Luton Hoo and I go back a long way, some 50 years in fact, to the days when the 18th century mansion and vast estate belonged to diamond magnate Sir Harold Wernher and his Russian wife Lady Zia. The house and garden were regularly open to the public and, as my family’s local stately home, was the destination for many a Sunday afternoon outing.
The Queen and Prince Phillip spent part of their honeymoon at Luton Hoo in 1947, returning many times for their wedding anniversary, and I always hoped that one day I’d come round a corner and meet a lady with a crown. I never did, of course, but half a century later, I was about to sleep in one of the original guest suites, if not exactly in the royal bed.
After the death of the Wernhers in the 1970s, Luton Hoo spent some 20 years as a venue for functions and filming, the backdrop to movies and TV series ranging from Four Weddings and a Funeral to Inspector Morse, Eyes Wide Shut to Vanity Fair.
In 1999, it was purchased by Elite Hotels and after a painstaking and costly restoration programme lasting eight years, opened its doors to paying guests in October 2007.
Today Luton Hoo offers gracious living and fine dining, top quality spa and leisure facilities, and one of England’s longest golf courses, all within a few minutes’ drive of both the M1 motorway and London-Luton Airport. The public lounges and huge entrance hall have been faithfully restored and furnished with reproductions of family paintings and tapestries, and some of the towering chandeliers are original.
My husband and I were booked into one of the 35 period rooms and suites in the historic Mansion House. The Parkland wing, a short walk from the Mansion House, has 38 air-conditioned bedrooms and suites, some with private terraces. A further 12 bedrooms are located in the Grade II listed stable block which also houses The Spa, and the nearby Flower Garden wing contains another 59 air-conditioned rooms.
Country house living doesn’t come cheap – although watch the website for seasonal packages. If you want to experience the huge Queen Elizabeth II or Lady Zia suites be prepared for a dent in the bank account! With the best views in the house and aristocratic atmosphere by the bucket load, you may never feel the urge to leave.
All the Mansion House rooms are decorated in keeping with the original decor of the house – think homely vintage furnishings rather than lavish antiques – and it wasn’t hard to imagine a royal corgi settled on one of the sofas in our spacious suite. One window of our living room offered a glorious pigeon’s eye view over the formal gardens and the other overlooked the front entrance, whilst the bedroom window afforded yet another perspective on the Capability Brown park. The bathroom with its two basins, bath with shower over, and tempting selection of Molton Brown toiletries was an invitation for a relaxing pre-dinner soak.
Whenever you chose to stay, arrive in plenty of time to enjoy the fabulous facilities. In summer, you could spend the whole day strolling round the park, enjoying the flowers in the formal garden, and exploring the rock garden. Or maybe take advantage of the tennis court or golf course. There are indoor diversions too including an 18-metre indoor pool with Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room; a luxurious Espa spa; and gym.
It’s a five-minute walk from the Mansion House to The Spa in the Grade II listed stable courtyard, but if the weather’s inclement, you have only to request transport and the doorman will summon a decommissioned black London taxi to whisk you there in comfort. Just ask at Spa Reception for the return ride.
Swimming works up an appetite so after chilling out over a restorative coffee in our suite, we headed downstairs for an aperitif, which is where I level my only criticism. Afternoon tea is big business here and gets booked up 6-8 weeks ahead. At 7pm on a Sunday evening, the Italianate Drawing Room and Pillared Hall were still buzzing with family groups, small children and buggies, making it hard to find a quiet corner to settle down for an intimate chat, so a private residents’ lounge or bar would be a welcome addition.
But it’s a small complaint. We were soon ushered to our restaurant table and all was well with the world again. The Wernher Restaurant is an experience to be savoured, with gastronomic fare served in sumptuous surroundings. The walls are a mosaic of pink, green and white marble; glass and china sparkle against white linen tablecloths; and heavy drapes frame picture windows facing the sweeping lawns and distant lake.
I dined on delicious seared tuna, roast guinea fowl, and a shameful number of calories off the heavily-laden sweet trolley – affordable luxury with the table d’hôte menu.
Breakfast next morning gave us the opportunity to enjoy this glorious dining room in daylight, a stylish start to our week and a reluctant end to a delightful taste of gracious country house living.
Luton Hoo Hotel Golf & Spa