UK / Europe

A great escape exists at Great Fosters

The picturesque gardens...Great Fosters
Great Fosters

Amy Hughes

As the car slows down the drive dropping us in front of the 17th century manor, we step outside and duck our heads to enter through the Alice in Wonderland doorway.

Inside it’s like time-travelling back to Jacobean times, when the hotel began life as a royal hunting lodge.

It was converted in the 1930s by the Sutcliffe family, who remain the owners of this stately hotel, with its beautiful dark wood panels, leaded glass windows, authentic tapestries and an original oak staircase.

The picturesque gardens...Great Fosters
The picturesque gardens … Great Fosters

Rooms are a choice of old and new.

The king suite with its four poster bed is cloaked in crimson velvet, the contemporary rooms are out of a Ralph Lauren ad, with clean, light colours, ticking-stripes and views over the four secret gardens, and Saxon moat.

It’s a Friday evening in early summer – not at all too early for a drink in the garden as we unwind from the toll of the work week.

The garden sprawls over 50 acres, with a maze, sculptures, a kitchen garden, a pond home to baby ducklings, and a sunken rose garden.

We’ve taken just one sip of the fantastic house champagne before we feel a million miles from the Big Smoke.

Nibbling on bright green, Sicilian olives the size of my thumb, we’re treated to a tasting of Brut and regular bubbly by the Great Foster’s sommelier, whose passion and hospitality leave little doubt he was born to do this job.

Supper is in the Estate Grill, updated with lots of windows, and colourful art, creating a light atmosphere, and unlike so many intimate hotel dining rooms, there’s enough ambient background noise to dull conversations and avoid an overly formal vibe.

Escape back in time for a weekend...Great Fosters
Escape back in time for a weekend … Great Fosters

British classics and desserts are what the kitchen does best.

Steak is cooked to perfection, and thrice-cooked chips delivered to the next table create order envy so fierce, we cave to the craving and they’re worth very calorie.

The Estate Grill’s real strength is its pastries.

People come for the egg custard, a small individual tart made fresh for two, served with strawberries and cream.

A dark chocolate and raspberry dish with home-made marshmallows, the kind that melt instantly, is refined and heavenly, while the salted toffee cream with bananas isn’t as sickly sweet as it sounds.

These are, hands down, some of the finest desserts we’ve eaten – anywhere.

We spend the morning attempting to walk off at least a fraction of our sins, with a stroll around the grounds, past the heated swimming pool, wishing we could stay just another day.

If you’ve ever dreamt of spending the night in an old manor, this is it, and situated within half an hour’s drive of Heathrow it’s an idyllic way to either kick off a British holiday, or finish one, like the landed gentry. 

Share this article