A regal stay at Hartwell House
Hartwell House is a breathtaking Grade I listed building in Buckinghamshire that is owned by the Historic House Hotels and part of the National Trust. It is celebrating its Silver Jubilee this year and the 200th Anniversary of King Louis XVIII departing Hartwell to claim the throne of France.
Although the property is only 40 miles away from London, the extensive grounds make you feel as though you are in the middle of nowhere and it is perfect for a weekend break in the countryside.
I arrived at Hartwell House on a Friday afternoon following a busy week in London. As soon as I stepped out of the car and set foot on the 90 acre estate, I instantly felt a million miles away from the busy city streets. Hartwell House has both Jacobean and Georgian facades that date from around 1760 and it is a very impressive building, in an equally impressive setting.
Every room has a high ceiling, which immediately creates a sense of grandeur. The walls are adorned with imposing paintings and the staircase features striking carvings. When I passed the library room shortly after my arrival, I could hear gentle conversations and spontaneous laughter from those enjoying afternoon tea by the fireplace. It came as no surprise to see that this is one of the most popular attractions at Hartwell House and sittings are fully booked nearly two months in advance.
While the public rooms, such as the Library and Drawing room, have been sympathetically restored and maintain a welcome traditional feel, the bedrooms prove even more of a highlight. As a travel writer I have visited some incredible rooms over the years and the selection at Hartwell House is particularly notable.
I stayed in one of the magnificent four-poster bedrooms, which is known as the King’s Room. It was actually occupied by King Louis XVIII who lived at Hartwell with his Court for five years between 1809 and 1814. It is without doubt one of the most spacious bedrooms I have ever seen and even surpasses some presidential suites.
Situated in the corner of the house, it feels as though you have an entire wing to yourself. Six huge windows offer stunning views of the estate and also present an idyllic reading spot. In fact, as soon as I saw the sweeping grounds at the front of the house I had an urge to set off exploring. A late afternoon walk through the woods was the perfect tonic after escaping the capital and I found myself discovering a walled tennis court, beehives, beautiful views of the main house and even a lake that is now home to part of the old Kew Bridge.
I also passed the spa on my walk. With a treatment the following morning, I was eager to have a preview of the facilities. The spa is separate to the main house and situated in a pretty courtyard. There is a spacious indoor pool and a hot tub positioned on an outdoor terrace.
The treatment menu is focused on the Rose Infinity Collection. This uses Nobel Prize winning research that works at a cellular level to repair ageing DNA. It targets the anti-aging process, helps with hydration and is incredibly good for countering emerging fine lines. I couldn’t wait to walk into a treatment room for an hour of TLC.
First a delicious dinner and overnight stay was ahead. The restaurant is at the front of the house and offers fine dining with a lovely view. During the summer months, it is warm enough to sit out on the terrace beforehand to enjoy an early evening drink before you are seated in the restaurant.
There is a special menu this year to mark the 25th anniversary and I was really impressed by the dishes. It is not often that I see a menu and can immediately pick a favourite course for each serving. However, it was the case on this occasion and as a seafood fan I opted to start with pan-fried sea scallops that were presented with port wine and fennel puree, sweetcorn and bacon lardons. This was followed by the Lyme Bay sole meuniere with shrimps, capers and parsley, new potatoes and baby vegetables. For dessert, I chose the raspberry macaroon with a Ivoire chocolate ganache, poached raspberries and basil ice cream.
Among the other dishes were fillet of Oxfordshire beef with caramelised onion puree, fondant potato, sauté spinach and bacon and red wine sauce, as well as twice baked forest mushroom soufflé with balsamic button onions, garden herb and vegetable fricassee in a Maderia cream sauce. Dinner seemed popular with hotel residents and visitors alike; a reflection of the excellent presentation and high quality of service.
After enjoying a fresh mint tea by the fireplace in the library I retired to my enormous room. I actually spent a bit of time lying in the four poster bed simply admiring the surroundings and contemplating the history of the house. As darkness fell, a welcome silence also arrived.
In a bid to make the most of my brief stay, I woke up to breakfast in bed and then set off for another walk around the estate before checking out and basing myself in the spa. The Rose Infinity Facial lived up to expectations and a quick dip in the hot tub on the sun terrace rounded off a fantastic stay.
I left Hartwell House feeling revitalized and extremely well fed. Not only had I escaped busy city life for the night but I had also lived like a king, albeit all too briefly.
Watch our visit to Hartwell House on Sloaney TV:
Throughout 2014, Hartwell House is offering a celebration package. From Monday to Friday stay at Hartwell House for £180 per person per night, to include dinner to the value of £50 per person, half a bottle of Champagne and Hartwell chocolates, VIP Bicester invitation, 20% discount in the Hartwell Spa, full English breakfast, free Wi-Fi and VAT. For Friday or Saturday night the break starts from £199 to include all the above. www.hartwell-house.com