THE LONDON NEIGHBOURHOOD of Knightsbridge was back in the day a quiet hamlet abutting Hyde Park, located between the centre of London and the more developed precincts of Kensington and Chelsea.
It wasn't until the 19th century that the district turned into a posh residential area and then a shopping destination, famous for its exorbitant real-estate prices, and home to department stores such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols, and hotels such as The Berkeley.
Although Knightsbridge has long attracted the wealthy, it more recently epitomises London's transformation into a bolt hole for jet-setting oligarchs and tycoons. While nearby Mayfair is the epicentre of Londongrad, with Russian billionaires roaming its streets, Knightsbridge is slowly turning into a tiny emirate, with Ferraris bearing Arab licence plates idling on its back streets and swanky restaurants offering haute versions of Middle Eastern fare tucked behind chic boutiques.
A relative newcomer to the neighbourhood is the third outpost of Bulgari Hotels and Resorts, the Italian jeweller's hospitality arm in association with Marriott International's Luxury Group, which already boasts properties in Milan and Bali. Housed in a brand-new building designed by Antonio Citterio, Patricia Viel and Partners, with Squire and Partners as the local architects, the hotel opened to much fanfare in 2012, with a glamorous bash attended by guests such as Isabella Rossellini, Rosamund Pike and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
If you're after traditional British hospitality, interiors reminiscent of a country manor and dainty scones served during afternoon tea, you'd better look elsewhere, because Bulgari Hotel & Residences London (the edifice also features six residences and two penthouses that were snapped up before the property even opened its doors) is all about sleek surfaces, contemporary interiors and informal – albeit impeccable – service.
With a very international staff and an equally international clientele, the hotel is a reflection of modernday London, where one-percenters from rising economies mingle with royalty and celebrities in these palaces of privilege specifically built to attract this new breed of luxury lovers. What they're looking for is contemporary opulence with none of the old-fashioned bells and whistles often found in traditional establishments.
The property's design, with its monochromatic hues and silver theme – a nod towads Bulgari's heritage as a silversmith and London's manufacturing history – relies on a few recurring elements such as black granite floors, mahogany walls and veined marbles. Those accustomed to the bold colour combinations and preponderance of gold in Bulgari's lavish jewels will be surprised to discover a subtle palette and a spare use of decorations, which, however, will be familiar to the travellers who have sojourned at the brand's properties in Bali and Milan.
Although the London hotel lacks the urban Zen vibe of its Milan counterpart, which features a lovely garden and courtyard and is located in a cul de sac a short walk from the city's main shopping street, it makes up for it with a tranquil spa and pool, which offer respite from London's grit. The 25-metre-long swimming pool and the smaller vitality pool, tiled in yellow gold-leaf mosaic, are the best places to start – and end – a day of sightseeing, with nary a noise to disturb the serene surrounds, except for the lovely and soothing rivulets of flowing water. The spa is obviously what you'd expect from a place of this calibre, with a wide array of treatments and access to the Bodyism Fitness Suite and Programmes, engineered by fitness guru James Duigan, a favourite of celebrities such as Elle Macpherson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Hugh Grant.
Even if you're loyal to London's old-world five-star hotels and would rather stick to a tried-andtested classic than venture into new territory, the people-watching at the Bulgari London, where you're likely to spot a celebrity or a Saudi princess with bodyguards in tow at breakfast time, is reason enough to stay there. You'll definitely get a front-row seat to a new class of global citizen for whom an overnight shopping expedition to Knightsbridge is a monthly occurrence. The powers that be at Bulgari clearly understand the importance of this newly minted, high-end consumer, given that the brand's next two hotels will open in Shanghai and Dubai, two shiny metropolises that are redefining what luxury means in the 21st century.