Great British Boltholes: Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa, Bagshot, Surrey

Tracy Ramsden retreats from the pre-Christmas madness in a charming festive hideaway

Tracy Ramsden retreats from the pre-Christmas madness in a charming festive hideaway

Why go: Because amidst the work deadlines, trips to bustling shopping centres and bar-hopping in an attempt to raise a glass to everyone you’ve ever met, December is nothing short of frantic. But just an hour’s drive southwest of London, nestled seductively in 123 acres of rustic woodland, is Pennyhill Park. A 19th-century manor house surrounded by immaculate gardens, it is home to one of the UK’s most decadent spa hotels. And this place knows how to do Christmas in style.

Light my fire: it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Pennyhill Park’s lounge

Best for: Pure indulgence and utter escapism, the spa has the look and feel of a high-end alpine ski lodge. Sipping champagne in the outdoor jacuzzi (yes, even in winter!) under the stars is essential. As is treating yourself to a signature massage – our favourite was the spa therapeutic massage (60 minutes/ £95) to ease tired, overworked shoulders and leave you blissed out and stress-free. It’s no wonder the England Rugby squad lives and trains on-site during the season – the facilities are second to none for gym bunnies. You may well spot the team in the corridors or lounge but make no mistake about it, this isn’t a brash celeb haunt, it’s much more sophisticated than that.

Lucky dip: the outdoor jacuzzi at Pennyhill Park

The look: Like an ivy-clad Hogwarts, Pennyhill Park is packed with nooks and crannies to discover, or get lost in. Wandering the grounds will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a Victorian period novel, as you weave between topiary and the immaculate kitchen gardens (vegetables are grown on-site and the in-house bees produce fresh honey daily). Newly refurbished this year, all 123 bedrooms and three master suites are individually themed but expect draped velvets and sumptuous four-poster beds for a dose of old-school romance. Book yourself into the Violet Suite for the ultimate luxury experience. Tucked out the way on a private wing of the hotel, you can also expect woodland views, peace and quiet. Did we mention there’s a huge jacuzzi bath upstairs, too? Even the smaller rooms don’t compromise on hideaway cosiness, and thanks to the sheer scale of the hotel you’ll rarely bump into many other guests. For full-on festive vibes, settle down with a mulled wine or Pennyhill’s signature Nyetimber sparkling wine in front of one of their open, roaring log fires. Bliss.

Grand design: Pennyhill Park’s Twickenham Suite

I’m hungry:
That’s good, because there are two award-winning restaurants on site. The Latymer is headed-up by two Michelin-starred chef, Michael Wignall (three courses for £88 per person, or £105 per person for the ten-course tasting menu), or for something buzzier and more relaxed without compromising on taste, the Brasserie (open 6pm-10pm) is well worth a visit. We recommend the mussels in chilli and ginger (£10) and the steak (from £31.50, all locally-sourced) must be tasted to be believed. If you prefer an afternoon cocktail or tea and cake, the bar has all the makings of a jazz lounge, complete with low lighting, wood panelling and, of course, a baby grand piano.

Smart choice: the two Michelin star Latymer restaurant at Pennyhill Park

While you’re there:
Though you’ll have absolutely no reason to leave the grounds, you should pack your walking boots or trainers in preparation for a crisp stroll or jog around the sprawling woodlands. If it’s a white Christmas, the hotel is the perfect backdrop to get the festive spirit flowing. If you do fancy checking out the local area, swing by Lurgashall Winery (lurgashall.co.uk) near Petworth (28 miles away) to sample the best English country wines, liqueurs and meads. It’s open Thursday and Friday 12pm-4pm, Saturday 11am-5pm. If you still have some outstanding Christmas shopping to do, stop off at The Friary Centre (thefriarycentre.com) in nearby Guildford for a sophisticated (think quaint and friendly rather than elbows-at-dawn) mooch around more than 60 shops. It’s open Monday-Saturday 9am-6pm (with late-night shopping Thursday till 8pm) and 11am-5pm on Sundays.


Like Hogwarts on ice: Pennyhill Park in winter

Dress code: Old-school glamour, of course. The Brasserie and lounge are relaxed but smart so you won’t want to stomp in there in your walking boots, but there’s no need for full-on black tie attire. Christmas is another matter entirely, though. Sequins, velvet, feathers, whatever your party look of choice, just make sure it’s glam. There will be a photographer available from 6pm on Christmas Eve, snapping portraits by the grand staircase in the main house, which is just the thing for some serious Instagram bragging.

Book now: Pennyhill Park, London Rd, Bagshot, Surrey GU19 5EU (01276 471774; pennyhillpark.co.uk). Standard double rooms cost from £365 with breakfast. The nearest rail stations are Ascot and Sunningdale, a taxi from the latter takes ten minutes and costs £15.

Xmas packages:
This Christmas season, if you can’t face the endless round-trips to visit parents, in-laws and distant elderly relatives, Pennyhill Park is offering a Christmas House Party escapism package for two or three nights, starting on 24 December. Guests arriving on Christmas Eve will be greeted with a welcome drink and a mince pie in the Ascot Bar. Later in the evening, there’s a Black Tie Dinner Dance with champagne reception and five-course dinner. Christmas Day kicks off with breakfast in the Brasserie and enough time for a morning winter stroll before the Christmas buffet. In the evening, forget three-hour games of Scrabble with Auntie Margaret, Pennyhill is offering a decadent chocolate-making masterclass. Much more sophisticated, no? A two night Christmas House Party package starts from £785 per person.

Info: Kent, Sussex and Surrey (£12.99; Rough Guides) covers the area, and see visitsurrey.com

LATEST MARIE CLAIRE TRAVEL

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