For five-star luxury in a country house setting and just a stone’s throw from historic Bath, you can’t go past Palladian mansion Lucknam Park, says Nancy Alsop, who discovers a hotel exuding all the style of a bygone era with superb modern facilities
The sweep up the suitably lengthy driveway alone tells you that Lucknam Park is going to score highly in the very grandest of country house escape stakes. Despite insistent driving rain, the painterly light casts the magnificent beech trees that flank the entrance in dramatic chiaroscuro, while up ahead lies the jewel: a resplendent eighteenth century Palladian mansion, complete with attendant proportions for aspirant architectural historians to swoon over. Set amid 500 acres of ground – so spacious that some guests arrive by helicopter – and boasting its own stables, the majesty of the house never renders it intimidating. Quite the contrary; Lucknam Park’s ethos is to act as a home-from-home – albeit the most luxurious home conceivable. This it achieves thanks to the emphasis on sublime comfort, the unfalteringly friendly staff and the sense that – although an established bastion of the five-star country house hotel scene since the 1980s – for many centuries this was a family home and something of that warmth lingers. After a seamless check in by a roaring fire (it may be June but this is the notoriously wet West Country), we are shown to our room by one of the hotel’s managers. Down-to-earth and thoroughly amiable, he tells us he’s been at Lucknam Park some seven years; it’s easy to see how even the hotel’s (emphatically not wild) horses couldn’t drag one away.
There are 42 bedrooms at Lucknam Park, 13 of which are suites. Ours is housed in the old stable block just across the grassy courtyard and is the exemplar of the classic country house bedroom. Floral wallpaper, mahogany beds, deep plush armchairs and marble bathrooms stocked with Anne Semonin products: every touch is designed to make you want to sink into the eminently soft and womb-like surrounds and never get up again. But it’s imperative that you do, since there is so much else to see and do – not least of which is to eat the stellar food on offer.
Food and drink:
Hwyel Jones is the man behind the Michelin-starred operation at Lucknam Park where, in a room bedecked with twinkling chandeliers and with views from elegant floor to ceiling windows over the parkland, he serves up glorious seven-course repasts that favour the simple and the local when it comes to ingredients. Poached langoustines and raspberry doughnuts are highlights for us to one day return to. But this time, since we are staying with baby in-tow, we decide to spare fellow gourmands potential volume issues and opt for the altogether simpler – but still lovely – brasserie. Starters of crab and avocado on sourdough and Thai curry mussels are beautifully light, while halibut with cauliflower puree and bahji with curried almond dressing is both intriguing and sublime. The standout dish must be the banoffee churros; both deeply indulgent and somehow reminiscent of beach holidays, albeit with a gourmet twist, they are worth leaving the decent amount of space they demand.
The spectacular spa is truly a thing to behold. The pool is generous and, happily, largely empty, while the outdoor hydrotherapy pool is brilliantly rejuvenating to tired city-weary limbs and – crucially – so beautifully warm that the downpour we experience doesn’t matter a jot. Do make time for a treatment; the hour-long ESPA inner calm massage uses aromatherapy oils to relax, detox or energise depending on your needs. My need, it seemed, was to nod off – always the sign of a treatment gone right.
If you are travelling with children, the newly completed Hideaway is a godsend. A whole cottage in the grounds devoted to toys, from sensory lights to dressing up, for babies and children up to seven, it is free to guests – many of whom may find they enjoy the messy play as much as their little ones.
In a nutshell:
Walks a perfect line between the grand and the homely. With the most accommodating staff you could hope for.
Great Western Railway travels from London Paddington to Chippenham every half an hour, from where Lucknam Park is a 10-minute taxi ride. First class carriages are the most civilised way to travel imaginable, thanks to the leather armchairs and complimentary refreshments. www.gwr.com