With an arriving flight on British Airways from France, I needed a quick overnight at Heathrow. After several people recommended the Sofitel, I decided it was time to give it a try, especially since it was conveniently located in Terminal 5, BA's main London hub.
It's not, however, any more convenient than many other airport hotels from other Heathrow terminals, especially Terminal 3, which is where Qantas and British Airways' international flights arrive.
Location & Impressions
The Sofitel is attached to Terminal 5, which is the newest terminal at the airport, and home to British Airways (although Australian flights come into Terminal 3, a bus or train ride away).
To get to the hotel from arrivals, turn right until you get to the M&S Simply Food mini-supermarket. (You might want to consider picking up a sandwich, salad or snacks here, since they're high quality and the Sofitel's room service options are surprisingly boring.)
From there, follow the signs to the left for the Sofitel, head up to the indicated floor in the lift, and walk along the very long corridor to the hotel. Take a luggage trolley -- it's quite a way, and for a purpose-built hotel the path to reception is a little complex and odd.
Eventually, you reach the atrium: head down in the lift -- or the escalators, if you just have carry-on luggage with you.
Check-in was swift, although I had to wait about five minutes to check out during the noon peak rush.
Getting around the hotel is bewildering until you realise that it's shaped like H-H-H, with a really long corridor down the centre of the hotel and numbered wings coming off that. So room 6302 is wing 6, floor 3, room 02, rather than being room 302 on the 6th floor. (Got it? It took me a while.)
The room itself (a Luxury King, around the middle of the Sofitel's offering) was remarkably spacious, with a good-sized closet and a cleverly constructed marble-topped tiered baggage storage rack.
Sofitel's superb So beds are installed here, with the 6cm-thick feather mattress tops that make them my favourite hotel bed. A useful touch for jetlagged guests (especially if you have a +1 with you) is a well-focused business class-style LED spotlight for reading, which won't disturb your bed partner.
A comfortable reclining leather chair with matching ottoman is for relaxing (although given the space, a sofa would have been a nice touch) and a large desk with decent work chair next to an enormous flatscreen TV rounds out the room.
Sound insulation is absolutely stunning, with large windows that are either triple- or quadruple-glazed. You can't open them, but the room is almost entirely soundproof. With airplanes landing on the runway immediately outside my window, I heard nothing. The only noise came when that same runway was used for takeoff, where there was an occasional very quiet rumble.
The downsides of the room are a complete lack of power points near the bed, confusing panels to control the lights (what's wrong with simple light switches?) and only instant coffee.
The bathroom is a decent size too, and has a bath with a shower head plus a separate walk-in shower. Water pressure was excellent, although the shower controls were a little confusing. (One of our pet peeves with hotels...)
The shower door is also idiosyncratic: since there's a plastic rim flush with the floor, you can't get the bathmat outside the door, which means that the floor gets wet and you run the risk of slipping. An odd design.
Toiletries are upmarket L'Occitane Verveine in little bottles, although I was surprised to see that conditioner isn't provided. A shaving mirror, small pot of vanity items (nailfiles, cotton balls, and so on), fluffy bathrobes and large bath sheet-sized towels rounded out the bathroom.
The excellent desk setup included US and UK outlets (though no European style ones, which is odd), wired Internet (wireless is also available throughout the hotel) and a multimedia panel with USB charger, HDMI video input, audio jack and PC monitor input, plus audio-video ports.
A particularly thoughtful touch was the wooden in-tray, which was excellent for gadget-wrangling and pocket-emptying. More hotels should have this -- it's remarkably convenient.
The ibahn-provided Internet was fine -- an average 5Mbps down and a speedy 9.2Mbps up on the wifi, so I didn't need to try the wired connection. It costs, though -- £15 for a day, although you can use multiple devices on the same login.
I did note that my iPad and iPhone dropped off the network if I left them unattended, and had to be reconnected (including a web form) rather than connecting automatically, which was irritating.
I had dinner in the incredible La Belle Epoque restaurant, which is French style with Asian influences (coconut oil with the scallops; Sichuan peppercorns with the steak, that kind of thing). It was one of the best hotel meals I've had in quite some time, and compares well to almost every meal I had in France in the two weeks prior to arriving in the UK.
At a very reasonable £35 for the tasting menu, my dinner with a fair bit of wine came in at just over £60 (A$91), which was superb value too.
In fact, I'd recommend La Belle Epoque to any Heathrow-transiting passenger with a few hours to kill, and plan to return there myself. Great food, a great experience and it doesn't feel like an airport (apart from the odd glimpse of a taxiing A380, that is).
Since I had access to the Club Millesime executive lounge, I could have had a continental breakfast there, but I fancied a full English fry-up in the hotel's Verve restaurant. It was an excellent breakfast, with a huge range of fruit, yoghurts, cereal, breads and other continental options, plus proper British sausages, black pudding, a great omelette and really good coffee.
Bonus points for having decent sized glasses next to the juice as well.
The reclining leather chair was very comfy, although I would have preferred a sofa to stretch out on.
I also spent some time in the Club Millesime lounge, where nibbles included deep-fried prawns, cheese and biscuits, plus various types of "filling in pastry shell" canapes.
Wine options included three whites of medium-end supermarket variety, which was a little disappointing compared with the excellent drops on offer at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth's club lounge.
To give an example, one (Argento Pinot Grigio from Mendoza in Argentina) is an everyday drinking favourite of some of my British friends, and sells for around £7 (A$11) in the UK. It's a good wine, but nothing special.
The staffing of the lounge was somewhat problematic between 9 and 10pm: staff simply disappeared and, since the wine is under lock and key (in the already swipecard-protected executive lounge), several of my fellow lounge inhabitants cleared out three of the wines available.
Also available in the hotel is a spa and hairstylist if you need the kinks worked out of your back or a trim while you're on the road.
If you're familiar with the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth that we reviewed recently, you'll find its Heathrow sibling less historically stylish and swish, but equally comfortable and with what I think are better outfitted rooms and bathrooms.
The bed was incredibly comfortable, La Belle Epoque restaurant superb and the location unbeatable if you're coming through Terminal 5. Skip the Millesime Club lounge, though -- it's not up there with other Sofitels' offerings.
Our reporter was a guest of the Sofitel London Heathrow.