Hitting the Henley Royal Regatta this summer? Book yourself in to Hotel Du Vin for a seriously stylish stay, says Nicola Moyne
Occupying prime position in this quintessentially English market town and nestled at the foot of the charming Chilterns, Hotel Du Vin & Bistro in Henley-on-Thames has been imaginatively converted from a red-brick former brewery and now feels like a character-filled home away from home – only trendier (think deep-purple velvet sofas and original cast iron staircases) and with a much better wine collection (cue 600 varieties in the cellar and a dedicated Champagne bar).
The look: The Comtes de Champagne suite delivers all your basic needs: a king-size bed topped with luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets, freestanding roll-top baths (yes, plural: one ostentatiously resides beside the walk-in wet room indoors; another outside, sensitively positioned on the private decked-terrace complete with Zen-inducing river views), plus a huge, squish-friendly leather sofa and open-plan bathroom on the second floor (yep, we’re talking split-level suites here, people). Bragging rights aside, all rooms are individually decorated and come with a Ren-stocked, monsoon shower-clad bathroom, plasma screen televisions and an on-trend muted colour scheme worthy of your Instagram feed. Order a bottle of Perrier-Jouet for the full effect.
The food: Located in the heart of the hotel, the bistro restaurant is fabulously French, with elegant wooden tables, pristine white table linen and reclaimed floorboards. The menu comprises French and British classics (hello, Provencal fish stew and steak frites, from £16.95) but don’t leave without trying the trad French onion soup (£6.50, pictured below), slightly more adventurous snails in garlic and parsley butter (six for £5.95) and superb, supersize moules marineires frites (£14.95) – a dish so rich in salty garlic, shallot and white-wine loveliness it was genuinely heartbreaking not to finish. This is hearty a la carte dining, minus the pomp, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the ingredients are less than top grade. Fresh, seasonal produce come as standard, as does an exceptionally well-stocked artisan cheese trolley if you’re not quite feeling the (devilishly indulgent) profiteroles Du Vin. A friendly sommelier is also on hand to help recommend wine through the courses, before you retire to the festoon-lit courtyard’s cigar bothy for a nightcap. See? Fabulously French.
The vibe: Famed for its boating heritage, check out Hobbs of Henley’s river cruise aboard ‘The New Orleans’. This romantic Mississippi-style paddle-steamer offers the best of both worlds: beautiful vistas across Oxfordshire’s most picturesque stretch of the Thames and premium gin tasting. Alternatively, hire your own (smaller) vessel, pack a picnic (straw hamper and crisp white wine, obligatory) and explore upstream to nearby scenic Sonning. For a more sobering experience, head to the town’s River & Rowing Museum, which is a 10-minute stroll from Hotel Du Vin along the broad riverbank and its exclusive boat moorings. Or hit Henley-on-Thames’ chic collection of independent boutiques and coffee bars, nestled among the pretty, timber-framed houses and ancient cobbled lanes. Anne Gaines Interiors, Boatique, The Independent Book Seller and Antiques And Things are all worth getting lost in for the afternoon before heading to Shaun Dickens at The Boathouse for a sundowner overlooking the water. Meanwhile, upmarket Marlow and the Chiltern Valley Winery & Brewery, which offers guided tours, are just a 15-minute drive away.
Book now: Hotel Du Vin & Bistro, New Street, Henley-on-Thames, RG9 2BP (01491 877 579; hotelduvin.com/locations/henley-on-thames). Rooms start from £119; limited valet parking is available at £20 per night, subject to availability.