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A Corner of History: The Milestone Hotel

Put a staycation at The Milestone Hotel, London, on your post-COVID bucket list. 

The Milestone Hotel, Kensington

Nothing speaks to the soul like an old space. At The Milestone Hotel and Residences, the walls hum with a century-and-a-half of aristocracy, scandal and fine living. 

Our concierge, Pedro, has worked here for 20 years. “I’m part of the furniture now!” He is taking us on a tour of this unique, five-star, Grade II listed hotel in Kensington Court, overlooking the royal Kensington Gardens.

Originally built as a residential home in 1884, the place still buzzes with a riot of personality. We marvel at the silk-lined walls hung with countless original artworks: vibrant paintings of horse racing by Elie Lambert; eccentric pieces by French caricaturist Sems; and delicate screen prints of Ming dynasty vases and oriental fans.

Coming here feels like visiting a quirky eclectic collector friend, whose tastes lean towards Art Deco, vintage and travels in the East. The drawing room, where we enjoy high tea by the open fireplace, welcomes us with plush velvet green sofas, dark mahogany wood and a library filled with tomes from authors such as Voltaire and Tennyson.

The Venetian Suite at The Milestone

Of the 44 rooms, 12 suites and six residences, each is decorated differently: the Meghan suite, finished in black-and-white marble and very spacious; the jewel-toned Hermes suite with its high ceiling, striking brass bed and personal collection of Hermes scarves hung on the walls; and the black-and-gold Ruhlmann suite, inspired by the master of Art Deco Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann.

Original gargoyles on the façade 

And the hotel itself is steeped in a colourful history. The original four-storey residence was Kensington House, built in 1689 and occupied by a commissioner under King William III. His son, Arthur Onslow, was a speaker at the House of Commons for three decades and he sublet the property to George Davenport, an officer in the Royal Bodyguard. Kensington House then passed to Lady Susan Belasyse, the mistress of King James II, and then to Count Peter Grigorevich Chernyshev, a Russian ambassador in London. Kensington House was later used as an academy for young gentlemen; a Jesuit school, run by Prince Charles Victor de Broglio; and then as an elite lunatic asylum.

In the 1880s, the old building was demolished and two new houses erected, which is where The Milestone Hotel is housed today. It became the home of diplomats and authors. The last owner to live in the property was Baron Redesdale, after which the home passed into use as a hotel in 1922. While it was badly damaged by fire in 1986, it was restored in the late 1990s by its current owner.

The Stables Bar at The Milestone

Today, the location has got to be one of the best spots in London. A five-minute stroll from Royal Albert Hall and 15 minutes from London’s most famous museums, the hotel overlooks Hyde Park and Kensington Palace.

At breakfast, we are seduced by the freshly baked walnut and raisin ‘Cape Seed bread’, a brown loaf with just the right balance of sweetness and crunch. I remember it from the afternoon tea where it was served as a moist crustless sandwich stuffed with silky smoked salmon. The waitress advises that it is the personal recipe of Beatrice Tollman, president and founder of The Milestone Hotel’s parent company: Red Carnation Hotels. Beatrice and her husband Stanley made their first foray into hospitality 65 years ago in Johannesburg and are still integral to the business today.

Beatrice's famous seed loaf on the breakfast buffet

Her touch and good taste is ubiquitous. We are staying in one of the Garden Residences, a home-from-home duplex apartment with everything you could want and more, including a sunlit terrace to have breakfast. On the coffee table is the cookbook and memoir Beatrice personally authored, in which she describes her life through food experiences, including personal family recipes and relishing memories of special meals with her husband Stanley and their four children. 

Her daughter, Vicki Tollman, who is based in Red Carnation’s head office, says family values have been strongly adhered to. “My mother is our greatest inspiration and her influence is everywhere, from her delicious signature cuisine to the individually decorated bedrooms,” she says. “And it’s not just my mother. Red Carnation Hotels is so named because my father has worn a miniature red carnation in his lapel since he was 21 and now all our team members wear a red carnation too.”

Vicki’s sister Toni leads the interior design and her brother Brett is also involved in the day-to-day running of the group.

“So, it is a true family-run business, and this is what I think keeps our guests coming back; that we really care about each and every guest experience.”