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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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