Review by Fiona Duncan, published 23rd March 2008.
My overriding feeling, during my 24 hours at the Chester Grosvenor, is of being on a film set. Don't get me wrong. The Grosvenor is a very well-run hotel, and it proved the perfect antidote to yet another unwanted birthday, which slipped by almost without pain in a flurry of footmen, fine food, spa treatments, Champagne and birthday cake at breakfast.
And the feeling that someone was going to shout "Cut!' every time I strolled across the marble lobby only added to the pleasure of our short, luxurious stay.
What's the film? An upstairs, downstairs saga about a glossy, old-school hotel, owned by a billionaire Duke, that's set in a provincial city but aims to "match anything you might find on Fifth Avenue or the Champs-Elysées" (I quote from the Grosvenor's own brochure).
This pleasant sense of fantasy, of being part of a privileged, unreal, film-like existence, begins in the taxi from the station. Only accredited hotel guests can be driven to its door in Chester's pedestrian quarter, and only after being given the third degree by the sour guard at the barrier ("oh look, it's Mr Happy," said our driver, "he hates having to let us through.").
Then there's the Grosvenor's larger-than-life doorman, swathed in caped, green coat, gliding down the steps to greet us and sweeping us into a lobby worthy of Claridge's, with its vast staircase and enormous glittering chandelier, an heirloom of the Duke of Westminster (the hotel's real-life owner). Flunkies flunk, suitcases are whisked away. We look around and see a perfect pastiche of a grande dame European hotel, glossy and plump.
Pastiche? It's not that this hotel isn't old, and doesn't have a rich history, but in the mid-1980s, its faded grandeur was swept away and it re-emerged from a dramatic cellar-to-roof facelift a different, sleeker creature. There are two restaurants, the Michelin-starred Arkle and the Brasserie (a too self-conscious facsimile of the genuine Parisian article) plus a perfectly formed spa.
My film, upstairs, downstairs-style, is about the old rich and the nouveau riche, and if the Chester Grosvenor is the perfect setting for their antics, so are the streets outside. Chester may be Roman, but it's also shopping heaven: an astonishing parade of high-end boutiques and jewellers as glossy and sleek as the hotel.
Mind you, a filmmaker would be hard-pressed to recreate the magic of the real-life event that took place last time I was in the city: the wedding, attended by Her Majesty the Queen and most of the Royal Family, of the Westminsters' daughter, Tamara, when 800 guests were bussed from the Grosvenor Hotel to the cathedral and crowds of citizens waved and cheered from the pavements as we passed. Chester: a starry city; the Chester Grosvenor, a fitting hotel.
Eastgate Street, Chester (01244 324024; www.chestergrosvenor.com). Double rooms from £195 to £850 per night, including breakfast.