Review by Fiona Duncan, published 22nd October 2006.
I was predisposed to like this hotel. "We need a complete break in the countryside," said friends going through the toughest of times. "Pampering for mum, activities for the children – some-where sophisticated and calm but not stuffy, and family-friendly. Where should we go, never mind the cost?" Tricky. Nowhere I knew fitted the bill, so I took a gamble and recommended this latest Four Seasons hotel without having seen it for myself.
It was a hit, though a very expensive one. The children went riding at the hotel's equestrian centre and were entertained in the kids' club. Father and son fished on the lake and cycled along the Basingstoke Canal, and they all spent several gentle hours on the hotel's narrow boat. And mum switched off in the spa.
Still, I had doubts. A Canadian-managed hotel in Hampshire … corporate branding (Four Seasons own or manage more than 70 properties worldwide, mostly in cities) in an 18th-century house … And the location? Why spend an expensive weekend just off the M3 between Hook and Basingstoke?
So you can live in a luxurious bubble, that's why. So you can be close to home, but pretend you are somewhere far more exotic, because once inside you could be in any one of Four Seasons' classy hotels. This one is Dogmersfield Park, a Grade I-listed Georgian mansion, but that's immaterial: you are in an international hotel with a spacious spa, undemanding food, gracious bedrooms and bathrooms and Four Seasons' famous five-star service.
So… you can enjoy it if you can afford it, but can you love it? The old walled garden has great charm, but the original Georgian house, once a computer company headquarters and a school, feels too corporate, with its confusing network of new extensions and covered walkways. The bar and restaurant are bland, while the 500-acre estate – a fairly bleak tract of agricultural land – makes a windswept setting. This hotel faces a tricky balancing act, catering for children (toys in their bedrooms, special menus), weekending couples (the highly regarded spa, dual treatment rooms, romantic dinners in the fishing lodge) and weekday business people. Each type of guest will want to feel it's a hotel perfectly suited to them, but even my satisfied friends found it irritating to have their children turfed out of the pool for hours at a time so that the hand-holding couples could get a look in.
This deluxe adventure in the Home Counties comes after the success of Four Seasons Provence, a weekend treat for Parisian glitterati. The concept works well there, under the sparkling sun, but I suspect that Four Seasons are finding the flat bit of Hampshire is more resistant to the presence of an international hotel.
So here's my advice: cocoon yourself in the bubble, succumb to the ministrations of the staff, and let your imagination take flight. A network of glass walkways lead you between the hotel's quadrant-shaped wings, so you need never face the elements. Once your car has been valet-parked, once you are relaxing by the glamorous indoor/outdoor pool, or on your "Sealy Posturelux 4000 bed with added pillow top" (possibly the most comfortable I have ever slept in) – you could be anywhere you fancy in the world.
Dogmersfield Park, nr Hook, Hampshire (01252 853000; www.fourseasons.com) Doubles from £275 to £2,643 per night including breakfast.