Memory Lane… A flip through the pages of Winston Churchill’s travel diary

Little Black Book

Winston Churchill was a man who enjoyed the finer things in life: Cuban cigars, fine dining at the Savoy, Breguet and Rolex watches, and wines from Bordeaux. His famous line “I am a man of simple tastes, easily satisfied with the best”, which he unapologetically borrowed from Oscar Wilde, says it all.

He also loved to travel, and his favorite places to stay were always special, from Marrakech palaces surrounded by citrus groves to fresco-ed villas overlooking picturesque Italian lakes. His journeys took him everywhere- the Ritz in Paris, the Dolder Grand in Zurich, the Belmond Reid’s Palace in Madeira and the list goes on.

To find Churchill in the pages of history, and explore a world of travel inspiration, read on…

Le Royal Monceau, Paris

Looking back

The blood-red awning and lamps adorning Le Royal Monceau’s classic facade is the first hint that this is no ordinary Parisian grande dame. Step into the hotel and this impression is quickly confirmed with spaces that whisper stories from the past, and a guestbook with names that span from Josephine Baker to Walt Disney and Michael Jackson…

Winston Churchill was also a fan, coming here to enjoy downtime between journeys to Moscow and Washington to meet allies. Maybe it was the waterfall of chandeliers in the lobby that he liked, or the artworks (over 350 of them) that line the walls… Of course, it could just as easily have been the well-stocked library, and the positioning of the rooms, many of which enjoy uninterrupted views of the Arc de Triomphe.

The hotel today

Originally opened in 1928, Le Royal Monceau is a hotel that’s only looking better with age. She had help, of course, courtesy of a two-year renovation by French designer Philippe Starck. The rooms and common areas were revamped to give them a contemporary flair- think clean-lined furnishings and whimsical touches like acoustic guitars and hand-picked photography everywhere you look- but the sense of history remains palpable. The result was one of the most sophisticated- and playful- hotels this side of Paris.

La Mamounia, Marrakech

Looking back

“This is a wonderful place, and the hotel one of the best I have ever used”

In a letter to his wife, dated 1935, Winston Churchill couldn’t stop gushing about his stay in Marrakech, and at La Mamounia. In the years that followed- and for the rest of his life- the statesman kept coming back to the city for winter breaks, often staying at the hotel for a month or more.

The reason? Politics aside, Winston Churchill had another fierce passion. He loved painting, and in his own word, the views from the roof of La Mamounia are some of the most ‘painticeous’ around. The location of the hotel, between the city’s arid desert and the imposing Atlas Mountains that surround Marrakech, inspired him to paint some of his finest watercolors.

Churchill also loved strolling the hotel’s gardens, with its picture-perfect white roses, periwinkles, citrus groves and 600-year-old olive trees.

The hotel today

La Mamounia is one of those Oriental palaces that you would not believe exist, had it not been a place where you can check yourself into for a night. For almost a century, it has been Marrakech’s preeminent hotel, located in the heart of the enchanting city,and amid sprawling gardens. Citrus trees, fragrant rose blossoms and ancient olive groves, the gardens have it all, while the hotel itself, with its signature restaurants and world-class spa, is the last word in luxury. Oh and did we mention that there is a Churchill Suite? Just something to think about the next time you’re in Marrakech…

Brown’s Hotel, London

Looking back

Winston Churchill’s famous line “I don’t stay in a hotel. I stay in Brown’s” says it all. The Brown’s Hotel in London was one of the statesman’s favourite places to stay, and we can see why.

For a man so deeply patriotic, the luxuriant Britishness of the hotel, with its wood-clad corners and Staffordshire China, must have felt like home. Back in the day, the hotel was also one of the most beautiful- and aristocratic- in town, with rooms done in restful shades, and furnished with built-in wardrobes and working telephones.

The Brown’s Hotel is also home to the Donovan Bar, the only place where Winston Churchill would forgo his much-loved whisky for a martini made with ice-cold gin. This signature drink is still served in the bar, just the way Churchill liked it.

The hotel today

The hotel where Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book is every bit as distinctive as you would expect it to be. There is history and tradition, of course, (think hand-painted wallpapers, plush velvets and Arabescato marble), but the hotel has been redesigned by Olga Polizzi in her inimitable style to combine its architectural heritage with contemporary flair.

While you’re here, afternoon tea in the English Tea Room is a must. Away from the hubbub of central London, it’s an experience that borders on the spiritual.

The Savoy, London

Looking back

The love affair between Winston Churchill and the Savoy is perhaps his most intense. He loved the chef’s creations at the Savoy Grill, often bringing his cabinet to lunch at table number four. In 1911, he went one step further, founding a political club, which had its fortnightly meetings at the Savoy.

Called the Other Club, members still meet at the hotel, but whether they still have Churchill’s favorite dishes, which included fried sole fillet wrapped in smoked salmon and roast deer stuffed with foie gras, is something you’ll have to be a political mover and shaker to know.

The hotel today

To this day, the Savoy Grill, helmed by Gordon Ramsay, is still one of London’s best restaurants, serving an envy-inducing menu of traditional British and French dishes. The “Churchill’s table” is also still there, so if you’re stopping by for lunch or dinner, do inquire if it’s available, and don’t miss out on the restaurant’s roasted deer served with foie gras and truffle sauce.

The Dolder Grand, Zurich

Looking back

Since it opened in 1899, the Dolder Grand hotel, with its majestic turrets, gallery-quality artworks and seductive spa, has attracted many illustrious guests, and Winston Churchill was not one to stay oblivious to the existence of an excellent hotel with all the frills he loved. He visited, along with Thomas Mann, the Shah of Persia and many other politicians, royalty and heads of states.

Maybe it was the location of the hotel that drew this particular crowd. After all, perched on a hilltop amid riotous woodland, there is no address more exclusive this side of Switzerland. From most rooms, Lake Zurich can be seen sparkling in the distance, while snow-capped mountains serrate the horizon. With his love for painting and beautiful views, we can see why Churchill loved this place, can’t you?

The hotel today

The Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich has always been the stuff of travel dreams, but in the summer of 2004, a four-year renovation turned it into a different beast entirely. The hotel now mixes tradition with innovation- think a fairy tale-like castle building with a 4,000-square-meter spa and a two-Michelin-star restaurant headed by chef Heiko Nieder. The Dolder Grand is also home to a striking collection of artworks (more than 100 of them) by the likes of Andy Warhol, Henry Moore and Salvador Dalí, making it the gallery you never knew Zurich had.

Villa La Massa, Florence

Looking back

Villa La Massa is as classy a hotel as you can expect to find anywhere, so it’s no surprise that Winston Churchill stayed here…and loved it. Perched on the banks of river Arno, this 16th century Medici villa is all about discreet excellence, from its marzipan-hued buildings to its 22-acre garden and overly solicitous staff.

In the rooms, the Renaissance fantasy continues with frescoes on the ceilings and rich brocades everywhere you look. The hotel is a step back in time to the days of da Vinci, Michelangelo and Galileo, and there is nothing quite like it.

The hotel today

For over 400 years, Villa La Massa has been enchanting visitors with its rural setting, and it’s not done yet. Adding to the Florentine-style decor and lashings of old-fashioned luxury are more modern amenities, like the hotel’s two restaurants (one of which overlooks the river) and the Arno spa. Check yourself in for a taste of an original Tuscan atmosphere, and for a chance to follow in the path of Churchill and the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie and Madonna.

Claridge’s, London

Looking back

It’s the hotel where Winston Churchill threw his son’s 21st birthday bash, an all-male affair that started with a sit-down dinner, and ended with prattling in the lounge.

Attendees were the cream of the English aristocracy, and on the menu was Churchill’s favorite roast duck and Pol Roger champagne. Yes, the Claridge’s has history, and a lot of it has to do with Churchill himself. Like that time he declared room 212 a Yugoslavian territory so Crown Prince Alexander II, a refugee of World War II in 1945, could be born on his country’s soil.

The hotel today

The Claridge’s is the London hotel where the rich and famous stay for extended periods of time. The reason? The ravishing dimensions of the rooms and common areas, and the graceful decor of the hotel interiors.

The black-and-white marble floor in the lobby never ceases to amaze, while just beyond, the red pillars of the Reading Room restaurant are weirdly reminiscent of the funnels of an ocean-going liner. If you’re lucky, the corner table where Audrey Hepburn always sat will be available, or you can just make your way to the Fumoir cocktail bar for Cuban cigars and a taste of Claridge’s signature Julep cocktail that mixes champagne, calvados and raspberry preserve in all the right proportions.

Belmond Reid’s Palace, Madeira

Looking back

We end this trip down memory lane with a bang…the hotel where Winston Churchill checked in to write his memoirs in 1950. We can see why he made that choice. The Belmond Reid’s Palace, on the Portuguese island of Madeira, has a warm and bath-able atmosphere to it that almost borders on the flowery.

Maybe it’s the bougainvillea that cascades over the walls, or maybe it’s the terraces that look out over the crystal-blue waters that lap against the cliffs, but there is something picture-perfect about the setting of this Belmond hotel… And to this day, on the eastern side of the harbor, you can see the spot where Churchill set up his easel to paint those cliffs.

The hotel today

Not much has changed about the atmosphere of this European grande dame since Churchill stayed here. She still forgoes glitz and gimmick for a more understated brand of excellence, and we love the rooms done in sober color palettes, and the lounge areas where photographs from the hotel’s past adorn the walls.

While you’re here, a candlelit dinner in a hidden corner of the hotel’s subtropical gardens is a must. Madeira is a nature lover’s paradise, and this might just be one of the best ways to discover that.

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