New York is the definitive destination for an urban honeymoon, especially following an autumn or winter wedding. The city is arguably at its most beautiful at this time of year and certainly at its most romantic, with chestnuts roasting on street corners, skating at the Rockefeller ice rink and boat rides under a canopy of fall foliage on Central Park Lake.
Next in our series of ultimate honeymoon hotels in Virgin Atlantic destinations is Manhattan's The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, where we step comfortably back in time into the lofty realm of Old New York. Here you'll find a refined, slower-paced world of clinking teacups, lazy cocktail hours, opulent public spaces and impeccable service, where royalty, political heavyweights and stars of stage and screen have sought solace and privacy for decades. The roll call of glamorous guests is as impressive as it is long, with everyone from Audrey Hepburn, John Wayne and Princess Grace to Richard Nixon, Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger having made The Pierre their New York base at some point. If only these walls could talk...
Where in the world
Among the grand dames of luxury Upper East Side hotels and apartment buildings, The Pierre is the grandest. The historic property at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and East 61st Street has soared over the southeast corner of Central Park since 1930 when it opened to great fanfare, with the aim of creating the atmosphere of a private club or residence. The architects took much inspiration from Versailles, with the upper floors of the Georgian-style skyscraper resembling a French chateau; a design which guaranteed the grandiose structure eternal landmark status on the Upper Manhattan skyline.
Directly opposite two of Central Park's east side entrances, the hotel lies within the Upper East Side Historic District, surrounded by imposing neo-classical mansions, towering apartment buildings and brownstone townhouses. The 'old money' neighbourhood has long been synonymous with vast wealth and societal standing, and unsurprisingly the stretch of Madison Avenue which lies one block to the east is packed with designer boutiques and department stores.
Inside the hotel
Following a $100 million renovation which was completed in 2009, the hotel re-opened with all-new interiors, reconfigured public spaces and a contemporary sheen. But while the 21st century Pierre boasts state-of-the-art technology and a fine collection of Indian modern art, the overall vibe upon entering the glossy 61st Street lobby is still thoroughly traditional. This old New York icon remains a top-to-toe classic, with old-fashioned mail chutes on every floor and beaming elevator operators manning the lifts.
All the 189 high-ceilinged guestrooms (including 49 suites) are extremely bright and spacious by New York standards, and have been designed to feel like private apartments. The residential-style decor makes good use of natural light and a neutral colour palette to offset the heavy textiles, richer woods and bolder colours, and the rooms feel comfortably plush and upmarket without seeming overly ostentatious.
Turkish marble-clad bathrooms continue the feeling of understated luxury. Walk-in glass-walled showers and oversized showerheads come as standard, while some rooms have a separate tub and additional flatscreen TV.
Best of all though are the jaw-dropping views from the park view rooms and suites, which really are quite mesmerising from morning until night. Front-facing rooms look across Central Park's pond, ice rink and wooded trails to the Upper West Side beyond, and benefit from spectacular sunsets. North facing side rooms have views of the entire length of the park and the glittering architecture of the Upper East Side.
What makes it special?
Staying here really is like stepping back into another era, which explains why the hotel is top of the list for society weddings, photo shoots and film and tv locations. Many of the hotel's interior spaces have been seen on screen, more recently in hit TV series Mad Men when room 435 became the makeshift offices of ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Large banqueting spaces like the Grand Ballroom, Cotillion Room and Garden Foyer are unlikely to feature highly in a honeymoon break, but it's worth taking a peek inside just to witness the sheer scale and craftsmanship of the restoration work. The Rotunda, on the other hand, is the crowning glory of the hotel and deserves to be appreciated at length. The 1967 trompe l'oeil murals are not as traditional as they first appear, with the painter's cat and various members of New York high society depicted, including a woman with young children said to be Jackie Kennedy.
The Two E Bar/Lounge is our preferred space for extended lingering however; a sunken, seductively cosy space formed from the hotel's original reading room, backed with a gleaming art deco copper bar. The venue serves light meals throughout the day, including an extravagant afternoon tea, before the mood lighting transforms the seating area into a contemporary cocktail lounge for evening. Grown-up, intimate, but distinctly non-formal, the bar is a favourite among neighbourhood residents as well as hotel guests, and feels like an insider's secret.
Brand new Sirio Ristorante will open in October 2012, named after Tuscan restaurateur Sirio Maccioni and sister restaurant to Sirio Ristorante Las Vegas. The interior is inspired by the 1950s and 60s imagery of Federico Fellini's film La Dolce Vita, with the casual dining space lined with black and white images of Italy. Michelin-rated chef Filippo Gozzoli has been enlisted from Verona, and his new menu of traditional and contemporary Italian dishes is infused with Florentine, Tuscan and Parisian influences.
Beyond the hotel
Midtown and Uptown Manhattan are literally on your doorstep. It's a two minute walk to Tiffany & Co and the start of Fifth Avenue's famous shopping strip. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Plaza are all within a 15 minute stroll, as are The Shops at Columbus Circle and the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts across the park.
In the other direction, you're well placed for leisurely explorations of Central Park and New York's Museum Mile, with the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum all a short distance away.
For trips further afield, the 5th Ave/59th Street subway is one minute south (for direct services to Midtown, Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn) and the E 59th Street stop is three blocks east (two stops to Grand Central Terminal, or for trips Uptown).
The Pierre is part of the luxury Taj Hotels group, a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club partner. Flying Club members can earn miles with our extensive global network of hotel, airline and car rental partners, so if you're not yet a member here's all you need to know. Rooms are available from $595 + tax (about £370) in low season.
Virgin Atlantic operate five daily flights to New York, with a sixth service beginning on the 28th October 2012.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.