Built-up with anticipation, I prepared my suitcases quite a few days before my departure to London. It has been a while since my last visit to England, and I had visions of rolling hills, great shopping and beautiful architecture in my mind.
My journey began at the airport, where I was transported to The Milestone Hotel in London overlooking the beautiful Kensington Palace and Gardens. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed by Andrea, the concierge of the hotel, and Andrew Pike, the General Manager, who greeted me with such sincerity and made me feel right at home.
Soon thereafter, my luggage was taken to my room, and after a welcome glass of bubbles, I retired to unpack and freshen up. The Harlequin Suite was going to be my home for the next few days, a bold yet tastefully designed suite inspired by 15th century pantomime, decorated in black and white color scheme, plush carpets throughout, and unique furnishings including two gorgeous French diamond-quartered bedside tables and a gold bed board with a wall-to-wall mirror behind the bed. A nicely equally decorated hall led me to a spacious and magnificent black tiled marble bathroom with fresh flowers, Penhaligon’s toiletries, plush bathrobe and slippers, and soaps from world-famous perfumeries. The magic just began! I told myself.
After a few moments of taking in the beauty which surrounded me, I headed to the lobby to meet with our other travel friends for a nice meal at the award-winning Cheneston’s restaurant. A Sophisticated room showcasing fine traditional décor, rich mahogany furniture and warm wood paneling, a room that conveyed character and style. For my main meal, I ordered the Gressingham Duck Breast with fondant potatoes, sautéed spring vegetables, rhubarb, and green apple puree and balsamic jus, and for dessert, the Milestone Rice Pudding which consisted of sweetened vanilla rice folded into Chantilly cream with salted caramel and candied nuts, absolutely to die for! Everyone was raving how superb their meal was, and the staff was always within a short distance making sure we had what was needed. A few minutes later, we all headed to Stables Bar where we shared a nightcap and reflected on the day. My first night in London was fabulous! And I couldn’t wait to see what surprises await us all.
For the next few days, I truly enjoyed British hospitality. I visited Tate Modern, Britain’s modern & contemporary art museum located on the banks of the Thames River, after exploring and admiring the beautiful artwork of famous artists, we took a 6-minute walk to The Swan Bar & Restaurant for lunch, another wonderful culinary experience. I ordered a pair of cider battered oysters as a starter, and for the main course, the Cornish cod, tomatoes & spring onion cassoulet with parsley crumb and a side of heritage potatoes, a tasty and fulfilling meal I must say. “Now where to?” I asked, “Off to see The View from The Shard”, yelled out one of our traveling friends, London’s highest building where you can see unparalleled 360-degree views for up to 40 miles.
Next day was a guided tour through the beautiful Kensington Gardens, taking in Kensington Palace where I enjoyed viewing the Fashion Rules exhibit which explored how three royal women, HM Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales navigated the fashion “rules” defined by their royal duties in a unique style.
After appreciating the exhibit, I headed to eclectic Notting Hill and into Kensington High Streets for some shopping, and of course, visiting Harrod’s was on the top of my list. Again, the excitement did not end with the shopping, but later that evening, we attended UK’s Greatest Classical Spectacular Show at the Royal Albert Hall, only a 10-minute walk away from The Milestone Hotel. What an astonishing show with thundering cannons and indoor fireworks! Totally spectacular!
While at The Milestone Hotel, I had the opportunity to meet with Mrs. Tollman in the conservatory room for afternoon tea. She truly is the epitome of grace. Elegantly dressed and radiating an aura of simple sophistication, I approached Mrs. Tollman and happily began conversing with her. She was as eager to learn about me as I was to learn about the passion that drove this wonderful woman to the success of The Red Carnation Hotels. She told me how it all began, the love affair, becoming a young bride with little life experience and taking the responsibility in the kitchen while learning to fuse the best of local cuisine at their very first hotel, “The Nugget”. You can feel the passion that she exuberates in her voice while sharing with me her story, amazing and moving.
After enjoying London to the fullest, it was time to head to Dorset’s charming Summer Lodge Country House Hotel & Spa in the glorious English countryside, also part of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection and esteemed member of Relais & Chateaux. This luxe Georgian country house was magnificent! The property sits in the picturesque village of Evershot, in the heart of Dorset. Charles Lotter, the General Manager, welcomed us, and graciously took us for a tour of this beautiful hotel. My room was beautifully decorated with blue & white hues with simple but elegant décor. As I walked to the back of my room, it displayed a beautiful glass conservatory with a private walled garden, an appealing blend of originality, airy grandeur and warm. All rooms are individually styled and most feature antique furniture and gas fireplaces and every single suite come with en-suite bathrooms, flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and complimentary Wi-Fi, as well as tea and coffee making equipment, free bottled water, fruit, and biscuits, I was more than pleased with the accommodations. Today, dinner was going to take place at the Summer Lodge Country House Restaurant and prepared by award-winning Executive Chef, Steve Titman, while wines were being served by Eric Zweibel, the world’s No. 1 Sommelier. Our meal consisted of delicious tasting menu of Roast Breast and Confit Leg of Quail, pickled red cabbage and Jerusalem Artichoke, others enjoyed the Cornish Sole with Octopus and Serrano Ham, and the list goes on. Everything served was excellent! After dinner, we headed to The Whisky Bar for a nightcap, a warm and cozy setting in which to relax and enjoy while learning about the impressive choices of their collection of over 300 of the finest whiskeys from around the world, 1400 wines and 100 brandies.
Next day was an early rise, and after a nice and enjoyable breakfast, we headed to explore our surroundings. Sherborne in Northern Dorset is a beautiful and small market town which combines history and culture. Sherborne Abbey is one of only 18 churches awarded 5-stars in Simon Jenkins’ England’s Thousand Best Churches. He writes “I would pit Sherborne’s roof against any contemporary work of the Italian Renaissance” We also drove by Cerne Abbas Giant, a 15-minute drive from Summer Lodge, a huge chalk carving of a naked male giant cutting a striking figure among the hills of Dorset, its identity is unknown, however, it certainly spices up a country stroll! Also visited Max Gate, Hardy’s home of his own design and his cottage birthplace hidden in woodland nearby at Higher Bockhampton. After a long and fascinating day, we headed back to Summer Lodge Country House for more delicious meals and remarkable cocktails, but not before The Spa for a welcomed 80-minute massage. The Spa at the Summer Lodge Country House Hotel creates the ultimate relaxation experience in which you can rejuvenate body and mind; a sanctuary from the pressures of everyday living. When I was done with my treatment, I felt totally revitalized! An absolute Must-Do while visiting this stunning countryside hotel.
Next day I headed to explore Lyme Regis, about a 45-minute drive from Evershot, and situated at the heart of the Jurassic Coast, the perfect place to visit if you love geology and history, or just taking in the spectacular coastal scenery. I walked around admiring its beautiful sites; perfect spot for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. I relaxed at the beach soaking up the bright and sunny day. It was spectacular! The remaining of my stay consisted of visiting the surroundings, special dinner at The Acorn Inn, which served a range of exceptional seasonal dishes, enjoying getting together with friends at the Whisky Bar and learning all about the famous selection of 27 Artisan Cheese from the South West with the exception of the Stilton.
As all good things have to come to an end, I packed my things and was ready for my transfer to the airport and back to the States, however, I will have to say, without a doubt, that experiencing The Red Carnation Hotels “The Milestone Hotel” and “Summer Lodge Country House Hotel” turned out to be an exuberant and gratifying experience. The brand itself has it all; from exquisite décor and furnishings, sumptuous meals, and an ever-welcoming and accommodating staff who deliver the most professional and memorable experiences during my stay.
Long after I’ve returned back home, the memories during my experience with these properties have brought moments of fondness and reflection on the many little elements that make up the whole of these exquisite destinations.