As he drives me from Newbury station, my taxi driver tells me there is nothing quite like The Retreat at Elcot Park in the area.
Set in 16 acres of west Berkshire countryside, this Grade II-listed 18th-century building was once the home of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s mother and has now been renovated and carefully crafted into a charming 55-bedroom hotel, designed by London-based, luxury residential design practice Taylor & Turner.
The hotel boasts a warm and wonderful palette of soothing colors and tactile soft furnishings. Like its sister hotel, there are plenty of British references in its design details, nods to the locality, quirky pops of color and contrasting prints throughout. Rooms are beautifully put together, and I was in the very Instagrammable and super-spacious Sutton Suite, with its magnificent views over the North Wessex Downs, vintage furniture pieces and a freestanding copper bath tub in the bay windows.
Also on offer are family rooms that sleep four people, some including cute bunkbeds – something also first seen at The Miter. Of course, the ultimate stay would be in the Percy Shelley suite, to really soak up the history of the building.
A huge plus – I was there in the August heatwave – is having an outdoor pool with views of the rolling countryside and there is also an indoor hydro pool which I had to myself for 30 minutes.
It’s part of The Signet Spa offering, which while modest in size, has all you need – from mud rasul, to salt flotation room; steam and sauna to well-equipped gym; as well as three rooms for treatments under the wonderful Ila brand. I sampled a couple of mini treatments and floated out afterwards to dinner.
The dining twist comes in the form of Pan-Asian restaurant Yu, which brings a light decorative touch of that region into a traditional high-ceilinged dining room in the main building. For guests staying more than one night, it’s sensible to ensure there is more culinary (and pricing) choice, and the one-size-fits-all restaurant is Brasserie 1772, the bustling all-day dining option.
This spills into a pretty orangery and outside terrace, another nice bonus on a hot day. I found service was a little patchy though in the evening (the food arrived before the drinks had chance to at dinner, and portions were much bigger than they needed to be, resulting in unnecessary waste), but the restaurant seemed full, and early niggles are inevitable when opening a busy hotel in a recruitment crisis. A convivial bar area merges into soft seating adjacent to the brasserie, where you can easily sit and catch up on the laptop in the day, or enjoy a drink after dinner; there’s even a Whiskey Library.
While I was there, it was mainly couples as guests, but a multi-gen family was sprawling by the pool and enjoying dinner later on. There’s certainly space for everyone, and there are specific children’s times for the pools, so you can (in theory) head down for a quieter ‘adults only’ moment if you choose to, absorbing the tranquillity the hotel has by the bucket load.
With London a 45-minute train ride away, the hope is that The Retreat at Elcot Park becomes a destination in its own right, able to also offer experiences such as croquet and trout fishing to help it do that, while a “welly wall” means guests can don a pair and head out for a walk if they have forgotten their own.
Those who need to will also find tennis courts, croquet lawn and a children’s zone, and the kids will probably be those who most enjoy raiding the complimentary pantries set on each floor, as not all rooms have mini-bars, although they do have tea /coffee-making facilities and cans of water are also provided.
A nice twist is mixed-use space The Courtyard, where there’s weekly live music in warmer months, the Bakery & Coffee House, The Hair Salon headed up by Adam Russell, even a Lay & Wheeler Wine Store, showcasing a range of 50 fine wines – including rare and collectable vintages from France, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.
There’s also a monthly farmers’ market, celebrating the best of Berkshire while offering a convivial space for locals to gather in as much as guests. And if the impressive looks of my cabbie were anything to go by, the courtyard and the hotel itself will definitely become a hotspot for plenty of locals.
The Signet Collection may be a new hotel company created by seasoned hotelier and restaurateur Hector Ross – said to have been in love with Elcot Park for many years – and to have opened two hotels against the backdrop of the pandemic is an impressive feat. The vision is to “create meaningful stays in time-honoured places throughout the UK” – I look forward to seeing what the hat trick is.
How to book it
Rooms at The Retreat at Elcot Park start from £180 per night with breakfast. It is also a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.