New hotel crush: Stoke Park (Bucks)

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It’s not often I’m left short of words, but even my Muddy mouth was silenced by Stoke Park on the weekend. Because let me tell you, it’s flippin’ amazing. A red five star hotel (that means it’s five stars but with extra twinkles) with one of the best spas in the country, and a three rosette restaurant. Even better, it’s close with a leafy home in Stoke Poges only 10 minutes from Beaconsfield, 30 minutes from Oxford and an hour or so from West/North Oxon.

If you’re wondering why-oh-why you haven’t heard of Stoke Park before, you can at least rest easy that you’ve probably seen it: in Goldfinger on the golf course. In Layer Cake during Daniel Craig’s final scenes. Or perhaps, most famously, when Daniel ‘Hugh Grant’ Cleaver takes Bridget ‘Renee Z’ Jones away for a dirty weekend, and you see him rowing her around the lake with a fag in his mouth, and then being naughty with her in that stupendous bedroom, before leaving early to get back to whatsherface in London (below).

briget jones at stoke park
Well, Bridget Jones’ shag pad was my bedroom this weekend! I knew there was a reason I was drawn to granny knickers all these years. Here it is, a four poster beauty with a balcony overlooking the golf course, a marble bath that was so deep I literally actually reach the plug by leaning over and had to stand in it, and a bottle of champers on ice on arrival because frankly that’s been on the Muddy rider since I was old enough to order it.

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The veranda out onto the golf course was immense, and it was sunny enough to enjoy it. The lady on the Stoke Park reception probably booked the clouds to move at the precise moment I stepped out.

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One of two Van Dyke paintings of Charles I children - catch this one, the other one's in Buckingham Palace!

One of two Van Dyke paintings of Charles I children – catch this one, the other one’s in Windsor Castle!

The Mansion itself dates from 1790 – 1813,  designed by James Wyatt (architect to George III) and was originally built as a replacement for the original Stoke Park, once owned by Elizabeth I, which had fallen into disrepair. The original Capability Brown grounds were largely replaced during that time by those of Humphry Repton, the last great English landscape designer of the eighteenth century, and it became a grand country estate once more. Anyway, to cut the history lesson short (you! girl! pay attention in class!), it passed through some hands over the centuries and ended up as the UK’s first country club at the turn of the century, with a fantastic golf course taking over much of Humphry’s lovely gardens and grass tennis courts that now hold The Boodles’s annual tournament.

It does have a country-clubbish feel to it in places – a couple of the bars have wooden wall mountings of Mixed Pairs winners, that sort of thing  – but in the main it just feels totally glamorous: big chandeliers, whopper windows and some incredible art. Van Dykes, Warhol, you name it, they’re all just hanging out all over the Mansion.

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I spent the first hour at the hotel kind of comatose, recovering from the week just gone, and poured myself a glass of champers – hmmm alright, a couple – and got sozzled in the bath, then roused myself enough to get dressed for dinner and go down for a cocktail with Mr Muddy. Here I am and my view across the bar. Cheers!

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Then it was dinner.

Humphrys

I’m always a bit wary of well-heeled hotel restaurants, because there’s always the suspicion that you’ll be the youngest person in the room by about 50 years. Humphry’s Fine Dining Restaurant, so called because you have a fab view of the beautiful bridge he designed, has neatly got around this by keeping the restaurant open for non-residents, and because it has 3 AA rosettes the food is good enough to pull in the punters. So the restaurant was full and buzzy on the night we ate there.

Mr Muddy and I were too lazy (and too drunk) to do anything other than be led through a 7 course tasting menu with wines selected for us, but it was just fantastic – presentation, service and most importantly the food was all exquisite. It would be a good alternative to somewhere like Le Manoir, just as beautifully situated and less expensive too (£80 per person for the tasting course menu – still a partial buttock-clencher but well worth it for a special occasion).

The courses included smoked salmon, roasted duck breast with apple and Celeriac Rosti, Caramelised Apples and Calvados, Pan-fried Pave of Sea Bass with a Leek, Butternut Squash and Sorrel Risotto and new season lamb. And each course comes with a glass of wine. Let me tell you, the Muddy liver was working out, looking at itself glistening in the mirror, saying, ‘come on baby, that’s it, one more’.

Scallops

Pan-fried scallops

 

Duck with

Duck with apple and calvados

 

Sea bass....

Pan-fried pave of sea bass with a leek, butternut squash and sorrel risotto

 

Lamb

The fall off the fork lamb

The next morning Mr Muddy valiantly attacked a fry up, for he is Kiwi Man, and I limped off to the spa for a dip in the pool and a Thalgo Polynesia Spa Ritual where I was buffed by sand from Bora Bora and then massaged to the point of snoredom.

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I’m actually going to write a whole separate post on the spa because it is really something you’re going to want to try. Voted one of the 4 must-visit spas in the world by Vanity Fair, even the reception area is super-cool, and they have a huge state of the art gym, hot yoga studio and fantastic treatments.

The spa reception. Warhol original prints on either side of the desk *sigh*

The spa reception. Warhol original prints on either side of the desk *sigh*

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Are you getting the picture here? It’s hard not to be gushing because it’s that good. I loved staying in the main Mansion house, but for a girly spa break it would be just as good in the Pavilion rooms which are over near the Spa – more modern, very convenient, but no less fancy (I had a snoop, look here below).

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I would definitely come back for a spa break, and if you’re thinking of catching up with your girlfriends for a spa day do yourself a favour and check it out here. It would also be a good place to stay with the kids because the playroom (below), TVs and creche are all over this side too.

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For a more romantic stay, go for the main Mansion, with its old school glamour. If you happen to be into tennis or golf, you can do a bit of that while you’re at it, and all the facilities and gym classes are free to use if you’re staying at the hotel.

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Basically I’m planning to move in, fancy coming too?

Rooms from £290 per night. Stoke Park, Park Road, Stoke Poges, Bucks, SL2 4PG. www.stokepark.com

 

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Bucks & Oxon