A Georgian house gets a major makeover - and it’s stunning
Luxe mini-breaks don’t get much better than this. Heckfield Place, a beautiful country house hotel set in 400 acres of parkland, an hour’s drive southwest of London between the M3 and M4 motorways, opened in September 2018 after a six-year refurb, during which the travel press was on tenterhooks to see what billionaire owner Gerald Chan had in store for it. Promising to create a world-beating hotel like no other in the UK, the unanimous verdict is that it’s been well worth the wait.
The scene is set as soon as you turn into the sweeping white gravel driveway, – every stone in perfect position leading to the pristine, restored façade of the Georgian house. Once through the front door, it soon becomes apparent that Heckfield has given a new definition to luxury. Elegant rooms are filled with modern artworks, architectural plants, and beautiful furniture and fabrics that showcase the rough, organic beauty of natural materials such as wood, silk and wool. I don’t see a piece of plastic anywhere during my stay and even the room keys are made of wood. The main restaurant, Marle is named after a type of soil, the toiletries are chunks of handmade soap and natural shampoos and conditioners decanted from earthenware jars, and instead of a florist shop-load of fresh flowers, gourds, squash and dried flowers are used to remarkable – and sustainable – effect. As we all wake up to the part we need to play in cherishing our planet, making such a sympathetic connection with the land and nature is a smart and timely concept.
This is what expensive feels like, but without being formal or stuffy in the least. The staff are low key and friendly, dressed in slightly rumpled linens.
When I saw the selfie Cara Delevigne posted with her party pals crashed out after Princess Eugenie’s wedding in one of the hotel’s suites, I thought Heckfield might be going for that upmarket party destination vibe, a la Babington House or Soho Farmhouse, but insiders tell me that’s not the intention at all. During my stay the guests were a mix of well-heeled international travellers and hipster couples (gay and hetro), enjoying the splendor of the house and grounds.
One word: bliss. Again, a clever delivery of luxe via beautiful, artisanal furniture – earthenware vases and lamp bases, a woven head board, a wooden bench, a pale grey herringbone wool blanket, linen curtains, a corn dolly to place on the door as a do not disturb sign… There are complimentary homemade fruit infusions and bottles of sparkling and still mineral water (replenished each day and all in reused glass bottles of course) as well as little paper bags with smoked almonds, cheese biscuits as well as a larger brown paper bag filled with giant walnuts beside a nut cracker on the coffee table – so much thought and detail. And another lovely touch is the slim, pristine paperback volumes of thoughtful essays and poems, such as Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and William Siegharts The Poetry Pharmacy, which suggests a poem for everything life throws at you.
With Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries fame as culinary director you know you are in for a treat. The main restaurant Marle is the country arm of her fabulous London restaurant Spring at Somerset House, and the ethos is farm to table – seasonal ingredients transformed in a myriad of delightful ways. Here’s what I had: for starters, a salad of beetroot, carrots, burrata, datterini tomatoes and black olive dressing; for main: roasted wild seabass with borlotti beans, courgettes and green sauce; for dessert a buttermilk panna cotta with roasted pears and chocolate sauce. And guess how delicious that all was… Immensely. Drinks wise, the Moon bar has a unique cocktail menu with fabulous natural infusions, named after each lunar phase (waxing gibbous anyone?).
You really must
Have a pre-breakfast yomp around the grounds (stop by the boot room to borrow a pair of Hunter wellies and raincoat). Not only will you work up an appetite, but enjoying the beauty of the setting, the majesty of the trees, the lakes, the walled garden… it’s the perfect way to start the day. (The map to the grounds thoughtfully lists the most special trees to look out for, which, less face it, unless you’re David Attenborough, you might not spot yourself.)
A massage or facial in the small Bothy spa is well worth booking ahead for, as capacity is limited at the moment while a much bigger spa and pool are being built to open in 2019. My therapist Phillip was really really good, and the Wildsmith products he used during the massage are – as you’d expect – 100% natural and delicately scented with lavender.
You can also visit the farm, and have a guided tour of the chicken houses where all the eggs for the kitchen are collected, meet the resident saddleback pigs (who had just given birth to piglets – soooo cute) as well as hear about expansion plans for a dairy and larger fruit and vegetable production, with the aim of making the hotel sustainable and as self-sufficient as possible.
A Friends Room starts from £350 per night (including breakfast and VAT). Visit heckfield.com or call +44 (0) 118 932 6868.