December 2012 FEATURE
Britain: Still Building Momentum
By Barbara Radcliffe and Stillman Rogers
With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics focusing worldwide attention on Britain throughout 2012, England, Scotland and Wales are poised to welcome visitors inspired by what they’ve seen and heard. And rather than resting after their busy year of luxury hotel openings and other preparations, Britain heads full-steam into two more years marked by celebrations and major events. Be prepared to guide clients to what’s new, what’s ahead and to the best of the old.
Count on Series 3 of the wildly popular Downton Abbey to inspire your clients, and be ready to create an itinerary that includes one of the great houses where the series was filmed, or a stay in a grand manor house to sample the Downton Abbey lifestyle themselves. National Trust properties Waddesdon Manor and Greys Court, in the rolling Chiltern Hills, were both used as settings and are open to the public, and three of the Trust’s stately homes are Historic House Hotels. Hartwell House & Spa near Aylesbury, Middlethorpe Hall & Spa in York and Bodysgallen Hall & Spa in North Wales offer luxurious guest rooms, fine dining and traditional afternoon teas, along with magnificent gardens and parklands to stroll (www.nationaltrust.org.uk).
Hotels with a History
Dozens of other manor houses and castles are now luxury hotels, including the magnificent Amberly Castle, close to Gatwick Airport (www.amberleycastle.co.uk) and Ruthin Castle, near Chester. This Welsh castle was owned by three different British monarchs, including Elizabeth I (www.ruthincastle.co.uk). Clients with a taste for the supernatural might prefer Gwydir Castle, one of the most haunted houses in Wales and one of its finest Tudor houses. The castle’s two ghosts are not shy with strangers, so guests have a good change of an encounter (www.gwy
In Scotland, Isle of Eriska Hotel, on its own private island in Loch Linnhe near Oban, is a red-sandstone and granite Victorian mansion whose elegant and supremely comfortable guest rooms overlook lawns that include bowling greens and a croquet court. The exceptional dining room offers a varied menu based on Scottish meats, seafood and products, and the hotel has its own smokehouse for smoking salmon. A loch-side golf course, tennis courts, full-service spa, walking trails and opportunities to kayak in the lochs (not to mention the nightly appearance of badgers) add to an air of cosseted seclusion (www.eriska-hotel.co.uk).
Cameron House, on Loch Lomond is an 18th-century mansion with beautifully appointed guest rooms in traditional tartan and wood paneling. Restaurants range from Michelin-starred formal dining to a casual marina-side seafood option, and a full concierge staff minds the details of activities: water sports, loch tours by boat and plane, walking tours, a spa and golf (www.devere-hotels.co.uk).
London and More
London’s appeal is timeless, and most clients will want to spend at least some time here. Several new or newly refurbished hotels are ready to welcome them, including three that debuted this fall: 4-star London Pullman St Pancras (www.pullman
hotels.com), stylish up-market Ibis London Blackfriars in the heart of the newly regenerated neighborhood (www.ibis.com), and The Wellesley, a 36-suite ultra-luxury townhouse in fashionable Knightsbridge (www.thewellesley.co.uk).
In 2013, London observes 100 years of the Chelsea Flower Show, and in July the repurposed Olympic park opens as the largest urban park development in Europe. London museums, most of them free, will launch exhibits on Pompei (British Museum) and film costumes, including Darth Vader’s (Victoria & Albert). Reflecting guests’ interest in authentic and in-depth tourist experiences, Accor’s M Gallery St. Ermin’s Hotel near St. James Palace offers guests private tours of Westminster Abbey with the back-story of royal history told by Abbey staff (www.mgallery.com).
Regions on offer from VisitBritain include the Cotswolds, Manchester and Newcastle (www.visitbritain.com). Hitherto little noticed by international visitors, the northeastern city of Newcastle has just added 11 new hotels, and last year South Shore Road was awarded the title of Hippest Street in Britain for its vibrant arts scene, anchored by BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and international music center, The Sage Gateshead.
The biennial Manchester International Festival in July 2013 (www.mif.co.uk), promises three weeks of world-class premiers and performances, in a compact city (end-to-end is a 20-minute walk) with a free hop-on bus service connecting rail station, hotels, attractions and shopping. The old Victorian railway station in its midst has completed conversion to a convention center, with exhibition space, conference venues and 2,500-room adjoining hotel capacity (opposite is The Midland Hotel, legendary for being where Rolls met Royce). Best news for your clients is that they can stay at a 5-star hotel in Manchester at the price of 3-star in London. The National Football Museum opened here in July 2012 (www.VisitManchester.com).
Iconic Welsh actor Richard Burton is the big news in Wales, with designated Richard Burton trails highlighting his birthplace in Pontrhydyfen, and Taibach, where he grew up. Clients can download a map (www.visitnpt.co.uk/richardburton). In October 2013, Wales begins a full year of celebrations of the centenary of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s birth. Fans can dine on authentic Edwardian-era food at small bi-weekly dinners at his preserved birthplace in Swansea or participate in other events there (www.dylanthomasbirthplace.com), while Brown’s, his favorite pub in Laugharne, has just reopened as a 5-star boutique hotel (www.browns-hotel.co.uk).
Be sure to point foodies to Wales, where outstanding chefs and a wealth of locally produced ingredients - Welsh beef and lamb, game from local estates, artisan cheeses - combine in equal measure. Reserve tables (and rooms) at Felin Fach Griffin, a little pub near Brecon that’s been named the UK’s Inn of the Year and Dining Pub of the Year for Wales (www.felinfachgriffin.co.uk), or Michelin-starred Crown at Whitebrook in Monmouthshire, named the best restaurant in Wales by Good Food Guide (www.crownatwhitebrook.co.uk). To revel in local food and drink, suggest the annual Abergavenny Food Festival in September (www.aber
gavennyfoodfestival.com) or Conwy Feast in October (www.conwyfeast.co.uk). For lodgings with outstanding food based on locally sourced products, you can be confident booking clients at hotels belonging to Welsh Rarebits (www.rarebits.co.uk).
2013 is the Year of Natural Scotland, when tourism initiatives spotlight the magnificent scenic vistas of the highlands, lowlands and islands, and encourage visitors to enjoy the landscape responsibly, choosing accommodations with green policies and supporting those who make the most of local resources (www.visitscotland.com). It’s not a hard sell in a land where chefs and consumers are passionate about eating local, and where some of the world’s finest meats are raised.
Stars seem to have fallen on Edinburgh - Michelin stars, that is - and on chefs who prize Scottish ingredients. Fresh, seasonal and local are the mantra of all five starred chefs, especially at the wonderfully innovative 21212, in a townhouse on one of Edinburgh’s crescents. The flawless service, stylish decor and artistic table settings are all overshadowed by the succession of five creative courses. Reserve one of the lush guest rooms upstairs so clients can bask in the experience (www.21212restaurant.co.uk).
Too recently opened to get a star, but definitely the one to watch is One Square, on the street level of the smart new Sheraton Edinburgh, fresh from a complete top-to-bottom re-do that makes it a stand-out lodging choice. Their full-service spa, dining and stunning new lounge make the hotel into a luxury city resort (www.sheratonedinburgh.co.uk). Edinburgh’s other lodging news is the $15 million renovation of a revered landmark, rebranded as The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel (www.theca
Homecoming Scotland, when people of Scottish descent gather here from all over the world, is set for 2014, the same year that Scotland hosts two major sporting events: The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and the 2014 Commonwealth Games headquartered in Glasgow’s new Commonwealth Sports Arena & Velodrome. Opening in 2013 is Glasgow’s Hydro, a 12,000-seat arena for international music, entertainment and sports events, poised to become one of world’s busiest entertainment arenas (www.seeglasgow.com).
Book clients at Blythswood Square, a beautifully designed renovation of the former Automobile Club of Scotland, right in the heart of Glasgow and an easy walk to the Willow Tea Room and other iconic Charles Rennie Macintosh sites. Racing fans will like it, as it was for years the starting point of the Monte Carlo Rally, but all your clients will love the smart decor, the beautiful spa and the pampering staff (www.townhousec
Luxury On Land & Sea
Feel confident booking clients at any of the 30 properties in Connoisseurs Scotland’s collection (www.luxu
ryscotland.co.uk), which includes four of the world’s finest golf resorts, The Royal Scotsman luxury train and MV Hebridean Princess, the finest hotel afloat. New is the ship’s first-ever stop in Belfast, Northern Ireland, scheduled for the April 16 sailing (www.hebrid