Following in the fashionable footstep of designers Armani, Bvlgari and Missoni, the much-loved Laura Ashley brand has opened its first hotel. The Manor at Elstree, formerly known as the Edgwarebury Hotel, has been lovingly redecorated and furnished in the typically British, but thoroughly modern, Laura Ashley style.
The hotel is just a short taxi ride away from either Stanmore tube station, or Elstree & Borehamwood mainline. So, if you are visiting from further afield and are planning on staying for a few nights, the many attractions of London are a feasible day trip away. Although, driving up to the impressive black and white Tudor manor house, through the property’s tree-filled 10 acres of Hertfordhire countryside grounds, the hustle and bustle of city life feels a very welcome million miles away.
All 49 bedrooms have been individually themed by the Laura Ashley designers. We stayed in the decadent Grosvenor suite: one of five luxury suites, and of 13 rooms, located in the main lodge house. If you are visiting for a special occasion, such as an anniversary or celebrating a babymoon, we would suggest booking one of the rooms in the main house. They combine classic country manor character with sweet charm and luxury décor and have a cosy shared lounge on the first floor, where we enjoyed a drink or two before bed, aside the fireplace.
The décor inside the spacious main house is tranquil, elegant and calming. There is no sign of the chintz you may have once associated with the Laura Ashley label; my own such memories constructed from numerous photographs of my mother donning floral maternity dresses and homemade print fabric dungarees in the early eighties. But, taking a walk around the hotel, it is clear how far the designers have moved into creating home decoration and furnishings with a modern British twist, without losing the ever-popular Laura Ashley appeal. Furniture is made with sharp silhouettes and decorated in tasteful, eye-catching colour combinations; such as silky grey and lime green in the bar and dusky pinks and duck egg blue in the lounges, coupled with lots of space-making, fresh-feeling expanses of white. Rather sweetly, there are framed images of the aforementioned classic Laura Ashley prints, which make for fun conversation starters. I dare you to spend at least one night here without tucking a Laura Ashley directory firmly underneath your arm, laden with post it notes and design ideas to implement in your own home.
The hotel is a fabulous setting for weddings or family celebrations – there was a wedding taking place on the weekend we visited. The bedroom extension wing would be an ideal place for all the lucky guests to stay, while the wedding party stayed in the main house. Some of these rooms have interconnecting doors. The only thing missing is a spa and pool facility. Although we heard that this is in the proverbial pipeline, the stunning location and luxurious lodgings mean that we didn’t miss smelling of chlorine (for one weekend, at least).
The entire property is steeped in history and the clean, light colour palette of the modern decoration is wound around the many original features. Commander, Sir Tim Dawson BT of the Royal Navy, was the first occupant of Edgwarebury house, as it was previously known. The story goes that the Commander brought back wooden antique pieces to the house, which he collected on his many travels. This explains the veritable melting pot of features such as the imposing front door, originally part of Lewes Castle’s dungeon, and the fireplace, said to have been taken from a ship involved in the Spanish Armada.
From our suite, we could make out the central London skyline and the Wembley arch, which some of us were more impressed by than others. I was most delighted by the unusual garden features, which included a striking giant-sized chessboard. The decoration of our suite, much like the whole hotel, was uncluttered yet retained the quintessential English feel you would associate with Laura Ashley design and a Tudor manor house. All of the bathrooms are modern in style and function and include the most bizarre toilet we have ever discovered. Kitted out with an in-toilet bidet, massage and ‘heat’ button, this will keep kids, and husbands, entertained for hours on end. Very impressive, although with a ‘shower-over-bath’ scenario going on in all of the rooms, including the suites: a ‘roll-top bath, tower of bubbles, hours spent in the tub’ kind of experience, this is sadly not.
* TIP: If you want something a little bit quirky, book one of the Feature rooms in the main house, which retain some of the original features such as slanted ceilings, giving an extra romantic feeling.
What we ate
For dinner, there are two eating options. The Cavendish restaurant offers a fine dining experience whereas the Terrace Bar is a more relaxed, yet still elegant, affair. We combined the best of both worlds, with a drink in the bar followed by three courses in the restaurant. Having been suitably unimpressed on previous weekend breaks, where the food doesn’t quite live up to the accommodation, the foodie fare here was a culinary delight. Rather than being cramped next to our fellow diners, the restaurant is spacious and, as expected, beautifully decorated in shades of ivory and creamy pinks and gold.
We both chose scallops for a starter, which were seared to perfection and washed down with a bottle of red Pinot Noir for an extra treat. For dinner, I had the beef medallions and my dining partner chose roast duck. The quality of the food belied our location – we could easily have been dining in a top London restaurant. But knowing that our luxuriant bedroom was waiting for us, just a short stroll upstairs - complete with ginormous bed and fluffed up pillows, filled us with teenage glee. George, our attentive waiter for the evening tempted us into having puddings, which we happily shared. Pistachio topped chocolate mousse and bread and butter apple pudding were the icing on the cake of a very fine dining experience.
Breakfast was also served in the Cavendish. It took on a distinctly different feel in the bright sunlight of the morning. Alongside a la carte options (Eggs Bendedict for me, Full English for him) the breakfast buffet was traditional, punctuated with elegant English countryside offerings such as pear and toffee yoghurt and pastries filled with pistachio and apple. The only downside to having breakfast was that it signaled the end of our stay. But not before we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the quintessentially English grounds and a drink on the sun-filled terrace: the veritable calm before returning to the family-sized storm.
Prices for a night’s stay at the Manor Elstree start from £150 for a standard room up to £500 per night for the premium suite.
For more information, visit www.lauraashleyhotels.com
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