These four city hotels are the perfect places to curl up with a mulled wine after a hard day of Christmas shopping
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, London
Best for… pretending you’re an A-lister for a day
After a recent top-to-toe renovation, this iconic Knightsbridge hotel has a new vibrant incarnation. Think bold art, fabrics in punchy hues and cool lighting set against a classy backdrop of grand pillars and sweeping marble floors. Our bedroom had GHD straighteners, a cocktail bar stocked with top-notch gins and a heated loo seat with, er, automatic cleaning capabilities for one’s derrière. The view of Hyde Park isn’t too shabby either. And once you step outside (and have exchanged pleasantries with the doormen), you’ll find you’ve arrived in shopping heaven.
Stella loves: Post-shopping martinis at the hotel’s cool, sexy Mandarin Bar.
Out and about: The best of London’s department stores and shopping streets are all on your doorstep. In fact, you can practically window-shop in Harvey Nichols from the hotel lobby. A few minutes’ stroll along Brompton Road takes you to Harrods (with plenty of high-street stores along the way). The boutiques of Sloane Street are also within a two-minute hop. Walk the length of the designer street and at the top of the King’s Road you’ll find the ultimate department store Peter Jones (once a favourite of Princess Margaret – and somewhere the Duchess of Cambridge has been spotted more than once). Need we say more?
Rooms from £740 a night, b&b; call 020 7235 2000 or visit mandarinoriental.com/london
Read the full expert review: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
• An expert guide to London
The Royal Crescent Hotel, Bath
Best for… Georgian grandeur
Pride of place on Bath’s sweeping Royal Crescent, the much-loved street designed by architect John Wood, the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa is the grandest – and most tranquil – pad in town, with no passing traffic and views over the historic city. We chose the deluxe suite, which had a four-poster bed, elegant living room and a vista of the front lawn. After a morning swim in the hotel’s 12m indoor pool, which is beautifully warm, hit the shops but return in time to soothe aches and pains with a revitalising full body massage at the spa – the Elemental Herbology Fire Zest Bath & Body Oil, used on us, smelled delightful. Dinner at the Dower House restaurant is a must – don’t miss the beautifully presented tasting menu; the raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake was a delight. (Note: The spa and swimming pool are currently open but check the latest hotel details on the hotel website before travelling.)
Stella loves: The opulent decor – classical busts, chandeliers and a staircase fit for any Lord and Lady. And the enormous Christmas tree, decked with velvet ribbon, is a sight to behold.
Out and about: Shopping aside, no weekend visit to Bath is complete without a trip to its famous Roman Baths – just a short 15-minute walk from the hotel (they have now reopened but be sure to check the website before travelling and pre-book tickets; romanbaths.co.uk). Bath Christmas Market has been cancelled this year but there are shops aplenty – from Jo Malone, Anthropologie, Whistles and White Stuff to independent boutiques and craft shops. Head to French chocolatier Maison Georges Larnicol for gorgeous, edible stocking fillers. Refuel with a cuppa at Boston Tea Party, a small coffee shop chain – the Kingsmead Square branch has tables outside and is excellent for people watching (bostonteaparty.co.uk).
Rooms from £330 a night, b&b; call 01225 823333 or visit royalcrescent.co.uk
Read the full expert review: The Royal Crescent Hotel
• An expert guide to Bath
Best for… laid-back luxury
Stepping aboard this retired lighthouse ship (now permanently moored) is like stepping back in time to an era of maritime glamour. A £5m renovation transformed it into a luxury ‘boatique’, complete with art deco-style bar, gorgeous green-tiled bathrooms and gold finishings. The 23 cabins, each named after a lighthouse that Fingal used to service in her previous life, feel like the lodgings of a luxurious transatlantic liner and come with tartan lambswool throws, as well as headboards embossed with sea charts of where the particular lighthouse (that the cabin is named after) sits in the ocean.
Stella loves: The divine-smelling Noble Isle toiletries (all full-sized); they’re cruelty free, vegan-friendly and made in Britain, and they’re the cherry on top of the swoon-worthy bathrooms.
Out and about: There are lots of independent eateries around Leith worth disembarking for – not least The Kitchin, chef Tom Kitchin’s Michelin-star restaurant (thekitchin.com), a 10-minute stroll away. (The smoked North Sea halibut is not to be missed.) For brunch, try Toast (toastleith.co.uk) and those with a sweet tooth can satisfy their cravings at Mimi’s Bakehouse (mimisbakehouse.com). You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to pubs and bars: The Barologist (thebarologist.co.uk) is among the most popular. And there’s also the centre of Edinburgh, with shops and tourist attractions galore, a 20-minute drive away. (Note: Covid-19 restrictions and restaurant policies change rapidly so call ahead to check it’s open and pre-book a table.)
Cabins from £200 a night, b&b, based on two sharing; fingal.co.uk
Read the full expert review: Fingal
• An expert guide to Edinburgh
University Arms, Cambridge
Best for… interiors inspiration
If you’re in search of a cosy winter escape, but want more action than a country bolthole, then this is the place for you. The grand Edwardian building was redesigned in 2018 by interior designer Martin Brudnizki and it feels like stepping into an expensive design magazine set, albeit a homely one. The bedrooms are comfy and sumptuous while bathrooms have striking black and white tiling – ours came with a big roll-top bath, with views across a huge green, Parker’s Piece. Parker’s Tavern brasserie serves delicious British plates (like rustic casseroles and warming soups) and afternoon tea is a must.
Stella loves: The imposing entrance hall – truly magnificent.
Out and about: Art gallery, Kettle’s Yard, is worth a visit – it’s home to works by Miro, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. (Tickets are free but must be pre-booked; kettlesyard.co.uk.) Try the Old Bicycle Shop for lunch or brunch (oldbicycleshop.com) and Midsummer House, a fine dining restaurant set in a beautiful Victorian villa, for a romantic dinner (midsummerhouse.co.uk). As for Christmas shopping, the city is your oyster. Alongside all the high-street staples – including The White Company, Mango, Topshop, Russell & Bromley and Rigby & Peller – there are plenty of great independent shops, including Lilac Rose for cheering fashion buys. And of course you can’t go to Cambridge without whiling away an hour or two on a punt.
Rooms from £159 a night; universityarms.com
Expert review: The University Arms
Covid-19 rules change fast, so check the latest local lockdown rules and the hotel policies (including spa and restaurant restrictions) before travelling
Edited by: Laura Powell. Reviews by: Naomi Greenaway, Sarah Royce Greensill, Anna Clarke and Bethan Holt