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Luton Hoo Hotel

From succulent food to state-of-the-art spa and lavish, history-drenched interiors, Luton Hoo is a gem near the somewhat less glamourous airport

The credentials:

A: A short ride from London via St Pancras, Luton Hoo is the sort of place that has a story round every corner, a secret history behind every painting or statue. The Romanov Chapel is so called because Lady Zia was the great granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I, and while the idyllic grounds today wouldn’t give away their vital use as tank testing zones during the Second World War, the wall of Churchill portraits might be a clue.

From the 1065-acre park and gardens designed by Capability Brown to the Edwardian Belle Époque interiors (such as the marble-walled dining room) thought up by Ritz architects Charles Mewes and Arthur Davis in 1903, when the mansion was redesigned, it has a catalogue of famous names behind its creation.

The current hotel opened in 2007, after eight years and £60 million of restoration by Elite Hotels. On top of the prior charms of the surroundings, it has added an 18 hole par 73 golf course, indulgent spa and numerous eating, drinking and corporate options to the mix.

O: Okay. So the hotel is in Luton. Or thereabouts. And for many people this is an issue. But despite its less than glamorous location, a taxi from Luton Parkway doesn’t take you anywhere near the town itself, and thus avoids any need for unpleasantness. Once there, one of the grandest and most impressive country houses I’ve ever stayed in sits atop a mass of rolling hills, beacons and valleys.

And if the journey to Luton really gives you the shudders, it’s only 20 minutes from London in a chopper and there’s a helipad onsite.


O: We supped on tea-smoked duck breast, followed by roast rump of English lamb with sautéed girolles mushrooms, fondant potato, carrot puree, and braised red cabbage in a red wine jus. The pre-prandial cocktails were somewhat lacklustre—tepid and sickly—but succulent lamb and decent Malbec more than compensated.

Dinner was served in the spectacular Wernher restaurant, a dining room whose remodel cost more than the 228-room mansion itself. With its exotic marble panelwork and richly coloured tapestries, the room is an almost exact replica of the dining room at The Ritz, with The Ritz architects drafted in for the task by diamond magnate and then owner, Sir Julius Wernher.

A: I quite enjoyed my cocktails, particularly my dessert-y post-prandial choice, but the bar area felt rather overlooked, not somewhere one could really comfortably settle down. Dinner was the real star; I’m not sure whether I was more mesmerised by the surroundings or the beautifully plated seasonal food.

We also had a leisurely breakfast in our room the next morning, which was a fantastic spread—no either/or here. They deciphered our various cooked food requests, hastily scribbled onto margins of the breakfast card the night before, successfully and there were so many accompanying mini pastries and rolls that we ended up unable to actually finish everything.


A: Our room was beautifully decorated in keeping with the house’s period style, with views over the box hedges and fountains of the formal gardens. All the rooms are spacious, with the master bedrooms and suites positively echoing.

I was well-watered by the time I went to bed, but think it’s fair to say my flawless sleep was thanks to the mattress and envelopingly thick pillows and duvet rather than the wine! It left my bed at home feeling definitely lacking—a velvet-draped Princess-and-the-Pea-style four-poster wouldn’t be that odd in a ground-floor flat in Brixton, would it? Note: not one for those who dislike fluffy bedding.

O: Our suite had a faint whiff of the ‘executive’, but being a golf hotel, with conference facilities this was probably to be expected. The room was chintzy, but not horribly so, and the views, oh the views… We overlooked a courtyard, with formal gardens just beyond and valleys stretching as far as the eye could see. The beds were improbably comfortable, and the large bathroom, with its Jacuzzi tub and large circular window was the perfect place to unwind.

My only gripe was the lack of fridge in which to chill our Pol Roger, and possibly the slightly tired wallpaper, soft furnishings and carpets.

Who goes there?

A: Lots of weddings, I imagine—the film-set credentials, general grandeur and plethora of options for reception rooms make it a perfect choice. It is also popular for corporate retreats, physically close but feeling far from city life as it does.

O: Yes, not only was a large part of Four Weddings and a Funeral filmed there, but Luton Hoo has appeared in several other films including A Shot in the Dark, Never Say Never Again, Eyes Wide Shut, The Secret Garden, Princess Caraboo, Wilde, The World Is Not Enough, Quills, Enigma, De-Lovely and Bright Young Things.

When we visited the guests included a motley selection of Londoners, local families taking elderly relatives for lunch, and couples on romantic mini-breaks or short jaunts from London. Fabergé, Pushkin, Sir Winston Churchill and HRH the Queen are amongst Luton Hoo’s more esteemed guests.

The onsite spa had its fair share of the day-trip-from-Bedfordshire brigade, ​perhaps a hint of bridge and tunnels, but overall the guests were a polite enough crowd and the grounds and main house are both so large other guests don’t feel such an imposition.

Out & about:

A: To be honest I’m not sure why you would want to leave the grounds—with over 1000 acres to explore there’s some serious walking to be had. My recommendation would be to take at least a few hours to wander through the natural offerings, from the lake to the rock garden, as well as hitting the obvious options such as the spa, tennis courts and golf course.

O: The capacious estate can be explored in the hotel’s quirky fleet of London taxis, and further from the main house clay pigeon shooting and boating on the lake can be arranged. The grounds are so extensive, and the facilities so spectacular, I’d imagine several weeks could be passed with no inclination to leave.

A: It’s worth keeping an eye on Luton Hoo’s own event calendar too, to coincide your visit with treats such as their gourmet wine dinners or open air summer cinema. If you do venture past the garden perimeters, Whipsnade Zoo is right next door in the Chilterns and Woburn Safari Park not much further away, so families and animal-lovers are well-served.

The worst thing:

A: The aforementioned lack of a real fridge in our room—it had a sort of cool box that we can state with confidence does not do much for bottles of champagne. However, room
service will be up in moments with a bucket of ice if required, and an electrician was also speedily dispatched when we couldn’t at first turn on the jacuzzi (there’s a switch for it outside the bathrooms, FYI), so top marks for service.

O: The location. While the swathes of Capability Brown grounds are nothing less than idyllic, there’s no denying that Luton is unlovely. The overspill outbuildings and conference space are also far less attractive than the main house. These red brick neo-Arts and Crafts blocks had a corporate ‘team building’ feel, and with its patterned maroon carpet, the nearby Adam’s Brasserie felt rather Stevenage golf club.

The best thing:

O: Definitely the spa. After Eggs Royale in bed, I enjoyed an Espa facial and massage before spending the morning reading in a hydro-pool flooded with glistening natural light. It was one of those beautiful bright, crisp, spring days and with its glass walls and vaulted, beamed ceiling, the pool was absolutely state-of-the-art.

The stained glass windows and frescoed ceilings of the converted Russian Orthodox chapel are also worth writing home about. The chapel no longer has a marriage license but is a magnificent piece of history contained within the estate.

A: The lavish, tactile interiors do have to be mentioned—the gorgeous swathes of silk hanging down windows and expanses of marble are something special.

However, my personal favourite spot in all of the house and grounds was the rock garden that I’ve been cooing about to people ever since, hidden away beyond the spa and formal gardens. Maybe it was the sun-drenched ​afternoon in a chilly February that in part made it magical, but its design felt so perfect that I ended up there for hours, daydreaming of wood nymphs and water sprites in the heavy stillness of the afternoon heat. It helps that it seems so undiscovered too by the majority of hotel guests—my reverie was only disturbed once in several hours.

The details:

Rooms in the mansion from £380 and suites from £540 per night. Rooms in the country club or Parkland from £320 and suites from £540 per night.

Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa, The Mansion House, Luton, Bedfordshire, LU1 3TQ; 01582 734437; www.lutonhoo.co.uk

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