Carlton Reid checked into the Park Suite at the Royal Lancaster London hotel and watched a faraway storm from his ‘wraparound wall of windows’ The lofty Park Suite in the towering Royal Lancaster London hotel has two stonking great TVs. I didn’t watch either of them because I was transfixed with the panorama of a faraway storm. Through my wraparound wall of windows on the 13th floor of this 20-storey five-star hotel, I could track the storm moving from west to east. Rain, I saw from one end of the long suite, was hammering Chiswick. Kneeling on a velvet sofa, I focussed on the haze that meant sheet rain was falling from bruised clouds two or so miles away. I watched the slanting rain move through to Chelsea before I switched to another sofa to monitor the storm’s progress from the stretch of windows that extends the length of the recently revamped 1960s tower block. The London Eye disappeared under the yellow-grey clouds and, as it reappeared, distinctive skyscrapers overlooking the City were swallowed in turn. Thirteen floors below me, the silver waters of the raised ponds in Hyde Park’s Victorian-era Italian Gardens were undisturbed – no rain nearby, then. I moved to the main bedroom to continue tracking the distant storm’s progress. A large expanse of windows in front of me were complemented by a similar stretch to my right. Boxed-out mirrors in the corners added room-expanding reflections to the endless views. This suite is just perfect for high-level gawping. I arrived early and left late the next day, never tiring of the view. Or, to be more accurate, ‘views’ – because walking through the suite rewards you with a moving 180-degree vista of London’s famous skyline. The bathroom has a view over the Italian Gardens and the Serpentine and onto the Albert Hall and beyond (teeth brushing has never been so scenic). The master bedroom has expansive views of wooded Hyde Park from one angle and then the London Eye and the Shard skyscraper from another. Swivel to the left and there’s the priapic BT Tower. The hotel is a vertical slab with no other high buildings nearby. And as it’s not overlooked it’s perfectly possible – after a soak in the suite-with-a-view’s bathtub, say – to wander the much-windowed suite butt naked. Spectacular views over the green expanse of Hyde Park fool you into thinking you’re far removed from the city’s hustle and bustle, yet it’s just a five-minute walk to Marble Arch and then on to Oxford Street. Two hundred and twenty years ago, William Wordsworth immortalised London’s skyline in a poem praising the capital’s ‘towers, domes, theatres and temples’, concluding that ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’. As I reclined on a king-sized bed, wrapped in a fluffy white robe, drinking complimentary English bubbly and still watching the storm as it fizzed east, I could only but agree with the daffodil fella. And the fantastic views aren’t just for those able to afford the £1,300-a-night suites. All of the hotel’s 411 guestrooms and suites have views across London. Some are more commanding than others, of course, with the suites – including an even larger Royal one – having the greatest acreage of upper-storey glass. As the light faded, I tore myself away from the still-bruised clouds and looked down to the road. On a flat roof, eleven floors below, were ten beehives. A vinyl banner told me this was the hotel’s honey farm. Sweet. ‘Bees can fly up to three miles from their hives,’ the hotel’s Jo Hemesley told me over a cup of tea in the Royal Lancaster’s ground floor cafe, ‘but I expect ours mostly forage in Hyde Park.’ Jo’s business card says she’s the hotel group’s assistant director of corporate sales, but she’s also the Royal Lancaster’s head beekeeper. (Yes, there’s a B-team.) ‘Hyde Park now has lots of grasses left to grow long, interspersed with meadow flowers, and there are patches of ground covered in clover, so I suppose that’s where the bees go,’ she said, adding that the hotel’s bees also frequent the nearby lime trees. Honeycomb from the rooftop honey farm is served at the hotel’s breakfast, the restaurant being just metres below the hives. ‘I extract the honey from the honeycomb for the little jars we present to guests,’ continued Jo. ‘And have you noticed the honeycomb shapes used in designs around the hotel?’ she asked. I hadn’t, but my eyes were soon attuned to them: there are honeycomb-shaped brass chandeliers in the foyer, there’s a bee on the hotel’s logo and, as I found out later, the Park Lounge bar serves a Honey Bee Mine cocktail Another of the hotel’s signature cocktails – a gin-and-Campari blend – is The Italian Job, a nod not to the ornate Italian Gardens opposite but rather to the famous 1969 film starring Sir Michael Caine. Key scenes for this movie were filmed in summer 1968 at the Royal Lancaster when it was then just a year old. Caine’s character – Charlie Croker – drove an Aston Martin DB4 convertible down the hotel’s concrete parking ramp and up to the hotel’s front doors. With the help of hotel doorman Dimitar Dimov, I recreated this iconic scene for a short video. Not having an Aston Martin to hand, I used one of the hotel’s rental bicycles. The hotel’s exterior has had several refreshes since the swinging sixties but the parking ramp hasn’t changed. After I’d finished filming and handed back the bike, I chatted with Dimitar, who had kept the ramp clear for me as best he could. Dimitar is from Bulgaria and has worked for the Royal Lancaster London for the six years he’s been in the UK. Full of smiles, nothing was too much trouble for him. This ethos of kindliness was shared by other staffers I met. Yes, five-star hotels tend to attract the cream of the hospitality world, but still, I felt those at the Royal Lancaster went above and beyond, perhaps because of the hotel’s long ownership by a Thai family business. Nipa Thai, the hotel’s Thai restaurant, has an all-women team of chefs, as is traditional in Thailand, and is often the restaurant of choice when Thai dignitaries visit London. Head chef Sanguan Parr has worked in the restaurant since it opened in 1994. Clad in luxurious teak, shipped from Thailand, the Nipa Thai is tiny for such a large hotel, but this also adds to its appeal – reservations are very much necessary. Before its Thai makeover, the Royal Lancaster had been limp and lacklustre for several years, a far cry from its 1960s heyday. The hotel – commissioned by the entertainment-centred Rank Organisation – was picked for The Italian Job because of its thrusting trendiness. The famous scene from the movie of a bevvy of scantily-clad beautiful women seducing Charlie Croker was close to contemporary reality, today’s hotel manager Alexander Henskens told me. ‘I think those sort of parties were quite common here at that time,’ Alexander noted drily, ‘the hotel attracted rock and film stars. For instance, The Beatles held a Yellow Submarine post-premiere party at the hotel.’ Croker’s seduction scene – featuring a grand bedroom with spectacular views over Hyde Park – was shot in what is now the Royal Suite. Alexander said the hotel was proud of its connections to The Italian Job. Back in the Park Suite, there’s a large book about the movie with a honeycomb-emblazoned bookmark highlighting the section that features the hotel. Having a direct and tangible link to one of the most iconic movies of the swinging sixties might not be a draw for all guests, but the Royal Lancaster London doesn’t have to hark back to a golden age because its key selling points – exemplary service and grand views – set it apart anyway.