It’s in the heart of exclusive South Kensington. The place looks like a townhouse, and you have to look again to make sure you’re at the right address. And there it is, an unobtrusive sign that announces the Adria Hotel.
There’s a bell.
The door opens and Sofia, a young lady from Venice, says to come in.
It’s not a townhouse inside. Behind the stucco façade of the 19th-century building is a hotel suffused with boutiquery, classical luxury and every modern comfort.
I was shown into a tranquil, comfortable drawing room. No reception desk here, no hanging about in a queue while people ahead of you — who apparently have never checked into a hotel before — fumble about for passports, credit cards and the like.
None of that here. Sofia showed me into a room furnished with velvet-lined sofas, an oak floor scatterd with thick carpets, and on the wall beautiful, evocative black-and-white photos (mainly horses).
Sofia brought me a coffee.
In the words of the famous philosopher, whose name escapes me, what’s not to like?
The Adria achieves a remarkable trick: it is exquisitely comfortable, yet painstakingly perfect. The five-star hotel has a members’ club charm, but with added boutique pizazz. Potted plants in exactly the right place, wonderful coffee table books, a large vase of peonies, some light classical music playing. The room spoke of serenity and cognac sipping. It was perfect.
The only thing that looked a little out of place, to be quite honest, was me.
In my defence, I’d just braved the rigours of Heathrow Airport, spending two hours waiting for baggage. That’s five weeks in real time.
But it didn’t matter about my own perceived suitability for such luxurious surroundings. The staff, led by Dublin man Gary Redmond, do everything to put you at your ease. Gary has an impeccable CV — Dromoland, Westbury, Doyle Collection. He’s been at the Adria for four years, and despite being a busy man showed me round. And it’s true that any manager sets the tone of a place — he is friendly, helpful, efficient; like everyone on his staff.
The ground floor has the breakfast room, three lounges, and a games room — chess, mahjong, draughts type of thing. I thought about a Hennessy’s later on, in a glass the size of a goldfish bowl, and maybe a game of chess — I’m used to playing my computer on long journeys; maybe somebody here would give me a game face-to-face. . . . Gary, I bet you. Gary would. He’d undoubtedly know the Sicilian Defence or at any rate the Albin Countergambit. But as it happened, I opted to relax with a glass of wine in the Polo Lounge. I loved those black and white photos nearly as much as the deep velvet sofa nearly as much as the South Africa syrah.
But my bedroom. You’ll want to hear about that. On the 4th floor, so even with the windows open, it was quiet.
The mix of contemporary luxury and antique style is very calming after a day at three different airports. Nine hours travel, and I hadn’t even left the Common Travel Area —which is a personal record for me. The Italian marble bathroom, by this time, also seemed to have major artistic merit — so that helped me relax.
In the bedroom there’s a 42-inch flatscreen TV with more channels than you could reasonably wave a remote at. I expect it’s illegal to have only one channel these days.
But who needs the telly when you’re in the most interesting corner of one of the great cities of the world?
The Adria is a short walk from several key London locations, which by long journalistic tradition I am obliged to refer to as ‘iconic’: the Royal Albert Hall is literally just round the corner, Hyde Park a ten minute stroll away, and two of the world’s finest museums the Victoria & Albert and the Natural History Museum are basically just at the bottom of the street. If you only visit one museum this year, well, I dunno, maybe you should probably visit a few more. Because they’re amazing places, particularly these two. Truly, there’s no place like the past.
But if I can’t persuade you to accompany me to these chunks of eternity, as I like to think of them, no bother. There are many, many more diversions. If you don’t do walking unless you’re shopping, Harrod’s is but a short schlep away.
Of course, you have to pay for all that location and luxury, so prices are robust at the Adria. But hotels in this area of London are always going to be expensive, so you might as well stay at the best. And the Adria is just that.
It has what the novelist Arnold Bennett described in his 1902 novel The Grand Babylon Hotel as ‘that mysterious quality known as style’. In spades.