Short stay: Hartwell House Hotel and Spa, Aylesbury, UK
Hartwell House Hotel and Spa has some history. When Louis XVlll was exiled from France after the French Revolution, he rented this stately home, in 90 acres of Buckinghamshire parkland, at £500 a year, for his family and courtiers. Eventually, in the Hartwell House library, Louis signed the document for his restoration to the French throne in 1814. More recently in 2013, the Finance Ministers of the G7 met in country house grandeur for their summit.
The Domesday Book, mentions Hartwell, not surprising as it was home to one of William the Conqueror’s sons. Though the current grand house was built in the early 17th century by the Hampden family.
For centuries, Hartwell House has been entertaining guests with a warm but discrete welcome. It is a tradition maintained today by Historic House Hotels, though HHH have gifted the site to the National Trust to best preserve the conservation of this precious site.
A porter in a green livery and cap assists immediately with parking, doors and luggage. Check-in is personal and efficient. With just 48 rooms and suites, service at Hartwell House Hotel and Spa is always instantaneous.
As we take the lift to our room the porter talks of Hartwell’s historic legacy before giving us a tour of our expansive room’s features.
Our room is number 8, the Hampden, honouring the family who not only built the stylish house but also opposed Charles 1’s Ship Money tax, leading to the English Civil War. If Tony Blair had stayed here he would be talking of the “heavy hand of history” on his shoulders. He hasn’t visited Hartwell House but Bill Clinton has.
This is a room on a regal, palatial scale. The bed is seven feet wide – other rooms and suites have four posters – and the curtains probably drop some 20 feet. Beyond the window is a royal view of an avenue, a mile long, made up of 234 trees
Furniture is an eclectic selection from yesteryear including Gainsborough style landscapes, 19th century botanical prints and grand family portraits.
Although there’s a Nespresso machine, guests are encouraged to have morning tea delivered in true country house style.
Inevitably there’s a quirky feel to a bathroom bringing 21st century bathing comforts to a 17th century house. Satirical cartoons, after the style of Hogarth, bring further whimsy.
Appropriately, the water closet has heavy dark wood Victorian styling but the deep, long bath is sheer contemporary luxury as are light citrus notes from the Floris toiletries.
Make sure that you arrive at Hartwell House in time for afternoon tea from 3.30 pm. It is served in the Library, Drawing Room and Great Hall but it is probably the Morning Room, with a stuccoed ceiling celebrating both the four seasons and four elements, which is probably the most elegant of all the reception rooms.
The design of the Soane Restaurant was inspired by a room at 11, Downing Street. Chef Daniel Richardson trained at Hartwell then returned to run a restaurant that prides itself on local sourcing from a local network of farmers. It is a restaurant more than deserving its two AA rosettes.
Louis XVlll would recognise many of the traditional favourites on the Bill of Fare menu: beef, brill, chicken, duck, pork, quail and venison. But he would be surprised by the lightness of touch and imagination that pairs squid ink wafers with scallops for a starter and stuffs quail with both bacon and chicken. There is also a Seasonal Menu too where the kitchen can adapt to what the local farmers recommend.
It is just a 150 yards or so walk to the Hartwell Spa. It’s set in a tranquil orangery, in Regency style, with a pool with echoes of relaxed Roman bathing. There is also a gym, spa bath and steam room. Using the four treatment rooms, experienced therapists offer a wide range of treatments using Aromatherapy Associates and Jessica.
There are also two tennis courts set within the former walled gardens.
Set within the Vale of Aylesbury, on the edge of the Chilterns which is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Hartwell House Hotel and Spa is two miles from Aylesbury.
Less than an hour from central London and a mere 20 miles from Oxford, Hartwell House is an attractive country retreat.
Other nice touches
Hartwell House Hotel and Spa offers an extensive programme of events such as lectures and themed meals. There are also seasonal tours of the grounds.
Classic rooms with breakfast for two, depending upon season, begin from around £150 per night.
The best bit
The 90 acres of landscaped grounds provide excellent walking territory. Every room contains a map of the grounds and a guide to the variety of trees growing there.
Take a walk around the ornamental lake, crossing over the bridge which was once the central section of Kew Bridge until it was replaced in the 19th century.
The final verdict
Hartwell House is a place to park the car for a few days and slip back into the refined ways of past times. Find a comfy chair in one of the reception rooms to read some of the books and magazines available.
Then as you stroll around the grounds remember Lord Byron’s incredulous words to Louis XVlll as he packed to return to the maelstrom of French politics – “Why wouldn’t thou leave calm Hartwell’s green abode?”.
Disclosure: Our stay was courtesy of Hartwell House Hotel and Spa.