For a restful English escape into a bygone era of glorious country Manor Houses, parkland, lakes, historic gardens, and millennia old monuments, one would do well to visit Stoke Park.
With over 1000 years of history, Stoke Park, named in the Domesday book, is one of Britain’s leading Hotel, Spa, and Country Clubs set amongst a beautiful 300 acres of lush landscapes just 35 minutes from London. As a local – I grew up just 11 miles away – this incredible Country Manor was an unexpected surprise to me, yet within minutes of arrival as a new guest, I felt more comfortable here than I have in any other British hotel. There is an exciting air of grandeur and beauty redolent of scenes within historic Downton Abbey, yet an informality and friendliness that lends itself to making you feel at ease. This is a Country Manor one ought to visit for a weekend staycation to be both rejuvenated and rested, feeling at once inspired and at home.
I am, of course, not the first to recognise the hotel’s merits. In the single year of 2016 alone, Stoke Park received abundant accolades, including, ‘Best Spa Hotels in Britain’ – The Times, ‘Best Luxury Spas in the UK’ – The Independent, ‘Best Spa Hotels in the UK’ – Harpers Bazaar, ‘No. 1 Best Wedding Venue just outside of London’- Evening Standard and ‘Ultimate 100 Best British Hotels 2016’ – The Sunday Times.
The history of this place is worth visiting it for: the original Elizabethan Manor House once belonged to Queen Elizabeth I, and then by Sir Edward Coke. Sir Edward Coke was the first Lord Chief Justice of England, and, interestingly, the lawyer who prosecuted Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot and coined the phrase ‘An Englishman’s Home is his Castle’ (presumably here). In 1706, the founding fathers of Pennsylvania in the US, the Penn family, purchased the state and lived here until Thomas Penn died in 1775. After a flurry of historical dramas with the estate during the American civil war, son John Penn hired a well-known Georgian architect to design the Mansion house whilst Humphry Repton designed the lush landscapes. As if a heritage of Queen Elizabeth I and the Penn family isn’t enough, the US government’s architect for the White House was also notably inspired by the drawings of James Wyatt in what is now known as the Wyatt room, influencing the design of the Oval Office.
This epic history was contained within the family line until 1908, when Stoke Park ceased being a family home and was bought by Lane “Pa” Jackson (the founder of the Corinthian Club) to become the UK’s first Country Club. Inevitably, Stoke Park’s rich history has inspired many movies and enabled it to become the backdrop for Goldfinger, Tomorrow Never Dies, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Layer Cake and many others esteemed films.
The hotel facilities include 49 luxury bedrooms and suites, 3 restaurants, bars, and lounges including Humphry’s, a 3 AA Rosette fine dining restaurant, a 27 hole Championship Golf Course, an all-weather range and indoor swing studio, 4,000 sq. ft. gym with hot yoga and group cycling studios, spa, spa garden with outdoor hot tub and Scandi sauna, indoor swimming pool, steam rooms, tennis courts, crèche, games room and playground, conference rooms, 14 acres of private gardens, and spa boutique.
We arrived on a sunny Saturday morning to the glorious sun-filled Autumnal grounds, eliciting a chorus of gasps and sighs of appreciation, before making our way to the Mansion house to check in. Warmly welcomed by the friendly yet formal staff, we made our way to our suite – the William and Mary – on the third floor. The rooms are all named individually, and have quirky, unique features – but all generally ooze a private country club aura with dark wood fittings, ornate mirrors, old, heavy antique furniture and lots of puffy, squishy comfortable sofas and armchairs. The traditional interiors elicit a strong sense of comfort and homeliness, which the many roaring gas fires deepen and amplify. It’s a picturesque home to escape to on a windy Autumnal afternoon, and curl up with a good book and glass of wine on a large and luxurious sofa.
The William and Mary room is large, spacious, with a table and two comfortable armchairs in the centre, an array of beautiful antique dark wood furnishings, plush thick curtains, and a humongous comfortable double bed. The low ceilings, views onto the glorious woodland grounds, and quaint yet premium minibar facilities strengthen the sense of understated luxury homeliness which seems to be the epitome of Stoke Park. The obscenely huge bathroom – almost the size of the bedroom itself – is equally delightful with a lovely large bathtub, two huge sinks, separate stand-alone shower, a vastly decadent expanse of floor and lovely toiletries to enjoy. It’s easy to imagine an afternoon of lounging around the room, with the fireplace and dim lighting, enjoying that glass of wine and book.
Beyond the sumptuous suites, Stoke Park offers a newly renovated Spa which my guest and I visited (on an aptly rainy late October afternoon). The Spa is situated in the Pavilion, the estate’s newer building (with an appropriately more modern style to it), which also has 28 luxury bedrooms for those that prefer a more contemporary retreat. The Spa in this building evokes a warm sense of indulgence and serenity, with an indoor heated pool, Italian marble steam rooms, a deep relaxation room, a private atrium with a five metre tropical aquarium to wait for treatments in, an outdoor sauna and hot tub, as well as a nail salon. After reclining in the private atrium and enjoying some fruits and tea, my guest enjoyed a THALGO facial, a sea-based treatment esteemed for its powerful healing and rebalancing properties, which she described as ‘one of the best facials’ she has ever experienced, and I lavished an Aromatherapy Associates lavender oil deep-tissue massage that was just phenomenal. Both treatments were of stellar quality and trumped those that we’d received in other 5 star establishments. We were very much pleasantly surprised.
After lounging in the Spa further, we retreated to our rooms to prepare for dinner at Humphrys before reclining to our deliciously warm and comfortable bed. The solitude and peacefulness of the room and its surroundings ensured a wonderfully restful nights sleep, furthering our sense of Stoke Park as a decadent home away from home.
Breakfast, the next morning, was served in the sunlit Orangery, a more casual dining restaurant next to Humphrys, with stunning views over the grand grounds. We opted for the cooked breakfast, though there was a continental selection to choose from too (with freshly baked bread, pastries, fruit, and a phenomenal wet muesli I ended up thoroughly enjoying). My eggs benedicte was fantastic whilst my guest’s cooked English was to an excellent standard with some of the tastiest tomatoes ever tried. All in all, a fantastically lazy breakfast for a Sunday and one that rounded our stay off beautifully.
Stoke Park proved to be an unexpectedly restful and restorative retreat away from home. The overwhelming sense of peace, ease, and comfort that the hotel exudes, ensures one feels rested, whilst the grandeur of the interior and surroundings, leaves one rejuvenated and inspired. This is an apt staycation destination and one I would be delighted to experience again. Perhaps next time I can even try the Golf!
Stoke Park Country Club, Spa and Hotel