Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire

“Stay in the stables of one of Britain's most notable hotels”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 7th March 2011.

Actually it's not Brocket Hall. It's Melbourne Lodge. It could be Brocket Hall, but only on certain nights.

Let me explain before I lose you completely. When Charles Brocket was famously jailed in 1996 for drowning his Ferraris in the lake as an insurance fraud, his estate, which by that time included two golf courses and a restaurant, was repossessed by the bank and sold on a long lease to an Asia-based hotel management company.

And if you are staying at Melbourne Lodge, you can't get inside. You can be a guest member of the golf club, wander around the parkland, centred on romantic Broadwater Lake, with its swans and bridge and weeping willows, and take advantage of the exquisite cooking of Michelin-starred Phil Thompson in his Auberge du Lac (and his equally accomplished breakfasts in the clubhouse) but there remains a palpable sense of being cut off from the main action. And in order to feel as cosseted in Melbourne Lodge as its gracious, classical bedrooms suggest, there surely needs to be a welcoming reception in the building, instead of collecting your key from the golf club and walking alone up the hill to find your room.

Improvements are being made: limited room service has been introduced, and complimentary newspapers delivered to the door, but the present arrangement makes it very difficult for non-golfing guests to feel the privilege of being part of a private, timeless, historic estate.

Until, that is, they stroll to the Auberge du Lac, a charming, diminutive former hunting lodge with a waterfront terrace and stately willows dramatically lit at night. It reminded me of one of my favourite restaurants in France and all through dinner I couldn't shake off the feeling that I was back in the Auberge de l'Ill, that venerable, family-owned, three-Michelin-star waterside restaurant in Alsace, which is the best compliment I can give.

What do I mean by "Brocket Hall on certain nights"? The innovative new management here has devised a series of "Evenings of Elegance" throughout the year when guests can sleep, drink champagne and dine on Thompson's food and breakfast in the Hall itself, for £385 for two. First to book gets the best of the bedrooms upstairs, but all are exceptional.

  • Brocket Park, Lemsford, Welwyn Garden City (01707 335241;www.brocket-hall.co.uk). Doubles from £110 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities

Fiona's Choice

COUNTRY WALKS

Stanborough Park is 126 acres of countryside park and lakes just outside Welwyn Garden City. With its boating lake, walks, children's play area, fishing, organised nature trails and more, it's also ideal for families. For further information on the park and beyond, visitwww.hertfordshire.com.

WHERE TO VISIT

Hatfield House (01707 287010; www.hatfield-house.co.uk), three miles away, is one of the 10 Treasure Houses of England, which means it is an "architectural masterpiece surrounded by beautiful parklands and gardens". The gorgeous Jacobean home of the Cecil family is all that and more, although note that it doesn't reopen for the season until April 23.

LOCAL PUBS

The Red Lion (0871 223 8000) at Ayot Green in Welwyn is the best pub around. Or try the charming Brocket Arms (01438 820250;www.brocketarms.com), a tiny 14th-century pub in Ayot St Lawrence. Its restaurant is presided over by Andrew Knight, who trained under Angela Harnett and Gordon Ramsay. The Beckhams are apparently fans.

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
3 out of 5

Gracious, though need tweaking and fitting personal touches

Service
3 out of 5

Hotel guests fend for themselves too much; attentive in golf club and restaurant

Character
3 out of 5

Hotel guests fend for themselves too much; attentive in golf club and restaurant

Food and drink
5 out of 5

I couldn't fault our dinner: romantic setting, excellent service

Value for money
5 out of 5

Room prices are very fair; 'Evenings of Elegance', too

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