Clean, green and the place to be seen - why Marylebone Village is your best bet for a capital staycation
'Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is the 8.30 East Midlands Railway service to London St Pancras.'
How I've longed to hear those words, or words to that effect, after spending months in hibernation dreaming about future freedoms and the prospect being able to travel again.
With holidays abroad still off the radar, that moment finally came with a whistle-stop weekend trip to the nation's capital for a food and shops-inspired visit to Marylebone Village.
As it was World Environment Day, jumping into a 'zero-emissions' electric black cab seemed appropriate and I was also pleased to discover that Marylebone has been working hard to promote itself as a green, environmentally friendly community through its tireless campaigns and 'sustainability-focused' businesses.
Dropping bags off at our accommodation - The Marylebone Hotel - my wife and I were also excited to see how this hip and vibrant area of London was faring since coming out of lockdown.
If there's a finer place to stay in Marylebone than the five-star Marylebone Hotel, I'm not aware of it. Perfectly located in the heart of the village, this 257-bedroom gem is renowned for its understated luxury and top quality service.
There are a number of plush suites available too, some with rooftop terraces giving stunning views across the capital, as well as state-of-the-art meeting rooms for hire and a beautiful 'jewel box' cocktail bar with a decor reminiscent of old-school New York glamour.
Our suite had all the perks you could wish for, including a Nespresso coffee machine, king size bed, remote controlled curtains and ample wardrobe space, and there was even an emergency toiletry kit, which came in handy as I had forgotten my toothbrush and toothpaste, which was a schoolboy error.
If you're lucky enough to stay in a terrace room, you'll be mesmerized by the retractable roof and windows, fireplace and giant flat-screen TV, all which you can control from the push of a button.
What also makes this hotel stand out is the friendliness of its staff who are ready to greet you with a smile and 'hello', which always goes a long way.
Whatever your purpose for staying at The Marylebone, it doesn't take long to make you feel at home. It was just a shame that we were only there for one night.
Retail has played a huge part of Marylebone's past success and that success is set to resume post-lockdown with a number of new businesses opening their doors.
With an array of stores all set within its tranquil Georgian streets, Marylebone provides a more sedate shopping experience than the hustle and bustle of nearby Oxford Street.
Our first stop was to check out the exhibition at Contemporary Applied Arts on Paddington Street, which was showcasing the work of artists Julie Arkell and Robert Cooper for World Environment Day, with impressive creations on display involving papier mache from scraps of fabric.
On Devonshire Street, we were so wowed by the stunning handmade products at Evoke, we couldn't help but make a purchase. What makes this store unique is that it only sells items using natural materials whilst also promoting ancient craft practices from around the world.
If fashion is your thing venture to Marylebone High Street where historic Scandinavian brand Tiger of Sweden will be happy to spruce you up and a few doors away designer Isabel Manns sells clever reversible clothing where all surplus fabric is used to make other items such as headbands, pocket squares and face masks, ensuring zero waste.
Just off the high street, Kastur Jewels is a jewellery and antique shop selling enchanting heritage-inspired jewellery, with a percentage of sales from each piece going towards humanitarian initiatives supported by owner Rajvi Vora, who has also been shortlisted for ethical jewellery business of the year.
When it comes to dining in London, it's always difficult to know where to start in one of the foodie capitals of the world, but Marylebone Village itself offers an incredible choice of eateries from traditional bustling pubs to fine dining restaurants, as well as a number of bars and cafes. Whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, there's something for everyone.
For a taste of the Mediterranean visit Blandford Comptoir for lunch, a delightful little curbside bistro which oozes charm and has a vast selection of around 300 wines, which is no surprise as it's owned by sommelier extraordinaire Xavier Rousset. While there be sure to try their renowned courgette flower with goat curd, honey and truffle oil.
For something a little more rustic The Coach Makers Arms pub is known to make one of the best Sunday roasts in London, which I can now vouch for, while you wont be disappointed with the 'no meat' option of beer battered cod and chips.
Alternatively, if you'd rather sit back and watch the world go by, The Italians deli and wine bar is the perfect spot for a lazy lunch. Sat outside under the canopy, I could have grazed all day on the delicious mozzarella and artichoke salads and antipasti board of cured meats, cheese and focaccia bread.
For dinner look no further than the Marylebone Hotel's own 108 Brasserie, a local favourite with a menu focusing on light, fresh and healthy dishes from across the globe, including the scrumptious grass-fed Hereford fillet steak and tasty grilled organic Scottish salmon fillet.
Breakfast options are aplenty too, but our pick was Parisian-inspired Aubaine, which does a vast array of egg-based dishes from eggs benedict and eggs royale to the more indulgent truffle scrambled eggs and eggs imperial (lobster), as well as fresh croissants and pastries, and smashed avocado on toast.
A tad bleary-eyed on the way home, it somehow felt like we'd managed to pack four weekends into one. But on this occasion we didn't care. It was just so good to be out again.
Room prices at the Marylebone Hotel start from £260 per night.