I needed to spend a couple of nights at Heathrow between flights recently, and picked the Novotel London Heathrow hotel for my overnights.
I'd heard that it had undergone a bit of renovation recently, and since I'd stayed there several years ago while connecting between flights overnight, I was interested to see what was new.
Location & Impressions
The Novotel London Heathrow sits a couple of kilometres north of the airport itself, by the roundabout off the M4 motorway on Cherry Road in West Drayton. (Bear in mind that the hotel's postcode doesn't locate it specifically, so a taxi driver or satnav system might get lost.)
It's just across the road from the Crowne Plaza and the large, visible Holiday Inn at Junction 4 of the M4 motorway). Hotel Hoppa buses are £7 (A$11) return from the terminals, run every 20 minutes and take about 15, or a cab is around £15 (A$24) and will take ten minutes.
The useful thing about the location is that it's within striking distance of Heathrow and motorways, but far enough away that there's no airport noise. There's also a bit of garden (with a lot of motorway noise) and the village of West Drayton (and a good pub, the Plough) a few minutes' walk away.
I was impressed by the airy lobby, which also contains the hotel's bar and restaurant. Furnishings and decorations there are new, stylish and interesting, although the actual architecture of the hotel is a bit 1980s.
It felt like there should have been an extra person on reception at several points during my stay, including check-in and check-out. Speed of entry and exit is vital for an airport hotel, and the hotel needs to improve here.
The hotel's main offering is the Superior Room, which is basic and relatively small, but well laid out.
My room was a connecting room, so the toilet, wardrobe and luggage space was closed off by an interior door from the shower, bathroom, bed and desk. A small flatscreen TV and a little luggage ottoman rounded out the room.
The room style and concept are last-generation Novotel, but everything was in a sensible place (no bizarrely hidden light switches), and the air conditioning was superb. In fact, the air con was so new that the hotel was still asking for feedback on it from guests. I recall from a previous stay in the summer that the rooms had been stuffy, so this is a major improvement.
There isn't enough space in the main part of the room to put a suitcase without falling over it every time you move around the room (a not inconsiderable flaw for an airport hotel) but I found a nook in front of the connecting door that fit perfectly.
The bed itself was one of the better Novotel beds I've slept on, with just a single doona (duvet) and basic sheets, but a surprisingly comfortable foam mattress.
The way the bed is set up, there's only about 40cm between one side of the bed and the wall. It would have been difficult for a +1 to get out of the bed on that side in the middle of the night.
The bathroom was fine, with a shower over the tub and the toilet in a separate room by the front door. The shower had decent water pressure, a rain head and a shower wand.
Toiletries in the bathroom were the usual Novotel shampoo, shower gel and soap. It's not the greatest (I find it pretty harsh on hair and skin) but it gets the job done if you haven't brought your own.
Soundproofing in my room facing the busy M4 motorway definitely needs improving, though.
You have a choice at the hotel: you can have natural light and noise (facing outside) or quiet but dim (facing the atrium). It would be relatively simple to add an extra layer to the outside rooms, especially since the M4 is only a couple hundred metres away.
The desk setup cuts down on the space available, with the working-height desk surface needing to swing out into the room to make a T shape.
It's not an all-day setup and isn't especially comfortable, and with only wired Internet available as part of your room rate you don't have the option of working on the couch.
A big plus was a plethora of easy-to-access power points -- four spread across the room, with one next to the bed and one by the desk.
The wired Internet -- £13/A$20 a day -- was so slow as to be unusable at numerous times of the day, which was a major problem for working.
There is an Orange wifi network available in the hotel for €10 (A$13) a day, but the staff told me that they were unable to provide access to it even when the hotel broadband was down.
This is the second UK Novotel I've stayed at recently where this has been a problem. It's unacceptable for hotels to say "oh, we can't give you access, it's an external provider" if they've entered into a commercial contract with that company to install wifi in their hotels.
Novotel has a standard menu across all its hotels (I've stayed at three in London recently), which means you get very, very bored of the options available.
The menu is available in the downstairs restaurant or via room service. Apart from the lack of options between hotels, it's pretty good food, especially for a hotel, but is pricey for what it is.
Room service costs just an extra £3 (A$5), so if the open-plan restaurant area downstairs is busy with families or conferences, order up to your room.
I enjoyed a crab and avocado tian on celeriac coleslaw (£6.50, A$10) and a slightly overcooked steak (£21, A$32) at lunchtime, and a smoked chicken salad (£6.50, A$10) and a burger (£13, A$20) for dinner.
The wine list, though, is pretty impressive, especially for a chain hotel in this price range. I can recommend the Villa Maria NZ Chardonnay, but all the wines on the list looked drinkable.
The sofa (well, actually a sofa bed) was much better than many hotel sofa beds for relaxing, although the arms aren't padded at all.
The TV had an Aux In port for MP3 players, but the cable was too short to be able to plug one in from the desk or sofa.
The hotel has an indoor pool downstairs, although in an odd design decision it's pretty small and separated from the main lobby by just a glass wall.
I went for a walk down the road to the Plough pub for some well-kept beer -- just ask at reception for directions.
I've stayed at most hotels near Heathrow, and the Novotel is a good option, especially if you're renting a car and then getting some sleep -- drive up, park, and you're right on the motorway for the morning.
The Hotel Hoppa bus is annoying (not least because you need £7 in cash when you arrive into Heathrow) and not frequent enough, but if you're arriving into Terminal 3 from Australia, there's no in-terminal hotel to give you a no-bus option.
But the Novotel's Internet connection is dreadful. If that's a dealbreaker for you, consider bringing your own or hitting one of the other Heathrow hotels.