By Naomi Nightingale
The Shangri La Hotel at The Shard and The Goring are two very different hotels, that represent two sides of London, but which is the London I love?
It is my belief that there are two sides to London. While both are set in this exceptional, urban jungle, featuring the same landmarks and people, their differences are as prominent as the twinkling beacons that tell us we are home. The sides to which I refer are the old and new. One is the London of Michael Faraday, John Keats and the Royal family. It is a town immersed in bountiful tales of times past, where Big Ben and Buckingham Palace reign unrivalled. The other London sits right beside its historical counterpart, in fact they are juxtaposed companions. This is a city of skyscrapers, the London Eye and the midnight echoes of Soho. It is a new London that constantly strives to be bigger, bolder and blankets the city in the culture that cemented its modern creation.
It has always struck me as odd that these two seemingly opposing ideas can live in such apparent harmony. Until I considered that contrast is the rule London lives by. It is a city that provides exposure to it all; wealth is often aligned with poverty, financial districts are set beside homely hubs and the old revels in the shadows of the new. We can browse the morning markets in Camden and be settled with a picnic in Hampstead by noon, this is the magic of London Town.
Despite being born and bred in London, I had never really considered these contrasts. They were every day elements you may fail to notice when the city has grown up with you. That was until I visited two very different hotels in quick succesion. One was an old treasure that has proudly nested in the streets of Belgravia since 1910. The other is housed in a modern marvel that pierces through the sky in glistening splendour, a relatively new feature among the clouds of London. Here, I realised that our hotels are a perfect microcosm of the city’s great and continuous contrast. These two hotels represent the two sides of London we are faced with every day. Sleeping in both old and new, in the space of a week, I was forced to stop and consider which I felt really represented the city I love.
When you gaze at the glory of The Goring, history rushes over you with intense power. It is the kind of residence that speaks of golden glamour and elite sophistication. Stepping through its doors for the first time provided an overwhelming sense that reminded me slightly of the first day at a new school. That’s not to say I felt intimidated but, if you know the history of such a place and the many people that have walked through its doors in over 100 years, you’re bound to feel a little insignificant. Prince Harry was among the greats who had been hosted by The Goring just a week prior and I could hardly live up to a guest of such stature. Just as expectation began to weigh heavy on my shoulders, a friendly doorman beamed me a smile as he walked down the stairs to relieve me from my luggage.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it”, he said in a manner that instantly gave me the ease this humble city girl required. That’s one thing I loved about The Goring, it provided a home away from home for many who frequented its halls. Upon entering your eyes are immediately greeted by the elegant décor that has adorned The Goring for years. I was instantly met by helpful staff who guided me around the foyer which leads to a comfortable reception and an exquisite dining area, where the gentlemen were wearing their best three-piece suits and the ladies favoured impeccable cocktail dresses.
As I was lead through the hotel I notice that all the floors have different coloured wallpaper.
“Yes, it’s a funny, little way to remind people which floor they’re on.” Says Jodie, the woman in a gleaming white coat who escorted me to my room, while telling stories of the hotels past and future plans. It was little quirks like these that I really began to love about The Goring. The very natural individuality of each area, room and corridor was incredibly endearing. I was led to a double room which, like the hotel, was sophisticated and elegant. The bed was made-up with incredible precision and the wallpaper had touches of gold and floral detail. In the corner lay a tiny toy sheep which guests are told to rub to insure a beautiful night’s sleep, though looking at the bed I didn’t think I’d have any trouble in that department. Left alone in my own historical pad, I took a moment to peer out of the window which overlooked the hotel’s very own garden terrace. Despite being at the heart of the city, The Goring still has an enchanting country vibe that is unique and settling.
That evening, I took a walk around Belgravia. From one road to the next the scenery changed from bustling bars to quiet cul-de-sacs. The city was out in all its glory as though it was putting on a show for me alone. Upon returning to the hotel, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to experience The Goring’s 24-hour bar, which by this point was quiet. In fact, I was alone but for an elderly couple were enjoying the lengthy cocktail hour the hotel provides. Dressed in their Goring best I could not help but watch the pair, who sat enjoying the comfort of the hotel From their relaxed state I assumed they’d been coming to this hotel for years and despite all the other’s that were cropping up around town, they still seemed to favour this one. Sipping on a Margherita, which came with fancy nibbles and a quote from a literary legend on a piece of card, I saw why one would return here. It was all about the familiarity of a place that remains perfectly unchanged. As I began to relax in a place I had a few hours earlier considered too proper for this East Ender, it became clear that the old world London can pull us all in with a promise of the familiar comfort we so often lack in London.
The Shangri La Hotel, At The Shard
I was only three days out of my Goring haze when a long-awaited trip to a hotel I had admired from afar was planned. In the past when I thought of London Bridge, I’d think of the epic British icon that stretches across The River Thames. Now thinking of this place conjures up images of Borough Market, a thriving new cultural scene and The Shard.
It stands far above the city, surveying it with innovative supremacy. While it is home to businesses, publications, and bankers, for me, the most treasured part of The Shard begins on the 35th floor, home of The Shangri La Hotel. For those who have yet to see what this hotel has to offer, let me tell you, it is as sensational as they say.
Stepping out of the swift elevator on the 35th floor brings before your eyes sights of London in all its magnificence. From every angle, The Shangri La Hotel offers lavish views from far above the town. With each blink of my eyes I saw it all, the old London Bridge, the new Olympic Village, an entirely new view of a city I had once believed I knew so well. When escorted to my room, I was delighted that the views of London were not reserved to the lobby and restaurant. In fact every inch of my abode had panoramic views. Even the bathroom was included, because what’s more settling than a gentle soak while watching the dancing city lights? An Asian influence is consistently felt throughout the hotel. From the enchanting music that chimes when you enter your room, to the plants and sophisticated decor that brings new delightful sights. I suppose that’s The Shangri La Hotel’s own personal juxtaposition, two different cultures, presented as one. During my stay in the sky, I had a sense of ease that was incredibly enticing. There was a perfect simplicity to everything at The Shangri La; the meals consisted of simple food, prepared exquisitely and the décor was subtle and unimposing which made it all the more welcoming.
It was around the time I visited the indoor swimming pool that I began to believe in this new and innovative London. Gliding gently through waters over 35 floors up in this glistening city star with picturesque sights that still did not bore me, I felt a sense of peace. Isn’t that funny? There in the heart of London, in one of its most brilliant architectural splendours, where just 35 floors below the streets where bustling, I was at peace. There was the contrast I noted most readily. The Shangri La Hotel was able to create a sense of peace within a city that often does not find calm. On my last morning I lay in bed and used the remote controlled device I’d begun to refer to as my alarm to open up the blinds and reveal the city with which I had fallen in love with all over again. While enjoying the morning view from the restaurant I began to wonder if this is how London should really be enjoyed, from above, where hustling can’t get to you and insistent sirens make no sound. Of course, that’s just a fantasy. Although, while I sat there enjoying pancakes and honey as the sun shone down on my perfect city, it was a Shangri La reality.
So which London do I love? After both of these exquisite experiences is it the old or the new that I feel really encaptures this great city? With the old there is a sense of home, of comfort and familiarity that cannot possibly be replicated in the modern madness. The old has a history that pulls tourists from all over the world and, as The Goring sits just across the road from Buckingham Palace, it’s the ideal spot for anyone who wants to explore London’s fruitful past. Then there’s the new, where nothing has been seen or done before, where the sky is no longer the limit, where you can find a bed besides the clouds. This modern city blends the cultures that make up its population and opens its arms to continuous change.
In both hotels I found comfort, peace and the sense of ease I want to feel when I’m not able to rest a weary head in my own bed. Despite many differences, both hotels had something for me. So therein lies the answer: I love both. Both represent this city’s splendour and highlight the qualities that make it so special. Like the old and new London that mesh together brilliantly due to their unique ability to provide a little something for everyone, these two hotels offer a second home for anyone who wants to experience authentic London. They are constant reminders that this city can never really be divided, that our past is our present and future. And, where hotels are concerned, isn’t it great to walk on the streets of kings and take a bed in the clouds?