The great statesman's wartime HQ is now London's hottest hotel.
If only I had packed an evening gown. One of those numbers with a train that sweeps out behind it. That's my first thought when I step through the front doors of Raffles London at The OWO and come face to face with one of the grandest split staircases I have ever seen. Made of marble with alabaster spindles, lined with a plush carpet and overlooked an arched colonnade, it seems expressly designed for making an entrance. But this spectacular staircase also has an extraordinary history, which I am about to find out.
Checking in at London's newest luxury hotel, I am expecting sumptuous rooms, stellar service and exquisite dining, all of which are duly delivered.
But when you stay at this hotel - or even if you just pop in for a drink or a coffee - you also get the chance to dive deep into the history of a genuine London landmark: the Old War Office, the place from where Churchill and his generals directed the course of World War II.
It is thrilling to learn that the desk where I sit to check my emails was once used by Churchill himself.
Sitting proudly on the site of the ancient Whitehall Palace, directly across from the Horse Guards Parade, the building - completed in 1906 and freshly restored by the Hinduja family, who invested eight years and one billion pounds in the task - is full of stories. They start at the stairs.
Ordinary servicemen were only permitted to use the grand staircase when they were called upstairs for an appointment.
"They said that you were only summoned for a promotion or a court-martial," explains the hotel's concierge and historian Emiel Danneels. "Before going upstairs they would rub the head of the lion for luck," he says, pointing to one of a pair of lions carved into the newel posts, whose face looks a little worn.
Danneels' history tour - offered daily for guests, and 10 times a year for the public - includes tales about characters including Lawrence of Arabia; Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond; and, of course, Winston Churchill, who served here three separate times - as First Lord of the Admiralty, as Secretary of State for War and as Prime Minister during World War II.
Churchill even makes his presence felt in my suite. The extraordinary Haldane Suite - one of the heritage suites which were formerly the offices of the senior staff - spans 250 square metres and has no fewer than five rooms including a dressing room and a kitchenette. I spend ages absorbing all the details, from the magnificent oak panelling to the ornate fireplaces (all three of them!). It is thrilling to learn that the desk where I sit to check my emails was once used by Churchill himself.
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Only those with deep pockets will be able to stay here (rooms start at £1100 - or $2100) but there are plenty of other ways to experience the hotel. There is a smorgasbord of sumptuous restaurants (including the outstanding Mauro by renowned Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco) or you can enjoy a coffee in the Drawing Room or try something from the creative cocktail menu in the Guards Bar, and drink in the atmosphere of this special place.
Dates for public tours of the hotel will be posted on the Raffles website early next year, see raffles.com/london