For everything that London has to offer, sometimes we all yearn for a change of scenery, especially when the sun is shining and the sweaty tube is even less appealing. Finding ourselves in this situation, we headed off to Down Hall Hotel.
New? No, the building dates back to 1322 and has been home to artists, baronets and Lords.
Where? Situated on the Essex/Hertfordshire border, getting to Down Hall takes about 45 minutes from central London. We suggest taking the train from Liverpool Street to Bishop’s Stortford and then get a taxi which takes around 15 minutes.
Matching Road, Hatfield Heath, Essex, CM22 7AS, www.downhall.co.uk
First Impressions: In the time that it takes to get from one side of London to the other, we had reached Down Hall Hotel and it could not be further from the Zone 2 streets in which I normally reside. Rolling countryside, postcard cottages and winding roads led to Down Hall. It’s set in 110 acres of ground and, as we arrived, muntjac scurried along the hedgerows and a fox shot across our path, a fox without the London mange. We knew that in the next twenty-four hours we had to make the most of the non-polluted air and immediately rolled down the windows.
The Look: The Italianate mansion façade and classical architecture of the building continues inside, and whilst it is grand it isn’t overbearing or stuffy – high ceilings, chandeliers and large windows fill the rooms and corridors with light. We were told that the 99 bedrooms were being renovated, with over half now sporting heritage colours – think stone greys and muted blues. I think perhaps ours was still waiting an update. Despite the large windows, the room was dark. Light chocolate-brown throws were met with shiny aubergine-green cushions and a brown flowery carpet, making it seem rather dated. Beyond that it couldn’t be faulted, from the bed that made it quite impossible to get up in the morning to the huge bathroom (we’re talking the size of most London bedsits) with double sinks.
You have to make the most of the gardens – whether you choose to play tennis, giant chess or simply lie back in the summer feasting on one of the hampers they can prepare for you. For those up for exploring, if you walk a little beyond the maintained hedgerows you’ll find yourself in some of the most beautiful countryside (and that comes from someone growing up in the depths of the Cotswolds) not a car, building, telegraph pole or person in sight.
Eden Spa: After picnicking and lying outside, take yourself off to the Eden Spa. They offer a whole range of ESPA body treatments including hot stone massages, deep tissue massages and body polishes. We went for the 55-minute Swedish massage, which erased any tension we had left in us, and then we took ourselves off to the rest of the spa. There you’ll find a dark steam room with twinkling lights in the ceiling, a sauna, a relaxation room with huge heated electric recliners and the piece de la resistance – the bubbling hydrotherapy pool. The spa was spotless, with huge fluffy robes, large changing rooms and ESPA products in the showers – the only thing I would say is that the hairdryers were useless.
Go With: This has romantic getaway written all over it. Turn up, switch your phone off and forget the rest of the world.
Final Word: Of course, as with many hotels with such beautiful grounds, throughout the summer there will be a lot of weddings at the weekend (as we experienced) so be prepared for music late at night and the subsequent drunken antics of rowdy guests returning to their bedrooms.
Find out what we ate next week…