‘We’re going to check out the Aviator, then?’
‘We’ll just be touching down for a weekend – a flying visit, really.’
‘Are these puns likely to continue throughout our stay?’
‘There’s a high chance – that’s pretty plane.’
‘Do I really have to come?’
It’s hard to avoid dipping into aeronautics when talking about the Aviator; this hotel lives for the skies. Situated bang beside the runway of Farnborough’s private airport, shaped like a colossal jet propeller, and dotted with arty aero-biz paraphernalia, it couldn’t emphasise its love of flight more if it served food in plastic trays and stowed life jackets under the seats.
As we drive through Farnborough – an unremarkable Hampshire town that just happens to be the heartland of the British aerospace – we aren’t sure what to expect: this is a land of conferences, handshake lunches and air shows; is it really possible we’ll find the romantic hideaway we are looking for? When the hotel itself swings into view – a bizarre swoop of gleaming glass laced with ribbons of shimmering steel – more questions are raised:
‘Where in the name of Orville and Wilbur are you taking me?’
‘The out-of-town headquarters of an international petrochemical business, it appears.’
But, as anyone who has spent time in Thailand’s nightclubs will tell you, appearances can be deceptive. The Aviator may look like a well-designed conference centre, but inside it’s a very different beast. Our jaws plummet upon entry. We’re looking at a dramatic central staircase that comes pouring out of the first-floor balcony in a curve of cream. Above, another three circular balconies ring the space up to the rooftop. For a moment, we wonder how we’ve ended up in the New York Guggenheim, then a slick-suited concierge scoots into view and pinpricks our wonderment with a beaming welcome.
We're led up the grand staircase, past the flickering open fire and velvety sofas to the first-floor front desk. At some point while we're signing forms and handing over cards, two cocktails miraculously appear beside us – I swear I didn't see anyone come over with them. The woman on the front desk (also smiling – this appears to be part of the uniform) asks us what brings us to the Aviator.
'We're here on a secret mission to determine whether it's actually possible to have a romantic weekend at a novelty airport hotel in Hampshire's industrial hinterland.'
…is what I don't say.
'Well, we've never been to Hampshire–'
'We're looking for a chest of drawers–'
…is our simultaneous and unintentionally surreal response. The receptionist doesn't blink and, seconds later, we're presented with a map marked with the location of the nearest antique centres.
'And we'd quite like to go somewhere nice for a pub lun–'
Another map appears, with the Pride of the Valley inn handily circled. With our weekend quite literally mapped out, we trot off to our room, whisperingly wondering whether they have a pile of pre-annotated maps covering every eventuality and a midget mixing drinks under the front desk.
The Aviator has a staggering 169 rooms, which makes me wonder how we can call it 'boutique', but I very quickly realise that despite its capacity, the hotel is cleverly designed to preserve the illusion of intimacy – like that first, rejected Tardis model, it feels smaller on the inside. And the room itself doesn't seem like a suite for a suit. Sure, it's got all the desk space and free WiFi the average CEO could possibly need, but these sleek woodsy interiors, abundant mirrors, cosy armchairs, and the knock-out view of the airfield dotted with lights at dusk are crying out for appreciative couples. Mrs Smith is enraptured by the little planes taking off and touching down (quietly) right outside the window but I, being a true Mr Smith, I make straight for the flatscreen and scroll through the niftily integrated movie and CD library – it's like having a branch of Blockbusters and a very trendy jukebox trapped in your TV. By the time Mrs Smith's earmarked which Ren toiletries will find their way into her washbag, I've soundtracked our stay with the coke-addled melodies of Bowie's Station to Station (a tip-off from our TuneSmith), and decided that our evening's entertainment will be In Bruges.
But first, dinner. And before that, cocktails. There's a terrible moment when Mrs Smith's habitual martini arrives with a twist of lemon rather than the promised olive, but our waitress must have glimpsed the rising fire in her eyes and swiftly diffuses the situation with a new one – made from scratch, no less; none of the picking-it-out-with-a-cocktail-stick you get in lesser hotels. Our meal is equally accomplished. The brasserie menu has the Aviator's biggest nod towards the macho business world: steaks. Big juicy manly steaks for big juicy manly men. Thick, pink and with a fabulous woody char to the taste. There were other items on the menu, I'm sure; I just didn't notice them.
The next day, we explore. It doesn't take too long to realise that Farnborough town needn't distract us for long – I suspect its one horse left long ago – but we're in the perfect spot for pootling around shady country lanes, nipping into antique fairs, supping in wayside pubs and generally having a right-old rural road trip. And it's brilliant. By the time we get back to the hotel, we've a car full of pick-your-own courgettes, second-hand books, half a dresser, a chest of drawers (hurrah), and two very contented weekenders who now know the answer to their question – it's not only possible to have a romantic weekend staying at the Aviator, it'd be difficult not to.
As we check out, we 'accidentally' overhear a pair of indeterminately European men enquiring about the long-term availability of a room in two months' time. They seem very insistent that it should have a safe and are equally adamant that they're unable to book in advance. As we drive home, we can't help but speculate. Hmm, two men, with unidentifiable accents, who need a safe, for a substantial period of time, next to a private airport, but can't make a definite booking. For a moment, we convince ourselves that we've just solved the mystery of UK's biggest jewellery heist, but quickly dismiss this as a compelling flight of fancy. Just like the Aviator, really.
Anonymously reviewed by Anthony Leyton (Team Wordsmith, Mr & Mrs Smith)
Whenever you book a stay at a Mr & Mrs Smith, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what real-life guests had to say in Aviator's guestbook below.
The suite we had looking over the airport was amazing. The service and little touches were first class. The restaurant laid on an first-class meal for us. We've already booked up for our anniversary next year; it was that good!
Paul, BlackSmith stayed on 15 Nov 2013
I liked the ambience and style of the entire hotel. It was like being in a James Bond film
Spa treatments aren't worth the money (they're not tailored to skin types, etc.) Room service ordering was wrong.
Terri, BlackSmith stayed on 25 Oct 2013
I really enjoyed the food; great venison shepherd's pie.
The service didn't match the quality of the food; it wasn't bad but just seemed a bit unorganised with many different staff serving the same table.
Kieron, BlackSmith stayed on 25 Oct 2013
This is a great hotel; modern but with character. Fantastic food, especially breakfast. The two-night deal with breakfast and one dinner was excellent value. It was a very comfortable stay.
Quaife, BlackSmith stayed on 25 Oct 2013
This is a lovely and very stylish hotel with beautiful suites and great bathrooms. It's very accommodating of little children and the restaurant is surprisingly good.
Guests on our corridor were flouting the no smoking policy and despite multiple complaints to the front desk, no action was taken. It's difficult to get good food outside of restaurant hours.
Charlie, BlackSmith stayed on 13 Sep 2013
The Aviator hotel was very modern and clean. It is a great place to go for a chilled out break, as there is not much to do around the area. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful. The facilities were of a high standard; we had dinner at the restaurant on the first night and the service was that of a michelin star restuarant. The food was tasty and the variety good. The sky bar was nice to relax and have drinks, the cocktails were delicious. We had afternoon tea the next afternoon and the sandwiches and cakes were delicious, i found them better than the Ritz. The rooms are well fitted and a good size (stayed in the Aviator Air room), the view of the airfield was good and the beds comfortable. The added bonus was that the movies and music files were free.
As this place is so relaxing it would be great if they had a spa.
Rasna, BlackSmith stayed on 30 Aug 2013 no
Excellent modern hotel with stunning interiors. Bedrooms are of a good size, very clean and with all the facilities you need. The only possible addition might be a mini bar. The gym is worth checking out: it's quite small but well equipped and you are more than likely to have it to yourself. Our evening meal in the restaurant was superb, with a good range of choices; we both had the rump skirt which was excellent. We also sampled room service, which was also pretty good. Breakfast comprised both a hot and cold buffet. The staff are exceptionally friendly and helpful at this hotel. The cocktail bar is definitely worth a visit and my request for a clean glass for my wine was met with profuse apologies and a quick replacement. The hotel is well located for Guildford, just 15 minutes away. I would highly recommend this hotel and think it offers very good value for money.
The hot buffet was only lukewarm on the first morning and the coffee wasn't great.
Emma, BlackSmith stayed on 3 May 2013
Our second visit to the Aviator this year and it's still as good as the first time round. The Sky Suite is definitely the room to book; lots of space, lots of luxury, lots of TVs and a fabulous bathroom. We had a great view of the airport, which was really busy, so the boyfriend was able to be super geeky and do lots of plane spotting. Late evening drinks on the terrace in the sun were perfect and once again the Sky Bar delivered fabulous cocktails. Food in the restaurant was once again blooming good, lovely staff, looking after us wonderfully.
They have removed alcohol from the mini bar in the room, which was a little disappointing as room service takes a while to get to you.
Emma, BlackSmith stayed on 7 Sep 2012
Friendly, helpful and efficient staff. A high standard of accommodation in a modern cool style. Offers a glimpse into the world of private jets.
It's actually a business hotel; no pool, spa or garden. By a main road. Good as a base . Not much good for relaxing. Just beginning to need updating after four years.
Jeffrey, BlackSmith stayed on 31 Aug 2012
Sophisticated and stylish. A grown-up place that has great food, wine and cocktails to enjoy and is pretentious enough to be pretty great.
The main areas are good. Everything is pristine clean but I had to wait a while for breakfast, although I am certain this was just one of those things.
Darren, BlackSmith stayed on 24 Aug 2012 No.
The perfect stay for a weekend of good food/wine and luxurious room amenities. Aviator definitely makes for an uber cool stay in suburbia. Recommend rooms looking out onto the airfield (Room 228 in particular).
Anisha, BlackSmith stayed on 20 Jul 2012
What a superb hotel. With only one foot through the front door we were greeted by the concierge who showed us to reception and offered us help with our bags – luxury from the off. This set the tone for what was to be an extremely relaxing and indulgent weekend. A room at the back of the hotel is a must, we remembered our binoculars and had great fun doing a bit of plane spotting whilst deciding what time to enjoy our welcome cocktail. The free films are also a bonus for a lazy afternoon.
Marie, BlackSmith stayed on 22 Jun 2012
The Aviator is a stylish hotel: sleek, modern and with its own twist on character, making the most of its flying theme. Whilst the location may not be everyone's cup of tea – overlooking the airport and just off the main road – it certainly has everything you need for a cosy stay. The restaurant, food and service was on the whole excellent. Staff are generally very attentive. However on the second morning's breakfast, two wedding parties had been staying and this did turn the service into a little bit of shambles. As is most people's wont on a leisurely Sunday, the bulk of guests opted for the end of the breakfast sitting and this resulted in quite a long delay in getting any hot food. So much so that we just settled for the buffet option and went elsewhere for something warm. The stylish cocktail bar will start your evening well and with a gym and also a little deli bar to hand as an alternative for snacks, this place certainly had most things covered well. Staff always friendly and offering to go the extra mile. The overall town location was not the most scenic by any means, but if you like or need to be in the area then I would certainly recommend this hotel as an excellent choice.
Caroline, SilverSmith stayed on 4 May 2012
Most enjoyable: comfortable, well appointed, a view of the airfield (which was better than it sounds), a warm welcome and cold drink on arrival and a rather good breakfast. We also enjoyed the building and its design. Looking forward to going back.
William, BlackSmith stayed on 30 Mar 2012
We had a fabulous weekend staying at the Aviator. The hotel is beautifully furnished and styled, with friendly service and delicious food. The breakfast in particular was great, although a number of items had run out on the Sunday morning and we had to ask for them to replenish these. Our room overlooked the runway and it was a unique experience getting excited when seeing private planes take off or land. The DVD and music library was the perfect excuse to have a lazy day in bed and really helped with the whole point of our weekend away, which was to escape the rat race and relax. On the Friday evening we arrived, the hotel had their first DJ night in the Sky Bar. Live music and tasty cocktails was the perfect start to a perfect weekend. We also dined at the hotel restaurant on the Saturday night and despite the scallops entree which I ordered having sold out, the food and presentation of the dishes was impressive. Windsor, Ascot and Sunningdale aren't far away for lovely drives and the hotel is only 1.15 hours from London. I certainly look forward to staying at the Aviator again.
Sally, BlackSmith stayed on 30 Mar 2012
We enjoyed our stay at the very swanky Aviator. A much larger hotel than we usually go for and were concerned that it would feel anonymous and corporate. You can't help but appreciate its quite unique design – we were told its shape is that of a propeller. The staff in fact were very friendly, particularly concierge and reception staff. We took advantage of the 2-for-1 offer and booked an air studio but were upgraded to a suite on the residential side of the hotel. Views were not that inspiring, however we loved the suite so much that we decided to stay put – besides we weren't there to stare out of the window and watch planes. Couple of negatives though: breakfast staff not as friendly as other staff we encountered and the evening meal in the brasserie was a little disapointing. Although the room service meal was excellent in quality and the in-room freebies – ie films, minibar etc were a great touch. Would definitely recommend staying to anyone and although the area itself isn't the most picturesque, it is within shooting distance of quaint Hampshire villages and attractions such as Jane Austen's house. We had great weather and a great time. Glad we booked.
Juliette, SilverSmith stayed on 24 Mar 2012
What an amazing hotel! Seems like an odd choice for a romantic weekend but we were blown away by our suite, the standard of welcome and the service in this über slick hotel. The food was nice, it didn't blow our socks off, but was perfectly good, aside from a rather dumb comment made by one of the hotel staff at dinner. I wanted a surprise pudding with candles for my boyfriend’s birthday, and had previously arranged it with the hotel, but when we walked in to dinner the front of house girl that greeted us said we had a table for two and let slip that it was a birthday dinner, thus robbing any element of surprise; then no surprise pudding turned up! I was furious and mentioned it to the girl who had checked us in at reception who had the good grace to look embarrassed for her colleague. The next day some complimentary bubbly and chocolate-coated strawberries were waiting for us in our room. The champagne breakfast in bed was lovely, as was the candlelit turndown, and the bathroom was the stuff of dreams – I could have stayed in there all day. An amazing hotel and although it may seem like a wacky choice for a break it was the bees’ knees.
Francesca, BlackSmith stayed on 2 Mar 2012
Don't be deceived by the location of this hotel at the side of a main road; once inside, it's a magnificent sight with a staircase akin to that of the Starship Enterprise. The rooms are beautiful and spacious and the added extra of a complimentary minibar in the suites seals the deal. Stay in bed, drink the minibar dry and choose from an array of complimentary movies in your room. We ate one night at the Swan, a local pub with excellent food. No need for a taxi though, as we discovered the pub is a two-minute walk down from the hotel.
Olivia, GoldSmith stayed on 2 Mar 2012
Fantastic hospitality at this hotel. Amazing cocktails and breakfast. Was a great hotel to unwind, watch DVDs and watch the planes. We went for an Airside room, definitely book Airside. I would have ungraded as the room did not have a bath. I visited the studios and suites and think they would have been perfect to have more space. Gym is very small and there's no pool but the Brasserie is fantastic and the architecture incredible. The bar got quite busy on Saturday night but there are lots of lounges that are preferable. Will definitely come back but would take an Airside suite next time.
Katherine, SilverSmith stayed on 3 Feb 2012
Make use of those lovely lounge areas with their comfy sofas and designer books to read, and plenty of space to spread out your Sunday papers.
Candy, SilverSmith stayed on 27 Jan 2012