Be my Valentine at The Stafford London

February 12, 2015

FAJO Picks — Stylish Venues

There is nothing like taking a vacation in your own city, especially in the lead up to Valentine’s Day! 

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I stayed at the quintessentially English luxury hotel: The Stafford London. Located in St. James Place, just a stone’s throw away from the Queen’s residence at Buckingham Palace, The Stafford is one of the most desirable and exclusive postcodes in the city. In fact, I discovered that the wine cellar in the hotel’s basement used to hold a secret passageway, which led to the Royal grounds (but more on that later).

Upon arriving at The Stafford, we were instantly greeted outside the entrance by hotel staff who asked if we would like help with our bags, and who held doors open with a smile. The hotel entrance had a welcoming and homely feel, even though The Stafford is known to be a luxurious five-star venue.

The concierge checked us in and led us from the Main House to our room in the hotel’s newer development called The Mews Suites. En route, we passed through The Lyttelton restaurant and lounge — where we would later be having afternoon tea — and the American Bar, before exiting the main building to the outside courtyard, which leads to The Carriage House and Mews Suites.

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Entering The Suites, whose building has its own mini reception area and butler service, we took the lift up to the fourth floor where we were shown our breathtaking Master Suite. Spacious, stylish and peaceful, the suite had a separate living room area, a working desk, two toilets, a large bedroom, a powder room and a walk-in closet. It’s safe to say we were in heaven, and the space was bigger than our one-bed London flat!

To make the stay even more pleasant, a platter of dark and white chocolate truffles with raspberries and a fresh fruit basket were awaiting us with a personalized welcome letter from the hotel manager. For an extra touch, the two flat-screen TVs said “Welcome home, Cristina Boydell” with rotating pictures of The Stafford as the backdrop. We dropped off our bags before briefly exploring our suite and sitting on the gigantic king-sized bed.

Next, we did the grand tour of the hotel. We started by viewing The Stafford’s Main House — a beautiful blend of Victorian grandeur, timeless English décor, elegance, charm and modern comfort.

I discovered more on the history of the hotel, which dates back to the 17th century. It turns out 16–18 St. James Place were originally built as private residences. Number 17 was most famously owned by Lord and Lady Lyttelton, daughter of the then Earl Spencer and governess to the royal children.

We were shown one of each of the Classic Queen, Classic King, Deluxe King, Junior Suite and Master Suite rooms. Each had its own unique sense of character with a selection of unique artwork, bespoke furniture, marble bathrooms, individual colour schemes and rich fabrics. I could see how guests would feel instantly at home, and why The Stafford has so many return visitors who often request the same room.

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Afterwards, we stepped back in time and went outside to get a peek at one of the rooms within the Carriage House. Originally built to house 18th century Royal Mews stables, The Carriage House was transformed to luxury accommodation in the late 1990s. These rooms have a completely different British country-house feel with split stable doors, wooden beams and a countryside interior.

I loved the Junior Suite, which offers a magnificent four-post bed and even had riding boots and a hat on display by the cozy fireplace. When we realized we were coming to the end of the tour of the rooms, it was too hard to pick a favourite.

When we asked our tour guide, PR manager Ruta Bikniute, which would be her pick, she said it would have to be The Guv’nor’s Suite: “Your very own London flat in the heart of St James.” After hearing that the space is a split-level suite with the bedroom overlooking the lounge and open fireplace below, we knew it was a must-see. The suite is currently undergoing a redo but, luckily, we were able to get a sneak preview.

After the tour, we returned to the Main House and decided to visit the Wine Cellars. This was definitely something I was curious about!

The Stafford Wine Cellars’ history dates back 380 years. During World War II, The Stafford served as a club for American and Canadian officers stationed overseas, who sought refuge in the Cellars. Also during WWII, the Wine Cellars were used as air-raid shelters, and you can still get a glimpse back into this period from an authentic collection of war-related items housed in a little museum at the far end.

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It felt like we had entered a time machine as the collection of memorabilia looked like it had barely been touched since then. Over the years, the cellars have had various uses, and it is reputed that a doorway (now closed off) led straight to the Royal Palace of St. James, which was the original home of the Monarchy right up until the time of Queen Victoria.

Now, it is impossible to discuss The Stafford’s Wine Cellars without mentioning master sommelier Gino Nardella, who travels the world to discover thousands of bottles for the hotel’s selection and oversees the wine service. He can sometimes try up to 200 wines a week and may only choose one. His experience is vast, from his childhood spent on the family-owned vineyard in Southern France to over 40 years accumulated experience as a sommelier, making him one of only a few hundred master sommeliers in the world.

The American Bar at The Stafford is another attraction. Every available wall space is decorated with thousands of customer-donated items from around the globe (mainly North America) in a collection of knick-knacks and signed celebrity photographs.

Looking up, you can see a colourful display of baseball caps, club ties and sporting memorabilia hanging from the ceiling. This all started when an American guest gave Charles Guano — the hotel’s former, beloved head barman of 42 years — a small wooden carving of an American eagle. Shortly afterwards, a Canadian guest gave a small present, an Australian gave a kangaroo and it just grew from there.

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During the 1930s, most West End hotels in London renamed their bars “The American Bar” in an attempt to attract the business of the increasing numbers of North American visitors. These travellers brought with them such “exotic” drinks as Manhattans, Sidecars and Martinis. We heard a story of a guest once requesting a “Screwdriver,” and the staff hunted down an actual screwdriver for him; when he explained it was a drink, they all laughed. The next time he came, he brought a large screwdriver, which is now framed on the wall. Most hotels have renamed their bars since then, yet The Stafford remains one of only two in London that have kept the original name.

Afterwards, we went back to the Lyttleton restaurant area where we had a cozy spot in front of the fire in the lounge section for afternoon tea, which is served daily from 3 to 6 p.m. I learned that The Lyttelton was the former dining and drawing room of the Lord and Lady Lyttelton family. A descendant of the aristocratic Spencer family dynasty, Edward Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer, was the father of Diana, Princess of Wales. For 300 years, the Spencer family has included exceptional women dedicated to the arts, politics and charity.

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The Stafford’s signature afternoon tea is therefore dedicated to Lady Lyttelton, who also held the honourable post of Lady in Waiting to Queen Victoria. We enjoyed traditional English champagne and afternoon tea along with sandwiches, cakes and scones, served up on a high tea platter.

It started with a glass of cold bubbly and a selection of teas — we went for the Stafford Special Blend and the Lady Lyttelton Special Blend. Then came out a selection of petite sandwiches — gluten-free and veggie for me — honey-cinnamon and raisin scones (with jam and Devonshire clotted cream) and mini desserts, including macaroons, a raspberry shot glass, ginger panna cotta, berries compote, eclairs, dark chocolate and orange roulade, and mince pie.

Since The Stafford is located in central London, just off Piccadilly and a couple of minutes’ walk from Green Park Underground, I couldn’t believe how quiet and tucked away the hotel feels in the quaint, historical district of St. James, amongst all the hustle and bustle of the city.

Waking up after a blissful sleep in the duck-down duvets and pillows, we enjoyed the complimentary soft drinks, Nespresso coffee and Sunday Times before checking out. The Stafford’s team says “Welcome home” to new guests and “Welcome back home” to returning guests. I had such a fantastic stay that I hope I hear those three words soon!

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By Cristina Boydell
Photography by Cristina Boydell &

courtesy of The Stafford Hotel

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