I’m on cloud nine. Literally. With a fully-flat bed, mood lighting, a vibrant bar and delicious food served by a red-uniformed friendly staff, the Upper Class cabin of the 787-9 Dreamliner flying me to London seems less airplane, more a flying Mercedes. Add to it roomy seats, stylistic interiors and a seriously quieter ride thanks to the aircraft’s state-of- the-art engine, and it figures why I feel I’m floating on a cloud.
Soon, it’s time to disembark in the stylish Capital city of the Old Blighty (and for once I’m not keen to get off a plane!) The transfer out of Heathrow Airport is smooth and uneventful. Forty minutes later, I’m at one of London’s spiffiest addresses ~ Corinthia Hotel. Set around a garden, two restaurants, a luxury spa, a cocktail bar and a beautifully refurbished grand ballroom, this is one of London’s finest 5-star luxury hotels. The property also allows me quick access to the city’s major attractions like the Thames, the London Eye and Trafalgar Square.
However, before sightseeing, I decide to get pampered at the hotel’s award-winning spa, ESPA which features 17 treatment rooms, spa suites, a nail studio, indoor pool, amphitheatre sauna, ice fountain, marble heated lounges, private sleep pods, a state-of-the-art gym and more!
A rejuvenating “mindful facial” and body massage later I feel reborn. Serendipitously, it happens to be a Sunday, so I head for a champagne brunch to The Northall restaurant resonating with the sound of jazz. A decadent spread ~ huge and glistening rock oysters, Roast Cumbrian Beef Sirloin, Crab with green tomato/avocado and a deep fried Haddock in a beer batter served with chips and mushy peas ~ is washed down with Laurent-Perrier champagne.
Now, I can’t wait to check out London’s famed cultural hotspots. My first stop is the Royal Academy of Arts where, at its Sackler Wing (Burlington House), a criticallyacclaimed exhibition ~ Matisse In The Studio ~ is going on. It is immersive and allows me a peek into French artist Henri Matisse’s studio, brimming with his treasured paintings, sculptures and drawings. Seen together, the works reveal how Matisse’s masterful vision stemmed from the patterns and rhythms, which he found in everyday objects from far corners of the globe: Buddhist statuary from Thailand, Bamana figures from Mali, furniture and textiles from North Africa.
Rarely of material value, these objects appear in the genius’ works in different avatars and across spans of decades, reinvented afresh in each new setting. Next stop: Kensington Palace, where another well-received exhibition ~ Diana: Her Fashion Story ~ is on. The show chronicles ~ through dresses, photographs, memorabilia ~ Lady Diana’s evolution as a global fashion icon as well as a confident and empowered woman who espoused causes she truly believed in. After my two intense cultural outings, I decide to take a tea break.
And pray, what can be more British than a nice cup of tea? The centuries-old Afternoon Tea culture is still quite vibrant in London, thank you very much, though the origin of this charming tradition goes back to the 1800s when Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, scheduled time to take tea and enjoy a snack in the afternoons. Soon, her relatives and other royals started joining her and the practice was perpetuated throughout England.
My own tea venue is no less regal. With its pillars of swirling marble, lofty mirrored ceilings and tinkling ivories, the afternoon tea at the Corinthia Hotel’s Crystal Moon Lounge ~ under a Baccarat chandelier ~ is considered the Elizabeth Taylor of all teas. From the imaginative selection of hearty finger sandwiches (rye bread and chive cream cheese was a fave) to the bespoke William Edwards’ tea sets Earl Grey opera cake and deconstructed apple and blackberry crumble, everything is beautifully executed and impeccably served. At night, I sample more cultural offerings. I watch An American in Paris at Dominion Theatre, a Tony-winning musical based on the treasured MGM film starring Broadway ensemble members. Post the engaging play, I hit Basoon Bar, one of London’s most happening outlets, with a friend.
Here, we try the bar’s famed “Brain Power Mocktails” created by a neuroscientist Tara Swart. The one we choose is a salubrious mix of martini, bitters, lemon zest and a few other secret ingredients. Alongside, we munch scrumptious finger foods listening to the pianist’s tinkling tunes. Dinner is at Massimo, an awardwinning Italian restaurant where Head Chef Massimo Riccioli has crafted an exquisite menu heroing seafood.
There’s a superb oyster and crudo bar as well for those seeking fresh fruits of the sea. The meal takes my breath away. There’s “Carmelo style” linguine served with clams, prawns, squid and mussels, and beetroot gnocchi. Dessert is crème brûlèe flavoured with stem ginger and zabaioni!
How to get there: Virgin Atlantic offers direct and frequent connections to London from major Indian metros
Where to stay: Corinthia Hotel, Whitehall, Westminster is centrally located, has one of the largest rooms and offers great service.