Handsome, historic Heckfield Place is an eco-friendly estate in the Hampshire countryside. It’s been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it: the 1790 building has had a masterful makeover, the sustainability mission is in full swing and there are endless opportunities for sitting in grand rooms and taking tea. Superstar chef Skye Gyngell (of Petersham Nurseries and Spring in London fame) is manning the kitchens (and the fire). Jane Austen lived down the road in Chawton – and this is a stately stay Mr Darcy would be proud to call home.
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A bottle of sommelier-chosen English wine in your room on arrival
11am, but flexible, subject to availability and an additional charge. Earliest check-in, 4pm also flexible for a fee.
Double rooms from £350.00, including tax at 5 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 10% per room per night on check-out.
Rates include breakfast but exclude a 10 per cent discretionary tax.
The Assembly is a year-round programme of events at the hotel with a different topic each month. Most take place in the subterranean 45-seat screening room, which, helpfully, has its own bar; some events are held in the woodlands or at the farm, and others take the shape of a dinner or a talk in the drawing room.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, cinema, gym, valet parking, gardens, farm. In rooms: Apple TV, iPad, iPod dock, Bang & Olufsen speakers and phones, free bottled water, minibar with house-made cordial and ginger beer, free non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, air-conditioning and Wildsmith Skin bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The rooms are split between the main house and the Corridors, but there’s no annexe or extension feel, thanks to the Ilse Crawford protégé behind the impeccable design, Ben Thompson. We loved room 15, a Master in the Corridors, for its double French doors that lead out to a cosy terrace and the walled gardens – a shiny box of boules is helpfully provided. For maximum preening potential, book the Ochre Room, which has a bathroom bigger than the bedroom and a slate-grey roll-top bath tub. The minibars, with Skye Gyngell-approved snacks and house-made soft drinks, are definitely worth a rummage.
In the five treatment rooms at the Little Bothy Spa, the emphasis in on bespoke massages and facials that use ethically-sourced, all-natural products from the hotel’s own Wildsmith Skin range (named after the former head gardener, William Wildsmith), bountiful in nutrient-rich botanicals. Fitness devotees who flock to Bodyism's famous Notting Hill classes can keep up their routines, too. Bodyism's first-class personal trainers are on hand here for exercise inspiration, regular yoga and Pilates classes as well as nutritional advice.
Embrace the Great British countryside in style: bring smart tweeds, classic checks, waxy Barbours and weathered Dubarry boots to fit in.
The hotel has three rooms that have been adapted for wheelchair users, and there’s a lift to access all of the floors, including the underground screening room.
Furry friends can join for £35 a stay – pet-friendly rooms are limited (and ever-popular), so you'll need to request one at the time of booking. Beds, bowls and treats can be provided (the hotel will need your dog's name, size and breed in advance). See more pet-friendly hotels in Hampshire.
Welcome, but only over-16s can stay in the main-house rooms. Cots (free) and extra beds (free for under-fours, £100 a night for 4–16-year-olds) can be added to the Chamber and Master rooms. Marle restaurant has a children's menu.
The hotel has ambitious plans to up its already impressive eco-cred. In addition to the on-site biodynamic farm supplying much of the kitchen produce, upcoming glass-blowing centre and use of clean energy and locally made bath products, Heckfield’s planning to replace all plastic bottles with aluminium receptacles. Even the glass and ceramic containers in the minibar are from local suppliers.
In the cosy corner nook of the terrace closest to the dining room, which is lined by floor-to-ceiling glass windows on both sides so you can admire the acreage. In Hearth, pull up a pew as close to the kitchen as your body temperature can handle.
Corsets and curls are optional.
Skye Gyngell is at the helm of Heckfield's restaurants. Marle is so in tune with nature that it’s named after a particularly fertile type of soil, and if an ingredient on the menu hasn’t come from the estate’s own farm, orchard or gardens, it’ll be from a hyper-local supplier (self-sustainability is the estate’s aim). Enjoy dishes such as turbot with béarnaise, and some star sides – don’t miss the crispy potatoes with black garlic. Those who struggle to control themselves when confronted with a breakfast buffet will be pleased to hear that the morning menu is entirely à la carte; expect options such as buckwheat pancakes with plum jam and whipped butter, tea-smoked eel with poached eggs, beetroot, carrot and fennel, and bubble and squeak with a fried egg and kasundi.
The second restaurant, Hearth – in a former stable with arched windows, flagstone floors, exposed bricks, sheepskin-draped Ercol chairs and beamed ceilings – is only open on certain nights of the week. Even so, it books out well in advance, so request a table when you make your hotel reservation. Feeling indecisive about the à la carte options? Opt for the five-course flame-grilled tasting menu – it’s cooked before you on an open fire.
Seasonal restaurant the Sun House is in a light-flooded glasshouse that hugs the walls of the estate’s upper walled garden. Open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer, it showcases the estate’s first-rate vegetables, fruits and herbs, all grown on Heckfield’s biodynamic farm and plucked from the soil at the most opportune moment. Lunch will be an informal affair of seasonal small plates; the five-course dinner will be a little dressier, with cut flowers perfuming the night air and braziers and candles washing the restaurant in soft, warm light.
The Moon Bar has an aptly after-dark atmosphere (whatever the time of day), with midnight-blue walls, leather seats, a marble fireplace and a giant disco ball. Even the menu has a laser-cutwork cover of the constellation that was shining the night the hotel opened. The cocktail list includes a £250 combination of 40-year-old cognac, champagne and Moon Perfume, a special essence made with flowers from the gardens. There’s also a 1,200-bottle-strong cellar.
Breakfast is served from 7am until 11am, lunch from noon till 3pm, dinner from 5.30pm to 10pm. Hearth is open from Wednesday dinner to Sunday lunch. The Sun House serves lunch from noon to 3pm and dinner fro 6-9pm.
Breakfast can be served in-room between 7am and 11am. An all-day menu is available from 11am until 11pm, when a smaller overnight selection kicks in.
Heckfield Place is in the Hampshire countryside, west of London and near Hook.
London Heathrow is 40 miles away; the drive should take around 45 minutes, and the hotel can fetch you for £165 each way. The drive to and from Gatwick is just over an hour; transfers are £244 each way.
The closest station is Winchfield, which can be reached from London Waterloo via a quick change in Farnborough. Otherwise, hop one of the speedy 25-minute services from London Paddington to Reading and jump in a cab. Transfers from Winchfield cost £25 each way.
The hotel is a 20-minute drive south of Reading. There’s free valet parking when you arrive, but the car park’s only 100 yards away if you’d rather do it yourself. The drive along the M4 from central London should take around an hour and 15 minutes. If you want to explore the certified-beautiful surroundings, a car will come in handy; otherwise, rely on the hotel’s fleet of chauffeur-driven Land Rovers.
Worth getting out of bed for
Once you’ve orienteered over the 400 acres (which include boat-trip-ready lakes, woods, a river and farmland), picnicked at one of the estate’s follies and settled into the Little Bothy spa, the Hampshire heartland awaits. The hotel can arrange tours of the farm, taking in the orchards, hives and kitchen garden, fly-fishing, bouquet-making classes and a recce of the grounds with the head gardener. This is the Great British countryside at its finest, with the activities to match: ride horses at the neighbouring Wellington Estate, play golf at Hartley Wintney or ask the hotel to facilitate a few rounds of clay-pigeon shooting. If your borrowed home for the night has got you feeling ducal, head to Wellington Country Park to compare acreage. The 350-acre estate was opened to the public by the namesake Duke and Duchess in 1974.
Jostle the locals for a prime beer-garden perch at the Leather Bottle in Mattingley, or head to the Phoenix Inn if you’ve just finished a round of golf at nearby Hartley Wintney. A 15-minute drive away, The Hoggetis a family-run pub with guest ales, daily specials, a seasonal menu – and the best pork scratchings around. For something formal and fancy, try L’Ortolan, a Michelin-approved restaurant just outside of Reading.
Heckfield’s Moon Bar wins the local cocktail competition, but for a good old-fashioned pint, drive to the Waggon and Horses pub in the next village along, Hartley Wintney.
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.