Walking into a really gorgeous hotel room can be such a bittersweet moment. There is the initial reaction of ‘Wow! This is really, really nice….!’ and delight that this is actually all yours for the next 20 hours or so. Then there is the sudden realisation of ‘Oh, but then I’m actually going to have to leave here and go home…’ Followed by: ‘Why can’t I live here forever?’
Such is the effect of walking into a room at Ockenden Manor Hotel and Spa, a 17th century old country house set in nine acres of land, which has a first-class luxury spa facility neighbouring the hotel.
There are some places that are so lovely you can’t stop thinking about them after you leave, and Gravetye Manor is most definitely one of those.
It probably helped that I visited during one of the most glorious weekends of the summer, so even though I arrived all hot and bothered after three hours crawling along the M25, a mere five minutes later I was feeling wonderfully soothed and relaxed thanks to being in Gravetye’s fabulous gardens (the gin and tonic probably helped too).
The gardens are stunning, a riot of different colour and sizes and far removed from the formality of grander establishments. There are some tables on the main lawn but we – my mother was my lucky plus one for the stay – were shown to a lovely table round the side of the manor, in a beautiful courtyard overlooking a wild flower meadow beyond which was a sparkling lake.
With the traffic delay I had worried I would be too late for lunch but no, at Gravetye Manor food is served in the gardens or lounge from 10am until 10pm which is extremely civilised, especially for a Sunday in the middle of the West Sussex countryside. The menu wasn’t just a ‘light bite’ option either but top-quality British food, from wild cress and nettle risotto to salad of seared pigeon breast. I had dressed south coast crab followed by the fish of the day, pollock, with summer garden vegetables and they were both as wonderful as the view.
As beautiful settings go, Ashdown Park Hotel East Sussex certainly has the ‘wow’ factor. Walking through a stone arch to the garden terrace, the view suddenly opens out in front of you: acres of rolling green countryside, two fountains bubbling away in a carp-filled lake at the bottom of the hill, an imposing converted chapel, the sweep of the hotel itself and colourful clumps of rhododendron bushes as far as the eye could see.
The hustle and bustle of the outside world just melted away and I felt as if I could just sit and admire the view for hours. Which, aided by a G&T and the Sunday newspapers, I promptly did.
It isn’t often you get to share a sink with Hugh Grant but the sign in our bedroom at Luton Hoo hotel and spa proclaimed it to be true: the rather quirky sink-in-a-cupboard in the corner was indeed the very same one that Hugh balanced precariously on in Four Weddings and a Funeral while some rather saucy post-wedding celebrations were happening in the room – our room! – outside.
While I was tempted to recreate Hugh’s famous perch, the fantastic view from our window was calling us out to go for a walk in Luton Hoo’s seriously large 1,000-acre estate. But then, as if by magic, there was a polite knock on the door and a bottle of champagne was delivered. That settled it. We would admire the view from afar, while pretending to be Hollywood stars ourselves.
Luton Hoo, it turned out, is no stranger to the big screen, having featured in a whole variety of features: as well as the mega-hit Four Weddings it can also be seen in War Horse, Eyes Wide Shut, Enigma and The World is Not Enough.
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However for such a celebrity location, Luton Hoo is far from diva-like and is in fact an almost perfect rendition of a traditional country house hotel, which is only to be expected from a building whose credentials are so impeccable that Winston Churchill addressed a crowd of 110,000 after the end of the Second World War and where the Queen and Prince Philip spent part of their honeymoon here in 1947. Continue reading Luton Hoo: a classic country house (with Hollywood glamour)→
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 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.