Looking for romance..?

Increasingly I’m thinking that a long weekend somewhere closer to home has as much romantic appeal as somewhere beach’y, far-flung and exotic. I’m trying hard to avoid words such as ‘mini-break’ and ‘staycation’ but to be honest, this is the terrain we’re headed to.

My darling man and I were invited to spend a couple of nights at Luton Hoo, a five star resort just outside Luton (but please don’t let that put you off; frankly you could be anywhere). In fact as locations go I think it’s pretty darn clever because all the while you (really) could be anywhere - this place has over 1000 acres to roam - it is in fact just a ten minute drive from Luton airport and even less from the M1 (it’s not however in a flight path and is certainly quiet). If you’re a bride-to-be anywhere at all in the area and planning a honeymoon getaway via the airport, then I’d seriously recommend bagging an extra night on your return, staying here and prolonging the love-in. Note that it’s also less than an hour’s drive from Heathrow and about the same from the centre of London .

Seems like Downton

Luton Hoo is grand, there’s no two ways about it. This grade 1* listed mansion house with its rolling lawns, gardens, lakes and woodland is opulent and sumptuous and reminiscent of the kind of lives we now only seem to see on Downton. For a long time my socialist boyfriend struggled to come to terms with such grandeur and to be honest I’ve never been far behind this line of thinking (both of us struggled with a luxe gated resort in Tuscany – Tuscany! Of all places to hide away behind gates? – and couldn’t wait to leave; I was writing up a piece). But with places such as Luton Hoo (hoo by the way is an old Saxon word for hill), its rich and very authentic history should I think be celebrated – and the best attitude to inhabit here is one where you enjoy it and embrace it for what it is. And enjoy it we did...

Inspired by The Ritz

Dating back to the eighteenth century and having fallen into disrepair, Luton Hoo was bought in 1999 (only two employees remained) and was fully restored it to the glory of its heyday. It has all the hall marks of a royal arrival (incidentally the Queen and Prince Philip have celebrated more than one wedding anniversary here) including a beech lined, long gravelled drive way and chivvy’ed-up doormen. The main building illicits gawps from the coolest of the cool, with a four column facade inspired by the British museum (wait til you see the dining room, inspired by the Ritz).

We were shown to our suite and if anyone has ever had a better hotel room in England (never mind the hotel) show me the evidence. We were in room 12, the Queen Mary suite. We entered into the most beautiful drawing room with tall ceilings, antiques and antiquities, separate bathrooms (yes that’s plural) and then a separate bedroom wing – both with stunning views across the parkland. Frankly we could have stayed here all week and forgotten ourselves (and really, how often can you say that?)

Anyway, our reaction, once we’d been shown to our room, was something akin to the ‘friends after the dinner party’ scene in Notting Hill (which incidentally we watched later that night) followed by Paul posting up pictures on Facebook (bear in mind this man used to flog the Socialist Worker outside mucky tube stations). The point is, whatever your view on the distribution of wealth, this place serves a purpose, has stood here for years and will stand here for years and years to come (I hope). In fact it serves one real purpose to my mind and that’s an escape. From real life, from stress, from the kids (yes I’ve said it) or anything else causing you headaches. Its charm is that it wears its history like a Blue Peter badge (our claw foot bathtub was boastily an original, used by Queen Mary herself, if slightly modified for modern-day plumbing).

How savvy locals spend time here

Downstairs – via the sweeping, red carpeted and marble staircase (girls: do pack a pair of heels, even if like me you don’t normally wear heels) - the public rooms are grander still with (again) tall ceilings, over-sized mirrors and roaring fires. Can’t afford an overnight stay? Come for afternoon tea, as savvy locals do. I suspect this place is gorgeous at Christmas.

I loved the stills photography dotted about – from old time dinner dances captured in black and white through to movie scenes (Luton Hoo has been used in films ranging from Bond to Eyes Wide Shut to Four Weddings...)

The one thing that very nearly put Paul off was the request that gentlemen wear jackets for dinner (at its fine dining Wernher restaurant). That being said, I’m so glad this is requested because if not, I imagine that too many of us would deploy our digital-age dress-down habits and Luton Hoo actually deserves a sense of occasion. We enjoyed a beautiful five course meal, matched with wine, and it felt like the most lovely and romantic (three hour!) dinner date.

It’s very much worth noting the service here (particularly from the charming and hugely knowledgeable manager Matthew Long). Nothing is overlooked. Vintage London taxis transport guests between the main mansion and the other buildings (namely the spa, the more informal Adams brasserie, the golf house, and the outside events building Warren Weir which can accommodate up to 400 guests). Yes you could walk to all of these, but the cars are all part of the dream sequence, don’t fight it. The service is an art form rarely seen in this country.

The spa is amazing - with an infinity pool, heat therapy, an array of treatments and such relaxing views, all of which merits a separate review, but I’m going on a bit now. Suffice to say it was everything you’d expect from a five star resort. My massage lulled me into a sleep from which I had to be jolted.

Luton Hoo just feels special – and if you can afford it as an occasional treat, I’d say please do. It’s dreamy and romantic as well as show’y and sexy. It’s also where Edward VIII is alleged to have proposed to Wallis Simpson. Other famous residents include the Queen, Johnny Depp, and John Travolta. What more can I add...?