Hartwell House – a historic manor in the Vale of Aylesbury – wins the award for the most jaw-dropping hotel room. Hands down.
We’ve stayed in quite a few special locations, from fairytale cottages in rural Suffolk to sundrenched villas on the Mediterranean, but I’ve never stayed in a room quite as grand as our royal four poster. The room, which once played host to members of King Louis XVIII’s royal household when he was exiled from France, was easily bigger than my entire London flat, and boasted six bay windows with impressive views of the hotel’s grounds.
Hartwell is owned by the National Trust, and upon arrival it feels just like a manor house temporarily opened to the public, but there are no roped off areas. In fact, you’re positively encouraged to make yourself at home on the sofas in the grand hall, morning room and library. Though they don’t go as far as letting you have a kettle or an iron in your room, so bear that in mind if you’re planning on looking crumple-free at dinner.
Once I’d finished pretending to be Jane Eyre reading in one of our suite’s window seats, we ventured off for a walk around the grounds, which are pretty, well maintained and well worth exploring. A few minutes walk from the hotel lies Hartwell’s spa, which is also a must-visit. Housed in a bright and airy orangery, it boasts a large pool, gym, steam room, sauna, whirlpool bath and outdoors hot tubs that’ll ensure you wind down during your stay. I also went for an Aromatherapy Associates treatment. You know, just to make sure I was properly relaxed.
There’s no denying that Hartwell House Hotel is impressive, but the venue, which opened as a hotel in the summer of 1989, feels as though not much has changed since then. They do say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and I can see why changing the format might seem unnecessary to the hotel’s owners – it’s a popular wedding venue and was busy during our off-peak stay – but this special hotel really has the potential to be truly spectacular.
Food and drink: Dinner at Hartwell House is a super refined affair. You can sip a pre-dinner drink while channelling Lady Mary from Downton Abbey in the drawing room while the kitchen prepares your supper. There are two menus, one which changes to suit the season, which you can pick between. Both have a fixed price two or three course option, but feel free to go rogue if you prefer.
We had the seasonal option which was clever, delicate and thoughtfully presented. The rhubarb panna cotta I finished my meal with was easily the prettiest pudding I’ve ever eaten.
Price: Rooms start at £205 a night, with breakfast included
Address: Hartwell House and Spa, Oxford Road, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP17 8NR hartwell-house.com
RadioTimes.com rating: 8/10
Ellie was hosted by Hartwell House in 2015. All of our contributors maintain editorial independence at all times and conduct first-hand research.