JC Stays: The Retreat at Elcot Park, Berkshire

Quirky décor, modern dining and lashings of charm are the magic ingredients at this new countryside retreat


The newly-opened Retreat at Elcot Park is full of surprises. During a year-long renovation to turn it from a bog-standard Mercure hotel into one that oozes charisma, the builders found gilded mirrors behind plasterboard, boarded-up ornate fireplaces and beautiful teak wood floors hidden under tired carpet.

Originally built in 1825, it’s as if the house has been given a second chance to bask in the limelight.

This is the second property from The Signet Collection (the first is the award-winning The Mitre in Hampton Court), which aims to create ‘meaningful stays in time-honoured places’ — and Signet co-founder Hector Ross was so convinced that the property would fit this criteria, that he pursued buying it for seven years, looking past the magnolia-washed walls of what was then a mid-market hotel just outside Newbury.

In fact, Elcot Park had a varied history that — in Ross’s mind — simply added to its appeal. Built by Anthony Bushby Bacon in 1825, it later became the home of Lady Shelley, mother to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who bought it in 1844.

Over the years, it then changed hands several times, and while there are now some nods to its poetic past (however tenuous they may be), including quotes from Shelly inscribed on a few of the hotel walls, the most interesting thing about this opening is not its past but just how modern and fresh it feels.

Leading the overhaul was interior design practice Taylor and Turner. Its founders and hands-on designers, Anneke Gilkes and Harriette Cayzer, have enlivened the elegantly-proportioned rooms with a flair for blending the old with the new, and a focus on mixing escapism and a sense of fun.

It’s a Bridgerton take on heritage – bright, fun and cheekily irreverent. From the moment you enter the lobby through the stone-pillared entrance-way to be greeted with a central staircase, a grand limestone fireplace and a cosy reading area, the rich colour palette (blue mohair sofas, green curtains and bright yellow cushions) give guests a sign of what’s to come.

The three signature suites are all wonderfully unique. The Bushby Bacon suite, for instance, has monkeys dancing across the bold Pierre Frey Toile des Indes wallpaper and a gloriously romantic bathroom, hand-painted with wisteria by British artist Fiona McAlpine (and inspired by the real wisteria outside the curved windows).

In fact, with their statement wallpapers and mix-matched textiles, none of the 55 rooms disappoint. They all have a cheerful quirkiness about them with bobbin mirrors, scalloped-edge side tables and bright upholstered headboards.

Downstairs, the theme is continued throughout the public rooms. To get to 1772, the hotel’s brasserie, you wander through a cosy lounge area, named The Atlas Room, which has pistachio-green walls, pink and teal sofas and scalloped chairs.

Dining is overseen by culinary directory Ronnie Kimbugwe who has a knack for delivering crowd-pleasing menus, rooted in a restaurant’s destination. In 1772, the sweetcorn ribs, and the wild garlic and asparagus linguini proves this point.

In Yu, meanwhile, the hotel’s seriously glamorous Pan-Asian restaurant, dining is turned up a notch. You enter via a lacquered petrol-blue corridor and arrive in a blood-red room decorated with antique woven fans, bamboo framed mirrors and rattan furniture.

The intimate eaterie offers a choice of two seven-course tasting menus, with one being a vegan option, including dishes such as popcorn cauliflower, mushroom gyozas and pumpkin katsu.

Soon to join them will be a third dining spot: The Orangery. By the summer, The Retreat will be staying even more true to its name by also opening an outdoor pool and croquet lawn to join the tennis courts — all combinging to keep guests happy within its walls.

‘The Courtyard,’ is also a work in process, with the original outbuildings being converted into a coffee house, hair salon and wine store, alongside al fresco seating and plans for monthly farmers’ markets.

You could venture out to the antique shops in Hungerford or for a snoop around nearby Highclere Castle, but when you discover the subterranean spa, with its mud rasul and salt floatation rooms, and then the whisky library tucked away in an elegant dining room, it becomes very hard to want to go anywhere else.

But surely that’s the point of a countryside retreat.


Doubles at The Retreat at Elcot Park start from £150 per night B&B.

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