Learn Downton Abbey style on lavish break at Luton Hoo Hotel
- Credit: Archant
Luxurious weekend at stately mansion provides lessons in dinner party sophistication.
Given the fact you’re treated like nothing short of royalty from the moment you set foot inside the grandeur of Luton Hoo Hotel, it’s fitting that guests can now enjoy a weekend of luxury while also learning some of the secrets behind that faultless hospitality.
This magnificent former stately home-turned-five star resort, which straddles the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire border, has recently launched its ‘Perfect Host’ weekend package, which sees the hotel’s expert staff teach guests the art of dinner party sophistication fit for a king, all in-between enjoying the resort’s fine facilities and leisure pursuits.
You know you’re in for something special as soon as you catch your first glimpse of the mansion from the tree-lined driveway. Standing elevated and proud over some 1065 acres of countryside, lakes, woodlands and 18-hole golf course, this treasured Grade One listed house is steeped in history. It was built in 1767 by prominent architect Robert Adam and acquired by diamond magnate Julius Wernher in 1903, staying in his family until 1999 when it was purchased by Elite Hotels which spent £60 million and eight years restoring the home to its former glory.
Its long history of royal connections includes hosting to the Queen and Prince Phillip during their honeymoon and on anniversaries since then, while the mansion has been the set of numerous blockbuster films, including Four Weddings and a Funeral starring Hugh Grant.
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It’s as impressive inside as it is out – with only the lack of people in 1920s attire that sets it apart from a scene out of TV series Downton Abbey with its glistening crystal chandeliers hanging from tall ceilings, intricately carved gold-dusted panelling, gigantic mirrors, roaring open fires and opulent furnishings.
Our weekend began with tea and coffee in the mansion’s magnificent drawing room, before we were transported to the estate’s historic stable courtyard in one of the fleet of traditional black taxis which line the imposing pillared entrance of the house.
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Executive chef Kevin Clarke – who heads up the hotel’s award winning Wernher Restaurant – took our first workshop, preparing our evening meal of beef wellington before our eyes while talking us through the entire process. He then demonstrated four canapé recipes before it was time for us to divide into pairs and try our hands at making the tiny party pleasers ourselves. Considering I’m far from being whizz in the kitchen, I was pretty impressed to find I was able to make the dainty bites – ranging from duck parfait baskets to smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps – with relative ease, and they tasted as good as they looked.
After more delicious food during lunch at the hotels more informal dining option, Adam’s Brasserie, it was back to the mansion to learn how to lay the perfect table fit for the gourmet feast we had been shown how to make. It included napkin folding of varying designs and a lesson in flower arranging from the hotel’s floristry team.
It was then time for an afternoon of relaxation ahead of the evening’s dinner, when we would see all of the morning’s creations come together.
However, that was not before checking into our suite – named after Julius Wernher’s granddaughter, Georgina, who was the subject of the painting hanging on the wall. The stunning and traditional room certainly matched up to the opulence of the rest of the mansion, with a walk in closet and marble bathroom complete with gold plated fittings just some of the features. But perhaps its biggest draw was its view over the manicured gardens and courtyard – created by famed landscape architect Capability Brown who transformed the estate into a flowing parkland complete with man-made lake, in what was the second most expensive scheme of his career.
We chose to spend the afternoon in the luxurious and tranquil surroundings of the spa, situated back at the stables part of the estate. There’s an inviting swimming pool with muscle relaxing whirl baths, as well as steam and sauna rooms. And an array of treatments are offered by the team of therapists, with my full body massage proving to be complete bliss.
Refreshed and relaxed, it was then time for dinner. Our evening began in the mansion’s library room, where cocktail waiters prepared delicious margaritas and mojitos for us to sip while again sampling the canapés we had earlier learnt to make.
Our dinner was served in a cosy dining room which would have formed part of the staff quarters when the mansion was still operating as a stately home. The table looked resplendent with the floral arrangements made earlier in the day, with the feast which followed equally impressive.
Following a delicious starter of prawns and scallops with bacon garnish, our main course of beef wellington was every bit as succulent, flavoursome and well presented as anticipated. And throughout the dinner, our accomplished waitress talked us through each different wine we had with each course and why it was selected – including a surprisingly drinkable dessert wine to match our tasting selection of sweet creations.
And there couldn’t have been a more perfect and relaxing end to the day – sipping a night cap in the warm and dimly lit Pillared Hall as the dulcet tones of a singer on the piano filled the room.
The following morning we enjoyed a cooked breakfast surrounded by the stunning interiors and paintings of the Wernher Restaurant before being driven by 4x4 to the hotel’s clay pigeon shooting school led by expert Pete Lee. I have to admit to being somewhat doubtful when he confidently boasted that not one of his students had ever left without hitting a clay – but after a relatively brief masterclass, I hit the first target I shot, with my fellow guests enjoying similar success.
It was a superb and fitting end to what was every inch a luxury weekend fit for an aristocrat.
Our two days at Luton Hoo were thoroughly entertaining, insightful, indulgent and completely relaxing – and, although I don’t think I’ll ever make it to ‘Perfect Host’ standard with any amount of training, I still left with a good few impressive dinner party tricks.
In an age when so many luxury hotels are all about the modern and contemporary, it made a refreshing and welcoming change to see Luton Hoo celebrating the glamour and splendour of a bygone era and in doing so giving people the chance to experience this breathtaking piece of history first hand.