Experience Town & Country with The Stafford London & Cowdray
Tucked away in a discreet corner of St James, The Stafford London has long been home to discerning travellers. The hotel literally exudes old-school charm from the moment of your arrival: elegant interiors, large, beautifully scented floral displays and service that’s courteous and attentive, without being in the slightest obsequious or intrusive.
Beyond the reception area, rich upholstery and sophisticated comfort set the scene in The Game Bird restaurant, where Executive Chef James Durrant presides over a menu of local, seasonal produce and British classics, ably partnered by Master Sommelier, Gino Nardella. Otherwise, the historic and more informal American Bar – every conceivable inch of which is festooned with memorabilia, oddities and signed baseball caps – serves a variety of upmarket bar snacks and sandwiches – think salt and pepper squid, or lobster and crayfish rolls – as well as grills, salads and truffle-infused Mac and Cheese. Leading out onto a large, cobbled courtyard, which is planted with a riot of flowers, there’s also plenty of outside space in which to eat and drink (the cocktail menu is killer) when the Great British weather permits.
Each bedroom (there are 107 of them, distributed between The Main House, The Carriage House and The Mews) has its own individual decor, incorporating different colour schemes, bespoke pieces of furniture and a variety of artwork, curated by leading art consultant Tanya Baxter – but the overwhelmingly common theme is opulent comfort: for all its sophistication, you never once feel that you can’t throw yourself, in a crumpled heap of inelegant exhaustion, on to the bed.
And exhausted you may well be: the hotel is perfectly placed for financially ruinous shopping sprees, as well as nights out in the West End and days spent in a pleasant haze of exhibitions and matinees. Samuel Johnson may well have had a point when he said “tired of London, tired of life” but that was a good many years ago – and increasing numbers of us are hankering after time spent pleasurably in a more bucolic setting, whether acquiring new skills, honing old ones or just immersing ourselves in wide open skies, fresh air, nature and total relaxation.
It’s perhaps, to some extent, with this in mind that The Stafford actively facilitates days out in the countryside for guests: earlier this year I was taken from breakfast at The Game Bird down to The River Test in Hampshire, and tutored by Orvis professionals in the art of fly fishing, complete with barbecue lunch on the river bank. More recently, the hotel has partnered with Cowdray House – which lies in 16,500 acres of estate in the serenely beautiful setting of the the South Downs National Park – to offer guests the opportunity to combine town and country in inimitable style. With its exclusive use policy, Cowdray House can arrange for guests to participate in a variety of pursuits, ranging from fishing, shooting and golf, to immersive tours of the estate’s striking ruined Tudor mansion, or blissing out with a face or body treatment in Cowdray’s indulgent Therapy Rooms.
Cowdray is known worldwide as the home of British polo, hosting around 450 matches throughout the April to September season, the highlight of which is the Gold Cup for the British Open. Tickets can be arranged to these by staff but, for the more adventurous, polo lessons at Cowdray Park Polo Club’s Academy are also an option. I was driven here from The Stafford this morning in a Bentley Bentayga, supplied by Mayfair’s Jack Barclay Ltd – and having briefly explored the property, with its vast yet somehow cosy interiors, sumptuous bedrooms and impeccably tasteful decor, I’m quite convinced that, no matter how tricky my relative lack of riding experience might make polo tuition, there’ll be no better place to recover from a bruised limbs and egos later on.
Our party is made up of riders of wildly different levels of ability (and anxiety!) but, reassuringly, staff from the Polo Academy seem more than equipped to deal with all of us. We start with earthbound mallet and ball practice, before mounting our gentle-eyed horses and learning (well, being taught is probably a more accurate way of putting it) how to keep our balance on horseback as we thwack balls along the ground and block each others shots en route to an eventual goal. It’s true that none of us will be winning any trophies any time soon, but everyone is exhilarated, upbeat and – perhaps even more of an endorsement – keen to have the opportunity for instruction again: the Academy aims to have new players at instructional chukka level after just ten hours of private lessons.
A light lunch later and we swap our mallets for guns, with both deer stalking and clay pigeon shooting on the agenda. Although real game shoots are available through the school, we content ourselves with target practice, while learning more about the Estate’s approach to sustainability and conservation: the deer population is controlled, but great pains are taken to ensure that no part of the culled animal is wasted, with the estate’s award winning venison sold in Cowdray’s Farm Shop. Another layer of the partnership between Cowdray and The Stafford London comes from the fact that The Game Bird Restaurant, with its emphasis on provenance, also sources its venison from here.
By the end of the day, my left eye feels as though it’s likely to be semi-closed in a permanent squint, and my woefully feeble right arm feels like limp spaghetti – so, doubting I’ll be much use at the indoor bowling alley, I head to the tranquility of the indoor pool, with the autumnal shades of the gardens forming a painterly backdrop to my soothing float. I can’t imagine ever being bored of London, no – but with days like this to be experienced, how could you ever, possibly, be bored of life?
The Stafford London