Enjoy a luxury break at a London hotel frequented by kings and queens, says Judith Cole
Grosvenor House hotel on London's Park Lane has had many famous names pass through its doors, among them Orson Welles, Jacqueline Onassis, Henry Kissinger and Muhammed Ali, as well as just about every member of the Royal family.
Its grand ballroom - the aptly named Great Room, the largest banqueting area in Europe - is famous for hosting many lavish events such as the Bafta award ceremonies. Beautiful suites look out over Park Lane to Hyde Park, while the designer shops of Bond Street are a walk away through Mayfair with its grand residences and many Bentleys.
With such a rich history to consider it was with great anticipation that I visited the hotel just as it undergoes a multi-million pound refurbishment.
While guests are directed to a side entrance because of the ongoing work, this is no less spectacular. Several uniformed doormen stand ready to greet every person fortunate enough to pass through the doors.
"Let me take your case, madam," one says to me, before asking my name.
He then takes me to the reception desk and introduces me before my accommodation details are confirmed.
I'm thrilled to learn I've been upgraded to a Park View suite which, at £640 per night (excluding VAT) during the week and £579 per night at the weekend, is something very special indeed. Even so, when I turn the key I'm amazed at what I find. For I enter a corridor which has three rooms off it: a large lounge with a sofa, fireplace, writing desk, mini library filled with antique books and mammoth television set. There's also a huge bedroom with king-size bed and a sparkling white bathroom.
But this is what a suite at Grosvenor House is like: the ultimate in luxury. Although Hyde Park is obscured by trees, the view over the busy Park Lane is a breathtaking one.
If you're looking for a truly grand break in London, the hotel's location could hardly be beaten. It's a few minutes' walk from Oxford Street and Knightsbridge, and theatreland is also within walking distance.
Certainly, the areas which have already been renovated are stunning. These include the Great Room and the elegant ballroom, as well as the forecourt with original 1930s Lutyens wrought-iron gates, the striking hotel reception and library. Twenty rooms to accommodate up to 400 delegates at 86 Park Lane, the hotel's event space, opened in September.
The hotel currently has 166 deluxe rooms, 162 superior, 46 executive rooms and 72 suites and the refurbishment will result in almost 500 rooms and suites - the first due to be unveiled by the end of the year, followed by more in 2007.
As well as that, a luxury spa is currently being completed and will add yet another attraction to the Grosvenor House package.
The food and drinks accommodation is also being redecorated: a signature restaurant and brasserie will complement the Red Bar and Park Room - which the hotel hopes will become the best place in which to take tea in London.
If a hotel's credence went on history alone, Grosvenor House would be right at the top of the pile. The large detached house which first stood on the site was originally owned by Lord Chetwynd. It became the residence of the Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II, and the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of King George III.
Lord Grosvenor bought the property in 1806 and it was named Grosvenor House two years later. Recognised for his financial success, the head of Grosvenor House was made the first Duke of Westminster by Queen Victoria in 1874.
The Grosvenor family kept the house as their London address for more than 100 years. After the outbreak of the First World War it was sold to commercial speculator AO Edwards. With architects L Rome Guthrie and Sir Edwin Lutyens he embarked on a plan to turn the property into something which more resembles its current state.
The luxury Grosvenor House was opened in May 1929 and quickly established itself as a centre of glamour and glitz for everyone who was anyone. It even had an ice rink once, but because of competition from other venues this was turned into a banqueting hall in 1935.
During the Second World War 10,000 sandbags were put up to protect the building - which played an important part in the Allied effort. The Great Room was the base of the Officers' Sunday Club and in 1943 became one of the largest US officers' messes, serving 14,000 meals per day.
It's hard to imagine how much better refurbishment can make this hotel, but better it will be, we're told.
A superios room at Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London, costs £260 per night and a deluxe room costs £240 (excluding VAT). For more information or to book tel: 020 7499 6363 or see the website at www.grosvenor-house.co.uk