Remember the scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral where Hugh Grant’s character is trapped in a vanity cupboard while the happy couple consummate their marriage with gusto in the adjoining room? That’s Luton Hoo, a five-star country house hotel in Bedfordshire.
If you’d like to request that room – and lots of guests do – it’s the Lady Butter room. The Queen Elizabeth room is next door, where Her Majesty used to stay back when Luton Hoo belonged to their friends. In fact, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh spent part of their honeymoon here in 1947.
The scene where Grant’s hapless fop finds himself sat with an entire table of exes was filmed downstairs in the ballroom. If you’ve seen Four Weddings and a Funeral approximately 37 times as I have, you’ll also recognise the terrace and the serene pillared hall. The ballroom is also where Sean Connery’s James Bond had his gym in Never Say Never Again.
Regular guests enjoy high tea in the Italianate ballroom where Bond worked out
In fact, Luton Hoo has a better CV than most Hollywood A-listers. Over the years it’s had cameos in over 40 films, from Mrs Brown to Eyes Wide Shut to Ali G Indahouse (when it doubled as a room at Chequers). Apparently Stanley Kubrick was ridiculously exacting when he directed Eyes Wide Shut, while Reece Witherspoon paid for her own smoothie bar while shooting Vanity Fair here.
You’d never know any of this from staying there, though. Luton Hoo is far too well bred to boast about its showbiz credentials, although I felt like I was in a film when a doorman in dapper grey swept open the door for me. When I skipped off to the spa later that afternoon (you can ask to be driven by the chauffeur even though the Country Club is only 100 yards away), another doorman addressed me as Ms Webb and I’d wager he’d memorised every single guests’ surname.
The Country Club is housed in the old stables and also boasts a pool, sauna, saunarium (I wasn’t sure either), steam room and bar for golfers to quench their thirst after the 18-hole golf course. I opted to be smothered in expensive lotions and potions in the treatment room, which was very relaxing until I sensed the beautician fretting about my parched and neglected skin.
The 18-metre swimming pool and jacuzzi
Back at the hotel, it’s like a cross between Downton Abbey and the Ritz: acres of marble, antique mirrors that stretch from floor to ceiling, sober portraits that turn out to be very convincing replicas of the originals. The former owner, a diamond magnate called Julius Wernher, gazes down benignly from an enormous painting at the top of the grand spiral staircase.
“Hoo” is an old English word for “spur”. The sits in 1,000 acres of Capability Brown-sculpted parkland, woodland and formal gardens near the banks of the River Lea. It was built in 1767 for the 3rd Earl of Bute, and the grand entrance portico was added after a fire in 1843. Wernher bought it in 1903 and decorated the interior in lavish French style, stuffing every cranny and corner with his collection of jewellery, paintings, porcelain and objets d’art.
His wife, Lady Zia, was a Russian aristocrat, which is why Luton Hoo has a lavish Russian Orthodox Church with an even bigger portrait of Tsar Nicholas I. Nowadays, it’s called the Romanov Suite and used for wedding breakfasts. When Katie Price celebrated her 30th birthday at Luton Hoo, she stayed in the Lady Zia suite, one of the six state suites at £1,200 per night. I was told Price indulged in a spot of chariot-racing but the manager politely demurs: she only commandeered a golf buggy.
Plenty of room to race a chariot or a golf buggy; aerial view of the Mansion House and Country Club
Wernher’s descendants must have run out of diamonds. In 1997, they sold off over 1,000 acres to the independent hotel chain Elite Hotels, who also own Ashdown Park in East Sussex, Tylney Hall in Hampshire and The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne. Elite has done an impressive job of restoring and tastefully redecorating the original features while installing mod-cons like the all-important Nespresso machine. My ensuite – which was bigger than most London flats – still had a freestanding bath that was installed in 1903.
Nowadays, Luton Hoo is a luxury wedding venue, which probably has more to do with its elegant grandeur and proximity to London than Hugh Grant’s escapade in a vanity cupboard. It’s a five-minute taxi ride from Luton Parkway Station and 10 minutes from Luton airport. Thankfully, the airport’s Tango-orange eyesore of a terminal doesn’t spoil the view.
Down by the lake (where I shared a quiet moment with a kingfisher), there’s also a conference centre, Warren Weir, which is licenced for weddings and prettier than most. There’s also an in-house wedding team “to provide expertise and guidance” but they’re not above indulging whims – one couple chose to have a Narnia wedding.
No one has asked to recreate any of the receptions in Four Weddings and a Funeral but it could probably be discreetly arranged.
Luton Hoo has 228 bedrooms and suites, ranging from £320 for a deluxe bedroom in the Country Club to £1,200 for a state suite in the Mansion House. Rates are based on double occupancy and are per room, per night, inclusive of breakfast and tax.
For more information and to book, visit: lutonhoo.co.uk
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