Nothing quite prepares you for a weekend at Stoke Park, for behind the Grade I majesty it is a most convivial and clubby place, and with world-class sport and leisure opportunities
Words Libby Norman
Words fail me as we make our way, in stately fashion, up the long drive of Stoke Park. It is like entering another world: rolling landscapes, perfectly tended grass and pastoral peace. The second Wow moment comes when Stoke Park emerges in front of us. Shining white and with a perfectly curvaceous frontage, it is an elegant wedding cake of a building. No wonder this is top spot for weddings – hard to believe it’s just a few miles from Heathrow and around half-an-hour’s drive from central London.
Stoke Park was designed for the Penn family (of Pennsylvania fame) by architect James Wyatt. While the Victorians did a bit of minor tweaking, they spared the body of this Palladian gem and now it is Grade I listed. Part of even earlier mansion sits in the grounds and near that is the picturesque church where Thomas Gray is thought to have written at least some of his famous elegy and lies buried.
We feel slightly awed, not only by this long chain of history but also by its famous role in a favourite Bond movie. My partner stands reverently on the very spot where Goldfinger first encounters his nemesis in James Bond. The statue Oddjob decapitated with a deft spin of his steel-brimmed hat was placed there (by Elstree’s statue central casting), but apart from that, the scene here is just as it was in the film.
“No wonder this is top spot for weddings – hard to believe it’s only half-an-hour’s drive from central London”
In fact, Stoke Park has played a starring role in a long list of epic scenes, including the rowing and weekend break bits in Bridget Jones’s Diary. It is setting for the finale in Layer Cake and – we are reliably informed – it will soon be appearing in The Crown. Queen Olivia Coleman has walked up the very staircase we take to our room. Our room (Lancelot) is as stately as it gets – our bellboy even asks if we’d like a fire in the vast stone fireplace. We thank him and demur as it’s a warm spring day, but I secretly wish it were a frosty one just to get the full lady-of-the-manor experience.
It’s so bright and warm I open the double doors onto our vast decked balcony. From this vantage point I can see the beauty of the landscape designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown (after whom our room is named) and later remodelled by Humphrey Repton. Some rather irreverent geese are staking their claim noisily around the lake. There are golf buggies en route to their next hole. I even spy a golfer with two enthusiastic dogs as his caddies – it’s a very chilled pastoral scene.
And, as we soon discover, Stoke Park isn’t in the least stuffy. The atmosphere in the hotel is calm and relaxed, but it’s also buzzy. There are all sorts of groups about, many of them in golf or tennis gear. It is a club, as much as it is a hotel, and this sets a relaxed and convivial tone – people are here to meet friends, have fun and win the match. Alongside the main mansion rooms there is The Pavilion, an elegant contemporary addition that offers more bedrooms and suites alongside leisure facilities.
The sporting facilities here truly are world class. Alongside 27 holes of perfectly manicured golf course (designed by Harry Colt), there are superb practice facilities. The tennis is just as awesome. This is where they host The Boodles just before Wimbledon, and they are introducing padel – a tennis meets squash racket game hugely popular in Spain and South America. Once you’re done on the courts or the green, there’s a glorious pool, an outdoor hot tub and all manner of restorative spa treatments.
We dine that night at Humphry’s, presided over by executive chef Chris Wheeler, and quickly understand why the restaurant has earned 3 AA Rosettes, as well as countless plaudits. My starter of scallops is encrusted with herbs and served with samphire. I am torn between the butternut squash tortellini and the stone bass, but opt for the latter because of its clam and mussel ragout. It is a divinely moreish concoction served on perfect puréed potatoes. Between courses we’re served amuse-bouche morsels, so by the time we reach the final course we’re hoping we’ll have room. It was worth saving a little space for the panna cotta with rhubarb jelly and pistachio sorbet. Sated, we retire to the lounge next door to enjoy the open fire.
The next morning we have to be up with the larks, and so are some of the club’s golfers and gym bunnies. Breakfast, overlooking the grounds, is a hearty sportsman’s affair – you need sustenance before or after the game. My partner’s full English turns out to be so generous he is nearly defeated. My scrambled egg with smoked salmon is also indulgent, and leaves me feeling prepared for the day ahead.
“Stoke Park is a club, as much as a hotel, and this sets a relaxed and convivial tone – people are here to meet friends, have fun and win the match”
Before heading off, I take a quick tour of the wedding spaces. There are no less than eight, ranging from grand ballroom to intimate panelled library that was once the family’s prayer room. Each space offers huge windows, fireplaces, vistas and a real sense of history; Stoke Park really is movie-star perfect, whether you’re celebrating a wedding or a red-letter weekend.
Stoke Park Hotel, Golf & Leisure Club is located at Park Road, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire. For information about weddings and reservations, visit stokepark.com
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