Hotel pick: Sofitel St James

By Jessica Brighty, TravelMail

Last updated at 10:03 16 September 2005


The understated exterior of the Sofitel St James

Finding it:

Not a problem. The Sofitel St James London is three minutes from Piccadilly Circus, and a short stroll from Trafalgar Square, St James' Park and the shopping mecca of Regent Street.

Built in 1923 as the headquarters of Cox & King's bank, the neoclassical building now has a Grade II heritage listing. It was opened as a hotel by giant French hotel group Accor in 2002.

First impressions: The cavernous marble-floored lobby is softened by a huge rug, armchairs, antiques and quirky floral arrangements. Animated chatter (and cigar smoke) emanates from the bar.

The entente cordiale is alive and well in this Anglo-French establishment. The receptionists and staff are smiley and friendly - none of the usual 'hauteur' associated with smart French hotels.

What about the rooms? Designed by French interiors guru Pierre-Yves Rochon (who worked on the George V in Paris), the 186 rooms have a calm feel with muted colours and modern but comfy furnishings.

Spotlessly clean bathrooms are vast and monochrome, with glossy black tiles, heated towel rail, extra-deep bathtub and old-school smellies by French stalwarts Roger & Gallet.

Bedroom details include lacquered wood tables, luxurious, tactile fabrics such as velvet, felt and wool, and cosy plaid blankets on the beds.

Oh yes - the beds. Sofitel took heed of a hotel survey which revealed that most guests' biggest gripe - regardless of the hotel brand they chose - was uncomfortable beds.

Their solution is the MyBed system, which includes high box-sprung divans, extra thick mattresses, hypo-allergenic feather mattress pads and 'comforters' (duvets to you and me) and outsized pillows.

The result is a heavenly sleep in a plump, cushioned bed that feels like it's embracing you. MyBed is being rolled out throughout Sofitel's hotels during 2005.

Wow factor: It creeps up on you. The attention to detail - super fluffy towels, spotlessly clean rooms, a little hand-written card with tomorrow's weather forecast left in your room, amazing soundproofing that almost eliminates noisy London traffic - seduces by stealth.

And the location is unbeatable. Our room overlooked the gorgeous stuccoed facade of the Institute of Directors with giant twinkling chandeliers in its windows, and three floors below, red London buses trundling along Pall Mall. What could be more SW1?

Best for: Couples having a treat weekend in London.

Will the kids like it? Children are given a toy on arrival - a demonstrative gesture that proves they are welcome in the hotel. Little girls especially will swoon for the kitsch floral Rose Lounge, where it's permanently tea-time.

Babysitters can be arranged with 24 hours notice and cots are available. But as in all luxury hotels, many other guests will be far from thrilled to see little ones around.

Food and drink: The Brasserie Roux ('inspired' by Albert Roux) offers simple French brasserie food done well. Starters come in around £8-10, mains about £15, but the three course pre-theatre menu (from 5.30-7pm, daily) is great value at £15. The setting - mustard yellow walls, tables packed snugly into the long space, French waiters - is authentically Parisian.

The St James Bar is gentleman's clubby with dark floors and walls, leather chairs and a cigar humidor. Their speciality is Champagne, with more than 50 varieties available.

For afternoon tea, head down the hall to the Rose Lounge, a Barbara Cartland-esque fantasy with a pink 50s chandelier and polka dot chairs.

And on the hotel's doorstep, of course, are thousands of bars, restaurants, clubs, theatres and music venues catering for every taste and budget.

What the other guests said: 'Classy. Fabulous location for the West End theatres.' 'The best night's sleep I've had in a London hotel.'

Official rating: five-star

Our verdict: Distinctive, stylish, unsnobbish and understated.

Value for money: With on-the-card room rates starting at £323 (including VAT but - meanly - not breakfast), the Sofitel St James is certainly not cheap. But take advantage of their frequent special offers and you can enjoy hotel finesse for a lot less.

Book it: Get the best hotel deals at Check availability and book a room at the Sofitel St James here.

Valid until 31 October 2005, Sofitel is offering guests a 'weekend invitation' based on double occupancy on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, including breakfast, taxes and service.

Guests can stay at Sofitel St James from £165 for a Classic Room per night, based on two people sharing a double room. The offer is subject to availability and cannot be combined with any other promotional offer or advantage.

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