Even if you haven’t seen the divisive bit of feverish, aughts-set cinematic pomp that is Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, you may have seen TikToks of grand-manor owners dancing through their stately halls set to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Murder on the Dancefloor.
And If you’re craving a – more lighthearted – taste of the aristocratic lifestyle, but lack the inheritance from your ‘dead rellies’, we’re afraid star-of-the-show Drayton House is closed to the public as the private residence of the Stopford Sackville family. But, we’ve rounded up five English country manors with sprawling grounds, antique-laden halls and dedicated teams of staff that make suitably grand stand-ins.
If you want to swing by Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’, where the film’s action kicks off, base yourself in the ‘shire, a 30-minute drive outside of town, at Estelle Manor. Formerly Eynsham Hall, this Grade-II-listed, Jacobean Revival stay has been given a winkingly fun makeover by Sharan Pasricha, the man behind London’s Maison Estelle members’ club, the Hoxton hotels and Gleneagles’ revamp. Enlisting design duo Roman and Williams, interiors whizz Olivia Weström and a roster of cool contemporary artists (Billy Childish et al), he’s made this pleasure palace all the more playful.
Guests are driven about in golf carts, the terracotta library lounge has many mezcals behind the bar (but there’s a cellarful of vintage wines should that be your poison), and days are spent throwing axes, practising archery or sleeping off late nights under red-striped parasols by the pool. Members get an extra dose of debauchery in discrete spaces for DJ nights and more, and the arrival of a 3,000-square-metre Roman-style spa and baths this summer levels up its luxury still.
COWLEY MANOR EXPERIMENTAL
Embedded in the Cotswolds’ green and pleasant parts, Cowley Manor Experimental has stood in one form or another since the 17th century, on land Edward the Confessor exchanged to build Westminster Abbey. And, in Victorian times, its proud porticoes and meandering sequoia- and cypress-studded gardens (these days roamed by llamas) inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Nowadays, under the Parisian parasol of the Experimental group, it has a fresh streak of surreality in its ‘po-mo’ furnishings, bold colours and silhouettes, and verging-on-mad cocktail creations all sitting in curiouser and curiouser contrast to prim original features. Pass the days discovering follies in the grounds, picnicking in stripy bell tents, watching films alfresco, or shaking both alcohol-spiked and zero-per-cent libations with the barkeeps.
When seeking anything-goes (well, most things…), make-yourself-at-home loucheness, one can’t overlook Somerset hideaway Babington House, the OG of loosening up straightlaced old-guard staycation spots. Built in 1705 and replete with beams, original stone, and cricket pitch-, tennis-court- and lake-graced grounds – plus with Bath and Longleat as near neighbours – it could easily have succumbed to a Brideshead Revisited-style stuffiness. But, as sister to the Nineties members’ club, Soho House, it drew London’s creative types to the countryside, invigorated the atmosphere with youthful staff, hung on-trend artworks on faded wallpapers, and carved its own niche into the hospitality world.
Ditch any idea of a dress code, open your mind to making new friends, and – if you’ve not been too traumatised by Saltburn’s bath tub shenanigans – book the Roof Top room, for wallowing alfresco on-high while people-watching. And, should you have a picante too many, the Cowshed spa on-site will hush that hangover.
We don’t have time to dissect the tenets of the British class system here, but we do know a true blue blood when we see one, and Cliveden – home to princes, dukes, earls, viscounts and the Astor family for around five centuries – is assuredly the real deal. The fortunes of intergenerational wealth are apparent in stone fireplaces etched with heraldic totems; wood-panelled, portrait-flanked staircases made for swooshing down; gold-lashed dining rooms; and even the odd suit of armour.
But, much of its appeal lies in the ways it’s let decorum slip over the years, from when it was built to house the Duke of Buckingham’s mistress, to the wild parties the Astors threw (attended by everyone from Churchill to Chaplin), to the naked pool-frolicking of Christine Keeler and John Profumo, which did indeed lead to an international incident. We don’t encourage this sort of thing, of course, but if you want to let your hair (and maybe more) down in esteemed surrounds – this might be the place to do so.
Once the home of Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express newspaper and friend to many a celeb of the day (the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Rudyard Kipling and Ian Fleming rubbed shoulders with politicos and noble sorts here), Surrey Hills retreat Beaverbrook has a Gatsby-esque glamour to it, with a modern edge. Refinement comes in the form of plump four-poster beds in name-dropping suites, an art deco cinema you can use privately on quiet days, and fencing lessons and croquet matches on manicured lawns.
But, while you may be surrounded by beautiful, perhaps priceless, things – stained glass by Jean Cocteau, tapestries by Brian Clarke, hundreds of paintings by Victorian botanical artist Marianne North – this stay isn’t too precious. There are muddy hikes to splosh along on, a Bear Grylls-styled survival academy, flame-powered alfresco feasting, and a Sharky & George kids’ club where young ‘uns are encouraged to hunt bugs and build dens – making this a messily magnificent retreat.
And, for more elite adventuring, see our international collection of castles, manors and country estates.