This blasted pandemic has, very obviously, forced us to cancel many travel plans over the last 6 months and to of course adapt any planned trips, often looking a little closer to where we live. Combine this with the wider, and hopefully more permanent, trend of more considered and selective air travel, and the holiday-at-home is now more of a real thing than ever.
For many a Brit, a “staycation” means a quaint cottage on the coast or a country house with friends. Rarely does it mean the heady levels of service and luxury we’d normally associate with a long-haul, high-spend, ultra-holiday. However, now we’re looking here rather than there, we are discovering the joys of great British luxury that we may have, rather guiltily, been ignoring for some time. It’s not like the leading lights of the UK are all new, more that they weren’t necessarily the first option for that big trip we daydream about.
We turn our intention in this case to Coworth Park. A destination many a Londoner will know but fewer will have visited for a hotel stay. Just an hour from the capital, this centuries old yet incisively modern estate and mansion house has to be one of the most majestic destinations we have in reach. A venue to not only daydream on, but to truly, finally, actually experience. It has, after all, been a long year so far.
Coworth Park is primed for the truly luxurious holiday-at-home. Renovated to a hotel estate and spa in 2010, its infinitely welcoming mansion house sits in a sweeping 240 acres of grounds at the foot of Windsor Park, between the twin peaks of Wentworth Golf Club and Ascot. 70 rooms are spread across the main house and the well considered external additions and conversions (the cottages and the stables) but there is so much space here it feels more like an uber 30.
The grounds are simply huge, with a big sky that is rare in this country, especially so close to London. Two polo fields (along with extensive liveries) host the Guards Polo Academy and, in normal times, regular matches throughout the season. Horses are central to the estate and have been for decades. The clop of a hoof is perennial across the estate’s meandering lanes which makes the life of a hippophile (yeah, we had to look that one up) really quite appealing. Equestrian experience is not a pre-requisite to enjoyment though. Riding lessons are available and the academy has polo lessons by the hour too. Combined with the hotel’s spa and eateries, to sooth those post-chukka aches, it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend an active staycation day.
There is quite the adventure waiting for itinerant foodie too. Under the culinary guidance of award-winning chef Adam Smith, there is a wide choice of exceptional dining options across the estate. Thanks to our good friend corona, there are some restrictions on what’s open and possible, but these are mitigated with finesse from an attentive team and the soupçon of patience we must all carry right now. Al fresco evening dining was a delight in the balmy flame-lit courtyards of The Barn. A highly conducive wine list was a joy and a healthy slug of it was available by the carafe, always a great sign. Brasserie salads, steaks and appealing summer ensembles are perfectly constructed here (we’re looking at you English Feta and Pickled Strawberries) and the accompanying bread-basket is of significant note.
In fact, check that, the baking is more than simply of note. It’s spectacular. Even the most ardent anti-glutenist will be slain by the bread and patisserie on offer, in every dining spot. Its so worth it. Our breakfast the following morning, helmed by truly superb croissants, sourdough and French toast, justified our visit alone. Honestly, we’d drive out of London on a morning’s return just for this. Sadly we weren’t able to extend our love for their bakers to experience the “quintessential afternoon tea” served in the drawing room but, oh dear, there’s another reason to come back.
On to drink. Given the welcoming in-suite bottle of Veuve-Cliquot was rather quickly dispatched (it was one of the hottest days of the year after all), The Bar was also a welcome distraction. A finely crafted and diverse cocktail list, with a solid whisky selection, is on offer. There are few things that can instil the pride of this green and pleasant land better than a clinking a chilled drink down to the croquet lawn. Coworth Park is bursting at the seems with attractive garden spots like this at which to while and sip away the hours, in fact. Tree lined avenues with delightful shade, a lake side hand-carved bench under and ancient oak tree, an oh so very English bandstand gazebo. Take your pick.
The highlight of many stays in the past, and we pray the future would most certainly be The Spa and its varied treatments. It’s really quite a special not-so-little gem, folded neatly into the landscape of the estate. With an indoor pool and outdoor terrace, protected from most intrusions save swathes of sunlight, it’s wonderfully peaceful. We would have loved to have experienced some of the extra facilities such as the steam and sauna but these are understandably not-just-yet Covid omissions from service. A capacity restricted (and therefore beautifully quiet) allotted hour at the pool with a glorious bathe in the sun was enriching and enlivening, nonetheless.
The spa was in fact the only place where Covid measures had a noticeable impact on what’s possible. And not so detrimentally either. Yes it was a shame not to get the 100% experience, but it was not all a disappointment given the combination that Coworth Park still has to offer, our well managed expectations and the dearth of any experience remotely like this since early 2020. Premium is still very much alive, well and coping with Covid.
Throughout, there was an obvious yet unobtrusive effort and acknowledgement of the safety measures that hosts and guests alike must adhere to. It is though, a long way from spoiling the experience of a luxury stay in a majestic English hotel. Our room, an upgraded-to Junior Suite, was a haven with a view and there was no hint of pandemic impingement or infringement whatsoever. A sprawling four-post bed and a roll-top copper bath, solidly ensconced in a spacious bathroom suite, was exactly the escape from perpetual zoom-call purgatory we needed. What’s more, there was no need to spend a day of miserable travel to get there. Maybe things are looking up for the discerning hotelista. Stay here. Go to Coworth Park.
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