By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
The notion of a retreat hasn’t caught on in the UK to the extent that it has in places such as the USA, but given that 92 per cent of the population is expected to live in cities by 2030, perhaps it ought to have.
I find it almost laughable at times that despite being a global transport hub London can also become a prison. Acres of glorious countryside lay within half an hour of every corner of the city, infinitely reachable, but perilously overlooked by the more convenient activities in the capital.
So when the time comes to take a break from the fumes and fast-paced lifestyle of the capital there’s a big call to do it properly. Country air, luxurious accommodation, spa treatments, good food and nice drink that’s far enough outside the capital to make you feel disconnected, yet not so far as to inconvenience you.
Hanbury Manor is that and more. Situated a stone’s throw outside of picturesque Ware in Hertfordshire it is easily reachable from London with a frequent train service and good connections to the A10 that runs on to the M25.
The stately Jacobean country house is set within 200 acres of Hertfordshire parkland and boasts being London’s time-honoured “Original Country Retreat”. The amenities match what you would expect from a five-star hotel and you immediately get a sense of the many luxurious characteristics from the off as tartan suite wearing staff welcome you in front of the richly panelled décor.
Our room overlooked the PGA championship golf course with an oversized bed housed comfortably along with a welcoming sofa, large flat-screen LCD TV and soothing bathroom with a bath, shower, robes and slippers.
We wasted no time making ourselves at home and headed down to the spa where sun loungers hugged the walls of the Turkish bath with a Jacuzzi on one side and a full treatment room on the other. Despite being rather crowded we were able to relax in the pool before withdrawing to the lounge where ice cold, citrus-infused water and a selection of hot beverages and fruit were available. I worked my way through a broadsheet and allowed myself to forget about the time, the dimming light outside the window the only indication that evening was drawing in.
Leaving plenty of time we headed down to the library where an open fireplace warmed the staff who were hurriedly clearing away afternoon tea in time for dinner service. I ordered a Hanbury Manor ale which was quite delicious, my girlfriend opted for a raspberry champagne cocktail which received similar acclaim. We were brought dinner menus to peruse at our leisure in the lounge and somewhat reluctantly left our comfortable seating area to be seated in the award-winning Zodiac restaurant.
The menu is in keeping with the wider refined British feel of the restaurant, fish and meats in abundance in true Hertfordshire style. Everything from the wine holder on the table to the presentation of the dishes shouted elegance, the wine list was extensive but pricey and had several Rothschild references which our waiter wasn’t able to elaborate on (nor could I on further reading). It was an altogether pleasant evening, although I would stop short at calling it a ‘knock out’ dining experience. All the props were in the right place, but the glue that brings them together was in some way missing.
Our evening drew to a peaceful close sat in the library sampling the extensive whisky list, one new (a Japanese whisk(e)y which I found not to be to my liking) before reverting to the trusted old guard of Islay drams. I slept peacefully away from the incessant buzz of London, awakened only once by the night manager pushing a drinks invoice through my door (you know you have drunk too much when…..). Breakfast the following morning was a standard help yourself offering, the hotel’s Oaks Grill clearly buckling under the strain of a hungry mob of early morning traffic with queues out of the door and overspill rooms accommodating larger groups.
Overall I found Hanbury Manor to be a pleasant venue for a retreat with some excellent stand out features, but as the spa and breakfast service had exemplified the hotel is somewhat oversubscribed and at points struggles to cater for the number of people staying. The setting was idyllic and a short walk around the grounds restored calm to the system, but the conveyor belt of weddings, parties and events that welcomed you back at the hotel was less than ideal.