Jessica Hope makes haste to the country and gets a taste of the high life at Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa
If you ever wonder about how Jane Austen envisioned nearby Bath for her heroines Catherine Morland and Anne Elliot, then you can simply wander the streets of said city, weaving from its Assembly Rooms, across to The Circus and the Royal Crescent, admiring the Georgian architecture that she imagined these characters once walked past. If you’re looking to experience what Elizabeth Bennet might have after her marriage to Mr Darcy, then a short drive outside Bristol might just be on the cards.
Standing within 500 acres of beautiful parkland, Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa is a Palladian mansion dating from 1720, that exudes all the elegance you would expect from a period novel. You needn’t travel far to swap the stresses of city life for a weekend of unadulterated luxury there – being just a 35-minute jaunt away – and the hotel certainly lives up to its reputation for being a centre for comfort, relaxation and superb food.
On a recent visit, with my bonnet at the ready, I turned back the clock to sample the Pemberley-esque lifestyle…
Eagerly peering through the entrance gates as they gently opened, my partner, Russell, and I felt bound for the sheer elegance of 18th-century high society as we drove down the mile-long avenue, lined with some 400 lime and beech trees, towards the hotel’s grand doorway. The central exterior building hasn’t changed a great deal from when it was first built, radiating the undeniable opulence of a five-star, award-winning country pile.
Away from the dreary, grey skies of late winter, we were warmed in the inviting reception area by the open, crackling fireplace, and greeted by friendly staff. After checking in, we had a tour of the hotel and examined the 3D model of the grounds near the main doors; a very handy tool to ensure visitors don’t get lost finding their way to the spa or brasserie across the courtyard.
Heading upstairs, we were shown to our room – the delightfully named Cornflower Suite. Despite the extensive grounds, the hotel still feels intimate and quiet with just 42 rooms including 13 suites, all named after flowers. Each is individually styled with sumptuous decor, antique furniture and all the modern amenities you might need. In our ornate sitting room – featuring flatscreen television, quality magazines, information about what’s on offer at the hotel and local places of interest – we quaffed chilled champagne and admired our stylish surroundings. With a window-side writing table overlooking the long driveway and rolling views over the countryside, this could easily make the perfect retreat for a budding novelist in need of inspiration or peace and quiet.
The showpiece of the bedroom is the king-size bed with antique, glossy wooden bed frame and soft Egyptian cotton bedding, while extra amenities include a Nespresso coffee machine (fresh milk can be delivered to your room on request), Bose sound system, iPod dock, and walk-in wardrobe with plenty of hanging space.
The modern en-suite bathroom features a sleek and spacious rainwater shower, a freestanding bathtub, and Jack-and-Jill marble-topped sinks; as well as a variety of bergamot, jasmine and cedarwood ESPA toiletries, fluffy towels, snuggly dressing gowns and slippers, which you can wear when visiting the spa.
After dressing for dinner, we decided a cocktail in the drawing room was necessary (I recommend the raspberry Tom Collins) before dining in Restaurant Hywel Jones, where executive chef Jones has held a Michelin star since 2006. We dined from the seasonal à la carte, which offers three courses for £87 per person. After a selection of canapés and an amuse bouche of quail’s egg in a velvety cream and chive sauce, I had the citrus-cured Loch Duart salmon, which just fell apart at the touch, with smatterings of warming horseradish and sweet beetroot. Russell chose the tender duck liver, which didn’t have a trace of that typical iron taste that liver can often have, placed on a caramelised chicory tart with sharp, contrasting touches of mandarin and pomegranate.
For main I savoured delicate sea bass with smoky chorizo from Trealy Farm in Monmouth, served on a bed of moreish creamed sweetcorn, with a scorched spring onion and a crispy crab bonbon. Hywel Jones and his team pride themselves on using high quality products at all times, and this was abundantly clear in these dishes. Russell lapped up his lamb cooked two ways, sourced from award-winning producer Andrew Morgan based in the Brecon Beacons.
Cooked perfectly pink, the lamb was served with a subtly-salty anchovy fritter with spicy hints of cumin, cooling yoghurt, sweet carrot and crunchy pearl barley granola.
Following a palate cleanser of sharp sorbet with a white chocolate coating and tangy sherbet, I delved into a perfectly light Bramley apple soufflé, with a deep butterscotch sauce and rich buttermilk ice cream, while Russell raved about his crème brûlée, packed with Madagascan vanilla and served with sharp blackberry sorbet and sweet, glazed blackberries.
Comfortably full, we returned to our suite to find our bed turned down, ready for us to rest our heads, with charming bedside mats wishing us ‘goodnight’. As we languished on what was arguably the most comfortable hotel bed I have ever experienced, I noticed just how quiet our room was. Having encountered many incidents in the past in hotels of incessant humming from ventilation systems, stomping along the corridors and unnecessarily bright lights from outside, I usually pack a good pair of earplugs and an eye mask. However, there was no need for this at Lucknam – even for a building that is three centuries old, I didn’t hear a creak all night.
“The hotel certainly lives up to its reputation for being a centre for comfort, relaxation and superb food”
The next morning, completely rested, we drew back the curtains to unveil the incredible view down the leafy driveway where a couple of guests were enjoying a horse ride in the early morning air. A newspaper of your choice can be delivered to your room in the morning, alongside a daily bulletin of what is happening at the hotel. This can include yoga classes, upcoming courses in the cookery school and ideas for local walks and attractions if you fancy venturing outside of the grounds.
There are two extensive breakfast menus available in the restaurant, which you can have delivered to your room if you can’t pull yourself away from those impressive vistas. Alongside freshly squeezed juices, tea and roasted coffee, you can choose from a wealth of cereals, yoghurts, buttery pastries and Bertinet toast before tucking into the likes of a full English, an omelette or eggs Florentine.
While check out is at noon, your stay doesn’t have to stop there as you can still make the most of the luxury spa facilities afterwards. Immerse yourself in the indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy pool, sit back and relax in the various steam rooms and saunas and get those aches and pains sorted by booking a massage treatment.
You can feel slightly less guilty about your decadent dinner the night before by going for a swim in the 20-metre indoor pool, visiting the fitness suite with the latest state-of-the-art equipment, playing a game of tennis, or attending a class in the well-being house. And if you get peckish at all, the contemporary brasserie offers all-day dining.
While you can certainly put all your stresses behind you during your relaxing stay, the hotel also offers a range of activities if you’re looking to try something new or rekindle a love for a pastime you haven’t engaged in for a while. Just a short walk from the hotel is the cookery school where visitors can try their hands at different cuisines under the guidance of head chef Ben Taylor – learn how to recreate Michelin-starred cooking at home, become a star baker with an introduction to patisserie or immerse yourself in the regional cuisines of India. Open Tuesday to Saturday, full day courses are £185 per person, and half days cost £95 – go online to see the cookery school course calendar in full.
If you’d rather explore the hotel’s unspoilt parkland, going on horseback might be the most exhilarating way to see it. Lucknam Park has an equestrian centre with 35 horses of all sizes and capabilities, so if you’re a complete novice or, like me, haven’t ridden in a long while, then you will be well catered for under the guidance of the qualified equestrian team. Experienced riders also have the opportunity to improve their skills in jumping, dressage or cross-country schooling, and the centre offers group riding and specialist clinics.
As we left the hotel and proceeded back down the majestic driveway, we felt as refreshed as if we’d been on a mini-break, yet had the comfort of knowing that the journey home wouldn’t be too long. However, now I’ve experienced modern-day Pemberley living, I don’t think normality will ever do…
• Classic rooms with use of the spa facilities and gym start at £245. Visit: lucknampark.co.uk