If you are going to London – and who doesn't want to – then by all means, stay at the San Domenico House. A charming boutique hotel in the exclusive Chelsea neighborhood, the San Domenico is affordable and luxurious. Treating guests like family is their philosophy and after my recent stay, I can attest to the fact that everything is thoughtful and lovely. Once a private townhouse, in 2005, it was purchased by the Melpignano family of Italy, owners of the renowned Borgo Egnazia and the Masseria Cimino hotels in Puglia.
The Melpignanos are masters of detail and ambiance and they poured resources and design into the San Domenico. The San Domenico is nestled into a street filled with private homes and apartments, in the red brick buildings that define Chelsea. Marble steps lead to a small entry. A bowl of red roses greeted us. The fire was quieting invitational; a few guests in the drawing room were enjoying cocktails. Antiques, deep, comfortable furniture and artwork fill the spaces; everywhere guests turn, there is original artwork, sculptures, and object d'arts.
Candles are everywhere and at night, their perfumes gently scented the air. There is not an empty space in the hotel, which has small hallways, turns, steps and platforms to the rooms. A rooftop patio provides views all the way to the Thames River. In good weather, you will find guests having breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, aperitifs or simply enjoying conversation. “We offer the best service found in London,” said general manager Daniel Dessi. “We present the Italian, cosmopolitan flair here.” The staff is nearly all Italian, trained at the Melpignano's other properties, and speaking perfect English, of course. Those tall, dark and handsome Italians are masters of etiquette and gracious manners. They definitely know how to make you feel welcome.
Each of the hotel's 16 rooms has a different design. Our suite had a sitting area, flat screen TV, small table and a king sized bed. Three sets of windows looked out onto the quiet street below. Our second room was split level; upstairs was a sitting area and down a few steps was a magnificent four poster bed. Wi fi is free – a welcome amenity since most high end properties see fit to charge $10-$15 per day. Guests are met at the door to help with luggage. The hotel has arrangements with a nearby parking garage, if needed, and will send staff there to help transport guests' belongings. Mrs. Melpignano personally chose all the fabrics and décor. Exquisite! Gorgeous silks, satins, brocades and rich, deep jeweled tone colors envelope the senses. Frette linens, feather pillows (foam upon request), and fresh fruit are standard in every room. Bath products are an interesting mix of Moulton Brown, the most beloved English brand, and soaps and bath oil made using olive oil from their Italian property, the Masseria.
Service, thoughtful service, is the goal. Dessi explained that the staff is trained to ask questions – to offer little tips and out of the way restaurants. They have a significant repeat business (and I definitely understand why) and strive to remember preferences. “We want to convey personality and intimacy. We want you to feel at home,” Dessi said. While the San Domenico does not have a restaurant, they have a satisfying room service menu, which can be ordered and eaten anywhere in the hotel. The relatively reasonable prices (consider, this is room service in a top end London hotel) caught my eye - martinis for $9, a ham and cheese sandwich for $11, pasta or quiche $15 (1 British pound to $1.55 at this writing). Many of the ingredients are flown in from Italy; the olive oil and cheeses are made at the Masseria and brought in.
Breakfast is served in a cheerful and decorative dining room downstairs or you can have it served in your room. Dessi told me that guests may ask for any special item. “We make smoothies on request or serve a particular item. In fact, we have a partnership with a nearby health club. Guests go out for exercise and we have a special breakfast waiting for them when they return.” The San Domenico also offers a theater package and a beauty package. “Our guests have their hair down by Richard Ward next door – where Kate Middleton gets her hair done,” he said. There are a limited number of rooms that permit smoking – a rarity. “We have guests who stay with us for this precise reason.” No smell of smoke was present, because Dessi said, expensive perfumes and fresheners are used. “Also – our windows open. I think this is refreshing when so many hotels board up their windows and you cannot get any fresh air,” he said. The San Domenico House is in a great location. Shopping is 5 minutes away with all the world's most famous stores waiting. Hyde Park and the Thames are also a quick walk, museums, gardens and the Tube are just a few blocks away. 'My concierges know everything. They know all the little tricks and secrets. They are ready to share all they know,” Dessi added.
This summer, London will host the Olympics, the Paralympics and celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. Why not stay at the San Domenico – where you will be at home? Rates begin at 255 pounds ($395) although the hotel offers last minute specials of 20 percent discount if they are not full. The San Domenico House is located at 29-31 Draycott Place Chelsea London SW32 SH. Contact them at www.sandomenicohouse.com or by calling toll free 1-800-324-9960.