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Tried and Tested: Sofitel London Heathrow

14 Aug 2008 by Mark Caswell

What’s it like? With Heathrow’s T5 now seemingly running smoothly, it seems a good time for Sofitel to open the terminal’s flagship hotel. Aside from the Hilton at T4, the low-rise Sofitel London Heathrow is the only hotel attached to any of the terminals, lying parallel with the entrance to T5. The property is owned by Arora International Hotels and is managed under a franchise agreement with Sofitel (similar to the arrangement at the Sofitel London Gatwick). The hotel is split over five atria, which are joined by the central “Avenue” alongside which the restaurants, bars and reception areas are located. Standout features of the building itself include five water sculptures designed by David Harber and a peaceful Zen garden taking up the entire floor of one of the atria. This and other indoor gardens (there are a total of 32 trees planted within the building) have been designed to distance the property from the normal “airport-hotel feel”, and it works.

Where is it? For those arriving at Terminal 5 by air, or by the Heathrow Express or London Underground Piccadilly line, the hotel is accessed via a lift opposite Marks and Spencer on the Arrival level, which takes you up to Level One. From here, guests head down a covered walkway filled with flatscreen TVs (showing BBC News 24 when I arrived), past a meet-and-greet desk and down a set of escalators to the main reception. Just across from here is the main entrance for those arriving by car or taxi. The hotel has 21 reception desks (although not all are manned 24/7), which should ensure there is never a long wait for check-in.

How many rooms? 605, of which 201 are Classic rooms (26 sqm), 188 are Superior (28 sqm), 164 are Luxury (32 sqm), 25 are Sofitel Suites (36-38 sqm), 24 are Prestige Suites (54-64 sqm), two are Opera Suites (95 sqm), and one is the Imperial Suite (165 sqm).

Room facilities Rooms are arranged around the five atria, with the Luxury rooms and suites positioned towards one end of the hotel, where premium services such as a separate check-in desk and Club Millésime (an executive lounge for suite guests) are located. I was staying in Luxury room 5308 – the “five” referring to the atrium, and the “three” to the floor level. It can be quite confusing at first, but rooms are well signposted, and the advantage of only having four floors of rooms is that I never waited more than a few seconds for one of the many lifts to arrive. (In future, lifts will be keycard-activated as a security measure.)

Rooms are decorated in browns and beiges, with two-tone cherry and walnut timber furniture, and framed prints of London landmarks on the walls. All rooms include Sofitel’s signature “My Bed” (queen-size in Classic room categories, king-size in all others), a Hugo Boss armchair and footrest, a workdesk with wired and wifi internet access (£6 per hour or £15 for 24 hours), UK and US sockets, a “media hub” allowing guests to feed iPod and digital-camera content through the flatscreen TVs, a laptop safe, a hairdryer, an empty fridge (this can be pre-filled if requested), plenty of storage space, an iron and ironing board, and tea and coffee-making facilities (with large mugs and a cafetière). The switches on the wall by the door control the air conditioning, room lights, and electronic “Do Not Disturb” and “Please Clean” signs.

Bathrooms have polished granite floors, a separate bath and shower (with rain shower and normal shower heads), a mist-free main mirror, a shaving mirror with individual light, Hermès toiletries, and a bathrobe and slippers, while Luxury rooms and above also have touchscreen LCD televisions at one end of the bath.

All rooms are at least double-glazed (those looking out towards the airport are triple-glazed), and views are of the internal atriums, T5 and the runway or the front of the hotel. The rooms are well thought-out, with all the facilities a business traveller could need (no frustrating call to reception to ask for an iron to be brought up).

Restaurants and Bars The hotel has a total of five restaurants and bars located along the Avenue. At one end is Brasserie Roux, a fine-dining restaurant overseen by Albert Roux and serving French regional dishes such as quenelle de brochet à la Lyonnaise (pike mousse with purée of mushroom and lobster sauce) and cassoulet de queue de lotte (monkfish cassoulet). The restaurant has been cleverly designed with a floating ceiling, allowing the area to feel intimate while still showing off the hotel’s airy four floors of open space above, and there is also the option of a private-dining room and chef’s table.

Next door, the Library Bar has signature cocktails and the highest-backed chairs I have ever seen (a cluster of four of them create a kind of booth), and the Tea 5 Salon (get it?) is a tearoom offering over 40 different brews, an afternoon tea menu, and a “tea sommelier”. Further down the Avenue, Bar Sphere and Lounge has an Icelandic “fire and ice” theme, while Vivre offers five “live cooking-theatre kitchens”, including a rotisserie, wok station, pizzeria, grill and a deli, and is also where breakfast is served. This restaurant has been designed with delegates in mind, in order to offer a wider range of dishes for conferences and events.

Business and meeting facilities The Sofitel London Heathrow has the third-largest meeting and conference space in the UK, and will be banking on attracting large events based on its domestic and international transport links. There are 45 meeting rooms and, for large events, there is a separate entrance and reception area. The largest room, the Arora Suite, can accommodate up to 1,700 delegates theatre-style and is divisible into seven separate spaces. Many of the other rooms are named after cities of the world, with the 90 sqm London Suite, for instance, hosting up to 45 people for a banquet. Boardrooms feature Hugo Boss leather chairs and lightbox images on the walls of well-known London sights, and the hotel has outsourced its audio-visual facilities to AVC Productions which has an on-site team. Other features include a 117-seater tiered theatre, an office for event organisers, and a green room for performers. There is wifi internet access throughout the hotel (with 100MB of bandwidth), and the business centre is open 24 hours a day (there is also a cluster of PCs with internet access close to the main entrance).

Leisure facilities The hotel has partnered with Espa to offer five treatment rooms, as well as a relaxation area, sauna, steam room and hydro pool (there is a charge of £25 for guests to use these facilities, unless they are booking a treatment, or are staying in a Prestige Suite or above when it’s free). Therapists take customers through an initial consultation to pinpoint specific areas of concern and choose which essential oils to use with the treatments, which include therapies designed for before and after air travel. There is also a 24-hour keycard-operated gym, which is free for all guests.

Verdict Sofitel hopes its Heathrow property will become a destination in its own right rather than just an airport hotel, and it has certainly covered all the bases in terms of excellent facilities, both in-room and in the public spaces. The conference venues are extensive, the internal gardens are a great touch, and Brasserie Roux will undoubtedly rival T5’s culinary offerings airside. A significant addition to the Heathrow hotel scene.

Prices Classic rooms start from £223 on weekdays and £152 on weekends. There is a £35 supplement for Superior rooms and £75 for Luxury rooms, while Prestige Suites start from £700.

Contact Sofitel London Heathrow, Terminal 5, London Heathrow airport; tel +44 (0)20 8757 7777; sofitel.com.

By Mark Caswell

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