Will You Be My Valentine?
Split between timeless Edwardian and iconic contemporary, Stoke Park offers the perfect couples getaway for all ages
Review by Piers Cunliffe
Situated less than thirty minutes from London Paddington station by rail and from Heathrow by car, Stoke Park is perfectly situated for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of London’s frantic and constant need to work at warp speed. With Windsor, Ascot and Henley all within spitting distance of the country club, you really do have plenty on offer to satisfy your quintessential English lifestyle.
Rolling up the estate drive reveals The Mansion, designed by James Wyatt, architect to George III, who is responsible for the majority of what you are greeted with. The long white facade has played host to many of Hollywood’s A-listers whilst on set for filming. It was at these very steps that Daniel Craig stopped a bullet in Mathew Vaughn’s crime thriller, Layer Cake, but more on Stoke Park’s success with movies later.
The Mansion is set in the centre of a now lush green golf course, sculpted by the famous amateur golfer and course architect, Harry Colt. However, before Colt, the landscape was sculpted by Lancelot “Capability” Brown and then upgraded in 1791 by Humphry Repton, an English landscape designer of the 18th century, with the noticeable addition of the Repton Bridge. For the classic, steeped in history getaway, then The Mansion is where to bed down with your valentine. With classic paintings by long gone masters to admire and the decor now restored to its 1908 period, you can court each other like the Georgians did – rather formally it would have seemed – which is a whole world away from The Pavilion.
The Pavilion, set slightly further along from The Mansion, is Stoke Park’s answer to contemporary living and well-being. With the entire ground floor dedicated to spa and leisure, it has a state of the art gym facility for those more energetic individuals. The first floor boasts a warren of stylish contemporary rooms ideally suited for the busy lifestyle couple to stay and unwind. Don’t be fooled by the typical spa and leisure world of marble flooring and contemporary interior design, the owners of Stoke Park have made their mark. They have personally selected all the paintings and sculptures that adorn the entrances and corridors. Pop-art art works of Superman hang alongside Stanley Kubrick, Marilyn Monroe and Japanese Star Wars film posters, which grab your attention at the entrance, whilst the living quarters have abstract art and design pieces. The Pavilion is an art gallery in its own right, never mind the luxurious spa facilities it has to offer.
For a truly relaxing experience, book yourself in for one of the renowned THALGO spa treatments. The Swedish Full Body Massage will certainly eradicate any knots and tensions that have built up from the working week. Your personal beauty technician will take you through and ask all the right questions to ensure that you gain from your treatment what you want to achieve. Once completed – and if you can wake up from the deep sleep you will have likely been put into – you are invited to enjoy the relaxation room where you can regenerate your senses with complimentary tea and fruit.
It was great to see a 25m pool in the heart of The Pavilion. So few luxury retreats offer the opportunity to get a good length in before having to perform a flip turn (if you are that way inclined). However, a word to the wise, check when they hold their aqua-fit classes, as it turns out, unless you take part, you are not permitted to swim lengths, for health and safety reasons. Well, I suppose getting hit by the energetic arms and legs of the club members as they make waves is reason enough to not want to duck, dodge and dive your way to each end… So a hasty retreat back to our room was executed, only to be greeted with a Valentines themed cake and a bottle of bubbly to help kick off the evening of fine wining and dining.
“The home to everyone is to him his castle.” The famous words of Edward Coke, an English barrister, judge and, later, opposition politician, who is considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. The Coke room, named after his truly, is certainly made to feel yours and yours alone. With a grand balcony view straight out onto the first hole which would excite even the most hardened of golfers; imagine enjoying your glass of bubbly (and cake) while pre-visualising your first drive shot of the day from the first tee, that is, if you can drag yourself away from the enormous four poster bed.
Dinner was served in Humphry’s Fine Dining Restaurant, with its floor to ceiling windows and grand vases of lilies and orchids you have to see to believe. The exquisite food is prepared by Head Chef, Chris Wheeler, who has helped Stoke Park win its three AA Rosettes. The pancetta wrapped venison loin with red cabbage, violet potato, blackberries and game jus was a particular favourite. Presentation was so beautifully it would have fitted right in with the Pavilion artwork. Dessert saw an intricate box construction of chocolate and caramel mousse, Frangelico gel, salted caramel ice cream, hazelnut truffle and hot caramel sauce, the only thing missing was Willy Wonka himself. It must be noted that the waiting staff were impeccable. Their attention to detail and presentation was bar none than anything I had seen before.
Retiring to The Presidents Bar for digestifs and complimentary pistachio macaroons, pistachio nougat and white chocolate truffles we were able to marvel at the rich community of club members that have come and gone. With over 4,000 members across all of its facilities, it is no wonder that the winner’s boards are full to the brim.
Included in the Valentines package is breakfast, served in The Orangery. From continental to full English, Stoke Park have the most important meal more than sufficiently covered. This is equally helped with the late check out at 12pm, ideal for those who want to enjoy the bedroom for longer.
For the film buffs, be sure to check out the wonderful photographs and memorabilia from the filming of Goldfinger, Tomorrow Never Dies and Layer Cake. Stride confidently from the Oval Room through to the Orangery in Daniel Craig’s footsteps or decapitate the head of a stone statue in Odd Jobs Bowler-Hat-Throwing style. Actually, don’t do that, the owners will likely have a word.
So for the busy family or the loved up couples, Stoke Park hosts a huge array of activities to make your stay one to remember. Just be sure to check out before 12pm, the temptation to stay is all too easy.
Stoke Park is currently offering a special Valentine’s package; details here.