An Architectural RenaissancePosted by in Sustainable Travel Journal - 8 November 2011
My train bends serpentine into St. Pancras and I am intoxicated by the familiar homecoming cocktail of awe, comfort and ennui. Stepping into the newly refurbished international terminal, that sense of awe is temporarily heightened to the detriment of those other, more mundane emotions. As the gateway to London from the continent, St. Pancras railway station puts the dreary peripheral airports to shame, so arriving here is well worth the extra travelling time.
These days, the notion of a transport portal being anything more than a necessary but insignificant part of our travels seems widespread, yet we’re often told it’s all about the journey. My impending stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance hotel seems all the more magical because I’ll finally get to live the reality of that vague but overused cliché.
Railway stations have historically been “our gates to the glorious and unknown”, as E.M. Forster once wrote. The hotel, first opened in 1873, was surely built in this spirit of adventure. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the project symbolised with gothic grandeur the sanguinity of the age.
Surrounded by this movingly restored splendour, we ascend one floor from the Eurostar platform in a glass lift and walk straight through the old Booking Office, now a stylish bar and restaurant buzzing with locals and visitors alike. At reception I am distracted by the stunning attention to detail of both the restored, original features and the unique modern touches. The staff are welcoming and friendly, with endless patience for their entranced new arrivals.
Although not in the original Chambers section of the hotel, ours was a club room in the converted Barlow train-sheds. I was not disappointed for long – the room was magnificent. Dominating the space was an original ecclesiastical window overlooking the concourse and providing an odd frame for the futuristically streamlined noses of the Eurostar trains that arrive keenly and protracted, like greyhounds in the traps. No expense has been spared in this restoration, even down to the decor and furnishings, which manage to stay true to their era whilst exuding an unmistakably contemporary extravagance.
The St. Pancras Renaissance is a dream come true for trainspotters and architecture fans alike, but its charm reaches many more than the already converted. Indeed, this hotel will make an impression on anyone looking for luxury and inimitability at the heart of London’s international hub.
As my sense of awe began to subside I was left with another of those feelings with which this adventure started: comfort. This magnificent building is a reassuring homage to a time past, an epoch of optimism about human triumph over environment. Spending time inside brings that optimism to life and I was allowed to temporarily forget the familiar pangs of modern guilt. Here in the centre of London, amid the chaos of King’s Cross, is an unlikely sanctuary that delivers an elusive brand of escapism other hotels can only dream of.
Train from Berlin to Brussels (€31.50 pp each way with Bahn Card 25), then Eurostar to London (£29 pp concessionary rate).
See also my St. Pancras Renaissance photo blog.