Emma Newlands finds there’s more to Kingston upon Thames than the riverside and good shops
I have had a soft spot for Kingston upon Thames, located about half an hour from central London by train, since friends moved to the affluent market town a few years ago, and I’ve stayed with them regularly ever since.
Consequently I’m well-versed in its leafy, riverside location and excellent shopping, although I’m embarrassed to say my knowledge of its history, including its role as the birth of England, is much newer to me.
It’s where Athelstan, the first king of England, was crowned in 925AD, he united Saxons and defeated Vikings, leading to the creation of the Kingdom of England.
Kingston’s Royal Charter was first granted in 1200, with the town, whose name means “royal manor”, prospering due to its Thames-side location.
On a much less historically significant note, I’m pleased to embark on my maiden hotel stay in the town, at the new DoubleTree that opened in March.
It’s about a five minute walk from Kingston train station, tucked away from the thoroughfare, between the Thames and the Bentall Centre shopping mall.
The first thing that strikes me about the hotel is the white, boxy exterior, tying in with its “industrial chic” design theme, but once inside I discover a warmer look, with angular-but-comfy chairs in greys and teals, wooden tables, copper light fittings and a small library-type area containing information about the Royal Borough.
The decor draws on both the town’s aviation heritage – paying homage to local son Harry Hawker, whose aviation company designed the famous Hawker Harrier Jump Jet – and the Art Deco movement.
After collecting the trademark DoubleTree cookie, I head up to my room, one of 146 in the hotel.
It’s decorated mainly in earthy browns, blues and slate greys, with floor-to-ceiling windows leading to the private balcony, one of several at the front of the building which form a “point” resembling the bow of a ship.
Given the room’s corner location, there isn’t a huge amount of space, but it’s still a decent size and its layout lends it a homely feel. The carpet looks to the naked eye like simply a nice pattern but it’s been hand-designed featuring geometries and colours to depict an aerial view of Kingston itself.
As for making use of the amenities, after a day of travelling to London the walk-in shower is calling my name.
The sizeable bathroom is kitted out in grey tiling, with Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries. After emerging refreshed, I order room service and choose a steak from head chef Darren Edwards’ menu. Service is prompt and the steak is plump with a pink centre though slightly chewy, which I suspect is due to the cut rather than the cooking, I also try a G&T featuring local spirit Beckett’s Gin.
After a coma-like night’s sleep in the cocoon of the huge bed, I make a beeline for the breakfast buffet in the Hawkers Bar & Brasserie. I’m able to grab some cereal, and pancakes with maple syrup, and also on offer are crumpets, in my view an all-too-rare feature of hotel buffet breakfasts.
I then head back to my room and unfortunately have some emailing to catch up on, so I sit at the small table where I had dinner. There’s also a desk facing the wall but I prefer looking out of the window as I type.
And in an all-too-familiar tale of hope triumphing over experience, I run out of time to use the gym, but do have a peek, and it looks to have a good range of modern equipment.
It’s then time to head off to meet my friend in Kingston. It’s a treat to be just a few minutes’ from its compact but high-calibre range of shops like the enormous John Lewis, high-end boutiques for window-shopping plus more “economical” options where I actually buy things, and food stalls.
Hampton Court Palace, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and Wimbledon are all within easy reach, and it also benefits from London being close enough to enjoy in short bursts (and in my case getting shorter the older I get) but not tire of. I also file the hotel away as a place to pop in for coffee if I want to escape the hustle and bustle of Kingston’s often-busy streets.
While there is some irony in many hotel chains using similar techniques to lend their properties a local feel, this has enough modern but comfortable style with subtle but noticeable character to warrant a return visit.
Fact box DoubleTree by Hilton London Kingston Upon Thames, tel: 0203 096 0099 (rooms can be booked at doubletree3.hilton.com). Double bedrooms start from £109 per night with breakfast, based on two people sharing.