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On a High Horse: Almost five years late, Europe’s Highest Hotel has Finally Opened its Doors to Guests
June 17, 2013 Nicolas Shammas

First things first, most Middle Eastern visitors to the Shangri-La at the Shard – yes, that mouthful really is its proper name – won’t give a hoot that the hotel is a half hour’s drive from Harrods because, let’s not beat around the bush here, they’re not in Southwark to go out. They’re here to go up.

And that’s exactly what you do the moment you arrive at Renzo Piano’s impressive glass and steel skyscraper. Behind the reception desk at the hotel’s non-descript ground floor entrance are a couple of speedy lifts that whisk you straight up to the 35th floor lobby. The good news is that, assuming you won’t be using the event space on the 34th, this is as low as you’ll ever need to go. That’s because the Shangri-La is spread over twelve of the Shard’s 72 floors, with the infinity pool and spa located at the highest point on the 52nd. Sadly, that floor won’t be open until late August, by which time they must be hoping to have completed many more than the current offering of just 59 rooms. Eventually, the hotel will boast 202 rooms and suites, the cheapest of which starts at 500 GBP (860 USD).

I had the pleasure of staying on the 49th floor but one thing to be aware of is that due to the shape of the building, the higher you go the smaller the floor space. Still, no matter where your room is, I guarantee that you won’t be able to stop gazing out at the wonderfully expansive London skyline ahead of you.

It’s an extraordinary thing. Staying in a lofty hotel in New York is a special experience but it’s also something you expect of the Big Apple. That’s not the case in London, which is a famously low-rise city. Indeed, it’s not that long since the giant Ferris wheel located in Southbank was considered by many to be the best way to get a bird’s eye view of the capital. Which is why, having your own five-star room with floor-to-ceiling windows, located at an elevation higher than the London Eye is reason enough to savour every moment. Not surprisingly, management positively encourages such behaviour as they’ve seen fit to provide each room with its own set of binoculars.

Then again, I have a niggling feeling that those binoculars might serve another beneficial purpose. Namely, by encouraging you to keep looking out, you’re not spending time looking at the drab décor inside. That’s harsh of me perhaps, but it’s true. I really wonder who took the decision to cover the flooring in the corridors and rooms with such offensive swirly carpeting and don’t let me get started on the lavish use of the kind of sycamore veneer that would look more at home in David Brent’s office. All is not lost, however. The bathroom – something I’ve always found to be an excellent litmus test of any luxury hotel room – is marvellous. Clad in an attractive marble, there’s a beautiful stand-alone bathtub, a television hidden within the mirror and a vast tropical shower but the pièce de résistance is a Toto washlet, positioned right next to another floor-to-ceiling window. I won’t go into too many details but sitting on a heated, state-of-the art, water-spraying toilet beside such a sheer drop is just brilliant. It may even be reason enough to come back for a second visit.

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