The Wit of Travel


George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life.” These days, for both the business and pleasure traveler, hotels can be a mixed bag of luxury amenities and basic conveniences. Few hotels are a destination unto themselves and even fewer involve any sort of mental stimulation. Sometimes it is as if the explosion of low-cost carriers and the sheer volume of travel options have taken all the personality and indeed exclusivity out of travel.

Countering this perhaps low expectation for modern travel is the Ampersand Hotel, located in the South Kensington, west London. 

The Ampersand is a thoughtful hotel. Opening in its current incarnation in Summer 2012, the hotel was originally a boutique hotel called The Norfolk Hotel which was built in 1888 and boasted 80 rooms decorated in different styles. In honour of its roots, the Ampersand cleanly blends story, taste and distinction throughout its 111 rooms and other amenities. 

The Ampersand’s design centres on the five themes of botany, music, geometry, ornithology and geometry – an homage to the rich intellectual and cultural history of the surrounding area and arguably England itself. The hotel’s tribute to natural history and beauty would please even the crotchety William Wordsworth, who once complained, “the lover of nature can nowhere find a solitary nook to contemplate her beauties.”

Upon entering the Ampersand, guests are treated with a collection of curiosities, neo-Victorian finery and unabashed luxury that make the hotel the perfect spot from which to explore the infinite varieties of London. Walls are decorated in an illustrative but minimal way with cleverly arranged designs and words from old volumes. Rooms invite you in with a combination of wit and comfort with unique touches like a book on The Poetry of Birds on the bedside stand and perhaps the most overlooked but necessary amenity in London – heated bathroom floors.

Additionally, the Ampersand’s restaurant, Apero and its tea room, the Drawing Rooms are worth coming back for by themselves. Apero may be one of the best designed restaurants in London, with an atmosphere that somehow combines the rustic-ness of a Provençal kitchen with the polish of a Parisian restaurant and has a simply delicious Mediterranean menu. The Drawing Rooms are also a welcome respite for afternoon tea after a long day of museum-hopping, shopping – or even London Fashion Week – with tea or champagne and a selection of delectable confections on offer.

Travelers with children need not fear the stodginess that sometimes accompanies luxury hotels. The Ampersand is perfect for families, with a helpful, friendly staff, a restaurant with breakfast downstairs, and a convenient location a short walk from the South Kensington tube stop.

The Ampersand cultivates a new kind of hotel experience, one that is closely linked to the culture of its surrounding area while being a superbly luxurious and convenient escape. The hotel brings a refreshing and intellectually curious vibe that makes one appreciate the fun of travel all over again.

Rates at The Ampersand Hotel start from £182 for a standard suite, which includes breakfast.

The Ampersand Hotel, 10 Harrington Road London, SW7 3ER.

This review was originally published in Glass on 22 April 2013.