ONE of three hotels owned by the National Trust, Hartwell House, in the Vale of Aylesbury, was first mentioned in the Domesday Book as belonging to a natural son of William the Conqueror. But the stunning building that stands there now, with its Jacobean and Georgian aspects, dates from the early 17th century.
Its setting in 90 acres of garden and parkland were designed in the style of Capability Brown, there is a ruined private church, a lake, an equestrian statue of Frederick, Prince of Wales, a Great Hall that is a masterpiece of English baroque design, and more grandeur than you can shake a stick at.
Recent visitors have included Bill Clinton and the Emperor and Empress of Japan, but its most famous resident was the exiled King Louis XVIII of France, whose queen was said not to enjoy Hartwell, finding the Jacobean carved figures on the staircase menacing, and who was said to be “bad-tempered and drunk most of the time”. I couldn’t possibly comment.
WINING AND DINING
The elegant yellow dining room has elegant menus to match, and our dinner featured Isle of Lewis smoked salmon, breast of wood pigeon with smoked Valrhona chocolate sauce, followed by loin of venison, local lamb cutlet with braised shoulder and crispy sweetbreads, and nougat parfait with ginger and lemon foam. And, of course, the wine list is extensive. Breakfast is suitably substantial, but the best part of Hartwell House for me was not the glorious interiors in which to have a drink and consider the menus, but the terrace looking up the south lawn, for afternoon tea, and coffee.
The smallest rooms are on the second floor, but they are still large, and there is the benefit of a sheltered roof terrace, once used by the French émigrés for growing vegetables and keeping chickens and rabbits, but now a sunny spot where guests can relax, while the rooms and suites on the first floor are simply huge. The Queen’s bedroom – bad-tempered and drunk, remember – is double aspect with a large bay, and what feels like acres of carpet. There are also rooms in the 18th-century coach house, with access to the spa and conference centre, all decorated in traditional country house style.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
The spa is housed in a building modelled on an orangery and there is a good-sized swimming pool, steam room, saunas, gymnasium and treatment rooms, plus a cafe. In the grounds there are two all-weather tennis courts and a croquet lawn, and beyond Hartwell there are Blenheim Palace, Waddesdon Manor and, of course, Aylesbury and Oxford to explore.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE
Neither. There are 30 rooms in the main house, with rates for a double room from £215 a night.
Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries for a taste of tradition and free wi-fi for the modern traveller
GUEST BOOK COMMENTS
The setting and house are unique, you benefit the National Trust by staying here, and it is conveniently less than an hour from Heathrow.
• Hartwell House Hotel, Oxford Road, Near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (01296 747444, www.hartwell-house.com)