03 Feb England’s Luxurious Rural Hotels – The Epitome of Pampered Country Life
There’s no place like the stately homes of England for a deliciously decadent taste of country life as it was in the pampered days of yore. Fortunately so many have been turned into luxurious hotels by now that you can savor the feeling even if you aren’t to the manor born.
Here’s a trio of super-stars where the picturesque settings and solicitous care are hard to beat – including a lesser-known find with a 200-year-old Canadian connection and surprisingly affordable prices.
They’re all within easy touring distance of each other in the scenic southeast, but all delightfully different in their soothingly quiet way.
BEAUPORT PARK HOTEL
Near Hastings, East Sussex
One doesn’t expect to find a stately English home named after a remote village in Canada in 1763.
But Beauport Park in Sussex was called after Quebec’s Beauport, instead of the more usual other way around, by Gen. James Murray. He fell in love with the beguiling pioneer settlement when he was Governor of Quebec and later Governor of Canada, and wanted something to remind him of it after he returned to his home in England.
Stroll through the 33 acres of private woodland surrounding the handsome Georgian manor that is now Beauport Park Hotel, and you’ll know how it must have felt when Murray lived there – except that he owned 2,000 acres then.
The original mansion was swept by fire in the 1920s, but restored in almost identical style. And except for a thoroughly modern swimming pool, the formal gardens where you can loll the day away when the weather co-operates are just as they were too.
You can relax by a roaring log fire in the elegant lounge on cooler days. Or putter round the putting green, play tennis, golf or squash; or join the horsey set for a brisk trot along quiet country lanes.
It must be admitted that the food served in the romantic dining room overlooking the statue-studded Italianate terrace isn’t up to the haute cuisine peaks that have won the other two hotels in this trio their clusters of stars and mentions in so many Best Restaurants of the World lists. But it’s remarkably good by most country hotel standards – they dote on flambes and prepare them with loving flourish.
Their prices aren’t up to the high standards of the other two either. It’s about $96 a night for two in a regular bedroom, which includes such nice touches as hair dryers, trouser press and tea-makers along with the usual modern conveniences; up to $124 for a suite with a four-poster bed.
Beauport Park is halfway between the twin-named towns of Battle and Hastings (close by the site of the Battle of Hastings). If you aren’t driving it’s easier to find a cab for the five-kilometer drive from busier Hastings. But if you’re going on by train when you leave, get the hotel to arrange for a cab to Battle – it’s a shame to miss the quaint old railway station in a converted church there.
CHEWTON GLEN HOTEL
Near New Milton, Hampshire
You can’t say the nice people who run the Chewton Glen Hotel don’t do everything they can to make life easy for you.
They know many of their jet-set guests pick up a drive-yourself car when they arrive at the airport, to go to Chewton Glen. They also know how tiring unfamiliar roads can be after a long flight. So they thoughtfully suggest you have your drive-yourself car delivered directly to the hotel “to await your arrival,” and they’ll send their chauffeur-driven Jaguar to meet you at the airport and whisk you to their sumptuous Hampshire hideaway bordering the New Forest “so you can complete your journey in calm and comfort.”
It costs $290 from Gatwick, $250 from Heathrow. But it does mean you arrive in style as well as calm comfort.
We didn’t go that far, but we did take the Jag and its solicitous chauffeur back to the New Milton train station, a few minutes away. That only costs $8, more than double what our taxi had charged to go there, but a small price to pay for such a classy feeling.
Everything about Chewton Glen reeks of class, from the moment you enter the long winding driveway leading to the imposing Georgian manor that used to be the home of 19th-century novelist Captain Marryat – all the rooms are named after characters in Mr. Midshipman Easy and his other classics.
The restaurant is the Marryat Room, and the food is as spectacular as the view across the manicured croquet lawns down to the Glen. Table d’hote lunches are the best buys, running from $24 to $30 and offering such delicacies as Scotch salmon adorned with caviar, Dover sole to dream on, and a masterly manifestation of creme brulee on black currant cassis.
Should you tire of the Marryat Room’s food, unlikely as that seems, the hotel has been known to have their guests helicoptered to dine at other privately-owned hotels in the Prestige group.
It’s $192 and up per night for two to stay in one of their 33 tastefully modernized bedrooms, $384 and up for one of 11 super-luxe suites. But that includes a Continental breakfast and such extra touches as a glass of sherry to greet you on arrival, and bidets in most of the bathrooms.
Near East Grinstead, West Sussex
You can’t help feeling a trifle gauche if you don’t arrive at Gravetye Manor in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce – preferably a vintage model. Anything else, even a Jag, doesn’t seem quite up to the sedate grandeur of this 16th-century ivy-clad Elizabethan mansion set in 30 acres of gardens and woodlands with its own three-acre trout lake (guests can fish there in season).
We arrived from East Grinstead in a common cab, but the ultra-attentive staff at Gravetye was too discreet to hold that against us.
Gravetye was the home of one of Britain’s greatest gardening geniuses, William Robinson, from 1884 to 1935, and he pioneered the English natural flower garden there. He also panelled most of the rooms in the ancient manor with oak from his vast estate, which ran over 1,000 acres when he bought it.
Wisely little has been done to change the private country home character of the place since it became a hotel in 1957, except to add bathrooms to each of its 15 bedrooms.
It’s become a favorite of Britain’s top politicos, who understandably like to hold high-level conferences there – don’t be surprised if you run into The Lady herself there. The rates for a double room at Gravetye Manor range from $128 to $216 for a larger room with a sitting area. As of April 1, they increase to $136 and $238.
Their restaurant has won so many gourmet awards they don’t even bother to list them all now. But they do suggest you refrain from smoking in the lavish dining-room “in respect for the food and other guests.”
They also provide such niceties as bread baked on the premises twice daily for the ultimate freshness; vegetables and fruits mainly from their own gardens; and carafes of water from their own spring. They use the same spring water for the tank where they keep the fresh trout and crayfish that make memorable (and expensive) dining delights. So do their other gastronomic specialties, like home-smoked venison, breast of duck with raspberry sauce, sauteed sweetbreads with oyster mushrooms and spinach mousse.
As their elegant brochure promises, Gravetye is indeed “an experience that affects all the senses.”