: Atout France, the French Agency for Tourism Development, awarded Le Royal Monceau-Raffles Paris the prestigious “Palace Hotel” distinction, a status shared by just 12 other hotels in France. Atout France revamped the hotel classification system back in 2009, creating this category to distinguish the super-luxe hotels that far exceed the average five-star property. (This makes sense: There is no global hotel classification system, and five-star hotels in different parts of the world can offer vastly different guest experiences.) Atout France has a checklist of stringent requirements for its five-star hotels, and needless to say, the “Palace” label signals the crème de la crème.

 

Le Royal Monceau-Raffles Paris
Château de Champs sur Marne, a magnificent castle about 30 minutes east of Paris, reopened for visitors at the end of June after a massive renovation.

 

And just recently, a Parisian hotel was recognized by our sister publication Luxury Travel Advisor’s Awards of Excellence: Hotel Esprit Saint Germain was dubbed the Best Luxury Boutique Hotel Worldwide. Readers praised the hotel’s quiet 28 rooms—especially noteworthy since the property is very close to the bustling Left Bank. Hint: Make time for champagne at the lobby bar.

Food

Paris is among the top dining cities in the world, and there are always new restaurants opening or expanding their menus. Here are just a few notables: 

Inside the Palais de Tokyo—the largest contemporary art museum in Europe after a big renovation—Monsieur Bleu is a “hot new restaurant” that has top views of the Eiffel Tower from its huge windows as well as an outdoor terrace. As befitting its location in an art museum, many of the restaurant’s events are art-focused. 

Michelin-starred Chef Eric Frechon (who helms the restaurants at Le Bristol) announced plans for a new eatery in the Gare Saint Lazare in September. His goal? To democratize French gastronomy by bringing La Bonne cuisine to the most people possible.

The oldest train station in Paris (and the second largest in Europe after the Gare du Nord) has undergone a makeover, with a sparkling shopping gallery featuring 80 boutiques. The new restaurant, called Lazare, will be another major boon for the Gare, classified a historic monument. On the menu: “a generous, authentic, family-style cuisine.” The restaurant opening has a special importance for Frechon, as it’s the train station that serves his native Normandy. It was a favorite subject matter for Impressionist Claude Monet to capture on canvas.

 

The Tiber Rivers
The Tiber Rivers wends its way through Rome and, just right of center, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican looms above the city’s skyline.

 

High-end chocolate is also getting plenty of attention in the City of Light: Alain Ducasse has teamed up with chocolatier Nicolas Berger to open his first chocolate shop close to the Bastille. But Manufacture is more than a candy store: Visitors can see how chocolate is created from roasting cocoa beans to snacking on the finished product. The beans used for different confections are reportedly sourced from single countries, including Vietnam and Venezuela. Bonus: Last month Ducasse opened a second outlet at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris's 9th arrondissement.

And classic French bakery Laduree has launched a new brand, called Les Marquis de Laduree, that focuses exclusively on chocolate. (What a wonderful thing to focus on!) Located near the Place Vendome, the boutique sells confections like pastries, truffles, brownies and macarons. We hear that the store will soon offer chocolate-making classes and tasting sessions.

Things to Do

At Le Bon Marche, the Left Bank department store, shoppers can unwind at the new Rose Bakery Tea Room. A chic, Art Deco-inspired space on the second floor, the Tea Room is the third Paris venue for the popular Rose Bakery, which we hear has a cult following for its scones, carrot cake, fresh juices, and jams—all made from local, organic products. (The original was launched in 2002 by Rose and Jean-Charles Carrarini on Rue des Martyrs.)

 

The Rome Cavalieri
The Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel (www.romecavalieri.com), is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an array of special packages

 

Just outside of Paris, the Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne, a magnificent castle about 30 minutes east of the city, reopened at the end of June after a massive renovation. Closed since 2006, the 18th-century chateau was once a Presidential Residence and has been featured in more than 80 films, including Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette. Along with the beautiful interiors, the 200-acre park—classified one of France’s “remarkable gardens”—is a must visit. For more information, visit http://tourisme.monuments-nationaux.fr.

At the end of this year, the Musee Picasso is due to reopen with an expanded exhibition space that we hear will be three times the size of the former area. More than 500 of Picasso’s works will be displayed on four levels. New cultural events, scientific presentations and educational offerings are expected for the museum when it emerges from the two-year renovation.

There’s No Place Like Rome

Hotels

The Eternal City is eagerly awaiting the debut of the J.K. Place Roma, which we hear is currently scheduled for September. The hotel is in a historic building at Via Monte d’Oro 30, just off the Via Condotti, within walking distance to the Spanish Steps. J.K. Place Roma will have chic, contemporary interiors. At the helm is General Manager Samuel Porreca, who previously headed the J.K. Place Capri.

Rooms come with rosewood canopy beds or handmade fabric beds, spacious marble bathrooms, plus complimentary minibar and free Wi-Fi. The J.K. Master Room is the largest at 540 square feet. Composed of a living room and separate bedroom, the suite is decked out with custom furniture by Architect Michele Bonan. 

On the eighth floor of the Regina Hotel Baglioni, the new Roman Penthouse lets up to six guests spread out in more than 6,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. Floor-to-ceiling windows give a 360-degree view of the city, while the furnished private terrace has its own Jacuzzi and a fitness area with Technogym equipment. Other perks include 24-hour private butler service, an American breakfast buffet or complimentary à la carte in-room breakfast, an open bar, a dedicated in-room concierge (upon request, for maximum privacy), an in-room chef for three hours per day, an in-room barman for three hours per day, limousine transfers to and from the airport or train station and limousine service on request for transfers in the city.

The Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an array of special packages. The “Roman Shopping Holiday” pairs fashionistas with a personal shopper who shares insider tips and arranges private appointments at 1960s haute couture ateliers (like Valentino, Fausto Sarli and Gattinoni) and the showrooms of upcoming fashion designers. And those who want to conjure their inner Marcello Mastroianni or Anita Ekberg can try the “Click & Go… it’s the Dolce Vita!” package, which lets guests drive around Rome in an electric car trailed by their very own paparazzo who will capture the moment in photos.

Another luxe hotel is offering a unique package: Guests at the Hotel Palazzo Manfredi can tour the Gladiatorial Training School. The 17th century-palace hotel is located on the site of the Ludus Magnus ruins, which was once home to the largest gladiatorial arena in Rome. Built by the emperor Domitian, the training grounds were discovered in 1937 and still have the original structures of four gladiator barracks.

After almost a year of construction and design work, Rome’s Hotel Hassler Roma has unveiled its brand-new 4,300-square-foot Hassler Penthouse Suite. Taking up the hotel’s eighth floor, the “Super Suite” has three bedrooms (one with a full video surveillance system—good for nannies or security specialists), four bathrooms, two panoramic terraces (with views of the Spanish steps, Villa Borghese gardens, St Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon), a full kitchen (with induction cooktops and a refrigerator filled with champagne and other beverages), a living room (complete with a grand piano), dining area for eight and a cocktail bar. Tech fans will like the wireless Hi-Fi technology and more than 100,000 radio stations and shows from around the world. Additionally, the lighting and curtain shutter system is controlled by touch screens placed throughout the suite.

Meanwhile, Hotel Hassler Roma is offering a new Vegetarian Tasting Menu at the hotel’s panoramic, Michelin-starred restaurant Imago, personally created by Chef Francesco Apreda and available through the end of summer. Apreda’s menu is inspired by his native Naples and his adopted city of Rome as well as time spent in India and Japan, and uses fresh, seasonal, local produce combined with Asian flavors such as soy-flavored eggplant, lime dust, lemongrass-infused white asparagus, kumquat compote and shiitake mushrooms. Apreda’s vegetarian dishes have such catchy names as Cacio e Pepe Style Spaghettone Pasta, Broad Beans and Lime Dust; Breaded Zucchini and Goat Cheese Cutlet, Beer-Flavored Spring Onions and Kumquat Compote. For dessert, try the Mango and Basil Bon-Bon in Cold Exotic Soup with Coconut Sorbet.

Tours

Several tour operators are offering new ways to see Rome. Select Italy’s tour of the Colosseum by Night, for example, is a twice-weekly one-hour visit to the iconic landmark that is running through November 2. The Colosseum Dungeons and Upper Tiers tour, meanwhile, is a 90-minute option that lets visitors see the chambers where lions and gladiators both prepared for battle.

Context Travel recently added two new walking tours of Rome. “Caesar and Empire” focuses on the figures of Julius and Augustus Caesar and their many accomplishments more than 2,000 years ago. Beginning at the Theater of Marcellus and continuing past the Pantheon, Largo Argentina, and Ara Pacis, the tour focuses on the fall of the Republic and rise of the Empire and the stories of Imperial Rome. The tour is capped at six participants maximum and led by archaeologists and classical scholars from local universities.

The second tour, Of Cows and Commerce, covers the Foro Boario, an area of central Rome next to the Roman Forum. Working with scholars (including archaeologists and historians teaching in Rome), Context developed the walk to expose visitors to some of the hidden gems of the city, including the temple complex along the Tiber River, arch of Janus, Foro Olitoro, and Ponte Rotto.

Both new walks join a series of nearly a dozen different antiquities walks that Context offers in Rome. Both walks will be available privately or as a shared-group experience.

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