Following on from our jaunt at Bishopstrow House, Elldrew recently had the pleasure of another country weekend, this time at the Four Seasons in Hampshire (courtesy of a special friend who was celebrating a special birthday; both the friend’s name and age shall be withheld to preserve ones modesty). Unlike Bishopstrow where it was the two of us, this trip saw 20 friends converge on the New Forest for a fun filled weekend away!
Like so many of our other UK breaks, the Four Seasons is another converted English Manor House, but this one is done with all the glamour and pizzazz that you would expect from a group like the Four Seasons. The original property has been expanded, and extended, so once inside one’s no longer entirely clear whether they’re in the old building or a new extension; the hotel cleverly links its ‘wings’ with a series of glass corridors. From the moment you arrive you don’t really need to step foot outside (a clever idea given the inclement British weather) but with so much outside, this would be a shame.
The Four Seasons exudes class and sophistication, a very different experience to some of the other country house hotels that Elldrew have visited – but this is neither a good nor bad thing as each hotel is different and unique in their own way. Bishopstrow, Cowley, Babbington, The Grove (to name a few) fall into that bucket of “small luxury hotel” and are mostly independent or part of a small group; this is what makes them all very unique and occasionally a little bit quirky (even Fawlty Towers-esque). The Four Seasons is obviously part of the Four Seasons Group; one of the world’s most luxurious hotel brands and as such everything is “perfect”.
One knows that every aspect of a Four Seasons has been carefully considered; from the doorman’s greeting, to the hand written welcome card in the room, this is all part of a well-oiled machine – in fact a perfectly oiled machine. We learnt about the rigorous staff training that goes on behind-the-scenes, whereby staff are trained for up to 6 months before they are even allowed to come face-to-face with guests (we do hope this is a true story and not one of our friends just ‘pulling our legs’ as it all sounds pretty impressive)!
Whatever the training, there is a special feeling that comes after the initial greeting; the reception staff seemed to know our name and date of previous visit, there was a personalised welcome card in your room (we even managed a Planet Elldrew plug due to an earlier tweet about our imminent arrival) and every staff member we walked past was charming and friendly and wished us a pleasant stay. There was occasionally a touch of Stepford in their over enthusiasm but, for one night, it’s nice to be made to feel special and welcome.
Our room was also very welcoming and beautifully laid out…light and airy with a perfect mix of interiors and fabrics…a beautiful English country essence complemented by a large luxurious bathroom, ample storage space, with coffee facilities and the usual entertainment. What we also loved about the room was the little things you just don’t usually think about (a spray can of starch in your cupboard so you can freshen up your shirt before dinner).
Before the birthday celebrations kicked into full swing we thought we would sneak off for a walk around the grounds. On our last visit we mainly enjoyed the spa and pool facilities so with 500 acres of rolling English countryside to explore we headed down to concierge for a map, which, naturally, was “perfect” and folded “perfectly”. Alas not even the Four Seasons could control the weather so our porter had to scribble all over the “perfect” map to mark out the waterlogged areas from all the recent flooding. If we didn’t have our own Hunters then the hotel would have provided perfectly polished ones for our walk (actually they probably would have built us a mini ark if we had asked) and in hindsight we should have asked them to polish our Hunters after our rather muddy walk. You live and learn.
We strolled down to the equestrian centre, where some of our friends had taken an earlier horse ride, and around the main grounds that form the front of the hotel. On our way back we decided to circle the hotel where we accidentally stumbling upon a hidden graveyard for the old Baron. Past the tennis courts we found a gazebo along with the summer BBQ area which is located at the back of the spa, and whilst we didn’t manage to enjoy it this visit, we can testify that the spa is indeed in a league of its own. Constructed in the old stable block the spa is perfectly heated, with more than enough loungers both inside and outside, and it has a great design feature that connects the indoor and outdoor pool so that you can easily swim from one to the other, depending on your mood and the prevailing weather; soaking in warm water outside in winter is always an exciting feeling, possibly because it just feels wrong (something our Nordic neighbours would disagree on)!
Dinner fast approaching, we were so looking forward to another amazing meal in ‘Seasons’ restaurant. Now our readers are going to think we are really fussy eaters, but having such an exquisite meal last time we stayed at the hotel, managing expectations for a group of 20 did unfortunately not quite hit the mark. A few of the steaks had to be sent back due to being cold, but it still melted like butter in your mouth and we all left happy, if not a tad inebriated. On a personal note however, we did pity the smaller tables dotted around our large table (in the centre of the dining room) as there was no escaping us, nor the noise (blame that on the pre-dinner champagne). Maybe the hotel should have set us up either end of the room or in a private room…but we have to believe they know how best to run their service, so we were happy to sit back and enjoy the festivities.
After dinner we continued drinks in the bar; which has a vibe of a cosmopolitan London bar, accommodating every possible cocktail thrown at the staff (the cucumber martini was rather delicious).
Evening over, feeling a tad light headed, we welcomed a good nights sleep on our plush mattress (available for purchase from the hotel of course). You probably know by now that Elldrew don’t mind the occasional celebratory tipple, and also as you can imagine with a group of 20 people celebrating a special birthday Elldrew had decided it would be a slow start to the morning, so we had agreed that it would be nice to have breakfast in the room – such a treat. We’re not sure whether this is standard or not but at check-in we were able to confirm that our B&B deal included either the full buffet breakfast or a credit (equal to two Full English breakfasts) for breakfast in our room. That in itself is pretty rare with most B&B deals compelling you to dress and make your way to the buffet. What’s even rarer is a room service breakfast as vast and generous as the buffet itself.
We woke up 1.5hrs earlier than the time we had pre-ordered breakfast for so we politely phoned room service to see if the delivery could be sent earlier (not a problem, of course) and within 20 minutes a table crammed with juice, coffee, two types of toast, a basket of pastries, jam and butter selection was wheeled into our room. This would have been enough food for a small family but then the delightful waitress lifted up the tablecloth to reveal a small oven with the “full” part of the “full breakfast” – a plate each overflowing with scrambled eggs, sausages, two different types of bacon, home-made hash browns, grilled tomato… Suffice to say we didn’t need lunch that day!
Ready to face the day we meet up with our fellow guests to relax in The Library, which is located at the front of the hotel and consists of tables and lounges (and where afternoon tea is served on a daily basis) as well as a small bar area. Elldrew do like to relax on a comfy sofa with a good book so whilst The Library is comfortable, for what it’s worth, we sort of wished there was a more relaxed ‘members lounge’ to create some alternative chill-out space. Alas in such a beautiful building space is a premium so unless the hotel was willing to sacrifice their rather generous reception area, it would never come to fruition. But like anything, it’s just an observation.
So, what was our overall view on the Four Seasons? Well, we’d definitely go back for a 3rd and 4th visit – it’s more luxurious and decadent than some of our other favourite places and, if one can afford their eye watering prices, then it’s lovely to experience that uber glamour. But with uber glamour comes a certain formality, although the Four Seasons does try to bridge that gap between formality and casualness. If you’re looking for somewhere a little rough and a little fun then it’s probably not for you, but if you want to dust off your glad rags and sip champagne with the best of British then we’d say give it a whirl (just like the chap who flew his helicopter right to the entrance just as we were leaving)!