Top 10 Hotels To Make Christmas Shopping Fun
by Adrian Mourby (November 2016)
Christmas shopping shouldn’t be a chore.
Many years ago I worked out there are two ways to make it pleasurable. One is to collect presents for people throughout the year as you see things they’d like. This means that – as long as you can remember where you actually put them - all you have to do on Christmas Eve is take an hour or so to wrap everything over a glass of something nice.
The alternative is to get everything done in one weekend blitz, fortifying and rewarding yourself with a stay at a hotel you love that is no distance from the shops. In this way you can eat a healthy breakfast, sally forth to the shops and sally back again whenever you want a rest or even a nap.
So here are my Top Ten Hotels for making Christmas Shopping fun this year:
Showing below are all 10 records in "Top 10 Hotels To Make Christmas Shopping Fun"
St James's Place, London
St James in London is one of the oldest shopping districts in the capital, and quite possibly the best.
Four hundred years ago a range of shops opened here – and later in Jermyn Street – to cater for the needs of young gentlemen sent by their families to the Court of St James in hope of preferment. These young bucks would clothe themselves here, buy saddles for their horses, lay in wine and other provisions, and even get a shave. They often didn’t pay their bills, running up huge lines of credit, but somehow many of those shops are still in operation today. Others who have joined them are now legendary: Lock the Hatters, Justerini and Brooks (who make J&B whisky by royal appointment), Berry Brothers, famed for their wine and more recently a very good London gin. As for shirts and shoes, elaborately patterned dressing gowns, yellow socks as worn by the Duke of Devonshire, hunting garb and tweedy suits, Jermyn Street is the home of male apparel and has been so for centuries.
In the middle of all this sits Dukes, the perfect discreet West End hotel tucked away down a side street and tucked away even further into a little square. It’s so hidden, first-time visitors often ring up to check they’ve not misunderstood the directions. But when you arrive, Dukes truly delivers comfort and charm. There is a wonderful old lift with two heavy cage doors and a banquette to sprawl on while the cabin draws you gradually upstairs. Best of all though is the bar, No 35 where a signed photo of Sean Connery as James Bond greets you as you step inside. White-jacketed Alessandro Palazzi who runs this distinguished bar makes a superb martini – one of the best in London – and his suite of two small rooms is the kind of place that you can imagine Ian Fleming lounging between writing sessions. A hotel rumour that Fleming came up with the “shaken not stirred” Vesper martini in this bar is unsubstantiated but credible. It’s a great place to relax after the rigours of buying far too much for the man in your life. I’m glad to say that the bar is very definite that leisurewear “including trainers, shorts, hats or sportswear” is not permitted. Good for them.
Basil Street, Knightsbridge, London
With its sister property The Levin, there is no hotel closer to Harrods, the Knightsbridge store whose splendid Christmas grotto is often sold out. Trips to the Ice Kingdom cost £10 this year and you can pretty much guarantee big affluent queues around the block. So get to the store early – and relax afterwards – by staying at The Capital, an excellent old-fashioned English hotel whose bedrooms do not require an instruction manual, unlike some misguided more modern hotels I have stayed. Light switches make simple on-off sense, taps are labelled Hot and Cold and shelves just where you need them to be. Even the smallest rooms have at least one comfortable chair.
The hotel has been in operation, 100 yards behind the Brompton Road, since 1971 and it’s built up a reputation for being what you’d expect of a Knightsbridge hotel. There is a small lounge for afternoon tea, a cosy and well-stocked Art Deco bar for cocktails, and a concierge desk very keen to help out. The hotel has two restaurants, Outlaw for fine dining, and Metro for lighter meals. Metro’s fish and chips are not too heavy and make a good lunch before you head back out to the shops. The Capital also gives its guests a VIP card that gets you discounts at various Knightsbridge stores including Nina Campbell, Pickett, and Maria Grachvogel.
This really is London shopping made easy.
1/3 Piccadilly, Manchester
The Manchester Mal sits in the middle of hotel-land between Manchester Piccadilly Station and Piccadilly Gardens where there’s a market from Thursday to Sunday under the watchful gaze of Queen Victoria’s statue. The big stores like Debenhams and the Arndale Shopping Centre are north of Piccadilly Gardens and all the hotels are on the south side. You’ve a big choice of places to stay but the liveliest is certainly Malmaison with its big red sofas, black walls and smashed wood panelling in the brasserie. Here the curtains are made of metal chains and sacking and the sofas have Union Jacks painted on them. We're definitely more favella than Fortnum & Mason here. The Manchester Mal is the only purpose-built hotel run by this colourful company. All the other Malmaisons in Britain are conversions. Although this one looks as if it is part of the old Joshua Hoyle and Sons department store, it’s really a newbuild behind Hoyle’s splendid brick and tile facade.
Inside, the 72 bedrooms have thought of everything you might need (except a dvd player on which to play Love Actually while putting your feet up). And the public areas always seem to be in festive mode. Friday nights are particularly exciting with a DJ in the lobby. This is definitely a hotel to turn Christmas shopping into a party.
6-10 Gloucester Place, Edinburgh
Nira Caledonia in Edinburgh’s Gloucester Place is a great place to wake up and breakfast before shopping your way down Princes Street. The hotel is made up of two large Georgian townhouses on the north side of Edinburgh’s New Town. Inside the decor has eschewed stags heads and tartan in favour of black and silver, with black laquer Chinese furniture in every bedroom and an all-black restaurant on the ground floor. Head Chef Gordon Inglis oversees the menu, one that gives you the provenance of just about every Scottish ingredient from Loch Duart salmon to beef from Highland Drovers Farm, pork from Puddledub Farm in Fife and seasonal free-range turkeys from Gartmorn Farm near Alloa.
Now for a day plan. First talk to the hotel’s concierge team who will be very keen to help you find just the right purchase (they will even help you back with your shopping if your purchase exceed your upper body strength - just ask ). I’d start on George Street with its upmarket brand names and then drop down to Princes Street for the more familiar chain stores. By the end of a busy day you may be desperate for Nira Caledonia’s own single malt scotch, a 16-year-old Ardmore sourced and bottled by the Adelphi Distillery. The hotel was limited to just 24 bottles so if you’re a whisky drinker you’re in for an exclusive treat.
Nira Caledonia is a thoroughly Scots experience but with a modern twist. And Edinburgh is a great weekend getaway destination whether or not you’re shopping.
Very few hotels are located in the middle of a major shopping street. Even fewer are as glamorous as the Chester Grosevenor. A hotel has stood on this site since 1784 when it opened as the Royal Hotel. In 1815 the Grosvenor family bought and renamed it, and then in 1865 they rebuilt it entirely in splendid mock-Tudor style.
Immediately outside the hotel you’ll find the usual chains but also an exciting range of independent retailers: Toycraft, a family-run traditional toy shop, Chateau de Sable, a boutique for traditional French children’s clothing, Pyramid (glassware), Eva Chester (women’s clothing) and The Hat Place (speaks for itself).
To make the prospect of hitting the stores even more palatable, the hotel offers ‘mid-week Christmas shopping breaks’ every Thursday from 17 November to 22 December. This allows guests to take advantage of Chester’s late-night shopping on Thursday evenings and throws in a traditional Grosvenor Afternoon Tea and a 45-minute spa treatment to make the experience even more painless.
The centre of this walled city is so pretty all you really need is some snow and a few carol-singers in mufflers for Christmas shopping to be truly transformed from duty to total delight.
Church Street, Birmingham
The Birmingham & Midland Eye Hospital was built in 1883 behind opulent Colmore Row which the Victorians had made Birmingham’s premier banking street. The building cost £20,000 and could process 70 in-patients at a time. It was – and still is - a splendid red brick structure in the French style with little stone turrets on each corner. Not surprisingly in 2001 this characterful structure became the fourth Hotel du Vin in that company’s splendid, ever so slightly eccentric, portfolio.
Today you can leave Hotel du Vin after breakfast and cross the churchyard of St Philip’s Cathedral and walk through half a mile of pedestrianised shopping streets until you reach the twenty-first century splendours of the new Bullring Shopping Centre. These days, avocado on toast is as popular as the full English at Hotel du Vin Birmingham but either will set you up for attacking the Bullring with your credit card. Opened in 2003 and attracting 36.5 million visitors in its first year alone, this is Birmingham’s High Temple of consumerism. If you can’t find everything you want here, something is probably wrong with your shopping list!
If there are any gaps in your shopping, next time you leave the hotel turn left to the Great Western Arcade for some lovely boutique shops or right down Colmore Row to Victoria Square where the Frankfurt Market is held every year. After a busy day you will probably want to dine well, and wine well too. If you can’t see what you want to drink on the back of the standard Hotel du Vin menu, ask for the Sommelier’s List which comes leather-bound and, at 400 vintages offers an uncommonly wide selection.
Eveleigh Avenue, London Road West, Bath
The first time I ever took a weekend away to do Christmas shopping it was to Bath and that proved such a success that I’ve advocated shopping weekends ever since. The important thing to remember about Georgian Bath is that more than any other British city –even more than Brighton- it was built for pleasure. While the number of balls in the Pump Room and Assembly Rooms has reduced drastically since the eighteenth century, Bath as a place to eat, sleep , drink and shop remains unrivalled.
But where to stay?
Bailbrook House stands just outside the city in 20 acres of grounds on a hill above the London Road. Mr Eveleigh, a wealthy lawyer, began work on his family seat here in the 1790s but the Napoleonic Wars intervened and the mansion was not completed until after Congress of Vienna in 1815. In 1817 Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, visited Bailbrook and here she met local philanthropist Lady Isabella King, commending her work saving street beggars “from the dangers attendant on idleness and poverty” In the twentieth century –less glamorously – the house became a training college for the General Post Office but in 2013 it emerged from scaffolding to become one of only two Grade II listed hotels in Bath.
Here is where you can relax after a hard day’s shopping in the Cloisters Restaurant, located in the basement of the hotel where modern archways have been opened up to provide views of the hotel grounds and over the Christmas city of Bath beyond.
278 West George Street, Glasgow
“Unique” is one of those overused words in journalism but if there is one British hotel that can claim to be unlike any other it is the Mal in Glasgow. This was the first Malmaison created by visionary hotelier Ken McCulloch, who in the 1990s decided he needed to strike out in a different direction. This idea came to him as he was standing in his solicitor’s office and noticed a nineteenth century church in the Greek style for sale opposite. The nineteenth century attempt to refashion Glasgow as the Athens of the North never quite took off, but it did leave some interesting buildings like the tombs in the famous Necropolis and a number of churches like this one.
Opened in 1994 as the first Malmaison the hotel has Napoleonic motifs around its lobby (Napoleon’s wife Josephine bought the original Château de Malmaison for him in 1799). It also has some idiosyncratically-shaped rooms and a truly great restaurant in the cellar named Honours which is not the kind of place you ask for a Malburger.
As a place to come back to after a morning shopping your way along Buchanan Street, Malmaison has the advantage of being up on Blythswood Hill, slightly removed from the melee of Merchant City and Glasgow’s Style Mile. But don’t run away with the idea that all is serene in the old “Greek” church. If you’ve one of the six bedrooms overlooking the bar you’ll find it’s plenty lively on a Friday and Saturday night.
Ship Street, Brighton
The famous “Lanes” is the loveliest area for shopping in Brighton at any time of year. This labyrinth of alleyways and courtyards was part of the old fishing village of Brighton before George IV made it fashionable. At the bottom The Lanes, where Ship Street meets the promenade, stands Hotel du Vin, hugely popular as a dining venue and one of Brighton’s best hotels. Actually this hotel used to be known as the Ship Inn, which is why the older hotel opposite became known as the Old Shippe Inn. Today as Hotel du Vin it has a mock Tudor facade, an inviting courtyard and a big bar beyond. Every Christmas there’s a tree erected in the courtyard and an even bigger one in the bar with the smell of mulled wine emanating from a kettle on the counter.
Among the shops in easy walking distance of the hotel is the Steamer Trading Cookshop, which offers everything for your kitchen from coffee machines to lunchboxes and designer tableware. Allegedly there are 7000 products covering three floors but who’s counting? Then there’s House of Hoye, run by the doyen of contemporary jewellery design, Jeremy Hoye. And Loula and Deer who sell “divine yet practical toys” for babies and toddlers and the best maternity wear ever. And Choccywoccydoodah, my all time favourite, who claim “We will find the perfect sugar high for you.” Shopping is frivolous and fun down The Lanes and when you’ve had enough of being far too impulsive to Hotel du Vin’s new look brasserie, then fall happily asleep surrounded by piles of presents.
Havannah Street, Cardiff
Cardiff is a great shopping experience whether you’re looking for the big brand names in the St David’s Shopping Centre or quirkier gifts in its charming Victorian arcades. From the modern Capitol Centre to the noisy furore of the ancient, wrought-iron Central Market, Cardiff lives up to its reputation as a place to spend, spend, spend. And there are some pleasant surprises along the way. Not many people know that Spillers in the Morgan Arcade, founded in 1894, is the oldest record shop in the world. Or that Wally’s Delicatessen in the Royal Arcade is the best place outside London for Polish vodka and Welsh whisky.
In December there’s also an open-air Cardiff Christmas Market on The Hayes, with masses of cotton wool snow and lots of Welsh art and crafts.
After all that concentrated consumerism it may be time to get away somewhere tranquil and there is no better hotel in South Wales to rest up than the St David’s on Cardiff Bay. Hop on the Baycar No 6 bendy bus and get off at the Wales Millennium Centre and breathe in that sea air. The St David’s Hotel rises up on the other side of the marina, a tall, white modernist palace with its sweeping sail-topped roof. As you enter its lofty atrium it’s like stepping into a different world, especially when you catch sight of the lobby’s Christmas tree bathed in blue light.
In winter time the view from your room across Cardiff Bay to the old Norwegian Church and out across the twinkling Bristol Channel adds its own kind of magic. But St David’s is not all about relaxation: in the four weeks running up to Christmas there is a party at the hotel almost every night and most are themed – a Naughty 90’s Party, a Welsh Rock Party, or Rat Pack Party. Take your pick. There’s a lot to celebrate. You’ve just done the Christmas shopping.
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