Recently, I visited two of our preferred-partner, Rocco Forte’s hotels in London and Brussels. Because I had such a fantastic trip, and I was able to learn and experience so much, I would like to pass along the tips I gleaned to those of you who may be traveling to these destinations.
Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, London
My first stop was at the lovely Brown’s Hotel, which is centrally located and within walking distance to popular sites, such as Buckingham Palace, Churchill War Rooms, St. James’s Park, and Green Park. The staff at Brown’s provided extraordinary service! Not only was my every need met, but the staff provided personalized service by making restaurant reservations, getting tickets, and making sightseeing suggestions. One of my favorite activities was a Bloody Mary cocktail-making class in the newly remodeled Donovan Bar. The Donovan conducts masterclasses for various cocktails, including gin-and-tonic, Bloody Mary, Negroni, and Martini and now offers a new menu called My Generation, inspired by the 60s, carefully designed by Salvatore Calabrese and his team. These masterclasses are available in small groups for guests staying at the hotel. It’s amazing what professional tips from a mixologist will do!
One of my favorite amenities this property offers is for families and all Harry Potter lovers. When you reserve two Deluxe Rooms at Brown’s, there is a special Harry Potter amenity that children of all ages will enjoy. This amenity includes costumes for the children, creative lighting, dry ice for special effects, and lots of ingredients to make a special potion.
The Kipling Suite was my favorite accommodation here. It has plenty of room (1,812 square feet) and natural lighting from the floor-to-ceiling windows. The décor is warm and inviting, making it a comfortable home away from home. There is even a framed, hand-written letter by Rudyard Kipling hanging on the wall in addition to other beautiful artwork.
The newly refurbished restaurant, Charlie’s, celebrates the evolution of classic British cuisine through its Michelin-starred Chef and Chef Director Adam Byatt.
Another fine-dining experience in London that exceeded my expectations (within walking distance from the hotel) was Hide Restaurant, where I found the ambiance and service to be outstanding! Upon entering the foyer of Hide, you will notice in the hallway a stunning collection of specialty vintage wines. At our table, the homemade breads were delicious, and I especially enjoyed a salmon dinner, crab that was deep-fried whole, and other sides and appetizers served family-style, all nicely paired with sumptuous wines.
Walking Tour of London
The next day, I enjoyed the company of a Blue Badge guide for a London Walking Tour who knew all of the best spots to stand and where to enjoy the best views, and he reserved skip-the-line entrance in advance at the Churchill War Rooms. When we walked to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards (where the new guard arrives from Wellington Barracks and replaces the Old Guard in formal ceremony with a musical support), I could have reached out and touched the soldiers we were that close—what a fantastic view of one of the most iconic ceremonies in London!
Accredited Blue Badge guides provide services worldwide and are accredited under The Institute of Tourist Guiding. These guides are educated and, therefore, permitted to conduct tours at many U.K. attractions. They possess a wealth of knowledge that they gladly pass along to visitors. Blue Badge is known internationally as the benchmark of excellence.
Champagne Canal Cruise
Later on, I sailed away on a Champagne Canal Cruise which was a great way to unwind in London. The entire cruise was two hours, and my expert Captain easily navigated the canal under bridges and around curves. From the canal perspective, I was able to see the magnificent buildings and architecture up close with stunning old homes along the way, as well as a pedestrian pathway where locals were walking their pets.
Samara Doucette, our Rocco Forte contact and I.
Not only did we enjoy champagne, but Brown’s Hotel prepared beautiful boxed lunches with delicious gourmet finger sandwiches and chocolates decorated with edible gold leaf for us to enjoy. The boxes were very pretty and thoughtfully designed to match the foyer of the hotel with beautiful cascading flowers and flying birds.
Hotel Amigo in Brussels
After visiting London for a few days, I took a two-hour Eurostar high-speed train ride to Brussels in first-class. Breakfast was served on board with yogurt, cheese, croissants, biscuits, orange juice, and coffee or tea. I sped under the English Channel, flashed through Calais and Dunkirk, France, and arrived safely in Brussels in a timely fashion. Ordinary trains can take up to five hours for the same transfer. What I especially liked about this train ride was how smoothly and quietly it ran and how seats were arranged in quads affording a more convivial atmosphere (double or single-seating is great for privacy or a much-needed nap!).
After arriving in Brussels, I privately transferred to the gorgeous Hotel Amigo, which is filled with history and conveniently located at the center of a hub of streets in the middle of the Old Town. The accommodating staff here showed me an abundance of activities to do in this area, including sightseeing, shopping, and places to buy the best Belgian chocolate and drink Belgian beer!
Located only a couple blocks from Amigo is the Grand-Place (a UNESCO World Heritage site) where historically and architecturally relevant buildings dominate the area. Victor Hugo called this “the loveliest square,” and I agree, because it is as interesting as it is stunning and spectacular.
After sightseeing, I indulged a delightful meal in Bocconi, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant. I enjoyed several courses, and the chef even prepared a special risotto for me, ending the meal with a decadent chocolate mousse.
The next day I was also fortunate to enjoy a chef’s table dining experience at the Michelin-starred Comme Shez Soi. It was fascinating sitting so close to the spotless kitchen, watching the multitude of chefs mixing, stirring and whisking all kinds of culinary specialties, and then savoring the fruits of their labor. Some of my favorite dishes on the menu were grilled presa iberica duroc with liquorice, eggplant caviar with piquillos, and fondue of shallot with curcuma and rosemary.
For dessert, I was treated to marmalade and sorbet of lemon en verbena, biscuit with honey of flower, and wild berries coulis. Bon appetite!
Belgian Chocolate Class
During my stay at Hotel Amigo, the staff recommended a chocolate-making class at Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier, which was one of my favorite experiences in Brussels. I really enjoyed learning about the chocolate-making process. Each student in the class was given a plate filled with at least twelve varieties of dark chocolate, and our Chocolatier explained the cacao content and how each differed in quantity and quality. I never realized how many different kinds of dark chocolate existed!
It was very relaxing and enjoyable to make some of my own handmade chocolates with the Chocolatier’s help, and fill them with all types of nuts, dried fruits, and other toppings. After class, I was delighted to select a box of confections from an enormous showcase to bring back for my colleagues at the office to share.
After all of these precious moments, I have to say that both Rocco Forte properties exceeded my expectations and truly share the travel passion. If you are also looking for a fun-filled vacation and have London and Brussels (or beyond) on your bucket list, Frontiers would be delighted to organize a similar trip for you and your family. We have many personal connections and destination specialists in our office who are very familiar with these areas. If you are planning a trip to London or Brussels, please let us know, and we would be happy to provide recommendations and guidance to make this your best trip yet!