Set in 65 acres of gardens and parkland, Lainston House, part of the Exclusive Hotels group, has distinct character and charm. This graceful two storeyed 17th century mansion was commissioned by Charles II and designed by Sir Christopher Wrenn. Elegantly proportioned with a three bay centre, two bay projecting wings, archways and loggias, it is built in fine red brick, with a hipped roof and dormer windows. Overall, it is a distinguished example of the William and Mary style. The site, however, is of medieval origins, as seen in the romantic ruins of the 12th century chapel of St Peter and a well preserved dovecot, either side of the wrought iron entrance gate.
The public areas of this 50 roomed country house hotel are of are modest dimensions, giving a reassuring, homely character. The Drawing Room has a feminine quality with its bold colour palette of soft blues, creams and chocolates accented by vibrant turquoise, resulting in a light, airy feel. This eclectic mix is juxtaposed against the traditional background of an open fire, shuttered windows and chandelier lighting. While the décor might not appeal to more conservative tastes, there can no disagreement about the comfort afforded by the sumptuous sofas and armchairs.
The Cedar Bar, more masculine in tone, takes its name from the handsome panelling wrought from a single tree in the 1930s. The aspect of the room is especially pleasing. Guests, sipping a cocktail or a rare malt, armagnac or cognac, can enjoy an uninterrupted view of the avenue of lime trees which, being some 9/10ths of a mile, is the longest in England.
The Avenue Restaurant has handsome, dark paneling and gilt framed portraits. With its well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery, high backed burgundy leather chairs, patterned carpet and chandelier lighting, this room has a stately, classical ambiance. Adjacent to it is the elegant, brighter Carlton Room, which also has views of the avenue of limes.
Other public rooms include the mahogany paneled Mountbatten Room, used for private dining and chef’s table events. In cold weather, the open fireplace is an added attraction. Larger private events can be accommodated in the original 17th century Dawley Barn which has benefited from an elegant conversion whilst retaining its high ceilings, wooden beams and other original features.
This mixture of old world charm and modern convenience is seen most strikingly in the hotel accommodation, which ranges from traditional guest rooms to exclusive suites. All individually designed, they reflect a thoughtful elegance which maximizes comfort and enjoyment.
I was lucky enough to stay in the ground floor Chapel suite which has a small private terrace and views of the wedding pavilion and chapel ruins. Decorated in warm pastel shades of purple, green and brown, this spacious set of high ceiling rooms is replete with classic furniture and fittings and state of the art facilities.
In the sitting room, an exquisite chandelier, standard lamps, open fireplace, gilt framed mirror, and a magnificent carved writing desk are amongst the fine traditional features. Alongside these are a cutting edge 32” flat-screen television, a dvd player, a Bose Audio system, wi-fi access and a Nespresso coffee maker. The technophile’s playground extends to the bedroom where a 37” television, remotely raised from the foot of the bed, is the dominant feature. In addition there is a Bose Wave CD/Radio Alarm system with Apple 30 pin connector docking. As if this is not enough, an Aqa television is fitted in the bathroom.
Luxurious furniture is provided by a three seat sofa with two armchairs and a decadent king sized bed. The exceptionally comfortable hand-made mattress, breathable duvet, and adjustable pillows – chosen from a menu of five – with calming lavender sleep balm placed on them at turn down, gave me the best night’s sleep I have enjoyed in any luxury hotel. Twin sinks, a walk in rain bar shower, a jacuzzi bath and a selection of Plantation toiletries made using the bathroom a sheer delight.
With 65 acres of gardens and parkland to enjoy, in addition to the luxuriously comfortable public rooms and well equipped bedrooms, it would seem superfluous to suggest that the hotel needs any other facilities. That it lacks a spa is not a major disadvantage given the aforementioned assets. For the more active, however, there are tennis courts and a gym housed in the old well house. The grounds, especially the kitchen garden – where summer barbeques are also held – provide an endless source of interest, whilst the displays of falconry – a unique selling point – are a major attraction for guests.
Overseeing the whole operation is Antonio Lopez–Bustos, appointed General Manager from April 2013 but with five years’ experience as Operations Manager at the hotel. His engaging charm immediately puts guests at their ease, making him approachable and likeable. Whilst giving me a guided tour of the house and gardens, his love of Lainston House is powerfully evident. His vision now is to make its restaurant a food destination, exploiting to the full the talents of Head Chef Phil Yeomans. With a staff of 77, his trust of individuals is a key factor in motivating them to achieve their full potential.
Given that many jobs in the hotel require the appropriate attitude over technical skills, it remains key to employ those with a positive, caring outlooks and a willingness to please and learn. Antonio considers a well-rounded personality, able to adapt to the needs of the guest in a friendly, cheerful manner, as essential in anyone he employs. This facilitates the relaxed “home from home” feeling which attracts so much return trade amongst weekenders. Such loyalty is shown especially at Christmas when some 85% of guests are repeat visitors, whilst in the summer it is about 50%.
These figures reflect a very high satisfaction rate, confirmed by the service and discussions I enjoyed at Lainston House. Check in at the front desk was welcoming and courteous. The young attendant, dressed in hunting lodge style uniform, helped with my luggage efficiently and explained the features of my suite in detail. Later, when I had trouble with my internet reception (a fault with my computer), the night porter did his best to help, whilst showing me how to use the Nespresso coffee maker. (I am a technophobe). Service in the restaurant, both at dinner and breakfast was attentive without being obtrusive. Billy Taylor, the resident falconer, added value to to the day by discussing his role during my guided tour.
Overall, staying at Lainston House was a real joy. The beautiful setting, the supreme comfort of the rooms, the quality of the cuisine, the staggering attention to detail, and the strengths of the service, made it a highly memorable experience.