The Forbury

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 11th February 2007.

I am reclining on a chaise longue draped with a fur throw. Warmed by a cosy fire in the marble hearth, lulled by the voice of José González on the Bang & Olufsen entertainment system, which includes a plasma TV screen that tracks you as you move around the room, I sip my Champagne and idly leaf through a magazine.

I have just emerged from a soak in an oval glass bath designed for two, where the water slid from the wall in a sheet into the tub and tiny pinpricks of coloured lights twinkled in the mosaic ceiling above. I'd been up to my neck in bubbles: no stingy little bottles of bath gel here, but a glass decanter generously filled so you can slug in as much as you like. Music plays; candles flicker; the towels are large and fluffy, the bathrobe velvety.

In the vast suite my husband is propped up on the throne-like bed, after a spell under the monsoon shower that doubles as a steam sauna.

The lofty room, once a council chamber, is serenely quiet and stunningly decorated, with a plethora of extras, from the coffee machine with four types of coffee to the complimentary bag of tissue-wrapped goodies. There's a chess board on the table, books on the mantelpiece, fresh milk and soft drinks in the chiller, angled reading lights on the bed head, plugs in the right places, free internet, superb lighting, underfloor heating. I could go on.

Where am I? Beverley Hills? No: Reading.

"What's wrong with Reading?" says my friend Pippa, who has bounded into our room an hour before we are due to meet for dinner and is now making a minute inspection of its contents.

She and her husband, plus the younger of her many offspring, live in a village nearby, but she claims to spend the winter months holed up in the Oracle shopping centre in Reading because a) she loves it and b) it's much warmer than her own house.

"Reading is booming," she declares. "Who needs London? I never go there now."

She always was delightfully dotty, Pippa, but even her bubbling enthusiasm doesn't lessen the contrast between The Forbury, possibly the sexiest bolt-hole in Britain, and its prosaic surroundings.

The Forbury was built, in grand, Queen Anne style, as the Berkshire County Council headquarters in 1912. Latterly it was used as serviced offices until its present owner, the property developer Toby Hunter, decided to create a hotel with - and this is astonishing, given the scale and lavishness of the place - just 24 bedrooms.

No expense has been spared. A chandelier made from 84,000 glass beads cascades through what was once the lift shaft, there's specially commissioned art and sculpture throughout, huge arrangements of flowers, and bold colours, dramatic fabrics and wallpapers.

Groovy music, compiled by a DJ to reflect the time of day, seeps into the background.

There are Cuban cocktails and intimate corners; a spa is on its way.

Bring your lover here for the weekend: there'll be little temptation to leave the building except for a shopping trip to the Oracle, and believe me you will be happy to stay put.

The Forbury, Reading, Berkshire (08000 789789; www.theforbury hotel.co.uk). Doubles from £230 per night; breakfast £10.

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
5 out of 5

Given the setting, close to perfection

Service
4 out of 5

Determined, committed staff, learning the ropes

Character
4 out of 5

Plenty in the design, less in the surroundings

Food and drink
3 out of 5

As the bumph puts it "food that will always please, never offend"

Value for money
5 out of 5

Worth every penny

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