Shakespeare visited and Disraeli stayed and wrote his Shirley family host into one of his novels – nowadays, the Ettington Park Hotel is a little more democratic and welcoming.
Since before the Domesday book there has been a house on these green and pleasant Warwickshire acres, while historians are convinced there was once a Roman Villa which enjoyed views over the River Stour. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, owner E.P. Shirley decided that his property was ‘in need of considerable improvement’. The front porch for calling horse-drawn carriages remained, as did the vaulted decorative conservatory, but from 1858 – 1863 a new neo-gothic confection of square towers, turrets, balustrade balconies and polychromatic sculpture arose.
Charles Prichard, a great disciple of self-styled ‘God’s architect’ Augustus Pugin, created Ettington Park as an antidote to the squalor of the Industrial Revolution, a return to supreme craftsmanship in an era of mass production. Although six different colours of stone were used for this fairy-tale construction, it is the yellow Gloucestershire limestone which provides the mellow Cotswold stone finish.
‘The finest building in the county,’ according to architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner, is now a luxurious four star hotel lovingly curated by Hand-Picked Hotels.
Unless they land on the helicopter pad, most guests arrive via a suitably lengthy tree lined drive. The 40-acre estate, complete with the ruins of a church, which, although it may appear folly-like was once an authentic Norman Church, also has an orangery.
Taking morning coffee, afternoon tea or pre-dinner drinks amongst the chandeliers, leafy floral carvings and mirrors of the Grand Drawing Room recalls the aristocratic decorum of the age. A vast portrait of Adelaide María Guinness, elegantly reclining on a chaise longue, is a renowned portrait of the 1880s evoking the spirit of privileged lives of high society.
Our room was the remarkably high-ceilinged Victorian Garden Suite providing romantic views of the remaining transept tower of the church, an overview of the precise geometric clipped topiary of the ornamental gardens. Beyond are the lawns and mature trees leading to the River Stour.
Behind a Norman arch lay our bedroom with a Venetian-style four poster bed: twisting ornately carved poles with all the romance of the Rialto is the mark of Venice’s four posters which traditionally do not feature an awning.
As the British Empire coloured pink a quarter of the planet’s landmass, Victorians had a supremely generous concept of space. Beneath a modest eight-bulb chandelier the elegant two-seater sofa, round mahogany dining table and grand desk for correspondence almost look lost. There is a fragrant display of fresh orchids too. Hefty thick-lined curtains are like a tea-clipper’s sails, restrained with ties that are almost ropes. In case we’ve forgotten where in time we are, there is a large family portrait which looks remarkably like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with a cast of children and dogs.
Though it’s not all 19th century living – a fridge chills water and milk, and there is a range of intriguing capsules for the coffee machine. Scan the bar code for the media app to download magazines and newspapers from around the planet. Appropriately ‘A room with a view’ is among the e-books on offer. The low-level sensor lit bathroom boasts gleaming power-plumbing at the head of the bath and a very spacious rain-fall shower.
Food and drink
In the main dining room, the Oak Room Restaurant, wood panels are decorated with a family crest celebrating the Shirley family’s matrimonial alliances through the century. Although the Shirley family moved to Ireland in 1912, they still regularly visit their ancestral home.
A modern British dining menu has deservedly been awarded two AA Rosettes. There’s an invention to the chef’s creativity which captures the quintessence of English summer with a starter of trout in Cotswold Gin served with cucumber in tonic and a green flash of dill. Centuries of English heritage are celebrated with Herefordshire port-glazed short rib beef. After all, this is Shakespeare’s county and the very heart of his England. Though there is a visit to Mediterranean flavours: citrus cured monkfish is served with a white bean and octopus cassoulet, given a spicy Iberian zing by the chorizo.
A chocolate and beetroot slice with a beetroot sorbet resting in a raspberry sauce is another imaginative creation, though for Falstaffian appetites there is the substantial option of a cheese board including up to five local cheeses.
Reception provides a map for a stroll around the extensive grounds which could be enjoyed with a picnic packed by the kitchen. Ettington Park Hotel is just six miles from the theatres of Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare’s heritage. For walkers, the start of the Cotswold Way is nearby.
In a nutshell
Elegant living in one of England’s greatest country houses: aristocratic ease from a bygone, gentler age. An opportunity to relax and linger over afternoon tea on the terrace or a quince and elderflower gin in the remarkable Grand Drawing Room.
Double rooms including breakfast are available from £275, feature rooms start at £355.
Address: Ettington Park Hotel, Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 8BU
Tel: 01789 450 123