After months of lockdown my first hotel was, reassuringly, at Hand Picked Hotel‘s flagship hotel Fawsley Hall hotel and spa in Northamptonshire near Daventry. This grand country house hotel and spa – we’re talking at least 600 years old here – has withstood all manner of wars, plagues and famines and turned out to be perfectly capable of dealing with coronavirus as well.
Fawsley Hall hotel location
Set in acres of beautiful green Midlands countryside down a quiet country lane, Fawsley Hall is in a bubble at the best of times – like the best country house hotels – and made the most of its ability to create a safe and secure environment.
Unmissable by the front door was an anti-bac station – the first of literally dozens which were all about the site – and the moment we stepped into the foyer we were temperature-checked (receptionist Shannon politely wielding the gun) and then asked five Covid-related questions before being allowed in the hotel and shown to our rooms around the one-way system.
I would be temperature-checked at the spa too, and asked to wear a mask, and my bedroom had a sign confirming that it had been cleaned and sanitised.
I had to also book a swim time at the spa, which was a first – Fawsley Hall is allowing six people into the pool at a time, two per lane – and we booked not only times for dinner but breakfast too. Everywhere we went we saw anti-bac stations, and waiters constantly using them, and all in all it felt extremely safe. Thankfully all these measures – vital as they are – did in no way detract from what is a really lovely and traditional hotel.
Fawsley Hall history
Built by the prestigious Knightly family, who came over with William the Conqueror and whose descendants were knighted by various Kings of England, Fawsley Hall has hosted all manner of monarchs including Elizabeth I and Charles I.
My earlier fears about a too-antiseptic environment were swept aside on entering the Great Hall, and never has a hall been so aptly named. The ceiling is possibly one of the highest hotel lounge ceilings in Britain and still contains some original beams from its construction in 1537 as well as the original Tudor fireplace, where you can see the coat of arms of Richard I and the 26 knights who accompanied him on his first crusade.
Afternoon tea at Fawsley Hall
These days the Hall is a popular place for afternoon tea and every socially-distanced sofa was occupied by friends and relatives enjoying a long-awaited catch up over scones and clotted cream, under the watchful eye of Tudor portraits.
It felt very fitting that I had bought with me Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy to read and in fact, my bedroom (Louisa Mary Bowater, aka room 42) was the perfect place to read it in – a vast, grand but relaxing space with not only a huge bed but a sofa, huge bay windows and a walk-in closet area so you could keep the main area pristine.
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Classic and traditional bedrooms
Bay windows with original wooden shutters opened out to views of carefully planted gardens and the fields and lake beyond and the whole room exuded opulence and calm – perfect for Covid times. I had a peek into another room, Sir Francis Wolsingham, which was darker and more traditional in feel – four-poster bed and a lot more oak – so the rooms do vary in style and for me, room 42 was just perfect.
The bathroom was immaculate, with a roll-top bath, walk in rainfall shower, tonnes of large fluffy towels and toiletries and great views across the field to the parish church beyond. It was like going back in time to hundreds of years before coronavirus was even heard of.
Visiting Fawsley Hotel spa
My booked swim and spa treatments called so, as requested, I donned the robe and slippers in my room and padded across to the spa which is a minute’s walk from the main hotel building. There I was greeted by another temperature check, more anti-bac and asked to wear a mask during my back, neck and shoulders massage – another Covid first for me.
The treatment by the cheerful, visor-wearing Jodie was excellent – far more thorough than I was expecting – and I was completely unknotted by the time I headed to the pool for my first swim in months. Only two other people were swimming at the same time – we exchanged happy smiles at the novelty of it all – and while the sauna and steam room were closed, the large outdoor hydrotherapy pool was open and two people allowed at a time. I was so busy chatting about how lovely it was to be back in a hotel again to a fellow bather that Jodie had to come and fetch me for my pedicure. An hour of gossip (the masks no barrier to chat) and foot therapy later, me and my transformed feet were heading back to the hotel to change for dinner.
The restaurant at Fawsley Hall
Dinner was in one of several smaller rooms and probably the only room I thought could have done with a touch of improvement: it was very dark, not especially packed with atmosphere, and a few thoughtful design touches to give it a touch of life would work well here – maybe some quiet music or some better lighting. There was just one other table dining that night so social-distancing wasn’t a problem and it was more of a novelty than an annoyance to discover what Covid measures the hotel had put in place.
There were paper menus, no salt and pepper on the table and our waiter, Allen, apologised but said he wasn’t allowed to pour the wine or water. The menu, as in other Hand Picked Hotels I’ve stayed in, including New Hall and Brandshatch, was clearly written and a good range of modern British cuisine, and we started with Caesar salad and British charcuturie.
I then had baked sea trout, brown shrimp, fine beans, parsley and caper butter, while my dining companion had 10oz Herfordshire beef sirloin with chunky chips. There was also an extra course thrown in with eggs confit. All were very well done indeed, the mains being particularly tasty. However the first time ever – I’m probably out of practice – I couldn’t even look at the dessert menu because I was so full, and indeed I had to go for a walk around the grounds after the meal before I was genuinely scared I was going to go ‘pop’. How lockdown has changed me! The upside was that it was a beautiful evening and I had the hotel and grounds to myself which was a delight for me but a shame for the hotel – many people are still understandably cautious about venturing out.
Exploring the grounds at Fawsley Hall
My disturbed night’s sleep was certainly a result of over-eating and not a fault with the immense and comfortable bed, but it did mean that I was determined to walk off a few more calories before breakfast. On the dot of 7.30am I headed out for a the perfect Sunday morning walk; first down the winding lane to be greeted by dozens of grazing sheep, then across the fields along the well-marked Knightly Way, and then back across the neighbouring field to the hotel which contained the charming little church of St Mary the Virgin.
This is a popular place for weddings at Fawsley Hall – although you’d have to persuade the sheep to go someone else for a few weeks beforehand I’d suggest – and the little parish church is the final resting place of many of the Knightley family, but sadly not of its copper roof which made headlines when it was stolen in 2015 – an appeal raised £100,000 to replace it. It’s well worth a visit though and is full of fascinating facts such as the bells date from 1440 and are possibly the oldest set of still ringable bells in the country.
After a palate-cleansing yoghurt and granola breakfast (there were many cooked options too but no buffet thanks to Covid regulations) it was time to head off to North Yorkshire to see how another hotel was coping with life after lockdown – but it couldn’t have been a better or nicer place to break my reviewing fast.
Hotel information and how to book Fawsley Hall hotel
Fawsley Hall hotel and spa, Fawsley, Northamptonshire, NN1 3BA
Rooms start from £270 for a classic room and from £508 in a Master Suite.
Hand Picked Hotels is a collection of 19 luxury hotels in the UK and the Channel Islands. Other Hand Picked Hotels reviewed by ALadyofLeisure.com are:
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