Thursday, Oct. 02, 2008


Long before Walt Disney's imagineers created Cinderella's Castle, and half a century before Mad King Ludwig commissioned the fantastical Bavarian Schloss, a bored Prince oversaw construction of a building more improbable than either of these: the Royal Pavilion, an elaborate white wedding cake of a palace inspired by Indian architecture and filled with Chinoiserie and other exotica. It served as a love nest for the Prince Regent, later King George IV, and now is one of many attractions that lure visitors to this spa town on the south coast of England. Less than an hour by train from London, Brighton is sophisticated and bohemian. Stroll through the maze of narrow streets called the Lanes or take a bracing constitutional along the seafront, admiring the town's Regency terraces and squares. There are cafés and fairground rides on Palace Pier (a second Victorian pier, the West Pier, which has been closed since 1975, is slowly succumbing to the sea).

Those who want to overnight in Brighton will find everything from humble bed-and-breakfasts to lavish hotels, but two boutique establishments feel just like home — if your home is equipped with the latest electronic equipment and groovy bathrooms: Drakes Hotel and Hotel Pelirocco.

Wakehurst Place

Kew Gardens in West London is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. Unfortunately, it's under the approach for Heathrow Airport and can be anything but tranquil. Its out-of-town sister, Wakehurst Place, in West Sussex shares Kew's mission "to inspire and deliver science-based plant conservation worldwide" and is home to the Millennium Seed Bank Project, which stores the seeds of wild plant species. Woodland and garden walks are wonderfully quiet, especially on an overcast weekday, when it's easy to evade other visitors.

If you're in the mood to spoil yourself, stay at nearby Gravetye Manor, a 16th-century house converted into a luxurious hotel.


It's not quite Chandni Chowk, but close your eyes, breathe in the smells and listen to the pulsing bhangra, and you could be in the famous Delhi market. There's always noise and color in Southall, but it reaches a crescendo on Saturday, when shoppers descend on this suburb in the far west of London (take the overground train from London Paddington to Southall station) to buy fabric and other goods from the subcontinent and to eat in the restaurants catering to the local Punjabi, Pakistani, Somali and Afghan communities. On Tuesday the market specializes in live fowl and caged birds; on Friday there's a flea market.

Paris? Brussels? How About St. Pancras?

The St. Pancras train station first opened in 1868, and reopened in 2007 after an £800 million refit as the London home of Eurostar, offering high-speed rail connections to continental Europe. Take a trip from here through the Channel Tunnel to Paris, or just hang out in the station and admire the stunning building. A few features have been overhyped ("Europe's longest Champagne bar" is actually a long drinking counter with a distinctly average-sized serving area) and some of the public art, such as a towering bronze of an embracing couple, is execrable. But the Barlow Shed, the huge glass-and-iron-canopied terminus, is one of the wonders of London.