Where to stay in London, England.
By Renée S. Gordon
A true traveler savors experiences at every point in the journey. Beyond tours and activities, dining and accommodations—in the best cases—enhance your trip in extraordinary and memorable ways. London, England is so rife with spectacular historic sites and opportunities that exploring it will fill your days. Continue your immersive adventure into the evening by spending your nights in unique, storied accommodations . The St. Ermin’s Hotel Westminster is the sort of hotel treasure that offers a chance to immerse oneself into a bygone era.
“If you agree to work for us, half the time you won’t know the purpose of your duties…and when we do explain, we might not be telling the truth.” —James Alan Gardner
St. Ermin’s Hotel Westminster is one of only 135 luxury properties worldwide that are members of the distinguished Autograph Collection Hotels that have been individually selected because of their iconic status, singular design, originality, opulent décor and amenities. The hotel is perfectly situated for daily excursions, a short distance from Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, New Scotland Yard and St. James Park. Most significantly, it is the sole publically-accessible venue closely linked to Britain’s history of espionage.
The earliest documented evidence of espionage is found in Egyptian hieroglyphs and their tasks were, as today, to expose disloyal individuals and gather political and military intelligence from rivals. This type of information was of enormous importance during WWII and the Cold War and St. Ermin’s was at the heart of Britain’s resistance and world of espionage. Just prior to the onset of WWII, the hotel served as the location of guerilla warfare training. In the 1930s it was used by Military Intelligence, Section 5 (MI5) as a meeting place. In the late 1930s it also functioned as the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) headquarters. From offices in St. Ermin’s MI5 and MI6 operated the Double Cross Program and coordinated espionage infiltrations into occupied countries. Historians note that 1940 was a critical time and in that year Winston Churchill, a frequent patron of Caxton’s Bar in the hotel, met with a group of specialists to create the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to direct covert operations.
A number of individuals who worked for British Intelligence as spies during the war went on to literary fame. Graham Greene, an MI6 operative, published more than 20 novels, many based on his espionage experiences, including Our Man in Havana. Fighter pilot and undercover agent Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach after spying in the United States. The most renowned of the former spies, Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, had an office in St. Ermin’s.
After the war, the hotel retained its place in espionage history as an important meeting place. The notorious “Cambridge Five,” double agents, met with Russian agents there to pass on information. Both Kim Philby and Guy Burgess had offices in the hotel.
The hotel opened its doors in 1899 but it was erected on the site of a 15th Century chapel, built by Henry II and named after St. Ermin, a monk who achieved sainthood. The hotel was completely renovated at a cost of £30 million and has received numerous awards including Condé Nast Travelers designation as one of the “Top Hotels in Europe.”
All 331 rooms and 41 suites showcase deluxe amenities, designer textiles and an inspired combination of modern furnishings and antiques. St. Ermin’s features Royal Afternoon Tea and a replica of a parliamentary Division Bell in the lobby. These bells were placed in establishments within an eight-minute walk of Parliament Square and were rung to alert chamber members that they were needed to vote.
John le Carre said, “Once you’ve lived the inside-out world of espionage, you never shed it. It’s a mentality, a double standard of existence.” St. Ermin’s Hotel Westminster invites you to revel in luxury while getting a glimpse into that world. Don’t forget to walk into Caxton’s Bar and order a martini cocktail: shaken, not stirred.
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.