Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th December 2009.
Let me tell you about the morning after the night before at Fawsley Hall. Following advice on the back page of the breakfast menu, we took a stroll around the grounds, partly laid out by Capability Brown, and saw, for the first time, what a magical place we were staying in.
We walked across the field to the starkly isolated church, passing two of the Hall's three lakes, then turned toward the stately house, admiring its harmonious mix of Tudor, Georgian and Victorian architecture, and its fine setting. For the first time, we felt truly glad to be there.
Arriving at country house hotels in the rainy dark does few favours, especially for ones run in such a bustling way as Fawsley Hall (it majors, as well as private guests, on corporate clients and weddings, and it shows). We could admire the stupendous Great Hall, and we did; we could learn about the story of the Knightley family, who had lived at Fawsley for centuries, and we did; but what we wanted most that night was to be warmly welcomed, spoiled but not fussed over and, for the price charged, to dine memorably well.
It didn't happen. We were welcomed at reception efficiently, but with little warmth. Arriving just in time for a treatment I'd booked in the attractive new Grayshott Studio spa (with long, elegant pool, hot tub and gym) I had hoped to sink into a womblike relaxation room after my much-needed back massage. But though the massage was expert, the relaxation room was brightly lit and sterile, the service efficient rather than pampering and the changing room – most unpleasant – chilly. No surprise that Fawsley and Grayshott are in the same ownership: I'd also found the latter more brisk and practical than enveloping when I stayed there (nothing enveloping about fellow diners wearing white towelling robes).
In our large luxury bedroom, surprisingly decorated in heavily patterned traditional country-house style, complete with coronet over the four-poster, there were few "extras", save complimentary Wi-Fi. No flowers or bottled water, for example, and minimal bath products for a room costing £325 a night.
We gathered in the Great Hall before dinner, joining corporate groups and a smattering of youngish couples. Built in 1537 by Sir Edmund Knightley, this truly impressive space is the hotel's pièce de résistance. Its original stained glass may now be in Glasgow's Burrell Collection, but you can still see, above the Tudor fireplace, the coat of arms of the Knightleys and those of Richard I and the 26 knights who accompanied him on the first Crusade.
We might have dined in the Brasserie, which was animated, but elected instead to eat in the hushed, stonewalled restaurant, Equilibrium. Six courses with titles such as Roast Pigeon in its Own Ice-Filtered Tea were laid before us with all the pomp of a stuffed swan being served up to a king, but it didn't stop them tasting (with the exception of a rich venison dish) as bland as they were pretentious.
Fawsley, nr Daventry (01327 892000; www.fawsleyhall.com) Doubles from £173 per night, with breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities. More reviews by Fiona Duncan at www.thehotelguru.com