CD Traveller visits Stoke Park and savors a little taste of paradise
Set in 350 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphrey Repton designed parkland, Stoke Park is a celebrity favorite: everyone from Daniel Craig to Claudia Schiffer, Hugh Grant, Renee Zellwegger, Jodie Kidd and Robbie Williams stays (and plays) here – and they all keep coming back for more.
And understandably so, for nobody can deny that when it comes to luxury Stoke Park knows how to put on a show and they’ve been doing it for decades: the estate has been in existence for 1,000 years and Britain’s greatest Country Club since the turn of the century.
Yet while we were expecting a fancy hotel that we could relax and unwind in after a hectic year, even we couldn’t anticipate the sheer luxury we were about to walk into.
The distinctive cream-colored Palladian mansion, designed by James Wyatt – King George 111’s favorite architect – is opulence personified: all marble pillars, high ceilings, historical portraits on the walls and oriental rugs on the floors. The 21 bedrooms are straight out of a scene from Gosford Park with wood paneling, desks, fireplaces, free-standing bathtubs and priceless antiques. Not surprisingly, given their quintessential Englishness, it’s the mansion rooms that the American tourists adore – particularly the Pennsylvania Suite that Bridget Jones and Daniel Cleaver, aka Renee Zellweger and Hugh Grant, romped in after rowing on the nearby lake in Bridget Jones.
Bridget Jones on the Lake
By contrast, the 28 rooms in the Pavilion (the newer part of the estate that opened in May 2008) has a more contemporary feel. CD Traveller was shown to room 102, although to call it a room is akin to calling the Sistine Chapel ceiling merely a mural. A favorite with Daniel Craig, the hall corridor is lined with shelves groaning under the weight of worthy reads. At the end of the corridor, you’ll find a small office (the perfect place to read one of the books – or write one), while a right turn brings you to the bedroom adorned with handmade mirrors as well as hip, iconic artwork including modern oil paintings, large photographs, Andy Warhol lithos and film posters and dominated by a grand four poster king size bed boasting Egyptian cotton sheets. There’s also an HD television, iPod dock, moreish mini-bar treats (we can vouch for the smoked almonds) and arresting views across the verdant gardens. The bathroom meanwhile is a marble haven of heated floors, SPC toiletries, cozy dressing gowns, a roomy rain shower, his ‘n’ her sinks and a large bath.
Leaving such luxury is something of a challenge. Should you manage to do that, the award-winning £20 million spa is accessible within steps and seven-star in terms of service and facilities. There’s an array of pampering body and face treatments (CD Traveller signed up for the SPC Active Glow Facial) to choose from along with more unusual options like ear candling, teeth whitening, counseling and lifestyle coaching. Afterwards, spa-goers get to relax in a private atrium with a stunning five-meter tropical aquarium – a blissful environment that city spas just can’t compete with.
If you don’t fancy lying on a treatment table all day, the sporting options are the first rate from the brilliant indoor and outdoor tennis courts (Stoke Park hosts the annual Boodles’ Challenge every June) to the 4,500 sq ft gymnasium, beautiful indoor pool. Last – but by no means least – there’s the 27 hole Championship golf course (hailed as “the most stylish club in Great Britain” by Golf International) where James Bond memorably defeated Goldfinger on the 18th green in 1964. Another Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, was filmed at Stoke Park as were Brit flicks Bridget Jones’ Diary, Bride, and Prejudice, Layer Cake, and RocknRolla.
Worked up an appetite after all that exercise? It’s time to sample one of Stoke Park’s restaurants. There are three restaurants but it’s The Dining Room – presided over by the restaurant manager, Howard Davies, formerly of The Compleat Angler and The Baglioni – that is Stoke Park’s finest culinary destination. Designed by Chris Wheeler, ex-right hand man to Jean-Christophe Novelli, the modern British menu boasts delightful dishes such as scallops with bacon and caviar and poached sea bass with spinach and champagne cream sauce. Furthermore, food and drink are well priced, given the quality, with a three-course dinner weighing in at a not extortionate £39.50.
For a more informal eating experience, San Marco isn’t a bad option offering an array of classic Italian dishes. It’s also an ideal spot for breakfast –a sumptuous buffet featuring eggs cooked to order, pastries, cheeses, tropical fruits, tea and coffee. Over at the orangery, an indulgent afternoon tea is the order du jour.
Howard Davies, Restaurant and Bars Manager
Should you decide to venture out of Stoke Park, there’s plenty to see and do. Stoke Poges Church (Thomas Gray’s inspiration for Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard) is on the doorstep while Windsor Castle is also close by, as is the village of Cookham (home of artist Stanley Spencer) and the ancient woodland of Burnham Beeches. But the bottom line is this: nothing outside of the hotel beats what’s inside!
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