From a heavenly spa to gleaming copper bathtubs and sculptures woven into Nature, Coworth Park in Ascot gets everything (almost) perfect, finds Carla Passino.
The scent of late summer clings to Coworth Park, a wall of lavender flanking the path to the rose garden, where a few delicate blooms defy the mid-October morning frost. The leaves of the giant oaks that pepper the lakeside meadow remain stubbornly green and there’s not a hint of yellow in the avenues of lime trees that lead back to the hotel, even as the azaleas blush red and the spiky shells of chestnut trees begin to split, fat with shiny fruit. I wouldn’t put it past the Dorchester Collection, whose Berkshire outpost this is, to have negotiated with Zeus, Skadi, or whichever god commands the weather in other pantheons to keep the colours of summer going until the grounds become ablaze with autumn’s glory.
If the devil’s in the detail, Coworth Park ought to be Lucifer’s very home, because everything is just so. Except that, of course, it’s the opposite — this place is very, very close to heaven. It’s not only the genteel architecture of the building — which once hosted Edward VII and was later home to the 17th Earl of Derby for 50 years — or the 240 acres of wildflower meadows, polo grounds and manicured parkland, where water jets gurgle in tiny garden pools fringed by tall grasses, swaying vervain and the bright orange lanterns of physalis.
In the lobby, a naked tree, frozen in a perennial bronze winter, guards a triumph of Guernsey lilies, chrysanthemums and berries that sprout from a bed of lumpy gourds. The fire roars within the broken-pottery surround of the drawing-room fireplace, as the pianist tinkles the ivories. An elliptic staircase spirals up to the bedrooms like a work of mathematical art; and, dear to the heart of this coffee snob, a proper espresso machine takes pride of place on one of our suite’s side tables.
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I had to touch the four-poster in our bedroom — the Stanley Suite in Mansion House, the main hotel building — to check whether they were made of metal, so detailed was the carving that made them look like tree branches. At the foot of the bed, a side table hides a retractable television, so that the lazy can watch rugby while lying down (any resemblance to real persons here is, obviously, purely coincidental), but there is a second television in the sitting room for those who would rather watch something else, or, even better, curl up on the sofa and read a book with a glass of champagne in hand.
The bed faces the windows soaking up magical views of the darkening sky at night and the frost-carpeted gardens in the morning. The room’s pièce de résistance, however, must be the copper tub in the bathroom, gleaming against the marble floors.
Should this not be your cup of tea (or espresso demitasse), there are plenty of other bedroom options to pick from, too, whether inside the main hotel building or in the Stables or Gardeners cottages; and if nothing short of a home to call your own will do, there’s a choice of the North Lodge and the enchanting, timber-framed Dower House.
Eating and drinking
For serious eating, head to Adam Smith’s Michelin-starred Woven, where the food looks as glamorous as the dining room (and the diners). We, however, stepped into the fairy-tale building that is The Barn — it’s framed by dozens of hanging lights and you almost expect a pixie to zigzag around your feet as you approach it — and dined in the conservatory, a warm blanket on our legs.
The game consommé, cascading over meat, peas, plump dumpling and diced root vegetables, was surprisingly delicate. Ever one for strong, intense flavours, I’d have preferred it to be bolder, more gamey, but it was a perfect palette-prepper for the beef fillet, which was a marvel, salt-aged in Yorkshire and served with a minimalist arrangement of braised onions and a side of chunky chips (or, in my case, fries).
The Barn is a place where rare means rare: slicing through the crisp browning revealed red, juicy meat — and not that depressing, pallid shade of overcooked pink that dashes any hope of succulence. But it’s perhaps the wine list that really won me over. Not only are there four Pinot Noirs on the list — that most temperamental of grapes, beloved of film geeks ever since Sideways — but there’s a good range of interesting wines by the glass.
The selection is far more imaginative than the obligatory Pinot Grigio and Merlot (although they are both there for those seeking the reassurance of the familiar), so you can easily try something different with every course (and yes, there’s even a Pinot Noir available by the glass)
How they’ll keep you busy
The spa, the spa, nothing but the spa. Not that there isn’t plenty more to do, of course. It’s just that, why would you want to do it, when you can spend a day in a hushed, neroli-scented cocoon of thick white robes and soothing massages? In one hour, the soft-spoken Elena almost worked a miracle and — with some help from a lush, fragrant oil made by ishga to a Coworth Park recipe — undid a lifetime of sitting hunched over a laptop typing furiously with two fingers, before giving me a few suggestions to prevent the disaster reoccurring in the future.
And that’s only the start because, after the treatment, you can sink into the enveloping armchairs and sofas of the relaxation room, herbal tea in hand, and contemplate the panorama. Or, even better, head outside, sit on the carved bench and look across the sunken pool (and the swan fastidiously grooming its feathers), through the rugged rusty-brown of one of Carol Peace’s corten sculptures to the field beyond, as the birds flit and sing around you.
What else to do while you’re there
Walk from sculpture to sculpture and see how Nature has made itself at home there — the little bird feather perched on the lip of the bird bath sculpture, or the gossamer threads of a spider web stretching from a tiny bronze couple to the corten ‘bench’ on which they are seated. Go riding or pretend to — horses are everywhere at Coworth, from the real ones in the stables to the chocolate heads in the bedrooms and Johannes Nielsen’s almost abstract bronzes in the lobby, all long necks and spindly legs.
Play polo (see above), or take a walk down the Wiggly Path to the lake and watch the swans glide, serene and ever so slightly haughty, paying no notice to the excitable raft of ducks swimming around them. If you can bear to tear yourself out of the hotel, the splendours of the Savill Garden and Windsor Great Park are around the corner.
Who is it for?
Anyone that needs to relax and escape the world for a couple of days.
What gives it the ‘wow’ factor?
It’s hard to choose from the exquisite art (not only the sculptures, but the miniature works along the corridors and the pressed botanicals framed in the rooms), the glorious grounds and the perfect interiors — a manual on how to ‘do’ modern in a period house. But perhaps what really gives Coworth Park the edge is its people, present but never overbearing, always discreet and attentive, whether it’s keeping the fire going in the drawing room (above) or noticing you have drunk (well, inhaled) your cappuccino at breakfast and offering to bring a second one.
The one thing we’d change
The selection of complimentary magazines in my bedroom had a glaring omission — there was no copy of Country Life. Add one and Coworth Park could truly be heaven on earth.
Rooms at Coworth Park start at £545 a night. Visit www.dorchestercollection.com/ascot/coworth-park or call 01344 876600 for more information.