Hartwell House Buckinghamshire

Hartwell House: A stay with the Downton Abbey factor

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You know you’re in good hands when you arrive at a hotel spa and find Downton Abbey‘s head butler Carson (aka the terrific actor Jim Carter) lounging in the hot tub.

Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire might not be on as grand a scale as Highclere, the real-life Downton Abbey, but its traditional country house atmosphere would certainly make Lord and Lady Grantham feel very much at home.

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
Hartwell House is a 17th century stately home which has welcome everyone from deposed French King Louis XVIII to Bill Clinton

Hartwell House is no stranger to notable guests, having hosted everyone from the Queen Mother and Kylie Minogue to Bill Clinton and Oliver Reed (presumably not all at the same time) and most recently was chosen by Chancellor George Osborne to host the G7 finance ministers’ summit.

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
No visit to an English stately home would be complete without my yellow photobombing car

However the hotel, given to the National Trust by Thomas Cook heir Ernest Cook and managed by Historic House Hotels which also owns Bodysgallen in Wales and Middlethorpe Hall in York (all three are part of the Pride of Britain Hotels group) is certainly no celeb-hangout, but a very discreet country retreat which provides a perfect escape from the outside world.

statue outside
Hartwell’s statue of Frederick Prince of Wales, who was killed playing real tennis, was rescued from an overgrown part of the garden and now stands outside the front of the hotel

I left Jim and his equally fabulous actress wife Imelda Staunton, currently wowing audiences in Gypsy, to enjoy their spa experience while I had a very nice hour-long aromatherapy massage in one of the treatment rooms upstairs.

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Check the latest price on Booking.com for Hartwell House here
Compare latest prices for Hartwell House and spa click
 here 
To read more reviews go to Hartwell House on TripAdvisor here
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Suitably relaxed after my massage, I strolled over to the main building and checked into my room, a ‘superior Royal Suite’. It had a high ceiling, loads of space and stunning views across the grounds. There were lots of traditional touches, such as a dressing table, a writing desk, various antique chests of drawers and even a Corby trouser press – it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of those – and the ensuite contained the deepest bath I’ve even been in.

There were nice helpful touches too such as maps of the grounds showing walking routes, a guide to the trees of Hartwell, information about local drives and points of interest and even a picnic menu for al fresco diners.

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
My room, a ‘Royal Suite’ overlooking the front of the house

It wasn’t all perfect though and there was occasional small but jarring note: the crumpled photocopied sheet of paper listing the room service options, a cheap rubber bath plug in such a smart-looking bathroom and no tea and coffee-making facilities. Instead there was a sign which read: ‘Hartwell House, in the traditions of a country house, wishes to serve its guests, including room service of tea and coffee in the bedrooms in the House, and we employ staff to do so.’ (However I know many people who love having a cup of tea in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning without wanting to summon staff to bring it to them.)

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
The view from my huge bedroom windows…

However these were small gripes in a room which I could have happily spent a week in. The most wonderful thing was the silence, broken only by the occasional snatch of birdsong. Set in 90 acres of Buckinghamshire countryside, the 17th century building, former home of the Hampden family and once let to the exiled King Louis XVIII of France, is just 40 miles from London and just two from Aylesbury but barely a sound of the outside world penetrates the deep calm surrounding Hartwell.

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If you like grand country house hotels then you’ll love:
Luton Hoo: a classic country house (with Hollywood glamour)
Lucknam Park: my very own Palladian mansion for the night
Cliveden House Hotel: the ultimate English county house
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There are 46 bedrooms at Hartwell, most in the main house (with some fabulous four-poster beds) and some in Hartwell Court which adjoins the spa. The ‘country house rather than a hotel’ feel had so taken hold of me that I never bothered to lock my room which is something I’d never do usually.

In fact Hartwell reminded me of a smaller version of Cliveden which is high praise indeed, and they are built along similar lines, with a impressive but welcoming Grand Hall, then a variety of rooms for afternoon tea or pre-dinner drinks. Hartwell boasts a morning room, a drawing room and a library which all have fireplaces and are decked out with antique furniture, paintings and chandeliers and there is even an unique staircase which is flanked with 400-year old carved wooden figures, were rescued from the cellars when the house was restored.

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
Hartwell’s staircase with its ornate 400 year-old statues
Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
The figures were found in the cellars during the hotel’s restoration

I chose to have a delightful Botanist G&T on the terrace at the back of the building which overlooks a tidy lawn, before changing and having a pre-dinner glass of champagne in the morning room. The evening meal in the smaller of the three dining rooms was an intimate affair, with just four tables out of nine occupied.

There was a choice of three menus – a dinner menu, a Spring dinner menu and a 26th anniversary dinner menu – priced respectively at £32, £52 and £62 for three courses, although handily each course was also individually priced and you could mix and match between menus.

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
Pre-dinner drink and nibbles in the morning room

There was certainly  quite a selection although I would have liked to have seen some kind of steak on the menu – the meat main choices were duck, rabbit and chicken – and there was tendency to over-complicate things – carrot gel, ginger nage, sea purslane and Valrhona Azealia namelaka anyone?

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
Scallops with pea puree and pea shoots to start…
Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
…followed by roast Aylesbury duck breast with citrus-soused fennel and orange sauce

I chose the pan-fried scallops with pea puree and pea shoot salad which took a while to arrive but was very nice when it did, and then the roast Aylesbury duck breast with citrus-soused fennel and orange sauce. It was cooked pink and carved thin and tasted very nice but possibly on the small side for hearty appetites.

The waiter recommended the blueberry sorbet, but I instead went for the British cheese selection which not only had a good choice and was well presented (with a lovely Cherwell goat’s cheese) but came with a separate list of the cheeses with descriptions which was a great idea, as usually the menu has long gone and you have no idea what you’re eating, cheesewise.

I didn’t have a great night’s sleep sadly, which could be blamed on the cheese or the fact that the bed was quite soft, made up of twin beds pushed together, and rather than a duvet had five separate layers of sheets, blankets, quilts and coverlets which meant I woke up every few hours being strangled by one or more of then.

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
The ruined church in the gardens used to be the family chapel

However when morning finally dawned I enjoyed a lovely hour-long circular walk around the lake and the grounds which are dotted about with statues – there are also tennis courts and a ruined church – before breakfast (listening to ‘Carson’ ask for scrambled eggs and toast in his wonderful rumbling baritone made me realise I could happily listen to him read the phone directory).

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire
The spa at Hartwell House is equipped with a gym, a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor jacuzzis and a steam room and sauna as well as offering treatments and fitness classes

After my own smoked salmon and scrambled eggs I headed to the spa. Thoughts of a swim were dashed by an energetic session of aqua aerobics in the pool but the jacuzzi, sauna and steam room kept me happily occupied until very reluctantly, I headed down the drive to rejoin the outside world.

Best bit: wonderfully calm and relaxing atmosphere 

You’ve been warned: sheets rather than duvets and no kettle

Bed and breakfast from £205 in Hartwell Court and £290 on Harwell House based on two sharing. Royal doubles and four-poster bedrooms £390.

Hartwell House,Oxford Road nr Aylesbury, BucksHP17 8NR
01296 747 444
www.hartwell-house.com————————————————————————————
Check the latest price on Booking.com for Hartwell House 
here
Compare latest prices for Hartwell House and spa click
 here 
To read more reviews go to Hartwell House on TripAdvisor here
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Hartwell House is part of Relais & Chateaux and Pride of Britain Hotels

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Sarah Bridge

Sarah Bridge

Every review is personally researched and written by leisure expert Sarah Bridge who, when she is not writing about leisure for a national newspaper, spends her time seeking out the best leisure experiences, from city centre boutique hotels to country house estates, Michelin-starred dining to the newest openings.
Sarah Bridge
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