On holiday at Heathrow Airport- Review
On holiday at Heathrow Airport
As she flew into Heathrow Karen Bowerman gave in to last minute whim. She booked herself a couple of extra days away – at an airport hotel - and was pleasantly surprised to discover you can still have a weekend break close to the runway.
Every time I come back from holiday I have the same, self-indulgent thought. Ping goes the fasten your seatbelt sign and there it is, whispering enticingly.
Wouldn’t it be great, it suggests - completely theoretically at first - if you had just a couple of days more? Another 48 hours to forget about emails and the office? Wouldn’t it be fun not to have to go home just yet? It knows full well I agree.
As the plane hits the ground I find myself toying with where to stay; theoretically of course. Then I remind myself that airport hotels aren’t really for holidaying in and that if I do check in somewhere I’ll no doubt be heading for one, big, costly disappointment.
The voice speaks, purrs almost, one last time. If, after touching down at Heathrow I were to jump on the airport shuttle within minutes I’d be at the Radisson Edwardian, voted best airport hotel in the world for seven years running (1997-2003) by Business Traveller Magazine.
I stand in the airy, marble lobby and check in. I’m surprised, relieved even, to discover that the Radisson isn’t your typical “place to stay at the airport”. Staff are friendly and welcoming while the décor nods towards grandeur rather than functionality.
I take a look around (yes there’s more than just rooms off a few corridors) and I’m immediately struck by a sense of space. There’s the Newbury Room, complete with mosaic floor, palms and small waterfall, two dining areas and an unusually large bar. Even in the spa the changing rooms seem to stretch for miles. No jostling for lockers or tripping over towels here.
The hotel has character too – everywhere there are hints of the Far East; brass leopards from Thailand, deities from Taiwan; intricate chairs entwined with dragons; ceremonial drums and framed amulets.
And then there are the orchids. They’re everywhere – towering out of silver urns in well-lit mirrored corridors or hidden in tiny alcoves you almost miss on your way to dinner. I got caught, red-handed by a member of staff as I gently squeezed a petal to see if they were real.
I learn later that the hotel is decorated personally by Amrit Singh the wife of the chain’s owner. As her children grew up, Singh turned her hand to interior design and loved it. She travels regularly to Asia, shipping back whatever catches her eye. Occasionally, I’m told, she swaps pieces in the hotel for what she has at home. “She has things as big as this in her house?” I ask, flabbergasted, nodding at a nearby pitcher, its shoulders level with mine. “Hers is no ordinary home,” is the reply.
At the back of the lobby, marble stairs with an ornate, gold balustrade lead to a vast, open space nestling under a glass, domed roof. Shallow bridges of glass and steel form walkways over a mass of water, arranged in tiers, marked by rows of pebbles. The colours, muted browns and golds are picked up in the statues of two gods set high in the walls. Below them stands a collection of shiny urns and a weathered-looking, life-size market cart. Somehow it doesn’t seem out of place.
I hear the sound of bubbles, look down, and spot fish blown from translucent glass. They rise above the water at regular intervals, their bodies curved and eyes gleaming.
Later, the receptionist tells me that the area (the Atrium) is used for photo shoots, wedding receptions and serving refreshments during conferences (it backs onto a massive conference room). It’s also for guests, if they want to sit and chat or have coffee.
“But why,” I ask bluntly, “isn’t it crammed with bedrooms; surely there’s the demand?”
The manager, Gavin Sanders, appears and she looks to him for guidance. He has an intriguing explanation. “It’s because the Atrium was built directly above us,” he says, “on the flat roof of the lobby.”
“Ah, so it’s not load bearing,” I comment (having attempted a little DIY in my time).
“Exactly, except for three metres running round the edge. So although we couldn’t build rooms, the bridges meant it didn’t have to be wasted space.”
The novel idea means the Atrium can still accommodate up to 700 people despite there being no conventional floor.
As evening falls I return to enjoy the unusual space. I discover it’s lit with soft gold beams and tiny spotlights. Columns I hadn’t noticed before glow green. The water reflects the impressive arched ceiling and the silent glass fish. I go to bed forgetting I’m at Heathrow.
The next day I promise myself a final holiday treat. I enter the dim, restful light of the spa (free to guests of the hotel) and lay on a heated bed for an Ayuverdic massage. Oil, for a second almost too hot, drips onto my spine. Jade, my therapist, smoothes it into my back with round, heated stones. I close my eyes and as she manipulates my muscles, I feel the tension ease.
Afterwards I relax in an unusually spacious steam room before grabbing a robe and reclining in the relaxation area with a cup of mint tea. I unwind to gentle piano music and the sound of distant waves.
That afternoon businessmen are pounding the running machines before evening flights. I know that for me too, work is just round the corner, but now I’m fine about it. I head to dinner with a spring in my step, convinced I can still squeeze in a sauna before bed. I may be at the airport, but for one last night I remain “en vacances”.
I smile smugly as only a holidaymaker can.
Radisson Edwardian, Heathrow. www.radissonedwardian.co.uk/heathrow
140 Bath Road, Middlesex UB3 5AW United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8759 6311
Standard double £75- £375 a night depending on season and occupancy).
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