Roger St. Pierre visits Buckinghamshire’s stately Hartwell HouseTravel writing is not one of the world’s best-paid occupations, but there are a lot of benefits. It’s in essence a Champagne life on a beer salary.
In my time I’ve slept in the iron bedstead that Billy The Kid occupied in Lincoln, New Mexico – I hasten to add that the outlaw was not in residence at the time! I have stayed in Elizabeth Taylor’s favourite suite at the magnificent Cipriani in Venice – she, too, was absent – and I kipped in the Presidential Suite at the famed Hotel Adlon, in Berlin, that had been occupied the previous night by President Clinton. (No, I did not find Monica Lewinski hiding inside the wardrobe.)
Now at Hartwell House, just outside the fast-growing Buckinghamshire town of Aylesbury, after negotiating the sweeping drive and crunching the gravel at the imposing threshold, I was ushered into the truly regal King’s Suite. It was occupied between 1809 and 1814 by the exiled heir to the French throne, the future Louis XVIII, while Napoleon rampaged across Europe.
First mention of the property was in the Domesday Book, at which time it belonged to William Peverel, a natural son of William the Conqueror. The present house is of Jacobean and Georgian provenance, featuring exquisite decorative plaster ceilings and ornately carved wood panelling, some of it attributed to celebrated 18thC master carver Grinling Gibbons. There’s also an outstanding collection of fine art paintings, sculptures and period furniture, transforming a grand mansion into a wonderfully welcoming home for all its visitors.
Halls and salons that once echoed to the footsteps and intrigues of politicians, courtiers and military men today provide a wonderful setting for corporate meetings and leisure travellers alike.
A tour of the premises is akin to entering Aladdin’s Cave. Features include a magnificent ornamental staircase, the banisters crowned by 30 carved effigies, no two of them alike. Look carefully and you might spot Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Margaret Thatcher.
In 1938, this architectural gem was rescued from potential dereliction by Ernest Cook, an early Messiah of the conservation movement. Then 25 years ago it was turned into a hotel by the forward-thinking Historic House Hotels group.
Hartwell today has 30 delectably appointed bedrooms, while the adjacent Hartwell Court holds six bedrooms and 10 suites, all decorated and furbished to the same high standard as the rooms in the house. There are a further four high-quality bedrooms available in the charming Old Rectory.
Hartwell boasts a truly cosseting spa facility – replete with a massive indoor pool, spa bath, steam room, saunas, hot-tub and comprehensively equipped gym – which has its own café for snacks and light meals, while the property’s highly regarded fine dining restaurant, showcasing the skills of master chef Daniel Richardson and his team, is located in the main house.
Discreetly situated well away from the passing road to Oxford, this stately house is ideal for sensitive business meetings as well as day and residential conferences, product launches and banquets. Over the years it has hosted numerous key functions for the top end of the market. In 2013 Hartwell welcomed the G7 summit meeting. In the main house, the Soane, Doric and Octagon rooms can host meetings for from eight to 60 guests while the more contemporary styled air-conditioned Hartwell Rooms have all the facilities expected from a serious business meeting venue, including plenty of natural light.
Hartwell is part of the Historic House Hotels group, along with its two sister properties – Middlethorpe Hall, near York, and Bodysgallen Hall & Spa, in North Wales. In 2008, the group and all its properties were gifted to the National Trust.
All three Historic House Hotels are marketed through Pride of Britain, a consortium of 49 privately-owned independent hotels throughout the UK.