The Weekender: Stoke Park
We review Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire
As we sat chomping on a late lunch in a rather opulent Orangery, we surveyed our fellow guests at Stoke Park, an historic estate in Buckinghamshire. A huge golf and tennis club, there’s the members, as you would expect, couples on a weekend away, a family or two, and we watched in awe as a procession of glamorous women poured in – clad in fascinators, diamonds and more designer stilettos than you could shake a skinny heel at: a pre-wedding afternoon tea, it transpired. There was even a wedding, too. We were an eclectic assortment indeed.
Close enough to London and a stone’s throw from Heathrow, this country pad makes for an easy getaway and as the weekend unfolded we saw it was a popular spot for family reunions, and girls’ nights away. It certainly has all the requisite ingredients – beautiful spa and pool, check, activities on the doorstep, check, and a suitably grand dining room to make an occasion of it.
We were shown to our room – the Coke Suite – not some raucous party pad but named after a certain Sir Edward Coke – a lawyer and one-time owner of the Stoke Park estate. A curious character, he was famous for prosecuting the gunpowder plotters, and also locked up his wife and daughter until the latter agreed to marry the man of his choosing.
Stoke Park’s history stretches back 1,000 years but today’s building is a relative baby, dating back to the 18th century. The mansion was designed by James Wyatt, architect to George III, who worked on the development of the building from 1790 to 1813. There’s plenty of period features, including a stunning staircase and ornate ceiling. Our suite was also crammed with fantastic details including a huge stone fireplace, roll-top bath and grand four-poster bed. It is a fine place to unwind, particularly with a glass of something sparkly in front of the fire. On a warmer day, you could relax on the long balcony overlooking the estate.
We had little more planned for the afternoon than lazing around in the spa. We docked on a couple of loungers by the indoor pool and spent a lovely few hours moving between the pool and outside hot tub and sauna, working up an appetite for dinner.
Country house hotels can sometimes not quite live up to the grand surroundings when it comes to the food. But this was not the case at Stoke Park. Ignore the rather fusty name of the restaurant – Humphry’s (it is named after Humphry Repton, who designed the bridge it overlooks) and ignore the mention of a million ‘gels’ on the menu and you are in for a treat. Three courses will set you back £68 – and it is money well spent with some seriously talented work going on in the kitchen courtesy of head chef Chris Wheeler and his brigade.
Very descriptive menus with a lot of ingredients fill me with dread but every element on the plates we tried worked together in perfect harmony. For starters, we devoured scallops – served with fanfare under a smoking dome giving them a slightly smoked flavour; we also tried trout with roasted red pepper and mango and lime ‘gel’. Mains of duck with a cherry ‘gel’ and fillet of beef with truffle mash were absolutely divine. To follow, we both went for the raspberry soufflé with lavender shortbread and lavender ice cream, which was quite possibly the most delicious dessert that has ever passed my lips. So light, tart, sweet, subtle. Wonderful.
An extremely comfortable bed beckoned. We were reassured when we checked in that we wouldn’t be disturbed by any noise from the wedding – they are contained on the other side of the venue. And a very peaceful and deep slumber ensued.
After a long and leisurely breakfast the next morning, we again ambled to the spa for a swim, and a facial for me. Spa treatments are focused on relaxation. I tried a very pampering Thalgo Skin Solution Facial, which also included a neck massage that even managed to smooth out my ridiculous knot of muscles.
This is a fantastic retreat and an ideal meeting point for that family get-together. It is child-friendly too (it’s worth noting though that swim times apply and under-12s can’t eat in Humphry’s) with a playground, kids’ club, games room, and children’s menus in the Orangery and the Italian brasserie San Marco.
Golfers, foodies and families will be in their element.
Rooms at Stoke Park start from £240 B&B. www.stokepark.com
More weekend retreats a short drive from London. www.timeandleisure.co.uk/travel