A grand-turn-of-the-century mansion house hotel is a great place to play at being a duchess, as I found out
Tylney Hall is a very grand turn-of-the-century stately home hotel in 66 acres of Hampshire countryside. It’s very Downton Abbey – a family home for three and a half centuries, though the current building dates from 1901, it was used as a hospital during the First World War. And Highclere Castle, where Downton was filmed, is less than an hour’s drive away.
It’s been a home for the Tylneys (who owned a sizeable chunk of Hampshire in the 1700’s) and the Earl of Mornington (who demolished the 18th century mansion house so he could sell the timber in the surrounding woodlands – the terms of his inheritance stated he couldn’t fell it while the house was standing, easy that – he just knocked it down). Baronet Lionel Philips built the current house and after him came Lord and Lady Rotherwick who lived there until the 1940s, when the house was sold and became a school until 1984. It re-opened as a hotel in 1985 after being restored to its former glory.
It’s a building fit for a whole bevy of lords and ladies, dowager countesses, delicate Turkish princes and other distinguished guests. Sweep down the grand oak panelled staircase and make believe you’ve just been summoned by Carson’s gong for dinner. The wood was imported by the Baronet from Italy, probably around the same time he was shipping over an ornate ceiling from the Grimation Palace in Florence and installing it in what is now the Italian Lounge, popular for afternoon tea (£22 per person).
The Baronet’s library is still full of books, only now there’s a bar there as well. All of the lounges have huge fireplaces and – real! – open fires. Pastoral landscapes line the high-ceilinged corridors upstairs and there are suites for private parties and corporate meetings (the Hall is just an hour’s drive from London). Everywhere there are beautiful views of the grounds – formal gardens, woodland and wild meadows, a boathouse lake and sculpted fountains. Sit on the beautiful stone terrace and look down what is claimed to be the longest uninterrupted view in Hampshire – though you won’t be able to see the bomb shelter at the end from here. What a long scary run that must have been …
What are the rooms like?
There are ** bedrooms in the main house, many with beautiful views over the formal Italian gardens and lake beyond (deluxe rooms from £220, garden view for £255). The rest of the 112 rooms are housed in the garden courtyards in former outhouses and have their own front doors opening onto lushly planted lawns. Great for families, you’ll be able to hear the ducks quacking in the nearby water garden. Or stay in one of the Orangery suites (from £430) and the ducks will be right on your doorstep.
My room is in the main house and has a huge marble fireplace and big bay windows. It’s a quirky blend of old and new – a shiny Nespresso machine on a leather-topped period table, an iPod dock on the retro mahogany desk. It’s a junior suite (from £360) so I have a couch and armchairs with a view of the lake.
What’s in the bathroom?
The shock of modernity! After all the floral soft furnishings and period furniture next door, the bathroom is a contemporary surprise. There’s a large corner bath, toiletries are by Molton Brown and the fluffy robes and slippers on the back of the door are standard in every room.
How’s the bed?
King size with a floral pelmet trim. The pillows are so vast and comfortable that I’m discussing them on Twitter at 7am the next morning – up with the sun for an early morning walk, country estates do that to me when they’re outside my window.
What about eating and drinking?
The Oak Room dining room was the Baronet’s smoking room, it’s a very grand space with a high Baroque ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows and beautifully dressed, white linen-clothed tables. Gentlemen, ties please.
Sunday lunch is very popular with locals and hotel guests (from £29.50 for three courses) and evening dinner offers a Table d’hote menu (£31.50 for 2 courses, £39.50 for 3) or a la carte (£49.50 for 3 courses). Food is local as far as possible, with herbs and some veg from the hotel’s kitchen garden.
The chef sends out a smoked salmon amuse bouche to start the meal, and there’s a lady wheeling roast beef around in a large silver carving trolley. It’s all very old world and hospitable. There’s a pianist tinkling his way through classical and pop but I don’t stick around once I’ve finished my cheesecake – it’s 9pm, Downton time! What could be better than watching Downton Abbey while feeling like you’ve wandered into it?
There’s a leisure centre with gym and a snooker room – even if you don’t play, check out the fantastic black and white photos of Tylney as a private residence on the walls. There’s a spa offering Kerstin Florian treatments, as well as a light-filled indoor pool, whirlpool and saunas.
Come in the summer and laze on the loungers by the lovely outdoor pool in the garden. There are mapped-out walks around the grounds, as well as packs of games and adventures for families. There’s an 18-hole golf course if you’re that way inclined, tennis courts and a croquet lawn, plus the hotel can organise archery, falconry, horse riding and clay pigeon shooting for guests.
There’s plenty to keep you entertained if you tire of being a duchess. Basingstoke Leisure Park is a 15-minute drive, Legoland 40-minutes and Thorpe Park just 45. And you can be at Highclere Castle – the ‘real’ Downton Abbey, see winter opening times here (http://www.allaboutyou.com/fashion-and-beauty/style-advice/1920s-great-gatsby-style-inspiration?page=10) – Winchester Cathedral or Stonehenge, all in under an hour.
How much is it and how do I book?
Tylney Hall Hotel is located at Rotherwick, Hook, in Hampshire. Rooms start from £220 for a deluxe room, book two nights B&B and get one free. Current packages include the quirky lifestyle photography break – offering hotel accommodation, photographer and stunning backdrops for your personal photo session – find out more here. http://www.tylneyhall.co.uk/lifestyle-photography-break-0
For information and booking contact the hotel on 01256 764881 or visit the website at www.elitehotels.co.uk.