Falling in love again - News & Advice - Travel - The Independent

Falling in love again

Model Laura Bailey escapes from everyday life in London by checking into a posh hotel... in London. It's the perfect way to rediscover the charms of the city or to add some sparkle to your relationship

They are nights in February and November when the weather is grey and holidays are far in the future. I'll be feeling lethargic or weighed down by nagging guilt over unfinished projects. The pub and the television offer scant relief. These are the times I pick up the phone and make a last-minute reservation at a London hotel. My pulse races as I load an overnight case into my car and drive across town. No travel stress, no airport queues, no frantic search for a passport. One smooth check-in later and I have the sense of having an affair with another part of town. My bag is whisked away and I ascend in the lift, feeling like I've got away with something illicit, and I start to relax.

They are nights in February and November when the weather is grey and holidays are far in the future. I'll be feeling lethargic or weighed down by nagging guilt over unfinished projects. The pub and the television offer scant relief. These are the times I pick up the phone and make a last-minute reservation at a London hotel. My pulse races as I load an overnight case into my car and drive across town. No travel stress, no airport queues, no frantic search for a passport. One smooth check-in later and I have the sense of having an affair with another part of town. My bag is whisked away and I ascend in the lift, feeling like I've got away with something illicit, and I start to relax.

At home you may spoil yourself with linen sheets or breakfast in bed but nothing compares to sliding into a giant, crisply turned hotel bed, or waking late to peruse a gourmet menu before planning a lazy day-trip around your home town. I like nothing better than a London morning with no work, no grocery-shopping, no e-mails. Instead I'll take a stroll to the Royal Academy, have lunch at the Wolseley and have reception book me some theatre tickets.

I live in Notting Hill but when I check in to Claridge's I'll walk to West End restaurants I've never tried, row a boat on the Serpentine and try on jewellery in Old Bond Street. I become a sleeker, more sophisticated version of myself, while reclaiming a childlike urge to explore aimlessly. Twenty-four hours is all it takes to fall in love with your home town all over again. With my mobile phone switched off, my world slows down and I feel like an actress in a play where the costumes are a little more sparkly than my normal clothes.

The moment I check in, I breathe a little deeper. I may know the room-service menu virtually off by heart but I still read every line, along with each brochure in the room, whether it's offering caviar or chiropody. This is all part of my settling-in ritual. At home I may scatter outfits over every available surface but at Claridge's I lovingly hang everything until my 24-hour closet resembles a mini-costume gallery, shoes lined up respectfully beneath. This type of organisation negates the need for endless trying-on. I know exactly what I'll need for each occasion. This frees up time to wallow in a bubble-bath or surrender to an early evening movie. The point is to indulge, guilt-free, in the things I forget to do at home - and to do them slowly. Hotel life plays tricks on time, you never need answer the phone and housework becomes a memory. There is nothing quite like the bliss of a bed made up perfectly by someone else.

I'm obsessed with Claridge's Art Deco bathrooms, with their miniature lotions and potions and huge, comforting dressing-gowns. Even the slippers are as soft and bouncy as plumped-up duvets. I also love the big sturdy desks which demand proper letter-writing, and the buttons on the phone which somehow connect to the perfect espresso, bouquet of roses, or masseuse. I have never had a personal assistant or a chef - or even a study - but here, momentarily, I have it all. It's a fantasy where I can be indulged. I pack a book and a few CDs and I climb out on to the skinny balcony of my favourite room, high above the West End hustle and bustle.

Claridge's is a London institution but the service is totally 21st century. It has managed to modernise without compromising its classic legacy. Chintz has been replaced by sleek leathers and chic lighting. The bars are aglow with life and potential intrigue. Descending the Claridge's staircase, I always stand a little taller. I want to wear something that swishes. I want to wear my diamonds. I want to meet the man I sleep with every night in the bar, not at home in front of the TV. I drink vanilla martinis.

The morning after this year's Baftas, the characters in the lobby could have been the cast of a West End play or Hollywood movie. Sophie Dahl breezed downstairs in lipstick and furs like a screen idol of old. The hotel somehow adds its own special aura of glamour to those passing through. I slipped out to see the Lucian Freuds at the Wallace Collection and then drifted on to Regent's Park, all the time happy that my room key was jangling in my pocket, connecting me to my beloved fantasy world.

Because I travel constantly for work, a hotel night at home offers me the perfect opportunity to invite a gang of neglected friends over for cocktails and gossip, preferably after some serious pampering at Claridge's Olympus Suite. My friend Leona and I were recently reduced to giggling teenagers after an hour or so of deep-tissue massage on a Friday afternoon when both of us should definitely still have been at work.

Hotel bars have always been a favourite place to rendezvous before a big night out. In New York, Soho House and the Mercer are a home from home for all the bright young things, and the Costes and the Ritz in Paris are populated by the fashion world gypsies who are never quite sure where they live. The spanking new Baglioni in London's Kensington is a recent discovery which is sure to compete with the establishment hotels as a hot-spot for the jet-set and the jet-lagged. Ideally situated overlooking Kensington Palace Gardens, and a stone's throw from Chelsea, the West End and Notting Hill, it's already attracting a glamorous mix of west London girls and media hotshots. Supermodel Jacquetta Wheeler and designer Alice Temperley stopped by to say "hi" en route to a nearby party while I dined with an old friend in a cosy corner of the Brunello restaurant. I'd be able to be more specific about the food if we hadn't started our night in the bar with caipirinhas. Suffice to say we cleaned our plates of the simple Italian fare and the kitchen was happy to rustle up midnight snacks for late arrivals to our table.

Despite the temptations of hotel bars, sometimes a night in a hotel is an excuse to be deliciously antisocial. Room service and a movie can be perfect therapy, especially if the menu offers film-inspired delicacies, as the Baglioni does. You can choose from the "dolce vita" or the "diva" options. There's even an espresso machine in each room so you can start the day without any need to call for emergency caffeine. I tested it late at night, which led to movies, midnight chatter and not enough sleep. That's the happy problem with hotel life - a bit like flying first-class - you know you should sleep but there's just so much on offer that you want to do first.

The Baglioni still feels like a secret, but I suspect it won't for much longer. When I stayed recently, a few suites and the spa were still undergoing finishing touches, but the staff were already slick and up to speed. This is hotel-life Italian style: friendly, chic and discreet. My butler Manuel had nothing at all in common with his Fawlty Towers namesake, and made me feel instantly at home.

The last thing I want to do in a hotel is connect to the internet, receive faxes day and night or surf through infinite TV channels, but I realise I'm in the minority, and the Baglioni is geared up for techno-addict travellers. The rooms are perhaps a little masculine for my taste, with their muted greys and browns, but the colour and spice lies in the quirky touches throughout and in the splendid views of Kensington Palace Gardens across the street. The Baglioni is a smart business hotel, sexed up by its underground club, the Caroli Spa and the open-plan Brunello restaurant. For one night only it's a playground of choice - I was very sulky when it came to check out at 6am, but a fashion shoot beckoned.

The purpose of my trip to the Baglioni was to catch up with girlfriends over drinks. But for me these kind of one-night stands are mostly about romance. A surprise reservation is the perfect birthday or Valentine's gift. Kidnap your beloved for 24 hours and it can feel like the first time, even if you've been together for 10 years. Leave the tracksuit bottoms and baggy sweaters at home and pack the Agent Provocateur and a little black dress. Dress like a movie star in négligés or tuxedos and you'll experience old-fashioned courtship at its most glamorous.

I can't pretend that every hotel trip is about seduction. There are times when I storm to a hotel after an argument - so much more fabulous and dramatic than going to sleep on a friend's couch. My ideal foot-stamping hotel is the Portobello - around the corner from home but somewhere I feel completely private and protected. I may return home, contrite, in the morning, but for one night I retire to an attic room (I save the sexy, "round" room 13, and 16 with its royal four-poster bed, for when I'm on speaking terms) and lament lost love in the company of the hotel's rock-and-roll ghosts. The walls of the Portobello could tell a story or two. It's the kind of place where you want to sign a record deal, or at least have a song written for you - a hotel for poets and musicians and late-night trysts, a bit like the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York. At first glimpse the rooms may seem a little faded and unloved, but to me the slight aura of dustiness only adds to the charm. My Morroccan-style attic suite, taken when I absolutely have to be alone to write, or to think, or just to sleep, feels like the perfect student loft, all grown-up.

The furniture is a chaotic mix of junk and antiques but the arrangement is, on closer inspection, surprisingly practical. A little round table beside the bath (romantically draped in pale-pink gauze) is perfectly placed for big piles of magazines (the complimentary selection is thoughtful and up-to-date) and beautifying potions; there is a little coral window-seat in which to curl up and watch the world go by; the tiny shower-room which would perhaps be claustophobic if shared seems eccentrically perfect when solo. My few belongings are simply divided between well-worn closets and drawers and there is still room for a big low bed draped in pink quilts with a sloping mirrored ceiling overhead. Downstairs in the bar, strangers chatter with the instant camaraderie of those united by transience. Overlooking beautiful gardens, the bar is a tranquil oasis serving delicious and unprentious wines and snacks.

The Portobello is not everyone's ideal hideaway, but for the arty and the adventurous it's a real find, semi-hidden on a quiet residential street. American friends love it for its proximity to the market and its quintessential eccentric English charm. For me it's a reassuring local landmark, a unique character in a neighbourhood where such places are in danger of being swallowed up by more glitzy enterprises. Its sister restaurant, Julie's, on nearby Portland Road, feeds those guests who need something slightly more substantial than whisky and cigarettes. Walk from there back to the hotel, past the communal gardens and Georgian squares on a summer night... and, just for a moment, you really wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world.

The morning after, a stroll around Portobello Market as it's waking up is essential. You can fill your pockets with trinkets bought from the stalls, slip into the Electric Brasserie for the best breakfast in the neighbourhood, then drift towards Golborne Road - the area to explore to find new boutiques and eclectic fashions. I buy a present for the person I want to make up with and return to the Portobello with a lighter heart. This is when I book a table for dinner at the Notting Hill Brasserie - just a hop and a skip away - and postpone the idea of going home.

I confess I'm addicted to checking out of reality and into the fantasy world of whispering luxury or bohemian escapism that my favourite hotels offer. I simply don't believe that anything bad could happen to me at Claridge's - or that room 321 is anyone's but mine. Last week I walked home from the hotel through the park, swapping stilettos for flip-flops en route. Cinderella has to go home in the end but the fairy-story is always only a phone-call away.

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