24-Hour Room Service: Lucknam Park, Chippenham, Wiltshire
Saturday 23 May 2009
Lucknam Park stands majestically at the end of an improbably long avenue of lime and beech trees. During the Second World War they were deployed as camouflage for parked Spitfires, although Lucknam's history goes back much further than that. It is a grand Palladian house – too homely to be called a mansion – that somehow looks as though there was a coherent grand design, but there wasn't.
A wealthy Bristolian called James Wallis built the central part of the house with the fortune he made from importing 7,000lb of tobacco from Virginia to England in 1680, and I rather hoped to spot his ghost puffing away in defiance of the hotel's strict no-smoking policy.
Of the many reasons to go to Lucknam, not a few involve physical exertion – its 500 acres of spectacular grounds offer wonderful walks, and there is a widely admired equestrian centre. But my wife and I holed up indoors, lingering for hours over Sunday lunch in the country-house genteel surroundings of The Park restaurant. Lunch, which cost us £35 per person for three courses, was irreproachably sourced from local producers, hence some slightly disconcerting name-checks on the menu.
I had "slow-cooked Burford Brown egg, truffled baby artichokes and leeks, Parmesan and Richard Vine's shoots" followed by "sirloin of Tim Johnson beef" – all credit for Messrs Vine and Johnson for their excellent shoots and top-notch beef.
The Park also has a fantastic wine list, brandished by a French sommelier whose effervescence, had it come in a bottle, would have soaked not just our table but all tables nearby. "Peach, lychees, apricot, it is, as you say in England, top banana," he enthused about our choice of white wine. And when we selected a glass each of dessert wine he bounced over like Tigger to explain that it came from "shrinkled grapes".
Captivated by him, and by a palpable feeling that cutlery had clattered through the ages in this room (the cheese trolley looked as though it had seen action in the Crimea), we took so long over lunch that we left scarcely any time to digest it all before heading to the spa for our late-afternoon massages. In fact I had a horrible feeling that when the masseuse started on my abdominal muscles, she might have been able to identify Richard Vine's shoots. My wife, sensibly, had a facial.
The spa, at the back of a charming walled garden, opened only last November, and is incredibly swanky, very hi-tech and minimalist without looking like a Swiss sanatorium, as these places can. It also has an adjoining brasserie with a wood-fired pizza oven, not that we thought we'd need to eat for another 48 hours. However, of course we demolished room-service sandwiches that night followed by a huge breakfast the next morning, served by our favourite waitress, who came from Germany and pressed us to try a "smurfy", which we took to be another local Wiltshire speciality until she came back with a smoothie.
Lucknam Park, Colerne, Chippenham, Wilts (01225 742777; lucknampark.co.uk ). The hotel is six miles north-east of Bath, outside the village of Colerne, just off the A4 between Bath and Chippenham. Once there a car is scarcely necessary.
Time from nearest mainline station: Bath is easily accessible by train (0845 748 4950; nationalrail.co.uk ) and a taxi from Bath Spa station costs between £17-£20.
Goodness me, yes. We were upgraded to the fabulous Tower Suite, which is one of only two so-called grand master suites, and has an opulent marble bathroom big and splendid enough to hold a G8 summit.
In the bedroom, a television the size of a small cinema screen rose out of a reproduction bureau, once we'd found the right button to press.
There wasn't anything on telly worth watching, but it was nice to watch the TV going up and down.
Standard and de-luxe rooms are smaller versions of the same thing, full of conventional country-house frills with a few slick nods to the 21st century. They are all decorated differently.
Freebies: Anne Semonin soaps, shampoos and beauty products. And lots of lovely fruit.
Keeping in touch: There is complimentary Wi-Fi in every room, and a computer with a printer available for the use of guests. But surely the point of going to Lucknam is not keeping in touch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Tower Suite starts at £950 per night, room only. Standard rooms cost from £280, room only. Or you can take a mid-week break, styled a Luxury Escape, which costs £345 per night for two people sharing a standard room for a minimum of two nights, and includes full English breakfast, a one-hour spa treatment for two, as well as champagne and chocolates on arrival.
I'm not paying that: Try the Methuen Arms Hotel (01249 714867; methuenarms.co.uk ) in nearby Corsham – where the Duke of Edinburgh used to play skittles when he was a trainee naval officer stationed nearby. It offers double bedrooms from £75. The price includes a full English breakfast.
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