The tears of young love and passionate painful partings: such are my memories of St Pancras railway station. Every Friday night, I’d run into his arms; come Sunday, life would force me to leave. The rollercoaster emotions affiliated here are still, ten years later, very vivid. So to walk into the grand entrance of a new luxury hotel, which once signified the beginnings of my love story, to have a beautiful gourmet dinner in the former booking office where I used to tear myself away from his embrace and to now wander through a ballroom with chandeliers where I used to queue for taxis to whisk me to his doorstep, causes many feelings to resurface.
The Renaissance St Pancras was once the centre of my universe. I spent more time here than any train station should feature in one’s life. So when plans were announced to convert the symbolic and infamous red brick listed building into a luxury hotel, I waited in huge anticipation mixed with a healthy dose of cynicism. £200 million later, considerably over-budget, I step foot inside to find out what all the fuss is about.
LUXURY RAIL HOTEL
The first thing I notice is the clock. Inside the booking office, the original clock I spent so much of my life watching, fearing, longing would stand still, remains! My heart flutters as I’m teleported straight back to being the girl in tears on the platform.
The lobby is open-plan and very spacious. The tall ceilings are new but the height is retained, creating that grand, nostalgic whimsy of a prime London railway station. In fact, many of the period features remain. This truly is a walk through the ages.
HISTORICAL PERIOD FEATURES
Peering inside the booking office, features have been made of the olden ticket booths, where I used to part with my precious cash every single week; now prominent features of a cocktail bar and restaurant with late-night Jazz. The vaulted cathedral-like hall that was once the backdrop to my departures is stunning in red brick and dark wood, now encasing a 29-metre bar which serves ‘lost recipes’ such as Soyer au Champagne – cider brandy, orange cherry liqueur, vanilla ice-cream & champagne!
Every detail echoes an era when rail travel was a luxury, and as one of St Pancras’ most frequent users, plunges me back into the depths of a bygone era. Exceptional care has been taken to highlight each retainable aspect of the train station. Renovations, at this standard, were always going to be costly and lengthy, given that it’s a Listed building. But I can’t help but feel infinitely proud to see that the best has been accentuated, no shortcuts taken and to learn that laboring painstaking process has preserved authenticity. Elements of the train station spring up like an Easter trail, peppered throughout the hotel. I come across signage of the Station Master’s Office hanging on a door.
The hotel design was led by Sir George Gilbert Scott, of the Royal Academy and former President of RIBA, who was knighted for his architectural feats of work. Attention to detail glistens through every polished corner. Large bay windows cast picturesque views directly into the station, now the Eurostar to Brussels and Paris.
Wood paneling and wrought iron are made features and deliberately displayed to contrast antique and modern. The colours, textures and materials are a divine marriage of original yet luxurious, timeless yet current, opulent yet simplistic. This concept translates through the suites.
I’m in a Junior Suite, perfectly plush whilst granting me full nostalgia, looking directly onto the platforms. If there’s one thing that makes me smile before even stepping foot inside a room, it’s a grand heavy suite door. Inside, pretty ornate features accentuate the large size of the suite and bathroom. Every modern creature comfort a girl could wish for is here, including REN bathroom products, Nespresso machine, a kettle and a private butler, which help ease me into the mindset of luxury. It’s a soothing retreat in the heart of London’s hectic bustle; almost surreal.
The hallways are grand fantasies. Deep-ply ornate carpets reflect large medieval lamps and painted walls in a hallway that’s simply breathtaking. Worthy of a palace hotel, (I’ve stayed in several Taj Palaces & hotels alongside India’s royalty) walking the hallway is an opulent and regal affair, making me want to slip into a ball dress and sashay like a debutante.
GRAND STAIRCASE: FILM SETS, MUSIC VIDEOS & OTHERWORLDLY GUESTS
Indeed, many a famous face has sashayed along this stretch. The end of the hallway leads to the high-Victorian, gothic-decorated ‘Grand Staircase.’ The balustrading, in wrought iron, retains original gas fittings, and charmingly snakes up three floors. Better known as the backdrop to the Spice Girls debut promo video, ‘If you wanna be my lover’ as well as Harry Potter and countless Hollywood blockbusters. Films from The Servant (1963) to Shirley Valentine (1989) to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2011) have graced these beautiful steps and actors fallen in love with the same patterned railings and ‘stars and arms’ ceiling frescoes.
They wouldn’t have been alone though! 2 ghosts are said to reside here: an Edwardian gentleman and the ‘woman in white’.
TIMELESS & SUMPTUOUS INTERIORS
The balustrading, in wrought iron, retains original gas fittings, and charmingly snakes up three floors. Better known as the backdrop to the Spice Girls debut promo video, ‘If you wanna be my lover’ as well as Harry Potter and countless Hollywood blockbusters. Films from The Servant (1963) to Shirley Valentine (1989) to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2011) have graced these beautiful steps and actors fallen in love with the same patterned railings and ‘stars and arms’ ceiling frescoes. They wouldn’t have been alone though! 2 ghosts are said to reside here: an Edwardian gentleman and the ‘woman in white’.
Film sets are etched into the history of this building, engrained within every inch. And I can feel why. It’s an overwhelmingly atmospheric period feel, the element of timelessness, of yester-year stood still. To this moment, I never realized that it was possible to lose my heart to interior design. But the St Pancras Renaissance is a game-changer. Leading the way with staggering designs and fantasy furnishings, it’s a stunning mix of tradition, heritage and legacy; my three buzz-words for any central London property tempted to give in to the modernism vogue.
The legacy extends beyond film and fantasy however, as troops were billeted at the hotel during WWII; orders for which were discovered at the base of the staircase. The ‘Grand Staircase’ owes its name to its wide design. This was to purposely allow 2 Victorian ladies to pass at once in their corseted, boned and fanned dresses.
SERVICE TO ATTENTION
But no hotel is replete without a matching level of service. Supremacy sums it up. In London, service can be hit or miss. In some of the most renowned restaurants, bars and hotels, service can feel hurried and impersonal. Staff at St Pancras Renaissance are clearly trained to pay utmost attention to guests, and it’s visible in every element, from holding doors open for passing guests in corridors to holding conversation on any worldly topic, to catering to one’s every whim courteously and politely; the staff are a real credit to the hotel. And whatever is invested in training is proving invaluable. With a regular base of repeat guests, this in itself is remarkable for a newer property and one based in the heart of a bustling big city.
MORE THAN JUST A MARRIOTT
The Renaissance is not a hotel I’d naturally pick. My expertise lies in ultra-grand yet very intimate classic luxury properties. This falls under the Marriott umbrella. It is a large hotel, a global chain, and is known as being a reliable go-to 5*. That said, if you’re a lover of super-deluxe luxury steeped in history and expecting a palatial ambiance, look no further. With suites costing up to £10k per night, no single luxury is lacking. Moreover, similar to a heritage palace hotel, the nostalgic rail history, with which Britain has such a long-standing love affair, is unique and romantic. How often can you claim to have stayed in a converted train station, in the very best luxury? This hotel is a one-off and truly has to be seen to be believed. It’s certainly re-kindled my passions of old and thrown up some rather wonderfully magical memories. In buildings as in life, moments in history shape our future.
For more beautiful images of St Pancras Renaissance hotel & food, visit food blogger Flanerie Feminine’s page here.