A London Hotel So Green It Photosynthesizes

Upon turning from apartment building to hotel back in 1971, the Athenaeum
instantly became the latest and greatest in upmarket if buttoned-down hostelry swank in Britain's capital, attracting top celebs of the day. Inevitably, plenty of other properties have since laid claim to that crown of cool. But even as it reaches middle age, a recent £7 million (US$10.8 million) refurb put this luxe 123-roomer in Mayfair, down the street from Picadilly Circus and right across from bucolic Green Park, smack back into the running -- and riding today's eco-chic wave, even.

The inside these days is fetching indeed, its décor mod yet comfy and with a certain quirky, occasionally even playful personality. (In the reception area, check out all the mother-of-pearl shells armoring the back wall. And wow, what was up with that steampunk mannequin in our apartment recently?) Moreover, the five-star amenities and service are impeccable. But what especially makes theAthenaeum stand out in 2010 is its "living wall," 2,800square feet (260 square meters) of luxuriant botany wrapping around the building's corner up its entire ten-story height.

How does this garden grow? French "architectural botanist" Patrick Blanc took 260 hardy types of plants from around the world and created a vertical planting system (jeez, how do you get a job like that?). The whole setup's meant to change colors with the seasons and attract birds, bees, and butterflies (bunnies and mice, not so much, I'm guessing). So between one thing and another, this adds up to London's best address for comfort-loving chlorophiliacs. 

Rooms start at £190 (US$293/CA$295/€215) per night.

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