Tuesday, June 28, 2016

London Highlights

Somerset House
Location of the Courtauld Gallery and Spring Restaurant

We had the most wonderful time in London. The beginning of June turned out to be the perfect time to visit. Even though the weather during the first part of the trip was gray and chilly, eventually we had blue skies and the city was lovely. The Chelsea Flower Show had just happened and London was still bedecked with floral installations. The Queen was turning 90 and the streets were festooned with bunting. And since the gardens were blooming and the parks were leafy green, London was at its best. We stayed at the Stafford Hotel on St. James Place near Piccadilly, a great location for walking to so many favorite places. Right around the corner are Hatchards Books, Fortnum & Mason, and the Royal Academy. For a special treat, the elegant Ritz Hotel is close by for an early evening cocktail or afternoon tea. I love thinking of all the history that happened there! Green Park and St. James Park are within walking distance. And there are so many little streets to wander around on late afternoon or evening walks. Virginia Woolf called it "rambling the streets of London." On this trip we returned to some of our favorite places as well as discovered new ones, went to some great restaurants, and saw two excellent performances. As always, London is endlessly fascinating. Here are the highlights of our week in London.

The Stafford Hotel

The Stafford Hotel is located on St. James Place, just off of St. James Street. Within minutes you are on Piccadilly and able to walk to so many places. What I love best is the quiet and tranquility at both entrances to the hotel.  

The lobby at the Stafford

The little lobby is a peaceful place to relax and have a cup of tea after being out all day. And the American Bar is just through that door. If you don't know about the American Bar, try it next time you are in London. It was originally a bar for American officers during World War II and is decorated with all kinds of fun memorabilia. The menu is casual and delicious -- they have a great burger -- and the atmosphere dark and warm. There is also a lovely outdoor space surrounded by greenery and flowers.


The Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace had two fabulous exhibitions

The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is such a beautiful space for art. This time I was excited to recognize a Vigee Le Brun painting after seeing the exhibition of her work at the Met in New York in April.

The Tate Britain

I hadn't been to the Tate Britain since I was in my twenties. It is a beautiful museum and proudly claims to house "500 years of British art." I sought out some of my favorite paintings, including  "Ophelia" by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais.

Charlotte Bronte exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte's birth, the National Portrait Gallery has mounted a small but very moving exhibition of her life. The centerpiece is the portrait of the Bronte sisters, painted by their brother Branwell Bronte. There are many personal items from the Bronte Parsonage, including the miniature books written by the Bronte children and Charlotte's walking boots.


Fortnum & Mason

London is a great city for shopping and I always go to Fortnum & Mason when I am there. It's pure eye candy. This time the stairs were resplendent with flower lined railings. It really took my breath away!

I couldn't resist buying a couple more pieces from their Burleigh collection. This pattern is "Celeste," which is designed exclusively for Fortnums. I picked up some mugs for my daughters who have developed a love of blue and white ceramics.

After all that shopping, some ice cream at their old-fashioned ice cream parlor is a welcome treat!

This display at Fenwick's was photographed by many passersby

The flowers at the entrance of Liberty, where I bought a "William Morris" patterned bathrobe for myself and two Liberty print smock dresses for my little granddaughter!

Exploring our neighborhood

Around the corner is Dukes Hotel with their cute bicycles for guests 

The streets were decorated for the Queen's birthday

Albermarle Street, just minutes from our hotel, at dusk

St. James Park in bloom

And the window boxes in London, always a beautiful sight!


Royal Albert Hall

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was seeing "Swan Lake" danced in-the-round at the Royal Albert Hall. This breathtaking performance by the English National ballet included 60 "swans" moving in unison across the arena floor. I've never seen anything like it. We were in awe! 

A close second was this performance of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Garrick Theatre. It starred Lily James and Derek Jacobi and was directed by Kenneth Branagh. It was excellent!

Afternoon Tea

 Tea at the Lanesborough Hotel

I got a chance to catch up with one of my favorite Londoners, Miranda Mills, over tea at the elegant Lanesborough Hotel. We enjoyed the Pink Princess Afternoon Tea which was created in  honor of the first birthday of Princess Charlotte. If you don't already read Miranda's inspiring blog, please check it out. If you are an Anglophile, you will love all her suggestions for fun things to do in London!

Favorite Restaurants

Clos Maggiore
Photo via here

This was my second time at Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden and I think it must be the most romantic restaurant in London. Sitting under an arbor of flowers and vines and eating dinner is a very unique experience. It is wonderful for a special occasion.

Spring Restaurant
Photo via here

A new restaurant we tried this time was "Spring," which is located in beautiful Somerset House (see first photo). The room is stunning and the food excellent. Another special occasion restaurant!

Design Inspiration

The library at Hamyard Hotel

I have been inspired by Kit Kemp and her hotels for a long time now. I finally got to see one them -- Hamyard Hotel -- and it is stunning. The decor is beautiful, original and fresh! 

And one surprise

 Spencer House, viewed from the back

I had been curious about the elegant white building on St. James Place across from our hotel. It turns out this is Spencer House, an 18th-century private palace built around 1756 for the first Earl of Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. The back of the house is much more elaborate than the front and was meant to be enjoyed privately this way. Diana officially reopened the House in 1991, following the restoration of the State Rooms. 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the restoration and they decided to open the garden gates for the first time since 2011. Apparently this is the "Year of the English Garden" and Spencer House wanted to celebrate. I learned all this because we were at the Stafford Hotel on one of the two days the house and garden were open. We bought tickets and walked right over, touring the grounds which were lovely. I wish we had been able to walk through the house as well, but we needed to leave for Bath. Fortunately I purchased a book on Spencer House and have enjoyed seeing the magnificent rooms of this very grand place. I learned that it is the only great 18th-century town house in London to survive intact. It never fails to amaze me how much there is to see in London!

Next up, London bookstores!


  1. London is one of my favorite cities but I've never seen it so beautifully decked out - I assume in honor of the Queen's birthday. And both pieces of theatre/dance you went to look spectacular.

  2. It was so wonderful to see you again Sunday, and what a fabulous tea we had!! As always, your blog introduces me to exciting new things - I now so want to try the American Bar at The Stafford Hotel - it sounds just my sort of place. And Spring is at the top of my list of restaurants to try! Miranda xxx http://mirandasnotebook.com/

  3. I so enjoyed reading this. It makes me miss London so much. I wish I could visit more often but there are so many places in Europe that I want to see that it's hard to fit in a trip to London as often as I would like.

  4. Beautiful! I looked up Kit Kemp watching several of her videos- she is wonderful. It looks like you were there at the perfect time. What gorgeous flowers. And I love the Celeste China. Thanks for taking us with you :)

  5. My, how gorgeous London looked while you were there. It is so pretty.

  6. Sunday...I want to do London the way you did. I would love to have an itinerary of what you did and all you did. This was splendid!! It made me so happy to read your blog

  7. Sunday, London is indeed a special place. There is so much to see and so there and so much history. I have loved my trips there. I love seeing all of the beautiful photos that you took and seeing and hearing about it in your words, you make it all seem so romantic. I cannot wait to see more.

  8. The next time I go to London (hopefully next year) I'm going to make your blog my first stop when planning my trip - everything you did looks so amazing! Thanks for your gorgeous photos and for sharing your adventures with us.

  9. What a great recap! Seeing Swan Lake, or any ballet, in the round sounds like it would be a wonderful experience. Looking forward to seeing your bookstore adventures next.

  10. Such gorgeous images of your trip. P.S. I am on book 3 of the Neapolitan series. Great recommendation!