360 Degrees of London in 24 hours
In this Absolute Magazine series of staycation features, I have had the pleasure of road tripping throughout Sussex and beyond together with my toddling daughter and willing hubby, discovering those dreamy family-friendly escapes that whisk you away from it all for the weekend. These memory-making adventures are simply magical and the South coast offers them in abundance, but when I was offered the opportunity of overnight babysitting from the Mother-in-Law, we seized the chance to have an adult-only one-nighter in the capital. With limited time away from nappies and nursery rhymes we wanted to make the most of every single minute and see as many of the sights as possible within 24 hours.
Lured by promises of ‘360 degree stunning breath-taking views across the city’, we chose to stay at the new flagship Novotel Canary Wharf Hotel; a glass skyscraper boasting an impressive 39 storeys and based in a heart of London’s financial district. This may seem a bit of an odd location to choose for a leisurely trip, however this not-so-obvious area to reside turned out to be quite a revelation. Firstly the transport links are superb – you can choose between taking the car and park in one of the ultra secure car parks dotted throughout Canary Wharf, or take the train and it’s an easy hop on the Jubilee Line when you reach London Bridge.
Perhaps more exciting (well it was for me anyway) is the close proximity of the Clipper service – an often overlooked method of public transport around the capital, but quite the adventure and a wonderful way to see London. Simply board at Canary Wharf and you can sail on to Westminster, London Bridge, Embankment, Blackfriars and Tower at your leisure. It certainly beats stuffy Underground travel or hectic buses rides!
Aside from location, Canary Wharf is riddled with top-notch bars and restaurants, all at the very top of their game, fuelled by the amount of competition that exists locally. One word of advice when snooping around Canary Wharf – Sat Nav and GPS doesn’t seem to work when dwarfed by all the skyscraper that tower around you, so make use of an old skool A-Z map.
The Novotel Canary Wharf hotel surpasses all expectations of this well known hotel brand. Masterminded by leading architects LRW and interiors agency Koncept, this is a design-led hotel that offers a welcomed diversion from the one-size fits all approach so many chain hotels possess. Industrial materials including steel and wood reflect the commodities and produce that passed through the area pays homage to its significant history.
A new landmark for the Capital, this skyscraper hotel offers 313 rooms, including 26 individually designed suites, and has been exquisitely crafted with a truly unexpected and innovative design to offer the ultimate in comfort and style to guests. For the very full effect, try and bag a room on one of the highest levels; standing at 127 meters above street level, every room from the 12th floor and above features spectacular water views across the docks, including the Shard, the Thames Barrier, Canary Wharf, and Greenwich and Olympic park.
We were fortunate enough to be based on one highest floors, making our views from the wall to ceiling windows simply breathtaking. Gaze out on the great city in the world from the comfort of your own room, whilst indulging in the goodies from the well-stocked mini bar! As the sun goes down and the lights of London begin to twinkle, you cannot fail to be swept away with the romance of it all.
All rooms include large Flat screen TVs, work desks, Live n Dream comfort bedding (hands down the most comfortable bed I have experienced from a London hotel) and sleek bathrooms to encourage relaxation in the city. If you want to really spoil yourself, make sure you choose a suite. Elegant suites include, in addition to the facilities found in the bedrooms, full range mini bar, turn-down service and private concierge. Soft-sofa seating areas, stocked bookcases and in some cases free standing bathtubs and crittal style doors. The hotel also includes Executive Terrace Suites with a private terrace for entertaining guests or a relaxing space to put your feet up and enjoy a glass of wine in the very lap of luxury.
In addition to the spectacular bedrooms and suites available, the hotel also boasts a New York-style gym and pool, nine design meeting rooms inspired by the goods brought in to these docks, ground floor coffee shop and contemporary bar and restaurant with rooftop terrace – the icing on this very impressive cake.
The often monotonous check-in and check-out service is a distant memory as the process is facilitated on tablets with no reception desk in sight. Guests are met by the ‘Welcomers’ and can quickly take their key and journey up the hotel for their seamless experience of Novotel Canary Wharf. With soft seats, music and in striking distance of Canary Coffee on the ground floor, this is a place where you can feel at home. My husband and I both felt like we had our very own London pad for the night and a blissful haven away from the hustle bustle of city life.
As I mentioned before, the highlight of this hotel for me is the simply spectacular BŌKAN restaurant, bar and roof terrace based on the 37-39th floors. This triumph of a venue is a must-visit whether you are staying at the hotel or not. The views and open air roof terrace are magnificent, matched only by the exceptional seasonal menu crafted by Aurelie Altemaire, (formerly Head Chef at Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon) that offers a relaxed take on modern European cuisine, using carefully chosen local British ingredients.
Anglo-Saxon for ‘lighthouse’, BŌKAN, stands as the light at the top of this impressive hotel. Let one of the baristas mix you a Royal Captain with Hendrick’s gin, lavender-infused Mancino Vermouth Bianco, elderflower cordial, cold jasmine tea, grapefruit bitters, topped with soda. Or how about visiting on a Sunday for one of their Jazz lunches in the clouds? I just look forward to the next occasion when there is a family or friend’s birthday and I can suggest this hidden gem and claim the inevitable brownie points!
If the views from the hotel weren’t enough, what came next was the perfect way to see London in one night. We jumped on the Clipper and made our way to Westminster where we boarded the City Cruise’s ‘London Showboat’, ready to ‘Wine, dine and dance on this great dinner cruise on the Thames, see spectacular views and enjoy show songs and top hits sung by a live performer’.
Our evening began the moment we stepped aboard the glass-sided boat and were handed a welcome glass of fizz (being pregnant, I was offered an orange juice by the waiting staff who had already ensured my temporary dietary requirements would be catered for from the very offset). We were shown to our table and although I was initially a bit surprised to see we were sharing with another romantic couple, as our singer began to entertain, we all relaxed and were able to speak freely and unhushed with our partners.
Starters were preset on the tables and so we were able to start enjoying our dinner straight away. The tickets include a three-hour river cruise, four course meal, the sparkling wine on arrival, half bottle of wine per guest (or 3 soft drinks per person for those not drinking), plus the live performer and dancing till late should you wish to.
The dinner itself was impressive, with every dish being filled with flavour and boasting unfussy ingredients that people really want to tuck in to. Things just get better as you hum along to the cheesy pop tunes and hit songs from West End musicals that accompany you as you dine.
Most spectacular of all are the stunning views the riverscape gives of the iconic Thames-side buildings. Be sure to take a trip up on to the top decks to experience drinks in the open air as the wind rustles through your hair and you take in the real show of the night – the landmarks of London.
It is easy to forget how very close London is to Brighton and every time I visit, I make a vowel that I will return again in the near future. It is often the case that it is simply the idea of returning home on the late night train service after a West End Show or dinner puts me off, but with the new London bolt hole I found in the Novotel Canary Wharf and the reasonable prices they offer, London is very much back on the cards again, whether it’s a whistle stop tour or an extended city break.
For more information or to make a reservation at the Novotel Canary Wharf, please visit www.novotel.com/gb/hotel-9057-novotel-london-canary-wharf/index.shtml
Room rates: from £125 per night (Friday to Sundays); from £235 per night (Monday to Thursdays)
Suite rates: from £250 per night (Friday to Sundays); from £340 per night (Monday to Thursday)
For more information or to make a reservation for the City Cruise London Show Boat, please visit www.citycruises.com