Luxury lover Gina Baksa packs her altimeter for a sky-scraping stay at London’s highest five-star hotel, the Shangri-La At The Shard
London is blessed with many iconic buildings – but the unrivalled beauty of architect Renzo Piano’s The Shard beats them all. Not only is this glass pyramid the highest structure in the capital at 1,016 feet, but it’s also home to the incomparable five-star hotel, the Shangri-La At The Shard.
Based in Hong Kong, the Shangri-La hotel group created its first hotel in Singapore in 1971 and now owns or manages more than 90 luxury hotels throughout Asia Pacific, the Middle East, North America and Europe.
The Shangri-La At The Shard first opened in the capital’s London Bridge quarter in 2014 and has become a top destination hotel.
A long-time resident of the area, I’d seen the views from the top of The Shard and enjoyed an apéro in the Shangri-La’s Gong bar, but to date had never rested my head on the hotel’s silky smooth Frette linen nor relaxed on its special body-contoured bed. Until now.
Warmly greeted at ground level by immaculately dressed staff, I was escorted in the speedy lift to check in on the 35th floor, before another lift ride to the 48th and my deluxe city view room. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous doesn’t come close. The room is Heaven. As you’d imagine, floor-to-ceiling windows provide spectacular views from the hotel’s 185 guestrooms and 17 luxury suites – and my view was no exception.
Relaxing in one of the club chairs by the window, I’m mesmerised by the sight of London spreading out before me.
West, North and South, I see toy trains below as they wind their way out of Waterloo and Cannon Street stations. Southwark Cathedral is dwarfed by the modern buildings around her, boats on the sunny Thames like children’s toys, bobbing in the afternoon sun.
Thanks to the superb Opticron binoculars provided, I spy Wembley Stadium’s white arch, leafy Hampstead and Highgate, Gothic St Pancras, the London Eye, Primrose Hill, Buckingham Palace…
Seeing London from this viewpoint gives the capital a completely different perspective. She looks majestic in a way I’ve never really appreciated before. Tearing my eyes away from the view, I take in the room itself.
As with any act of loving creation, it’s the attention to detail that counts. A neutral yet warm colour palette… 55-inch TV, free wi-fi, Bose SoundSock system, Nespresso machine and Chinese tea set, climate control with automatic window shielding, bathroom mirror with integrated TV screen, marble bathroom with heated floors, an iPad… you get the picture.
I love the hessian and silk wallpaper, the marble counter top and deft use of light wood as balance. And although I’m only here for one night, the ample wardrobe space is a joy, as is the sophisticated lighting that doesn’t require a manual or a Midnight call to reception to figure out how it works. Small wonder the Shangri-La has won so many industry awards.
Thirsty guests will enjoy the well-stocked mini bar with its plentiful alcoholic and non-alco beverages, plus tempting slabs of dark and milk chocolate from Elliots of Oxford.
The bathroom – mine had a view South and North East – is equally impressive: marble walls and heated floors, a TV embedded in the mirror, fabulous Acqua di Parma toiletries, and a deep Toto tub, perfect for waving at passing planes. And the shower? I want this level of pressure in my own flat.
Shy guests can activate the electronically-operated blinds that will keep their nakedness invisible to passing aircraft or anyone on the street with 20:20 vision (or Opticron binoculars – Ed).
Reluctantly, I leave the Best Hotel View In Britain and head up to the bar on Level 52. It’s actually three separate areas: the Cocktail Bar, the slightly larger Champagne bar, and the gorgeous infinity pool.
My favourite Jensen’s G&T in hand – made locally in Bermondsey – there are more iconic views to admire across to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
The wine and cocktail list here is extensive, but if leaves are more your tipple then you’ll love the Afternoon Tea – available to guests and non-residents between 2pm and 4pm.
The bar area is a sophisticated venue for pre-dinner aperitifs before heading to the Ting restaurant and an epicurean adventure fusion from the expert hands of Executive Chef Gareth Bowen, who helms a brigade of 70.
The restaurant’s signature dishes include hand-dived scallops from the Scottish Highlands, cooked à la plancha style, and served with ginger, carrot with a light grapeseed oil and yuzu dressing.
Meat lovers will enjoy the organic Welsh lamb from Rhug Estate, served with crunchy root vegetables, Kentish apples, and glazed with sake and soy sauce and mirin. The fusion here is mouthwatering.
Window tables can’t be guaranteed, but if you’re lucky you’ll be treated to outstanding views.
This is the perfect sunset dining spot, with a backdrop of modern English food infused with subtle Asian influences.
The wine list is superb and features Old and New World favourites.
The adjoining Ting Lounge also offers diners unrivalled views across the East towards Tower Bridge and the meandering Thames. You can have breakfast here, share afternoon tea, or try one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
Night time is the right time to gaze out of this glass pyramid and admire the city below. Sink into that divine bathtub and watch the light show that is London at night. I can see my apartment block on the South Bank, marvel at the meandering Thames curving its way from Borough to Waterloo, and appreciate the history of this great city as it’s mapped out before me.
If, like me, you’re too excited to sleep, you can always read a few chapters of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. You’ll find it in the bedside drawer. This seminal 1933 story about one man’s journey to discover an idyllic settlement in the mountains of Tibet (Shangri-La) is the basis of the hotel group’s branding.
Rising early and excitedly the next morning, I manage a few gentle – and thankfully solo – laps of the infinity pool; the views are to die for. The gym looked inviting too, but having forgotten my trainers, I eschewed breaking a sweat in favour of breaking bread. I order room service and a linen-topped trolley laden with breakfast arrives: fruit salad, yoghurt, toast, jams and a delicious omelette. The coffee is excellent.
Watching the flurry of commuters below me, like ants rushing to an inevitable destination, I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to see my beloved London from such elevated heights and in such beautiful, luxurious surroundings.
Superbly located, the Shangri-La Shard is only a two-minute walk from London Bridge railway station and an easy cab ride to both the City and the West End.
It’s a superb location for birthdays, intimate dinners and even sky-high nuptials. It also boasts three meeting rooms that can open to one huge, sexy space on the 35th and 36th floors.
The neighbourhood has the world famous Borough market, and you are only minutes from the Tate Modern, Hays Galleria and Southwark Cathedral as well as Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
I love The Shard. It’s the most beautiful building in London. Piano’s masterpiece shines like a
crazy diamond among a sea of boring squares and bullets (yes you, Walkie Talkie and Gherkin!). It’s thrilling, it’s inspiring and I didn’t want to leave.
As James Hilton wrote in Lost Horizon: “If we have not found the Heaven within, we have not found the Heaven without”.
Well, I certainly found my Heaven in the Shangri-La At The Shard.
Its marketing states that “Serenity, harmony and inherent natural beauty are cornerstones of the Shangri-La experience. A dream that has become reality”.
I heartily agree.