As our car wound into Heckfield Place’s driveway to reveal a breathtaking red-brick Georgian country home, surrounded in swathes and swathes (400 acres to be precise) of meadows and woodland, I have to remind myself that in the same time it took me to reach quintessential rural English paradise, most Londoners do their morning commute on the tube.
The hotel is divided into two parts – the main house, which has been lovingly preserved and is exceptionally grand, with panelling, fireplaces, cornicing, a sweeping staircase and ceilings that feel high enough to house elephants. The décor is a stylish blend of classic design with a modern twist – colour schemes are mostly neutral and elegant, textiles are warm and traditional. Modern furniture, light fixtures and art contrast with beautiful portraiture that nods to the history of the house and surrounding land – there is a particularly beautiful portrait that hangs called Jane Austen in Hampshire.
The interior choices are also charmingly thoughtful. For example, the morning room – full of books, board-games, newspapers and capacious, squishy sofas – is positioned in the side of the house that catches the daytime light. The moon bar, however, with its sumptuous dark walls and intimate layout, is designed to catch the light of the moon and stars while guests enjoy an evening cocktail.
The second part of the hotel is a new building, also in red brick. It blends seamlessly into the bones of the original building. Its pistachio panelled corridors house most of the hotel rooms and the Little Bothy spa. My room is enormous – comfortable, light and airy with its own sitting room area, walk-in wardrobe (complete with wellies for guests), roll-top bath, walk-in shower and French doors that lead out to a pretty communal courtyard.
The décor is, again, understated, homely, calming, warm and elegant – filled with rugs, baskets and dried hanging flowers and indoor plants. It’s also impressively state-of-the-art, with a pull-out miniature hotplate in the minibar that boils a small kettle for hot drinks, and a lighting scheme that can be turned up or down to bright, ambient or dim.
The surrounding land (and farm, where ingredients are sourced for the restaurant – the home-reared bacon at breakfast is particularly mind-blowing) is expansive, sprawling and verdant. A circular walk around the grounds, traversing woodland, lakes and a pond replete with its own fountain, is a must. The main house looks even more beautiful – and even more grand – when you see it from a distance, nestled in its lush surroundings.
It is rare that a luxury hotel’s food is as spectacular as its setting, but Heckfield Place offers the best hotel dining I’ve ever experienced. There are two restaurants: Marle, which is open both to guests and visitors, where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served; and Hearth, a converted stable space that serves a very special set-menu tasting dinner just for guests, where food is cooked on an open fire (it’s an intimate and unique space only open from Wednesday dinnertime to Sunday lunch, so pre-booking is essential).
Both menus are designed by Skye Gyngell, a chef renowned for her impeccable taste and innovative combinations. I don’t have one disappointing mouthful over six multi-coursed meals in the restaurants. A stand-out dish was the pillow-soft gnudi in a velvety sauce of butter and orange zest. But even a breakfast as simple as soft-boiled eggs and bacon is sublime (the rich, dark, crumbly rye bread spread thickly with butter is, as well, a culinary highlight).
The service at Heckfield place is meticulously attentive – staff are alert, charming and perceptive. During my stay, I make use of the stunning private cinema (complete with gorgeous, tan leather mid-century seating) when there is a screening of a film and, even though it is just my travel partner and me in the screening room, they go out of their way to serve drinks and make us feel comfortable – it is my favourite experience of the stay. If you prefer a more relaxed hands-off service when you’re in a hotel, you may find the Heckfield style too omnipresent, but if you like feeling looked after, you will love the care staff take to make you feel at home.
All in all, this was a deeply relaxing, celestially serene, luxurious, stylish hotel experience and the perfect weekend getaway in the English countryside.
This review was first published in February 2020 so some hotel details may have changed. All pictures shot on a separate visit by Louis AW Sheridan
Dolly Alderton is the author of the best-selling memoir Everything I Know About Love and the acclaimed novel, Ghosts. She’s also a columnist for The Sunday Times Style and hosted much-loved podcasts The High Low and Love Stories.