There are some hotel rooms which you could happily live in and my bedroom at Lainston House hotel near Winchester was one of those.
Tucked up under the eaves of this excellent country house hotel, this room was vast, with high ceilings and enough room for you to practice your indoor bowling skills, if that was your thing.
The vast bedroom at Lainston House
At one end was a huge desk – perfect for these working from home times – and at the other was a massive bathroom, with underfloor heating, a roll-top bath, two sinks and separate shower. In between was a lounge area with comfy chairs around a coffee table, two Queen-sized beds, a TV, coffee machine and basically everything you need from a month or two of hotel life. There were even Downton Abbey-style bells in the bathroom which jangled when someone rang the doorbell. Given that the only other hotel bedrooms I’ve stayed in before with massive twin beds were Lainston House’s sister hotel South Lodge in Surrey, and the Bellagio in Las Vegas, two excellent hotels, this boded well.
Arriving at the hotel
As it had been a while since I’d stayed in a hotel due to one thing and another, I was determined to get the most out of my stay and arrived at an unheard-of midday at the hotel, which is just four miles from Winchester. The hotel itself is reached via a lovely sweeping drive meandering through the grounds and in the autumn sunshine the multi-coloured leaves looked superb, with the hotel building itself glimpsed tantalizingly through the trees.
The front of the hotel is reached by driving round an immaculately-mown lawn to the front door where you can briefly hover to drop your bags off, and it’s a mark of the hotel’s attention to detail that when I parked in the main car park after doing just that, I thought ‘what a nice car park’ which is not something I say often, if ever. The car park, with electric charging points, is also in a circular shape with a relaxing Sundial Garden in the middle and signs to the large kitchen garden where many vegetables and herbs are grown for the kitchen.
Drinks on the terrace at Lainston House
To make the most of the unexpectedly warm weather – and because I was way too early to check in – I headed through the hotel to its terrace at the rear of the hotel which has stunning views all the way down the avenue lined with lime trees – a mile of them to be exact. Planted around 1716 as a 19th century ‘gentlemen’s vista’ rather than as an entrance way, the avenue is the longest line of limes in England.
There’s a helipad and some fairly rough and ready tennis courts and is a ideal place to enjoy a drink or two and pretend that things like Covid-19 have never existed. Evidence that coronavirus was still very much a concern though was all around – antibac dispensers, a temperature check machine at the door, everyone wearing masks – but it was done calmly and unobtrusively. In summer months or more ‘normal’ times the hotel can arrange everything from archery and clay-pigeon shooting to duck herding, croquet and picnic baskets and has bikes guests can borrow to explore the surrounding countryside.
Facilities at Lainston House
After enjoying a coffee in the sunshine, Lainston’s sales manager Emily arrived to give me and my guest a tour of the hotel and I was surprised to find out how vast it was. The main part of the hotel itself, which dates from the 17th century, feels fairly compact – there’s an entrance hall, a bar, a couple of rooms for dining and that’s about it, but over the years various extensions, all done in keeping with the main design of the hotel, mean that there are 50 bedrooms (nine in the oldest part of the hotel), conference facilities, a charming inside/outside loggia, a chef’s table set-up in the kitchen, endless corridors leading to more rooms and wedding facilities.
The Season Cookery School
There are more buildings tucked away in the grounds too: another separate conference facility, an impressive old dovecote, the ruin of a 12th century chapel, the kitchen gardens and a stunning, newly refurbished Season cookery school. Between lockdowns Lainston House has been able to host several cookery courses. The workstations are well spaced out for social distancing, and while the equipment is all brand new and gleaming, there are still some well-preserved historical features including the wooden barn rafters, a donkey wheel and a terrifyingly (for those with no head for heights) deep well which you can walk across it thanks to its reinforced glass cover (my palms are sweating just thinking about it, but I did walk across it – twice!).
After all that excitement it was time to find our room and once we’d marched along the endless corridors and up several flights of stairs, we arrived at Spurwing, our bedroom for the night. This was definitely the highlight of the stay: the family junior suite room with its super-high ceilings felt so relaxing and roomy that I could have happily stayed there for the next 24 hours. However that did seem a bit of a shame with the countryside and nearby Winchester to explore, so we headed off for a spot of shopping and a look at the impressive Winchester cathedral – to go in costs £9.95 per person and we weren’t planning to spend that long there but the cathedral shop was definitely worth a visit.
Settling in at Lainston House
Back at Lainston House – or ‘home’ as we were starting to call it, it’s amazing how quickly you can settle in – we headed back to our bedroom in ‘the fishing suite’, named due to the fish-themed wallpaper in that part of the hotel, for a G&T and to try out the coffee machine before changing for dinner in the hotel’s 3 AA star restaurant. There are two rooms, one brighter and less formal than the other, and they sensibly put the early diners in together rather than spreading everyone out which made for a nice atmosphere. In summer the views from the restaurant over the terrace and the lime-tree-lined lawn would be gorgeous and I did think some solar-powered uplighters would show off the grounds beautifully in the darker months.
The restaurant experience
It was a pleasant novelty being in a restaurant for a change and while the service was a little erratic – we had to ask several times for bread, there was a fair amount of doubling up on taking orders and so on – the waiting staff were friendly and of course things are a little different in Covid times. The menu options were surprisingly esoteric: I was expecting traditional English fare but the menu was something else: starters included ‘Pressed rabbit, trumpet, hazelnut, maple, pear’ and ‘Celeriac, gruyere, shitake, white chocolate, honey, truffle’ while the main were similarly listed: ‘Venison loin, red cabbage, Jerusalem artichoke, cep, quince’ and ‘Hake, butternut, abalone, mussel, verbena’.
There was also an £80 six-course tasting menu available which was a selection of the a la carte menu courses, but we didn’t feel short-changed as there were a few extra dishes thrown in such as an amuse bouche of mango chutney, curried parsnip and yuzo. My gin-cured salmon starter with beetroot, wasabi and cucumber was an Instagrammer’s delight (and was full of flavour) while my roasted halibut main course with crab bisque was warming and hearty if a little light on the bisque and could have been warmer.
We thought it would be rude not to try the desserts, especially when they were enthusiastically recommended by the waitress, so we went for a pear souffle – which could have done with more pear taste – and the chocolate and orange choux, which was totally indulgent and not the kind of thing I’d normally go for – it was delicious and I polished it off embarrassingly quickly.
Afterwards we had coffee and a game of Scrabble in the bar – which is lined with wood from cedar trees from the estate – and dutifully headed upstairs as the 10pm curfew demanded. The huge beds were as conducive to sleep as I’d hoped and I woke feeling unexpectedly full of energy and ready for a pre-breakfast stroll around Lainston House’s 63 acres. However the weather had other ideas – it was teeming down – and so I had an epic foam-filled bath instead, accompanied by the Lainston House rubber duck.
Breakfast at Lainston House
Breakfast was good and the service was prompt, far better than at dinner. Coffee arrived straightaway and there was a huge range of options, from cereal, fresh fruit, pastries, seeds and nuts in the continental option, and everything from a full English to porridge, Eggs Florentine or Royale, smoked salmon, grilled kippers and crushed avocado with poached eggs on toast. As you can’t serve yourself from the buffet these days the waiter had to do it for us and provided just the right amount of yoghurt and fruit compote as requested. They were also happy to replace the standard toast on the avocado with bagels for a change, and it was a great start to the day.
With my late check out request being granted I was free to hang out in my room until midday and found the desk tucked away in the eaves to be perfect for WFH – in my case this stood for ‘working from hotel’.
After a full 24 hours at Lainston House I was reluctant to leave but felt as it I’d been a away for a couple of nights at least. There were only a few areas where I felt things could be improved: the welcome wasn’t the warmest, rather than ‘Hello, welcome to Lainston House,’ it was a case of ‘Have you temperature checked yet?’ the moment I opened the front door and I asked to ask several times for my coffee on the terrace. The reception is oddly laid out too so it was often empty, with staff, if any are there, working from the back office. This not only looks like there is no-one present, but when I was told I could leave my bags including my laptop at reception, I assumed it would be watched over and was alarmed when I returned to get something and it was totally deserted with the bags on full display. Hopefully those are Covid-related issues rather than the norm – overall it was a memorable stay and another excellent experience from the Exclusive Hotels group.
Hotel information and to book Lainston House
Lainston House, Woodman Ln, Sparsholt, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 2LT.
An overnight stay at Lainston House is from £168 per room including breakfast based on two sharing. Lainston House is part of the Pride of Britain Hotels chain, 50 of the best country house hotels in the UK.
Christmas at Lainston House
Choose between a three-night or four-night stay, starting with a two-hour Christmas baking experience in the cookery school, followed by a four-course dinner with wines to match. On Christmas Day there’s Champagne and canapés before a five-course Christmas Lunch served with wine pairing to match and evening buffet. Boxing Day choose between archery or clay pigeon shooting have another chance to visit the cookery school and then a Boxing Day evening Champagne and five-course dinner with wine pairings. Four-night night guests can enjoy a private tour and tasting at Black Chalk Valley before a final farewell dinner.
Cost of Christmas at Lainston House: Three-night stay from £2,240 and four-nights from £2,650, prices per room based on two sharing.
More details and to book Christmas at Lainston House
If you have enjoyed this review of Lainston House then check out my reviews of other Exclusive Hotels properties Pennyhill Park, South Lodge and The Manor House at Castle Combe below