Ascot in Berkshire is known for the love of all things royalty and horse racing. It is a place in England that you imagine never really changes. More English than Winston Churchill, a Union Jack flies proudly outside the traditional local pub. It is a small town in middle England that is postcard perfect. As we approached Coworth Park, we understood why wars were fought and won to keep the English traditions of regions like this alive…
There is a saying in my family, that after a long flight the body and mind feels like it’s been ‘folded wet and put away damp’. That’s how we felt arriving at Heathrow from Australia after 27 hours of plane travel. The last thing we were in the mood for was negotiating London traffic. One of the great things about Coworth Park? It is so accessible. 45 mins from central London – 20 minutes from the airport – and you’re taken from one of the world’s busiest cities, to a tranquil country retreat.
Coworth Park is part of the Dorchester Collection, so as well as having the feel of a well-run, intimate hideaway, you also get to experience every possible luxury. The impressive 240-acre grounds are former polo grounds – currently still in use – and they’re as manicured as the famous golf courses of Wentworth and Sunningdale that are a drive away. Accommodation includes the Mansion House, which you would imagine as being a great stately home many years ago, where important decisions were made as ‘Jerusalem’ played in the background.
Recently opened, it already runs like a well-oiled Bentley. The hotel emanates tradition – roses and lilies path the way as we wander around, admiring the rolling fields of England’s green and pleasant land. The staff dress in English country house tweed, and they smile genuinely when you speak to them. They seem to understand that you want to be left alone yet are also discreetly omnipresent should they be needed (and there are a lot of them). The hotel lends itself to the leisure traveller (there is purposefully no business centre to tempt or distract you) and attention to detail is paramount. Luxurious but understated, it’s all very, very English.
The rooms have every amenity that you would expect from a luxury hotel, but it is the additional touches that bring a smile to the face: a bottle of champagne in the room on arrival, traditional English fudge, a sleek coffee machine, a hair band as part of the bathroom provisions, and a ‘Book of Idle Pleasures’ to ponder as you recline in the freestanding, and seriously deep, bath. The selection of picture-postcards, even if you never plan to send them, are so attractive you would keep them as souvenirs, along with the packets of mixed herbs and wildflower seeds to plant when you get home.
A round of polo not so much our scene, we take advantage instead of the award-winning eco-friendly Dayspa carved into the hillside. It has its own Spatisserie where we lounge in heavy fluffy robes enjoying every type of tea we can think of. Mrs Smith even plumps for a ‘health promoting’ snack – with a glass of bubbly – before embarking on a treatment on one of the oversized plush beds. If the mood takes you, have a swim in the indoor pool (it is England after all), where soothing underwater music is piped through and coming up for air seems an inconvenience. There is also a streamlined gymnasium, powerful steam room, and ‘experience shower’.
Post-spa we flop on the balcony for pre-dinner drinks, exhale some more, and soak in the understated grandeur of the property. It feels as though we should be wearing riding jodphurs and shouting ‘tally ho’ – but that would take up too much energy – best left to another day, as we have a serious adventure ahead in the restaurant. Food is treated with reverence here, from the tiny biscuits in the Spatisserie, to the eight-course degustation dinner in the fine-dining restaurant. And it is certainly that, from the ceremony of waiters with cloths over their arms, to the hushed whispering in the dining room, food expertly cooked and plated with great care and love, served on English bone china accompanied by heavy polished silver cutlery and the finest linens.
For a more relaxed dining experience, but by no means an inferior meal, head to the Barn where more familiar British classics are on offer, accompanied by a decent wine list. This is where you head for dinner on your second night when your batteries are recharged. Follow us and just sit there on the first night and let it all come to you as it unfolds – you can always work it off at the spa tomorrow.
As you're across the road from Great Windsor Park, you’re in terrain where the Royals weekend. An ideal pastime is to walk, run or meander through the impressive grounds (take up the hotel’s offer of a map as it is easy to lose yourself), or explore on horseback or bicycle. Tennis or croquet are other ways we pass the time – when we aren’t simply sitting and savouring the regal atmosphere, watching the planes overhead wondering if the passengers feel like crumpled laundry, wishing they could have some Coworth-style luxury when they land.
If what you look for in a hotel is the finest of service, beautiful surroundings and a great bed to sleep in, with the added pampering of a spa treatment or a swim, Coworth Park is where the benchmark is set. A traditional English country retreat which lavished with luxury and ceremony without being pompous or overbearing, it sent me back to my family with a new saying: Coworth Park leaves you feeling as though you’ve been ‘dry-cleaned and polished’. Almost worth 27 hours in the air alone for.
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Smith extra at Coworth Park
A bottle of wine