Traces of history seep through the venerable walls of the Old War Office in Whitehall, London – once the bustling epicenter of Winston Churchill’s strategic endeavors. This Grade II listed Edwardian Baroque marvel, situated on the historic grounds of the Palace of Whitehall and a mere stone’s throw from Downing Street, has undergone an intricate eight-year metamorphosis.
It now stands as an embodiment of mystique and opulence, playing host to Raffles London, the inaugural European outpost of the renowned Singaporean luxury brand. Fiona Harris, Communications Director at Raffles London, elucidates, “It’s the enchanting fusion: the edifice, the locale, and the prestigious name, Raffles.”
The inauguration of this upscale haven marks a significant milestone for the Raffles brand, paying homage to Sir Stamford Raffles, the British luminary behind the foundation of modern Singapore.
The Hinduja Group, the current custodian of this architectural gem, secured a 250-year lease from the Ministry of Defense in 2016, tracing its roots back to a trading enterprise in colonial India in 1914, evolving into a global conglomerate.
Embark on a virtual tour of the £1.4 billion (.7 billion) metamorphosis as CNBC Travel delves into its century-long evolution from the nerve center of the British Empire to a luxurious sanctuary for global visitors.
Constructed for the British Army between 1899 and 1906, the expansive OWO building once accommodated over 2,500 personnel within its 1,100 rooms and labyrinthine two-and-a-half-mile corridors. Architects spearheaded a meticulous restoration, breathing life back into the structure’s original features.
The grandiose lobby now boasts an imperial staircase crafted from Italian marble and a double-tier chandelier, paying homage to its past as the birthplace of the British Secret Service and the muse for Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. The first floor retains the balcony where Churchill addressed his staff, leading to the former offices of influential figures like David Lloyd George and Lord Kitchener.
The legacy of the building is immortalized in rooms such as the Churchill Suite, redesigned by the late Thierry Despont, known for restoring the Statue of Liberty and reimagining Manhattan’s 220 Central Park South.
The hotel encompasses 120 suites and rooms, including five heritage suites within the former offices of political and military luminaries, and eight corner suites named after prominent women and female spies.
Beneath the surface, a three-floor excavation expands the building’s footprint by over a third, resulting in an 800,000-square-foot expanse. This subterranean realm hosts a ballroom, a 65-foot swimming pool, and a Guerlain spa. Nine new restaurants, curated by acclaimed chefs with multiple Michelin stars, including three by Argentina’s Mauro Colagreco, elevate the hotel’s status as a culinary hub. Simultaneously, three new bars narrate the building’s rich history and strategic location.
The Guards Bar and Lounge offers a vantage point for witnessing the renowned changing of the guard ceremony while indulging in a London Sling, a gin and cherry concoction inspired by its Singaporean namesake. For those seeking discretion, the subterranean spy bar, housed in a former interrogation room, pays homage to the clandestine world of espionage.
A stay at Raffles London comes with a considerable price tag. A night in a classic room costs around £1,100 ($1,340), while the five most exclusive suites range from £18,000 to £25,000 per night. For those desiring perpetual residency, Raffles offers 85 OWO residences, with approximately half already spoken for by buyers from the U.S., China, and the Middle East. The opulent five-bedroom penthouse, priced at £100 million, remains available for acquisition.
Gopichand Hinduja, Chairman of the Hinduja Group and owner of OWO emphasizes the enduring allure of Britain as a luxury travel destination. “We don’t think in the short term,” Hinduja asserts, highlighting the long-term appeal of the U.K. for both leisure and business travelers. He describes The OWO building as a unique sanctuary, transformed into a haven of peace and solace, a testament to its status as a distinguished destination