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Sightseeing gets in the way of a good holiday, doesn’t it? One summer in Paris, I dreamt of leisurely strolls round the Latin Quarter, serene gallery tours, the Seine’s breeze ruffling my hair. In reality, after a packed 12-hour day, I hobbled back to my hotel room, blisters oozing from pavement-pounding, and ribs aching from a run-in with a selfie stick at the Mona Lisa. My hair? So tousled by grody Metro gusts that even the 13-minute refreshment window I had carefully allotted before dinner couldn’t tame it.
I jest. Sort of.
A serial sightseer, I’ve done the rounds in New York, Tokyo, Sydney, et al. I’ve taken in the culture, been to the hot restaurants, shopped the picturesque neighbourhoods. And I’ve enjoyed it immensely. But in the FOMO-driven rush to hit the classic highlights, see the trendy new openings, rise at dawn to Instagram a cheesecake in SoHo, can I truly say it was always a holiday?
The depressing, Covid-induced collapse of overseas travel has given us one thing: the chance to holiday in our home city and just do nothing. No anxious box-ticking; no unrealised dreams. Take that in for a moment. It’s more meaningful, even meditative, than you might think.
When you’re on a city staycation, there’s no sightseeing agenda because, wait for it: you can see the stuff any time. So you’re free to make the focus a great hotel room, perfect for socially distanced relaxation, and treat numero uno with a care that’s hard to maintain when you’re trying to fit the whole of LA into a four-day "trip of a lifetime".
Savour the thread count of the sheets; sink the full depth into the cavernous bathtub; visit the stupidly over-teched, chronically under-used hotel gym (these days, sanitised to the nth degree). Appreciate the fact that in getting here your carbon footprint was basically zilch. Sure, go out, to mooch aimlessly about a swish central neighbourhood you (probably) could never afford to live in, pretending you do. Or don’t – literally sit and watch Come Dine With Me reruns in a fluffy, over-sized robe all afternoon. You’re in charge, not the guidebook. Goodbye, FOMO.
And a city staycation is relaxing in a way that, after months of lockdown, being at home is not. In my own city, London, I checked into the Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill, minutes from Oxford Street on verdant Portman Square. It drips with regal elegance: art-lined lobby, roaring fires, terraced bar with a cigar menu. I spent several happy moments soaking up this loveliness, then promptly retired to my room for an afternoon of doing absolutely nothing.
I painted my nails, put on a sheet mask, read my book, watched TV – all without the guilty burden of my flat’s tome-like to-do list. Not once, sprawled across the duvet, did I experience the niggling feeling I should be doing something productive, like scrubbing shower grout or proving sourdough. The recent months’ spotlighting of the inadequacies of home, from my long-suffering windowsill plant to the clunky "home office" chair in my lounge, fell away and I, quite simply, was.
It’s with immense pride that I can say after my 3pm arrival, I only just made it down in time for 8pm drinks and dinner. The bar, The Churchill, is excellent, and, despite the overt Winston theme, after a couple of fizzy clementine champagne cocktails I fancied, with rosy-cheeked delight, I could just as well be on a proper holiday in Rome or Chicago, or some other city with great bars. The joyful moment was eclipsed only by next morning’s breakfast in bed – delivered by socially distanced trolley left outside my room. I relished the oozy eggs on toast and especially the leafy view which, thank-the-heavens, was for once not into my neighbour’s garden.
In pre-Covid times, my standard room at the Hyatt costs about £300; punchy, but this is Marylebone. Now, with the tragic state of inbound tourism – like many large city hotels, the Hyatt is running near-empty – it comes at a steal. A Discover Marylebone package for two buys a private transfer from the tube, breakfast in bed, a G&T each, private tour around the modern Thompson gallery (with champagne), and either a cooking class or a picnic (with wine) in the private Portman Square across from the hotel. All for just £315 for a standard double.
Plenty of other hotels are selling staycation-inspired packages. Manchester’s King Street Townhouse has a City Escape with room upgrade, fizz and canapes, two-course dinner (in-room if preferred) and breakfast from £288 for two. Hot and bothered at the thought of a jaunt to Bethnal Green? Mama Shelter’s two-night "Sex-cation" package for £198 includes not just bubbles on arrival and restaurant credit, but lube and vibrator, X-rated movies and late-check-out.
Room-only rates have dropped, too, opening doors to splurge-y hotels with ace facilities sorted for social distancing, from spas to members clubs. London’s The Ned, which comes with pool, gym and members bar access, has dropped December lead-in rates by £30. Or, depending on your budget, lower rates may be an excuse to trade up a room category – Edinburgh’s bling The Balmoral is offering 15 per cent off, for example, so a Deluxe now costs nearly what a smaller Executive did pre-Covid, £242.
After the Hyatt staff graciously obliged my first, and then my second, extended late check-out request ("we are so quiet, madam can stay as long as she’d like"), I did finally get out. Did I sightsee? Well, I window-shopped along Marylebone High Street; casually dipped intothe Wallace Collection; bought treats at my "local" corner shop (Selfridges Foodhall, no less).
And as I finally headed back towards my less swish corner of London – back to reality, back to my to-do list – I found, for the first time in months, I was actually looking forward to being at home. And what greater gift of a city staycation could there be than that?