As with all large cities, your choice of hotel in London will depend greatly on the area in which you wish to stay. For example, do you want to be near Theatreland or the City financial district? Do you prefer the elegant streets of Mayfair or the grand garden squares of Belgravia? On my recent trip, I opted to stay in two contrasting hotels in Chelsea, an area known to foreign visitors for its luxury boutiques and fashionable restaurants, even though it also contains a significant proportion of London’s most enviable residential real estate. In addition, Chelsea enjoys a reputation as an arty district: the famous Chelsea Arts Club was founded in 1891 at the instigation of American painter James McNeill Whistler, while American portraitist John Singer Sargent lived and worked nearby. And even today, Chelsea hosts one of the world’s largest American expatriate communities, with nearly 7 percent of its residents, according to one estimate, being of transatlantic origin.
Part of the eastern boundary of Chelsea is defined by Sloane Street, a straight, north-south thoroughfare that runs from Knightsbridge to Sloane Square. The Cadogan hotel is located approximately halfway down. Being on the western side of the road, it is in Chelsea; were it across the street, it would be in Belgravia. In a way, this matters, because Belgravia is grand and rather staid, home to enormous mansions and important foreign embassies, whereas Chelsea is colorful and raffish. Fortunately, the personality of the hotel and its address are pleasingly in sync. The Cadogan was constructed in 1887 and has long been known as a place where Oscar Wilde was arrested — in Room 118 — during a time when same-sex relations were illegal, and as the residence of Lillie Langtry, the celebrated actress and mistress of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII.
Having been shuttered for five years, The Cadogan reopened in February 2019, following a $43 million refurbishment. In its new incarnation, it is part of the Belmond group, which itself is now owned by LVMH, the French luxury goods behemoth. Strangely, Belmond had lacked a London hotel, despite its ownership of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, an Andrew Harper recommended property near Oxford, as well as the luxury trains the Royal Scotsman and the British Pullman. Belmond is only the management company of The Cadogan, however, as the hotel remains part of the Cadogan Estate, owned by billionaire landowner Earl Cadogan. It is one of the most extraordinary facts about London that a sizable chunk of it belongs to just two people. As the city expanded during the 18th and 19th centuries, it did so onto the private estates of the Cadogan and Grosvenor families. Sensibly, they granted only leases and retained the freehold, which has meant that most of Mayfair and Belgravia is still owned by Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, while nearly all of Kensington and Chelsea is the property of Earl Cadogan.