Live Like A British Socialite At This 135-Year-Old London Hotel

From courtly butlers to opulent afternoon teas and garden picnics, the British know how to show themselves a good time. To experience this and more, look no further than this glamorous London retreat.

The Cadogan, A Belmond Hotel

The Cadogan first opened as a hotel at 75 Sloane Street in 1887. Today, it is The Cadogan, a Belmond Hotel, part of the upscale Belmond hotel group that also includes such hospitality icons as El Encanto in Santa Barbara, Splendido and Splendido Mare in Portofino, and La Residencia in Mallorca.

Anyone who has ever pictured themselves playing the part of an alluring socialite in a real-life British costume drama will feel right at home at The Cadogan, where doormen wear top hats and checkered coats, while bathtubs have reading stands and headrests.

Chic Chelsea location

Chelsea is one of London’s most affluent neighborhoods, its streets lined with bougie cafés, designer boutiques and supercars. In the Middle Ages, Chelsea was a tiny village but, by the 16th and 17th centuries, it had become a fashionable place for wealthy people to live—and has remained so ever since. In 1536, Henry VIII built a manor house in Chelsea, granted to Catherine Parr (better known as the wife who outlived him) upon his death.

Later, Chelsea became popular with the London intelligentsia, with the likes of Oscar Wilde, George Eliot and Henry James all making their homes here in the 19th century.

Lillie Langtry: socialite, actress and beauty

Apart from the chic location, what enthusiasts of all things British will probably find most appealing is the rich history of the hotel itself.

Lillie Langtry was a celebrated actress and urbane sophisticate in late 19th-century London, who wasn’t ashamed to use her looks to climb the social ladder. She had frequent flirtations and affairs with London’s elite, not least with the then Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, as well as the Earl of Shrewsbury and Prince Louis of Battenberg.

Her lodgings continue to make up part of the modern-day hotel, including a private entrance still used by some of its guests, as well as an original staircase and mosaic floor.

An ultra-discreet home from home in one of London’s most refined districts, the hotel echoes the same rip-roaring spirit as the legendary parties Lillie used to host within its walls. To honor Lillie and her love of entertaining, The Cadogan recently unveiled a new restaurant, named The LaLee, with a menu that pays homage to the cuisines she loved most during her epic travels around the European continent—from oysters and caviar, to beef tartare and the show-stopping Viennese-style schnitzel.

The arrest of Oscar Wilde

The Cadogan’s most famous long-standing guest was probably the Irish poet, playwright, darling of Victorian London society and notable wit, Oscar Wilde. He is best remembered for his plays, his ethereal novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and his conviction for homosexuality and subsequent imprisonment. Wilde served two years in prison and spent the last years of his life in exile, before dying in a Paris hotel aged only 46.

Before that, Wilde was a frequent guest at The Cadogan, usually staying in room 118, which is now part of the Royal Suite. This was also the scene of his arrest on April 6, 1895, on the charge of gross indecency, brought about by his relationship with the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1937, the British poet Sir John Betjeman commemorated the dramatic event in his nine stanza poem, “The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan”.

The Cadogan today

The people from Belmond know how to do hotels and The Cadogan is no exception. A good deal quieter now than in the days of Langtry or Wilde, the hotel continues to provide a refuge for its sophisticated visitors, who can enjoy afternoon tea in the beautiful Maison Lounge or take advantage of the hotel’s exclusive access to Cadogan Place Gardens for playing tennis and having picnics.

In the mornings, The LaLee transforms into the perfect spot to enjoy a traditional English fry-up, while reading the morning papers and forgetting the world outside. Because, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.”