I so love the joy of yesteryear and the reassuring constancy of the Chilterns, a range of hills that swoop down into this particular stretch of the river Thames. This truly amazing unspoiled countryside lies only an hour from London. It is the setting for Danesfield House (www.danesfieldhouse.co.uk), located between the two market towns of Marlow and Henley, with their bridges spanning the river Thames. It is named after Danish adventurers who made an encampment here. The house was later completed in 1901 as a family home and became a hotel ninety years later.
A divine avenue of hornbeam trees lured me into its fold as I came beneath the hotel’s Clock Tower. There is an element of the Bavarian fairy-tale castle about the house with its crenelated towers and tall, narrow Elizabethan-style chimneys. This grand Italianate, off-white, 19th-century building resembles a small Neo-Tudor palace. A purple cascade of wisteria climbs the walls, the pipes have their original metal molding, and a stone lattice balcony overlooks the gardens.
On checking in, I was given a map to explore the 65 acres of formal gardens, including gorgeous vantage points over the bend of the river below. The scene reminded me of JK Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ as pleasure craft and rowers shared the water with all the leisure summer induces. In the foreground was the formal Italian garden, with its yew topiary and clipped box hedges, amongst which wafted as many as five different varieties of lavender. A fountain with a cherub standing on an oyster shell is in the middle. There is something so timeless and lazy about a trickling fountain. It calmed my nerves and brought out my poetic nature. There are stone walls, and benches hollowed out of trees. There are small waterfalls and a fishpond of carp beneath two acres (Japanese maple trees). Local muntjac rummage, fallow deer nibble, hares are hasty, and predatory red kites hover above. It is an atmosphere that suggests true, incomparable Arcadia.
I love hotels that offer a seamless inside-outside experience. Here I could walk out effortlessly onto the terrace where white is very much the theme. Out from the white orchids and curtains of the restaurant to the white terrace chairs and umbrellas. It was where I was to take breakfast in due course beside the resident cats Matthew and Michael. Perfect for alfresco dining, not to mention that quintessentially British afternoon tea of scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
As soon as I entered Danesfield House I sensed its history and felt the story unfolding. The Grand Hall has an impressive stone fireplace, dark wood paneling, a grand piano, and indulgently deep sofas. Its vaulted oak ceiling resembled an upturned ship. Upstairs there are long corridors adorned with chandeliers and aligned with landscape paintings. None of the 55 bedrooms and suites (which start from $345 a night) are the same. Mine had classical paneling surrounding an imperious four-poster bed with luxurious linen. The red and white carpet was picked up by the curtains out from which I could watch the proceedings on the terrace below and a teasing glimpse of the river beyond.
The Oak Room, designed by Anouska Hempel, with her typical neutral tones, is along with The Orangery, the hotel’s restaurant. It is like a conservatory and has marvelous views of the outside. The tables are spaciously set, the helpings are generous, and the prices very reasonable. From the specific Vegetarian Menu, I chose well with, as a starter, the chargrilled potato, courgette, and artichoke salad with basil mayonnaise, sultana, and pine nut dressing. I loved the grilled white asparagus for my main course, which came with preserved Meyer lemon, watercress, and pine nut caper relish. All was proper seasonal local produce.
The hotel’s Spa Illuminata has a twenty-meter swimming pool decorated in idyllic landscaped murals, a boutique, and calm surroundings in which to surrender to a deep-tissue massage, facial or body scrubs. Nearby the hotel is the Henley Regatta and Royal Ascot, and children have Legoland, the Roald Dahl Museum, and, of course, the hotel’s gardens to explore and get lost in. In 2014 George and Amal Clooney chose Danesfield House to have a marquee on the lawn for an exclusive wedding reception for their British guests. When I left, a helicopter parked itself on the front lawn. Clearly, the jet set is alive and well.