Friday, October 21, 2011

London: The St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel

It is nearly a century since the Midland Grand hotel, the Victorian palace attached to St Pancras station, last flourished, and 76 years since it was a hotel at all. It is almost a half-century since the struggle began to rescue it from oblivion, 26 years since it had any full-time use and five since construction started to return it to its original purpose as a luxury hotel, with a wonderful spa too.

The hotel has been restored at a cost of £200m: ‘it has stood, like the weird house of a crazy old lady in some village, unmissable, spooky and inaccessible.’ The life of the city swirls around it and under it, in and out of some of the busiest train and underground stations in Europe (6 tube lines accessible from the hotel). It has been possible to see inside on the occasional tour, and its interiors have been shown worldwide to unknowing millions, as locations for Harry Potter, 102 Dalmatians, Batman, Richard III and other films requiring lavish Gothic creepiness. Now, its restoration nearly complete, it feels like both a lost world and something familiar, that has always been part of the furniture of London.

Inside, it is a thing of movement, a web of stairs and endless corridors. Even the coffee room, one of its most splendid interiors, is built on a radiused curve, like a railway viaduct, as if you had not quite left a train carriage. In short, this is one of the most exciting ‘new’ hotels on the London scene.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Best Hotels in: Istanbul

There are a number of incredible hotels in Istanbul, whether you choose to go for the beautifully appointed ex-prison that is the Four Seasons or the ultra-modern fashion centre that is the Park Hyatt there is something for everyone.

Our favourite at the moment is the landmark ‘Pera Palace Hotel’, fresh out of a €23-million facelift. The restoration is completely in-tune with the original designs and the hotel has kept a very classic feel in all its communal spaces. However, once you enter any of the 115 rooms you will notice that much thought has gone into maintaining the original decor whilst showcasing the latest technology. The rooms have everything you would possibly need for a comfortable stay and some feature delightful balconies from which you can enjoy the bustling city below.

The impressive lobby leads to the majestic, domed Kubbeli Saloon and Tea Lounge with its exotic 'Arabian Nights' ambience. The Orient Bar and the Patisserie de Pera have a nostalgic charm reminiscent of a journey on the Orient Express. This was after all where you would stay after journeying on the luxurious train.

A new basement level features a spa and Turkish bath, as well as the refined Agatha restaurant (named after Agatha Christie, the hotel's most famous guest). All in all this is a wonderfully located hotel with the perfect mix of modern and classic. A little treat when staying here: have a ride on the old lift! Pera Palace was the first address in Istanbul with an electric lift (it's the second oldest in Europe after the Eiffel Tower's)

To see more:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New District Rises in Lyon

The southern tip of Lyon’s central peninsula, long devoted to manufacturing and transport, is the focus of an unprecedented project of urban renewal. Reclaimed from the waters in centuries past, this riverside site is re-embracing its banks and natural environment. The redevelopment is gradually highlighting an outstanding location and unique landscapes. Set to ultimately double the size of the city centre, this project is a rarity in Europe, a major challenge for the metropolitan area, and an incredible new opportunity for its residents.

The confluence of the rivers, where the Saône flows into the Rhône at the southern tip of the Presqu'île, is a compelling sight, and has added to Lyon's allure for centuries. But while building began in the wide centre of the peninsula in the 16th century, the triangle at its tip remained waterlogged for another 200 years. Eventually, construction techniques allowed city developers to shore up the riverbanks and the tip became viable for building, evolving into an industrial zone.

A huge gasworks and the terminal for the train line from Saint-Etienne to Lyon—the first in France—were built in the 19th century. The city's two prisons were installed, as were the slaughterhouses, and prostitution moved in, too. Lyon's wholesale market, once the biggest in France, was established, with more than 300 trucks coming and going each day laden with fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and flowers. The banks of the Saône and the tip of the Confluence were owned by the Port de Lyon-Port Rambaud, which was built in 1926. Its activities ceased in 1995 and it took until 1998 for talks to begin on redefining the district. The Confluence, it was decided, would no longer be Lyon's industrial quarter and a dumping ground for some of the city's less salubrious activities. It would become a quarter where people lived and worked in attractive, thoughtfully designed apartments and offices, a vibrant area that made the most of its amazing natural location between two rivers. Work began on the €1.16 billion Phase 1 in 2003, and two of its most important elements were inaugurated in June 2010.

The most eye-catching is the Place Nautique, an immense square that is the biggest public space in the area. Half of its ten acres are taken up with a huge inner harbour, fed directly by the Saône. A bridge along the banks of the river opens to allow pleasure boats to pass into the Place. Tiered paths, trees, cafés and restaurants surround the basin, and an elegant passerelle, a wood and metal footbridge, spans it.

The second major project is the Parc de la Saône. A busy road, the Quai Rambaud, used to run alongside the river, with traffic noise and pollution ruining the prospects of a riverside walk. Now the road has been diverted away from the riverside, and in its place is a 35-acre park designed by landscape architect Michel Desvigne, with wide paths for cyclists and smaller paved walking paths along with gardens and planted ponds intended to attract birds and other small wildlife.

A stroll southward down to the Saône leads visitors to the old port area, where a handful of houseboats are anchored on the riverbank, and the customs buildings and former warehouses are being renovated. The old sugar warehouse, La Sucrière, is already in use as an exhibition space—part of the city's renowned Biennale of Contemporary Art is usually held there. And, installed in an old salt warehouse, the vast contemporary covered market and restaurant Rue Le Bec, run by the two-star chef Nicolas Le Bec, is already drawing trendy crowds into the area.

Meanwhile, Phase 2 has just begun, overseen by landscaper Desvigne and Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, who are best known for converting a power station on London's River Thames into the award-winning Tate Modern museum, and for the Dominus Winery in Yountville, California. The entire development project is scheduled for completion by 2020.