Corinthia Hotel, London
Published: November 2011
The image of the metropolitan luxury hotel that has infused into popular culture, the haunt of dignitaries, diplomats and glittering denizens is “the Grand Hotel”. This late Nineteenth/early Twentieth century European creation of neo-classic splendour and enlightenment elegance cast a definitive influence over the way capital cities created status symbols for their well-heeled visitors to stay in. London seems to be the league leader: Savoy, Dorchester, Claridges, Langham to name just a few stellar examples. Another example was the Metropole. Built in 1885 and a stone’s from Downing street, the Thames and Nelson’s Column, it too epitomised the idea of the Grand Hotel until 1936 when the Ministry of Defence created a utilitarian bureaucratic maze out of the building that lasted to 2007.
Now, after a painstaking, heart-stopping £300m renovation, the Corinthia proudly opened its doors describing itself as a” Grand Hotel for the 21st Century” and it just may be the Grandest Hotel you’ve never heard of. Corinthia is a Maltese-based operation that owns a global clutch of luxury hotels and it’s boss, Alfred Pisani, had long coveted one in London. Indeed he is the guiding hand behind much of the project and micro-managed its birth. For me, the hotel-as-manifestation- of-the-owner has led to some hideous crimes in hotel design, but thankfully it seems Mr Pisani has exquisite good taste and has had the patience, perseverance and funds to realise an uncompromising creation.
The hotel balances the Grand ideas in design in a chintz-free and uncluttered way. It attempts to be “boutique” in essence yet grand in scale, not something that is really possible but the results work anyway, elegance without being overbearing, space without emptiness. The single most impressive thing is not the sweeping scale (for central London the use of space is unbelievable) or undoubted A-list luxury, but the attention to detail. Art and design vibrate throughout ensuring each public area offers a distinct character. The deserved show-stopper is the Baccarat chandelier designed by Chafik Gasmi. 1001 pieces of luminous crystal hover above the Lobby Lounge, epitomising the understated prestige the Corinthia strives to achieve. Local work is very evident too; I loved the large aerial vision of London in bronze tones, showing a snake-like Thames, in front of which you’ll find reception, whose counter continues the theme. It was created by local collective, Based Upon, who are also responsible for the brilliant relief of Whitehall leaves that adorn the lift doors. Another favourite of mine in the Lobby Lounge was Claire Brewster’s “cut out” birds, lovingly scored from vintage London maps but go along and take look yourself whilst having tea and cake here. You may feel I am sidetracking but really, the design here is not a periphery experience and it gives the Corinthia an aesthetic relevance its peers can often lack. The rooms, by comparison, whilst being 5-star appointed, seem a little subdued although large (the Metropole’s 600 had given way for Corinthia’s 294). The suites on the other hand – well that’s a whole different article.
David Collins Studio were the designers behind both the Bassoon bar (20’s jazz-styled cocktail bar) and the instantly loveable Massimo restaurant. Pisani personally wooed celebrated Italian chef Massimo Ricciolli to move here and the resulting combination effortlessly hits the spot. I ate at the more formal and English, Northall (GA Design), where a British-influenced menu is deftly created from artisanal-sourced ingredients. Again attention to detail is the appeal from the Sipsmith gin (the only, copper still-made London Gin to launch in the capital in nearly 200 years) or the Gloucestershire-smoked Gravalax and Cumbrian Sirloin. Our waiter had an articulate knowledge and genuine passion that belied his youthfulness and was another ingredient of the experience.
Somehow contained, tardis-like, in the heart of the Corinithia is the simply enormous Espa and it may not quite compare to its country-club cousins but Central London hotel spas, however posh, are usually squeezed in and pared-down, but not here. It has an elemental theme, water, ice and fire. The pool is smallish but is uplit to create a living silhouette of the water above and I’m a sucker for stuff like this. The sauna is sunken and the top half is all glass so you don’t feel you’re enclosed and it forms part of a visual pathway that mixes glass, fire and ice when you’re reclining in the “chill-out” area – I must be easily pleased. With an array of treatments to choose from, for both women and men, you can really indulge in pampering and escapism, cocooned from the hustle and bustle of Whitehall and the general activity of the hotel. With its smooth contours and doors built into walls, once inside the maze-like spa you can have difficulties locating the entrance or the exit, which gives the environment a sense of time standing still. There are just enough secret hideaways for you to feel you are away from it all. Espa’s success lies in the fact that it’s a stand-alone spa and not just an added feature of the hotel. Well worth a visit even if you’re not staying at the Corinthia.
Grand hotels can lack the intimacy and heart of smaller hotels but this sort of hotel is perfect for a metropolis like London. Like all hotels of this calibre it is a serious financial ask to go and stay here and if all you want is a clean, comfy bed for the night then the added glitz of any Grand hotel is a luxury indeed. But you could instead visit for a bite, a drink or a steam and still get to feast your eyes on what is a Grand project of classically grounded superlatives but which retains a heartening local aesthetic and ethos. If you are after something with biting contemporary edge then the Corinthia will fall short too but the Corinthia has worked very hard to avoid formulaic or generic luxury and has clearly made London its home.
Corinthia Hotel, London
Matt has been making programmes for Travel Channel all over the world since 2000. He is a passionate cyclist and loves the great outdoors, when he is not too busy filming in a far flung reach. His latest favourite destination is Yukon, in northern Canada – however he says there is always something to love about everywhere you go!
To find out more about Corinthia Hotel London, visit