Jessica Hope escapes to the country and gets a taste of the high life at Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa
Have you ever wondered how Jane Austen imagined Bath for her heroines Catherine Morland and Anne Elliot? One idea is to simply wander the streets of the city, weaving from the Assembly Rooms across to The Circus and the Royal Crescent, admiring the Georgian architecture that Austen would have imagined these characters walking past. Another idea, if you’re looking for a taste of what Elizabeth Bennet might have experienced after her marriage to Mr Darcy, then a short drive outside the city to Lucknam Park Hotel might just provide some answers.
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 an 18th-century novel. Just a 30-minute drive from Bath, you don’t have to travel far to escape the stresses of city life for a weekend of unadulterated luxury – 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 and got a taste of the Pemberley lifestyle…
Eagerly peering through the entrance gates as they gently opened, my partner, Russell, and I were transported to 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 you would expect from this five-star, award-winning country hotel.
As we entered the hotel, we were suddenly carried away from the dreary, grey skies of late winter to the inviting reception area, warmed by the open, crackling fireplace, and greeted by the friendly staff. After checking in, we had a tour of the hotel and were shown the 3D model of the grounds and facilities near the main doors; a very handy tool for visitors so you don’t get lost finding your way to the spa or the 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, which are all named after flowers, a staff member informs me. Each room is individually styled, with sumptuous decor, antique furniture and all the modern amenities you might need.
Once in our ornate sitting room, we were greeted with chilled Champagne which we quaffed as we sunk into the sofa 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 sitting room also features a flat screen television, quality magazines, information about what’s on offer at the hotel and local tourist sites, and a substantial guide to Relais & Châteaux, an exclusive collection of more than 500 unique hotels and restaurants from around the world, which Lucknam Park is part of.
The showpiece of the bedroom is the king-size bed with its antique, glossy wooden bed frame and soft Egyptian cotton bedding. The room’s amenities include a Nespresso coffee machine and tea-making facilities (fresh milk can be delivered to your room on request), BOSE CD player, iPod dock, and walk-in wardrobe with plenty of hanging space.
The modern en-suite bathroom features a sleek and spacious walk in rainwater shower, a freestanding bathtub, and Jack and Jill style, marble-topped sinks. And to make your stay extra special there are a variety of bergamot, jasmine and cedarwood ESPA toiletries included, plus 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 includes 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 touches of mandarin and pomegranate.
For a main I savoured my 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 evident in these dishes. Russell lapped up his main of 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, 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 ever, I noticed just how quiet our room was. Having experienced various examples of incessant humming from ventilation systems, stomping along corridors and bright lights from outside, I usually pack a good pair of earplugs and an eye mask when staying in a hotel. However, there was no need for this at Lucknam – this building is three centuries old, but I didn’t hear a creak all night.
Fully rested, the next morning we drew back the curtains to unveil an incredible view down the tree-lined driveway where a couple of guests were enjoying a horse ride in the early morning air. A morning newspaper of your choice can be delivered to your room, alongside a daily bulletin of what is happening at the hotel. This could include yoga classes, upcoming courses in the cookery school, and ideas for local walks and attractions.
There are two extensive breakfast menus available in the restaurant, which you can have delivered to your room if you can’t bear leaving impressive views. Alongside freshly squeezed juices, tea and roasted coffee, you can choose from an abundance of cereals, yoghurts, pastries and Bertinet toast before tucking into the likes of a full English, an omelette or eggs Florentine.
“The hotel certainly lives up to its reputation for being a centre for comfort, relaxation and superb food”
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, visit the fitness suite with the latest state of the art equipment, play a game of tennis, or attend a fitness class in the well-being house. And if you get peckish at all, the contemporary styled brasserie offers all-day dining.
While you can certainly put all the stresses behind you during your relaxing stay at Lucknam Park, the hotel also offers a range of activities if you’re looking to try something new or rekindle a love for a pastime that you haven’t tried 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 cookery school head chef Ben Taylor – learn how to recreate Michelin starred cooking at home, become a star baker with an introduction to patisserie, or be transported to the regional cuisines of India. Open Tuesday to Saturday, full day courses are £185 per person, and half days are £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 leave the hotel and proceed back down the majestic driveway, we feel refreshed, as if we’ve been on a mini-break, and yet have the comfort of knowing that the journey home won’t be too long.
Now I’ve experienced modern-day Pemberley living, I don’t think I ever want to go back to normality…
Classic rooms with use of the spa facilities and gym start at £245. Visit: lucknampark.co.uk