One of the many perks of living in such a gorgeous part of the world is that the opportunity for a rejuvenating short break in glorious countryside is always right on our doorstep.
There’s no need to waste your free time with hours of travelling. A case in point is nearby Oakley Hall, a four-star hotel where you can enjoy a perfect country retreat amid luxury surroundings.
It’s no more than a short trip along the M3, coming off at the Basingstoke junction. Pointing your car firmly in the opposite direction of the large town takes you along a long, winding lane, which will transport you into the rural idyll of Oakley village.
The hotel is clearly signposted. Up the sweeping driveway and Oakley Hall stands majestically before you, a grand Georgian Manor House set in a 315 acre estate. It’s an inspiring sight, and reputed to have worked its magic on no less an author than Jane Austin, who was born just up the road in the neighbouring village of Steventon and was a regular visitor to the Hall, as she was close friends with original owners the Bramston family.
Inside, Oakley Hall is no less impressive, a result of a recent £4m refurbishment. A warm welcome at reception took us through to our sizeable room, which felt grand but also so comfortable. A very high standard of contemporary furnishings made for a relaxing environment full of life’s little luxuries, from crisp Egyptian cotton linen to flat-screen TV and Wifi.
When your tea and coffee facilities are kept within an elegant, purpose-built dark wood cabinet, rather than simply sitting on some table, and fresh milk has been placed in the fridge as opposed to little pots of UHT, you know you are staying in an establishment where every detail has been carefully considered.
Our windows overlooked the grounds, where a walking trail will lead you past centuries-old Giant Redwoods, Chinese Junipers and Yews to an avenue of Conifers and the formal garden with its ornate pond – and take you miles away from the day-to-day rush of modern living.
However, we were due to sample some indoor delights – the indulgence of afternoon tea, a very social form of pampering.
As another famous author, Henry James, once said: “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” And the team in the Glasshouse Restaurant at Oakley Hall certainly go out of their way to make this an experience for you.
The tea is firstly a feast for the eyes, gorgeously presented on a chrome and black, art deco-style cake stand. There are layers of finger sandwiches, cakes and fancies, plus a mass of dainty little scones, all hand-made by the hotel’s pastry chef. Also presented for your delight is a huge dollop of clotted cream and three jams – raspberry, strawberry, plus a mouth-tingling rhubarb and plum concoction that is worth the trip alone.
The variety of tea on offer can take you on a trip around the world, from Assam in the Himalayas to the Russian Caravan blend, although we opted to stay ‘at home’ with a pot of English Breakfast.
If you wanted to indulge yourself further, there is the option to put some fizz into your day with the Champagne Afternoon Tea. The hotel also caters for people seeking vegetarian, gluten or dairy-free alternatives as well, and a children’s afternoon tea is available for their smaller guests.
Back at the room, the haven of the bathroom provides the chance to immerse yourself in the oversized bath and fully unwind. Replete with separate shower unit and large double sink, attention to detail is impressive, with the fittings all highly polished, sleek flowing curves. There’s even an Oakley Hall embossed duck among the eco-friendly toiletries, for those seeking home comforts.
If you’re the lazy sort who likes to top up hot water in the tub with your toes, rather than sit up and do it by hand, my tip is always make sure you don’t turn the tap away from you – otherwise you’ll find you’ve activated the bath’s shower attachment by accident, which is pointing directly at you, and can prove a shock…
In keeping with the weekend’s theme of relaxed indulgence, we paused in the 1795 Bar & Lounge – named for the date when Oakley Hall was built – to savour the civilised atmosphere of bar nibbles and pre-dinner drinks. There’s an extensive list of cocktails and aperitifs, and friendly, attentive service. Unsure what I fancied, I asked for something to pep me up (several nights of teething issues with my young son had eaten into my sleeping pattern, and I was worried about falling asleep halfway through the main course). I was offered an Expresso Martini, an invigorating mix of Grey Goose vodka, expresso liquor, expresso and Cointreau, which certainly did the trick and powered me all the way through to the cheese board.
We were shown through into the Glasshouse for dinner, which was a treat in itself. Oakley Hall has two AA rosettes for its food, using fruit and vegetables from its own kitchen garden and sourcing local organic produce, such as pork from the nearby Laverstoke Park Farm.
Set for dinner, the restaurant looked modern and welcoming, a relaxing environment but operating to the highest standards. Our table, for example, had been laid with care and precision, elegantly fashionable cutlery looking as if it had all been placed with the aid of a ruler.
For our starters, the salmon niçoise salad was beautifully presented, set out in its component parts around the slate plate, rather than being all tossed together. My rabbit and pheasant terrine with quince chutney was wonderfully packed with flavour.
We also enjoyed a plump duck breast with dauphinoise potato, parsnip and vanilla puree with a redcurrant sauce, and a succulent rump of marinated lamb, fondant potato, confit cabbage and a Rosemary jus.
Then there was just about room for the aforementioned cheese board – a selection of local cheeses served with homemade chutney – before the siren’s song of the chance for a good night’s rest (sleep-deprived parents will know what I mean) drew us back to our room.
The weekend had been an indulgence of good food, and breakfast the next day offered more of the same. There were plenty of continental options for those who fancy it, from delicate pastries to coco-pops to fruit bowls with yoghurt, all tastes catered for. But for me, it was all about getting a traditional cooked breakfast. The quality of food was exactly what I’d come to expect from Oakley Hall, but even so, a special mention must be made regarding my order of poached eggs, which arrived as little parcels of egg perfection.
Our stay wasn’t just about the food. Or the drinks, or the luxurious comfort. As well as the walking trail, Oakley Hall offers the opportunity for archery, an entertaining game of croquet, or even to try your hand at clay pigeon shooting, which we found to be hugely enjoyable.
But however you choose to spend your time, you’ll come away refreshed and invigorated – it really is the perfect country break.
Save over 50% with Oakley Hall Hotel’s Winter Warmer from just £129 per night per room.
The Winter Warmer package for two guests (worth £275) includes the following:
- 3 Course dinner in our 2 AA Rosette Glasshouse Restaurant
- Complimentary pre-dinner glass of Prosecco per person
Overnight stay in a Luxury Bedroom
Full English Breakfast the following morning
The Winter Warmer offer is available from £129.00 per room per night, please contact Oakley Hall Hotel direct for full details or visit the website.
Mark’s trip was provided by Oakley Park Hotel. Various special getaway packages are available – go online for more information.
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