Marvelous Mayfair: 48 hours in the exclusive London neighborhood

The Mayfair area of London. (Shutterstock)
Updated 11 December 2018

Marvelous Mayfair: 48 hours in the exclusive London neighborhood

  • One of the most lavish areas to be in London, Mayfair
  • Truly something magical about West London

DUBAI: It’s the most expensive property in the British version of “Monopoly,” reflecting its lavish status, so a trip to London’s Mayfair isn’t going to be a budget getaway. But there’s more to this affluent area than high-end shopping — all you have to do is take the time to explore. Mayfair is home to numerous art galleries, restaurants, cafés, parks, and more, and the festive period offers the perfect backdrop, with spectacular decorations.

There’s truly something magical about West London during the holidays, so if you have never visited the English capital in the colder months before, it’s well worth the extra thermals.
Covering the well-known areas between Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane, Mayfair is home to several prestigious properties and landmarks, including Claridge’s, The Dorchester, The Ritz and Green Park. It’s also cemented its reputation as an international art hub, thanks to the big-name galleries scattered all over.

One that definitely shouldn’t be missed is The Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House, which dates back to 1768, making it the oldest fine arts society in the world. It marked its 250th anniversary with a newly expanded campus this year. We visited the Oceania exhibit (which runs until December 10), featuring 200 fascinating pieces spanning 500 years, all exploring the history and identity of the continent, and including work from New Guinea, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, and Australia. Fun fact: Meghan Markle’s first solo appearance as a royal saw her attend the opening of this exhibition.
Food in Mayfair is an art form in itself. You’ll be spoiled for choice, with everything from Indian fusion to Japanese on offer, and many halal options available too. For lunch, book a table at the exceptionally Instagrammable NAC Mayfair, a staple of the area and one that continues to delight with its incredibly friendly service and delightful dishes. Must-tries are the truffled mac and cheese, plus the ridiculously delicious crushed milk-chocolate cookies, served with the nicest ice-cream we have ever sunk a spoon into, and topped with Frosties.
Dinner will require a little more planning. We were lucky to find a table at the trendy Hide — which earned a Michelin star just five months after opening earlier this year. It’s best to reserve as soon as you book your flight. Launched by acclaimed British chef Ollie Dabbous — a self-described “mixed grill” who was born in Kuwait and is of Lebanese-French heritage — Hide is the place to see and be seen; chances are you’ll bump into a celeb while you are there. The à la carte menu is reasonably priced (mains are around $45), with dishes made of seasonal offerings, sourced from small farmers and suppliers across the UK.




Claridge's hotel. (Getty Images)

While we did mention earlier that there’s more to Mayfair than shopping, there’s still nothing wrong with a spot of retail therapy while you’re there. But skip the big chains and famous designers, and opt for the more unusual merchants instead.
Browse Burlington Arcade, the renowned covered shopping destination that opened in 1819, before stopping at British perfumers Penhaligon’s for a one-on-one perfume-profiling session. Based on your hobbies, interests and personality, an in-house expert will be able to find the perfect fragrance for you.
For another quintessentially British experience, cross the road to Lock & Co. Hatters, the world’s oldest hat shop, founded in 1676. Having dressed figures including Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and royals from the GCC, this institution sells all types of hats for men and women. Even if you don’t end up buying anything, it’s worth a visit just for the experience.
All that walking will no doubt leave you feeling hungry, so make your way to the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane, which has teamed up with Lock & Co., to host a special millinery-themed experience that includes sandwiches, and hat-shaped cakes and scones all served in the brand’s signature hat box. It’s the perfect way to end your shopping trip.


Virgin Galactic reveals futuristic outpost for space tourism

Updated 16 August 2019

Virgin Galactic reveals futuristic outpost for space tourism

  • Critics suggested the project was a boondoggle, but supporters argued that there were bound to be hard and sometimes costly lessons
  • The interior spaces unveiled Thursday aim to connect paying customers with every aspect of the operation

UPHAM, New Mexico: Spaceport America is no longer just a shiny shell of hope that space tourism would one day launch from this remote spot in the New Mexico desert.
The once-empty hangar that anchors the taxpayer-financed launch and landing facility has been transformed into a custom-tailored headquarters where Virgin Galactic will run its commercial flight operations.
Two levels within the spaceport include mission control, a preparation area for pilots and a lounge for paying customers and their friends and families, with each element of the fit and finish paying homage to either the desert landscape that surrounds the futuristic outpost or the promise of traveling to the edge of space.
From hotel rooms to aircraft cabins, the Virgin brand touts its designs for their focus on the customer experience. Spaceport is no different.
Earthen tones help ground visitors on the first floor. The social hub includes an interactive digital walkway and a coffee bar made of Italian marble. On the upper deck, shades of white and gray speak to Virgin Galactic’s more lofty mission.
Company officials, offering the first glimpse of the facility Thursday, say the space is meant to create “an unparalleled experience” as customers prepare for what Virgin Galactic describes as the journey of a lifetime.
Just how soon customers will file into Virgin Galactic’s newly outfitted digs for the first commercial flights has yet to be determined. A small number of test flights are still needed.
Billionaire Richard Branson, who is behind Virgin Galactic, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, first pitched the plan for the spaceport nearly 15 years ago.
There were construction delays and cost overruns. Virgin Galactic’s spaceship development took far longer than expected and had a major setback when its first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.
Critics suggested the project was a boondoggle, but supporters argued that there were bound to be hard and sometimes costly lessons.
Democratic state Sen. George Munoz has enduring concerns about the business model for commercial, low-orbit travel for passengers.
“You can have all the money in the world and come back and say, ‘Was my 30 seconds of fame worth that risk?’” he said.
Munoz says New Mexico’s anticipated return on investment in terms of jobs and visitors is still overdue, with more than $200 million public funds spent on Spaceport America in cooperation with Virgin Galactic as anchor tenant.
At the facility Thursday, the carrier plane for Virgin’s rocket-powered passenger ship made a few passes and touch-and-goes over a runway.
Behind the spaceport’s signature wall of curved glass, mission control sits on the second floor with an unobstructed view of the runway and beyond.
There’s also space behind two massive sliding doors to accommodate two of Virgin Galactic’s carrier planes and a fleet of six-passenger rocket ships.
Virgin Galactic posted on social media earlier this week that its carrier plane had landed in New Mexico and its main operating base was now at the spaceport. And Branson said the wing of Virgin’s next rocket ship has been completed.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said once the test flights are complete, commercial operations can begin.
Chief Pilot Dave Mackay said the crew in the coming days will fly simulated launch missions to ensure in-flight communications and airspace coordination work as planned. The pilots also will be familiarizing themselves with New Mexico’s airspace and landmarks.
“New Mexico is on track to become one of the very few places on this beautiful planet which regularly launches humans to space,” Mackay said.
Branson will be among them. About 600 people have reserved a seat, according to the company, at a cost of $250,000 a ticket.
That buys them a ride on the winged rocket ship, which is dropped in flight from the carrier airplane. Once free, it fires its rocket motor to hurtle toward the boundary of space before gliding back down.
The latest test flight reached an altitude of 56 miles (90 kilometers) while traveling at three times the speed of sound.