Review by Fiona Duncan, published 12th April 2011.
Not long ago I likened the arrival of glamorous Lime Wood in the New Forest to a champagne-fuelled spaceship that had descended among puzzled inhabitants unused to such alien luxury.
Six months or so after Lime Wood opened, the plutocratic Martians sent another, larger, craft, and this time they were spot on with their navigation, landing it in a place – between Ascot and Wentworth – where there was less of the puzzlement, more a communal sigh of relief. The local ladies who lunch donned their furs, summoned their drivers and made a beeline for the spacecraft, parked in 240 picturesque acres, with two polo grounds, equestrian centre and spa.
Where on earth did they hold their book clubs before? How could Cheryl Cole have picked the finalists for The X-factor anywhere else – she stayed during filming in the three-bedroom, Grade II listed Dower House with her retinue?
But now I'm sounding chippy. It may be helpful to be a member of a boy band or the owner of a small Arab state to stay here, but the look of it, I can assure you, should appeal to all, for it is calming, sophisticated and in perfectly good taste, with hardly a whiff of glitz for the sake of glitz.
Coworth Park is also very green, its innovative environment-friendly credentials hidden behind a smoothly stylish yet welcoming interior and heralded by a vast and spectacular wild flower meadow. The country outpost of the Dorchester, it has been created from the shell of a Georgian mansion on an equestrian estate founded by the Earl of Derby a century ago.
I'm not partial to the work of interior designers Fox Linton in The Grove and the Athenaeum, but at Coworth both public rooms and bedrooms, whether in the mansion itself or in the converted stables and cottages, work in harmony with the architecture and the oasis-like surroundings (manicured polo fields, thick woods, lime tree grove, rose garden, towering Wellingtonias).
The food is a match: the cooking of John Campbell manages to be both feather light and complex. A dessert of "liquorice, carrot, coriander" sounded unpromising but tasted quite wonderful.
Campbell oversees all the food – breakfasts are peerless – including that served in The Barn, where a more down-to-earth breed of Berkshire lunching lady can be found tucking into the best fish and chips or cottage pie. The commitment of Campbell, as grounded and cerebral a chef as you will find, is key to the Coworth enterprise.
So: Coworth may be filled with (very rich) Martians but it's pretty heavenly nonetheless. Mike, the doorman, a "real" local who has lived for years down the road, sets a witty, informal tone, much more so than the coy, aren't-we-a-laugh notices ("counting sheep: do not disturb").
The curving, half-hidden spa has to be the most sybaritic outside the Seychelles; children are welcome and royally entertained; and you can watch or learn to play polo or take riding and dressage lessons with a champion. It's all beautifully done, down to the charmingly furnished corridors, and very spoiling. All you need, in order to stay is to marry a sheikh, win the lottery or get on to The X-factor.
- Blacknest Road, Ascot (01344 876600; www.coworthpark.com). Doubles from £235 per night, including breakfast. Adapted rooms for guests with disabilities.
It would be foolish not to use the facilities available at the hotel, to begin with. Polo matches are played in season, often including Princes' William and Harry. At the equestrian centre, run by British team champion Laura Richardson, you can (if you are already competent) take lessons in dressage, plus normal riding lessons and hacking out around the estate. Polo lessons can also be arranged.
For golfers, there's the distinct perk of being allowed to tee off at Wentworth Golf Club without having to be a member.
There are mapped walks and a jogging track on the estate.
And Coworth is perfectly placed for Ascot races.
BEYOND THE ESTATE
Good pubs include The Belvedere Arms, within walking distance, and with good food (London Road, Sunninghill; 01344 870931;www.thebelvederearms.co.uk), and the The Thatch Tavern (Cheapside, Ascot; 01344 620874; www.thethatchedtavern.co.uk) on the fringe of Windsor Great Park: it is old and beamed, and serves traditional English food.
ETON AND WINDSOR
Try the Two Brewers (34 Park Street; 01753 855426;www.twobrewerswindsor.co.uk) if you are in Windsor: it's quintessentially English and one of the town's oldest pubs. Eton, with its tailcoated boys, its antique shops and its pretty High Street and College buildings, is very close to the hotel. Eat at Gilbey's in the main street (82-83 High Street; 01753 854921; www.gilbeygroup.com).