Until now. The opening of Coworth Park is the group’s first foray into the countryside, and where better than the rolling polo fields of Berkshire – perfect for the monied, horsy elite likely to frequent it, perfect for people who want the country within an hour of Zone One.
We don’t own a car but felt we ought to arrive in one befitting our destination, so we rented a (modest) BMW. Our efforts paid off: Coworth Park is splendid. The opulence of the Dorchester and the Plaza Athénée has been transferred with just a smattering of contemporary brashness to this new structure. The “mansion house” looks is equal parts Bel Air and Berkshire – like a cartoon fantasy of a great British house. Inside it’s all airy light, huge windows and daring sculpture. Reception consists of two smart ladies behind Macbooks, while accommodation is a string of stable-style blocks set away from the house (40 rooms) and inside the mansion house (30 rooms).
The astonishingly good service began immediately: we were whisked the short distance to our split-level suite in the stable block in a golf buggy, laden with blankets and umbrellas. It was supremely fun. And the best part is that the golf buggy is at your service whenever you want to go anywhere: just call guest services and two minutes later, your ride awaits you.
The distances between stables, spa and mansion house aren’t huge but they aren’t suitable for those wearing little dresses and high heels – the dress code I recommend for dinner or drinks here. Jeremy Kyle and entourage were on the table next to ours at dinner, and Cheryl Cole has already dined (the X factor cast was based here for a week). The dining room is glam but in that distinctly new British way. There is a touch, ever so faint, of the chav – the décor has a great deal of “wow”, the tasting menus are, perhaps, over-fussy, though Michelin star-winning chef John Campbell has his moments of creativity, too. They’re certainly expensive, at £80 a pop.
The show-stealer is the spa. It is sensational: atop a hill, full of windows, the large infinity pool in the basement like a super-sleek bunker wedged into the hill. I loved the pool: lit with purple light it made each splash a movement of colour. Best of all were the presence of seven or so large slabs of purple quartz facing the pool, and the music that was pumped under the water, audible only to those taking a dive.
The spa offers a full range of treatments and has the same glamour as the new Dorchester one: the futuristic sculpture, dramatic ultraviolet lights, stunning relaxation room that’s all about pampering and style and nothing to do with zen, and the world’s most comfortable treatment chairs. My Dr Alkaitis facial involved excellent products (oats, honey, fruit – all the unguents are meant to be edible), though the English therapist seemed a little inexperienced and lacked the sure touch of European and Asian maestros.
We were lucky with the weather: it was the crisp lovely weekend just past that we visited. So we took in the full glory of the grounds, walking around the enormous tree-lined fields (to be used for polo in spring and summer) and across the road to the long paths around Virginia Water Lake in Windsor Park – King George IV’s royal playground.
Horseshoes are a recurring motif here, and indeed horses to play a huge role in the Coworth Park experience. It has its own “equestrian centre” – with a large menu of riding activities – and is the only hotel in the UK with its own polo fields. Giddy-up.
Bed and full English breakfast starts from £235 per night. www.coworthpark.com.
THE RISE OF THE ENGLISH COUNTRY HOTEL | (AN HOUR FROM ZONE ONE)
The triumphant return of the British country house hotel began in earnest last year with the opening of the exquisite Lime Wood in the New Forest. Guests can go foraging, walking and riding. As with Coworth Park, many rooms are in cute little stable blocks, only with fireplaces – they even have fire porters. Also within an hour of London is the beautiful Grove in Hertfordshire – a favourite of footballers, Wags and golfers (it has a big golf course); Stoke Park, a luxurious country club in Buckinghamshire, and The Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire, which has a gourmet angle. Cliveden House, a National Trust property of gobsmacking grandeur is also in Berkshire, and there’s Fawsley Hall, a culinary hotspot in a grand setting in Northampton.