I watch as yellow-and-white Eurostar trains snake in and out of London’s St. Pancras train shed, a vaulted Victorian masterpiece of glass panels and iron arches. My room at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel has this floor-to-ceiling view: Passengers board the high-speed carriers headed for France or Belgium. Then, in an instant, they’re whisked out of sight. Are they off to work? Leaving a loved one? I wonder as I listen to the hum of the tracks.
After a six-year, $240 million renovation, the Renaissance hotel opened in 2011, occupying sections of the former Midland Grand Hotel, which was built adjacent to the station 138 years ago. The building is a Gothic fantasy of red brick arches and turrets, crowned with a clock tower that rivals Big Ben. The main staircase, its crimson walls handpainted with 2,300 gold fleurs-de-lis, adheres to designer Gilbert Scott’s original vision. It spills out under a gilded ceiling, and the sinuous banisters evoke the curves of the tracks. I imagine Commodore Vanderbilt roaming the lobby; it was the St. Pancras that inspired him to commission New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
At the Booking Office—a bar fashioned from the station’s former ticket office—guests nibble on charcuterie and anchovy salad with quail eggs as they gaze out over the tracks. Although electric trains have replaced the old locomotives, the bar takes visitors back to the Age of Steam with punch concocted from Victorian recipes and served from a handmade copper bowl. When I retreat to my room in the Chambers wing, where 38 rooms branch off majestic arched hallways, I forgo the blackout curtains. I want to check on my Eurostars as they rumble quietly through the evening.
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London 44/(0) 20-7841-3540. stpancrasrenaissance.com, from $436. This appeared in the May/June 2012 issue.