Club Quarters Trafalgar Square, London

The location

Club Quarters is a chain with 15 prime locations across the US and London, and this Trafalgar Square branch is no exception: step out of the front door of the hotel and you have an excellent view of Nelson’s Column to your left. Walk a few steps more and you have the National Gallery and St-Martin-in-the-Fields within your sights, with Soho and the Theatre District a five-minute walk away. In short, it’s a perfect base for an action-packed stay in the capital. If there’s any downside, it would be that this naturally makes for a slightly noisy location (varying depending on whether you have a room facing the front or the back – note that even-numbered rooms face the back). Take earplugs just in case.

There are also several amenities within walking distance, including a Boots pharmacy, a Tesco Express supermarket, a Waterstone’s bookshop, and innumerable eateries. The nearest Underground station is Charing Cross.

The room

We have stayed twice and on both occasions found the room to be of a very high standard. Sleek modern furnishings, a flat-screen TV, an iPod dock and unlimited chilled water greet you on entry to the room, and while the bathroom furnishings are perhaps not of quite the same high standard of quality, they are still not to be sniffed at nonetheless. Gilchrist and Soames toiletries abound and the bed is very comfortable, putting you well on your way to a good night’s sleep. We also had a luxurious armchair and spacious desk at our disposal, ensuring a productive and relaxing stay for business and leisure travellers. One small quibble: the hotel was nowhere near full and yet we were put in a disabled-friendly room, which meant doorhandles etc were at an inconvenient height. Still, this didn’t impact massively on the enjoyment of our stay.

The breakfast

We had been offered a free breakfast on this occasion due to a mixup with our reservation (we had initially been booked in at the Lincoln’s Inn branch of the hotel), and so while we would normally eschew the hotel breakfast in favour of the Prêt A Manger round the corner, this time we prepared to tuck in to the hotel fare, served in Boyd’s Brasserie on the ground floor. While a continental breakfast was on offer – and this was what we’d assumed our free breakfast would consist of – it was in fact the full English breakfast that was the star of the show, and even though we didn’t pay the £15-per-head on this occasion (which included not only the full English but also unlimited continental breakfast) it still ended up seeming good value for the price advertised. Breakfast was of good quality and service was courteous and speedy.

The brasserie is also excellent for drinks and snacks throughout the day, although it seems a little odd that no even remotely tea-time related nibbles (e.g. scones) are available mid-afternoon. Beyond this, it’s a perfectly lovely place to relax and recharge batteries, with modern mood music and chandeliers combining to make an atmospheric experience.

The price

Members can benefit from free weekend nights for themselves, friends and family (as a primarily business hotel they are desperate to fill the place at weekends), and this is what we typically benefit from, paying only the £18 tax. A normal weekday rate for non-members at Club Quarters Trafalgar Square would cost around £159, not including breakfast; a weekend rate for members, bizarrely, is slightly more. It would therefore seem that non-member rates are about average for the area, making member rates seem highly desirable and competitive, even though breakfast is not included in any of the rates. Nonetheless, for a four-star hotel it seems very good value; I suspect that for the prime location and super service we would visit again – even if paying full whack.

8 Northumberland Avenue
London WC2N 5BY
Phone: (44) 20-7839-9333

http://www.clubquarters.com/loc_londonTrafalgar.php

First Hotel Esplanade, Copenhagen

The location

The hotel is located at the end of the Bredgade, near the Esplanade garden. The queen’s palace and the old port, replete with restaurants, are both within easy reach. Copenhagen feels very safe and cosy; middle-class, but inclusive and open.

The room

After staying at the Esplanade in Berlin and at Club Quarters Trafalgar Square in London, this was a big let down: a creaky elevator leading to a dull corridor with tired carpets, and a poky room with a little bed more reminiscent of student accommodation than international hotels. It looked nothing like the pictures on the website. The bathroom was equally surly, with a tiny shower corner where you have to wash with a curtain in your face, while flooding the whole room. Facing the courtyard, the room was, however, fairly quiet, although you could hear other guests walking upstairs.

The breakfast

Equally disappointing. I would recommend sticking with bread and jam: other offerings look like they have come from a tin. An espresso machine offers barely honest coffee.

The price

At about 140 a night with breakfast included, I found this quite expensive, although I am told the Danish hotel world is often disappointing. If you are a not too demanding tourist, this might be a good start to discover Copenhagen.

Grand Hotel Esplanade, Berlin

ImageThe location

The Esplanade is located in the Tiergarten area of Berlin, a large park formerly to the edge of West Berlin. It is now home to a large number of embassies and bodies such as the Friedrich Ebert foundation. The hotel is about 15 minutes away from Potsdamer Platz and its modern constructions. Some can, however, find it a bit far away from the action and public transport.

The hotel is also well accessible by taxi from the airport, although this will sadly soon no longer be true, with the closure of Tegel and the opening of a new aiport, much further away.

The room

The standard room is very spacious, with a double bed, a desk and a nice armchair. The bathroom is spotless too, although the shower temperature tends to be a bit variable. The bed is supremely comfortable, although I wonder why only single duvets are available. Wifi is also fairly expensive. Despite the busy road with purring German engines, the room is very silent.

The hotel offers a wide range of services, such as a sauna. A bar and two restaurants are available, one of which offers traditionnal German food at reasonable prices, especially for a five star hotel. Be aware it is not a gastronomic stop though.

The breakfast

I am not going to argue: it is superb. A cooked breakfast is available, which is prepared on the spot at a counter. You will just have to dodge attempts for filter coffee: I only realised espresso was available on my second visit.

The price

At a 160 euros a night including breakfast, this is a very good offering. I have already visited twice and will definitely visit again.

Lützowufer 15  10785 Berlin, Germany

030 254780

http://www.esplanade.de/

A day in Düsseldorf

I arrived early on a 7:20 Air France flight from Paris. Breakfast on the plane had been disappointing but welcome. This was not my first time in Düsseldorf, but I had previously travelled by taxi, the airport being quite close to the city. Willing to experiment a bit and maybe hindered by my last encounter with a surly taxi driver, I decided to take public transport.

The airport’s train station is linked to the car parks and terminals by a spectacular suspended monorail, as a showcase for German technology. At the station, I was quite flummoxed by the automated ticket machines and bought a €2.40 trip to Düsseldorf. Slightly worried I was going to encounter ticket inspectors, I boarded a slick and clean train. At Düsseldorf station, the connection with the tramway system also proved tricky but I managed to board a train which dropped me at the Königsallee station, still marvelling about the efficiency of it all. Later, my German hosts confirmed I had paid the correct fare, which reinforced my admiration.

After the meeting and before leaving to catch a late flight, I had time to wander around town and enjoy Düsseldorf under a cool but pleasant sunshine. Testifying to the area’s prosperity, the main shopping street, the Königsallee, nicely lined with trees along a canal, is replete with luxury shops: Ferragamo, Vuitton and numerous shops selling high-end watches such as FP Journe and Rolex. I stopped at Leysieffer to buy a box of cookies before going to the waterfront through the old town. Despite the early hour, people were enjoying food and drinks, often outside, an interesting sight in the run-up to the French presidential election, with politicians such as Sarkozy advocating the German model while saying that the French need to work more.

I am, however, a firm believer in looking for examples abroad and each of my visits to Germany leaves me in admiration of the Wirtschaftswunder. My forthcoming trip to Berlin should be an opportunity to reflect once more on this matter.

Hotel Marivaux, Brussels, Belgium

The location

The hotel is located near the Rogier metro station, which sits on the ringroad surrounding the Brussels city centre. It ensures easy access to European institutions as well as to historic landmarks.

Arriving from the station, I took a short taxi ride to the hotel. When the driver wished me a pleasant stay in Brussels, I was about to ask if he was alright. Actually, the welcome inside the hotel was as nice: my bag was stored for the day and I was given a handy little map of Brussels that bore the hotel logo.

The seedy shops surrounding the hotel were however a slight let-down. This can put some people off: an Estonian colleague asked me to walk her back to her hotel (the Hilton, just off Rogier). On a lighter note, there is a Waterstone’s just across the road from the hotel.

The room

The room in itself was not as grand or as modern as the hotel lobby suggested. It was, however very quiet, with an extra door separating the bedroom, which ensured a good night’s sleep. Shame the bed was a fake double bed (two mattresses cobbled together) with covers on top. What was also lacking from the room was a free bottle of water and an alarm service. Wifi, however, was free and very easy to set up.

The breakfast

The breakfast room is manned by disinterested-looking staff. Beware of the pastries and of the coffee machine, which is tricky to operate and poses as an espresso machine when what it delivers tastes just like acceptable filter coffee.

Conclusion

At about 130 a night, this is certainly no bargain. However, in a market that is eager to profit from a flow of travellers on expense accounts, I am told this is a fairly decent offering.

HOTEL MARIVAUX BRUXELLES
Boulevard Adolphe Max 98
1000 Brussels – Belgium

http://www.hotel-vendome.be/

The Library Hotel, New York City

The location

The Library Hotel was the last of a trio of hotels stayed at during our NYC-DC adventure at the end of February 2012. This proved a welcome and unforgettable base for our final night in New York, with friendly and helpful service abound (including bellhops to show us to our room and explain its facilities), a host of freebies (including Wifi, literary-themed turn-down chocolates and bookmarks, and a 24-hour reading room equipped with free snacks and drinks as well as books to borrow – see adjacent pictures), and an innovative system of room naming and numbering using genres of books as per the Dewey Decimal System (we were in the Love Room). As for the location of the hotel itself, it is host to one of the city’s most bustling lunchtime spots, Madison and Vine, has the New York Public Library in its sights, and is brilliantly located for Grand Central Station, Times Square, Bryant Park, and more.

The room

Ours had a delightful terrace with a view of the New York Public Library. It was also well-equipped with books on the ‘theme‘ of our room. The bathroom was modern but luxurious, but neither the bathroom nor the bedroom were particularly big. Bed was large, plush and comfortable; toiletries were by Gilchrist and Soames; and there was, I believe, an HD television (perhaps needless to say, we didn’t use it; we certainly weren’t wanting for reading matter). We slept well 🙂

The breakfast

Breakfast consisted of the selection of food and drink that’s always available in the reading room, along with extra more specifically ‘breakfast’ foods such as cereal and bread. The part that’s available as standard all day is mainly pastries of several types, along with biscuits, fresh fruits, fruit juice, tea, and coffee from a machine that grinds the beans for you. Not so good for those who prefer a cooked breakfast, but we weren’t complaining. You also take breakfast in the reading room itself, which is a lovely relaxing start to the day thanks to its soft sofas and carpets, and classical music piped in.

The price

Although our most expensive hotel at $260 a night (booked in advance on a special deal), it was also the best value. Service, facilities and finishings were far and away better than the other two hotels we stayed at – and all for only a few dollars more. It was my favourite hotel of the entire trip for its ambience and comfort – although its theme perhaps meant it was a shoo-in for book-lovers like us. We would definitely return.

299 Madison Avenue,  New York, NY 10017