Review by Fiona Duncan, published 1st March 2009.
If there were such a thing as a typical British hotel, as typical as roast beef and rain, then I'd nominate Shakespeare House. A strange choice for a place that's only been open since September, but it's a fine example of a great British hotel-keeping tradition: the Amateur Attempt.
On the Continent, one is more likely to cite the family-run albergo or auberge, passed through generations, as typical. Here, such continuity is rare. What we have instead is an honourable history of entrepreneurship, of untrained hopefuls, for whatever reason, launching themselves as hoteliers. Quite often they prove to be downright dreadful, occasionally wonderfully eccentric, and not infrequently, as at Shakespeare House, naturals. Their establishments flare like fireworks, and then, when their time is done, quietly fall dark once more.
It's the recession we have to thank for this particular rocket. When, last August, the property development work of partners Roy Elsbury and Nick Hunter "stopped dead" they turned to their own home as a new project and income stream. Their historic village house, part Elizabethan, part Georgian, which they restored and decorated with panache five years ago, is the stuff of legend: said to have sheltered, when a coaching inn, the Bard himself and, thanks to the thick woods all about, to have given him the inspiration for A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Fact or fiction, it's a nice thought, and enough reason for Roy and Nick to name their five guest bedrooms Titania's Bower, Puck and so on. Back in September, having decided to open their door to strangers ("99 per cent lovely; our faith in humanity is restored") they popped in a bathroom here and there, but otherwise their home was so immaculate, so perfectly designed and filled with lovely things it effortlessly became a luxurious "boutique" guesthouse overnight.
My room, Shakespeare, is heaven. Its white walls are criss-crossed with beams, with original lattice windows overlooking the elegant garden. There are flowing silk curtains, art books, Fortnum's teas, orchids, classical masks and a teddy in sunglasses (usually those naff hotel bears go straight in the wardrobe but this one makes me smile). The bathroom is a sexy slither of marble and ceramic, with a body jet shower and Clarins products. The sleigh bed is piled with cushions, covered in Frette linen (there's Versace on other beds) and has a memory foam mattress that wafts me to a sleep worthy of Hermia and Lysander.
Roy and Nick love chatting and make everyone feel at home. Roy produces high-class home cooking on request for dinner while breakfast, almost all of it home made, is served in the china-blue dining room or white-panelled morning room. Peace reigns, mostly. With hoots of laughter, they regale me with the tale of a Feydeau farce of a recent evening full of errant guests, one of whom wandered around the sparkling, candle-and-firelit drawing room in her dressing gown. Tricky for the hosts, but I can almost see how it happened, so at ease do I feel myself.
Main Street, Grendon Underwood (01296 770776; www.shakespeare-house.co.uk) Doubles from £75 per night, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.