When our magazines go to print, we try to reward ourselves with a little weekend away occasionally. We’d had friends recommend Hartwell House & Spa in Buckinghamshire so thought a cheeky short break would do us the world of good. We weren’t wrong.
For a start, we would be crossing the border into England where Covid restrictions were considerably more relaxed, and life might feel somewhat normal – it did. After a leisurely cross-country drive, we arrived at Hartwell House & Spa. A truly beautiful stately home in rural Buckinghamshire, restored by Historic House Hotels, offering hotel luxury in a magnificent 90 acre setting.
I won’t ramble on too much about its history – suffice to say it could fill a library, and there are plenty of reminders around the hotel – so if history is your thing (and it is ours), then you’ll certainly be spoiled. At this point I’d like to give a well-earned shout out to John, our concierge, who gave us truly fascinating insights into Hartwell House’s history. John is a fount of knowledge and worth seeking out.
Just to give a short example, we had booked the Duchesse d’Angoulême Room, which was occupied by the Duchesse (the niece of Louis XVIII of France) who resided at Hartwell House with him in exile from 1809 to 1814.
The Duchesse was the surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Apparently, the revolution affected her pretty badly and she was said to have a ‘pious and mournful disposition’. Revolutions can do that to a person – especially if you’re not on the winning side shall we say. It was observed that she always looked as if she had been recently weeping.
She was devoted to the King though, and never failed to accord him all the homage due to him, which, it is rumoured, he found at times a little tiresome within the confines of Hartwell (which is a rather smaller than Versailles).
The Duchesse d’Angoulême had a long life, and it’s worth noting that, surviving as she did until the 1850s, she lived long enough to experience travel by train.
We travelled by Fiat. Certainly not as glamourous but, nevertheless, like the Duchesse, we were impressed by Hartwell’s location on arrival. A walk prior to afternoon tea did much to relax our disposition and put us in a ‘Royal’ frame of mind. There is no doubt about it, Hartwell has a wonderfully calming effect on the soul. The grounds are superb and the waterfowl on the nearby lake did much to contribute to the feeling of us being in harmony with nature.
We can highly recommend dinner – the food and service are superb. If you do stay, you really must indulge yourself. It’s one of the best we’ve experienced. If I had an observation (not a criticism), it’s the lighting. In the Instagram age, the dining room lighting makes it almost impossible to do the food justice. Having said that, perhaps that’s how it should be at somewhere like Hartwell – if it is to be dragged into the modern era, like it’s previous occupants, it’ll do so begrudgingly, and quite rightly so.
While we loved mooching around the hotel and grounds, we do love a little drive to check out what there is to see and do in the area. The reasonably local town of Thame was recommended to us. Don’t get me wrong, we love a big city mooch as much as the next person, but as we only had a couple of hours to spare, we liked the idea of a visit to a quaint market town with a smattering of independent shops – just up our street. Thame certainly held its own. Anyone who knows Jennifer, knows she loves to shop, especially if it’s a boutique and there were several to keep her entertained. Thame is small and perfectly formed – very similar to our own Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan. It even has a decent sized Mint Velvet store – something that Cardiff, our capital city, doesn’t. Let’s just say Jennifer was glad we called in on our way back.
Bottom line, we love Hartwell House. You can lose yourself here (as so many have over the decades). It’s wistful, charming, imposing and, despite its historical boasts, spectacularly understated but with an elegance that is quite disarming and unforgettable. We will return.
Finally, I’d like to mention the staff at Hartwell. They are, quite simply, lovely. Nothing is too much trouble, and their service is faultless and authentic. You can have the most beautiful hotel in the most stunning location but it’s people that make it special (including the guests). And they certainly are at Hartwell House.
Hartwell House & Spa
Oxford Road, Vale of Aylesbury
Buckinghamshire HP17 8NR
Main Switchboard (Bedroom and Dining Enquiries, and Reservations)
Meetings (Weddings and Private Dining enquiries and bookings)
We love dogs…
As you may know, we love dogs and Hartwell House is very dog friendly so if you have a pooch and you don’t want to leave it at home, Hartwell House could very well be the perfect staycation location. Just thought we’d put that out there.