There's no such thing as a bad time to escape to the countryside, especially if it means hunkering down at The Retreat at Elcot Park. Sitting pretty in a verdant enclave somewhere between Hungerford and Newbury, this storied abode has been purposefully reimagined by hotelier Hector Ross - co-founder of visionary British hospitality brand the Signet Collection. As is the case at the hotel's sister property in Hampton Court, The Mitre, original features from the 19th-century house have been retained, while playful art deco touches and vibrant furnishings have been injected to create a cosy yet contemporary living space.
The backstory is worth noting and, in our overly romantic opinion, living proof that love at first sight is undeniably fact, not fiction. It was in 2020, while paddling in the pool of the hotel that previously stood on this site, that Ross found himself drawn to the environment, dreaming of what the Georgian building could become. Fast forward to June 2022, and the red ribbon was officially cut, with Elcot Park being declared open.
The courtyard, left, and the lounge. | Photo credit: Tom Greenly & Astrid Templier
Eager to experience the charm for ourselves, we conveniently book our stay for the hottest day on UK record. On arrival, having nervously navigated our wheels down the narrowest country lane we've ever seen, we're welcomed into an airy reception space with a tray of ice-cold beverages.
Despite the history this place holds, there's an intensely fresh and modern feel throughout, perhaps helped by the youthful team skipping about in skateboard shoes and stonewashed jeans. En route to your boudoir, you'll notice lion motifs here and there: curious, we are quickly informed that they are a loving touch designed to please Hector's son, Hamish, who is apparently a huge fan of the animal.
A double room, left, and a suite bathtub. | Photo Credit: Tom Greenly & Astrid Templier
All 55 bedrooms and suites have been brought to life by the talented design team at Taylor & Turner. Velvet headboards, vintage wallpapers, beaded mirrors and bedside tables stocked with a collection of titles from legendary authors make for a snug yet stylish set-up. It's no secret that the finer details allow a hotel to become a home-from-home, and this place is the perfect example of just that. A plush armchair, cushion-lined window ledge and high-spec coffee machine make it a challenge to leave your quarters, but we strongly suggest you do so in order to pay the much-loved (read: complimentary) pantry a visit. Forget the mini-fridge; we're talking sodas, chocolate-chip cookies, crisps, popcorn and fresh fruit. Meet you there for a midnight feast.
The blush-pink-painted bathrooms are just as delightful as they sound. Kitted out with a bathtub so inviting that it virtually demands you pour the bubbles, and a shower stocked with the hotel's own range of organic toiletries (which are available to purchase should you wish to take a slice of heaven home with you), there is no better place to unwind come sunset.
The orangery, left, and 1772 Brassiere. |Photo Credit: Tom Greenly & Astrid Templier
What's for breakfast?
An à la carte menu offers all the essentials, including a hearty English breakfast, eggs on toasted sourdough and warming porridge. For a lighter start to the day, swing by the bar, which conveniently transforms into a banquet-style table piled high with fresh fruit, flaky pastries, oats and all sorts of seeds. Thirsty? Snag a freshly pressed juice from one of the handy dispensers. There's also an impressive list of herbal teas, which, truth be told, are worth ordering to admire the beautiful crockery alone.
How about lunch and dinner?
There are two restaurants: 1772 Brassiere and Yu. The light-filled 1772 dining space takes centre stage, decked out with braided pendant lights, wishbone chairs and walls painted in a soft shade of green. It incorporates the new Orangery, whose floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor terrace promise uninterrupted views across the rural surrounds. Starters cover everything from scallops to steak tartare and artichoke houmous, while the mains feature a glazed duck breast and garlic gnocchi. Sweet tooth? The pudding menu is not one to miss. Grab a plate of the dark chocolate crunchie - you can thank us later.
Yu, with its pan-Asian menu, has an entirely different vibe. Interiors are grittier, with burnt-orange walls, mustard banquette seating and block-printed artworks. Sushi and noodle dishes are so scrumptious that we wouldn't judge you for requesting the recipe.
Is there a bar?
Yes, it's part of 1772. Featuring a navy leather-panelled bar draped with hanging glasses and leather bar-facing stools, it makes for a great night date-night spot.
Fitness bunnies will feel right at home. A state-of-the-art spa flaunts a spin studio, a small-but-well-equipped gym, treatment rooms, hydrotherapy pools, sauna and steam rooms, as well as an outdoor heated pool. Head for the on-site tennis courts, should you wish to practise your serve.
The courtyard deserves its own paragraph. Bare-brick walls, pebbled stone underfoot and pin-striped parasols act as a backdrop to a wine store, coffee shop, bakery and hair salon. We wouldn't be surprised if the hotel reached village status.
How about their green credentials?
There's no obvious sign of a green manifesto, but we certainly didn't spot any single-use plastics, and restaurant menus are seasonal and locally sourced.
What about accessibility?
There are five specially converted rooms suitable for those with mobility issues.
What's the crowd like?
We wouldn't have blinked twice if royalty pulled up a chair and joined us for a bite to eat. Seriously, thanks to the property's size, you could easily avoid crossing paths with another guest for the majority of your stay. Kids and dogs are welcome.
Things I should know
A monthly farmers' market takes place in the hotel's courtyard. Flit between stalls stocking artisan breads, meats, smoked fish, jams and cheeses, but be warned: you'll want to bring a tote bag to stuff with your haul.
Within a short walk I can find…
Not a lot, but that's the purpose (and beauty) of a countryside retreat, right? Properly recharge with a stomp through the surrounding woodland while chugging in lungfuls of crisp country air. Hungry for a hike? Ask the team for the best route: countless chalk trails stretch to the North Wessex Downs and beyond.