For foodies, botanists and design-forward honeymooners. Along with an at once buzzy and cosy sensibility, this low-key country-house hotel brings just the right dose of cosmopolitan chic to the countryside.
If you’re happier surrounded by the rolling green Berkshire hills, superlative food and intriguing interiors than salt-smattered sun-loungers, you’ll feel right at home at this off-beat country escape.
Set the scene:
Having approached the building’s imposing redbrick facade, guests enter through a cavernous entrance hall with its cracking fire before being handed glass of cold, pale rosé – the ultimate welcome as you both tumble into a mohair sofa for check in. Through the bay window, manicured pathways snaking around a tennis court, parterre hedges and a walled garden beckon. Despite the grandeur, there’s a cockle-warming, old-world comfort immediately felt at Elcot, particularly when considering its literary heritage as the former home of romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Every corner and crevice of the magnificent Grade II-listed 18th century building has been painstakingly restored and dialled up by London-based interior designers Taylor and Turner with rich fabrics and splendid antiques against a smart, muted mishmash of peacocks and parrots hand-painted on de Gournay wallpaper.
Outside, the courtyard hosts a first-rate café-deli and wine merchant, and plans are afoot here for live music, farmers’ markets and Friday kids clubs. Children already have plenty of space and playgrounds to burn off some energy in, as do adults – though they’d be excused for simply lounging beside the photogenic infinity pool and taking in the fresh air and views of rolling, cow-grazed fields.
A sweeping staircase leads to 55 generously-sized, wood-panelled rooms and suites, all decorated with sumptuous furnishings and carefully selected antiques. Pops of primary colours cut through the busy wallpaper, while panelling and window frames are painted in pistachio greens and red-wine burgundies. Rooms typically feature supersized beds, pretty hand-painted wardrobes, bobbin mirrors, scallop-edged bedside tables and Rosi de Ruig paper lamps, though they vary, each assuming its own distinct character.
For something extra special (it is your honeymoon, after all), blow the budget on one of the three signature suites. For its photogenic bathroom hand-painted in wisteria by British artist Fiona McAlpine, our favourite has to be the Bushby Bacon suite – also in the best location for raiding rights to the pantry.
If you’re bringing your four-legged friend, opt for the ‘dougie retreat’ in the Heritage or Wessex room; they’ll organise a breakfast sausage, bed, bowl and treats in the room.
Food and drink:
Having earned his stripes at Claridges with the Gordon Ramsay group, then at the Bel and Dragon Country Inns, Culinary & Operations Director Ronnie Kimbugwe knows a thing or two about seasonal, local, and crucially, exceptional food. The menus have subsequently been curated with this honed eye for detail, from elegant brasserie 1772 (think fresh oysters washed down with Bollinger) to pan-Asian Yü’s high-octane, seven-course tasting menu.
The Signet Collection’s co-founders, Hector Ross and Ronnie Kimbugwe, also behind The Mitre near Hampton Court, were enlisted to breathe new life into this unloved Georgian manor in Newbury. Their design visions had to negotiate with an illustrious history. Built in the early 19th century by industrialist Anthony Bushby Bacon, the west Berkshire country house – rendered in stately red brick and set amongst 16 glorious acres of English countryside – has traded hands countless times since then: the mother of Percy Bysshe Shelley moved here in mourning after the death of the Romantic poet; it was later purchased by Sir Richard Vincent Sutton, the sixth baronet of Norwood Park; and then became a series of slightly staid hotels.
The Bushby Bacon Suite is a stellar choice for families. Spacious and opulent (without beign chintzy) the suite features a super king-sized bed and comfortable seating area in a large open plan room. While the space is a boon for families in need of it, its the adjoining room with bunkbeds stylishly carved into the wall that is the real allure. Parents can enjoy some well-earned downtime in the fabulous roll top bath with views over the surrounding countryside through the bay window, and no children in sight.
Children (and grown-ups) are in for a treat with a heated outdoor pool, stocked with inflatables, a children’s playgrounds, a croquet lawn, a family screening-room and thoroughly charming staff whose nothing-is-too-much attitude is refreshing, within the family context.
There’s a lovely lack of iPhones at supper in 1772, where stress is kept at bay for families with a laid-back atmosphere. The occasional appearance of a charming pianist playing Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’ seems a real hit with children (and parents keen for a few minutes of peace).
The ILA Spa serves up the perfect dose of post-wedding retox, particularly the Prana vitality massage – an energy boosting and detoxifying treatment which claims to (and most certainly does) revitalise your spirit. Once spirits are fully boosted, head to the hydropool for a dip, the salt flotation chamber or the sauna. For gym bunnies there is an epic Matrix gym.
While only a 40-minute train ride from London, or just over an hour in the car, The Retreat feels like stepping into another (infinitely better) world.
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