It is not often that one can accurately state that a location is perfect, but if you wish to experience the beauty of London’s elite Russell Square neighborhood and the wonders of the British Museum, there are very few locations as prime as that of The Montague on the Gardens Hotel.
It is just a few blocks from the Russell Square, Holburn or Tottenham Court Road tube stations, across a courtyard from the Duke of Bucclech’s mother’s city residence. We were informed by General Manager Dirk Crokaert that it is part of the original gardens for Montagu House, the building donated by the Duke’s ancestors to house the British Museum, a newer building that occupies the same spot. The Montague on the Gardens is literally around the corner from the Museum entrance and aptly named.
And like the curated artifacts in the nearby British Museum, the hotel is crafted with the same care as the Museum’s collection. Part of the elite Red Carnation Hotels, each room in the hotel is individually designed by the Hotel’s President and guiding light Bea Tollman, and no two are the same. The style is both opulent and understated and the hotel combines the luxury of the classic British tradition with a touch of the exotic. It is the location of the first leopard bar in London– a reflection of the owners’ South African roots and interest in Africa’s native wildlife.
The building was erected in the first decade of the 19th Century by builder W.E. Allen as a private residence and is listed along with the others on the street as a Grade II historical property of “architectural and/or historic interest” by English Heritage. It remained a private abode until the 20th century when it became a lodging house along with many others on the street. It was acquired in 1996 by Red Carnation and renovated to its present state of luxury.
Because it was out of what had been private Georgian townhouses, the rooms have unique shapes and characteristics. Ours had an obvious added load-bearing wall to keep the upper floors adequately supported, but it was cleverly used as a design feature, not a flaw. It separated the sleeping area from the sitting area and provided a perfect place for the television. The room felt surprisingly spacious for being broken up into two halves, and everything about it spoke to understated luxury.
The period-appropriate and yet spa-like green and cream color palette was extremely soothing and you felt cocooned in calm and restfulness. I was traveling with a friend and we both enjoyed the room so much that we never turned on the television at all. We did make use of the other little luxuries the staff made certain to include, from the bucket of ice, fresh fruit and small treats laid out on the coffee table when we arrived, to bottles of still and sparkling water, to an electric tea pot and tea service, and as we had traveled during dinner hour, the box of Bea’s Homemade Biscuits in our room was extremely welcome. They were delicious.
Another welcome luxury, despite the compact footprint of the room in this historic building, was the deep soaking tub in addition to the spacious rain shower in the gorgeous, marble bathroom. I had actually twisted my knee hauling my luggage on the tube escalator on our way from the airport and soaking it in the nice, deep tub helped immensely. I do wish the shower had been better lit, but that is a tiny quibble. I’m certain many find the dim lighting restful and luxurious, the shower certainly is.
The bathroom was also appointed with far more toiletries and towels than we could have used, but it’s wonderful to have them at hand, especially if you arrive and find you’ve forgotten to pack something. Two terrycloth bathrobes were also provided along with the large, soft towels. There was also an iron in the cupboard, a safe for valuables and plenty of space to hang things that needed it. It’s true that the hotel seems to have thought of everything.
It’s also very quiet in the hotel, and I’m not certain if it’s just that it’s on a residential street or because the walls of each room are padded and upholstered. The wall décor is not wallpaper, it’s fabric with complementary trim which only adds to the luxurious feel of the space.
The public areas are equally well-appointed and filled with curated objects, comfortable seating and charming artwork. Our hallway was adorned with vintage travel writing about famous sights in England. The elevator sported upholstered walls featuring more leopards and the public areas offered everything from writing desks and office supplies to a leafy conservatory-like space for tea and light dining.
The main dining room has numerous tables and, because we had the bed and breakfast option, we were treated to a continental cold breakfast and hot English breakfast each morning. You could mix and match among the two and treat yourself to delicious pastries, cold salmon, cheeses, hot porridge made with water or milk, eggs, English sausages or a wide variety of other delights. Toast of your choice was brought on request and there were various juices to go along with the tea and coffee on offer. Scrambled eggs were on the English breakfast buffet, but you could also order them done any way you liked them.
The Leopard Bar and Cigar Lounge was so charming that we made a special point of going to it on our last evening and having the hotel’s signature cocktails. I had the Leopard cocktail, which is really just a lovely chocolate martini with chocolate leopard spots and a cocoa pawprint on top, while my friend had the Carnation Cocktail which features gin and elderflower. It is never a bad option to get the signature cocktail of a place. There’s a reason it’s featured and both of ours were wonderful. They also provide live music most nights of the week, but we arrived too late to hear the performer and had to content ourselves with alcohol. There were also tasty pub snacks provided.
The conservatory and outdoor dining area is where they serve their award-winning afternoon tea. It is sunlit and pleasant and you feel far away from the city when you’re in the space. It’s like being in a delightful country home somewhere far away from your cares.
The Montague on the Gardens also has a charming outdoor space that when we were there they were busily transforming from its winter ski lodge mode into a beach bar. Once the tiki hut was built, the entire space was going to be filled with several tons of sand for the rest of the summer, allowing the guests and the neighborhood to enjoy some tropical fun in the heart of London. It’s just one of the unique special touches that make the hotel so exceptional.
And, of course, no hotel can be superb unless it has a superb staff and The Montague at the Gardens truly does. It has, in fact, a high ratio of staff to patrons and there is always someone on hand to answer questions, provide you with help or superb and prompt service. There is also staff fluent in a number of languages to help those traveling from Europe or farther away.
From its prime location, to its curated rooms, the high ratio of staff to patrons and its restful and opulent vibe, The Montague on the Gardens is a superb choice for any visit to London.
Photographs by Kelly Chenault and Suzanne Magnuson.
Reservations for The Montague on the Gardens can be made here.
For more information on Red Carnation Hotels, visit their website.