Loved by royalty and oozing period drama glam, Wersha Bharadwa finds this romantic National Trust-Owned Buckinghamshire stately home is the ultimate dreamy minimoon retreat. Read the Hartwell House & Spa review below.
Arguably one of the most stunning and historic stately-homes-turned-hotels you could hope to stay at, and tucked away on the edge of the Chilterns (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), Hartwell House & Spa sprawls across 90 acres of private, tranquil woodland, landscaped gardens and rolling hillside in the Buckinghamshire countryside.
You’re only one hour northwest of central London and a 45-minute drive from Heathrow and when you’re up for venturing out, neighbouring town Aylesbury boasts a rich culture heritage and medieval architecture 12 minutes away by car. Other nearby attractions include designer shopping outlet Bicester Village, French chateau style mansion Waddesdon Manor and the whimsical Roald Dahl Museum. Oxford’s charms are just a scenic 20 miles away.
After you’ve taken in the stunning and meticulously preserved Grade I listed Jacobean exterior facade (and the old chocolate-box church standing at the end of the hotel’s circular driveway where red kites greet you by swirling the skies above), you’re hit with glimmering crystal chandeliers dangling from soaring and extravagant Rococo ceilings, oil paintings, wood panelled walls and a Great Hall stuffed to the brim with baroque design and antiques the moment you enter (led, naturally, by smartly dressed and friendly concierge).
If you’re struck by the feeling that you’ve time travelled straight into the kind of stately home that the decadent King Louis XVIII might have personally kitted out, you wouldn’t be wrong. This is precisely where he lived in exile for five years during the French Revolution.
Stating Hartwell House has a colourful history is putting it mildly. Now owned by, restored and maintained by the National Trust since 2008, the estate dates back to Edward the Confessor and was originally listed in the 1066 Doomsday Book as well as a family seat to one of William the Conqueror’s illegitimate sons.
Today, it’s part of the Relais and Chateaux and Pride of Britain portfolio with the original house you see built in the 1600s for an aristocratic family. Later down the generations, it served as a home for Louis XVIII from 1809 until 1814. Amazingly, he even signed documents to confirm his accession to the French throne in the very same library in which you can sip Champagne while playing board games.
And while It also served as, a training ground for World War II soldiers and a school too, looks-wise, very little has changed since the times when the house hosted the lords, ladies of landed gentry along with that heavy sprinkling of European royalty. That it’s still a stately retreat with those gorgeous Georgian interiors, a staircase lined with hand-carved, gargoyle-like Jacobean figures, and gallery-like spaces filled with artifacts and plaster busts is testament to the hard work and protection it currently receives under the National Trust.
For couples on a romantic getaway, you’ll settle in in no time, mostly because of how at home wonderful staff make you feel. All share a love for the exuberant property and seem to know little stories and interesting facts they’re always happy to share.
Old school elegance permeates every inch of the hotel from the spectacular frescos and wrought iron staircases that lead up to bedrooms on the first floor to the original handmade Louis XVIII extra-large, showpiece chair outside our suite.
Much to our surprise, there’s neither a roped barrier nor a prickly dried flower signifying we’re not allowed to sit down like at other National Trust properties. But it all feels so precious that like us, friendly guests staying over only ever click selfies next to it. We’re staying somewhere incredibly special and there’s an unspoken shared reverence between everyone.
Once you’ve had your fill of wistfully gazing out of windows and breathing in the scent of the freshly cut grass of those soul-stirring undulating gardens (designed by Richard Woods, a then contemporary of famed Capability Brown) it’s time for you and your beau to explore. First, you’ll pass a romantic stone bridge that arches over a serene, swan and duck filled lake and where herons pose in the distance.
Romantic strolls in the rose garden and orchard or on meandering paths that lead you to the estate’s tree-lined walls and secret garden are de rigueur as is getting dramatically lost in the winding forest and playing games of ‘guess the creature’ from the scuttling sounds, twittering treetops and various animal tracks you’ll come across while there.
Artistic flourishes continue into each of the 30 totally romantic and countrified bedrooms (all differing in interior decoration) in the main house and which come under four categories to suit all budgets.
You could book into Royal Rooms which come with high ceilings and a treasure trove of antiques, or go the whole hog and hire out one of the Royal Suites which showcase marble fireplaces, sumptuous four-poster beds decked in luxurious cottons and fluffy pillows and have window seats offering cinematic views of the picturesque parkland.
The extra living room areas are perfect for brides getting ready for the big day too. Curtains are thick and opulent brocades and damasks, furniture is antique, heavy and ornate including dressing tables and large mahogany study desks for when you fancy your chances as the next Lady Whistledown.
And just like characters from a period drama, teas and coffees with homemade biscuits are brought up to rooms and served personally by staff – harking back to times when butlers and chambermaids attended to such tasks within the mansion (We later discover this signature move is a hallmark of the Historic Hotels Group at sister properties Bodysgallen Hall in Wales and Middlethorpe Hall in York too).
Bathrooms feel more Victorian in style with installed telephones and a generous supply of beauty miniatures from Penhaligon’s Quercus range to peruse (or stow away in luggage as take-home gifts). For extra privacy, you’ve also the choice to book into the suites and rooms at Hartwell Court, the house’s renovated former 18th century coach house located a stone’s throw from the spa and includes dog-friendly accommodation.
Before dinner, we enjoy mouth-watering classic martinis in the drawing room where we also delve into delicate canapes served by cheerful staff who provide faultless service. Hartwell’s 2AA Rosette awarded restaurant located in a former ballroom is a big draw for glamorous locals, out of towners and guests who book for classic and refined British gastronomy and where the soundtrack on weekdays is just the hushed, respectful chatter of neighbouring tables (on weekends you’ll find a pianist gently tapping out jazz and easy listening from a grand piano situated in the grand hall outside the restaurant).
It’s a formal, starched tablecloths, sparkling silverware and low candlelight affair here. With Executive Chef Daniel Richardson at the helm (known for his early career stint at Mayfair’s Le Gavroche and his continued dedication to Hartwell House since 1994), it’s worth booking up a table well ahead of your visit, especially during peak summer months. We start the evening with an amuse bouche followed by still hot, home-baked and golden-crusted sourdough.
Elevated seasonal starters of port and balsamic shallot tart tatin with goat’s cheese and pine nut velouté or the mackerel carpaccio with heritage tomato are culinary delights, as is the truffle Oxfordshire beef tartare served with salted egg, mustard mayonnaise and parmesan tuille.
After the first course and incorporating ingredients from the hotel’s own kitchen garden, punchy mains of Cornish monkfish served with pesto glazed courgette, pepper and aubergine terrine in a white wine butter sauce or roasted duck with fig and chicory jam are cooked skilfully. Veal is flavoursome, comes medium rare and is sourced locally from farmers in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire who utilise traditional methods. It’s served with sour cream and potato croquettes along with girolle mushrooms and offers a nice alternative to steak.
Breakfast is rightly fit for a king and filled with an array of tasty and fortifying options to help you kick-start the day. You’ll begin with cereals or home-made yogurts topped with fresh berries and orchard fruits, deli meats, English cheeses, croissants and baked pastries and must try the scrambled eggs which are equal parts creamy and fluffy.
The sunshine-filled Morning Room with its grand windows, pastel walls, Palace of Versailles style ceiling plasterwork, gilded mirrors and – yes, you’ve guessed – more chandeliers, is our favourite, and afternoon high tea here is a real pleasure.
The flower-filled room allows us to fully immerse ourselves in a delicious, tiered afternoon tea filled with finger sandwiches consisting of salmon, caper and dill cream cheese, roast beef and horseradish and egg mayonnaise and parmesan combinations, cakes, macarons and blackcurrant tarts while seated on decadent sofas and chairs. It’s hands down the tastiest and most generously portioned high tea we’ve experienced in a country hotel in years.
Housed in a separate conservatory, the excellent spa offers a range of hi-tech and modern treatments by A-lister favourite 111SKIN and Aromatherapy Associates including nurturing, muscle reviving massages using aromatherapy oil blends, targeted facials and scalp treatments.
An invigorating 111SKIN De-puffing Cryo Facial, performed by skilled and knowledgeable therapists, boosts facial circulation and reduces puffiness. Dips in the neo-classical, Roman-bath inspired pool and naps on nearby sunbeds are a tonic as is slinking into the bubbling jacuzzi, sauna and steam after.
Getting Married at Hartwell House
Hartwell House can accommodate up to 150 guests in one of four licensed rooms for civil weddings and partnerships and receptions including the beautiful Soane room (further private rooms in the main house can be hired for intimate weddings).
The hotel’s resident florist is on hand to help with floral arrangements and in-house wedding planners can advise on everything from local photographers to music and local transport options.
What You’ll Love
- Heading out to the secret walled garden and finding the tennis courts when you want to work off the previous night’s feast or trying out croquet on the lawn. There’s also a gym over at the spa when you need to get a workout in.
- Guests tend to spread out about the property from the library to drawing rooms to relax in so it rarely feels busy – even at full capacity.
- Forgot your wellies and umbrellas? Don’t worry – they’ve a dedicated boot section behind front desk to help
How to Book:
Hartwell House, Oxford Road, Vale of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP17 8NR, England. Nightly rates at Hartwell House start from £295 on a B&B basis based on double occupancy. Visit www.hartwell-house.com and contact +44 (1296) 747444 or email i[email protected].