MSN Travel hotel review: The Corinthia
The Corinthia's lobby
Most travel writers consider themselves far too-cool-for-school to be impressed by hotels with a celebrity clientele - especially in London. But the newly opened Corinthia is one hotel that keeps appearing on the radar as a star-studded haunt in the nicest way possible.
Sure Cheryl Cole loves the spa (more on that heavenly place later) and it seems to host just about every high-profile film and arts event (most recently, the 3D artist Joe Hill painted a piece outside the hotel), but it also has credentials in the travel world. In the last few months, it has been nominated for a European Hotel Design Award, hosted Conde Nast Traveller's spa awards and popped up as a party location for London Fashion Week.
The lobby and that chandelier
Located just off Trafalgar Square, the front facade looms off Whitehall Place, the hotel's name etched in stone. The grandiose theme continues throughout, where you feel like a Lilliputian wandering around a well-heeled giant's luxury abode.
Our first stop is the lounge, which features a gasp-inducing hotel chandelier, a huge ball of light crafted out of Baccarat crystal.
While walking through you can hear the tapping of expensive high heels on marble that has a pedigree - the white marble is Calacatta Orio from Italy and the black is Tunisian black and gold.
The staff are welcoming and friendly, and as make our way through the lounge, we see towering glasses of pink champagne and dainty nibbles on tiered cake stands. Afternoon tea is underway, and I feel a slight pang that I won't be lifting up the giant bell jars on the table and inspecting the fine cakes and pastries underneath.
But, there simply isn't time. I have an appointment booked in the Espa Spa - the very same one Rihanna visited while staying in the hotel at the time of the BRITs.
Unsurprisingly, this is evidently a very good, well-run spa. There's a very clear delineation between this space and the rest of the hotel. Colours are still very muted and neutral, but the ceilings are vast and the doors huge and pearlised, stretching from floor to ceiling.
These are made of Kinon - a special, hand-produced lacquer - and as I push through timidly, there's a moment of uncertainty as to whether I even have the strength to move something that put me in mind of the gates to heaven.
There is a great sense of space here - the lack of which is a prime bugbear in other hotel city spas - and it feels more like a resort than a hotel located within metres of Trafalgar Square. The backdrop of the reception is a vast metal square, and although you'd think these various textures wouldn't be very welcoming, they are successful at creating an otherworldly atmosphere.
It builds up the expectation that you're not just here for a massage, but that the massage will make your world much better. Moving into the inner sanctum I find that the rooms are arranged around a central core, which houses the steam, sauna and heated Cleopatra beds.
After my superb massage - which includes an involuntary nap as it is so relaxing - I head back to my room to change for dinner at The Northall. The room is textbook comfort - the husband is already sprawled on the bed in our Executive Room, which is well-appointed with classic, contemporary décor. It won't win prizes for its adventurousness, but for a wide range of wealthy clientele, it is inoffensive chic.
An executive room
Glass bubble lamps sit on the bedside tables and further exploration reveals a door that opens into an inner courtyard. It's sort of like being at the private house of a very rich friend, who lives in an A-list location but it has none of the noise and stress that comes with being in the centre of the city.
On to cocktails at 7pm, and we head to the Northall bar, a huge, airy space with panelled glass, a pink chandelier, high ceilings and an elegant marble-topped bar.
I love this kind of space - it is elegant without being intimidating, and there are flourishes of a Parisian bar about the place. We perch on pretty, blue leather chairs, finger the exquisite glassware and talk to the bar staff about Perfect Manhattans.
Next stop dinner, and we notice that a lot of the guests this evening are wealthy young Chinese tourists clutching tall glasses of champagne. There is a strong sense of grandeur - tall windows circle the room interspersed with giant mirrors - and long, brown leather banquettes line the outer rim.
Pleasingly - and this will be a great hit come the Olympics - the menu places an emphasis on British food. St Austell mussels and Goosnargh duck feature - and every dish mentions the area it comes from. I choose the dressed crab from Paignton, Devon to start - it is pleasantly rich on the tongue - and the venison from the Lake District for the main course.
The venison's accompaniments are spot on - red pickled cabbage and swede and carrot puree - as is the wine chosen for us by our Scottish waiter, who is formidably armed with information about the wine list. So much so, you imagine it's also his hobby.
When you visit the Corinthia's website, there's an interesting section devoted to reviews, which are harvested from Tripadvisor's most favourable crop.
These are, of course the best reviews, but despite that slight disingenousness, I do agree with some of the main points raised. It is over the top but in a good way. The surrounds are so impressive because everything is supersized but there is also tireless attention-to-detail. And perhaps if you're spending the amount of money required for a night at this hotel, you want to feel as if you're getting a return in wow factor.
A key factor for many guests was also the good service that they experienced - and I would agree with them. It's very easy for a big hotel to seem faceless, but every staff member was friendly, from those in the spa to those mixing my husband's Perfect Manhattan, and it was the kind of friendliness that has a personality attached to it.
I was looking for the right phrase to sum up the Corinthia but one visitor put it best - "classic, yet always fresh." This hotel of grand spaces may raise lofty expectations, but it more than meets the challenge.
Stay there: The Corinthia Hotel London, Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2BD. Call 020 7930 8181 or visit the website. An executive room starts from £450, and other rooms from basic to suites have varying rates depending on time of year.