It’s traditional and at times old-fashioned, but Luton Hoo hotel in Bedfordshire is one of my favourite ever hotels and has the wow-factor in spades…
As I turn off the M1, my heart sinks as the Sat Nav reveals my destination is just five minutes away. Luton Hoo, I’m told is a grand historic hotel, but this is as far from grand or impressive as you can get. Bland roundabouts, forgettable views are all around. As I leave the monotonous motorway behind my expectations are not exactly high – expecting yet another identikit, run of the mill hotel, probably in need of an overhaul. Luton hasn’t the most glam image, after all, I think.
The minute I drive through the wrought iron gates, though, I know I am very wrong. Suddenly the M1 and its dull connotations seem very far away. It’s like driving into another, more elegant, world.
My car bumps down a leafy avenue, lined with soaring oaks, landscaped vistas stretching far and wide. It’s heart-skippingly perfect. By the time I reach the sweeping drive and look up at the dramatic creamy stone facade of the house (complete with porticoes originally fashioned on the Ritz in London), I have arrived in the 1920s. The resident porter breaks the reverie just as I am about to ask when the country house party is to begin…
It’s not just me who has been carried away with the history here – I’m in good company. Luton Hoo has been used as a location for many much-loved films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Wings of the Dove, The World is not Enough, Enigma – in fact there’s a whole book in reception detailing the many films shot here over the years. I’m delighted to be shown to the Lady Butter Suite, via the most amazing circular marble staircase, and to discover that the room was used in Four Weddings as the room in which Hugh Grant hides in a vanity cupboard.
So much more than a hotel, the house has an intriguing history which is evident everywhere. Resident historian Zena Dickenson was once the housekeeper to the aristocratic Philips family that owned the house before it was sold to Elite Hotels and she fills me in. Originally built in the 1760s, it was eventually bought by a diamond magnate in 1903 and lavishly decorated by his Russian wife. A friend of the family was the Queen, no less, who honeymooned here with Prince Philip in 1946 and subsequently held annual shooting weekends to celebrate their anniversaries.
These days the Queen Elizabeth suite of rooms has replicas of the original Holland & Holland furniture that was bought at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1878 and looks out over endless and exquisite Capability Brown grounds. In fact, on first walking around you marvel at how wonderfully preserved everything is and wonder how they allow mere modern-day guests to wander freely around. From the stately dining rooms to the art-lined corridors – it’s like being in someone’s grand home at the turn of the century. It turns out, though, that most things are duplicates – Elite hotels in fact spent nine years painstakingly commissioning replicas of the art and furnishings to recreate the feel that guests are staying in a real country house. It’s brilliantly done.
A stay in the main house is a must – there are 35 rooms to choose from and all are truly atmospheric. There are a further 109 rooms in adjacent wings but they just don’t feel the same – especially if you have a penchant for the elegance of bygone days.
Dinner is taken in the Beaux Arts Wernher Restaurant, complete with original chandeliers that originally cost £250,000 each – more than the house cost itself. I admit that I forget exactly what I ate – and it wasn’t because of the wine. What I do know is that it was good – all amuse bouche and sorbets interrupting the flow of food but it was the restaurant itself that was intoxicating.
An afternoon spent in the surprisingly contemporary spa housed in the stable block is well worth it – with treatments inspired by the flowers and herbs grown on the estate – but equally the sumptuous gardens are wonderful to explore too. As long as you are back for cocktails on the terrace, of course, m’dears.