Review by Fiona Duncan, published 5th May 2011.
A visit of delights… and plenty of surprises.
“What’s the rate for this room?”
“£485, excluding breakfast.”
Accompanied by my friend Tiggy, I was in junior suite Silverthorne, in the hotel’s modern wing. The price was as much of a surprise as the room itself: a vast space, but one that bore no relation to the sublime William and Mary country mansion of which it was a part, watery green (not in a good way), with gloomy silk curtains, busily patterned carpet, simpering reproduction pictures on the walls and, bizarrely, two ugly (Thirties?) cupboards side by side.
It wasn’t all bad: the deep free-standing bath delivered a luxurious soak and the handmade beds (two doubles, a relief to us both), covered in the best linen, delivered an excellent night’s sleep. But as you can get a beautiful room at, say, The Savoy for £350 per night, it struck us as very expensive.
There’s no arguing with ludicrous prices, but decor is a matter of taste, of course, and what dismays one person delights another (some of the 50 bedrooms that we saw, by the way, we loved). Personally, I’d prefer Lainston House to be decorated in relaxed English country style as befits the building, but the amiable Italian family, owners of a small group of hotels, Exclusive, for the past 30 years, has its own ideas, of course.
That includes an implausibly modish drawing room that will be old hat in no time and truly awful reproduction pictures along the endless corridors to the too high, too red (brick) new wing, built in 1980. Oh, and teddies in jumpers on the beds. And an elegant glass display case filled with teddy brides, grooms and bridesmaids (the hotel is popular for wedding receptions, held in its lovely old converted barn). I draw, if you’ll forgive the pun, a veil over them.
On to the delights of Lainston House. First, it is exceptionally pleasing, with a gentleman’s ride leading the eye through parkland towards distant Hampshire hills. Second, it is most warmly welcoming, staffed by a team that takes pride in its hotel. Alfredo runs the restaurant with aplomb, and Valerie, guest relations, and Frances, head housekeeper, have been there for 25 years (look out for Valerie’s charming samplers depicting the history of Lainston).
Third, the food is delicious. Andrew MacKenzie’s cooking is assured, prettily presented, professionally served: all you could want. Seared scallops and Lainston House pork stood out but it was all enjoyable. Before dinner, a pianist entertained guests in packed Cedar Bar (panelled in 1930 by then owner John Craig-Harvey from a huge fallen cedar tree).
And fourth delight: we were introduced to falconry. Local falconer Billy Taylor (a former Hampshire cricketer) and his raptors have been given a home in the grounds at Lainston – in return he gives absorbing, amusing, informal displays at weekends. Tiggy and I took Jacob the Harris hawk for a walk and allowed it to land on our gloved hands.
As to why a hotel with such ambitious room rates was “packed” on our visit, “Packages” halve the official room prices: take advantage of them and you’ll have a grand time – and may not even notice the dodgy decor.
- Woodman Lane, Sparsholt, Hants (01962 776088;www.lainstonhouse.com). Ground- floor rooms for guests with disabilities. Doubles from £265, excluding breakfast
Try not to miss Billy Taylor’s 11am and teatime falconry and owl displays: they bring guests flooding out, take part and ask questions. There’s a lovely waterside garden at Houghton Lodge (01264 810502;www.houghtonlodge.co.uk; gardens daily 10am-5pm except Wednesday, by appointment) near Stockbridge. Mottisfont Abbey (01794 340757; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-mottisfont; daily 11am-dusk until October 31) is also within reach.
The Itchen and Test rivers are equidistant. Winchester is on the Itchen and Stockbridge, with its restaurants and antique shops, on the Test.
There are 63 acres of grounds at Lainston in which to wander. The area around nearby Farley Mount is beautiful – downland and woodland, including West Wood. Farley Mount Country Park is ideal for walking and picnicking, with fine views, particularly from the interesting monument at Beacon Hill.
Where to eat and drink
Recommended places to eat include the Plough (01962 776353) in Sparsholt, and the Black Rat (88 Chesil Street; 01962 844465; www.theblackrat.co.uk, a recent recipient of a Michelin star, in Winchester