Stay the night: Sofitel London Heathrow, Terminal 5
My companion was feeling disconcerted. "It's too quiet. I don't feel like I'm at an airport," was her verdict on the new Sofitel London Heathrow. I'd say her comment shouldn't be taken as criticism but as a recommendation for Britain's latest on-airport hotel.
Such displacement was the intended effect, according to Surinder Arora, chairman of the French hotel group that owns the Sofitel: "It's not an airport hotel. It's a five-star luxury hotel which happens to be at an airport." But Mr Arora wasn't referring just to the hush; he was also talking about the design, amenities and service standards.
He seems to have achieved his aim. The recruitment of an architect with a CV featuring the Conrad Hotel in London's Chelsea Harbour and an interior designer who has worked on the Burj Al Arab in Dubai has ensured a slick production that rescues the chain hotel from the danger of being luxurious yet humdrum.
The bold, uncompromisingly modern structure affords light to flood in at every turn – this is no airless box. And the decor is super-luxe, with confident and extravagant flourishes such as the fountain in the lobby, and bespoke boutique touches such as the oversized armchairs in the Library Bar. The excellent service is effortless, from the reception to restaurant.
This off-airport ambience will be crucial to the hotel becoming the choice for travellers in and out of Heathrow. But the biggest draw for guests will be the fact that it is linked by a bridge and is thus a short walk from Britain's newest terminal.
The 605 rooms are offered in four grades, from classic room to suite, which grow in size and acquire special privileges, such as butler service at the top end. But all decorated in calming tones to cosset the weary traveller and flatscreen TVs, high-speed Wi-Fi access, and separate walk-in showers are standard.
The food and drink
Drink and dine with the united nations. Brasserie Roux offers French regional cooking by Jonathan Predy, formerly of the Wolseley, under the direction of Albert. The food is gourmet standard and can be savoured at your leisure or enjoyed in an airport-appropriate four-dish meal served in 20 minutes. Vivre offers an international choice from five live kitchens, while the Tea 5 tea salon will delight everyone from here to China. The stylish Sphere Bar draws its inspiration from Iceland, and the clubby Library Bar would do well in any sophisticated metropolitan setting.
A jet-lag buster is one of the treatments on offer at the spa run by Espa, which includes a hydro suite. There's also a 24-hour state-of-the-art gym. Direct connections from the airport to central London take 20 minutes on the Heathrow Express, and Windsor is close by for a spot of traditional sightseeing.
Double rooms from £102 per night room only. Breakfast costs from £19.95 per person, though is included in some room tariffs.
Wheelchair accessible, with modified rooms for guests with disabilities. Hearing loop and visual alarms. Children welcome. Dogs allowed.
Sofitel London Heathrow, Terminal 5, London Heathrow Airport TW6 2GD (020-8757 7777; www.sofitel.com ).