Set in 300 acres of parkland, lakes, historical gardens and monuments, Stoke Park was used as a private residence until 1908, when it was converted to Britain’s first country club. It now provides five star hotel accommodation, conference rooms, three restaurants, a health spa and fitness centre. These are housed in two contrasting buildings, the original 18th century Mansion, designed by James Wyatt (architect to George III) and the modern Pavilion. This is not to mention Lancelot “Capability” Brown’s landscaped gardens upgraded by Humphry Repton, or championship golf course set within the grounds.
Given the stunning surroundings and excellent facilities, as well as its closeness to Pinewood Studios, Stoke Park has provided the filming location for several major productions, including Goldfinger, Tomorrow Never Dies, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Layer Cake.
At the heart of the estate is the three storeyed Georgian Mansion. An imposing edifice of white stone, it is set on a podium with elegant proportions and symmetrical planning typical of the Palladian style. The core is extended with outward looking pavilions linked by Doric columned porticos. The walls are punctuated by sash windows and niches with statutory. The crowning glory is a dome enclosed in a balustrade.
The clean lines of the exterior of the building contrast with the richer style of the interior. This is seen especially in the neo classical plasterwork, high ceilings lit by chandeliers, and walls lined with large, gilt framed mirrors adding to the sense of space. The ten function rooms, bars and dining rooms all have their own distinctive style of décor. The Chalfont, often used for private dining, is decorated with alternative works of art and a touch of art deco. By way of contrast, the Chapel, now an informal meeting room and lounge, has intricate carved panelling and classical themed paintings. Everywhere, lavish furnishing and fittings in sumptuous fabrics are evident.
Passing through reception, the visitor arrives at the Great Hall, from which many of the public and conference rooms on the ground floor are accessed. Dominated by a vaulted ceiling, marble pillars and exquisite chandeliers, it is lined by a flying staircase with a wrought iron balustrade leading to 21 bedroom and suites.
The Orangery, facing east, and shaded by the columned portico, has expansive views of the estate and St Giles Church, the churchyard in which Thomas Gray wrote his famous elegy. Dressed in tones of beige, brown and yellow, with Festoon blinds, curved back Bergere chairs and Abusson rugs, this light airy room is ideal for more casual dining, be it breakfast, light meals or afternoon tea.
Equally impressive but smaller is Humphry’s, the fine dining restaurant, set in south east pavilion (see restaurant review). However, one of the most beautiful space is to be seen in the Fountain Room, a grand room whose marble columns and elegant interior design help make it a perfect venue for weddings and other celebrations.
Guest rooms in the Mansion are individually designed and named after an historical connection with Stoke Park. A personalised welcome letter from the general manager, Giammario Ragnoli together with chilled Saumur buvet, chocolates and fruit provided a delightful start to one’s stay.
I was lucky enough to stay in the Pennsylvania Suite which has a south facing terrace overlooking the fountain and golf course. Used in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary, its country house eclecticism is reflected in a panelled four poster tester bed, an antique chest of drawers, and easy sofa and chairs. A large gilt framed mirror hangs over the handsome Georgian fireplace. These, together with chandeliers, fine art paintings and windows dressed with gold trimmed drapes, give a traditional, stately ambiance. Not that the room lacks modern conveniences, given the HD TV, iPod dock, WiFi access, tea and expresso coffee making facilities and well stocked mini bar. The marbled bathroom features a double sink, a long deep bath, drench shower and bidet alongside traditional dressing table and full length pivoting mirrors.
Overall, the luxurious, indulgent comfort of staying in this suite, surrounded by an embarrassment of riches, was a real joy.
Equal attention to detail, but in a more contemporary vein, has been lavished on the 28 rooms and suites in the Pavilion, opened in 2008. Far eastern antiques, modern artwork including oil paintings, large photographs and Andy Warhol lithos are set alongside bespoke furniture handcrafted in the UK. Adjustable mood-lighting, air conditioning and under-floor heating in the marble bathrooms contribute to the modern, boutique feel,
The Spa and leisure facilities in the Pavilion are second to none. These begin with the changing rooms enhanced with under-floor heating, Italian marble showers and steam rooms. Guests can then luxuriate in the indoor heated swimming pool with two hydro seats, the Italian marble steam rooms, the deep relaxation room or the spa garden. Luxury treatments such as Thalgo and Terrake offer indulgent yet therapeutic qualities. CACI International beauty treatments are also available.
The more active will delight in using the 4,000 square foot state-of-the-art Gymnasium which boasts state-of-the-art cardiovascular and resistance based Technogym equipment. Award winning personal trainers are available throughout the week. Alternatively, guests can join one or more of the 50 studio classes, including Yoga, Body Combat and Studio Cycling.
For golf lovers the 27 hole championship golf course is a sheer joy – designed in 1908 by Harry Colt – the original 18 are named Colt and Alison for each nine respectively. The later developed Lane Jackson 9 holes is named after the property developer who purchased, converted and developed Stoke Park (1908). The signature 7th on the Colt course has subsequently been replicated during the development of Augusta National – any golfer that regularly watches the US Masters will recognise this extraordinary golf hole immediately. By mid handicapper standards the course is long, especially on a brisk February morning, and your local club handicap may also get found out around the slick, well protected greens.
Facilities for tennis are particularly strong with six Wimbledon specification grass courts, three indoor and four all-weather courts. These have enabled Stoke Park to host the annual Boodles tennis tournament each June since 2002. Top players have included Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic.
Within the same building, the San Marco restaurant provides Italian dishes, children’s menus and bespoke smoothies in pleasant, informal surroundings.
Given the scale of operation at Stoke Park, with large numbers of front of house and waiting staff, one might expect the level of service to occasionally slip. This was certainly not the case on my overnight visit. The welcome at reception was friendly, helpful and informative. The guided tour around the large site, conducted by the enthusiastic events coordinator Joanne Gooder was thorough, with ample opportunity for questions. Afternoon tea, dinner and breakfast were all served with consummate professionalism. On departure, assistance with luggage was well received.
Overall, staying at Stoke Park is a highly memorable experience, combining history and tradition with ultra-modern facilities. With much to offer both older and younger generations, its continued success is guaranteed.