LONDON: The Savoy, London's first luxury hotel which has hosted everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Claude Monet, reopened on Sunday after a multi-million-pound renovation that took almost three years.
British actor Stephen Fry became the first guest to check in following the 220-million-pound (250-million-euro, 350-million-dollar) refit, which has restored its existing splendour and added new rooms and an art deco bar.
After motoring down the private drive in a Rolls Royce, Fry was greeted by the hotel managers in the huge lobby, which has retained its famed art deco features despite the building works.
"It feels the same but it's really different," sales director Simon Gilkes said, adding: "It wasn't about changing the Savoy but restoring the Savoy. We wanted to keep the heritage and elevate it."
The Savoy was built in 1889 to cater for the nearby Savoy Theatre and over the years played host to Hollywood and acting royalty, including Sarah Bernhardt, Laurence Olivier, Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra.
It has long been the favourite haunt of prime ministers and royalty, and it was here that Queen Elizabeth II, then a young princess, was first seen in public with her future husband, Philip.
Aside from hosting glittering parties and A-list guests, the Savoy also prides itself for being at the forefront of modern technology -- it was the first hotel in London to use electric lights, elevators and 24-hour service.
Five years ago the hotel was bought by the Canadian group Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, and in December 2007 it closed its doors for a major renovation.
The works were due to finish in early 2009 and cost 100 million pounds, but the budget swelled and the timeframe was extended.
The famous Savoy Grill where former British prime minister Winston Churchill held meetings during World War II is still not finished and is unlikely to open its doors before November.
"It is fair to say that this project has not been without its challenges," admitted general manager Kiaran MacDonald.
"We are very aware of the place that the Savoy holds in many people's affections and we firmly believe that the hotel will exceed people's expectations and reclaim its position as one of the world's great hotels."