Luton Hoo: an evocative glance at a sumptuous bygone era
Luton Hoo Hotel & Spa offers an opulent escape from the city in a setting of old-fashioned glamour
Driving up the tree-lined avenue to Luton Hoo Hotel & Spa, I could practically hear the plinking piano of the Downton Abbey theme music in my ears. Its Capability Brown-designed grounds create a similar anticipation as guests cross an open expanse of velvety green lawn and meadow that serves as a verdant preamble to the awesome sight of the neoclassical pile ahead.
Julian Fellowes’ drama of aristocrats and servants had certainly whetted our appetite for the grand English mansion experience at Luton Hoo. During a few days’ stay my daughter and I were able to indulge in the same sort of life of the aristocrats and royals who’d stayed at the Grade I listed building when it was a private residence. Famously, the Queen and Prince Phillip spent part of their honeymoon here in 1947 as guests of the Wernher family, who owned Luton Hoo from 1903-99. There are photos of important guests, including Winston Churchill, in cases in the hotel’s main corridor that give a flavour of the hotel’s rich history.
Luton Hoo offered us a luxurious escape from daily life and deep dive into five-star opulence. It started as soon as we rolled towards the mansion’s pillars, when top-hatted doormen rushed to retrieve our bags. The reception area is located in an underwhelming small side room, but it leaves the main entrance hall free to deliver the full-on impact of the interior’s Belle Epoque grandeur – marble fireplace, giant tapestries, high ceilings and oil paintings, with furniture that tguests are invited to sink into.
Tucked just off to the left is one of the hotel’s most eye-catching features: a grand marble staircase featuring intricate metalwork that hugs the wall and curves around a marble statue of an angel. It offers guests an ascent fit for royalty and is surely the favourite photo spot of every couple newly married at the hotel.
While waiting for our room to be readied, we headed to the Pillared Hall for a glass of champagne, flopping into two outsized armchairs to toast the start of our pampering weekend. The room oozed Gosford Park chic with its light wood-panelling, chandeliers and jumble of well-loved sofas and armchairs accented by the pleasant thrum of conversation from knots of guests enjoying tea or a drink. We’d come for R&R that’s what we got when we were chauffeured by free on-site cabs that run between buildings to the stable block, site of the hotel’s spa.
Upstairs in the modern treatment rooms, Patricia gave me an aromatherapy massage with ESPA Muscle Rescue Balm that relaxed me to the point I dozed off on her heated table. It was pure bliss as she unfurled knots in my shoulders. From there, my daughter and I headed downstairs for a quick shower and then to the spa with its tasteful wood-beamed ceiling and wall of glass that looks out into a secluded garden. Indoors is an 18 x 8 metre pool and oversized jacuzzi that could fit a dozen people, with the walls lined by sun loungers. I couldn’t wrest myself from the jacuzzi with its hot, relaxing bubbles.
After being ferried back to the Mansion House we were shown to Room 9. A six-foot window bathed the room in light and looked out over the lush formal garden at the side of the hotel – on such a rainy weekend it was likely to be our only interaction with the estate’s 1,000+ acreage designed by the Georgians’ favourite garden designer, Capability Brown. But the room provided ample invitation to remain indoors. It was vast by any standards, featuring a plump sofa and armchair, firm twin beds and walk-in wardrobe.
The grand country house décor included a marble fireplace, antique furniture and heavy drapery on the window and over the bed, with the Nespresso machine and mini-fridge tucked away in a bespoke curved wooden cupboard that graced the alcove. Our cream and peach-accented bathroom featured another giant window and beautiful deep round window above the jacuzzi bath for sky-gazing while you soak. A glass walk-in shower and double sink with an array of Molton Brown toiletries ensured we each had plenty of space and products for primping ahead of dinner.
Dinner is served in the Wernher Restaurant on the ground floor, the mansion’s most extravagant room, where you feel the presence of previous generations who gathered there for feasts at crisp linen-covered tables and warmed by the fireplace. The eye-catching marble walls are particularly grand, while chandeliers, tapestries and bay windows with views down to the estate’s lake add to the overall elegance. But the service is relaxed and unfussy and diners can enjoy high-end British cooking and produce with dishes like Cornish lamb, Chateaubriand for two or Scottish halibut.
Breakfast there the next morning gave us another chance to enjoy the ambience. A good selection of vegetarian and vegan options like a delicious smashed avocado on sourdough toast meant we had plenty of choice alongside the traditional English fry-up, as well as yoghurts, fruits, cereal and pastry options.
On Sunday evening we hopped in a taxi back to the stables for a more informal meal at Adam’s Brasserie, which was buzzing with guests. The beamed ceilings gave an airy feel to this 18th-century stable building. One wall is lined with cosy leather booths and the décor includes framed photos of the many movies that had been filmed at the hotel, including the Bond movies Never Say Never Again and The World Is Not Enough.
What popped out at us from the menu of favourites – burgers, salads, hand-made pizzas, steaks and chicken – was a lobster roll served on a brioche bun, a relatively uncommon sight on British menus. Neither of us could resist it – we were impressed by the succulent morsels of lobster and tiger prawns in a creamy marie rose sauce, as well as the halloumi fries that accompanied it. The meals went down very well with a glass or two of Chablis.
On Monday morning we headed back to our lives, carrying with us fond memories of our brief experience of living like toffs in a grand house. It was positively restorative being treated like a queen, being pampered by staff and just enjoying luxurious spaces and verdant greenery. The Downton Abbey era is gone, but its spirit can be sampled in the opulent surrounds of Luton Hoo.
To book a trip to Luton Hoo, visit www.lutonhoo.co.uk.