Feeling Rather Spoiled in the Seaport
I’m so happy that I messed up my original hotel booking for a recent conference in National Harbor. If I’d pegged my arrival date correctly, I wouldn’t have found myself being spoiled just across the Potomac River and up King Street, at Hotel Monaco.
It began with me mistakenly booking my stay in National Harbor, Maryland for one day later than intended. By the time I realised my faux pas, the conference property was sold out. Even while rolling my eyes at myself, I knew I’d have to move quickly – and began thinking about what I knew of the area.
We’d been to National Harbor a few years earlier, and made a couple of afternoon outings by water taxi: one to Mount Vernon, the site of George Washington’s plantation, and another to enjoy lunch in Old Town Alexandria.
A Change in Plan
Hmm. It was safe to assume that there’d be no room at the plantation, but what about Old Town Alexandria? It was a quiet and picturesque spot just a quick ride across the river. I remembered being struck by both the sense of history and the architecture. Perhaps I could nab something in Old Town for my first night, and then make my way from Virginia to Maryland for the balance of my stay.
Well, that was the plan, but I felt so welcomed and taken care of at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco that I spent the bulk of my stay there rather than the other way around.
A Warm Welcome and a Colourful Lobby
As befitting the area, Hotel Monaco Alexandria is a brick, six-storey property with 241 rooms. This four-star hotel is also fresh off the heels of a 2015 renovation that stylishly offers multiple nods to the city’s past.
Curbside, you won’t be allowed to carry your suitcase across the brick sidewalk and into the hotel. Majid, Semir or one of their colleagues will take care of that for you. They’ll also help you with directions and recommendations, and actually ask and remember your name.
I knew, having looked at the hotel website, that the lobby decor included rich hits of red and blue. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how much the lobby felt like being in a welcoming friend’s living room, and an eclectic living room at that.
The registration desk is a rich pop of red, and there’s comfortable seating – both hard and soft – nearby. This hotel is not shy in its approach to style. You’ll see colourful fabrics, Moroccan themed cabinets and even bikes and a fish tank in the lobby … and it all works, beautifully.
If you’re going to visit Old Town Alexandria, you’re likely there for its picturesque charm and history. At Hotel Monaco, you’re on the grounds where two men who were proclaimed the first martyrs of the Civil War died in 1861. At that point in time, the property was home to an inn known as the Marshall House.
Here, a May 1861 dispute between secessionist innkeeper James W. Jackson and Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, a friend of Abraham Lincoln and leader of the 11th New York Infantry, resulted in both their deaths. The small inn became a landmark, as thousands of people wanting to see the site and pay their respects visited it during the Civil War.
A Sociable Start
Apart from the comfortable seating, the hotel lobby/living room is home to complimentary tea and coffee service from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, and from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. on weekends.
Seven days a week, it’s also the place to be for Kimpton’s complimentary Wine Hour. It’s clearly a winning formula: a nice way for travelling couples to wrap up an afternoon, and also a great opportunity for solo travellers returning from a day of meetings to discuss something other than business rather than heading directly to their room and laptop or television.
If you like a bit of quiet with your morning or afternoon beverages, the lobby has more than a couple of nooks and crannies with comfortable seating. You’re part of it all, but still have your own space.
My room was spacious, clean and light-drenched, with windows overlooking King Street and Market Square. The room was contemporary, with nods to the past – including wallpaper featuring a collage of gas lamps typical of Old Alexandria.
I found the window-side chaise a perfect spot for catching up on email and work. And the black, grey and white bathroom? I loved it: the design, the finishings and the C.O. Bigelow toiletries.
You’re in pet-friendly territory here. I met Blu, Azzure and Cielo, seen here, on my first day at the hotel.
Bikes, Yoga Mats and More
You’ll find a yoga mat and umbrella above your in-room safe, and animal print robes in the bathroom. I was delighted with the availability of complimentary bikes and helmets. The indoor pool was closed when I popped upstairs to check it out, but my timing may have been off. The adjacent fitness centre is open 24 hours daily.
Sights to See – Local Landmarks
Alexandria dates back to 1695, and you’ll find cobblestone streets, picturesque houses and much more in walking or biking distance. Here, you’ll see me with friends Pam and Robin, and a host of Alexandria’s Ghost and Graveyard Tour. Since I’d seen historic Carlyle House earlier in the day and we’d already made plans for dinner at nearby Carluccio’s, we gave the tour a pass for this particular visit.
When you go, allow time for a visit of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation perched over the Potomac River. You’ll also want to make time to stroll through the picturesque streets and along the riverfront.
You’re situated in Virginia, but with ready access to both Washington, DC and National Harbor, Maryland. The property is approximately five km/three miles from Ronald Reagan National Airport. If you want to explore DC, it’s a short trip via Metro transit. Exploring the local area is also easily done by foot or on bike.
If you’re arriving via Ronald Reagan National, your sense of welcome can begin right there. You’ll want to know that Hotel Monaco has a scheduled shuttle service between Ronald Reagan National Airport and the hotel. Just contact the hotel to request the complimentary service, which is available between 7:00 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Once you’ve settled in, you can travel the waters between Alexandria, National Harbor and Mount Vernon via the Potomac Riverboat Company. Fares are reasonable, and it’s a good way to get a feel for the area.
The hotel has a 24-hour business centre in addition to meeting rooms and conference spaces. If you’re with an SME – a small- to medium-sized enterprise – Kimpton offers discounts and late check-outs and more for members of its Global Business Program for SMEs.
The brand’s rewards program is known as Karma Rewards. Membership provides you with complimentary wi fi, bar and spa credits, and potential to earn free stays.
Hotel Monaco has been awarded a 2015 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence and was included in Virginia Living’s 2013 The Best of Virginia. The Kimpton brand as a whole has won sustainability awards, including the National Geo Tourism Award, which reflects a partnership between National Geographic and the Travel Industry Association of America. The brand has also earned the Condé Nast World Savers Award.
My room had the recycling bin and options you’d expect to see. Checking the Kimpton website, I learned that they also use non-toxic cleaning supplies in addition to minimising water consumption. This brand’s boutique hotels are certified by both the TripAdvisor GreenLeaders™ Program and, since 2011, by the Green Key Eco-Rating Program.
Would I Stay There Again?
In a heartbeat.
Planning To Go: The Lowdown
Getting There: You have your choice of three airports, and will find yourself closest (five km/three miles) to Ronald Reagan National Airport. Baltimore-Washington International (56 km/35 miles) and Dulles International (80 km /50 miles) are also in the vicinity. Travelling by train? Old Town is home to the Alexandria Amtrak station, and you also have Union Station in DC.
Hotel Monaco: Thank you for making this stay possible. Your team exude a genuine caring for their guests’ stay and comfort. Kudos to Akalouad (“AK”), Majid and Semir and also to all the great team at check-in for making not only this guest, but others, feel truly welcomed. As always, perspectives are entirely my own.
Loyalty Program: The Kimpton brand has a Karma Rewards program. I joined on arrival, and the perks include free wi fi along with a $30 spa credit and $10 bar credit each stay. The latter can be used at your choice of a Kimpton hotel’s bar or for in-room snacks. There’s of course the standard capacity to earn reward nights. I said this was a sociable hotel, and it turns out the brand is big on social media: I learned only while writing this up that the brand extends additional Karma to guests who chat on social media about their stays.
Sights to see: Make time for a visit to Mount Vernon and, in the opposite direction from King Street, the Potomac waterfront. For an entirely different change of pace, take the water taxi over to National Harbor. If you’re an architecture or history buff, park the car and walk or bike your way through town. For that matter, you can easily make your way from Old Town to DC, and the Hotel Monaco makes a perfect home base. The same company that ferries you between Old Town Alexandria, Mount Vernon Estate and National Harbor is also happy to take you by water to see the Nats’ play; you can catch baseball or National Mall water taxis, or take a Washington Monuments Cruise.
Remember: You’ll have your pick of shops, restaurants and pubs, but those looking for clubs and a very full night life may want to look elsewhere. If you’re staying in Old Town Alexandria, you’ve likely booked your stay out of an appreciation for history, charm and a friendly, low key visit.