Short stay: Stoke Park Country Club, Spa and Hotel, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, UK

Famed for its appearances in numerous films – Bridget Jones’s Diary, Goldfinger, Tomorrow Never Dies, Layer Cake and more – Stoke Park is clearly a firm favourite with Pinewood Studios (just 5 miles away) and the British film industry. But if appearances in major movies wasn’t enough to convince you, Britain’s first country club’s many other attributes will. This friendly country club and hotel, celebrating its 110th anniversary, is located just 35 minutes from London and a mere 7 miles from London Heathrow Airport.

The approach to Stoke Park, with its grand, sweeping drive through 300 acres of glorious parkland, is every bit as impressive as the hotel’s many accolades. Among them is the award of 5 AA Red Stars – the highest accolade given to hotels by the AA Guide – and the coveted rank of AA Inspector’s Choice which is given to just 50 hotels across the UK.

The hotel has 49 exquisite bedrooms and suites, boasting the finest in interior design and comfort. 21 of these rooms are found in the Mansion, where each is individually designed and furnished with fine art, priceless antiques and, of course, large, comfortable beds. Among them is the Pennsylvania Suite which served as a romantic getaway for Bridget and Daniel Cleaver in the hit movie Bridget Jones’s Diary.

The remaining 28 rooms are in the Pavilion – which also houses the hotel spa, gymnasium and San Marco Italian restaurant – and have a luxurious, contemporary feel. Throughout this building, and in some of the rooms, there are historic movie images and posters, paying homage to Stoke Park’s strong links with the silver screen.

We stayed in the Pavilion on our last visit to Stoke Park, which was made as a family a number of years ago, when our focus was more on keeping our two young sons entertained (Legoland is just 7 miles away), rather than necessarily as an opportunity for relaxation for ourselves. This time, however, with our boys a bit older and on a residential sailing trip at nearby Datchet Water, our priorities were slightly different. We could afford to be a little more selfish with our time and seized the opportunity to make a repeat visit, with a little rest and relaxation more in mind.

Our suite was beautifully furnished with muted tones of gold and beige – light and airy, and with gorgeous views over the golf course.

It had its own separate living area with adjustable mood lightning, air conditioning (useful considering the incredible Summer the UK had been experiencing!), HDTV, iPod dock and WiFi throughout.

A mini-bar and tea and coffee making facilities were also to hand.

We were very warmly welcomed with a bottle of Saumur on ice, some chocolates and lovely gifts of homemade raspberry jam and a fig, pear and apple chutney.

A marble bathroom with underfloor heating had the most wonderful walk-in shower, separate bath, WC and twin basins.

The toiletries provided were from Aromatherapy Associates who produce body and skincare products that expertly blend essential oils with their unique active botanicals.

Lovely though the rooms are, a stay here goes far beyond just where you lay your head each evening. Whether you love golf, tennis, spa treatments or simply good food, Stoke Park has it all.

The hotel has three restaurants – on our first night, we dined at Humphry’s fine dining restaurant, named after Humphry Repton who designed the beautiful bridge the restaurant overlooks. It was slightly less formal than we remember (which is a good thing!), but perhaps it was more a case of us just being more relaxed, not having to worry about whether one of our boys accidentally dropped their cutlery on the floor or knocked over a glass.

Head Chef Chris Wheeler’s innovative Modern British cuisine contrasts with the estate’s rich history. Chris has been at Stoke Park for 15 years and in that time he has made the restaurant into “an expereience you want to relive again and again” (At Home with Marco Pierre White) while winning 3 AA rosettes. Chris worked with Jean-Christophe Novelli for 10 years but is perhaps best known most recently for his appearances in BBC2’s Great British Menu.

We began our evening with canapés of smoked salmon, houmous, and a dark paté with an edible flower, whilst choosing from the menu.

Once in the dinning room, we enjoyed a refreshing amuse bouche which consisted of a tangy green apple and ginger consommé. For the starter, I enjoyed the succulent pan fried scallops, smoked eel, chorizo and pea…

…whilst my wife had the equally delicious (she let me taste it!) teryaki confit salmon, lime pickled cucumber and toasted peanuts.

For my main, I had the fillet of Brookfield Farm beef, oxtail and Marmite ragout, shallot purée, king oyster mushroom, bone marrow crumb and red wine jus – a gutsy dish with some powerful flavours, particularly in the ragout.

There was a pre-dessert that consisted of a lemon possset with a blackberry compote, and for us a SECOND pre-dessert as it was our wedding anniversary – choux pastry buns with chocolate, cream and banana. They certainly treat you well at Stoke Park and pay attention to the little details that really make a lovely difference.

Had we known of these little extras, we’d probably have passed on dessert, but we’d already said we’d share the Dulcey chocolate delice with salted caramel, caramelised pecans and yoghurt sorbet (and weren’t disappointed!).

Guests at the hotel also have the choice of the San Marco brasserie for an Italian experience and The Orangery for lighter, relaxed dining. It was at the latter where I had a really enjoyable smoked salmon and prawn salad with marinated artichokes and gazpacho dressing, whilst my wife opted for the fresh local asparagus with wild rocket, poached egg, truffle shaving and Hollandaise sauce.

For my main course at The Orangery, I was sorely tempted by the lemongrass and chilli grilled sea bream with vegetable linguine and saffron broth (that’s one to try next time!) but elected for the roast loin of lamb with mini shepherd’s pie, roasted root vegetables and redcurrant jus.

Once again, we shared a dessert – we were going to resist but the waiter suggested the chocolate marquise with ‘Dorset Cow’ vodka infused raspberries, raspberry and lime ripple sorbet as a firm favourite, and understandably so.

The Orangery is also where breakfast is served each morning. It’s a lovely room that lets in plenty of the morning light.

For breakfast there are both continental and a la carte options.

And whilst Stoke Park is home to three great restaurants, it doesn’t stop there. It’s also home to a 27-hole golf course designed by Harry Colt, 13 tennis courts including Wimbledon standard grass courts, an award-winning spa, heated indoor swimming pool, state-of-the-art gym and 14 acres of gardens.

Conditions have been remarkably challenging this Summer, with some unprecedented weather making keeping the gardens and golf courses looking lush has been exceptionally difficult. Despite this, Stoke Park – thanks no doubt in part to its own irrigation system that recycles rainwater – has made some valiant efforts to keep everywhere looking as green as possible in the circumstances.

The golf course has also had a full bunker refurbishment and was looking in surprisingly good shape considering the hot weather we’d had. Such is the golf scene at Stoke Park that it was recently named the No. 1 Golf Resort in England by Golf World and has even become the European headquarters for the world-renowned David Leadbetter Academy.

If golf isn’t your thing, head for the spa – an area of the hotel that has developed significantly since our last visit, with many THALGO treatments on offer. I had the men’s lava rescue treatment which involved a massage with hot and cold shells – a luxury treatment that really helped me to de-stress after what had been a busy few months.

There’s also a private atrium and indoor swimming pool (with a 5-metre tropical aquarium positioned between the two), Italian marble steam rooms, Scandinavian sauna and outdoor hot tub.

As I concluded from my last stay, Stoke Park somehow successfully caters for many different types of guests at the same time. Whether you’re a golfer, a foodie, a spa enthusiast, a tennis player or a film buff, it’s all here for you. Similarly, whether you’re visiting as a couple or with extended family, whether you’re there for a business meeting, a corporate event or a wedding, everything seems to run seamlessly.

You would think they might only be able to do one or two of these things well, but Stoke Park’s meticulous attention to detail ensures that everything runs like clockwork. At the time of writing, the hotel has had 1,001 reviews on Tripadvisor, and over 90% of these are ‘Excellent’ (74%) or ‘Good’ (17%). People don’t give that kind of level of endorsement without good reason!

Disclosure: Our stay was courtesy of Stoke Park.

Comments (1)

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  1. Sam says:

    What a gorgeous estate. I’m a big fan of the Bridget Jones films (I recognise that bridge!) and must make a point of visiting some time – even if it’s just for afternoon tea. :-)

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