24-hour room service: There's no place like (a stately) home
Coworth Park, Berkshire
Saturday 18 December 2010
Last autumn, the series six X Factor girls were flown out to audition in Dubai where Dannii and Kylie Minogue awaited them at Atlantis, The Palm.
Sol Kerzner's £1bn resort provided all the requisite razzmatazz for Dannii's pretend house: flumes, dolphins, an 11 million-litre aquarium, a monorail, palm trees, gold leaf and flowers galore set the backdrop for auditions in front of the mini-Minogues.
So it's quite something that a hotel still in the throes of construction was chosen as Cheryl Cole's "house" this season. Weeks before paying guests were allowed to set foot in Coworth Park, Cheryl was making herself at home in the crystal and velvet-draped Drawing Room.
However, Coworth Park is not without pedigree. The country house is the latest addition to the stable of the Dorchester Collection: Le Meurice, Hotel Plaza Athenée, Hotel Principe di Savoia, Hotel Bel Air, The New York Palace, The Beverly Hills Hotel, and jewel in the crown The Dorchester.
All are owned by the Sultan of Brunei's investment agency, which has lavished an undisclosed sum on transforming the former Coworth Polo Club (frequented by Princes William and Harry) into a luxury hotel. Open barely three months, Coworth styles itself as an equestrian retreat with two polo fields, eight resident horses and ponies and stabling for up to 32 more. The equine motif runs discreetly throughout the hotel, but not so as to deter anyone seeking a straightforward country-house retreat.
The hub of the action is the sparkling white Georgian Mansion House. It is so immaculately renovated that it almost appears newly built – a little disappointing, given its colouful history as home to a prosperous East India merchant, a Sheriff of London and the late Lord Derby.
Happily, the contemporary décor inside is a big success. The look is the antithesis of The Dorchester's heavy swirls of gold, flowers, swags and sashes. Instead Coworth Park is bright, fresh and feminine – dusky pastel colours and smoked oak floors with ambitious flourishes that include a modern central staircase that spirals up to a mirrored ceiling and a bronze tree branching out in the lobby. Here, staff in flat caps and tweed remind foreign visitors that they are in The British Countryside. Having already hosted Cheryl Cole, the Drawing Room was maintaining high standards on my visit: Pierce Brosnan and Sebastian Coe relaxing at either end, while a pianist played loungey renditions of Coldplay and Craig David.
The bright white bar goes for an urban aesthetic, with a candelabra that reads "love" when you gaze up from beneath it, and comical paintings of horses with Dolly Parton-style tresses on the walls. It's a light-hearted prelude to the rather more solemn John Campbell restaurant, which is presumably vying for a Michelin star or two in next year's guide. Here, the former chef of the Vineyard at Stockcross presents a seemingly straightforward menu. I was enticed by the "duck, white bean, peanut, tea" followed by "lobster, squid, coconut, cabbage" finishing with "apple, bay leaf, blackberry". The result was surprisingly complex: consommés, froths, foams, sorbets and julienne formed a delicate but intricate feast.
For a down-to-earth menu, the rustic-chic Barn delivers on comfort food, while I'm sure the Spatisserie would have been a hit with Ms Cole on her visit, with its health-focused menu in the Bond bunker-style grass-roofed spa.
Though it bills its location as Ascot, Coworth Park is a 4km trot west of the racecourse. Its setting is classic leafy Berkshire – country lanes with imposing gates and a smattering of cosy pubs. The hotel's own gates open on to a busy road that separates it from Windsor Great Park – the 7km walk around Virginia Water Lake is the perfect antidote to John Campbell's culinary complexities.
Sunningdale, on the London Waterloo to Reading train line, is a five-minute taxi ride (£7) away.
The 30 rooms in the Mansion House rise through six levels of luxuriance. I played lady of the manor in my Mansion Deluxe room. The cornicing, coving, skirting and sash windows are all brand new but true to the building's history and complemented creamy colours and contemporary country-chic styling.
Rooms are embellished with bespoke furniture, which might be an Alice-in-Wonderland-blue velvet seat at the foot of a bed, or a four-poster that rises into the form of branches.
The attention to detail is remarkable – pillow cases embroidered with horseshoes and stirrups had the corners folded down into "dog ears" (I was reliably informed by the concierge that this was simply Coworth Park "going that extra furlong").
In the bathroom, a glass vial contained a fresh sprig of rosemary, while The Idler's Book of Idle Pleasures positioned on the bath rack made soaking in the copper-clad slipper tub all the more indolent, with its suggestions of doodles, naps and leaf-catching.
Within the 240-acre grounds is a collection of 40-or-so rooms in the former stables and estate cottages. Although these in part also date back to the 18th century, they have also been renovated to appear almost new and are decorated in a simpler style than in the Mansion House.
The crowning glory is the Dower House, a Grade II-listed cottage with a private garden that'll undoubtedly serve as a home-from-home for Bonds and pop princesses alike.
Blacknest Road, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7SE (01344 876600; coworthpark.com).
Double rooms start at £279, including breakfast.
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