When you enjoy something you immediately want to share it in hope others will find similar pleasure. I did after visiting the Barbara Hepworth exhibition – and was astounded to be awarded a two-night stay for two at Hartwell House and Spa.
Of course we looked at the website and had some idea of the place, but not the scale or the luxury. Even if we could get it in the bed in the Duc de Berri suite would have filled our cottage bedroom wall to wall. Nor do we have an equestrian statue outside the front door or a staircase with mythological-hero figures along the balustrade. Looking down from the way to our suite we saw a baby grand piano, again of a size to make us squeeze around it in any other of our rooms.
To the arrival – after announcing ourselves at the gate the barrier was raised for us and we drove in, feeling faintly ridiculous in our small car. Fortunately, in this ecological age, the others in the car park were relatively modest and all were hidden from the house. At the entrance we were greeted courteously and ushered into the reception room after the essential temperature check. Our suitcase was taken upstairs while we registered and exchanged comments on the splendour of the prize with the receptionist, who also explained the restrictions of room service owing to Covid. This we quite understood and could not imagine problems during such a short stay.
Escorted upstairs, or we might never have found the way, we were shown to our door and left to marvel at the space and variety of our accommodation. The view of the grounds with distant cattle and the belvedere we would enjoy on our second evening was a further delight.
A coffee pod machine and two bottles of local spring water added to the comforts of our first afternoon as we thought about the recommended visit to Waddesdon, a few miles away, for the following morning. Reading about the Duc de Berri, nephew of the exiled Louis XVIII, who had enjoyed these rooms was further pleasure – until we came to his assassination soon after returning to France. Not to be deterred, however, we took a leisurely time preparing for dinner.
What a dinner too. Three courses beautifully prepared and efficiently served. Legend de Lafite Bordeaux blanc was a suitable wine for both our meals: scallops and smoked duck respectively to start, with a cheese souffle main course for one and halibut for the other. We both chose the delicious strawberry and lime parfait dessert, congratulating ourselves on how well we had chosen.
There were perhaps a dozen others dining in a very large room, discreetly served by staff in facemasks with plenty of social distance. The atmosphere was elegant and calm.
Having failed at the first attempt to find our way upstairs to the correct doorway we had next to get used to a bed where telephone contact might have been easier than speech. Then there was the excellent range of toiletries in the bathroom, only slightly offset by a notice that the bath was above a very fragile seventeenth century ceiling. No children’s games in the water then, or leaving the water running while speaking on the telephone, as a polite notice advised.
A splendid breakfast the next morning meant we had no need of lunch as the final touch – if not coup de grace – was the afternoon tea from 4 pm. Would we like wine beforehand? We thought not but appreciated the thought. A full range of teas was on offer and second pots were offered. It was all delightful but very filling. After a digestive pause we agreed on a walk in the grounds.
It was a leisurely progress we took with full opportunity for taking in views. Crossing the bridge that had been a central section of a former bridge at Kew we followed a drive around the edge of the estate, which boasts a still-to-mature sequoia among its trees. We came almost to the Oxford road, glad not to be in its rush hour traffic and followed a smaller route among trees to the belvedere, offering a view back to the house from its seats. Across grass near the cattle we found the tulip tree and pond with the croquet ground we had noticed earlier. Then we made our way back to the main entrance.
Pictures are worth thousands of words, in this case many thousand. Describing the rooms in our suite would not do justice. It was a wonderful prize and we are both very grateful to Silver Travel Advisor and Historic House Hotels for the opportunity to enjoy it.