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Travel: JET SETTING IN LONDON; HEATHER RAMSAY SPENDS A FIRST-CLASS WEEKEND AT LONDON'S CHICEST HOTELS.

Byline: HEATHER RAMSAY

DRIVING into London is quite a culture shock. It's crowded, noisy, energetic and the traffic is awful.

After several uncomfortable hours in the car, I reached the first destination of my weekend visit, The Metropolitan Hotel in Mayfair. I made a mental note to fly next time.

Hot, sweaty and unkempt wasn't the chicest look for my arrival at one of the swankiest hotels in town.

And you won't find trendier receptionists than at the Metropolitan dressed head-to-toe in Armani.

I felt downright dowdy as I checked in. When the concierge asked me if my rather tattered beach mat was a yoga mat, I cursed myself for not leaving it in the car.

Before being escorted to my room, they asked me if any guests would be joining me later for drinks at The Met Bar - a favourite celebrity hangout.

After some fuss, my friend was given the green light and added to the guest list. It was made clear that uninvited stowaways may not be so fortunate.

The panoramic view of leafy Hyde Park was lovely, as was the room itself. Bright and minimalist with stark white walls, sleek furnishings and crisp Egyptian cotton sheets to snooze away on.

The bathroom was a bit poky but the Shambhala aromatherapy toiletries with unusual sharp scent made up for the lack of space and the anti-mist mirrors were really rather impressive.

The hotel has a reputation for being a bit of a celebrity magnet. Jennifer Lopez stayed there a few months back. She booked 14 suites costing pounds 9,000 a night and ran up a room service bill for pounds 2,200.

It's also the hotel where Boris Becker made front page news when he fathered an illegitimate child in a broom cupboard at the adjoining Nobu restaurant.

I am told it has since been knocked down and turned into a corridor.

I prayed my room service bill wouldn't be as extravagant as J-Lo's, but you are very aware that nothing comes for free. The smallest request is signed for the minute it arrives. Even the bowl of nibbles served with my Sea Breeze was priced at over pounds 4.

Partying the evening away at The Met bar is not such bad way to spend a Friday night.

I was disappointed not to spot a single celebrity, but at least I came away with a box of Met Bar matches in my handbag. And guess what? They were free.

There wasn't time to try their fusion restaurant Nobu, but judging by the amount of celebrities in the gossip columns who dine there, including Madonna and Halle Berry, it can't be that bad.

One major bonus is breakfast. Someone cleverly decided to serve it until midday allowing ample time to sleep off any grogginess caused by the Met Bar's cocktails.

Instead of spending a second night at the Metropolitan, I decided to check out The Halkin in Belgravia. Although it is the sister hotel of the Metropolitan it has a completely different ambience.

Situated on a peaceful street in Belgravia, away from the bustle of Hyde Park Corner, it retains all the contemporary style of its sister hotel but with a warm, traditional feel. Much better if you want a boutique retreat next to the best shops in town.

Harrods and Harvey Nichols are just around the corner. How very handy.

Check-in was smoother this time. The staff were genuinely unassuming and my yoga mat, as it is now known, wasn't at all embarrassed to be seen.

Nothing was too much trouble and you don't waste valuable time signing room service receipts. They save the bad news until the end.

The black seamless hotel corridors were unlike anything I've seen before - it took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust and locate the door to my room. I waited for the Star Trek "whooshing" sound effect when I unlocked the door, but nothing happened. Far more stylish than the ultra- minimalist Metropolitan rooms, my suite was just right.

A hand-written welcome note from the manager was a nice touch, as were the state of the art touch-screen consoles on either side of the bed.

They adjust no less than the lighting, temperature, do not disturb sign and butler call.

Want to know what time it is in Singapore? No problem, just press the screen. You could easily remain in the room all day just padding about and soaking up the luxury.

But the weather was too good to waste on a hotel room, however nice, so I headed for Hyde Park and rented a pedalo on the Serpentine. Walking back to the hotel you notice how pretty the exclusive Belgravia area is on a hot summer's afternoon.

Many of the embassies are around Belgrave Square and the chain of international flags brighten up the rows of Georgian white terraces.

After a spot of window shopping, which was all I could afford by this stage, I made my way back to my secret haven in Halkin Street and tried to find my room.

GETTING THERE

BY AIR

British Airways (0845 77 333 77/www.ba.com)and BMI (0870 60 70555/www.flybmi.com) have regular flights to Heathrow from Edinburgh and Glasgow.

BY RAIL

Regular train service to either Kings Cross or Euston. Call National Rail Enquiries

on 08457 484950

TALE OF THE TAPE

THE METROPOLITAN

LOCATION Old Park Lane, Mayfair

AMBIENCE Trendy, buzzing

DINING Nobu, Japanese cuisine with a Michelin star. Robert de Niro is a partner.

TOILETRIES Shambhala, bathrobes provided

SPA Shambhala Health Club offers a range of massages and body therapies

PROS Dance the night away at the Met Bar without leaving the building

CONS 200 yards inside London''s congestion charge zone. pounds 5 a day fee.

PRICE pounds 195 including breakfast

BEST FOR Twenty somethings who enjoy the party scene.

TALE OF THE TAPE

THE HALKIN

LOCATION Halkin Street, Belgravia

AMBIENCE Sophisticated, refined

DINING Nahm, Thai cuisine with a

Michelin Star

TOILETRIES Bvlgari, bathrobes and slippers

provided

SPA No, but you can use The Metropolitan

PROS Best location in town for shopping

CONS Shame about the spa

PRICE pounds 295 including dinner at Nahm and breakfast

BEST FOR Couples wanting a quiet romantic break, Shopaholics

CAPTION(S):

PEACEFUL: Halkin Hotel; TOP NOSH: Nobu restaurant; SAFE MET: JLO often stays; SWANKY: Entrance of the Metropolitan Hotel
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 28, 2003
Words:1062
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