Thursday, Oct. 02, 2008

2. Marylebone Stroll

What's the nattiest neighborhood in London? Not leafy Notting Hill, which lost its claim to cool after Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts frolicked through it in the eponymous 1999 rom-com. And not fashionable Hoxton or Shoreditch, even with their spiky-haired, skinny-jeans-clad tribes of cool kids. They're all worth a look, but the real cool resides in Marylebone, an area so confident of its charms that it doesn't need to broadcast them.

Lying north of the glossy Selfridges department store and south of Regent's Park, Marylebone (pronounced mar-le-bone) is an affluent, strollable residential district of white terraced Georgian and Edwardian townhouses, the grandest of which are still single-family. It's also home to the Wallace Collection, where the girl with the billowing skirts in Jean-Honoré Fragonard's The Swing remains as seductive as when France's dirty old master painted her in 1767. The main shopping drag is Marylebone High Street, but the whole area is packed with fabulous shops and restaurants: Come here for everything from haute couture and baby clothes to organic butchery and extravagant cakes. There's also a specialist travel bookshop called Daunt Books that's worth a detour just for its Edwardian fixtures and fittings.