A Christmas country hotel break could hardly get more magical than Luton Hoo, a world away from the less than salubrious town and airport it shares its name with. Boasting an estate so expansive so as to delve into two counties (in this case Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire) you can be forgiven for being awe-struck as you make your way up the meandering drive, offering guests a chance to take in just a fraction of the magnificent 1,065 acres in which a pristine 18-hole championship golf course sits proudly. A fleet of specially branded complimentary Luton Hoo taxis are on hand to ferry guests around and are worth making use of if only for the sake of novelty.
Luton Hoo’s enviable heritage has been celebrated and redefined by Elite Hotels since 2007 following an investment of £60 million, with their other well appointed properties including the handsome Ashdown Park and Tylney Hall, along with the prestigious crown jewel of the English Riviera, The Grand Hotel Eastbourne. Having been lucky enough to experience the other properties over the last few years, my expectations were justifiably high and more than surpassed with this finale. Christmas it seemed, really had come early. Gloriously decked for the holidays, with countless trees and welcoming fires upon entering, an elegant Festive Afternoon Tea in the mirrored salon was as fine a way as any to make one feel at home, with the adjoining drawing room resembling an exclusive St James’s members’ club.
From an expertly selected range of tea and an accompanying glass of Champagne (well, it is Christmas), the seasonal additions to the three tier stand included roast Norfolk turkey and cranberry finger sandwiches, making me recall childhood memories of my mother and grandmother preparing much heartier versions for a late night snack on Christmas Eve, while the gloriously crisp warm scones with clotted cream and jam provided their own kind of comfort, as did the top tier of Christmassy patisserie with chocolate orange mini yule logs, orange and cranberry bakewell tarts, gingerbread Christmas trees and melt-in-the-mouth coconut mousse bites resembling snowballs.
Originally built as a private residence for the 3rd Earl of Bute who commissioned the renowned 18th century architect Robert Adam, much of the interior of Luton Hoo was remastered in the early 20th century by the architects who designed The Ritz Hotel London; similarities even more in keeping within the grandeur of this vast country house mansion. The Grand Hall and staircase welcomes guests with an awe-inspiring opulence; the curvaceous marble stairway leading to many of the hotels 228 rooms and suites, with further accommodation located in the external Country Club and Warren Weir buildings. Our mansion suite boasted wide-reaching views and fortunately, when a property is surrounded by attractive formal gardens and a Capability Brown landscape complete with lake, the vista is almost guaranteed.
In addition to Adam’s Brasserie, housed within the historic Grade II listed Stables which have been converted into a stand-alone five star Spa and Country Club, the hotel’s 2 AA Rossette Wernher Restaurant, hung with sumptuous tapestries and chandeliers reminiscent of Versailles takes its name from Luton Hoo’s former diamond tycoon owner with a classic, refined cuisine more than living up to its surroundings. Head chef Ruth Hansom brings out the best from seasonal produce, with the current Festive Dinner Menu offering a starter of duck pressing with burnt orange, endive and pickled walnut, and a decadent main of local pheasant with confit leg, creamed savoy cabbage and Madeira sauce combining elegance and technique. Needless to say, in such a room as this breakfast is an equally smart affair.
As a royalist and Winston Churchill admirer, it added to the ambiance and prestige of staying at Luton Hoo tenfold when I discovered that HM The Queen and Winston Churchill frequented this extraordinary house as guests of the Wernhers, and they could hardly have wished for better fare or service if they were to visit now. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh not only enjoyed a stay here during their honeymoon, but often returned in the early years of their marriage to celebrate their wedding anniversary, while Churchill once having addressed 100,000 people in front of the Mansion to thank the public for their support during World War II. Army tanks built locally were also tested on the estate, photographs of which can be spotted in the Great Hall so guests can appreciate the cultural and historical significance of the property, whilst giving those taking important business meetings in the ‘Churchill’ conference room boundless inspiration.
Besides having received royal approval, it’s not surprising that Luton Hoo has been featured in countless films, not least Four Weddings and a Funeral in which it appears as the venue of the second wedding. Appropriate given that so many weddings are hosted here throughout the year, with the stand-alone lakeside Warren Weir, inspired by the Arts and Crafts style, offering exclusive private hire, 84 bedrooms and suites, a ballroom and leisure facilities. Meanwhile, the exquisite former Russian Orthodox chapel located within the main house is licensed for civil ceremonies and makes for as memorable a wedding venue as you’re likely to find. It’s so romantic that I almost wished my husband and I could have a retake.
I contented myself with a fabulous spa break, however, with a heated indoor swimming pool to energise and many luxury ESPA treatments such as the 80 minute Signature Facial and Hot Stone Massage granting a weary housewife an indulgent pampering to make her feel thoroughly appreciated. Husbands dissatisfied with their wives can practise their shot at the Shooting School. Resident coach, Pete Lee, has over 25 years experience and offers a money back guarantee that everyone hits their target. Who needs presents under the tree when you can experience Christmas at Luton Hoo with your loved one?
Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa, The Mansion House, Luton, Bedfordshire, LU1 3TQ. For more information and reservations please visit the website.