If you had to conjure up a four-letter c-word word to describe the area around Hyde Park Corner, one above any other springs to mind: cars. In this chaotic quarter of town, grown men and women dribble up against the windows of the Ferrari salesroom; drivers and cabbies in dialogue lean against black cabs and beemers waiting for their pick-ups; unrelenting traffic gushes along Knightsbridge — a river of noise and petrol.
Yet floating way above the showrooms and the fumes — on the seventh floor of The Berkeley to be precise — is a pure and watery paradise; a swimming pool that's been magicked up here by way of art deco and a holiday villa, with a pinch of ancient Rome for good measure. The pool is studded with gold coloured mosaic, fringed by a cloistered poolside, and has a miniature scented garden off to one side (in winter this becomes a very exclusive rooftop cinema).
Before you get carried away, don't go expecting any London Fields Lido. As swimming writer Jenny Landreth has said, The Berkeley's modest pool is one where you to glide from one end to the other, rather than thrash out your front crawl. With a generous sprinkling of loungers around the edge, some choose not to swim at all, preferring to leaf through Vanity Fair, sip a cucumber water and leave it at that.
The decadence of this place plays second fiddle to its vantage point. To the west is the cupola of Harrods; to the north, Hyde Park is in the throes of autumn. That brings us to the crux; summer season has gone and the pool's retractable roof is firmly secured until 2016. It's a shame because there's a sultry autumn glint on the water, and we could do with more of it being let in. One of the great pleasures of outdoor swimming is being in the middle of that equator where warm water meets chilly air too, not to mention it'd be oddly soothing to hear the traffic below.
Of course, you need money for an experience like this, but the good news is you don't need to be staying at the hotel. This is one to save up for a proper treat, or otherwise one for the lovers of swimming and London, and that combination in particular. But The Berkeley is, aside from Shoreditch House, the only stab you'll get at rooftop swimming in London. And if you can wait for the roof to peel off again in summer, you might decide it's worth splashing out on.
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