Neil Hennessy-Vass visits Hartwell House Hotel and Spa in Buckinghamshire, near London, which was the home for former kings.
With a history of over 1,000 years and plenty of notable residents including royalty such as Louis XVIII, the exiled King of France, William Peveral, the natural son of William the Conqueror and Gustavus IV the exiled king of Sweden it would be hard to categorise Hartwell House in any other terms than a grand English country house that was a refuge to foreign royalty.
Hartwell House History
Built during the reign of Edward the Confessor it has seen much of this island’s history, and some peculiar practices. When the French held court there from 1809 to 1814 the roof was turned into a mini farm with birds, rabbits in cages, and vegetables and herbs grown in tubs.
These days things are different, Hartwell House is an extraordinary, luxe hotel and spa that offers its guests such ease and sophistication it’s hard to think of it as hotel, more like a grand home from home.
Laurence, the sentinel on guard of this grand country pile is your first port of call, he managed my luggage with a smile and jolly enthusiasm, the reception team all had a word of welcome to express, in fact even before I had made my way up the ornate stone carved staircase to the King’s Room I felt very much at home. When I say room, it was more like a small ballroom. A king-size four poster bed, ensuite and furnished with quality antique furniture and paintings, it was, as the name suggests, the room that King Louis XVIII of France once occupied. Six vast sash windows commanded views of the lush grounds, I saw a red kite flying around the skies searching for prey. I was very much in the countryside.
Dining at Hartwell House
I have no idea exactly what the food was like in King Louis’ tenure at Hartwell House, but I can attest that the present-day culinary contribution is outstanding. Offering a three-course evening meal for £79 and a fine selection of wines. But I’m getting ahead of myself, the bar (for a pre-dinner sharpener of course) is a small, oak panelled affair with Ashley at the helm. Fresh from duties in the Cotswolds he now reigns supreme behind the bar. The Old Fashioned (my go to drink to test a bar, is deceptively simple, one false step can ruin the balance) was perfect in construction and taste, orange oil nicely zested, bourbon perfectly chilled and just the right quantity of sugar to equal the bitter Angostura.
It’s a relaxing dining room, large (isn’t everything here) with plenty of space for diners to breathe around the tables. A couple of types of bread-and-butter kick things off. The truffle Oxfordshire beef tartare, salted egg, mustard mayonnaise, and the most exquisite parmesan tuille was perfect. Good and meaty but with that unquestionable redolence of truffle. Mains on offer were also good, which made it tricky to choose. Pan roasted fillet of Scottish cod looked appealing, as did the roasted breast of Creedy Carver duck, Anna potato and roasted artichoke nearly won out. But it was the roasted rump of Rose veal, asparagus, broad bean, morel mushroom and truffle sauce (before you shout, you can never have enough truffle in a meal) that totally delivered in taste, appearance, and quantity. A very fine plate of food indeed.
As I’ve mentioned quite a lot of food it would be gratuitous of me to carry on and mention how brilliant the caramelised lemon tart, crème fraiche with strawberries was, as well as the very sound cheeseboard, so I’ll not go into any more detail.
Hartwell House is a jewel in north Buckinghamshire and near so many interesting places to visit. Waddesdon Manor, that wonderful French chateau confection is just down the road, Bletchley Park, the home to the code crackers of WWII is less than an hour away and numerous other National Trust properties. The beautiful town of Thame is half an hour away, with plenty of independent shops and classic market town feel it’s a fine place to wander around.
Hartwell House Afternoon Tea
There’s plenty of countryside to explore too, not least the grounds of the hotel. You can also relax at Hartwell House Spa Whatever you end up doing you’re sure to work up an appetite, and as you’d expect Hartwell House has a splendid afternoon tea on offer to quench that thirst. The fare on offer is epic. It has great touches such as the perfect finger sandwiches arrived with a warm onion tart. The cakes and pastries were, calorific, pretty, and utterly scrummy.
The history embedded in this impressive building is enough of a reason to visit, but when you add the perfect service, relaxed vibe, and luxurious accommodation it becomes a must do. This is fine hotel that earns all the accolades it has under its belt, speaking of which, I think I’ll just loosen mine a bit to allow for that afternoon tea.
Hartwell House & Spa
Vale of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP17 8NR,
T: 01296 747444
W: click here.