All the services of a five-star hotel, but with the privacy (unless your butler's running the bath of course) and space of your own apartment, is the idea behind 51 Buckingham Gate. Launched in September 2000 and converted from three grand Victorian buildings, this smart townhouse hotel in London's St James comprises 82 luxury suites and apartments.

Design-wise, each house has retained its own style; Kings' suites feature limestone and marble floors, suede and leather furnishings and (um) fake kangaroo-fur bedspreads, while Minsters offers more traditional luxury and Falconers is an exercise in minimalist design. A few of the suites also have their own butler, trained at the swanky Ivor Spencer School for Butlers, who is on hand to help with everything from unpacking your suitcase to serving afternoon tea or booking meeting rooms.

All suites have fully equipped kitchens or, if you've had a hard day in 51's boardroom, a chef can be sent to cook for you. There is all-day dining in The Library bar, while two of London's top restaurants, Quilon and Bank Westminster, are just outside.

And when you want to unwind, the Club at St James Court, across the courtyard, offers a state-of-the-art gymnasium, sauna and aerobics studio - and features the only Shiseido Qi Salon in England.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

51 Buckingham Gate, Luxury Suites and Apartments, London SW1E 6AF (020-7769 7766, reservations 0800 634 5151; www.51-buckinghamgate.com) is in St James, just around the corner from Buckingham Palace.

Time to international airport: by taxi, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton are around an hour and a half's drive (£90); Heathrow, an hour (£45); London City, 40 minutes (£35). The hotel is also just down the road from Victoria train station, however, where you can pick up the Gatwick Express; and Victoria Coach Station, where you can catch a bus to Stansted.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

Do you fancy the Prime Minister's Suite or the Chancellor's? The two suites measure 5,000sq ft and have five bedrooms, three studies, four sitting rooms and a dining room for eight between them.

Our (marginally more modest) contemporary suite had an entrance hall with stone-flagged floor. In the lounge, the design was masculine: a hard, black suede sofa and zebra-print cushions. Waking in the small, beige bedroom was a softer experience - but a bit like coming to inside a mushroom. The bathroom, however, was as big as a studio flat. There were two free-standing bowl sinks on trestle tables, fabulous, lit mirrors and a separate shower and tub.

Freebies: Molton Brown miniatures.

Keeping in touch: two-line speaker phone; voicemail; fax and printer with laptop connection; satellite TV, DVD and CD players. The business centre also offers full secretarial support. Mobile phones are available to rent.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Junior suites start at £315 a night while a one-bedroom deluxe starts at £450. Deluxe apartments with Ivor Spencer services start at £700 a night.

I'm not paying that: County Hall Travel Inn (0870 238 3300; www.travelinn.co.uk) has rooms from £79.95.

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