If – like myself and my two BFFs - you are looking for a luxury hotel with a great spa within an hour’s train ride from London, Danesfield House Hotel and Spa is it.
As soon as you drive through the massive white turreted tower at the entrance of Danesfield House Hotel and Spa, under the arch into the sweeping drive with its crunchy gravel and bright planting, you are into another era – one where toweling robes, flickering fires and pre-dinner drinks in the bar feature heavily.
The exterior – built in 1901 by a Victorian soap magnate – is modeled on an Italian Renaissance palace, while the interior is dark heavy wood, all lattice windows and Dutch-style flower paintings. In the restaurant floor to ceiling glass encases what would have been a terrace and looks out over the massive garden with box hedges, impressive topiary, York stone and ornate balustrades giving onto lawns (the gardens are 65 acres) that roll down towards the edge of the winding River Thames.
Danesfield House Hotel and Spa is a member of the exclusive Small Luxury Hotels group and the rooms are elegantly yet comfortably furnished – ours was a courtyard suite where the three of us all fitted into one bedroom (thankfully all with wonderfully comfortable, separate beds) with ample space to spare, and lolled around our living room drinking tea from room service and eating biscuits while planning our assault on the spa.
The spa itself is plush, with a swimming pool a sensible shape (rectangular – none of that kidney shaped nonsense where you can’t so much as break into a breast stroke) so it was possible to have a proper swim before retiring to the Jacuzzi for the chinwag of the century. The sauna and steam were generously proportioned and there were daybeds around the pool as well as outside looking out over the dramatic valley across the Chilterns. No stinting on the towels and bathrobes either.
The spa itself was professional and luxurious. My favourite area was the relaxation room where you could take a sauna or shower or just lie on recliners under a duvet before or after your treatment – inspired. (One tip – if you book your treatment for earlier in the day there is more space.)
The Lava Shells Rescue Massage involved “shells” (like smooth metal containers) made either very hot or very cold. The knowledgeable and experienced masseuse alternated these to give the skin maximum stimulation, and at the same time used the shell shape to pummel deep into the (many) knots of my back. After 80 minutes of this I was quite light-headed and took to my bed, falling into a deep and refreshing sleep for 90 minutes before awaking remade.
We headed next to the bar (obviously), a wonderful room lined with wood panels with more than a whiff of Poirot about it. The staff were quick and attentive, and uniformly friendly and warm – we felt taken care of without being imposed upon, and were soon clinking our champagne cocktails.
Dinner took place in the wonderful pale panelled Oak room (during the Second World War Churchill’s daughter Sarah took part in wartime operations when the building was taken over by RAF intelligence – there are fascinating pictures of this period around the hotel and it’s easy to imagine them hunkering down in the fabulous room). The food was generously portioned, unpretentious and excellently cooked: roasted guinea fowl with prunes, skate wing with spinach and capers, hake with garlic and dauphinoise were washed down with a delicious Viognier from the extensive wine menu. The vanilla panna cotta was pronounced sublime.
The generous noon checkout time meant there was plenty of time to enjoy the spa – not to mention breakfast in the beautiful terrace room – on Sunday morning – though there would never have been time to finish all the chat. We left relaxed in ways we hadn’t imagined possible. And we will be back.
Book a stay at Danesfield House Hotel and Spa with Small Luxury Hotels of the World from £259 per night in a courtyard room (two sharing) on a B&B basis (www.slh.com/danesfield; 0800 0482 314)