Living in History – Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire

Peter Morrell and his wife are charmed by the artwork, the food, the comfort and the service in this Grade I listed Historic Houses Hotel

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For arriving visitors Hartwell House is a spectacular sight, the imposing building is built of mellow stone and sits comfortably in 90+ acres of well tended parkland designed in the 19th century by Richard Woods, a devotee of Capability Brown. We were warmly welcomed at the door and this very high level of service continued throughout our stay.

The exterior is a warm up for the stunning décor that greets guests inside, the Great Hall is a celebration of baroque that leads to morning and drawing rooms and a library all decorated in rococo style.

Afternoon Tea

We arrived at around 2:00pm and decided to take afternoon tea in the morning room This was a quintessentially English experience, Finger sandwiches with salmon and Coronation chicken, dainty pastries including opera cake and macaroons finishing with freshly baked scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve. We added a further touch of luxury with a glass of champagne.

As we indulged and relaxing in this grand room it gave us the opportunity to look at the finer architectural detail, the ceiling moulding depicted both the four seasons and four elements. ornate gilded mirrors, paintings and a grand chandelier summed up the style of the entire house.

The History of the House

The history of Hartwell House is both long and fascinating, a property existed on the land a millennium ago. A mansion was built in Jacobean times followed by extensive additions during the Georgian period, so the house has elements representing both periods.

It was for a long time owned by illustrious families, the Hampdens, who were associated with Queen Elizabeth I and James I. The next family was the Lees of which two scions are Robert E. Lee and Sir Christopher of Dracula fame.

The Lees leased the house to Louis XVIII of France between 1809 and 1814 when he was in exile. He and his court of 140 people were impoverished and forced to raise chickens and rabbits on the roof of the building. It was in the library of Hartwell House he signed the accession papers that saw him restored to the throne.

Saved from demolition by the grandson of Thomas Cook the house was put into the Ernest Cook Trust which has leased it to The National Trust. It is operated by Historic Houses Hotels, part of the NT who have carried out major renovation work.

The Gardens

After tea it was time to explore the extensive grounds, the hotel has put together a map with some suggested walks. There are vistas everywhere, from the main entrance there is an equestrian statue of Frederick, Prince of Wales that is framed by a magnificent avenue of mature trees that stretch into distance.

Dotted around the estate are a collection of pavilions. monuments and follies including a Gothic Tower, statues of Greek gods and an Egyptian building over the source of a spring. We wandered down to the lake, it was a warm afternoon, cows grazed, a fork tailed red kite drifted lazily on a thermal, a heron stood motionless, waiting for a fish and two swans move effortlessly on the water. It was peaceful, relaxing and the complete antithesis of London, only an hour’s drive away.

History was never far away, we crossed a stone bridge over the lake that was until 1898 the central span of Kew Bridge over the Thames.

The Spa

We took a further look around the estate, adjacent to the house is the old stables which is now a modern spa featuring a spectacular pool, cafe, treatment rooms, an outdoor terrace and tennis courts.

Across the drive from the spa is St Mary the Virgin’s church, currently being renovated, it is one of the few in the UK with an octagonal design.

The Rooms

Back in the main house we ascended the most elaborate staircase adorned with carved statues. Our room was vast, with an equally large bathroom. Rich tapestries hung on the walls and there was a seating area dominated by a semi-circular oriel window that gave us a direct view over Frederick’s statue, the avenue and the lake. All the rooms are to a similarly high standard making Hartwell a very comfortable place to both relax and sleep.


A pre-dinner drink in the wood panelled bar again saw us steeped in history, this was Louis XVIII’s chapel and it was here that he heard that Napoleon had abdicated. There are some very interesting painting in this room showing the formal gardens of the house before they were converted to parkland.

Food is a very important element when staying at Hartwell and chefs Daniel Richardson and Martin Lee are insistent on sourcing top quality, seasonal local produce. There are two menus, table d’hôte and a seasonal. Both of these are three courses with multiple choices, they are priced at £64 and £51 respectively.

Our drinks were paired with amuse-bouches of prawn fritter and salmon pate with caviar.

We moved into the elegant dining room and studied the menus. They offered a wide selection for carnivores, pescetarians and vegetarians. Starters included local smoked Aylesbury duck breast and goat’s cheese croquette. We chose the smoked salmon and the scallops as the first course

Both dishes showcased the quality of the food, the salmon was fresh and bright, and my wife’s pan seared scallops were served with an intriguing compressed cucumber block, squid ink crackers and citrus fennel. It was an auspicious start.

The mains were equally as inventive, we liked the look of the hay smoked loin of rabbit and the breast of guinea fowl. I stayed with fish choosing the halibut and my wife had fillet steak. My pan seared fish had Asian twists, prawn dumpling, pickled mouli, charred Chinese cabbage and a Thai shellfish broth which I enjoyed immensely. My wife’s steak was meltingly tender with great depth of flavour and served with tomato, mushroom, seasonal vegetables, a red wine sauce and thick cut ‘pont neuf’ chips.

There was a well curated wine list with a wide selection of French wines and others from both the old and new worlds, even as English wine produced within 25 miles of Hartwell. As we had primarily chosen fish our wine paired for the evening was a white, the very on trend Picpoul de Pinet made by Domaine Felines Jourdan in France’s Languedoc. This had citrus notes in the bouquet and on the palate was crisp with hints sweet pepper, the well balanced acidity matched the food well.

As London dwellers we had a restful night’s sleep enjoying the novelty of both darkness and silence. We were up bright and early for a full English before having to tear ourselves away from this idyllic spot.

Hartwell House is licensed as a wedding venue and the house and grounds are the ideal backdrop for the photos. It your needs are more modest, like a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, then this conveniently located hotel is the answer.

Hartwell House & Spa
Oxford Road
Vale of Aylesbury
Buckinghamshire HP17 8NR
+44 (1296) 747444