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Saint s alive after revamp
Jim Gill/Supplied picture The magnificient St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

As any self-respecting travel agent will tell you, hotel inspections are a torturous, albeit important part of the job. "This is our superior room. Note the special alarm clock facility which allows you to connect your own iPod."

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Or: "All our bathrooms are now supplied with the new range of Shane Warne hair treatments." Room after room, hotel chain after hotel chain, there is usually little to stir the blood.

Then every once in a while along comes something special which restores your faith in the hotel industry. It happened to me on a recent trip to London when I found myself being shown around the newly re-opened St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, formerly the Great Victorian masterpiece known for a hundred years as the Midland Grand.

Beside the Eurostar terminal in the heart of the magnificently restored St Pancras station in north-west London, the hotel was originally built in the 1860s by the Midland Railway Company. It was designed by the famous cathedral architect George Gilbert Scott, who also created the Albert Memorial in London's Hyde Park.

Scott was given virtual carte blanche by the railway company to create a luxury hotel which would be the envy of all others. He succeeded in spectacular fashion, creating a Victorian Gothic masterpiece with sumptuous rooms, sweeping staircases, vast cathedral windows and the finest furnishings and fittings. There was even a Ladies Smoking Room.

Luxury was not the only draw card, however. The Midland Grand also featured technological innovations. It was the world's first hotel to feature revolving doors as well as "hydraulic ascending chambers", or lifts as we know them today. Flushing toilets - unheard of in hotels of the day - were another feature. Most importantly, the hotel boasted fireproof floors, made of concrete slabs 22 inches (59cm) thick.

The final bill for Scott's work was £438,000, the equivalent of about £500 million ($742 million) today.

However, the glory didn't last. By the early 20th century the hotel was losing its glitz and reputation. In the 1960s it was, almost unbelievably, earmarked for demolition. It was only saved thanks to a campaign led by then poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman, who called the plans a "criminal folly." But the hotel closed its doors in 1985 and was left to decay for almost 20 years, during which time its only use was as a film set for movies such as Batman, Shirley Valentine and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

The rebirth happened after St Pancras station was given a new lease of life as the cross-channel Eurostar terminus. A consortium, led by the Manhattan Loft Corporation, bought the derelict hotel and a monumental restoration began.

The station platforms from the Chambers Suite bedroom. Picture: Jim Gill

The result of the 10-year, £150 million project is nothing short of astonishing. From the vast revamped reception area to the Booking Office Bar and Restaurant, recreated in the style of the original ticket office, and the beautifully appointed rooms, it is a fabulous renovation.

The hotel's greatest showpiece is the grand staircase, which rises three floors and features a stunning, 15m-high window. The red walls are stencilled with gold fleurs-de-lis and the blue ceiling with stars and suns.

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The booking office and bar. Picture: Jim Gill

Needless to say such luxury does not come cheap. Rooms start at just under $400 a night and that does not include breakfast. Opt for one of the grand suites and you are looking at a staggering $3000 per night.

But if you are heading for the continent on Eurostar and want to stay a night in style before the journey, it's a treat worth forking out for. Be sure to explore St Pancras station itself as well. The great train shed is a true wonder, with excellent pubs and restaurants including the famous Champagne Bar. There is also a statue of Sir John Betjeman.

The St Pancras Renaissance officially reopened in May last year with the cast of Harry Potter performing the honours. Fitting, because this is a magical hotel.

Jim Gill is a partner of Travel Directors of West Leederville. The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is featured in its Rail Across Europe tour, departing Perth in September. For details phone 9242 4200 or visit traveldirectors.com.au.

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