Ranulph Fiennes attempted the North Pole with frostbite. Bear Grylls battled icebergs and gale-force winds on an expedition across the north Atlantic. Now we are going where no explorer has yet dared to venture: South Kensington with a six-year-old.
OK, so as expeditions go, it’s more… bijou than bivouac. But 100 Queen’s Gate (a Hilton Curio hotel concealed inside one of those pristine wedding-cake townhouses that Victorian London did so well) has recently launched a Little Explorers package for families. Book it and you get a second night on the house, plus a promise to “provide the adventurers of tomorrow with everything they need to explore the curiosities of the local area”.
With the half-term holiday looming, this seems an opportunity worth, er… exploring. But how much of London can one really explore in these adventure-quashing, handwashing times? Day One: we arrive at base camp in the dead of night (8pm, well past some of our bed times). A reconnaissance mission reveals its location as uniquely optimal. We are a seven-minute stroll (sorry, trek) from the city’s best museums for children, meaning we will not require the transportation method known to natives as “the Tube” (and reputed to be carrying dangerous germs) at all during our weekend-end break (sorry, expedition).
Day Two: we wake to explore… the hotel. Originally home to Victorian aristo-traveller William Alexander, 100 Queen’s Gate opened last spring after a costly, two-year sprucing. The decor is charming – glass cupboards display curios such as medical tools and magnifying glasses. There is an aura of vintage derring-do about the place.
The concierge (sorry, sherpa) hands the six-year-old an “adventure backpack”. Inside are a pocket microscope, an aluminium drinking bottle and a T-Rex construction kit supplied by the Natural History Museum. The backpack is pleasingly unpink (hotel gifts for kids are often shockingly stereotyped). I think Fiennes would approve.
However, my plan to instill grit and resilience in the youngest expedition member is foiled when (as is standard practice for those booking the Little Explorers package) we are upgraded from a two-bedroom family room to an interconnecting suite. As she bounces gleefully in her own bedroom, leading to the lounge of our duplex, I decide that it is probably a good thing that there is no sign of the new range of children’s toiletries that had been promised.
The UHT milk supplied for our tea is also several months out of date, recalling authentic base-camp experiences. Plus, there are long scratches on the wall leading up to our mezzanine master bedroom and on the surface of its Velux windows, raising the tantalising possibility of polar bears roaming the royal borough.
Having screwed up the Natural History Museum (attempting to book four days ahead and finding all tickets taken), we headed straight to the Science Museum.
Booking aside, it is almost unaffected by the pandemic. The WonderLab remains one of the city’s best attractions for children, packed with interactive exhibitions and exciting demonstrations. Finally, we peel the smallest away with a promise to design our own ice-cream sundae in the museum’s Shake Bar, then journey down Exhibition Road to our pre-booked slot at the V&A’s Inside the Kimono exhibition.
Inside, we are transported to Kyoto, meaning we have effectively traversed the globe in just five minutes. Take that Phileas Fogg.
Day three: ominous weather forecast. Fiennes may have braved temperatures of minus 40, but has he ever persuaded a six-year-old to walk 20 minutes through Hyde Park in light drizzle? Challenge bravely met, we make one final foray into the Science Museum then plant our flag (figuratively) in the Princess Diana Memorial Playground (still one of London’s finest and where the fun remains unfettered).
Expedition triumphant, we return to base camp for lunch. Rather than the raw earth, we are seated on velvet sofas in the W/A Kensington restaurant. Instead of seal meat, the six-year-old chooses macaroni cheese from the hotel’s newly launched children’s menu. Sure, we wait rather a long time for a bone-dry beef burger, bravely priced at £18. Still, I get the feeling Grylls would not approve of all this pampering. So please, can no one tell him about the decent glass of merlot? Or indeed, the vouchers, provided by the hotel to children, and redeemed by the smallest explorer for one final ice-cream sundae?
The Little Explorer’s Package costs from £365 B&B for a family of four, including a complimentary second night and a £50 voucher for food and drink.
Read the full review: 100 Queen's Gate