Home / Hotel reviews / Hartwell House Buckinghamshire hotel: a stay with the Downton Abbey factor

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire hotel: a stay with the Downton Abbey factor

Note: my review of luxury Buckinghamshire hotel Hartwell House was first published in 2015 so some of the details might now be out of date

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.

While Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire is a luxury hotel and spa in Buckinghamshire it 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

I left Jim and his equally fabulous actress wife Imelda Staunton to enjoy their spa experience at Hartwall House – hoping the hotel lived up to its reputation as one of the most romantic hotels in Buckinghamshire – and headed off for a very nice hour-long aromatherapy massage in one of the treatment rooms upstairs.

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire

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

Famous guests at Hartwell House

The five-star hotel 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).

To book directly with the hotel, go to: Hartwell House hotel and spa
To compare prices for Hartwell House hotel click on: Trivago – Booking.comExpedia
To read more reviews and get the latest prices click here to go
to Hartwell House hotel on TripAdvisor

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.

It’s a hotel with a swimming pool and luxury spa but it’s also a historic hotel with beautiful grounds for walking in and feels miles away from the modern world (even though it’s very easy to get to).

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

The bedrooms at Hartwell House

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

The great coffee debate

In what might divide guests, instead of coffee or tea-making facilities 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.’ (Some people might love this, but I know many people who like having a cup of tea in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning without having to summon staff to bring it to them.)

Hartwell House Buckinghamshire

The view from my huge bedroom windows…

An oasis while being the closest luxury hotel to Aylesbury

However in spite of this I could have happily spent a week here. 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 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.

————————————————————————————
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
————————————————————————————

A country house rather than a hotel

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

Dinner at Hartwell House

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

A morning walk at Hartwell House

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

Back to the spa at Hartwell House

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.

Hartwell House,Oxford Road nr Aylesbury, BucksHP17 8NR
01296 747 444
www.hartwell-house.com

To book directly with the hotel, go to: Hartwell House hotel and spa
To compare prices for Hartwell House hotel click on: Trivago – Booking.comExpedia
To read more reviews and get the latest prices click here to go
to Hartwell House hotel on TripAdvisor

Hartwell House is part of Relais & Chateaux and Pride of Britain Hotels

If you like reading about historic country house hotels with luxury spas then you’d love:

Bond, Bridget and me: my stay at Stoke Park luxury hotel

Park House hotel and spa: a West Sussex secret (but not for much longer)

Luckham Park luxury hotel near Bath: my very own Palladian mansion for a night

 

 

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