Guide to luxury London on a budget
My husband Peter is a wonder when it comes to finding luxury bargains as he hops around the globe.
This weekend, London was our destination, and there’s no better place to spend Halloween. The recession is still going strong in Britain, so it is also a good time to take advantage of the multitude of deals to be had.
We usually prefer classic English-style hotels, because the English really do know how to let you feel part of what is the best in the British lifestyle, but this time, Peter selected a boutique hotel, MyHotel Bloomsbury on Bayley Street just off Bedford Square.
MyHotel is entirely Feng Shui, minimalist and has a wonderful fitness center. The rooms are quiet and impeccably clean, the staff is pleasant and efficient and they speak very good English (which one cannot count on in London), it does indeed have a good feel about it, and the location is remarkably central.
Unfortunately, the hotel is the victim of British regulations regarding fire doors, so despite all the effort they had made to make it Feng Shui and calming, the fire doors ruined it all. Even the bathroom door slammed loudly. The clientele was extremely civilized, despite the fact that it was Halloween weekend, and the management was so conscious of maintaining the calm atmosphere, that they closed the bar on Halloween night.
In the UK, Top Table is an excellent site for booking fine restaurants at a nice price. With the credit crunch still alive and kicking, there is an abundance of choices, many offering forty and fifty percent off menu prices. Please note that the discounts do not usually apply to wine, supplements and service charge, and are sometimes limited to a limited number of people, but it can still significantly reduce the price of a meal.
Rambling ’round France: Chartres Cathedral, a Gothic wonder
Chartres makes for an easy, affordable weekend jaunt. There is no lack of things to do.
The cathedral itself, both inside and out, is truly one of the wonders of the world. The crypt includes a Romanesque church on top of which the cathedral was built, Roman ruins, an old Druid well, and a gallery that was probably used by the Druids to worship Bellissima, and later converted into a chapel dedicated to the Mother and Child of Chartres (it is said that the Druid goddess Bellissima also held a baby in her arms, although in a different position from the classic Christian manner).
The tower gives wonderful views of the medieval town, as well as the sculptures, buttresses and framework of the cathedral itself. My neighbor Eric Vivien gives extremely detailed explanations in his tours. Don’t forget to look for the labyrinth in the middle floor of the cathedral as well. On certain days, they clear away the chairs, and let pilgrims walk around it.
Another neighbor, Englishman Malcolm Miller, who fell in love with the stained glass windows in Chartres decades ago, is the great specialist on the Chartres’ stained glass windows, considered by most to be the most beautiful and well preserved in the world. He gives regular tours at 12 and 14H25 except on Sundays. It is best to contact the tourist office at the end of the cathedral esplanade just to make sure. Please note that his tours are private, and not associated to those organized by the tourist office.
Another interesting stopoff is the Loir family stained glass store to the left as you face the cathedral. The Loir family has been making stained glass for generations, and continue to provide cathedrals all over the world with stained glass windows. The shop includes restored as well as contemporary stained glass, and has rotating exhibitions of contemporary artists.
A walk around the medieval city is also breathtaking if you are interested in architecture. During the Middle Ages, the town is said to have had over 120 churches. Some people say the very ground is telluric, meaning that it is full of good (and perhaps holy) energy. That might be one of the reasons that people have been making pilgramages there for at least 5,000 if not 6,000 years, well before Christ was born. Suggestion: get a good map from the tourist office before you start getting lost in the “labyrinth” of the city.
How to get there
easyJet lands at Orly Sud and from there you walk across the street and pick up a car at Sixt. If you rent online well ahead of time, you can take advantage of their Sixti deal for as low as 5 euros a day.
For true pilgrims, there is plenty of lodging at the Maison St Yves. For lovers of luxury, choose the Hôtel Grand Monarque, a Chartres institution where many of the grand bourgeoisie celebrate weddings, baptisms, birthdays and anniversaries. If you are celebrating something special, you can download the program of special dinners and weekend packages from their site.
Otherwise check out the Chartres tourist site for all other types of B & Bs, inns, furnished apartments and hotels.
The Grand Monarque is great for special occasions, and they have a bistro that is open late, but my favorite restaurant is the Restaurant St-Hilaire in the rue St-Hilaire, right off the St-Pierre Church square at the bottom of the hill. They offer both traditional dishes from the region, and a number of more modern (and delightful) ones, and use only products from the region. Chartres is in the Beauce, the Iowa of France, so you’ll find wheat incorporated into some surprising dishes, such as wheat risotto, wheat crème caramel, and, of course, the bread, which they make themselves. All the cheeses on the cheese board are from the Beauce region.
The owner, Mr. Brémont, is the former sommelier of the Grand Monarque, and he always has new and delicious wines on offer. Take his advice. He knows, boy does he know. I always discover some new wine or producer, so each time I go, it’s a new adventure. In Chartres, they consider the Loire Valley wines to be “local”, since the beginning of the Loire Valley is only half an hour away, and Mr. Brémont is from the heart of the Loire Valley.
They offers several menus, one based entirely on products and traditional dishes from the Beauce. They start at 26 euros and go up to around 50. Somehow, I always end up choosing the 26 euro one. It’s about the best quality for the money I know, and changes with the seasons.
NOTE: Reservations are absolutely necessary, and I would suggest calling well in advance.Restaurant Saint Hilaire
11, rue du Pont Saint Hilaire 28000 Chartres
Telephone : +33 02 37 30 97 57