Immediately to the west of Heathrow Airport is a leafy area centered on the 5,000 acres of Windsor Great Park. At its southern edge lie affluent small towns such as Ascot, Sunningdale and Virginia Water, as well as the three famous Wentworth golf courses, while hidden in the woodlands are lavish mansions, much favored by the world’s super-rich.
Coworth Park is located on the outskirts of Ascot, just nine miles from Heathrow and 26 miles from central London. The hotel’s situation is therefore ideal for those with long layovers between intercontinental flights, or for travelers coming to the end of a tour of southern England.
The original Georgian country house dates from 1776, but was expanded during the Victorian period with scant respect for its Palladian proportions. Still, seen across the surrounding wildflower meadows, it remains an imposing white structure. Over the years, Coworth was the residence of merchant adventurers, bankers and aristocrats, including the 17th earl of Derby, a famous owner and breeder of horses after whom England’s most prestigious horse race, the Epsom Derby, is named. In September 2010, however, following a three-year makeover, the house reopened as a country resort and spa, part of the Dorchester Collection.
Arriving on a sunny lunch hour, we were swiftly ushered onto the terrace and pressed to indulge in a glass of champagne. The view over the 240-acre estate was green and peaceful, and aside from the intermittent (and not especially intrusive) sound of climbing aircraft, it was hard to believe that we were just 20 minutes from one of the world’s busiest airports.
Coworth Park is much less formal than many country house hotels — several families were lunching beneath the sun umbrellas — while the friendly service seemed more American than European. And, to my surprise, the public areas of the house have been decorated in a bright contemporary style, which, although not really to my taste, also seemed to contribute to the easygoing atmosphere.
The 70 accommodations at Coworth Park are spread among the mansion itself, several cottages and a wing of converted stables. (There is also the splendid three-bedroom Dower House, with its own kitchen, dining room, garden and stream.) On a future visit, I think I would opt to stay in one of the Mansion House suites, but as the resort was full, we found that we had been allocated a two-story cottage. This was charming, if a little cramped. The downstairs living room came with a sofa, a woodburning fireplace and a small terrace. The bath was also on the ground floor and was equipped with a walk-in shower and a splendid copper soaking tub. However, the bath was only large enough for one person to use at a time. A single room on the second floor was largely taken up by a king-size bed.
Dining options include Restaurant Coworth Park, with a menu of seasonal Modern British cuisine, and The Barn, which offers casual meals against a picturesque backdrop of an artificial lake and polo fields. Coworth Park has a wide range of equestrian activities, and its stables contain Shetland ponies for children as young as 4, hunters of 17 hands, and pretty much everything equine in between. Coworth also has a polo academy managed by the Guards Polo Club, based in nearby Windsor Great Park. Perhaps the most startling amenity, however, is the resort’s spa, housed within a striking two-story building that has been ingeniously designed to fit within a fold in the landscape. Eight treatment rooms are complemented by a 60-foot indoor pool, a superb gymnasium and a restaurant serving healthful cuisine.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Atmosphere of rural tranquility; friendly and professional staff; exceptional spa.
DISLIKE: Some of the additions to the main Georgian building, especially the metal fire escapes, are unfortunate.
GOOD TO KNOW: It is a 20-minute drive to Heathrow Airport, but only outside of the morning and evening rush hours; the M25 motorway can get very congested.
Coworth Park 92 Mansion House Deluxe Room, $805; Mansion House Junior Suite, $970; Cottage Premier Suite, $1,375. Blacknest Road, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7SE. Tel. (44) 1344-876-600.
This article appeared in the October 2014 print edition of Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report under the headline “Country House Hotels Close to London."
Sixteen miles to the north of Coworth Park, Cliveden is an immense Italianate mansion set on a bluff 130 feet above the River Thames. Built in 1851 to replace a previous house destroyed by fire, Cliveden’s heyday came from 1897 until World War II, when it was owned by the Astor family. Over four decades, the Astors entertained everyone who was anyone — Henry James, Charlie Chaplin, Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, FDR, the list is endless — and became enmeshed in the most elevated circles of English social and political life. Nancy Astor, born Nancy Witcher Langhorne in Danville, Virginia, was elected the first female member of the House of Commons. But alas, posterity remembers her less kindly as the hostess of the notorious Cliveden Set, the aristocratic members of which favored the appeasement of Hitler.
Today, Cliveden is owned by the National Trust and contains the 38-room Cliveden House hotel, which, since 2012, has been leased by billionaire property tycoons Ian and Richard Livingstone (whose portfolio also includes Chewton Glen hotel in Hampshire). I first stayed at Cliveden over a decade ago, when the property seemed rather run-down, but I was encouraged to return by the news that its restaurant had attracted the well-known Michelin-starred chef André Garrett.
However, on the basis of a recent stay, it would seem that the Livingstones’ millions have yet to take effect. True, my Poulet de Bresse dinner was outstanding, but parts of the house are crumbling, my suite seemed faded, the bath lacked a separate shower, and the Wi-Fi didn’t work. The fact that Cliveden and its 375-acre estate are part of the National Trust and hence open to the public also detracts from its appeal. Perhaps five years from now, investment by the new owners will have borne fruit. But until then, alas, for all its grandeur and history, Cliveden House cannot be recommended.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Grandeur of the public areas; sense of history; fine restaurant.
DISLIKE: Chipped paint, smudged wallpaper and prevailing state of disrepair; lack of functioning Wi-Fi in our room.
GOOD TO KNOW: Cliveden is accessible to the public, so visit and stay for lunch or dinner.
Cliveden House 86 Deluxe King Room, $850; Junior suite, $1,165. Taplow, Berkshire, SL6 0JF. Tel. (44) 1628-668-561.