A Four Seasons tale of two hotels, historic locales

Outside the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. (Christian Horan/Four Seasons/TNS)
Outside the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. (Christian Horan/Four Seasons/TNS)

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts originated in a country that just this year is celebrating its 150th anniversary, but the Canadian-born luxury brand is finding itself steeped in much longer histories found around the world, specifically in the two new locations I visited in March: Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square and Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. This is a tale of two hotels and their historic locales.

On Sept. 2, 1666, Samuel Pepys, at the beckoning of his maid, Jane, ran upstairs in his home to view the Great Fire of London, which he documented in his famous diary. “It is now burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge, so I made myself ready and walked to the Tower.” He was referring to the Tower of London, an arrow’s shot from his home, which was mercifully unscathed.

His home resided on the same ground that now houses the stately new Four Seasons Hotel Ten Trinity Square. Since location, as they say in real estate, is everything, the decision to locate the second Four Seasons Hotel in London midway between the West End and Canary Wharf was inspired. The new five-star hotel occupies the former headquarters of the Port of London Authority built in 1922, a grand Edwardian Beaux Arts building overlooking the Tower of London, near the Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral; and for the movie buffs among you, a stand-in for MI6 in the film “Skyfall.”

Arriving late at night, jet-lagged from my trans-Atlantic American Airlines flight, the site of the luminous white facade braced with an impressive array of pillars immediately rejuvenated my spirits. The multi-million pound, six-year restoration by the French company 4BI et Associes combines 21st century design with the historic charm of the original building. The U.N. ballroom, which was the setting for the inaugural reception of the 1946 United Nations General Assembly, remains intact with 30-foot tall ceilings, walnut paneling and original crystal chandeliers. Modern art deco riffs of these chandeliers are suspended throughout the hotel, which accommodates 100 guest rooms (including 11 suites).

My executive suite is a true union of masculine and feminine: the darker tones of the bedroom area (herringbone greys and browns) are married to the soft, seductive whites, creams and gold flecks of the bathroom tiles, the inviting curves of the Villeroy and Boch porcelain bathtub, oversized walk-in shower and the two ample sink areas flanking the generous space. The lighting system throughout was a technical marvel in itself — with the slightest touch of a finger, the floor-to-ceiling-length window dressing rose and fell, lights dimmed and brightened effortlessly: no confusion on my part, which is often the case in hotels where I’m forever trying to figure out which switch does what.

After an immaculately served breakfast in the comfy lounge area of my suite, I toured around, peeking here and there and was impressed by the quality of the aesthetic details. A glass-enclosed hydraulic lift delivered me to the lobby where a profusion of pussy willows and a blend of pale tangerine colored tulips and roses filled the grand entrance with spring delight; the scent spilling over into the grand Rotunda, the jewel in the hotel crown with its gold-rimmed glass dome. The curved walls featured scenes of all four seasons artfully executed in white plaster. Taking afternoon tea there is a must.

On my second evening in the hotel, I and a few colleagues dined at La Dame de Pic London, the first London restaurant of Anne-Sophie Pic, three Michelin-starred chef from Paris. On the menu: Royal Sea Bream marinated with Tasmanian pepper berry and Meyer lemon, junmai sake ice cream and Petrossian caviar; Hereford Beef roasted with Monts Amaro coffee and cinnamon leaves, celeriac in brown butter with gin and sobacha; Sencah “Vacherin,” geranium rosat, grapefruit and hibiscus meringue. (If you’re shaking your head in wonder at some of the ingredients, your mouth will interpret them without any question: “heaven,” your taste buds will say. To our surprise and delight, the petite and demure Madame Pic made a brief appearance — she is French to the core.

Rounding out this destination in progress are a second restaurant, offering Asian fare; a 14-meter pool; a 1,680-square-foot spa riffing a Roman style with a hammam (during excavation around the hotel, Roman artifacts were discovered) and 41 private residences.

Its location offers a myriad of tantalizing opportunities to explore a part of London that, at least for me, was undiscovered. The fabled Tower of London with its dazzling display of the crown jewels; stories of victims being drawn and quartered told in graphic detail by the beefy Beefeater (ceremonial guardian of the Tower) who relished our horror. A stone’s throw away is Tower Bridge and just beyond is Borough Market, an outdoor collection of kiosks filled with hand-cut, cured prosciutto; oysters the size of one of the Cullinan diamonds in the Tower; a display devoted to licorice; hand-made breads bursting out of their baskets; chocolates infused with every imaginable ingredient; a cooking school where feasts are created and consumed.

Nearer to the hotel, we were treated to a guided tour by the charming journalist and author, Sophie Campbell. We followed her across cobblestones down narrow little alleyways, as she filled our heads with remarkable stories of the history of the area. One that stood out for its sheer, well, English eccentricity, was about Tom, a goose — the one that mercifully was spared becoming Christmas dinner; he lived on for more than 50 years in what is now Old Tom’s bar, a cozy, downstairs pub where we all drank a pint in his honor.

Across the pond, Four Seasons New York Downtown, on 27 Barclay Street in Lower Manhattan, captures the tone of this part of town that is also experiencing a vibrant rebirth. The 82-story Robert A.M. Stern building with its interior by the Canadian design firm Yabu Pushelberg is edgy and elegant. The American, New York and Canadian flags herald the discreet entrance, which unfurls into the two-story high lobby. Paired with the subdued color scheme, which is a trademark of the sophisticated taste of the design team, their hand-picked marble walls and floors throughout are a unique combination of art and nature.

Looking out the window of my 24th-floor corner suite revealed the space that used to be the World Trade Center. It was an emotional moment, shared with the charming employee who pointed out many of the landmark buildings of the New York skyline. He also demonstrated the Lutron lighting and privacy system (similar to that in London) and other features of the supremely comfortable and tasteful environment. Never boring and in fact always with a whimsical touch, the design manages to delight the eye and cater to the sensual; straight lines slightly veer off course in the lamps and furniture; a curved wall in the bathroom allows the ample bathtub to nestle within its space; the dominant bed is swaddled in layers of silky smooth bedclothes and mounds of pillows.

One evening a group of us was given the royal culinary treatment by Chef Shaun Acosta, in the 2,400-square-foot Royal Suite. As Acosta said, “This menu will change the perspective of what people expect from room service.” Petrossian Caviar with tuna sashimi and a touch of Lemoncello? Or would you prefer Sea kelp with Truffle and Siso Leaf; no fish thank you? Then how about Beef and smoked goat cheese with a bit of pineapple, or Truffle poached chicken and potato puree; dessert in the morning? Try the glorious pure pineapple (no sugar added) … light as air and oh, so healthy.

If you leave your room behind to forage for food elsewhere, indulge in Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, CUT — his first foray into the New York restaurant scene. (Just to the left of the lobby).

The third floor is dedicated to wellness. Take a leisurely lap or two in the 75-foot heated pool (a light and airy glass enclosed area) or sweat to your heart’s content in the well-equipped gym. Among the many treatments offered in the adjacent spa is one that uses rejuvenating ultrasound. It’s a specialty developed by Dr. Burgener from Switzerland and is exclusive to this hotel.

The locale offers an array of memorable sites and experiences. The extraordinary 9/11 Memorial and Museum is around the corner from the hotel. So too is the somewhat controversial Oculus, the $4 billion dollar train station and commercial complex with its stark white dove-like architectural design. Walk to Tribeca with its annual film festival and trendsetting shops or to the Financial District. Like its London sibling, the Four Seasons New York Downtown setting enwraps a respect for history in contemporary dress.


Four Seasons London at Ten Trinity Square (www.fourseasons.com/TenTrinity): Accommodations start at 450 British pounds

Four Season Hotel New York Downtown (www.fourseasons.com/NewYork/Downtown): Accommodations start at 460 U.S dollars