Queen Elizabeth I stayed here in 1575, and her chamber, with its soaring ceiling, carved fireplace and four-poster bed, is the most sought-after of the 52 rooms and suites in this Tudor manor-house hotel. For centuries Fawsley Hall had strong links to the monarchy: Charles I hunted deer in the surrounding parkland on the eve of the Battle of Naseby in 1645. In the 1760s and 1770s, Capability Brown designed the ornamental gardens, woods and lakes of the 2,000-acre estate. In the Victorian era, the "Elephant Man", Joseph Merrick, was provided with a grace-and-favour cottage. The house was requisitioned by the government during both world wars; later a consortium bought it, and nine years ago it became a hotel.
Today, it's a pleasing combination of old and new. Parts of the South Wing, including the astonishing vaulted Great Hall, date from the 1530s. Large sofas, low coffee tables and a restored Tudor fireplace combine period elegance with contemporary comfort. In July, an adjoining former stable block opened as Knightley Court, with eight new suites, two large halls and a cosy cinema. The rooms range from Elizabethan through classic country house to modern minimalist. At the heart of the property, a conservatory-bar gives on to an unexpected gem: a secluded courtyard with wrought-iron tables around a wisteria-clad gazebo. The Knightley Restaurant has been awarded three AA rosettes, and there's a spa and a fitness studio in a Georgian cellar.
Fawsley Hall, Fawsley, near Daventry, Northamptonshire (01327 892000; www.fawsleyhall.com). The hotel is set in hilly parkland, 20 minutes from Junction 16 of the M1, near Althorpe, home of the Spencer family and resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales (though this is not open to the public).
Time from international airport: 45 minutes from Birmingham airport; one hour from Luton; 90 minutes from Heathrow. By train, Rugby and Northampton railway stations are 15 minutes' drive away.
The rooms are individually decorated in soft colours, with the styling reflecting the date of their renovation. Some of the suites have four-poster beds; in the standard rooms, the heavily sprung beds are more comfortable than capacious. Much of the panelling and reproduction furniture is in lime oak, contrasting with the chrome of the bedside tables and picture frames.
Freebies: Lotions and handmade soaps developed at Grayshott Hall in Surrey, one of the owners' two sister hotels.
Keeping in touch: Flat-screen TVs in the rooms; free Wi-Fi.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at 159, 169 on Fridays and Saturdays with continental breakfast; full English breakfast is 8. The hotel is currently offering an online deal of 89 per person for dinner, bed and breakfast .
I'm not paying that: The Granary (Fawsley, Northamptonshire; 01327 361 730; www.granary-hotel.com) is a hotel in a converted Grade II-listed farm building a short distance away. Double rooms, with full English breakfast, are 89.50.