An unrushed stay near the chimes of Big Ben

by Gazette Reporter

ALTHOUGH a good bit outside central London, the Southend Airport – Aer Lingus Regional’s newest London destination – is quiet and unrushed and presents a calmer alternative to the craziness of the more regularly chosen Heathrow or Gatwick.

After a quick flight from Dublin’s Terminal 2, it was just a train journey into Liverpool Street and a quick trip on the Tube to Westminster, the location of my hotel for a recent overnight trip.

Aer Lingus Regional celebrated its one-year anniversary of the Dublin to London Southend route recently and marked the occasion by flying its new ATR 72-600 aircraft to its newest London location in an effort to boost service over the coming months.

The service, which is operated by Aer Arann, was launched last May and has flown more than 55,000 passengers to London’s newest hub in the past year.

Now operating three times daily, Aer Lingus Regional has adjusted the flights to offer a day trip return service for business travellers. While it’s a cheaper alternative for those flying to London, it makes a day-trip and an overnight pop across the pond that much more accessible.

The Westminster Plaza Hotel is the ideal location for a stay at the very heart of London and is a venue that was used for some of the scenes in the most recent James Bond film, Skyfall.

The Westminster Park Hotel is so centrally situated that you can use Big Ben as your timepiece during your stay.

The magnificence of the Houses of Parliament greeted me as I ascended the steps of the underground and made my way a short distance over the bridge to the hotel.

The decor in the hotel is really modern and the colour scheme a seductive palette of reds, blacks and mirrors.

It is a very large hotel with friendly staff, and the suite was the epitome of style and comfort.

There was a sitting area with a soft leather sofa and widescreen TV and a pristine, elegantly white bathroom.

The suite or studio apartment we stayed in averages at around €250 a night, depending on what dates you are staying. At the lowest end of the scale are the superior bedrooms for €198 a night, while at the highest, the two-bedroom apartments start at €516 per night.

The price reflects the centrality of the Park Plaza Westminster, which is located just 500m from The London Eye, London Waterloo tube station and the Houses of Parliament.

Going out for dinner, we decided to head into Soho, so we jumped into one of the many black cabs available outside and were at Browns restaurant in Covent Garden in no time.

This eatery is a stylish pub and restaurant with a very welcoming, relaxed atmosphere.

The menu was very reasonably priced, with two courses for £25 (€30), and a very good selection of wines. I had charred trout in a teriyaki sauce with bok-choy, while my companion opted for the steak which, by her account, was top dollar.

While I wasn’t in the mood for dessert, I did have a mysterious craving for cheese. This caprice was more than satisfied by the restaurant staff, who presented me with a selection of cheeses which included very good Roquefort and dainty crackers which I dispatched swiftly.

Travelling back home the next day was the same route in reverse, and we boarded Aer Lingus Regional’s newest plane and were back in Dublin within the hour.

For details on the newest Dublin to London route, see www.aerarann.com.

Aer Lingus Regional operates three daily return services between Dublin and London Southend. London Southend also offers a direct rail link and speedy and frequent train services into London Liverpool Street, with a service that takes 53 minutes to the heart of London.

For further details, see www.browns-restaurants.co.uk/locations/covent-garden/, and also www.parkplaza.com/london-hotel-gb-se1-7ut/gbwestmi.

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