Like A Local
Story and Photos by karyn R. Millet
London is a city of many appealing neighborhoods—Notting Hill, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Mayfair, to name a few. For this particular trip, South Kensington seemed like a perfect fit. One of its most charming hotels, Number Sixteen, has no exterior signage, just the numerals “16” painted in black against a stately white Corinthian column along the front porch. After a day out and about in the city, turning the corner onto Sumner Place and stepping into Number Sixteen feels like coming home.
Number Sixteen is a more intimate-size sister hotel, with the same amenities and extraordinary style, to some of London’s swankiest properties, including the Soho, the Covent Garden and Charlotte Street. Customs agents at Heathrow have been known to ask inbound travelers headed to this address if they are “staying with a friend.” The proper reply, given the level of service there, is, “Well, yes I am, sir.”
Just steps away is the South Kensington tube stop, with three lines connecting to London’s best sights. Before hopping on the train, pop into Carluccio’s on Old Brompton Road for an espresso or an informal bite amid colorful neighborhood chatter.
If your trip happens over a weekend, Borough Market near London Bridge is known for its farmers’ market–style shopping—a great spot for breakfasting on fresh organic fare. For decorative arts, check out Portobello Market with its botanical prints, silver, china, crystal and endless collectibles on display.
Treat yourself to brunch, lunch or dinner at Clarke’s on Kensington Church Street. Chef Sally Clarke trained under Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and, not surprisingly, uses organic local products for her daily menus. To avoid the Harrods hubbub, stroll down the Burlington or the Piccadilly arcade, where you’ll discover specialty shops selling china, candy, cheeses and tailored shirts.
For an extraordinary museum experience, visit the former home of Sir John Soane, one of London’s most celebrated architects. Most famous for designing the stately Bank of London, Soanes traveled the globe and filled his house with fascinating architectural pediments, fragments, columns, busts, urns, exquisite renderings and paintings. There are hidden panels and passageways, skylights and stained glass, and even an Egyptian sarcophagus in the crypt.
Also outstanding is the Wallace collection, showcased in an elaborate London townhouse bursting with armory, sculpture and paintings by Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Vernet.
What’s London without afternoon tea? The Wolseley, just four years old, offers a stylish atmosphere and decadent delicacies served in what was once an elegant 1900s car showroom. The crowd is seriously British and is abuzz all day from breakfast to after theater, including tea time, which starts at 3:30 p.m.
On a Sunday, don’t hesitate to attend a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. You’ll have the opportunity to meet local parishioners and be awed by lofty architecture (and equally uplifting sermons).
For any Londoner, a weekend escape from city life is a welcome jaunt. You need not travel too far—just 40 minutes outside town—to Berkshire, where stately Cliveden House awaits. Steeped in history and intrigue, Cliveden is a writer’s dream—a bit of Jane Austen meets John Grisham.
Leased to Stanford University from 1969 to 1983, Cliveden holds special memories for many Bay Area residents. Its massive 17th-century Georgian architecture seems otherworldly, packed with stately columns, dentil molding, coins and pediments. The interiors are just as grand, with historic portraits, lavish paneling and elegant textiles. Once the home of American-born Nancy Astor (England’s first female member of Parliament), Cliveden has hosted parties attended by the likes of Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling and a lengthy list of royals. On any given weekend you are apt to run into longtime guests who have been playing snooker with friends here for 20 years, or perhaps ladies from nearby Maidenhead enjoying the spa.
Connecting on a local level, both inside and outside town, enriches any London visit. It’s not until Westminster’s ornate clock sounds on your last day that you realize this other life of yours is ending for now. Lest you forget too soon, though, British Airways offers a reminder just before touchdown at SFO—afternoon tea. That last sip of Earl Grey is just strong enough to elicit a vow to return.
Image 2: Bunch of Grapes pub-a great place for a pint after a long day of shopping or sightseeing at nearby Harrods.
Image 3: Vintage leather suitcases and old-fashioned golf clubs are a common sights at Portobello Market on weekends.
Image 4: Stately Cliveden sits proudly on its manicured lawns and welcomes guests from London and points beyond.
If you go:Number Sixteen
16 Sumner Place
London SW7 3EG
Tel: 44 207 589 5232
Doubles from £175
Berkshire SL6 0JF
Tel: 44 162 866 8561
Doubles from £300
Two daily nonstop
flights from San Francisco
to London Heathrow