Two typical English country house hotels at the very top of their game can lead to two superb, yet quite different, experiences, as LUX discovers
To arrive at Lucknam Park is to enter into a dream of a 19th-century English romantic novel. We arrived just before dusk on a breezy evening when dark clouds were shooting across the remaining patches of blue sky. As we pulled up the drive, the setting sun turned the parkland on either side of the mile-long avenue of trees a golden green. The drive is so long you can’t even see the hotel, your final destination. After parkland and woodland, a big paddock appeared on the right, horses strolling around on the damp green turf. Finally the hotel appeared in view, looking as welcoming as it would have to arrivals in a carriage a century or more ago.
Living quarters and view
A very generous suite, comprised of two spacious rooms (extremely large by the standards of English country house hotels; it would satisfy even those used to American hotel dimensions). Both living room and bedroom looked out to parkland stretching to a short horizon: a hilltop, it turned out. No cars or buildings in sight. The bathroom was, thank goodness, of the new generation of UK country house bathrooms, with a full, separate shower, extensive marble and proper lighting, and enough room for pre-dinner pampering.
Lucknam Park has a Michelin star and a celebrated wine list. Bare table, staccato-menu dining has not invaded this traditional country hotel: full service, tablecloths and serious napkins await. The style of cuisine may best be described as traditional Anglo-French. Vagaries of season mean that you, the reader, will not have what we, LUX, had, but examples include roast line-caught sea bass with maple-glazed chicken wing, celeriac risotto, wild mushrooms and confit baby onions. It’s ambitious and it works beautifully.
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And the rest
The pool, in a separate and sympathetically built spa building, is a proper length for laps and the spa itself is a serious operation, with an array of treatments we found both soothing and effective. There’s also another, more casual, restaurant here and its quiet, sunny terrace is an excellent place for a grilled chicken salad lunch. The grounds are vast and it’s a horse rider’s paradise. The hotel accepts but does not encourage children, meaning you won’t be overwhelmed by offspring.
Lucknam Park is an extensive and effective luxury country spa resort beautifully melded with a traditional country house hotel in one of the prettiest parts of western England. We hail its thoroughness, beauty and professionalism.
LORDS OF THE MANOR
To arrive at Lords of the Manor was, in our case, to get hopelessly and rather delightfully lost. We knew the hotel was in the village of Upper Slaughter, which was a couple of miles from the village of Lower Slaughter; these are tiny, postcard villages. After driving back and forth from one to the other, we realized we had driven past Lords of the Manor each time. Despite its grand name, it is not a place that shouts about itself. But the building itself, and its setting, is breathtaking for its seclusion and its history. We parked the car and immediately strolled around the pond and the informal gardens in a sunny dell in front of the hotel, taking in the peace, the soul. This is a place to dream of when in inhospitable places around the world: a little jewel of perfect Cotswolds England, not manicured or overdone, just timeless.
Living quarters and view
The room had a four-poster bed, a bay window letting in plenty of light, and a view across fields and the pond to ancient hedgerows and a little river. A variety of songbirds were at large in the trees, which bent back and forth in a mild breeze. It was a view you could stare at for hours.
In the restaurant at Lords of the Manor you feel tucked away, cosy, safe, as if outside there are highwaymen and danger. The restaurant has a Michelin star, but is low on fuss and ceremony, and high on quality and warmth of service. The menu is relatively simple and well communicated. For example, braised lardo glazed turbot, celeriac, greens, ox-tail, roast turbot consommé was exactly as it sounds. The wine list should be lauded for the efforts successive sommeliers have made to go beyond the standard French, Italian and Spanish classics (which are nonetheless very much in evidence) and further around the world.
And the rest
In the morning, after a breakfast of locally sourced, gently spiced sausages, limpid back bacon and local mushrooms, we walked out across the grass in front of the hotel, past the pond, in between a couple of hedgerows and into a field in a gentle 5 valley. The path wove alongside a little slow – moving stream so clear you could see fish zipping through the water; they were still, then would suddenly race forward, then be still again. There was no indication of where the hotel’s grounds ended. After 20 minutes the stream reached a couple of Cotswold stone houses marking the edge of the next village, Lower Slaughter.
Lords of the Manor is discovery luxury of the very best kind. Unstyled, the opposite of slick, without an array of the usual add-on facilities, it is very much its own place and, because of that, it nears perfection.