REVIEW: HARTWELL HOUSE HOTEL IN THE VALE OF AYLESBURY, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Just one hour away from the hustle and bustle of Central London lies Hartwell House, a magnificent Grade I country house hotel surrounded by vast acres of luscious green Grade II* park and garden land in the Vale of Aylesbury. James and I visited in mid February, which in 2019 spells the beginning of an uncharacteristically early bright and beautiful spring. With a light breeze in the air and a temperature requiring only a medium knit cardigan, I emerged from the car at Hartwell, met with a glorious evening birdsong.
A Short History of Hartwell
The core of Hartwell House was built in the 17th century for the Hampden family and it features both Georgian and Jacobean features. Following the Hampden family, a string of prolific previous owners moved into the house over the years. In the 1960s, Hartwell House became a girls’ finishing school. It is one of three country properties that were lovingly saved by Richard Broyd, who was to bring them back to life as luxurious country house hotels - the sister hotels are Boddysgallen in Wales and Middlethorpe Hall in Yorkshire. In 2008, Broyd donated the Historic House Hotels group to the National Trust, who now continue to run them, with profits going towards the conservation’s ongoing work.
Hartwell House boasts forty-six individually designed rooms, each studded with its own special history and charm. When we entered the hotel, the great hall triggered an exuberant gasp. I looked up to see the beautiful, intricate ceiling that is impeccably maintained and worthy of a royal household. The morning room was next to capture my heart, closely followed by the dark wooden panelled library, extensive dining room and a particularly unique and characterful staircase adorned with eye-catching, hand-carved Jacobean figures. Impressive works of art line the walls and carefully curated antiques make the house feel like a home.
In addition to the main house, there are more rooms and suites in Hartwell Court (a restored 18th century riding school) and the spa (located within a former orangery).
Prolific Previous Owners
Hartwell's previous owners include:
William Peveral the natural son of William the Conqueror in the 11th century.
John Earl of Mortaigne, who succeeded his brother Richard the Lion Heart as King of England in 1199.
The Hampden family in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Lee family after Eleanor Hampden married Sir Thomas Lee in 1570.
Louis XVIII, exiled King of France, for five years from 1809.
Louis was joined at Hartwell by his Queen, Marie Josephine de Savoie and niece, the Duchesse D’Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Ernest Cook, an early hero of the conservation movement, in 1938.
With so much history beautifully encapsulated within Hartwell House, I often wondered what was going through the minds of other guests in the hotel. As I lay on the bed in my room, I imagined Marie Antoinette’s daughter busying herself around the house, playing with wild flowers and licking cake mixture from a spoon in the great kitchen, Pomeranians dancing around her feet. I envisioned the house keeper, polishing silverware and attending to every nook and cranny, ensuring its maintenance and safe keeping. The gardeners, greatly inspired by the works of Capability Brown, are investing hours of time crafting perfect spherical trees and marvellous box cut hedges, scattering flower seeds in beds that are ready to embrace the new hope of spring.
The stunning grounds at Hartwell House paint a beautiful picture, stretching as far as the eye can see. Spring snowdrops are emerging and a light dew covers the neatly kept lawn, which sparkles in the evening sun like a monumental sea of emeralds. Ninety acres of land create an idyllic wonderland away from the noise and brashness of city and suburban life - a sunset stroll provides one with all the escapism needed to rejuvenate the mind and enliven the senses. As you look at the house from afar, you truly feel as though you’ve been transported to the 18th century amongst the tennis court, statues, temples and canals, being careful not to stand in the path of the wild geese that appear from time to time.
The gardens have their own extensive back story, for example, in the 18th century, Sir Thomas Lee commissioned the grounds to be transformed in the theme of a poem by local poet Alexander Merrick. The outcome became inspiration for (slightly exaggerated and reimagined) oil paintings by artist Balthasar Nebot.
Royal Double Twin
We checked into this beautiful royal double twin room, with a brilliant view of the grounds in front of the hotel. The room was bright and spacious, filled with charming antiques, floral patterns and Georgian references. We found lots of information on the desk, suggestions of days out in Buckinghamshire, nearby local amenities and also a short history of Hartwell House. This room is the perfect size for a couple who like to get ready together before dinner, or who like to relax with a cup of tea in the room as they plan their next adventure!
The spa at Hartwell House is located in a former orangery located approximately 150 yards from the main house. This building is a marvel to behold and although it is new, it has attained the charm and appeal of the main house. Home to a swimming pool and terrace, bubbling spa bath, steam room, saunas, treatment room and a gymnasium, the spa has everything you could possibly need to switch off from the stress of life. Fancy a tea, juice or a snack? The Hartwell Café is in the gallery overlooking the pool, offering an all-day menu for peckish visitors. There are two tennis courts in the former walled garden, although we avoided anything too physically exerting, as we were far too busy soaking up the sun beside the pool.
Tracy, my massage therapist, deserves some serious recognition for helping to transform me from bedraggled and drab to prancing and fab! After weeks of travelling, carrying heavy luggage and spending long hours on my feet with my events business, I was worn down and had acquired several bad knots in my back. With healing hands and the magic of Aromatherapy Associates rose and geranium oils, Tracy successfully restored by back, neck and shoulders to their former glory. I promise to lay off the backpacks filled with heavy books and camera equipment from now on!
A Candlelit Dinner
Despite the load and inappropriate outbursts of an older gentleman on a neighbouring table, James and I enjoyed a noteworthy dinner after our day of exploring and fact finding. I’d pre-briefed the chef of my vegan tendencies and was really happy when a friendly waiter delivered some vegan canapés to me in the morning room, where we were catching up over a Champagne. We were led into the fine dining room, which had a royal banquet feel to it - crisp, white table cloths and impossibly high ceilings are partly responsible. There is a dress code to ensure everyone is looking their best and thus contributing to the grandeur, fine by me although I wish 18th century period dress was customary. Mood lighting set the scene and warm, freshly-baked bread rolls were first to arrive, closely followed by a bottle of Malbec.
Despite it being relatively busy, there was a serenity in the elegant dining room. Staff worked seamlessly to ensure guests received a perfect dinner service. James ordered pan seared scallops to start, whilst I opted for a fresh tomato soup. For the main, James went very quiet as he delved into a succulent fillet steak with red wine sauce, served with tomato, mushroom, seasonal vegetables and a Jenga-style stack of homemade chips. With eyes closed and the emittance of delightful squeals, it would appear he was best pleased. My dinner was specially created for the herbivore and resembled an upmarket bubble and squeak - plenty of kale, potato, mushrooms and currants doused in a delicious sauce and topped with fresh herbs.
As you have probably noticed, I only have good things to say about Hartwell House. The staff working for Historic House Hotels are always incredibly welcome and take great pride in their job roles, offering guests plenty of historical information about the properties and surrounding areas, alongside suggestions of things to do nearby. I feel very blessed to have stayed at Hartwell House, not only because it is a beautiful, luxurious and relaxing countryside hot spot offering tremendous service, but also because I feel have left having learnt a considerable amount of history.
Worth Visiting Nearby
Cliveden House | Stowe House and Gardens | Blenheim Palace | Waddesdon Manor | Bicester Village | Garsington Opera | Chiltern Hills | Bletchley Park | Kew Gardens | Woburn Safari Park | Tiggywinkles | Oxford | Windsor Castle | Midsomer Murders Locations
Booking and Visiting Information
Rates: Bed and breakfast from £200. Dinner, Bed and Breakfast from £290.
Please click here to book online (full English breakfast included!)
Address: Oxford Road Stone, Aylesbury HP17 8NR
Phone number: 01296 747444