Kelly Beswick, her husband, Sam, and their twins Kit and Natasha
WHERE WE WENT
Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences is tucked away behind ornate, wrought iron gates and is truly one of London’s hidden gems. What’s more, it welcomes young children with open arms.
The opportunity to spend the weekend together as a family, savouring the varied sights and sounds of our splendid city, while basing ourselves at what must be one of London’s most prestigious addresses, was clearly not to be missed. Okay, so we don’t live a million miles from the heart of the metropolis (alright, make that four miles), and both my husband and I spend huge swathes of our life grudgingly commuting in and out of it. That said, there’s really something rather special about seeing your hometown through the eyes of a tourist, and it was a pleasure we were keen to share with our two children. So keen in fact, that I left work early so I could be there at the apartment to greet them. I’m sure the majority of Taj 51’s distinguished guests arrive by chauffeured limousine. I, however, decided to use the tube to St James’ and then shanks’ pony (my husband and children were even more prosaic, and took the bus).
Arriving at Buckingham Gate, I initially struggled to locate Taj 51, hidden as it is behind impressive wrought iron gates, bearing scallops in deference to the coat of arms of the original Elizabethan landowner (an eminent philanthropist called Lord Dacre no less). However, this is just a courtesy nod to the site’s ancestry as the current magnificent buildings, situated around a stunning courtyard, were in fact erected by a Major Charles Pawley at the end of the 19th century (by all accounts an eccentric fellow, who stamped his flamboyant personality on the buildings’ edifices by giving the first two stories of brick work a distinctive sea-green glaze, above which runs a stunning Shakespearian frieze). History aside, it was the sight of a liveried doorman that alerted me to the possible whereabouts of the place and as I approached him hesitantly, he immediately greeted me with a warm and welcoming smile, assured me I was in the right location and then escorted me to reception, where the welcome was equally as courteous and charming.
I was then introduced to our butler (yes, you read that correctly), a lovely Italian gentleman called Enzio, who duly ushered me through the courtyard (its ornate cherub-topped fountain all lit up and decorated like a particularly fabulous winter wonderland during our visit, being just a few weeks before Christmas) before guiding me through the nymph-adorned portico of Kings – one of the eight regally-named town houses that make up the quadrangle, and one of three that form Taj 51. Matching the impressive entrance is an equally elegant hallway, to the right of which is a lift, which took us up to our deluxe, three bedroomed, third floor apartment.
As soon as Enzio opened the door, my jaw dropped at the sheer scale and opulence of it all. A long, seductively lit corridor led off to a fabulous, state-of-the-art kitchen to the right, while to the left was a huge, lavishly decorated lounge, complete with enormous, flat screen TV. Further along was a massive bathroom, twin bedroom, double bedroom and right at the very end the most masterful master bedroom, complete with en suite, I’ve ever had the pleasure to stay in.
After showing me around, Enzio departed, leaving me to wander about from room to room (yes, I did bounce on a bed or two), marvelling at the apartment’s unbridled luxury. When the doorbell went, signaling the arrival of Sam and the children, I rushed to open the door, and as I showed them in the look on my son Kit’s face was priceless. He’d been expecting to enter a room, not a massive apartment, and it took a while to convince him that the entire place really was just for us.
Taj 51 occupies one of the capital’s prime locations, being just a stone’s throw from nearly all the major sights and attractions (Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Tate Britain… you name it, it’s all practically on the doorstep) while taxis and tubes abound in the immediate vicinity making it easy to get around should you wish to wander further afield. Restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops are also in plentiful supply, so if a spot of retail therapy followed by a long lunch is your thing, then you are definitely in the right place. However, if like us, you have small children in tow, for whom the very mention of shopping sends them into a state of apoplexy (unless, of course, it happens to be a toy shop), then the proximity to some of London’s finest Royal Parks will be a far bigger draw.
WHAT WE DID
That first night we decided to sample the delights of a local, family run Italian, as recommended by Enzio, and very delicious it was too, before ambling back to our apartment where we flopped on the vast sofas to watch TV. Our super-excited children were far too hyped for bed, and it was a situation that was further exacerbated by the unexpected, but much appreciated, arrival of delicious smoothies and giant cookies bearing their names! After a rather late night, the children remarkably slept in the following morning (the beds were unbelievably comfortable), so we only just made breakfast.
It was lovely to see the gorgeous, chandeliered dining room packed full of families not dissimilar to ours, and with a decibel level to match, too! It made what had the potential to be a formal and stuffy occasion, relaxed and fun, with the children eagerly devouring their waffles and pancakes, while Sam enthusiastically tucked into a full English. I, however, decided to go slightly off piste with a crab and avocado omelette – which might sound odd, but trust me, it would make a welcome addition to any breakfast menu.
It was then back to the apartment where the receptionist had thoughtfully arranged a cookie making class for the children. Not knowing what to expect, we were surprised to see not one, but two chefs, in the kitchen busily setting up. Amid the clatter of pots and pans, the children were ushered into the front room where a third member of staff introduced herself before presenting them with a Taj-embossed goodie bag containing a teddy bear dressed as a Royal Guard, complete with bearskin, plus assorted games and activities – suffice to say they were delighted. The cookie making class also proved a massive hit, with Kit and Natasha emerging from the kitchen after an hour of toiling over a hot stove (well, I suspect the chefs did the hard graft), with flushed cheeks and chocolate moustaches, a tell tale sign they’d been sampling the wares!
The rest of the day consisted of sightseeing around Westminster, a stroll and squirrel chasing in St James’ and Green Park, a visit to the Cabinet War Rooms, and all topped off with a late afternoon screening of Paddington – perfect! And how better to end such an action packed day than cosied up in our apartment (see how quickly it began to feel like home), enjoying a shepherd’s pie supper, before settling down in our fluffy white dressing gowns for yet another movie (this time Elf, with the DVD pre-ordered and hand-delivered along with complementary popcorn and soft drinks). I’m not sure if any of us made it to the end, though – we were all so tired after such a full on day.
The next morning, it was time to depart, but not before once again sampling the delicious breakfast offering, but this time enjoyed in the confines of the suite. As we wheeled our suitcases out of the front door and closed it behind us, I think we all experienced a tinge of sadness. Our stay had been so fantastic, we simply didn’t want it to end.
Prices for a family of four (2 children under 12) cost from £209 for an Executive Family Room at St. James’ Court, A Taj Hotel, and from £875 in a two-bedroom suite at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, London.
For more information visit www.stjamescourthotel.co.uk or www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk.
For reservations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 20 7963 8400.