London Lodgings That Are Long on Hospitality for Women Guests
“London,” wrote Ford Madox Ford, “is before all things an incomparable background; it is always in the right note, it is never out of tone.” That may be, but looking for a nice, reasonably priced place to stay in the English capital puts me in a sour mood. I’ve tried budget hostelries in Bloomsbury, University of London dormitories, suburban B&Bs; and airline packages that included rooms in big, utterly toneless tourist hotels.
So when I noticed a section in the “Time Out Guide to London” on accommodations for women only, I was intrigued, because I’ve stayed in YWCA hotels in other cities and liked them. Lodgings for women tend to be cozy, safe and welcoming, especially if you’re traveling alone. They can also be quiet havens for businesswomen with full schedules, work to do and no desire for distractions.
In January I happened to be in London, which gave me the chance to look at the women-only accommodations “Time Out” mentions. I should warn you at the outset not to seek the Elizabeth House YWCA on Warwick Way, because it changed hands two years ago and is now privately owned. But after that, I had better luck. Here is what I found:
* The Basil Street Hotel in Knightsbridge. My sister gets the credit for finding this 93-room gem built in 1910 of brick and stone, around the corner from Harrods. To be perfectly frank, it isn’t cheap or for women only. But it is particularly well suited to women travelers because it shares quarters with the Parrot Club, one of London’s only clubs for women (where membership costs about $125 a year and includes a 15% discount on accommodations, a newsletter called “Parrot Chatter” and powder room facilities with irons and baths for evening-out preparations). There’s a doorman at the entrance and a small lobby yielding to the club and genteel second-floor parlors for afternoon tea, sherry-sipping, reading and entertaining.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a member to book a room at the Basil Street Hotel, where lovely, large doubles and singles with private baths cost $223 to $330 and shared-bath rooms range from $134 to $214. If you think that sounds pricey, consider the advantages of staying in a place where the staff makes an effort to get to know you, picks up your dry-cleaning and on a rainy day won’t let you out the front door without an umbrella. But book early, especially during the Chelsea Flower Show and sales at Harrods.
* The University Women’s Club in Mayfair. London’s other women’s club, predating the Parrot by almost a century, was founded in 1886 and now occupies a comely Victorian building in the heart of distinguished Mayfair. The atmosphere inside is refined and slightly serious, with small groups of women in the library or drawing room who look like they’re discussing Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. There is a dining room, a charming patio and 24 neat, comfortable bedrooms upstairs priced from $124 to $193 with private bath, or $77 to $116 without. But to stay here you must be a member. Business and professional women are welcome to apply, with annual fees for overseas members priced at $352 (lower for students and recent graduates). You also can use the facilities if you’re a member of a reciprocal club in the U.S., including the UC Berkeley and Stanford faculty clubs, the Women’s National Republican Club, the Mount Holyoke Club and the Seven Sisters Conference.
* Queen Alexandra’s House in Kensington Gore. If you’re planning on attending a concert at Royal Albert Hall, you couldn’t ask for a more convenient place to stay than Queen Alexandra’s House, which occupies a large Victorian structure just behind the auditorium. During the academic year, it houses female students enrolled in nearby schools, such as the Royal College of Art. But in July and August, women travelers can book single rooms with shared baths for $45 a night or $223 a week (if you’re staying two weeks or more) on a bed-and-breakfast basis. The basic, dormitory-style accommodations (with kitchens, laundry facilities, telephones and a TV lounge) are not for the fussy, and the nearest tube station, at Gloucester Road, is a 15-minute walk away. But for music lovers, the location will strike a major chord.
* London Diocesan GFS Lodge and Townsend House. These two lodges (near Victoria Station and in South Kensington respectively) are run by the Girls Friendly Society, an Anglican charitable organization that supports young women, particularly in the area of housing. As such, they’re suitable for young women of limited means who are in London for more than a few days or trying to get started living in the city. The handsome brick Diocesan Lodge has room for 63 people, ages 19 to 35, staying three months to two years in doubles ($113 to $125 a week) and singles ($106 to $119), with shared baths and a communal kitchen. (There’s a waiting list, so those interested should start the application process as soon as possible.) The facilities at Townsend House are similar, though it also has five twin rooms with shared baths rented to women of any age for $29 a night on a bed-and-breakfast basis (singles might have to share with other guests).
The Basil Street Hotel, Basil Street, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1AH; telephone 011-44-171-581- 3311, fax 011-44-171-581-3693, e-mail TheBasil@aol.com.
The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, S. Audley St., London W1Y 6DB; tel. 011-44-171- 499-6478, fax 011-44-171-499- 7046.
Queen Alexandra’s House, Kensington Gore, Bremner Road, London SW7 2QT; tel. 011-44-171-589- 1120, fax 011-44-171-589-3177.
London Diocesan GFS Lodge, 29 Francis St., London SW1P 1QL; tel. 011-44-171-834-9913.
Townsend House, 126 Queen’s Gate, London SW7 5LQ; tel. 011- 44-171-589-9628.