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Letter from Europe

In the middle of London, you expect a hodgepodge of lanes, terraces and places. The thing I least expected was to find, on one of those smaller quainter “side streets,” a brilliant boutique hotel called San Domenico House, with service that surpassed most 5-star properties I’ve visited. The bedding, the tea, the room service, the lighting, the comfort… it’s a melding of the old and the new, a difficult combination to blend so tastefully. This could have been a concoction of catastrophic proportions, a cocktail of shenanigans and cacophony… yet they pulled it off in a quiet understated manner.

But breaking the “rules” is probably my favorite part of discovering this treasure: If you’re looking for a restaurant, there isn’t one… but you can get room service. A bar – there are countless hip spots within a block or two of the hotel. Spa? Check: Sloane Square.

Why am I going on so much about something that seemingly has so little? Because I’m questioning whoever came up with the 5-star rating system that demands all those things I just mentioned…. All the things I love, all the services I’ve grown accustomed to, jaded by and – quite frankly – numb to, I realized I didn’t need. They simply checked all the boxes that were supposed to be in the best of the best places.

San Domenico House Hotel, Chelsea, London, 2013What ultimately counts, for me, is the authenticity, the safety, the genuine hospitality. In a very subtle way, I discovered so much about myself here. Initially I’d asked, “How will I do without these ‘things’? What am I supposed to do with myself in a sitting room that recalls a sophisticated library of a bygone era? It’s just off the reception area and there are crystal stem glasses, thirsting for a cocktail, decanters designed to hold spirits… but no bartender. Teas from all around the world are neatly arranged on a tea tray… but no cups, nor any hot water. How do I take these inanimate objects and fill them with the goodness I’ve grown accustomed to?

No sooner did an inquisitive scowl cross my face than a member of staff appeared at my side. I asked for a cup of tea and within three minutes, a full tea service was laid before me – biscuits and all the trimmings, including a fresh rose. As I sank back into the overstuffed couch, I began to realize what mattered most to me was this: service in a rich and inviting setting.

My scowl was replaced by a smile of contentment and I grew more curious about the hotel itself.  At check-in, they’d mentioned a rooftop terrace with views of Chelsea… What’s a rooftop without the relentless thumping of “DJ blah blah blah” and the hum of you-know-who chatting about what’s-her-name? I’m here to tell you, it’s everything… and nothing! Plush rooms, great service, staff that serves you breakfast in bed… for me, that’s swanky!

 




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