Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London, on the southern bank of the River Thames, occupies the top of what is, well, a shard-shaped sculpture, 310 metres and 66 floors, in all. The highest the traveller can venture is to the 52nd floor. From there, look straight down to the Thames to – just the other side of Tower Bridge – the historic Tower of London (this side of the bridge is the WWII battleship HMS Belfast, which you can visit). You are also two minutes’ walk from London Bridge station, with excellent above-ground connections, and an underground station that gets you to Knightsbridge for Harrod’s, and Oxford Circus for Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street in under 20 minutes.
But you may not want to travel as the immediate locale, Bermondsey, is so fascinating. I was amazed to discover a part of London that I, who was born in that city, had never visited. Apparently Bermondsey, which could mean Beornmund’s island, appears in the Domesday Book as Bermundesy and Bermundesye. Today it is a multicultural happening place, with colourful buildings, amazingly enticing fashion boutiques and the Fashion and Textile Museum, currently celebrating 50 years of Zandra Rhodes. There is also the highly popular Borough Market, sadly closed Sundays. But, on the supposed ‘day of rest’, other impromptu markets spring up. There are dozens of food stalls in one disused carpark, elegantly carpeted in artificial turf. All these, and craft breweries and so much more, are within ten minutes’ walk of Shangri-La, At The Shard.
I was taken walkabout by the hotel’s Director of Sales and Marketing Stefan Mueller. He wanted to show off Bermondsey Distillery, a gin haven in one of the ‘under the arches’, below mainline trains going in and out of London Bridge station every few minutes. The distillery’s pale-pistachio work space holds the sparkling stainless and copper stills where gin-loving Dane, Christian Errboe Jensen, produces 30,000 bottles every year. Mueller can arrange tasting visits to the distillery, and also visits to Peter Layton glass-blowing, just a few minutes away.
Gosh there was so much to see, but then I really needed to get back to my hotel room, to unpack. An elevator took me up to the 35th-floor reception, and another to suite 3901. Oh, the view. But there were even more wow moments to come. A felt-pen message on one of the suite’s ceiling-high windows welcomed me personally. In the closet, I had royal blue silk day robes, and deep burgundy velvet slippers by couturier Beatrix Ong. I had every conceivable pristine copy of this month’s glossy fashion and style magazines, and glorious hardbacks – if only I had time to read.
Instead, I met Shangri-La’s man-for-much-of-the-world, William Mackay (Executive Vice President, Europe and the Americas), and as we took the upper elevator, from floors 35 to 52, we shared it with a flamboyant mixologist, with bar cart and all the gear. He was mixing and handing out, in small ceramic tasting cups, Negronis, free, as every Sunday.
GŎNG, the bar up on the 52nd floor, is full, as it is 365 nights a year. Anyone staying anywhere in London wants to come up here.
When it comes to filling the 202 bedrooms, this is the London hotel which unusually has many returnees, many celebrating. They come back year after year, for anniversaries and birthdays, and in between.
They, like me, are in awe of sunset views across the river, and the thoughtful English menu, say Dorset crab, at TĪNG, down on the 35th floor. Another special at this memorable luxury hotel is playing sudoku on the Technogym pieces in the 24/7 gym, also on the 52nd floor, next to the indoor pool, where I watched the sun come up through through all-wall windows. After this, and a good Acqua di Parma shower, I headed to TĪNG’s breakfast buffet, which has a large Chinese display. I was with another creative genius, Kurt Macher, who in his three months as GM here is already turning traditional London hotel-keeping upside down. Even the fact that he had just nannied a cat and dog in from his previous home, Chengdu, could not, quite, dampen his exuberance. This is a hotel that not surprisingly makes you feel sky-high.