To launch our new series of 'Cultural Destinations' we have come to the National Trust’s wondrous Hartwell House in rural Buckinghamshire. 'Cultural Destinations' will be dedicated to searching out inspiring locations for the perfect relaxing breaks that nourish the heart, soul and mind.
Only 40 miles from North West London, Hartwell House is one of the most accessible yet transformative rural settings available to those who dwell in our bustling metropolis. It's also an extraordinary way for tourists to experience a slice of English history. From the moment you exit the Buckinghamshire roadway and are welcomed at the perimeter gate by a friendly face, Hartwell House begins to work it's magic.
The approach to the main house is impressive with a sweeping drive and a statue of Frederick Prince of Wales on his horse. It felt like we were arriving at friends from an aristocratic past rather than a hotel and the jovial Head Porter happily enlightened us on Hartwell's notable past as we stepped into the grand hall.
I was struck with a real sense that this is still a house, not a hotel. It is in fact a magnificent stately home which retains a country-house charm associated with it's rich cultural history. Hartwell was first mentioned in the Domesday Book relating to an earlier house situated just to the south of the present building. The current house was built for the Hamden family in the seventeenth century and many Jacobean features are still evident after the addition of its later Georgian facades and interiors. The Hamden's then married into the Lee family of which the cinematic Christopher Lee was a descendent.
The history is not only preserved in bricks and mortar, but an amazingly rich collection of paintings - look out for the Reynolds self portrait in the library, wearing glasses to catch his own perfect likeness. Pre-dinner cocktails in the oak panelled bar further echo the rich history with house cocktails 'King Louis' and 'Lady Lee' highly recommended.
The former champagne based cocktail references King Louis XVIII of France who made Hartwell his home during a five year period of exile from 1809, indeed it was in this very bar, then a chapel, that he received the good news of his reinstatement as king of France.
Set on 90 acres of pristinely landscaped greenery laid out by a contemporary of Capability Brown the grounds offer a selection of pleasurable walks taking in the beautiful vistas and trees which fan out from the dominant grade 1 listed building. Search out the statue of Hercules that was used as target practise by American soldiers during the second world war. The lake is spanned by a stone bridge, originally constructed in Kew Gardens, and is now the permanent residence of two rescue swans which can be seen majestically gliding across the dark, reflective surface.
The Morning Room, Drawing Room and Library are all richly decorated with Rococo plasterwork and offer up many options when deciding where to take afternoon tea or drinks. Tea, poured in highly polished silverware never tasted better, leaving you to admire the antique furniture and paintings in these spacious rooms each with its own particular style, design and identity. Look out for some of the finest surviving gilt brass wirework protecting the books in the library. The award winning restaurant and wine selection also impress.
We can highly recommend the pan seared sea scallops, caramelised cauliflower puree almond and golden raisin dressing to start, followed by a juicy fillet steak or the pan fried sea bass with textures of fennel, potato and dill gnocchi. Poached rhubarb with set vanilla custard, nut clusters and rhubarb sorbet or the pistachio and cherry ripple baked Alaska rounded of the meal gloriously.
With such culture and history contained within a relaxed environment alongside attentive staff, the allure of Hartwell naturally wins you over. No running around on exhausting excursions, Hartwell is a living piece of history you absorb and enjoy at your own pace. There's no irritating mood music here, the house itself speaks, be it the relaxing creek of the floor, the tick tock of the grandfather clock or the gentle breeze against the vast glass windows. The balance between historic house experience and cosy comfort is completely met.
The main house has thirty bedrooms and suites on three floors. Some second floor rooms open out onto a sheltered terrace which was used to rear chickens and rabbits as well as grow vegetables during King Louis XVIII's residency.
Visiting the spa is always a must in my book and here the Romanesque style pool, sauna and steam room were a real treat. There is also a gym, beauty salon and therapists offering many treatments.
Hartwell House offers a rich heritage to satisfy and reinvigorate even the most ardent city dweller or tourist, cater for an emotional retreat, a special occasion or family get-together.
With past guests including President Clinton, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and Gwyneth Paltrow you will be in good company at the prestigious Hartwell House. National Trust owned since 2008 all profits go to the maintaining the property and to continue the good work of the charity. An extraordinary experience from beginning to end.
A visit is wholeheartedly recommended and we could not think of anywhere better to kick off our Cultural Destinations series.
Check out the Hartwell House
and National trust
websites for more information.