Review by Fiona Duncan, published 30th November 2008.
All is not lost. I often lament the demise of the English country house hotel, which in the past was the sort that we Britons did best. Pensioni in Italy; auberges in France; manors-turned-hotels here.
But then the boutique hotel and the tarted-up inn invaded the countryside; laid-back service became the norm; relaxation in the form of tea and scones in front of a crackling fire in a gracious room was supplanted by the requirement for a holistic treatment; and traditional country house hotels began to loose confidence, waver, get taken over by groups, and lose character.
There are, nowadays, only a handful of luxury places that tick all the boxes for me, and Lucknam Park is one: properly run, with three extra features so well executed that they propel it into a league of its own.
First, the house itself. Lucknam is an extended 17th-century mansion approached by a mile-long drive and surrounded by parkland. A welcoming central hall leads to a library and drawing room (too much reproduction furniture among the antiques my only misgiving), with elegant, sensitively updated bedrooms and suites both upstairs and in the rear courtyard, more reminiscent of an Oxbridge college than the former stables, which they are. Service is discreet, immediate and friendly and takes its lead from managing director Harry Murray, one of the most respected figures in the business.
Now for the extras. Hotel dining rooms are sprinkled with Michelin stars, but Hywel Jones’s cooking in the Park Restaurant lives up to the accolade. Better still, guests can now ring the changes by lunching or dining in the Brasserie over in the spa. In contrast to the formal, whispery Park, it’s contemporary and chatty, with the kitchen, including a wood oven, open to view.
Then there’s the brand new spa itself, with sleek indoor/outdoor pool, sauna, Japanese salt room and so on for guests’ use, plus nine treatment rooms. To get there, you walk through an archway in the courtyard and find yourself in a different, contemporary world. Many hotels have spas; this one comes with a real sense of surprise.
And finally, the horses. When the house was in private hands, it was a stud; now its liveried horses are used for teaching guests of all ages (the hotel – another surprise, this – is totally child-friendly, with crêche facilities) and for hacking out. Not only can you eat and drink well and have spa treatments but you can also, if you are me and mad enough, climb on top of a horse for the first time in 40 years. Poor horse.
Lucknam Park has been a hotel since 1988, and in the hands of its current owners since 1994. They are the perfect hands-off proprietors, wanting only that the place excel; Mr Murray sees to the rest. I don’t know the owners’ name, but they are to be thanked for allowing a great country house hotel, embracing both the traditional and the contemporary, to flourish in these antipathetic times.
Colerne, Chippenham (01225 742777; www.lucknampark.co.uk). Doubles from £265; Ground-floor rooms for guests with disabilities.