Tucked away in the glorious Wiltshire countryside six miles from Bath, Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa is an idyllic, historic and tranquil sanctuary set on its own 500 acre estate.
When we arrived at the gloriously elegant gate way just outside the tiny village of Colerne, we were harried from a busy day of London business. But somewhere along the spectacular mile-long driveway lined with lime and beech trees, our cares drifted away, leaving us a most glorious carefree 24 hours on this beautiful estate. The manor house is officially an 18th-century Georgian building, however, from the Domesday book there is evidence of a property at Lucknam as far back as 1199.
The central façade of the house dates back to 1688 when it was owned by James Wallis, who made his fortune in tobacco. He turned the house into a grand mansion with the addition of two extra wings. It was passed down through the family before being sold to William Norris Tonge in 1776, then to an aristocratic Dutch family by the name of Boode in 1827. John Boode lavished money on the estate, adding the oak panelling and carved beams that are now features of the Drawing Room, building the grand pillared portico, the two bowed wings, as well as a conservatory – now The Park restaurant – and acquiring more land.
At the outbreak of World War II, Lucknam sheltered hundreds of evacuees before becoming the HQ for airmen based at RAF Colerne. The mile-long tree lined drive was used to hide spitfires and hurricanes, and during air raids everyone took cover under the billiard table in the dining room. In 1988, the estate became the hotel we see today after a £3.5 million refurbishment.
So when staying here, you are in the company of some fine historic characters indeed.
The 500 acres of parkland upon which Lucknam sits includes an arboretum, wild flower meadow, rose garden, kitchen garden and lavender path – all of which are simply perfect for a dreamy wander for everyone in the family, from toddlers to grandparents
The biggest question is where to start on this estate? There are, after all, two fabulous dining options, an equestrian centre, all of those beautiful acres, as well as a playground, outdoor walking and gym trails, bikes and scooters to borrow, a stunning pool and spa, glorious flower gardens, and for a rainy day, plenty of rooms to explore, DVDs to watch, and the most comfortable beds from which to watch them.
When you are visiting with children, you won’t need to decide – they will soon be leading the way. For us, that meant an ecstatic (for the two-year-old) run around the most perfectly manicured gardens by the old water tower, with ‘his Lordship’ delighting in the hide-and-seek possibilities of the hedges and avenues. Glorious flowerbeds were in full bloom, and the smell of lavender infused the whole enthusiastic occasion with a sense of surreal perfection.
Dinner After the arboreal hide-and-seek, we took all of about ten steps through the gardens to The Brasserie where we took a seat at a banquette, providing plenty of scope for toddler sitting option (from the parent-preferred traditional vertical to the toddler-preferred lying down horizontal). Headed by Hrishikesh Desai, the winner of both the Craft Guild of Chef’s 2010 National Chef of the Year competition and the 2009 Roux Scholarship, The Brasserie offers all-day dining with the added benefit (especially for entertaining children) of an open kitchen, wood-fired oven and terraces for alfresco eating. Room service is available 24 hours. With a pesky and pregnant pescaterian, a toddler and a committed carnivore in our little team, it isn’t often that we all come away declaring the meal a resounding success, but this was one of those rare occasions, and after our meal, we headed back past the koi ponds to our room with its view across the courtyard.
Rooms There are 42 rooms and suites at Lucknam Park with various options for adjoining rooms. We were staying in Periwinkle (rooms here have names, not numbers…), a deluxe room decorated in Regency Period country house style. And whilst we’d planned a late-evening walk (we’re not an 8pm-bedtime family), the enormous bathtub in our marble clad bathroom soon had the two-year-old determined to stay in. So it was. We ran the bath, selected a DVD from the well-stocked media library downstairs, and settled in for a lazy evening.
Breakfast Next morning, we rolled out of our enormous bed to partake of breakfast in the more formal of Lucknam’s two restaurants – The Park. While this Michelin-starred venue is not an option for evening meals with children (and if you wish to dine a deux at this Michelin-star venue, pack your suit and tie, as it requires formal dress), breakfast is another story, and should definitely not be missed. From the seriously scrumptious porridge (who would have imagined) to the utterly delicate Earl Grey tea (I want that brand…), everything on the menu here is perfection. Between us we could have sat and enjoyed the pleasure of the perfect breakfast for a significant portion of the morning… had it not been for the bag of carrots our two-year-old held in his eager hands.
Activities From that point forward, the day was a delightful whirlwind of activities. First up, at the Equestrian Centre, we met the gorgeous ponies and lovely staff who were on standby to take Oliver for his gentle pony ride. Alack, our would-be rider refused to wear the obligatory riding hat, so we instead spent time patting and brushing the pony and of course feeding him those carrots, before heading across the fields to visit Lucknam’s newest addition, a foal, and feed him a few more of our carrots. But if horses are not your child’s thing, there are also two tennis courts, bicycles, woodland walking and jogging trails, plus five-a-side football pitch and croquet lawns. For additional fees, you can also try your hand at clay pigeon shooting, archery and falconry. Enough to keep you busy for well and truly more than just 24 hours… You have been warned!
Finally, we headed over to the pool and spa house, where we thought a short stop would suffice, but that was before we actually entered this glorious haven. With a fire one side of the pool and sun loungers the other, this enclosed pool and spa is year-round bliss, regardless of the temperature outside. And the sauna, Emerald room and Japanese salt room – while not being appropriate for children – could easily distract you for half an hour each. Children of all ages are welcomed in the pool throughout most of the day, although evenings after 5pm are adults only. Oh we could have stayed and played the entire afternoon, had it not been for a pressing appointment across in Cornwall…
With our bags ready for the onwards journey, Oliver demanded a final trip to “our home”, where we whispered a quiet ‘we’ll be back’ to Periwinkle. As we descended the stairs my almost-three-year-old declared to the staff “I want to live here forever”. I have to admit, he only said what my husband and were thinking. Indeed, I am already planning how best I can justify a return for at least a handful of days to enjoy once more the glorious delights of a most perfect English rural estate.
Our Favourite Bit… Those wide green open fields, the horses, the pool, the staff… Oh it is too hard to choose.
Be sure to pack… Your bathing suit! A suit jacket, tie and formal shoes – just in case you decide on dinner in The Park. In winter or in rainy weather: the Wellies.
While You Are In The Area… Visit the city of Bath.
• The Spa Since its opening in 2008, The Spa at Lucknam Park has been regarded as one of the finest in the UK. Featuring wood, marble and glass, the spa also features a 20-metre indoor swimming pool, indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy pools, five thermal cabins, a salt water plunge pool, and Anne Semonin treatment rooms. Signature treatments include the Top to Toe experience, a Herbal Pumice Oil Experience and a DeStress Botanical Oil and Herbal Back Therapy. Amongst the other treatments available, there is Hot Stone therapy, Reflexology, Mother-to-Be and Little Miss treatments (pedicures and manicures), starting from £45 for a Little Miss manicure.
• The Equestrian Centre boasts 35 horses and ponies, offering riding instruction for all ages and abilities, from complete beginners in the learning pen to a casual hack through the countryside or dressage and show jumping in the all-weather arena. Pony time – which gives younger riders a lesson on caring for a pony, riding instruction as well as an hours hack around the estate – is available from £175
• Cookery School Headed up by Hrishikesh Desai, the winner of both the Craft Guild of Chef’s 2010 National Chef of the Year competition and the 2009 Roux Scholarship, adults can learn everything from Afternoon Tea Entertaining and Michelin Star Cooking at Home to Traditional British Cookery or Foodie Christmas Gifts. Located in a converted house on the estate, a short walk from the hotel, the Cookery School also offers Adult & Child half-day courses (for ages 6-10) as well as Kids Only half-day courses (ages 10-14). If parents/grandparents are ready to try their hand at Michelin star cooking, you can even have a Master Class with the Michelin starred Head Chef at Lucknam Park, Hywel Jones. Open Monday to Friday, the courses run from 09.00–16.00 or half-days from 09.00–12.00 or 13.30-16.30. Adult & Child courses cost £75 per person (£150 total).
Membership… Should you happen to be lucky enough to live in the area, you can become a member of Lucknam Park and enjoy full use of the spa facilities and pool, the tennis courts, bicycles and trim trail as often as you like. Annual membership starts from £1,290; children’s membership from £315.
Day Visits… Should you not have the time to enjoy the luxuries of a stay here, but would still like to experience Lucknam Park, you can dine at The Park without being a guest; to book, call +44 (0) 1225 742 777. You can also have a Spa Day Experience, available Monday to Friday, which includes coffee and pastries, use of all Spa facilities, a two-course lunch, as well as your package of treatments (from £140).
Special Occasions There are also elegant celebrations put on for the Christmas and New Year period, with Father Christmas arriving by Victorian horse drawn carriage to deliver presents to all the guests on Christmas Day. The carriage is then available for rides around the estate before a traditional Christmas lunch, Her Majesty’s speech, afternoon tea and a buffet supper… and that’s not mentioning the exciting things (including a Treasure Hunt) lined up for Christmas Eve and Boxing Day!