What's on offer during a stay at Stoke Park
PUBLISHED: 10:46 23 March 2015 | UPDATED: 10:46 23 March 2015
A stay here, dining experience or spa treatment provides a luxurious mix of glamour and 5 star style with a sense of history, Jan Raycroft and Maureen McLean discover
As your car sweeps across the pretty and curvaceous Repton Bridge and through the parkland leading up to Stoke Park, the luxury hotel and spa complete with golf and country club, the excitement builds. Even before you’ve entered the creamy white Georgian mansion there is an air of anticipation.
If this is a first visit I suspect some new arrivals – particularly those whose ‘hobby’ is enjoying Five Star experiences around the world – cannot wait to put the place to the test. It’s ready for scrutiny, willing and able. For a few others there might be a niggle of anxiety. Will it all be so formidable that you feel the need to ‘perform’ on your best behaviour rather than relax and enjoy a stay or dining visit? Any such thoughts are dismissed in seconds as smiling reception staff somehow provide a magical mix of formal grandeur with a greeting which feels as if you’ve just arrived for the best family Christmas ever, at any time of year.
The ambience and backdrop of the interior decor matches this. A warm Edwardian feel, a sense of history… and just a hint of decadence. Downton Abbey meets the 21st century where a lavish staircase takes you from your room to fine dining or spa treatments. All the modern ‘necessities’ like wifi that actually works are there alongside paintings and historic photographs, with each having a story to tell about the years when Stoke Park went from being a private residence to the UK’s first country club.
This sense of history combined with a just enough glitz and glamour is, of course, enhanced by some of the more recent moments of Stoke Place’s record. Even if you’ve never been inside, most people have seen more than a few glimpses. Just a few miles from Pinewood, Stoke Park has ‘starred’ in many films, including two of the most memorable James Bond movies, Goldfinger and Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s hard to believe that half a century has passed since Sean Connery battled Goldfinger there… and discovered a lifelong love of golf.
It seems that ‘the best bits’ just have to be filmed at Stoke Park. The rowing scenes on the lake and hilarious mini-break of Bridget Jones’s Diary were both captured on film here, while more recently Wimbledon, Bride & Prejudice and Layer Cake (the latter starring the current Bond, Daniel Craig, as a crimeworld boss) saw Stoke Park once more at the centre of the action.
But let’s wind back to the delightful Bridget Jones because that’s where my stay started. “You’re in Hugh Grant’s bed!” declared photographer Maureen. To provide the ultimate taste of the Stoke Park experience, I’d been provided with the Pennsylvania Suite, where that untrustworthy specimen Daniel Cleaver (Grant) had taken Bridget (Renée Zellweger) before sneaking off on other caddish pursuits.
Nice as Mr Grant undoubtedly is, his presence wasn’t needed in this fabulous suite with its four-poster, welcoming fire and tempting mini-bar. And, in any case, we were far too busy for naughty chaps, determined to make the most of our stay with a visit to the spa, followed by dinner in Humphry’s, where head chef Chris Wheeler was our man of choice with his talent to always surprise and delight.
So let’s trot off to the spa, housed in the nearby Pavilion building opened in 2008. The manor house might have a 200 years start on this complex, but it was designed to be perfectly in keeping with the main property while housing the health and beauty spa, swimming pool, fitness studio and gym. For those who’ve arrived with the spa at the centre of their wish list there is the added advantage of bedrooms and suites on upper floors.
Maureen could probably move in here, as she’s a Mastermind-level spa aficionado, always eager to try new treatments and make the most of the pool. It would be fair to say that I, on the other hand, tend to be just a little concerned that the immaculate beauty experts will scorn my usual ‘shower, lippy and let’s go’ regime coupled with annoying allergies to chemicals in some products which leave me itchy and sneezing.
Not only was there nothing to fear for newbies in the Stoke Park spa, but it was a positive delight. You fill out a form on first visit which provides a chance to pre-warn of any medical conditions (here goes an epic, I thought) so that treatments can be tailored or recommended to suit your needs.
I knew what was urgently required – a manicure to transform ridged, chipped and dull nails worn down by a previous illness and probably hours spent typing. Everyone has the bits of their body they like and dislike. I used to have lovely nails, strong, shiny and with a natural good shape. Now I dreaded showing them to the charming lady ready to tackle the task, and actually apologised that she’d found herself facing it.
But no apology was necessary. She was, possibly, more excited than I at the prospect of a transformation. It seems the spa staff genuinely love a challenge. The magic of Stoke Park was working again – expert service coupled with a friendly approach that puts you at your ease.
Over the next 55 minutes she revelled in turning my nails back into shape and then adding a pearly purple topcoat. Of course I had to have a Bridget Jones-style moment a little later and damaged a couple before they were completely set, having spent so much time admiring their glamour. Maureen, meanwhile, had been luxuriating in a pampering session using Lava shells in a massage that eases away tension and stress, so was able to calmly wave away my anxiety. The next morning the friendly spa staff quickly mended my mini-disaster, just as she’d predicted.
Throughout a stay at Stoke Park it’s the multitude of little touches like this that add up to that 5 Star Experience. For instance, when a delicious breakfast arrives and you suddenly apologise for forgetting to ask for gluten-free bread or decaf tea or coffee, in seconds your need is happily catered for.
Not much would drag us away from ‘the Hugh Grant room’ and adjoining suite where Maureen was ensconced, but one lure was enough. Dinner awaited in Humphry’s, the fine dining restaurant named after Humphry Repton who designed that iconic bridge in 1805.
Chris Wheeler’s menus always offer new discoveries alongside signature dishes from his repertoire of modern British cuisine with a twist. So whether it’s a three course lunch featuring classic tournedos of beef or perhaps slow roasted rump of lamb with a cranberry crust, or the exquisite seven course tasting dinner, you are assured of a treat. It’s rightly a grown-up event (children under 12 are only admitted for Sunday lunch) but Stoke Park also has San Marco, an Italian-style restaurant with excellent choices for littler ones alongside a more sophisticated menu for parents and grandparents. During the day San Marco offers residents and club members light bites and delicious meals from 7am to 10pm, and you can dine outside when the weather suits.
A favourite choice is The Orangery, with its all day menu spanning everything from sandwiches to filling mains. This is the perfect spot for an indulgent afternoon tea – make a note in particular if you are still looking for a Mother’s Day treat. Whenever you go, make sure to enjoy a stroll through the beautiful grounds before you have to leave. For that’s the only ‘downside’ of Stoke Park. Eventually you must cross that lovely bridge in the opposite direction and head back to everyday life.
Stoke Park’s story from the days of the Magna Carta
The actual estate has more than 1,000 years of history, passing through Crown ownership along the way before John Penn obtained it, using the money he received from selling millions of acres in Pennsylvania to the US Government.
George III’s architect, James Wyatt, designed the mansion we see today, and the parkland was transformed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphry Repton.
Just over a century ago it was bought by Nick Lane Jackson and transformed into a country club. He commissioned famous amateur golfer and course architect Harry Colt to design the 27-hole championship course. In 1998 it became an International Group hotel, within a portfolio of prestigious businesses including IHG, the International Hospitals Group.
Choose your special dream
It’s hard to put a price on a luxury treat, but everyone should visit Stoke Park, if only for afternoon tea while admiring the scenery. At the top end of the scale, a Presidential suite can cost from £1,330 a night, but very pleasant superior rooms start at £220.
Deals and seasonal offers including dining packages make a stay at Stoke Park even more tempting. For instance, Sunday night escapes with breakfast are just £90 per person, golf packages with lunch are £89 until 31 March, and winter breaks with two nights for the price of one, with full access to The Tennis and Health Pavilion, also run to the end of the month. Other options include a room with fine dining in Humphry’s or at San Marco.
There are also special offers at the spa until 31 March, such as Winter Warmer retreats including full use of spa facilities, two 55 minutes treatments and two course lunch for £135. Jessica manicures start from £30, while CACI and Thalgo treaments start from around £65 to £100 plus. Look out for deals which combine treatments.
The Stoke Park gym has just enjoyed a £500,000 upgrade, including new state of the art Star Trac Cardiovascular equipment. The Running Unlimited immersive pod transports joggers to 15 landmarks around the world. Health Memberships are available, tel 01753 717179, while all hotel residents have access to the facility.
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