Hotel Of The Week: Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire

Slap bang in the middle of London's commuter belt is a country pile fit for a king. Literally. For Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire was once home to an exiled Louis XVIII...

Louis XVIII slept here - what more do you need to know? After all, there can be few better recommendations than a royal seal of approval. Two hundred years on, Hartwell House, a 17th-century stately home in the Vale of Aylesbury, still offers truly grand lodgings.

A Grade I-listed building, it is set within 90 acres of parkland originally laid out by James Gibbs and later revamped by Richard Woods, a disciple of Capability Brown. The work of both men can still be seen.

The house itself reveals both Jacobean and Georgian influences, and in the public rooms - the great hall and morning, drawing and dining rooms - guests can admire the exquisite decorative plasterwork and panelling, fine paintings and antique furniture.

The comfort factor

Pass through the dramatic great hall and up the sweeping staircase (with its rather eerie Jacobean carved figures) to 28 of the main house's 33 spacious bedrooms and suites. All are elegant, light and bright, with high ceilings and large windows and a busy mix of fine fabrics and furniture. You could lose your loved one in the huge, squidgy bed. (Some rooms have four-posters.) Homemade shortbread and a selection of fruit add that personal touch, while TV and DVD (with free film hire) bring facilities bang up to date. A further 16 rooms are housed in Hartwell Court, a former riding school. And the recently renovated Old Rectory adds another four bedrooms within the grounds.

The bathroom

Not quite as special as the bedrooms, but they serve their purpose. Regulation fluffy white bathrobes are supplied; Penhaligon is the choice of toiletries.

The food and drink

Delicious seasonal menus feature dishes such as poached fillet of brill with lemon grass, noisettes of Chiltern Valley lamb, and stuffed saddle of rabbit. The service is impeccable, though, chaps, you will be greeted a little frostily if you aren't wearing a jacket. The three-course set menu costs £38 per person without wine. An à la carte menu is newly available.

The people

These days, exiled kings don't visit so often, but there is still an air of wealth about the crowd - well-bred and well-dressed in country tweed.

The area

Just a short walk from the main house is the Hartwell Spa, which houses a good-sized swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, small but well-equipped gymnasium and treatment rooms. The grounds contain two all-weather tennis courts, a croquet lawn, a lake, a spectacular Gothic church and many fine examples of 18th-century statuary. Waddesdon Manor, home of the Rothschild family, is around the corner, as are Woburn Abbey and Blenheim Palace.

The access

Full wheelchair access. Children over the age of eight are welcome - but they are rare. Dogs can stay in Hartwell Court.

The damage

Double rooms cost from £280 per night. Hartwell Court offers suites from £380 per night. All prices include a continental breakfast. Until the end of August, the hotel is offering a one-night Ruinart Summer Break for £300, including accommodation in a double room with dinner and breakfast, and half a bottle of Ruinart Brut Rosé champagne. The price goes up to £340 on Saturdays.

The address

Hartwell House, Oxford Road, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP17 8NR (0800-089 3929; pride

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