Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th March 2007.
Life is full of surprises, and Kilworth House served up its unexpected bonne bouche the moment we walked in. I knew next to nothing about the hotel before we arrived, at the behest of an East Midlands reader, one stormy evening in the New Year, but instead of the sober and predictable country house hotel we expected, we found something far more opulent and theatrical.
Here, in an imposing late-Victorian mansion, with matching new wing, was an extravagant High Victorian interior, a show-stopping glass-and-iron Orangery, palatial bedrooms, and Christmas decorations - with a vengeance.
The story of Kilworth House, we discovered, has a certain satisfying symmetry. It was built in the 1880s by the newly appointed High Sheriff of Leicestershire, John Entwistle, as a fitting home for his role. Like many grand houses of the period, it was designed for entertaining: dinners, balls and charitable functions attended by the well-to-do of the area. But by the First World War, its heyday was over, and since Entwistle had no children, the house went quiet, seeing no family life until the 1960s, when it was sold after the death of his second wife.
In 1999 Richard McKay, a successful local businessman, and his wife, Celia, bought and meticulously restored the much-altered listed building and its amazing Orangery (with the help of English Heritage), in order to "give something back to Leicestershire". Returned to its former glory, it is once again the local place to come for grand entertainment, only this time as a hotel and not a private home.
I don't mind betting that the atmosphere we found at Kilworth House is much as it was a hundred years ago. There's a jolly air of refined brashness about the place, a mixture of authentic Victorian elegance - and not a little pomposity -- nicely punctured by naff touches: elves hug toadstools on the sweeping terrace, a dolls' house in our gracious bedroom opens to reveal the television, bedrooms are named after poets, with framed examples of their work on the walls.
For a Sunday evening, the place was humming. The formal dining room, resplendent in dark, rich colours under an ornate, domed ceiling was full, but we were happy to eat instead in the vast, glittering Orangery. Service, from uniformed staff wearing name badges, was swift, the food ordinary: a good starter of crisply deep-fried monkfish, followed by a flabby Caesar salad for me, plus a fairly nasty glass of house white wine.
Our spacious bedroom, along a wonderfully grand corridor, had a canopied bed and huge bathroom with Victorian-style bath and washstand. But as with the food in the Orangery, it was a case of style over substance: the one tiny bottle of shampoo (no bath gel) belied the grandeur of the surroundings.
And the decorations? The McKays personally decorate the hotel, with the help of their friends, as soon as they decently can in November, and leave the decorations up for as long as possible into the New Year. You must see them for yourself (honestly, it's worth the trip, as well as for the Orangery): Victorian in style, lavish in execution, and made of plastic, down to the very last needle on the very last wreath and the very last 20ft-high tree, of which I counted five.
Lutterworth Road, North Kilworth, Leicestershire (01858 880058; www.kilworthhouse.co.uk). Doubles from £160 to £210 per night, including breakfast. For reviews and recommendations by Fiona Duncan, visit www.thehotelguru.com.
Lutterworth Road, North Kilworth, Leicestershire (01858 880058; www.kilworthhouse.co.uk). Doubles from £160 to £210 per night, including breakfast.