The Weekender: Stapleford Park
We review a luxurious retreat in Leicestershire packed full of atmosphere and history
If you were a film location scout looking for the epitome of a grand country house for your next period drama epic, you would have hit the jackpot if you came across Stapleford Park. Indeed, it looks straight from central casting. Winding driveway, check, dramatic façade, check, acres of landscaped grounds, absolutely.
Inside could also play a starring role, packed as it with history. Take your pick from the eras, from Victorian to Tudor times. There is a beautiful entrance hall complete with sweeping staircase, just beyond is a vast hall – an open fire crackles beside leather sofas, and animal heads adorn the halls, quite possibly the trophies of shoots through the centuries that have been synonymous with this part of the country.
We arrived windswept and rain-lashed – we were in the throes of the February storms – and the warm welcome certainly helped with courteous staff quickly checking us in and helping us up to our room. Several designers were brought on board during the restoration of the property, so it is something of a mystery as to the style you might get. Designers included Nina Campbell, Wedgwood and Mulberry. Ours, the Campion Bell room, was a whimsical delight, featuring murals of castle walls, bright pink ‘curtains’ draped over the headboard (complete with painted parrots), even cherubs gazing down at the bed from an illusory sky light. Our room was joined to a plainer but elegant twin for the children, giving us a capacious space for our stay.
On the dressing room table was a decanter of own-made sloe gin, and this thoughtful attention to detail was in evidence throughout our stay. Dinner that evening was in the library bar, a more casual setting where you can dine on a menu featuring vast burgers, fish and chips, and the likes of chicken supreme with local pancetta. We started with an aperitif of the estate-foraged gin, a delicious tipple to kick off the evening, and then on to some fabulous Lincolnshire poacher cheese croquettes, and divine burgers.
Tired from our busy week, we had little planned for our stay. The next day we had a rare glimpse of late winter sunshine so we took a stroll around the beautiful gardens – there’s 500 acres of Capability Brown designed grounds, plus a golf course, and you can spend the morning playing a giant game of chess, croquet or even mini golf. There’s tennis too, and you can also book for activities such as archery, clay-pigeon shooting and horse riding. But we simply ambled – there’s a small church in the grounds we wandered to, and it makes a fine wedding venue, particularly as the congregation actually face the aisle and so can watch the bride making her entrance.
When the skies darkened, we headed inside to the pool. On a grey day, this is a fabulous place to be. Surrounded by old stonework and a wide expanse of windows, you can watch the clouds scudding across the sky while you are ensconced in a fluffy bathrobe on a lounger, sitting in the bubbles of the whirlpool or taking a few lengths of the heated pool. There’s a small sauna and steam room, you could also book in for a spa treatment, too.
After our arduous afternoon, we bagged a prime spot on the leather sofa by the fire for a board game and to try some of the famous pork pie of the area – Melton Mowbray is down the road, and a hunk of Stilton – Leicestershire is one of only three counties that is allowed to produce Stilton, which has been given the status of a ‘protected designation of origin’. The pie was a piggy portion, in all senses, particularly given our plans for dinner in the main dining room just a couple of hours later.
Country house hotels can sometimes be a little oppressive at dinner, not so here. And even though the Grinling Gibbons restaurant (named after the famous woodworker whose carvings grace the likes of Hampton Court Palace and the mantelpiece here) had all the trappings of formal dining with white napery, walls adorned with paintings and an ornate ceiling dripping with chandeliers, the staff are welcoming and there is a nice buzz about the place. Children are welcome to dine there too, up until 8.30pm. We tried an excellent loin of venison and Hereford beef fillet.
The next morning, after a lie-in and a vast buffet breakfast (don’t miss the excellent sausages), we fitted in a quick swim and made ready for our journey back to London. We could have easily spent longer here – there’s plenty to do nearby, particularly in warmer weather, including a theme park, the castles of Belvoir and Rockingham, and Rutland Water – Europe’s largest man-made lake and a popular summer spot for canoeing and wind-surfing. So, we’ll be back – and its location off the M1 between the north and south make it one to know about when making a long journey across the UK.
We loved the history and atmosphere of the place. And while it may look like a film set, it has all the modern luxury you could possibly want.
Tina Lofthouse was hosted by Stapleford Park, a member of the Pride of Britain Hotels collection (never more than 50 hotels, to guarantee quality and exclusivity). An overnight stay costs from £170 per room (two sharing), including full English breakfast. Contact Pride of Britain Hotels on 0800 089 3929