AYLESBURY, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, U.K., October 9, 2014 – Hartwell House is a jaw dropping, magnificent stately manor home about an hour north of London set on 94 acres amidst fields, ponds and towering trees. Built in the 1700s, it beckons to an earlier era of aristocracy, kings, and dukes, transforming the past into the present with its reincarnation as a significantly unique hotel property, fine dining restaurant and health spa.
Operating as a hotel since 1989, Hartwell House is one of three stately homes that are run by Historic House Hotels and are now part of the National Trust. Just outside of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and just down the road from Oxford, Hartwell House is a world unto itself.
Being here is a transformative experience, with a grandeur and presence that is awe inspiring at every turn, from the spectacle of the entrance hall, to the serenity of the library, to the series of arched domes in the grand dining room.
Each of the 30 rooms and suites in the main building is separate and distinctive, and all overlook the grounds and surrounding pastureland. The second floor corner suite, one of six Royal Suites, is utterly amazing, boasting 16 foot ceilings, six large windows overlooking the property from multiple angles, a four poster bed with a portico above it and furnishings and art dating back to the 1700s.
Long the home of aristocrats, Hartwell House’s most famous resident was the exiled King of France, Louis the XVIII, who lived here from 1809 until he returned to Paris as King in 1814. Indeed, he signed the documents restoring him to the throne in the very library where pre-dinner drinks are now served each evening.
The grounds are an integral part of the sense of wonder that sets Hartwell House apart from other properties. A large stone bridge, that was once the center arch of 18th century Kew Bridge, now crosses the island lake at the north end of the property.
Pastureland surrounds the main house on every side, with cattle, including a herd of young bullocks, grazing in sprawling fields of translucent green. A lovely ruin of St Mary’s Church on the knoll just past the entrance to the property, dating from 1753, is a majestic presence.
An equestrian statue of Frederick, Prince of Wales and son of King George II, stands grandly in front of the main house. Predeceasing his father, he never became king. But his eldest son succeeded to the throne of England in 1760 as King George III.
The House staff is crisply attentive and exceptionally well-briefed on the history and background of the manor house. The hotel manager, Jonathan Thompson, has presided over the property since its opening 25 years ago.
Dinner at Hartwell House is served in a cluster of glorious dining rooms capped with a triple domed arched ceiling stretching across the middle length of the rear of the main house. Chef Daniel Richardson presides over a remarkable kitchen whose menu changes seasonally, offering a variety of three course meals each evening.
Game ravioli with creamed leeks is outstanding, the game meaty and tender, the raviolis soft and fulsome. Pan fried red mullet with a chorizo and bean cassoulet is a lovely balance of taste and texture.
Risotto of wild mushrooms and truffle is delightful, the risotto perfectly cooked and seasoned, never overwhelming the mushrooms subtle flavor. Pan fillet of sea bream is simply fantastic, beautifully seared, exceptionally flaky: a signature stand out dish.
The Spa at Hartwell House is located in an extremely impressive stone building, mere steps from the main house. A variety of spa treatments are available, ranging from facials, to aromatherapy, to massages. A large, tiled indoor swimming pool adorns one entire wing of a massive vaulted 30 foot chamber in this picturesque building.
Breakfast is a fresco of soothing indulgence, the atmosphere casual in the grand dining hall. The sense of luxurious quietude amongst the splendor is something out of a painting, the hallways hushed but for the sound of tinkling china and coffee cups.
The proper English breakfast of sausage and eggs in this setting is all very Jane Austen and deliriously excellent, particularly when the morning sun is streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Moments pass in ethereal meditation, and a soothing calmness prevails.
We walk the splendid grounds in the morning light, oblivious to the outside world, as the cattle graze nearby in the fields. The manor house stands like a golden monument to architecture and history in the distance.
Time stands still, yet passes too quickly, all too fleetingly, before we must prepare to depart the transformative beauty of Hartwell House. The grandeur of the rooms, the sense of complete serenity, the explicit feeling of being in a timeless place creates a tranquil sensibility that transcends the ages with memories that remain unforgettable.
Standard Double rooms start at around $475, while Four Poster bedrooms are about $600 per night. The exceptionally luxurious Royal Four Poster Suites run around $800 a night, and the truly grand Lee Suite is about $1100 per night.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal